Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Audacity of War, By Maps and Population


My friend Bob Mulholland, a disabled Vietnam veteran and political officer of California’s Democratic Party, has rolled out the relevent maps which reveal the staggering scope of the emerging Afghanistan/Pakistan War:

- South Vietnam, where Bob fought alongside 500,000 Americans, was 67,108 sq. miles in 1973;

- Vietnam as a whole is 128,527 sq. miles;

  • Iraq, where today there are 150,000 American troops, is 169,234 sq. miles;

  • Afghanistan, where Obama proposes deploying some 60,000 American troops, is 251, 772 sq. miles;

  • if we include Pakistan, where our Predators and special units are attacking, we add 340,403 sq. miles.

The population figures are revealing as well: -
- South Vietnam [19,370,000 in 1973]
-North Vietnam [23,930,000 in 1973]
  • Iraq [29,257,000]
  • Afghanistan [32,738, 376]
  • Pakistan [172,800,000]

Bob comments: “The troop surge for South Vietnam went to 540,000 in 1968 and still meant nothing in the big picture. Of course, South Vietnam was a lot of mountains, jungles and rice paddies [unlike Iraq], but it was only 67,108 sq. miles or 26.7 percent of the size of Afghanistan, which is a lot of mountainous terrain – also difficult territory. A million troops would not stop the [jihadist] cause in Afghanistan, as long as they continue to get money and support, which was the key to the N. Vietnamese effort.”

Wednesday, January 28, 2009



Words matter for Barack Obama, so the new President’s stated goal of a “hard-earned peace in Afghanistan” should be welcomed, at least cautiously.

He remains locked into his pledge to expand American forces by at least 20,000, and will not allow himself to retreat from that commitment.

But he did not pledge military victory in Afghanistan. He did not commitment himself to an open-ended occupation.

Therefore his only realistic opening, as I have written at this blog before, is to reframe the goals in Afghanistan- and Pakistan – as diplomatic ones, which means defining the US military role as a short-term holding action until a political settlement can be forged.

The peace movement must make a convincing case that Afghanistan is a quagmire that will squander the reputution and resources of the Obama administration, and make clear that the US wishes to pursue a diplomatic and political settlement, however patchwork, to reduce suffering and increase stability in Afghanistan. Creeping escalation should be strongly opposed.

As to Iraq, Guantanamo and Israel-Palestine, the next few days will determine the general direction of Obama’s policies. It is difficult to imagine expanding the burdens of empire while, at home, so many businessmen are beseeching the new President to save them from capitalism. The old assumption that imperial wars could salvage the economy and morale of the imperial power no longer seems to hold.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Obama Notes #1

By Tom Hayden

Shortly after Barack Obama was elected president, I boarded a red-eye flight to Washington to make a morning workshop on a juvenile justice bill. I hadn’t bothered to take a red-eye for eight years, but now it seemed to matter. Something progressive actually might happen in public policy and, if so, it was worth the jet-lag and back pain.

For the first time in years, activists will need an inside strategy to complement the familiar tactics of fighting from the margins. The new president will have to reach out to progressives as well, with the same energy he invests in the religious and Republican right.

At the very least, success in the Obama era can be imagined as something more than slowing down the rate at which things get worse. Hope and heartbreak will rhyme. Wins and defeats can be expected, not simply the monotony of loss.

In that spirit I am beginning a new blog, Obama Notes, a regular analysis from the perspective of a progressive who strongly supported Obama in 2008.

#1. Torture

Obama’s executive order was a tremendous breakthrough after eight years of Bush-Cheney. It will require close monitoring, of course, but it was hugely significant that it came so rapidly, with the stroke of a pen. The immediate question for the peace movement and human rights advocates is whether the Order applies to thousands of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan who are being held in violation of human rights norms and, if not, why not. Congress should send letters of inquiry and follow up with hearings on the horrors for those detainees rounded up in preventive detention.

#2. The Predator Attack

The night after Obama’s torture order, I was at dinner with a human rights lawyer who worried that the right-wing would launch political attacks on Obama for “letting our guard down.” With that in mind, I became certain that the following day’s Predator attack in Pakistan, which killed at least 10-18 people, was as much political as military, a message that the Pentagon will keep on launching strikes against a sovereign country in keeping with “war on terrorism” objectives. The cold truth may be that those people died in Pakistan to make closing Guantanamo more politically palatable.

Obama has good reason to worry about counter-pressures from the right and the intelligence community. One day after the executive order banning torture was signed, an odd article appeared on the New York Times’ front page about a former detainee who has joined al Qaeda in Yemen. There was no apparent reason for the article’s timing except the Obama announcement. The detainee in question was released by President Bush, and is suspected of involvement in car bombings in September 2007.

# 3. Afghanistan-Pakistan

The outlook for Obama’s war in Afghanistan-Pakistan is grim. The president’s latest goal of a “hard-won peace” is a realistic retreat from rhetorical belligerence. But one gets the feeling that no one knows what to do. The appointment of Richard Holbrooke suggests a Dayton-like accord but without the ingredients of Dayton. Where the Balkans consisted of ethnic blocs and competing nation states, Afghanistan resembles the Stone Age without stable tribal structures.

Another 20,000 American troops shortly will become twenty thousand new targets, one of whom certainly will be the last to die for a mistake. And every Afghan the Americans kill will give birth to more insurgents.

The traditional anti-war liberal bloc in Congress has no current plans for opposition to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Unwilling to oppose the new president, afraid of being accused of losing, unable to conceive an exit strategy, they are presently without direction or leverage.

But this is not 2002-2003. There is a rank-and-file peace movement and a significant skepticism in public opinion that will not go away. There are few US resources for escalation in Afghanistan-Pakistan. Impatience will grow. “Obama’s War” has an an unpleasant sound. The urgency of a diplomatic solution will grow by the day. The content of that solution is far from agreed upon.

Demands for Congressional hearings on an Afghanistan-Pakistan exit strategy in both House and Senate should be the point of departure. The hearings should occur, and be widely broadcast, no later than the spring, when the Washington weather will be more favorable to protests. In the run-up, teach-ins and other activist forums might begin studying books like Ahmed Rashid’s Descent Into Chaos
, for a preview of the nightmare scenario. Also contact Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films office where a campaign is being launched to “get Afghanistan right.”

#4. Iraq

Look for Obama to order his promised combat troop withdrawals to begin, but with all sorts of escape and delay clauses. The fog of diplomacy can be as bad as the fog of war in this case. Does the 16-month timetable still leave a reserve force in the tens of thousands and, if so, under what guidelines? Or does the recent US-Iraq pact mean in plain words that all
US troops will be out by 2011? Again, questions from Congress will be imperative in clarifying the situation ahead. In the meantime, the public base of the peace movement will decline as peace appears to be “on the horizon.”

#5. Gaza and the Middle East.

As I argued in the Huffington Post, the timing of Israel’s assault was entirely political. First, it was a “consolation prize” after the US refused any assistance in launching a war against Iran. Second, the attack began on the day Obama was elected, and ended by the inauguration. Obama, who in 2007 said words to the effect that “no one has suffered like the Palestinians”, observed a subsequent silence through the campaign and all during the Gaza battle. Starting January 20, Obama twice has indicated a concern for Palestinian suffering, once in the words of Bono at the Lincoln Memorial, and later in the president’s own formulation. More importantly, he appointed George Mitchell as a peace envoy, the best possible choice for those concerned about a just and reasonable settlement. Look for input from civil society, including delegations from Northern Ireland and South Africa, in the conflict resolution process ahead.

#6. Venezuela, Cuba, Latin America.
Obama’s statements on Latin America during the campaign reflected a Cold War approach to the region rather than a positive embrace of progressive democratic elections. On the eve of the inauguration, in a Univision interview, he criticized Venezuela for being a “negative” factor in development and an ally of FARC terrorists in Colombia. Both statements were false and inflammatory, and some Administration sources now admit they were mistaken. The time for a new Obama platform on Latin America, in the tradition of FDR’s good neighbor policies, will be in April at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad. The president will have to decide whether to shake hands with Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales [the Cubans are excluded from the summit] and, more important, offer a more positive vision than continuing the war on drugs and “armoring NAFTA” [ in the words of the State Department’s Thomas Shannon].

Once again, Congressional hearings on new directions in Latin America are sorely needed. And Obama needs a Latino emissary with a deeper empathy and more progressive policy mandate than the failed ones of the Bush era.

#7. The Economic Crisis
Never in my lifetime have so many businessmen been pleading with the government to save them from capitalism. Never has there been such a demand for economic reform. Never has the Left been more left out. Obama has invited many of the Mad Men [or, if you will, the Best and Brightest] who ruined the system to take charge of restoring it, not a good sign. These are people who generally believe that unemployment is a good and necessary thing, as well as the shedding of regulations, on the road to greater profits and growth. If Ralph Nader hadn’t run so often for president, we might have a progressive voice in this debate, but…Obama’s promise to deliver a serious stimulus package is threatened both by Republicans with faith-based illusions about tax credits, and traditional Democratic liberals who focus generally on how much money the government gets to spend. Secondary in the debate so far is whether financial and corporate institutions will be re-regulated, how, and by whom? Isn’t it time for bottom-up economic democracy, a public development bank, regulation in the public interest, a new generation of community organizers, etc?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

FOCUS: Michael Winship | Walking Down to Washington

Michael Winship, Truthout: The image from Barack Obama's inauguration that will stay with me forever is people walking. Walking from wherever they lived or were staying in Washington, DC. And all headed for the exact same place. In the hours before dawn on January 20, they already were moving down Connecticut Avenue outside my brother and sister-in-law's apartment: groups of two and three and four or more; some wearing backpacks and carrying signs, quietly converging on the National Mall.

Two Choices

What would you do? You make the choice. Don't look for a punch line, there isn't one. Read it anyway. My question is: Would you have made the same choice?

At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves learning-disabled children, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a question: "When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does is done with perfection. Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do. Where is the natural order of things in my son?"

The audience was stilled by the query.

The father continued. "I believe that when a child like Shay, physically and mentally handicapped comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child."

Then he told the following story:

Shay and his father had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, "Do you think they'll let me play?" Shay's father knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but the father also understood that if his son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps.

Shay's father approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, "We're losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning."

Shay struggled over to the team's bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. His Father watched with a small tear in his eye and warmth in his heart. The boys saw the father's joy at his son being accepted. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as his father waved to him from the stands.. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay's team scored again. Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat.

At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game? Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball.

However, as Shay stepped up to the plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside for this moment in Shay's life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact. The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay. As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher.

The game would now be over. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game.

Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman's head, out of reach of all team mates. Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, "Shay, run to first! Run to first!" Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base.. He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.

Everyone yelled, "Run to second, run to second!" Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base. By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball ... the smallest guy on their team who now had his first chance to be the hero for his team. He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher's intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman's head. Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home.

All were screaming, "Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay"

Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, "Run to third! Shay, run to third!"

As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, "Shay, run home! Run home!" Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team.

"That day", said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, "the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world".

Shay didn't make it to another summer. He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making his father so happy, and coming home and seeing his Mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!

AND NOW A LITTLE FOOTNOTE TO THIS STORY: We all send thousands of jokes through the e-mail without a second thought, but when it comes to sending messages about life choices, people hesitate. The crude, vulgar, and often obscene pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion about decency is too often suppressed in our schools and workplaces.

If you're thinking about forwarding this message, chances are that you're probably sorting out the people in your address book who aren't the "appropriate" ones to receive this type of message. Well, the person who sent you this believes that we all can make a difference. We all have thousands of opportunities every single day to help realize the "natural order of things." So many seemingly trivial interactions between two people present us with a choice: Do we pass along a little spark of love and humanity or do we pass up those opportunities and leave the world a little bit colder in the process?

A wise man once said every society is judged by how it treats it's least fortunate amongst them.

You now have two choices:
1. Delete
2. Forward

Friday, January 23, 2009

invest in the future of this country

You've already invested in the future of this country -- whether you voted, donated money, helped organize your local community, or got involved in countless other ways.

But right now, your participation in the political process is more important than ever. We'll soon be asking you to give whatever time or talent you can to support the President. With your help, we can bring change to Washington and the entire nation.

I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.

Thank you,


David Plouffe
Campaign Manager
Obama for America

Questions or feedback? Contact Organizing for America at 1-877-922-4264.

Organizing for America

Tim --

When Barack Obama was declared our 44th President, you didn't just revel in that victory -- you started asking what's next for this movement.

How is this unprecedented group of volunteers, grassroots leaders, and dedicated supporters going to help make change a reality?

More than half a million people shared their thoughts and ideas about moving forward, and we listened carefully. Last week, President Obama announced the creation of Organizing for America -- a group that will work alongside the President to support the agenda you fought so hard for.

You can be part of its first steps.

Watch a short video message I recorded with Mitch Stewart, Executive Director of Organizing for America, and learn more about this new organization you helped build.

renew their commitment to working for peace!

January 23, 2009
Dear Tim,

Four years ago, CODEPINK founders spent inauguration night in a miserable jail call, charged with disorderly conduct for unfurling a "Stop the War" banner during the ceremony. This year, instead of handcuffs, we got front row seats--and hugs and kisses from the crowd as we unfurled peace banners, danced the can-can while singing "Yes we can-can end war" and handed out thousands of pink ribbons calling on President Obama to keep his peace promises.
As The Washington Times noted, "You know things have changed in Washington when CODEPINK gets seats up front at the inauguration." You know things have changed when Army Chief of Staff General Casey enthusiastically let us tie a Promises for Peace ribbon on his wrist and pledged to join us in working for peace. You really know things have changed when Obama, on day one, started addressing some key promises--#2 (Shut down Guantanamo), #3 (Reject the Military Commissions Act) and #4 (Stop Torture). Thanks to everyone who participted in a hunger strike until Inauguration day to make this a reality!
It's a new era indeed, and your activism helped make it so. And thanks to you, CODEPINK just received a thrilling honor from The Nation Magazine--being named the Most Valuable Progressive Organization of the entire Bush-Cheney era!
CODEPINK was never merely a protest group. It was a community of hope, and the election of Barack Obama serves as least to some extent as a realization of that hope. But CODEPINK activists have always leavened their hope with realism. They know that Obama will need prodding. So the Most Valuable Progressives of the Bush era are already putting their mark on what will be the Obama era.
Please help us make that mark by pledging to remind Obama to keep his promises, including an end to the occupation of Iraq and direct talks with Iran, and then invite five friends to join you.
Check out this week's USA Today editorial by Medea Benjamin called "End the Occupation." After you read it, be sure to sign our pledge and pass it along!
Thank you for being one of the Most Valuable Progressives of the Bush years. Here's to a brighter four years!
Keeping our promises for peace every day,
Audrey, Dana, Deidra, Desiree, Farida, Gael, Gayle, Janet, Jean, Jodie, Liz, Lori, Lydia, Medea, Nancy, Paris, and Rae
Check out the inspiring photos of the hundreds of CODEPINK women who streamed into DC to join us for this historic inauguration!
We're also inspired by all the CODEPINK women who gathered in their own communities to celebrate the inauguration and renew their commitment to working for peace!

renew their commitment to working for peace!

January 23, 2009
Dear Tim,

Four years ago, CODEPINK founders spent inauguration night in a miserable jail call, charged with disorderly conduct for unfurling a "Stop the War" banner during the ceremony. This year, instead of handcuffs, we got front row seats--and hugs and kisses from the crowd as we unfurled peace banners, danced the can-can while singing "Yes we can-can end war" and handed out thousands of pink ribbons calling on President Obama to keep his peace promises.
As The Washington Times noted, "You know things have changed in Washington when CODEPINK gets seats up front at the inauguration." You know things have changed when Army Chief of Staff General Casey enthusiastically let us tie a Promises for Peace ribbon on his wrist and pledged to join us in working for peace. You really know things have changed when Obama, on day one, started addressing some key promises--#2 (Shut down Guantanamo), #3 (Reject the Military Commissions Act) and #4 (Stop Torture). Thanks to everyone who participted in a hunger strike until Inauguration day to make this a reality!
It's a new era indeed, and your activism helped make it so. And thanks to you, CODEPINK just received a thrilling honor from The Nation Magazine--being named the Most Valuable Progressive Organization of the entire Bush-Cheney era!
CODEPINK was never merely a protest group. It was a community of hope, and the election of Barack Obama serves as least to some extent as a realization of that hope. But CODEPINK activists have always leavened their hope with realism. They know that Obama will need prodding. So the Most Valuable Progressives of the Bush era are already putting their mark on what will be the Obama era.
Please help us make that mark by pledging to remind Obama to keep his promises, including an end to the occupation of Iraq and direct talks with Iran, and then invite five friends to join you.
Check out this week's USA Today editorial by Medea Benjamin called "End the Occupation." After you read it, be sure to sign our pledge and pass it along!
Thank you for being one of the Most Valuable Progressives of the Bush years. Here's to a brighter four years!
Keeping our promises for peace every day,
Audrey, Dana, Deidra, Desiree, Farida, Gael, Gayle, Janet, Jean, Jodie, Liz, Lori, Lydia, Medea, Nancy, Paris, and Rae
Check out the inspiring photos of the hundreds of CODEPINK women who streamed into DC to join us for this historic inauguration!
We're also inspired by all the CODEPINK women who gathered in their own communities to celebrate the inauguration and renew their commitment to working for peace!

A Day We Are Not Likely To Forget

         We watched the inaugural of Barack Obama in a public room that looked out on the modest homes of urban Minneapolis families, some of them badly hurt by the economic crisis. Two huge television screens hung from the ceiling recording one of the extraordinary hours of American history. 
               Not many of us knew each other. But there were faces in that room that reflected some of the enduring times of American history.
               They were the faces of men who had served America during its wars; the faces of men and women whose African ancestors slaved in cotton fields and stood on the auction blocks of Jamestown; there were men and women whose immigrant forbears had come to America in the steerage of ocean ships, some headed for steel mills  and coal mines, others for the farm fields in places now called Nebraska, Kansas and the Dakotas; There were two or three people whose ancestors came here earlier than that, in the very first years of settlement, and their ancestors  where there in the Revolutionary War and in the founding of our America.
                I saw faces that linked us with the struggles of the Native Americans of 150 years ago, and their struggles now. And women who had devoted part their lives to lifting the horizons of the women of America, and the world; other faces that joined us with the pride and excitement of the Asian and Hispanic men and women who now call themselves Americans.
              And we were together.
              Barack Obama was speaking. An African-American president. Could Roosevelt have imagined? Could Lincoln? Could Martin King? I remembered the day in my childhood in northern Minnesota when I sat with my parents and listened to the voice of Franklin Delano Roosevelt coming to us on the Philco radio, telling us that America would come out the Depression and there would be jobs again and the farms would produce again.
             And I looked over to my father and mother, who were not demonstrative in their love but now were holding hands. My father, who worked 1,500 feet underground in an iron mine in northern Minnesota, nodded when Roosevelt said:
             “We'll work our way out of it. ”
              And now Barack Obama was saying: “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely  imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the flood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expediency’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.”
              Slowly a few in the room stood, and now all were on their feet, some of them in tears, and all were applauding. Why? Because this was a voice of an America of our immigrant grandparents, and those who came before them, the America they had envisioned and then lived. It didn’t give them gold or nor even much comfort.
              It gave them respect, and a life, and it gave their children a school.
             This was not only an orator’s America or a politician’s America, but the restatement of an  America that still strives today in the midst of struggle to rediscover itself and to renew itself;  and to hold out a hand not only to its people but to the world and say: “We have something to share; not only our hope and some of  our strength but  willingness to lead, not to dominate."
              If you had any familiarity with the times of Roosevelt, you knew that the oratory would disappear into the libraries, and the inevitable conflicts over direction would come. But what came out of that day more than 70 years ago was a conviction: that one way or another this country was going to find itself again, that it would find work for people who needed it, food for those who do not have enough, and a surging new energy for itself and the world. The war came. America led. It became strong. But strong is not necessarily forever. Nor are the lilacs and rosebuds of an idealized society
              What we have today is a reality, that we, the world, need healing and new strength--and America's people again can offer it.
              You have the feeling of a goal that somehow can be reached. If so, it cannot be reached in a year.  But road is open today.
             It was defined eloquently enough by Barack Obama, but I thought just as memorably by the old preacher who gave the benediction, with some hidden whimsy for an American-style  windup. He was beseeching The Almighty “to  help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown will stick around, (the laughs started coming about here) when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man (more laughs) and when white will embrace what is right.”
              Without, he probably was thinking, fright.
             Was it one of those days to engrave?
              It was all of that. 
By Jim Klobuchar                            
cJim Klobuchar              


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wise Thoughts (tm) from Paideia

Dear friends,
"Happy days are here again, the skies above are clear again, let us sing a song of cheer again, happy days are here again!"
This song, written in 1929, became the theme for Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 1932 inauguration and associated with overcoming the pain of the Great Depression. I recall it being linked with Minnesota's Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, the happy warrior, who practiced the "politics of joy."
"Happy Days" has not been sung much since 1968 when the music of joyful politics was stifled by tragedy, dissent and disillusionment. My participation in the political process has gone from being fun to my being genuinely frightened that our democracy was slipping away. Involvement during these recent years has been intensely serious as my trust in our national leadership eroded.
The next chapter in America's history started just a few hours ago when a gifted new president delivered an inspiring inaugural address. We're being given another chance to get this experiment in democracy right. President Obama (I love saying that) says we have difficult times ahead and it will take time to get where we want to go, but we will get there - if every citizen accepts responsibility.
The very good news is that a record number of citizens, especially young people, are deeply committed to political involvement to bring about deep systemic change. The journey will be energized, and more fun, if we return to the politics of joy, the kind of joy that comes along with inclusion, compassion, trust, generosity and love.
My heart runneth over with gratitude for all those who helped make this transcendent time possible.
With audacious faith, Phyllis Stenerson

"We must move forward in the days ahead with audacious faith. The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice." Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

extraordinary day for civil liberties

Dear ACLU Supporter,

Today is an extraordinary day for civil liberties and our country. And we should all pat ourselves on the back for helping make this moment happen.

Just 48 hours into his presidency, Barack Obama took decisive action on civil liberties -- issuing four executive orders that set a new path towards an America we can be proud of.

All those petitions you’ve signed, actions you’ve taken and contributions you’ve made are paying off in dramatic fashion. Because -- make no mistake -- President Obama’s decisive acts of leadership wouldn’t be possible without you and other ACLU supporters laying the groundwork.

You refused to listen to those who said the ACLU was being idealistic, unrealistic and even crazy to expect a new President to act this quickly. And by acting on your convictions, you have helped make this a remarkable day for the Constitution and the rule of law.

Thank President Obama for acting so quickly -- and urge him to keep moving forward.

With four executive orders today, our new President:

* Ordered Guantánamo Bay shut down
* Banned torture
* Ordered a full review of U.S. detention policies and procedures, and
* Delayed the trial of Ali al-Marri, an ACLU client whose case is at the center of the Supreme Court’s review of indefinite detention policies.

We’re seeing -- right before our eyes -- what it means to have a President who respects the Constitution and honors the rule of law. Please sign our “Thank You for Acting” message to President Obama -- not simply because he has earned our gratitude, but because he will need our ongoing support if we want him to follow through on crucial civil liberties and human rights priorities.

This isn’t just about sending a message of thanks to Obama. It’s about sending a message to anyone who dares to stand in our way as we act to restore the Constitution and reclaim America’s reputation.

Thank President Obama for acting so quickly -- and urge him to keep moving forward.

In the last 24 hours, more than 30,000 ACLU supporters have already signed our “Thank You for Acting” message to the President. Count yourself among them. Please act right now.


Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director

Thank you from President Barack Obama

Tim --

Thank you for being part of the most open inauguration in our nation's history.

As we begin the work of remaking America, we must draw on the common hopes that brought us together this week.

I'm counting on you to keep the spirit of unity and service alive.

You can visit to learn about our plans to bring change to America, and how you can get involved in the work ahead.

We face many challenges. But we face them as one nation.

And we have seen, time and time again, that there are no limits to what we can accomplish when we stand together.

Our journey is just beginning.

Thank you for all you do,

President Barack Obama

WE have started the Journey back

The Bush regime, they have left Washington "We the People" are finally getting back OUR Nation's Capital. It is going to take some time, before We as a nation, get back the respect, We once had. We are going to get up and dust ourselves off. Reality, We have been living in a dust bowl, living on scraps thrown aside by the haves. The past powers to be, was filled with corruption. I'm finally proud to say again I'm Irish Catholic American. LOVE & PEACE Tim Nolan

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Barack Obama's inaugural address

Text of President Barack Obama's inaugural address on Tuesday, as prepared for delivery and released by the Presidential Inaugural Committee.
OBAMA: My fellow citizens:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.
Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it)."
America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

We want to see what you're doing when the historic moment comes.

Dear Tim,
Today at noon, Barack Obama will be sworn in as President of the United States.

Together, we will open a new chapter in our nation's history, and begin the work of bringing change to America.

We want to see what you're doing when the historic moment comes.

Take a picture when President-elect Obama takes the oath of office. Then send your photo to us. We'll be posting photos on our website, and some may even be used in the official Inaugural book.

This is an inauguration for all Americans -- whether you're on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., or celebrating at home in your community.

People all across the country will be gathered together to watch history. We want to see how you will be joining in the celebration of change.

Take a picture as Barack Obama is sworn-in as our 44th President. Then show us where you were the moment it happened:

Share your picture of history.

Thank you,

The Presidential Inaugural Committee

Israel says it's close to ending offensive against Hamas.

    Gaza City, Gaza Strip - Israel said today it was close to winding up its offensive against Hamas, and diplomats in Washington said the U.S. will provide assurances on ending weapons smuggling into Gaza as part of a cease-fire.
    However, Hamas' Syrian-based political chief Khaled Mashaal rejected Israeli conditions for a cease-fire and demanded an immediate opening of the besieged territory's borders.
    "I hope we are entering the end game and that our goal of sustained and durable quiet in the south is about to be attained," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said.
    He said it was possible that Cabinet ministers would make a decision on a cease-fire as early as this weekend. But he said Israel was first waiting to receive reports from envoys who traveled today to Cairo and Washington to discuss terms of a truce.
    Israel wants militants to halt rocket fire and international guarantees that militants won't rearm before it agrees to a truce.
    In the Qatari capital of Doha, Hamas chief Mashaal took a tough line and asked a summit of Arab countries to back him by cutting off any ties with Israel.
    "We will not accept Israel's conditions for a cease-fire," Mashaal told the summit. He said Hamas demands that "the aggression stop," Israeli troops withdraw and crossings into Gaza open immediately.
    Israel embarked upon an air and ground war against Gaza militants on Dec. 27 to stop the rocket fire that has traumatized southern Israel for years. But the spiraling Palestinian death toll,which includes hundreds of civilians, has drawn international outrage and touched off intense diplomatic activity to end the violence.
    More than 1,100 Palestinians have been killed since the war began on Dec. 27, including 346 children, according to the U.N. and Gaza health officials. The death toll rose by three dozen today, including 25 people whose bodies were unearthed from rubble, Gaza health officials said.
    Thirteen Israelis have been killed, four by rocket fire, according to the military.
    The Israeli military kept up pressure on Hamas Friday. Before dawn, aircraft struck about 40 targets including smuggling tunnels along the Egyptian border, a rocket launcher ready for firing and a mosque that housed a tunnel entrance and was also used to store arms, the military said.
    In Washington, diplomats said the U.S. and Israel are working toward an agreement on the final working day of the Bush administration that would facilitate a cease-fire.
    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni are to ink the deal today. The pact also would assure Israel that additional steps will be taken to end weapons smuggling into Gaza and prevent Hamas from rearming. Diplomats say the text calls for enhanced intelligence cooperation and U.S. technical and logistical support for border monitors.
    The diplomats say the hope is that the agreement will satisfy Israeli concerns about reopening Gaza border crossings and will be an important piece of an Egyptian cease-fire being negotiated in Cairo.
    Earlier today, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, on a visit to the West Bank, urged Israel to declare a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza, but Israel rebuffed the idea.
    "I strongly urge Israeli leadership and government to declare a cease-fire unilaterally," Ban said from Ramallah, the seat of the West Bank government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a fierce rival of Hamas. "It's time to think about a unilateral cease-fire from the Israeli government."    But Regev dismissed that idea.
    "I don't believe that there's a logical expectation in the international community that Israel unilaterally cease fire while Hamas would continue to target cities, trying to kill our people," he said.
    Chief Israeli negotiator Amos Gilad arrived in Cairo for his second visit in two days to seek clarifications and express his views about the latest Egyptian cease-fire proposal.
    An Egyptian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the talks, said "signs are encouraging" for a breakthrough" in negotiations over a cease-fire.
    Palestinian medical officials reported an 11-year-old girl was killed in a shelling in northern Gaza and witnesses reported an airstrike on a Gaza City mosque as people were headed there for Friday prayers. The Israeli military had no comment.
    Militants sent rockets flying at Israel more than 10 times, injuring three people, including one critically, officials said.
    In the West Bank, Palestinian medics said Israeli soldiers shot dead a 20-year-old Palestinian during a violent protest against Israel's Gaza Strip offensive.
    Witnesses said demonstrators hurled rocks at troops who stopped them from marching into the Israeli-controlled sector of Hebron. The witnesses said the soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters but the man killed was hit by a live round to the head. Five other men were injured, medics said.
    The army had no immediate comment.
    Intense Israeli military activity in Gaza on Thursday exacted a steep price from Hamas when Interior Minister Said Siam was killed in an airstrike. Siam was the commander of Hamas security forces and was widely feared in Gaza.
    A small crowd of mourners buried Siam in Gaza City today. His white-shrouded body was draped in a green Hamas flag and some of the people who carried it chanted, "Greetings from Hamas!" One man fired an assault rifle in the area in a traditional salute.
    Siam was seen as a main architect of the violent Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, when Hamas fighters expelled forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Abbas. He was the highest Hamas official killed in the offensive.
    Hamas leaders went into hiding before the war began and none attended the funeral. But a statement distributed there in the name of Gaza's Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, said, "This new crime committed by the Zionist war machine will not affect the determination of our people or drive us to raise the flag of surrender."
    Barzak reported from Gaza City; Lavie from Tel Aviv, Israel. Associated Press correspondent Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.

Monday, January 19, 2009

President-elect Obama's call to service

Dear Tim,

Today, Americans in all 50 states answered President-elect Obama's call to service.

Thousands of people stood up to renew America together, doing everything from working in homeless shelters and mentoring young people, to assembling more than 80,000 care packages for our troops at a service event here in Washington, D.C.

Thank you for a great day of service.

Tomorrow, Barack Obama and Joe Biden will be sworn-in as President and Vice President of the United States.

You can watch the Swearing-In ceremony live on our website beginning at 11:00 a.m.

In the evening, we will be throwing the first-ever Neighborhood Ball, a nationwide celebration of change -- and you don't have to be in the nation's capital to join in the festivities.

ABC will broadcast the Washington, D.C. Neighborhood Ball beginning at 8:00 p.m. EST, and people at Neighborhood Balls across the country will be sending in photos and videos of their celebrations. Some may even be featured in the official Inaugural book.

I encourage you to share your own photos and stories:

You can also text OBAMA to 56333 for instructions on how to send in congratulation messages and pictures from your mobile phone.

This inauguration is more than just the beginning of a new administration. It is the beginning of a nationwide spirit of unity and service.

I hope you will stay involved in the effort to renew America together.

Thank you,


Emmett S. Beliveau
Executive Director
Presidential Inaugural Committee

Sunday, January 18, 2009

What are you doing tommorrow?

Tim --

Sign Up to Renew America Together In your neighborhood and in thousands of communities across the country, Americans are answering President-elect Obama's call to service.

Tomorrow, January 19th, our nation will come together in a shared spirit of community. And I wanted to make sure you know how to participate.

Monday is not only the eve of an inauguration that brings all of us so much hope, it's also Martin Luther King Jr. Day -- when we recognize the power of one man to bring about change by serving his country.

Help kick off an ongoing commitment to serve our communities by taking part in this extraordinary day of service.

Sign up to attend or host an event in your community and help rebuild America one neighborhood at a time.

The grassroots movement you helped build was always about more than an election. It's about bringing much needed change to Washington and our communities.

Barack is calling on us to help rebuild our country. He knows what can happen when ordinary people turn their hopes into real action.

Take the first step this Monday, January 19th, by joining a service event near you. Sign up now:



David Plouffe
Campaign Manager
Obama for America

Fairwell to Arms those Weapons of Mass Destruction

Mr. President, My heart goes out to you. It will be difficult for you to operate on your own after 8 years of having Dick Cheney pulling your strings. Karl Rove writing your script. Ronald Regan said tear down the wall, You countered with put up a wall at the Mexican border. On January 20th WE the People can say Happy Trails to you. LOVE & may you find an inner PEACE Tim Nolan Editor of Global Peace

Friday, January 16, 2009

Palestinians say: 'This is a war of extermination'

Everyone says something new is going on here; something different. The residents of Egyptian Rafah are used to the sounds of rockets and shells exploding on the other side of their border, but they've never heard the sounds they've been hearing over the last 20 days. Twenty-five miles further into Egypt the general hospital at el-Arish is used to receiving the Palestinian wounded. The staff have never seen injuries like these before. The hospital forecourt is swarming with ambulances, paramedics, press. The wounded are raced into casualty.

The Palestinians are mostly silent; each man working out where he finds himself and what he's going to do. Fearing for their wounded and fearing for those they've left behind, they are silent but unfailingly courteous.

They try to answer questions. They must be exhausted? "The people of Gaza," they say (not "we"; they're too proud for that), "the people of Gaza just wish for an hour's sleep." The case you're accompanying? "I'm here with my nephew. He's 19. Shrapnel in his head. He was sitting with his friends. He's a student. Architecture. The helicopter dropped a bomb and seven of the group were killed and six were injured. They found a boy's hand on a 3rd floor balcony."

Later, I see a boy sitting up in bed with a bandage round his head. He has wide brown eyes flecked with green and he frowns a little, as though he was trying to remember something important. In the next bed a 12-year-old also with a bandaged head is not quite conscious yet. He is flushed and fretful.

The Palestinians say: "This is a war of extermination." They describe bombs which break into 16 parts, each part splintering into 116 fragments, the white phosphorus which water cannot put out; which seems to die and then flares up again.

No one I spoke to has any doubt that the Israelis are committing war crimes. According to the medics here, to reports from doctors inside the Gaza Strip and to Palestinian eye-witnesses, more than 95% of the dead and injured are civilians. Many more will probably be found when the siege is lifted and the rubble is cleared. The doctors speak of a disproportionate number of head injuries - specifically of shrapnel lodged in the brain.

They also speak of the extensive burns of white phosphorus. These injuries are, as they put it, 'incompatible with life'. They are also receiving large numbers of amputees. This is because the damage done to the bone by explosive bullets is so extensive that the only way the doctors in Gaza can save lives is by amputating.

One of the nurses said to me that the nurses and paramedics were horrified by what they were seeing. "We deal with cases all the time," she said. "But what we're seeing these days we've never seen before or imagined."

Upstairs a professor of economics, accompanying his brother, sees me staring at my notes and says: "Exaggerate. Whatever you write will not be as bad as the truth."

In the silence that followed someone put a mobile in my hand.

"Look!" On a rubble-strewn street lay the body of a roasted and charred child. Two bones were sticking out where her thighs had been. "The dogs ate her legs," he explains. For a moment I put a hand over my eyes. The phone goes round the table, each man gravely contemplating the burned child on the screen. Then someone asks: "What will it take to make the Israelis stop?"

• Ahdaf Soueif is a writer whose novel The Map of Love was shortlisted for the 1999 Booker prize

Major human tragedy is taking place in Gaza

As you are all aware, a major human tragedy is taking place in Gaza. The embargo that has been continuing for a long time in Gaza was previously causing deaths one-by-one. Now, following these latest attacks, one-by-one deaths have been replaced by deaths in large numbers. . . . . . Words fail to describe the suffering of women and children. The children of Gaza, just like children the world over, like our children, wanted milk, bread and toys, to go to school and to the park and to learn and play. How tragic it is that they died on their bicycles and in the parks they played in. They sought refuge in schools, but were killed there, too. They sought refuge in mosques, but were killed again. They were taken to hospitals, but could not escape the death machines even there. The warmest and most secure place for them was their mothers’ arms, their cradles. But death sought them out even in their mothers’ arms and in their cradles. They were not on any of the sides in this conflict. They could not comprehend why their elders were fighting, why they were shooting at one another, why they were launching missiles. Maybe as we are speaking here at this very moment, another woman, another innocent child, another baby is dying. Let there be no doubt: The death of children is the death of innocence, and the death of innocence is the downfall of humanity.
– Emine Erdogan, wife of Turkey’s Prime Minister, 1/10/09


January 16, 2009

Dear Tim,

Last week, on extremely short notice, 1,000 of you sent a white rose to encourage Obama to speak out about the atrocities in Gaza. Thank you for bringing such a moving and beautiful action to full bloom. See the photos here. Now, let's put pink ribbons around our fingers to remind Obama to keep his promises for peace!

During his campaign, Obama promised to end the war in Iraq, close Guantanamo, and end torture, among other commitments for peace. Click here to sign up to remind Obama to keep his word and deliver the change our country and the world so desperately needs.

We are thrilled to bring our message of YES WE CAN END WAR to the Inauguration. As you read this, two hundred CODEPINKers are getting onto trains and planes and streaming toward Washington, DC. Our women can't wait to dance the "Yes We Can-Can" and be a vibrant pink presence at balls and other events. You can count on CODEPINK to be a visible voice for peace at this historic transition.

This nation, and our friends around the world, have been inspired by the pledges for peace that Obama made on the campaign trail.

Watch our video to see and hear Obama's uplifting promises and join us in holding him to his word. Pass it on to your friends.

During inauguration week, we will tie pink ribbons on thousands of eventgoers' cold, hopeful fingers (above, Patricia demonstrates on the charming Noah Wyle). Obama supporters will flash their ribboned peace signs to remind Obama to stand up for peace, and then take them home as a personal reminder to stand up. Now there's an inauguration souvenir with a purpose! You can order your own online here!

Thank you for holding Obama to his promises for change. We promise you we will continue to find new, creative, effective ways to make those promises a reality.

With hope and determination,
Audrey, Dana, Deidra, Desiree, Farida, Gael, Gayle, Janet, Jean, Jodie, Liz, Lori, Lydia, Medea, Nancy, Paris, and Rae

P.S. You can continue to show that you will not be silent about the siege in Gaza by calling your representative at 202-224-3121 and asking her/him to co-sponsor Rep. Dennis Kucinich's resolution calling for "an immediate and unconditional ceasefire" and "unrestricted humanitarian access" to the occupied Gaza Strip.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

No Bailout for AT&T, Comcast and Verizon

Dear Tim,
No Bailout for AT&T, Comcast and Verizon

Tell Congress: Don’t bail out phone and cable companies. Build out a better Internet for everyone.

Click here to send a letter to Rep. Keith Ellison

President-elect Barack Obama has committed billions of dollars to rebuilding America's crumbling information infrastructure. It's a bold part of his economic stimulus plan that will revitalize our economy and our democracy.But as Obama's plan moves through Congress, it's come under siege by phone and cable lobbyists seeking to turn our economic stimulus into their blank check -- written out to corporations like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon with no strings attached Only a public outcry will ensure that public tax dollars go to serving the public interest.Free Press has a five-point plan3 to ensure that any public investment actually serves the public interest. Our plan makes crystal clear that any taxpayer money should support broadband that is:

1. Universal: focused on connecting the nearly half of the country stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide.
2. Open: committed to free speech and without corporate gatekeepers, filters or discrimination.
3. Affordable: providing faster speeds at lower prices.
4. Innovative: dedicated to new projects only and available to new competitors, including municipalities and nonprofits.
5. Accountable: open to public scrutiny so we can ensure that our money isn't being spent to prop up stock prices and support market monopolies.

Building better broadband cannot be another corporate bailout. It must be a buildout for better democracy.

Connecting everyone will give more Americans a voice in government, better educate our children,4 revitalize rural economies, and bring hundreds of thousands of new job opportunities to those who need them most.

Greedy phone and cable companies have squandered America’s global Internet leadership -- overcharging consumers, throttling content, stifling innovation and dropping us from fifth to 22nd place in world broadband adoption.5

With the economic stimulus package on the fast track in Congress, our plan needs your support right now. It’s time we changed business as usual in Washington. Help jump-start the economy and restore accountability and openness to America’s communications policy by acting today.

Thank you.

Timothy Karr
Campaign Director
Free Press Action Fund

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Because Freedom Can't Protect Itself

Dear ACLU Supporter,

According to news reports, President-elect Barack Obama intends to issue an executive order to close Guantánamo Bay right after his Inauguration. But, no one will say when it will end -- other than making clear the actual closing won’t take place until well into the future. Here’s one powerful reason why we need a detailed plan, a certain timeline, and specific proposals.

Unless Barack Obama immediately shuts down the military commissions operating at Guantánamo Bay, Omar Khadr -- who has been detained at the infamous prison since he was 15 -- will become the first person in recent history to be tried by any western nation for war crimes allegedly committed as a child.

It’s a dishonorable distinction that the U.S. can ill afford -- and a violation of international standards of justice that must not be allowed to go forward.

This impending trial adds even more urgency to the ACLU’s call for an immediate end to the unjust military commissions underway at Guantánamo Bay. Omar Khadr’s trial is scheduled to begin on January 26th -- just six days after Barack Obama’s Inauguration.

Urge President-elect Obama to stop Guantánamo child soldier trials and immediately end the military commissions at Guantánamo.

Khadr is slated to be tried for offenses he allegedly committed when he was 15. He was detained for over two years before even being allowed to meet with a lawyer. Now 22 years old, he has been held at Guantánamo Bay for over six years.

The ACLU has joined with other leading human rights groups in urging Barack Obama to drop the military commission charges against Khadr and either repatriate him to Canada or, if there is evidence to support it, to prosecute him in U.S. federal courts in accordance with international child protection and fair trial standards.

One thing is certain: Allowing Khadr to stand trial before the deeply discredited Guantánamo military commissions would be an absolute travesty.

Urge President-elect Obama to stop Guantánamo child soldier trials and immediately end the military commissions at Guantánamo.

Barack Obama voted against the legislation that authorized the Guantánamo military commissions, calling the law “a betrayal of American values.” And he has co-sponsored legislation designed to help end the use of child soldiers. Now, we need his immediate leadership to halt the trials of Omar Khadr and Mohammed Jawad, the other known child soldier detainee at Guantánamo Bay, and end the military commissions entirely.

Please tell the President-elect it’s time for it to end. Urge him to immediately halt the human rights disaster about to unfold at Guantánamo Bay. Thank you for standing with the ACLU in the pursuit of justice.


Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director

Monday, January 12, 2009

On Gaza, Senate foes agree

Pioneer Press
Posted: 01/12/2009 12:01:01 AM CST

Republican Norm Coleman, left, and Democrat Al Franken shake hands Sunday after Franken spoke in support of Israel at a St. Louis Park event. Coleman also spoke, as did Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline, right, behind Franken; Gov. Tim Pawlenty; former Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton; Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann; and state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis.

Large demonstrations on both sides were held around the world Sunday. Pro-Israel events drew crowds in New York, London and Belgium, while pro-Palestinian rallies turned violent in Pakistan and the Philippines.

Anti-War Committee

Court Solidarity: Support the "Recruiter 7" arrested at a 5-year
anniversary protest against the Iraq war
Monday, Jan 12 @ 9:00am (expected to continue all day and into Tuesday) @
Hennepin County Government Center, 300 S. 6th St, Mpls

On March 27, 2008, the Anti-War Committee marked the five-year anniversary
of the war and the occupation of Iraq, with a protest at an Army National
Guard recruiting office in Minneapolis. Many of national guard troops have
been sent to fight, and sometimes die, in Iraq, including those from

Military recruitment of our sons and daughters fuels the war in Iraq,
risking their lives as well as the Iraqi people. Our young people should
not have to join the military to fund their educations or out of economic
need. These are the issues we brought to light with our protests, and
those of the students we allied with that day. Television, radio and print
media all covered our demonstrations, spreading the word that opposition
to the Iraq war continues.

Our protest led to the arrests of 16 people, and on Monday, 7 of us are
going to court to fight the charges against us.

We need your support. Please come to show the prosecutor, judge and jury
that the war in Iraq is the real crime, and our community supports those
who take a stand against it. Be visible - wear an AWC or other anti-war
shirt. (Buttons won't be allowed, and you will pass through a metal
detector, so don't bring anything else with you that won't make it through

While we can't know for certain, we expect the trial to continue to
Tuesday. If you can, please be there Monday morning at 9am at the Hennepin
County Government Center, 300 S. 6th St, Mpls. We'll try to have someone
to direct you from the main floor, but you can also ask at the information
desk by the name of Jessica Sundin, or one of the other defendants.

Thank you for your solidarity. We will post updates as they become
Meredith Aby

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A national call to service

Tim --

Host an event President-elect Obama started his career by serving Chicago communities struggling with tough economic times. He saw what could be achieved when ordinary people organized and worked together -- and that idea was at the core of this campaign.

You've seen the power people can have when they make a commitment to serving others.

Now, you can help launch this administration in the same spirit that got us here.

On Inauguration Day, President-elect Obama will call for a renewed commitment to national service to take on the challenges our country faces. You can help lead the way by joining your fellow supporters across the country on January 19th, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, for a national day of service.

Sign up to organize an event in your community and help renew America together.

Every time our nation has faced a challenge, the American people have risen to meet it.

This new administration will face a number of challenges on day one, and you are the answer we need.

On January 19th, you can be part of a movement that will stretch from coast to coast, bringing together people from all walks of life acting as one nation, with a common purpose.

Help mobilize every corner of the country by organizing an event in your community.

Sign up today:

Our strength as a nation is built on the ideal that we all have a stake in one another. Be part of renewing America together.

Thank you for all that you do,

Obama for America


January 11, 2009

Dear Tim,

Please join CODEPINK NYC as we bring our call for an immediate ceasefire and an end to the blockade to the U.S. Mission to the U.N. next week.

When: Tuesday, 13 January from 5:30 p.m.
Where: Permanent Mission of the United States to the United Nations
140 East 45th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues
Sponsored by CODEPINK NYC, UFPJ/NY, Peace Action/NY, American Friends Service Committee, World Without War, Center of Cultures and others
For the past two weeks, the 1.5 million men, women, and children of Gaza-the most densely populated place on earth-have been subjected to a massive air and ground assault by Israel, the single largest foreign recipient of American military aid. Over 800 people have died, and thousands more wounded. Food, fuel, and medical supplies to the territory have been blocked-even the UN and the Red Cross have suspended aid, as its workers come under Israeli fire. The world looks on as an entire population starves and suffers, as American-supplied weapons continue to rain fire -weapons financed as part of a $30 billion multi-year aid deal passed by Congress in 2007.

American taxpayers want their money to be used for peace, not war. Call your elected officials and ask them to let America join the rest of the civilized world in calling for an immediate ceasefire and end to the blockade of Gaza.

In addition to the weapons the U.S. provides, our government also uses its position on the U.N. Security to block censure of Israel's actions and to impede calls for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

There is no military solution to the current conflict in Gaza. Only an immediate, unconditional ceasefire and immediate, unimpeded humanitarian access to Gaza will make a diplomatic solution possible. Please join us in our action and calls to help stop the carnage in Gaza.

The manifestation of hope is action- see you in the streets!
Barbara, Dana, Eva-Lee, Jean, Nancy and the CODEPINK NYC team

Thursday, January 8, 2009

GAZA! Stop the U.S.-Backed Israeli Slaughter of Palestinians!

”Gazans who are not killed directly by bombs, are dying from inability to have wounds attended to. They are isolated, trapped and starving within a blockade—many without medical aid, food, water and electricity. The siege, which had been going on for a year is now ‘a full-blown humanitarian crisis,’ in the words of the United Nations. The pause to allow a limited amount of humanitarian aid in, while destroying Gaza, is only a cosmetic face put on in the attempt to eliminate an entire population. Gaza City and refugee camps are in rubble, mosques, schools and hospitals destroyed, and the ground invasion continues the assault. The situation threatens to engulf the whole Middle East and it is not, in any way, making Israelis safe. No one should be killed and we don’t condone any deaths, but do not allow the political mantra, ‘Israel has a right to defend itself’ disguise the high tech wounding and slaughter of massive numbers of Palestinians. The U.S. supplied the weapons and military gear.”—WAMM

The latest news from Gaza is bleak.

Dear Tim,

13 days into the conflict, the death toll has risen to more than 680, with thousands more injured. 1.5 million people, 56% of them children, are trapped inside Gaza -- an area about 6 miles wide and 27 miles long -- by the Israeli blockade.1

With the UN reporting that 750,00 Gazans are without access to water and 1 million do not have electricity, how are Gazans supposed to endure the daily assault?

Meanwhile, armed Palestinian groups, including Hamas, continue bombarding Israel with indiscriminate rocket fire, firing over a dozen rockets Thursday.2

What can be done to prevent Hamas from firing at civilians?

What are the responsibilities of the warring parties in this conflict?

How can refugees be protected?

Ask these and other questions today for our online chat on Monday, January 12th, at 12 noon EST.

Talk to our researcher near Gaza
Take Action Now!

Submit a question to our researcher today and check back on Monday, January 12th, at noon EST for answers. © AFP

Our researcher Donatella Rovera will answer your questions directly from southern Israel where she is currently stationed. Donatella is pushing to enter Gaza, monitoring the crisis from southern Israel, and conducting first-hand interviews with affected individuals and organizations.

Donatella’s research will supplement the recent report AI co-authored in March 2008, The Gaza Strip: A Humanitarian Implosion.3 That research exposed the escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza: over 80% live in absolute poverty, unemployment is close to 40%, households spend over 60% on food and power outages keep hospitals from treating the critically ill.4

As the violence escalates, AI continues to demand the following:

* All parties to the conflict - i.e. Israel and Palestinian armed groups such as Hamas - should cease attacks on civilians.
* The humanitarian crisis in Gaza should be ameliorated. A three hour daily truce is not enough.
* The United States should cease military transfers to Israel and should investigate whether any U.S. weapons were used in attacks against civilians.
* The United States should condemn all sides with equal vigor - including Israel for its vastly disproportionate response.

Globally, Amnesty International sections are pressuring their individual stakeholders. As an Amnesty supporter in the U.S. section, we’re asking you to urge Secretary Rice to protect civilians and end all unlawful attacks.

Next week our advocacy strategy will enter phase two. Stay tuned as we roll out the next part of our campaign to make sure we protect civilians and ameliorate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

For daily updates on Gaza, visit our blog, Human Rights Now where our advocacy team and country specialists are monitoring and responding to the crisis.


Curt Goering
Senior Deputy Executive Director

Leon E. Panetta to Be Named C.I.A. Director

President-elect Barack Obama has selected Leon E. Panetta,
the former congressman and White House chief of staff, to
take over the Central Intelligence Agency, an organization
that Mr. Obama criticized during the campaign for using
interrogation methods he decried as torture, Democratic
officials said Monday.

Obama's Silence

Back when Barack Obama was a longshot candidate in the Iowa primary, he was morally candid, saying on March 11, 2007, that "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people." It was one month after the announcement of Obama's campaign, and the last time he would make such a statement. Three days later, at the AIPAC conference in Washington DC, he was hammered as inexperienced by the New York Times reporter, Patrick Healy, on March 14.

"Less experienced than Mrs. Clinton in the thickets of Jewish and Middle Eastern politics, [Obama] became a bit tangled in the eyes of some voters" at the AIPAC event, Healy commented. After calling himself pro-Israel and endorsing a two-state solution, Obama "pointedly" mentioned the Palestinians. He and Senator Clinton sounded the same themes, Healy wrote, "yet Mr. Obama proved more expansive by bringing up the Palestinians and ruminating on the Holocaust and slavery and on cynicism in politics", which caused "murmurs" from the audience.

One AIPAC activist, the son of a rabbi and a Hillary fan, was busily "spreading the word at the conference about Mr. Obama's remarks. 'It's just clumsy of him to say that on the eve of the AIPAC conferences."

While the Obama staff was trying to put up a small speaker's platform, Mrs Clinton "wanted a big counteract the curiosity factor and showmanship of Mr. Obama...There was Israeli music on the sound system, there was a sign with Mrs. Clinton's name in Hebrew, and there were campaign banners and balloons, and a video showing her at work."

It's possible to defend Obama's retreat to a safe pro-Israel position in 2007, especially if he sat down first with long-time Palestinian friends and supporters in Chicago and explained himself. After all, Bush-Cheney and the neo-conservatives were virtually welded to the Israeli hawks, and Hillary Clinton, who once gave Arafat's wife a kiss on the cheek, was threatening to obliterate Israel's enemies. Obama would be a fresh start.

But Obama must know that his continuing silence today is more than expedient. It is immoral. And if being moral is not the business of statecraft, he must know that his November 4 election helped cause the Israelis to thunder into Gaza and change "the facts on the ground" before his inauguration. They are afraid of his coming.

He must know that this Israeli offensive is the ultimate effort of the neo-conservatives, with consenting Democratic silence, to wrest a victory in the Middle East. It's bad enough that William Kristol has gained a coveted columnist's role at the New York Times; worse is Kristol's propaganda offensive for the Israelis, claiming that Israel will do Obama a favor by knocking off Hamas. Shamelessly, Kristol adds that this victory will come on top of America's "success" in Iraq.

Yes, it is difficult to understand much less endorse the apparent Hamas strategy. Knowing what was ahead, they might have taken a disciplined position from October to November of not giving Israel any excuse, any provocation, that could bring the crisis to boil in the interlude between November and the inauguration. They could have started a diplomatic offensive of their own. Those were their decisions. But it is foolish to ignore and deny, as many do, the deliberate policies of the Israelis and the US to overturn the outcome of the democratic elections that brought Hamas to power. It is immoral to squeeze the whole Gaza population into collective suffering by the blockade. It is impossible to "destroy" Hamas without guaranteeing the rise of another Palestinian resistance movement, just as Hezbollah was born in the ashes of Lebanon in 1982. And it is simply not true that negotiations between implacable adversaries must be considered forever off the table. As a Hamas spokesman wrote this week, discussions with former President Jimmy Carter have been "a refreshing exchange", despite Carter's vocal differences with Hamas. As Obama pointed out in his campaign, it is simple to talk with allies, the point of diplomacy is to talk with enemies or strangers.

Obama is in a process of being cornered, not unlike the efforts to push John Kennedy into the Cuban quagmire in 1961, or the tactics of Richard Nixon to keep Saigon from agreeing to negotiations in 1968.

He is being cornered by his party, too. It is hardly constructive that Sen. Harry Reid said this week that "I think this terrorist organization, Hamas, has got to be put away." Where are the voices of the Progressive Caucus or Out of Iraq Caucus? Is it possible for Obama to take a stronger position than his own party leaders? Not likely, even though a Rasmussen poll shows a large percentage of Democratic voters supporting diplomatic rather than military approaches.

The silence, Obama must know, is extremely costly. As the bombs fall on Gaza children and civilians, his credibility comes under greater question. The bright promise of moral leadership is sullied and squandered, along with the potential of America's ability to be an even-handed diplomatic mediator. As January 20 approaches, he will have to make a lonely decision, the first of many, to remember his 2007 words about Palestinian suffering and his campaign pledge to talk unconditionally with adversaries.
Tom Hayden from the Huffington Post

Obama's Wars

On January 21, President Barack Obama will take personal responsibility for the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan launched under President Bush. The Afghan-Pakistan war is uniquely Democratic in origin, however. Since John Kerry's 2004 campaign, hawkish Democratic security and political consultants have asserted that Afghanistan is a good and necessary war in comparison with Iraq which they label a diversionary one. This argument has allowed Democrats to be critical of the Iraq War without diminishing their standing as hawks who will employ force to hunt down Al Qaeda. As a result, the rank-and-file base of the Democratic Party, and public opinion in general, remains divided and confused over Afghanistan. As a result, opponents of the Afghanistan escalation remain at the margins politically for now, although backed by a healthy public skepticism given the Iraq experience.
Back on July 14, I wrote "Chasing Needles By Burning Haystacks" for the Huffington Post, a criticism of Obama's Iraq and Afghanistan proposals. In other writings for The Nation, I have been critical of the decision by liberal Democratic donors in 2008 to defund and shut down an independent media campaign that would have carried telelvision and radio messages against "McCain's wars." Now that they are becoming Obama's wars, the challenge will be more difficult, since so many millions of Americans, myself included, want our new president to succeed, restore hope, and launch a new New Deal at home, not be distracted by a quagmire abroad.
The war in Iraq already is fading from public view, although more than 140, 000 American troops remain stationed there. The major television networks have withdrawn. US casualties are far fewer than in traffic accidents on American streets. Iraqi violence is down as well, with 8,955 civilian deaths in 2008 compared to 51,894 in the bloodiest years of 2006-2007. The shift is towards a low-visibility counterinsurgency war like those that ravaged Central America in the 1970s.
The conditions for a massive social movement against the Iraq War are ebbing, for now, unless large-scale fighting suddenly resumes or President Obama unexpectedly caves in to the Pentagon and blatantly breaks his promise to withdraw combat troops in 16 months and all troops by 2011.
That makes Afghanistan the growing focal point for public debate over what counterinsurgency gurus call "the long war" against Islamic jihad.
In everyday language, Obama's proposals for Afghanistan and Pakistan can be described as either out of the frying pan and into the fire, or attacking needles by burning down haystacks.
The Pentagon paradigm is to defeat al-Qaeda militarily while refusing to address, and thereby worsening, the dire conditions that gave rise to the Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives in the first place. Ahmed Rashid's new Descent into Chaos [Viking, 2008] provides a horrific portrait of Afghanistan in careful prose based on reputable sources.
It is estimated by RAND that $100 per capita is the minimum required to stabilize a country evolving out of war. Bosnia received $679 per capita, Kosovo $526, while Afghanistan received $57 per capita in the key years, 2001-2003;
- When the US installed the Hamid Karzai government, Afghanistan ranked 172nd out of 178 nations on the United Nation's Human Development Index, having the highest rate of infant mortality in the world, a life expectancy rate of 44-45 years, and the youngest population of any country; in 2005 95 percent of Kabul's residents were living without electrical power.
- Seven hundred civilians were killed in the first five months of 2008 alone, according to the United Nations.
Despite some gains in media and currency reform, plus a modest increase in children in school, this was the path of least reconstruction.
And despite media images of Afghan democracy that made loya jirga tribal gatherings appear to be the birth of participatory democracy, a warlord state was entrenched by the CIA. The government is "shot through with corruption and graft", from the police to the presidential family, writes Dexter Filkins in the New York Times. [Jan. 2, 2009]
There are some 36,000 US troops stretched across Afghanistan, another 17,500 under NATO command, and 18,000 in counterinsurgency and training roles [New York Times, July 14]. It costs the Pentagon $2 billion per month to support the American troops.
The enlarged American forces are likely to "squeeze the Taliban first". [New York Times, 12-24-08]. The target will be the support networks of the Taliban which are embedded in the vast tribal lands of Pashtun civilians, which stretch from southern Afghanistan into Pakistan. The enlarged American forces are likely to "squeeze the Taliban first". [New York Times, 12-24-08].
Even Afghanistan's client president, Hamid Karzai, complains of extra-judicial killings and civilian casualties from the American air war, a pattern of repression and suffering which will only worsen with more American troops pouring into combat zones.
Meanwhile, the war in Pakistan and other Central Asian countries will expand as the additional US troops seek to recover supply lines closed by recent Taliban attacks. [No one comments that the Pentagon is carrying out precisely what it accuses the Taliban of doing, using Pakistan as a supply and staging area for its forces in Afghanistan. Eighty percent of those supplies flow through Pakistan, according to the New York Times, Dec. 31, 2008]
According to Rashid, "Afghanistan is not going to be able to pay for its own army for many years to come -- perhaps never."
As of 2006, Afghanistan's economy still rested on producing 90 percent of the world's opium, an eerie narco-state parallel with the US counterinsurgency in Colombia from where most of America's supply of cocaine originates.
Afghanistan is an unstable police state. By 2005, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission cited 800 cases of detainee abuse at some thirty U.S. firebases. "The CIA operates its own secret detention centers, which were off limits to the US military." Ghost prisoners, known as Persons Under Control [PUCs] are held permanently without any public records of their existence. Warlords operate their own prisons with "unprecedented abuse, torture, and death of Taliban prisoners." And as the US lowered the number of prisoners at Guantanamo, it increased the numbers held at Bagram, near Kabul. As of January, 2008, there were 630 incarcerated at Bagram, "including some who had been there for five years and whom the ICRC had still not been given access to." After weeks of hunger strikes about detention conditions, the Taliban recently orchestrated a jailbreak of hundreds of Afghanis from the Kandahar prison, an inside job.
As in Iraq, the US contracted for police training in Afghanistan with DynCorp International; between 2003 and 2005, the US spent $860 million to train 40,000 Afghan police, "but the results were totally useless" according to Rashid. Even Richard Holbrooke described the DynCorp training program as "an appalling joke...a complete shambles."
When the Taliban government was overthrown, the US installed a Westernized Pashtun, Hamid Karzai, a former lobbyist for Unocal, who had been out of the country during the jihad against the Soviet Union. But the Pashtun tribes themselves were violently displaced from power for the first time in 300 years. They remain by far the largest Afghan minority at 42 percent of the population, heavily concentrated in Kandahar and the southern provinces and across the federally-administered tribal areas in western Pakistan. These are the areas that the Pentagon, the New York Times, and Barack Obama [like John Kerry before him] designate as the central battlefront of the war on terrorism.
The question is not simply a moral one, but whether the expanding war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, fueled by troop transfers from Iraq, is winnable, and in what sense?
Transferring an additional 20, 000 American troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, which Obama proposes, is symbolic, a step on the treadmill of escalation. The American troop level will be pushed to 58,000, in addition to 30,000 other foreign troops. Obama may be proposing an escalation simply in order not to lose, a pattern well-documented in Daniel Ellsberg's history of the Vietnam War.
The questionable premise of the coming escalation is that military success must precede any political solution. "What we need are more troops in Afghanistan because we need security, and eventually we will get a strategy", says a former Special Forces officer now with the think tank Center for a New American Security. [Dec. 23, 2008] But it could deepen the quagmire and turn more Afghans against Obama and the US as well.
In Pakistan, the Pentagon has fostered the ascension of a new Pakistani general, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, whose background includes training at Fort Benning and Fort Leavenworth. An unnamed US military official praises Kayani "for embracing new counterinsurgency training and tactics that could be more effective in countering militants in the country's tribal areas. [New York Times, Jan. 7. 2008] Over $400 million is being spent to recruit a "frontier corps" of to "turn local tribes against militants" [New York Times, Mar. 4, 2008] CIA and Special Forces operatives already have invaded Pakistan to set up a secret base from which to hunt Osama bin Laden "before Mr. Bush leaves office" as well as fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban on the ground and from pilotless Predator drones. [New York Times, Feb. 22, 2008].
This constitutes another preventive war by the United States, this one in violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and the overwhelming sentiment of Pakistan's people. On the Afghan front, the Taliban will be able to retreat in the face of greater US firepower, or attack like Lilliputians from multiple sides if the US concentrates its forces around the Pakistan border. Further violence and tides of anti-American sentiment could sweep across the region into Pakistan with unpredictable results.
Michael Scheuer, the former CIA official once charged with tracking down Osama bin Laden, suggests that the American delusion is that "by establishing a minority-dominated semisecular, pro-Indian government [in Kabul], we would neither threaten the identity nor raise the ire of the Pashtun tribes nor endanger Pakistan's national security." Scheuer wrote this year that "for the United States, the war in Afghanistan has been lost. By failing to recognize that the only achievable US mission in Afghanistan was to destroy the Taliban and al-Qaeda and their leaders and get out, Washington is now faced with fighting a protracted and growing insurgency. The only upside of this coming defeat is that it is a debacle of our own making. We are not being defeated by our enemies; we are in the midst of defeating ourselves." [Marching Toward Hell, 2008]
The beginning of an alternative may require unfreezing American diplomacy towards Iran and considering a "grand bargain" instead. Teheran is the single power, according to CIA director Deutch, who could destabilize the US withdrawal from Iraq. It happens that they were America's ally against Afghanistan not so long ago. The Iranians have lost thousands of police and soldiers themselves in a border war against Afghan drug lords. According to William Polk, "ironically, the only effective deterrent to the trade is Iran." [Violent Politics, 2008] In exchange for security guarantees against a US-directed regime change, Iran may be willing to discuss cooperation with the "Great Satan" to stabilize its borders with Iraq and Afghanistan. Improbable? That depends on whether one thinks the alternative is unthinkable.
The great reappraisal might be underway. In December 2008, Lawrence Korb and Laura Conley of the Center for American Progress published an op-ed piece calling for US-Iran talks over Afghanistan. The CAP is headed by John Podesta, senior official in the Obama transition.
Since twists and turns seem to be the only pattern in divide-and-conquer strategies, it is possible that Obama thinks being tough towards Afghanistan and Pakistan is a defensive cover for withdrawing from Iraq, and he will follow up with unspecified diplomacy after he takes office. But history shows that creeping escalations create a momentum and constituency of their own. Obama might get lucky, lower the level of the visible wars, and embrace a diplomatic offensive. But North and South Waziristan could be his Bay of Pigs.
How can this war be opposed effectively? If Obama appears to be negotiating a diplomatic solution with some success, he will enjoy wide support within the media and Congress. If the additional 20-30,000 American troops appear to be "stabilizing" the situation, public criticism may be modest in scale. But there is widespread, if latent, public opposition to anything resembling an occupation or quagmire in Afghanistan-Pakistan, especially with the American economy in dire straights. The time is coming when these will be known as Obama's wars, and seen as an unproductive distraction from his main mission as president. The deployment of top journalists like the Times' Dexter Filkins to the Afghan front already has increased the quality of press coverage. International protest is certain to grow, given official reservations already expressed by governments in Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland over civilian casualties, air strikes, human rights violations and counter-narcotics missions. The massive human rights violations in Afghanistan will also begin to produce a round of worldwide condemnation. An international anti-war movement is on the horizon.
The cost of Afghanistan will be seen as unsustainable as well; the $36 billion for annual military operations is certain to climb, while the $11 billion spent since 2002 on non-military development cannot begin to address the country's problems. Whether Obama can afford guns-and-butter in Afghanistan as America's own infrastructure and social services fall apart is a question that could move to action "cities for peace"campaigners, health care advocates, Iraq veterans and military families, among many others. And if these wars continue through Obama's first term, a great moral discontent will grow among many Americans who voted for peace in 2006 and 2008.
Tom Hayden is the author of Ending the War in Iraq [2007], The Voices of the Chicago Eight [2008], and Writings for a Democratic Society, the Tom Hayden Reader [2008].