Saturday, February 28, 2009

Peace movement wins

After years of frustrating ambiguity, President Obama has clearly committed to a complete withdrawal of all US troops in less than three years.

Speaking to the Marines in North Carolina, Obama finally clarified that the proposed “residual force” of 50,000 or more will be a “transitional” one, departing one year after combat operations end on August 31, 2010. That position is consistent with the terms negotiated by the Iraqi government in the final days of the Bush Administration, in what the Iraqi side notably called the “withdrawal agreement.”

Even Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were left confused by the initial announcement, questioning whether leaving 50,000 residual troops was really a withdrawal. Obama cleared that up with Friday’s speech.

In perspective, the Iraq war was wrong and illegitimate every day it was fought, and should have ended sooner. Some wanted “out now”, some wanted twelve months, some eighteen. The generals in Iraq may still want to stay indefinitely.

But a phased withdrawal is tolerable – and there’s not much a movement can do about it - if combat casualties steadily decline and all troops are heading for the exit. By agreeing to the Iraqi pact with Bush, Obama found a basis for rapidly removing the transitional troops as well. Before Friday, he remained deliberately unclear on the subject, leaving the spectre of a long counterinsurgency war like those in Central America.

This is a clear victory for those in the peace movement who supported Obama as the first anti-war candidate with a chance to become president.

The media will not acknowledge the role of the peace movement, nor will some on the Left. It will have to be explained as part of the legacy of our times. It will have to be defended against the hawks, because things can go wrong in Iraq in a hurry.
And it’s a lesson that should fortify many as they take on the long wars ahead.

Tom Hayden

Friday, February 27, 2009

Immediate Release - Veterans respond to Obama Troop Withdrawal

February 27, 2009
A national veterans' organization today objected to calling President Obama's announcement on Iraq a "withdrawal," adding that keeping troops there and Afghanistan will "put the nail in the coffin of America's economy."
Veterans For Peace, referring to several published reports that the Obama plan will leave 50,000 or more troops in Iraq, and pointing to the buildup already underway in Afghanistan, warned that such policies will have the same effect on the new President as the Vietnam War did on Lyndon Johnson's plans for the Great Society.
"I really believe President Obama wants to do good things for the country," said VFP president, Mike Ferner, "but if he continues on this course he's charted, his hopes are guaranteed to founder on the shoals of war. This way lies disaster. For all our sakes, I hope he reconsiders," said VFP president, Mike Ferner.
The 58 year-old former Navy Hospital Corpsman added, "Besides the suffering and death caused by prolonging these wars, America simply can no longer afford the cost of empire. Unfortunately, that's exactly what these policies do. Their purpose is to control an entire region of the world and its resources. If you look at history, it's clear the long-term outlook for empires is not very pleasant."
Ferner concluded that "Barack Obama became president in part because millions of voters were sick of these wars and wanted them stopped, period. Saying that only 'non-combat' troops will be left after 19 months is just sleight of hand so we can keep tens of thousands of soldiers in Iraq and send thousands more to Afghanistan."
# # #
Founded in 1985, Veterans For Peace is a national organization of men and women veterans of all eras and duty stations spanning the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), World War II, the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf and current Iraq wars as well as other conflicts cold or hot. It has chapters in nearly every state in the union and is headquartered in St. Louis, MO. Our collective experience tells us wars are easy to start and hard to stop and that those hurt are often the innocent. Thus, other means of problem solving are necessary. Veterans For Peace is an official Non- Governmental Organization (NGO) represented at the U.N.
Veterans For Peace:

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Rethink Afghanistan While There's Still Time

Dear Tim,
Many of you reading this e-mail worked diligently to support President Obama and his call for change. I'm sure you feel, as I do, an almost palpable air of excitement and pride right now in having a man of Obama's intelligence and integrity in the White House. What I also find remarkable is Obama's conviction that it is imperative for those who disagree with him to speak out, make their voices heard, and discuss ideas without attacking motivation or character.
President Obama just committed 17,000 more soldiers to fight the war in Afghanistan. For me and the Brave New Foundation team, this decision raises scores of questions that must be addressed about troops, costs, overall mission, and exit strategy. Historically, it has been Congress' duty to ask these questions in the form of oversight hearings that challenge policymakers, examine military spending, and educate the public. I invite you to sign the petition urging Senator John Kerry and Representative Howard Berman to hold congressional oversight hearings at once The President has demonstrated his commitment to plurality of opinion and open debate on issues that impact our country most profoundly. In that spirit, I'm proud that Brave New Foundation will bring you Rethink Afghanistan, a new feature-length documentary I am directing in the tradition of Uncovered: The War on Iraq and Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers

Together, we can help Congress Rethink Afghanistan.


Robert Greenwald
and the Brave New Foundation team

Freedom Can't Protect Itself

Dear ACLU Supporter,

On Tuesday night, President Obama spoke emphatically about torture and Guantánamo Bay, telling the American people that “living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger.”

It is certainly encouraging when President Obama expresses his commitment to civil liberties and human rights. But, it is troubling when some in his Administration do not align their actions with the President’s words.

For example, the Pentagon has just issued a report concluding that the infamous, abuse-ridden prison facility at Guantánamo complies with the humanitarian requirements of the Geneva Conventions.

After all the years of torture, indefinite detention and lawlessness, the Pentagon’s conclusions, based on its own say-so, are hard to believe. How can the detention facilities that are a global symbol of long-standing human rights abuses be compliant with the Geneva Conventions? And how can we take the Pentagon’s word for it?

We can’t. That’s why an independent review of the conditions at Guantánamo is essential as we work to restore our reputation in the world. Ask President Obama to grant the ACLU and other human rights groups full access to the prison to independently examine conditions there and to adhere to U.S. human rights treaty obligations.
Ask President Obama to let human rights groups independently examine conditions at Guantánamo Bay.
This suspect Pentagon report is one in a series of instances in which the government’s actions seem not to have caught up with the President’s ideals. In recent weeks, we have seen the Justice Department:
Repeat the Bush administration’s “state secrets” claim -- blocking victims of torture from getting their day in court in a critical ACLU extraordinary rendition case.
Tell a federal court that military detainees held at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan have no legal right to challenge their detention.
Move forward with the Bush administration’s last-minute effort to deny Mohammed Jawad -- a Guantánamo prisoner who has been held in U.S. custody since he was a teenager -- the chance to challenge his unlawful detention.
And now, we have the Pentagon claim that Guantánamo Bay meets humanitarian standards laid out in the Geneva Conventions.

We can’t allow any administration to invoke state secrets to hide a reprehensible history of torture, rendition and the most grievous human rights violations.

We need the entire government to act as one -- moving swiftly and boldly to reverse the un-American practices of the Bush administration.

Urge the President to permit the ACLU and other rights groups to independently review conditions at Guantánamo Bay.

Thank you for acting on this urgent request and for continuing to work with the ACLU to mark a new era of commitment to human rights through the total dismantling of the Bush system of injustice.


Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

President Barack Obama address to both houses of Congress.

This is the full text of his speech.
Madame Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the First Lady of the United States:
I've come here tonight not only to address the distinguished men and women in this great chamber, but to speak frankly and directly to the men and women who sent us here.
I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others. And rightly so. If you haven't been personally affected by this recession, you probably know someone who has - a friend; a neighbor; a member of your family. You don't need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It's the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It's the job you thought you'd retire from but now have lost; the business you built your dreams upon that's now hanging by a thread; the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.
But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this:
We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.
Progress and prosperity
The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.
Now, if we're honest with ourselves, we'll admit that for too long, we have not always met these responsibilities - as a government or as a people. I say this not to lay blame or look backwards, but because it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we'll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament.
The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.
In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn't afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.
Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.
Now is the time to act boldly and wisely - to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down. That is what my economic agenda is designed to do, and that's what I'd like to talk to you about tonight.
Recovery plan
It's an agenda that begins with jobs.
As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by President's Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets. Not because I believe in bigger government - I don't. Not because I'm not mindful of the massive debt we've inherited - I am. I called for action because the failure to do so would have cost more jobs and caused more hardships. In fact, a failure to act would have worsened our long-term deficit by assuring weak economic growth for years. That's why I pushed for quick action. And tonight, I am grateful that this Congress delivered, and pleased to say that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is now law.
Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs. More than 90% of these jobs will be in the private sector - jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.
Because of this plan, there are teachers who can now keep their jobs and educate our kids. Health care professionals can continue caring for our sick. There are 57 police officers who are still on the streets of Minneapolis tonight because this plan prevented the layoffs their department was about to make.
Because of this plan, 95% of the working households in America will receive a tax cut - a tax cut that you will see in your paychecks beginning on April 1st.
Because of this plan, families who are struggling to pay tuition costs will receive a $2,500 tax credit for all four years of college. And Americans who have lost their jobs in this recession will be able to receive extended unemployment benefits and continued health care coverage to help them weather this storm.
I know there are some in this chamber and watching at home who are skeptical of whether this plan will work. I understand that skepticism. Here in Washington, we've all seen how quickly good intentions can turn into broken promises and wasteful spending. And with a plan of this scale comes enormous responsibility to get it right.
That is why I have asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort - because nobody messes with Joe. I have told each member of my Cabinet as well as mayors and governors across the country that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend. I have appointed a proven and aggressive Inspector General to ferret out any and all cases of waste and fraud. And we have created a new website called so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent.
Choked off
So the recovery plan we passed is the first step in getting our economy back on track. But it is just the first step. Because even if we manage this plan flawlessly, there will be no real recovery unless we clean up the credit crisis that has severely weakened our financial system.
I want to speak plainly and candidly about this issue tonight, because every American should know that it directly affects you and your family's well-being. You should also know that the money you've deposited in banks across the country is safe; your insurance is secure; and you can rely on the continued operation of our financial system. That is not the source of concern.
The concern is that if we do not re-start lending in this country, our recovery will be choked off before it even begins.
You see, the flow of credit is the lifeblood of our economy. The ability to get a loan is how you finance the purchase of everything from a home to a car to a college education; how stores stock their shelves, farms buy equipment, and businesses make payroll.
But credit has stopped flowing the way it should. Too many bad loans from the housing crisis have made their way onto the books of too many banks. With so much debt and so little confidence, these banks are now fearful of lending out any more money to households, to businesses, or to each other. When there is no lending, families can't afford to buy homes or cars. So businesses are forced to make layoffs. Our economy suffers even more, and credit dries up even further.
That is why this administration is moving swiftly and aggressively to break this destructive cycle, restore confidence, and re-start lending.
We will do so in several ways. First, we are creating a new lending fund that represents the largest effort ever to help provide auto loans, college loans, and small business loans to the consumers and entrepreneurs who keep this economy running.
Second, we have launched a housing plan that will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and re-finance their mortgages. It's a plan that won't help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford, but it will help millions of Americans who are struggling with declining home values - Americans who will now be able to take advantage of the lower interest rates that this plan has already helped bring about. In fact, the average family who re-finances today can save nearly $2000 per year on their mortgage.
Third, we will act with the full force of the federal government to ensure that the major banks that Americans depend on have enough confidence and enough money to lend even in more difficult times. And when we learn that a major bank has serious problems, we will hold accountable those responsible, force the necessary adjustments, provide the support to clean up their balance sheets, and assure the continuity of a strong, viable institution that can serve our people and our economy.
I understand that on any given day, Wall Street may be more comforted by an approach that gives banks bailouts with no strings attached, and that holds nobody accountable for their reckless decisions. But such an approach won't solve the problem. And our goal is to quicken the day when we re-start lending to the American people and American business and end this crisis once and for all.
I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer. This time, CEOs won't be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over.
Still, this plan will require significant resources from the federal government - and yes, probably more than we've already set aside. But while the cost of action will be great, I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade. That would be worse for our deficit, worse for business, worse for you, and worse for the next generation. And I refuse to let that happen.
I understand that when the last administration asked this Congress to provide assistance for struggling banks, Democrats and Republicans alike were infuriated by the mismanagement and results that followed. So were the American taxpayers. So was I.
So I know how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from their bad decisions. I promise you - I get it.
But I also know that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment. My job - our job - is to solve the problem. Our job is to govern with a sense of responsibility. I will not spend a single penny for the purpose of rewarding a single Wall Street executive, but I will do whatever it takes to help the small business that can't pay its workers or the family that has saved and still can't get a mortgage.
That's what this is about. It's not about helping banks - it's about helping people. Because when credit is available again, that young family can finally buy a new home. And then some company will hire workers to build it. And then those workers will have money to spend, and if they can get a loan too, maybe they'll finally buy that car, or open their own business. Investors will return to the market, and American families will see their retirement secured once more. Slowly, but surely, confidence will return, and our economy will recover.
So I ask this Congress to join me in doing whatever proves necessary. Because we cannot consign our nation to an open-ended recession. And to ensure that a crisis of this magnitude never happens again, I ask Congress to move quickly on legislation that will finally reform our outdated regulatory system. It is time to put in place tough, new common-sense rules of the road so that our financial market rewards drive and innovation, and punishes short-cuts and abuse.
The recovery plan and the financial stability plan are the immediate steps we're taking to revive our economy in the short-term. But the only way to fully restore America's economic strength is to make the long-term investments that will lead to new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete with the rest of the world. The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil and the high cost of health care; the schools that aren't preparing our children and the mountain of debt they stand to inherit. That is our responsibility.
In the next few days, I will submit a budget to Congress. So often, we have come to view these documents as simply numbers on a page or laundry lists of programs. I see this document differently. I see it as a vision for America - as a blueprint for our future.
My budget does not attempt to solve every problem or address every issue. It reflects the stark reality of what we've inherited - a trillion dollar deficit, a financial crisis, and a costly recession.
Given these realities, everyone in this chamber - Democrats and Republicans - will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars. And that includes me.
But that does not mean we can afford to ignore our long-term challenges. I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves; that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity.
Big ideas
For history tells a different story. History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.
In each case, government didn't supplant private enterprise; it catalyzed private enterprise. It created the conditions for thousands of entrepreneurs and new businesses to adapt and to thrive.
We are a nation that has seen promise amid peril, and claimed opportunity from ordeal. Now we must be that nation again. That is why, even as it cuts back on the programs we don't need, the budget I submit will invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future: energy, health care, and education.
It begins with energy.
We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we've fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.
Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders - and I know you don't either. It is time for America to lead again.
Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history - an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.
We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.
But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.
As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink. We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices. But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it. Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.
None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy. But this is America. We don't do what's easy. We do what is necessary to move this country forward.
For that same reason, we must also address the crushing cost of health care.
This is a cost that now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds. By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes. In the last eight years, premiums have grown four times faster than wages. And in each of these years, one million more Americans have lost their health insurance. It is one of the major reasons why small businesses close their doors and corporations ship jobs overseas. And it's one of the largest and fastest-growing parts of our budget.
Given these facts, we can no longer afford to put health care reform on hold.
Already, we have done more to advance the cause of health care reform in the last thirty days than we have in the last decade. When it was days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for eleven million American children whose parents work full-time. Our recovery plan will invest in electronic health records and new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy, and save lives. It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American by seeking a cure for cancer in our time. And it makes the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that is one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control.
Not easy
This budget builds on these reforms. It includes an historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform - a down-payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American. It's a commitment that's paid for in part by efficiencies in our system that are long overdue. And it's a step we must take if we hope to bring down our deficit in the years to come.
Now, there will be many different opinions and ideas about how to achieve reform, and that is why I'm bringing together businesses and workers, doctors and health care providers, Democrats and Republicans to begin work on this issue next week.
I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. It will be hard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.
The third challenge we must address is the urgent need to expand the promise of education in America.
In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity - it is a pre-requisite.
Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma. And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. And half of the students who begin college never finish.
This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education - from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.
Already, we have made an historic investment in education through the economic recovery plan. We have dramatically expanded early childhood education and will continue to improve its quality, because we know that the most formative learning comes in those first years of life. We have made college affordable for nearly seven million more students. And we have provided the resources necessary to prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children's progress.
But we know that our schools don't just need more resources. They need more reform. That is why this budget creates new incentives for teacher performance; pathways for advancement, and rewards for success. We'll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps. And we will expand our commitment to charter schools.
Doors of opportunity
It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work. But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It's not just quitting on yourself, it's quitting on your country - and this country needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.
I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education. And to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations, I ask this Congress to send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of Senator Orrin Hatch as well as an American who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country - Senator Edward Kennedy.
These education policies will open the doors of opportunity for our children. But it is up to us to ensure they walk through them. In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child. I speak to you not just as a President, but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children's education must begin at home.
There is, of course, another responsibility we have to our children. And that is the responsibility to ensure that we do not pass on to them a debt they cannot pay. With the deficit we inherited, the cost of the crisis we face, and the long-term challenges we must meet, it has never been more important to ensure that as our economy recovers, we do what it takes to bring this deficit down.
I'm proud that we passed the recovery plan free of earmarks, and I want to pass a budget next year that ensures that each dollar we spend reflects only our most important national priorities.
Yesterday, I held a fiscal summit where I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term in office. My administration has also begun to go line by line through the federal budget in order to eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs. As you can imagine, this is a process that will take some time. But we're starting with the biggest lines. We have already identified two trillion dollars in savings over the next decade.
Health reform
In this budget, we will end education programs that don't work and end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don't need them. We'll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq, and reform our defense budget so that we're not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don't use. We will root out the waste, fraud, and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn't make our seniors any healthier, and we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas.
In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will also end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. But let me perfectly clear, because I know you'll hear the same old claims that rolling back these tax breaks means a massive tax increase on the American people: if your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime. In fact, the recovery plan provides a tax cut - that's right, a tax cut - for 95% of working families. And these checks are on the way.
To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security. Comprehensive health care reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come. And we must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans.
Finally, because we're also suffering from a deficit of trust, I am committed to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to our budget. That is why this budget looks ahead ten years and accounts for spending that was left out under the old rules - and for the first time, that includes the full cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price.
We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war.
And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away.
Sacred trust
As we meet here tonight, our men and women in uniform stand watch abroad and more are readying to deploy. To each and every one of them, and to the families who bear the quiet burden of their absence, Americans are united in sending one message: we honor your service, we are inspired by your sacrifice, and you have our unyielding support. To relieve the strain on our forces, my budget increases the number of our soldiers and Marines. And to keep our sacred trust with those who serve, we will raise their pay, and give our veterans the expanded health care and benefits that they have earned.
To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend - because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists - because living our values doesn't make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.
In words and deeds, we are showing the world that a new era of engagement has begun. For we know that America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America. We cannot shun the negotiating table, nor ignore the foes or forces that could do us harm. We are instead called to move forward with the sense of confidence and candor that serious times demand.
To seek progress toward a secure and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors, we have appointed an envoy to sustain our effort. To meet the challenges of the 21st century - from terrorism to nuclear proliferation; from pandemic disease to cyber threats to crushing poverty - we will strengthen old alliances, forge new ones, and use all elements of our national power.
And to respond to an economic crisis that is global in scope, we are working with the nations of the G-20 to restore confidence in our financial system, avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism, and spur demand for American goods in markets across the globe. For the world depends on us to have a strong economy, just as our economy depends on the strength of the world's.
As we stand at this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us - watching to see what we do with this moment; waiting for us to lead.
Great privilege
Those of us gathered here tonight have been called to govern in extraordinary times. It is a tremendous burden, but also a great privilege - one that has been entrusted to few generations of Americans. For in our hands lies the ability to shape our world for good or for ill.
I know that it is easy to lose sight of this truth - to become cynical and doubtful; consumed with the petty and the trivial.
But in my life, I have also learned that hope is found in unlikely places; that inspiration often comes not from those with the most power or celebrity, but from the dreams and aspirations of Americans who are anything but ordinary.
I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him. He didn't tell anyone, but when the local newspaper found out, he simply said, ''I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old. I didn't feel right getting the money myself."
I think about Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community - how it can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks and rubble once lay. "The tragedy was terrible," said one of the men who helped them rebuild. "But the folks here know that it also provided an incredible opportunity."
And I think about Ty'Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, South Carolina - a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom. She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people sitting in this room. She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, "We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters."
We are not quitters.
These words and these stories tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here. They tell us that even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.
Their resolve must be our inspiration. Their concerns must be our cause. And we must show them and all our people that we are equal to the task before us.
I know that we haven't agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.
And if we do - if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, "something worthy to be remembered." Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

Two Questions for Obama

Tonight, President Barack Obama will lay out his priorities for the nation in his first address to Congress. The president has a lot on his plate right now. One of the key questions for him is how to make good on his promises to end the killing in Afghanistan and initiate a new U.S. diplomatic initiative with Iran.
As you listen to the president's speech tonight, we hope you'll pay particular attention to how he answers two key questions.
When will the United States begin talking with Iran?
Iran's cooperation is essential to peace in Iraq, to stabilizing Afghanistan, to helping advance Israeli-Palestinian peace, and to rebuilding nuclear nonproliferation. The president has pledged to open diplomatic talks with Iran. The news that Iran is close to opening its first nuclear power plant makes the need for talks all the more urgent.
How will the United States help bring peace to Afghanistan?
Expanding the U.S. war isn't the answer. Instead, our government should expand U.S. diplomatic reach (including talks with the Taliban), invest in that country's long-term development, and provide aid for Afghan refugees, who with Iraqi refugees make up half the world's refugee population.
Take Action
Listen to the speech or read the text. Then write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper in response. We've provided a sample letter that focuses on the two questions above.
To increase the chances that your letter will be published, you should submit it tonight or first thing tomorrow morning.
FCNL calls for diplomacy with Iran
FCNL calls for New Strategy toward Afghanistan

Monday, February 23, 2009

Veteran Organization: "More Soldiers Will Only Lead to More Death; Not Stability and Peace"

U.S. troops continue to occupy Iraq with no clear plan to bring them home. Tuesday, February 17th, President Obama ordered 17,000 troops to Afghanistan to join the 37,000 already there. He also ordered a review of U.S. policies in the region. The President has been quoted by prominent news outlets as saying in various ways that it will take more than military force to solve the problems of Afghanistan.

This past January saw 24 Army suicides, the highest monthly total since the Army began keeping count. Suicides rose in the Army for the fourth year in a row in 2008 at 128. Multiple tours and the stress and strain of military life is a major contributor to these tragedies.

Mike Ferner, Veterans For Peace National President stated, "Deploying more troops guarantees there is no relief in sight. As the U.S. continues to fight two wars, the suicides will continue. We are asking our members to call the White House and Congress to tell them more soldiers will only lead to more death; not stability and peace."

Veterans For Peace Executive Director Michael McPhearson stated, "It is clear that the White House has not developed a plan and is relying on military power to solve the problem. And while the big wigs in DC are trying to figure out what to do, more troops and Afghanis will die. It is time for the cycle of violence to end."

Veterans For Peace passed a resolution in August 2008 calling for: The government of the United States to immediately withdraw all military and intelligence forces from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

They call for the government of the United States to provide humanitarian aid directly to the people of Afghanistan, in non-coercive forms, to help the Afghan people rebuild their own nation and their lives in cooperation with other nations in the region; and to allow the people of Afghanistan to freely determine their own government without interference by the US.

Veterans For Peace also renounces the claim that the war in Afghanistan is somehow the "right" war and reaffirm their position that war must be abolished.

McPhearson went to say, "After people call their elected leaders they should talk to their neighbors, family and friends. We need to persuade the public that there is a better way than war. That more war in Afghanistan will not solve the problems there and that we can be part of a peaceful and just world."

# # #

Founded in 1985, Veterans For Peace is a national organization of men and women veterans of all eras and duty stations spanning the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), World War II, the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf and current Iraq wars as well as other conflicts cold or hot. It has chapters in nearly every state in the union and is headquartered in St. Louis, MO. Our collective experience tells us wars are easy to start and hard to stop and that those hurt are often the innocent. Thus, other means of problem solving are necessary. Veterans For Peace is an official Non- Governmental Organization (NGO) represented at the U.N.

Veterans For Peace:

Guadeloupe Strikes: A Warning to Obama?

Robert Naiman, Truthout: "Across much of the world, and much of Latin America in particular, the global economic crisis is going to play out against a legacy of extreme inequality and poverty. The unrest in Guadeloupe may be a preview of what's coming worldwide if there isn't a change in Washington's priorities."

Urge Congress to Request Review of New Pentagon Directive

Request a review of the Pentagon's new policy. Tell them you fear this policy directly undermines efforts by the State Department and USAID to enhance civilian capacity for relief, development, and reconstruction operations.

Prevention Success Stories: U.N. Peacebuilding Commission
Last week Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, applauded the peacebuilding progress made in Sierra Leone. Critical to Sierra Leone's ability to consolidate peace and prevent a relapse into war has been the presence of the U.N. Peacebuilding office. FCNL has raised the profile of the Peacebuilding Commission among congressional staffers and urges increased U.S. funding for U.N. peacebuilding efforts.
Additional Resources
Defense Department Establishes Civilian Expeditionary Workforce (Small Wars Journal)
State Department Recruits for Civilian Response Corps (Government Executive)
FCNL Letter to President Obama on Afghanistan
FCNL in the News
A Feel Good Victory: Nuclear Pork Is No Longer on the Menu (Huffington Post)
New Bid to Ban Indiscriminate Weapons (Inter Press Service)

Friends Committee on National Legislation

New Pentagon Directive Undermines Civilian Peacebuilding
Last summer - thanks to your lobbying - we celebrated congressional authorization and $55 million in funding to create a civilian response corps led by the State Department. This new civilian tool was designed to provide assistance to prevent state collapse and rebuild war torn countries. Now the Pentagon appears poised to undermine that important success for civilian peacebuilding.
Despite calls by senior military officials to create the civilian corps under the State Department, the Pentagon has announced it will form its own deployable corps. Defense Department Directive 1404.10, signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England on January 23 (just three days into the new administration), directs the Pentagon to begin organizing, training, and equipping an "expeditionary workforce" of civilian volunteers to support humanitarian, reconstruction, and combat support missions.
FCNL believes that establishing a deployable Pentagon corps further militarizes U.S. engagement with the world and will make it harder for the State Department and USAID to receive funding and support for building the civilian capacities the United States so urgently needs. We have urged key congressional offices to speak out about the Pentagon's continued encroachment into civilian tasks. Please write your own letter to your members of Congress today.

Breaking research finds US weapons in Gaza

Our research team recently found evidence of U.S.-made weapons in Gaza, including the misuse of white phosphorus munitions.
Urge Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to immediately call for an investigation into Israel’s use of U.S. arms in Gaza.
Dear Tim,

A new report released just hours ago reveals that U.S.-made white phosphorus artillery shells among other U.S. weapons were found throughout Gaza. When white phosphorus munitions are used in densely-populated civilian areas as Israel has, it violates international humanitarian law’s prohibition on indiscriminate attacks and amounts to a war crime.

In light of this new finding, we are urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to immediately call for:
an investigation into Israel’s use of U.S. arms in Gaza
a suspension of U.S. military aid to Israel and
to urge the United Nations to impose an arms embargo on all parties in the conflict Samia Salman Al-Manay'a, 16 years old, was asleep in her home in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza, when a phosphorus shell landed on the first floor of the house on January10th. Ten days later, from her hospital bed, she spoke to our delegation.

"The pain is piercing. It's as though a fire is burning in my body. It's too much for me to bear. In spite of all the medicine they are giving me the pain is still so strong."
Since 2001, the U.S. has been the largest supplier of arms to Israel. The U.S. has also provided considerable funding each year for Israel to buy arms despite U.S. legislation that restricts such aid to consistently gross human rights violators. Since 2002 Israel received over $21 billion in U.S. military and security assistance. Put simply, Israel's military intervention in the Gaza Strip has been equipped to a large extent by US-supplied weapons, munitions and military equipment paid for with U.S. taxpayers’ money.

Even after the start of the current conflict and reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza, U.S. authorities continued to authorize large shipments of U.S. munitions, including white phosphorus munitions, to Israel.

In January, Amnesty called for a suspension of all arms transfers to Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until there is no longer a serious risk that such equipment will be used for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses. The Department of State should lead the call for accountability. If we suspect our weapons are being used in attacks that are indiscriminately killing civilians, we must act.
Urge Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to immediately call for an investigation into Israel’s use of U.S. arms in Gaza and a suspension of military aid.

Last month you called for an independent investigation into all parties involved in the conflict in Gaza. We are happy to report that your voice was heard. Over 45,000 messages were sent to Secretary Clinton and UN Representative Susan Rice, who highlighted the importance of an investigation. Additionally, three Members of Congress, including the highest ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited Gaza and witnessed firsthand the humanitarian devastation.

Larry Cox
Executive Director
Amnesty International USA

Friday, February 20, 2009

Marjorie Cohn | Prosecute War Criminals and Their Lawyers

Marjorie Cohn, Truthout: "Since he took office, President Obama has instituted many changes that break with the policies of the Bush administration. The new president has ordered that no government agency will be allowed to torture, that the US prison at Guantanamo will be shuttered, and that the CIA's secret black sites will be closed down. But Obama is noncommittal when asked whether he will seek investigation and prosecution of Bush officials who broke the law."

The case for transparency in financial markets is not clear-cut

Full disclosure
Feb 19th 2009
From The Economist print edition
ITS promises are alluring, yet elusive; everyone, from politician to pundit, calls for more. In its recent report on financial reform, the Group of Thirty, a body of financial experts, mentioned it more than 30 times. Transparency is in vogue. Yet few ask whether it actually works.
Not long ago the cheerleaders of opacity were the loudest. Without privacy, they argued, financial entrepreneurs would be unable to capture the full value of their trading strategies and other ingenious intellectual property. Forcing them to disclose information would impair their incentive to uncover and correct market inefficiencies, to the detriment of all. And for years the so-called shadow banking system thrived, away from prying eyes. Then crisis hit, lending weight to the quip “What you see is what you get; what you don’t see gets you.” Few saw it coming, but if a lack of transparency was pervasive, how could they have?
As clear as mortgage-backed securities
“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” wrote Louis Brandeis, later a Supreme Court justice, in 1913, and almost a century later his words have become a maxim. Yet transparency is amorphous; it can, frustratingly, be anything but transparent and, implemented wrongly, may harm the very interests it is supposed to serve. In financial markets, the word is nearly always equated with information disclosure. The trouble is that the information is often incomplete, irrelevant or outright incomprehensible. Subprime-mortgage-backed securities are a case in point. These instruments—whose value remains shrouded in mystery—can have prospectuses of about 500-600 pages, most of which are devoted to intricate legalese. Yet, inexplicably, they do not contain the information about individual loans that is needed to detect default risk.
Nor is transparency free. The Sarbanes-Oxley act, which partly restored confidence after the scandals of Enron, WorldCom and others, came at a cost—not only in terms of the burden of compliance it imposed on companies. In order to shield small firms, those with a stockmarket value of less than $75m were initially exempted. This created a peculiar incentive: at least one study suggests that firms just below the threshold began disbursing unusual amounts of cash to shareholders and making fewer investments. The act has also been accused of stifling risk-taking and increasing directors’ pay.
At its onset, the turmoil in financial markets was described as a liquidity crisis. And transparency and liquidity are close relatives. One enemy of liquidity is “asymmetric information”. To illustrate this, look at a variation of the “Market for Lemons” identified by George Akerlof, a Nobel-prize-winning economist, in 1970. Suppose that a wine connoisseur and Joe Sixpack are haggling over the price of the 1998 Château Pétrus, which Joe recently inherited from his rich uncle. If Joe and the connoisseur only know that it is a red wine, they may strike a deal. They are equally uninformed. If vintage, region and grape are disclosed, Joe, fearing he will be taken for a ride, may refuse to sell. In financial markets, similarly, there are sophisticated and unsophisticated investors, and unless they have symmetrical information, liquidity can dry up. Unfortunately transparency may reduce liquidity. Symmetry, not the amount of information, matters.
The good news is that transparency can work. When information is relevant, standardized and public, it fosters intelligent decision-making. Lenders, for instance, are required to quote interest rates as annual percentage rates, making loans easy to compare. Some behavioral economists call this “simplified transparency”, and think similar requirements should be imposed on complex financial products. Information must also be accurate as the credit-rating debacle shows: an AAA rating is harmful rather than helpful if it describes a CCC asset.
But politics impedes the ideal of transparency for at least two reasons. First, the benefits of transparency are widely dispersed among information users, whereas the costs are borne by few information disclosers; the disclosers therefore dominate the political process. Second, disclosure requirements are often drawn up after crises. They therefore tend to be hurried and haphazard, and support for them fades with memory of the hard times.
And even well-designed disclosure requirements may not suffice. People may make ill-informed choices, simplified transparency or not. In a recent study, two groups (made up of Harvard University staff) were asked to pick mutual funds. One group was given prospectuses which neatly summarized the funds’ objectives, risk profiles, costs and past performance in a few pages. The other group received the standard long-winded and hard-to-understand prospectuses. They nonetheless made nearly identical choices, opting for funds with good past performance and largely neglecting fees. Academic research suggests that people should do precisely the opposite.
Still, for all its difficulties, transparency is usually better than the alternative. The opaque innovations of the recent past, rather than eliminating market inefficiencies, unintentionally created systemic risks. The important point is that financial markets are not created equal: they may require different levels of disclosure. Liquidity in the stockmarket, for example, thrives on differences of opinion about the value of a firm; information fuels the debate. The money markets rely more on trust than transparency because transactions are so quick that there is little time to assess information. The problem with hedge funds is that a lack of information hinders outsiders’ ability to measure their contribution to systemic risk. A possible solution would be to impose delayed disclosure, which would allow the funds to profit from their strategies, provide data for experts to sift through, and allay fears about the legality of their activities. Transparency, like sunlight, needs to be looked at carefully.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Help leverage U.S. influence for peace in the DRC:

Dear Tim,
Tell Secretary Clinton to Stop the War on Women in the DRC
The ten-year tangle of alliances, invasions and proxy warfare centered in the Democratic Republic of Congo has made the region the world's deadliest killing ground since WWII.

Rape is systematically used as a weapon of war and children are forced to fight for armed groups. Peace in the DRC means putting an end to the institutionalized violence against women and children. Click here to watch a video of Congolese children speaking about their experiences as child soldiers.

The recent dramatic reversal of alliances between the DRC and its conflict-entangled neighbors, Uganda and Rwanda, combined with the withdrawal of Hutu rebels has opened a small window for peace in the region.

Your action today can help us make real progress on ending violence against women and children across the region.

The U.S. has considerable economic and political influence over both the DRC and Rwanda—no other country combines such influence. Sign our letter to Secretary Clinton asking her to leverage our voice to strenghten support for the UN peacekeeping mission and protect women and children in the DRC.

Rape is used in the conflict as a calculated strategy to destabilize opposition groups as well as promote fear and submission. It is not unusual for mothers and daughters to be raped in front of their families and villages. Human rights activists working to end violence against women often face grave threats of violence themselves.

Justine Masika Bihamba is one such activist. Because of her work to end violence against women, she and her family have been targeted.

Justine described the current situation in Congo as a war against women. "When two sides fight, the one punishes the other by raping women," she said.
Putting an end to the rampant sexual violence and the use of child soldiers is essential to ensuring peace in the region.

Secretary Clinton has said that women's rights are one of her top priorities. Make sure her promises become reality.

Add your name to our letter to Secretary Clinton urging her to take concrete steps to protect women in the DRC.


Larry Cox
Executive Director
Amnesty International USA

Judge Upholds Charges Against Blackwater Guards

Del Quentin Wilber, The Washington Post: "A federal judge today refused to toss out charges against five US security contractors accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in a busy Baghdad square in 2007. The ruling by US District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina came in an early legal challenge brought by defense attorneys representing the guards, who worked at the time for Blackwater Worldwide. The guards' attorneys had argued the government didn't have jurisdiction to bring the charges. The guards were indicted in December on charges of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and using a firearm in a crime of violence in the controversial shooting in bustling Nisoor Square in September 2007."

Cynthia Boaz | Obama's Justice: Reconciliation, Not Retribution

Cynthia Boaz, Truthout: "In the wake of Sen. Patrick Leahy's (somewhat) surprising and determined call for a Truth Commission to investigate the abuses of the Bush-Cheney administration, the Obama administration has been - to many progressives and those on the left of center - disturbingly silent. It's safe to say that the president's less-than-forceful position on the issue has been a source of intense criticism and skepticism from the left about the president's sincerity regarding his claims to promote a new era of transparency and accountability in American politics. These concerns reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the president's perspective as well as his role."

A big first step -- thank you

Tim --

Today, I signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law.

This is a historic step -- the first of many as we work together to climb out of this crisis -- and I want to thank you for your resolve and your support.

You organized thousands of house meetings. You shared your ideas and personal stories. And you informed your friends and neighbors about the need for immediate action. You continue to be a powerful voice for change throughout the country.

The recovery plan will create or save 3.5 million jobs, provide tax cuts for working and middle-class families, and invest in health care and clean energy.

It's a bold plan to address a huge problem, and it will require my vigilance and yours to make sure it's done right.

I've assigned a team of managers to oversee the implementation of the recovery act. We are committed to making sure no dollar is wasted. But accountability begins with you.

That's why my administration has created , a new website where citizens can track every dollar spent and every job created. We'll invite you and your neighbors to weigh in with comments and questions.

Our progress will also be measured by the tens of thousands of personal stories submitted by people who are struggling to make ends meet. If you haven't already, you can read stories from families all across the country:

Your stories are the heart of this recovery plan, and that's what I'll focus on every day as President.

With your continued support, we'll emerge a stronger and more prosperous nation.

Thank you,

President Barack Obama

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Trickle Down Syndrome: The Shrinking Rich

FOCUS | Congress Sends $787 Billion Stimulus to Obama

Richard Cowan and Jeremy Pelofsky, Reuters: "The US Congress, handing President Barack Obama a major legislative victory, approved on Friday a $787 billion stimulus bill that aims to rush emergency government spending and tax cuts to a nation in the grip of a severe recession."

From the desk of John Micklethwait, Editor of Economist

Dear Reader, This week could have marked a turning-point in the an ever-deepening
global slump, as Barack Obama produced the two main parts of his rescue
plan: a USD789 billion stimulus plan and his outline for a (probably
even more expensive) bank bail-out. This double offensive could have
broken the spiral of uncertainty and gloom that is gripping investors,
producers and consumers across the globe. Alas, that opportunity was
squandered. Mr. Obama ceded control of the stimulus to the fractious
congressional Democrats, so the fiscal boost is less efficient than it
should have been. The financial-rescue blueprint, touted as a bold
departure from the incrementalism and uncertainty that had plagued the
Bush administration's Wall Street fixes, is depressingly more of the
same: timid, incomplete and short on detail. That is the judgment of
our cover leader this week.

The trouble with Obama's rescue

John Micklethwait
Editor in Chief

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Deal Reached in Race for Stimulus Bill

Congress reaches deal on $789 billion stimulus bill; Robert Scheer on his disappointment over Geithner's additional "blank check" to buy up "toxic assets"; ICC to decide whether to issue warrant for arrest of Sudan's president; economist Simon Johnson speaks with Bill Moyers about Obama's economic recovery plan; Salazar halts Bush plan for offshore drilling; farmworker shortage reversed by ailing economy; Peggy Simpson on the first-time meeting of national women's rights groups and feminist bloggers; Obama anticipated to lift ban on embryonic stem cell research; Senate stimulus bill reduced education funding; and more ... Browse our continually updating front page at

Our own hearts ache for the people of Gaza

February 11, 2009
Dear Tim,

As we decorate pink hearts for Valentine's Day, our own hearts ache for the people of Gaza.
Our three person delegation just returned from a trip to Gaza, and Medea, Ann and Tighe are still reeling from the profound devastation they witnessed there--bombed areas that looked as if they had been hit by tornados, families living inside tents after their homes had been destroyed, countless lives irrevocably shattered by loss.
"The sights we saw in Gaza were tragic-a Goliath Israel pounding a small Gaza David, with international silence and complicity. Some 1,300 Palestinians have died, thousands have been wounded, and hundreds of thousands have been deeply traumatized. We deplore the use of rockets against Israeli towns by Hamas and other groups in Gaza, but the disproportionate response by the Israeli government and military is appalling," said Ret. Col. Ann Wright.
With the victory of an even more right-wing government in the Israeli elections looming, we must focus on the suffering in Gaza and stop a new round of violence. We are organizing a delegation to return to Gaza in time for International Women's Day, March 8th, hosted by the Women's Division of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Our group will provide solidarity for the women in Gaza and exert pressure on United States, Egyptian, and Israeli governments to lift the blockade. If we are not allowed inside, we will set up an encampment near the border to call attention to the need to open the borders and end the siege.
Here's how you can help:
Donate to send aid to Gaza. You can help us bring resources and gifts on International Women's Day to women who have suffered so much.
Join our delegation to Gaza from March 5-March 12 to support the women of Gaza and promote peace and human rights in the region. Some scholarships are available.
We also want to reach out to special peace envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell. On his first trip to the Middle East, Mitchell did not even go to Gaza. Now that he will be embarking on a second trip, ask him to visit Gaza, to witness the devastation firsthand and to listen to the voices of the women in Gaza.
Be sure to continue to educate yourself and your community about the current crisis in Gaza by visiting our growing resource page, which includes links to Medea Benjamin's blogs from Gaza, and our incisive Gaza digest.
Thank you for opening your hearts to our struggling sisters in Gaza this Valentine's Day (and beyond)!
With our own hearts broken but hopeful,
Audrey, Dana, Deidra, Desiree, Farida, Gael, Gayle, Jean, Jodie, Liz, Lori, Medea, Nancy, Paris, and Rae

Source: Petraeus Leaked Misleading Story on Pullout Plans

Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service: "The political maneuvering between President Barack Obama and his top field commanders over withdrawal from Iraq has taken a sudden new turn with the leak by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus - and a firm denial by a White House official - of an account of the Jan. 21 White House meeting suggesting that Obama had requested three different combat troop withdrawal plans with their respective associated risks, including one of 23 months."

Turning the Tide: Toward a Foreign Policy of Human Dignity

Dear friends,

In two short weeks, you can join citizens from all over the Upper Midwest and Turn the Tide. On-line, mail or phone pre-registrations will be taken through Wednesday, 2/18, and on-site registration will be available.

Leading thinkers on foreign policy imperatives and opportunities for the new administration will come together with concerned Minnesotans for two days, February 20 and 21, 2009, at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church. (See the speakers bios below.)

The result? Momentum for the movement to push US foreign policy toward greater cooperation, diplomacy and generosity. Come and be part of Turning the Tide!

We have planned an exciting and informative program (please see below), and priced tickets so everyone can attend.

Please note that continental breakfast will be available for the Saturday morning session, and a spaghetti dinner for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike will be offered during the book reception Saturday at 5:30 pm. Cost of these meals is not included in the ticket price, but will be available on a donation basis ($2 - $3 for breakfast; $5 - $7 for dinner).

It may be most convenient to sign up on-line at{52E8C79E-E9DA-4E2D-A6C8-715BF397294F} If you have questions, please contact the FNVW office, 651-917-0383.

Monday, February 9, 2009


by Tom Hayden

It is time to rethink Afghanistan and Pakistan. Otherwise the new Obama administration will be led into a yawning quagmire.

It’s time for fact-based policies to replace faith-based ones.

In South Vietnam, the U.S. deployed 500,000* troops on a battlefield of 67,108 square miles with
19 million people.
After ten years of conventional war, the US lost.

bigger battlefields, fewer troops
In Iraq, the U.S. deploys 160,000* troops on a battlefield of 168,745 square miles, with 26 million people.
After six years of conventional combat, the US signed a pact to withdraw by 2011.

*”2 Campaigns Flare Up Over Iraq Troop Levels,” Michael Luo & Sarah Wheaton, New York Times, May 31, 2008

the Obama plan
In Afghanistan and on the Pakistan border, the U.S. plans to deploy an estimated 60,000* U.S. troops on a battlefield of 250,001 square miles with
30 million people.
The war might spread to Pakistan with
310,403 square miles and 162,420,000 people.
After seven years of combat, the Taliban are entrenched and growing in both countries.
*”Afghan Strategy Poses Stiff Challenge for Obama,” Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, December 1, 2008

population per country

a comparison of land mass

u.s. troop commitments

costs of the Afghanistan war
4,150 WOUNDED [est.]
$267 BILLION [2001-08]
$173 BILLION [EST. 2009]
= $439.8 BILLION [TOTAL]
*Amy Belasco, “CRS Report for Congress: The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11,” October 15, 2008.

Afghanistan civilian casualties

4,800-6,873 [2001-2008, est.]
6,069-7,607 [est.]
Source: average of multiple surveys, high and low estimates.

“U.S. Killed 90 in Afghan Village, Including 60 Children, U.N. Finds” -Carlotta Gall, New York Times, August 27, 2008 (image accompanies)
“Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan Are Undermining Allies’ War on the Taliban” - Carlotta Gall and David E. Sanger, New York Times, May 13, 2007

“A special investigator for the United Nations on Thursday accused foreign intelligence agencies of conducting nighttime raids and killing civilians in Afghanistan with impunity...he was accusing the Central Intelligence Agency or American unconventional-warfare units of operating without accountability…”
- New York Times, May, 16, 2008

criticism by elected Afghanistan, Pakistan officials

“If America wants to see itself clean of terrorists, we also want that our villages and towns should not be bombed.” - Yousaf Raza Gillani, Prime Minister of Pakistan, March 25, 2008, New York Times

“The coalition went around the Afghan villages, burst into people’s homes and has been committing extra-judicial killings in our country.” - Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, December 23, 2008, New York Times

secret detentions and human rights abuses

“Six hundred Afghans are held in secret detention without human rights protections at the US Bagram Air Base. In addition, many have been transferred from Guantanamo for secret trials where there are no witnesses, no cross-examination and no sworn statements. “All of these trials have been prepared by our friends from the United States,” says one member of the Afghanistan Supreme Court.”
“Afghans Hold Secret Trials for Men U.S. Detained,”
David Rohde & Tim Golden, New York Times, April 10, 2008

a narco-state with a
“Narco-corruption went to the top of the Afghan government, according to an American expert in Kabul. The Taliban are financed by poppy cultivation in southern Afghanistan. Ninety percent of the world’s heroin trade is based in Afghanistan. A hectare of poppies brings a farmer 12 times what a hectare of wheat will produce. Aerial destruction of the poppy crop is an attack on both the government and the insurgency.”
“Is Afghanistan a Narco-State?” Thomas Schweich, New York Times Magazine, July 27, 2008

extreme poverty in Afghanistan

Afghanistan ranked 173rd of 178 countries on the
United Nations Human Development Index in 2005.*
The ranking has not been revised.

$36 billion: annual US military aid to Afghanistan
$10.4 billion: amount of US development aid pledged, 2002-2008
$5 billion: amount of US development aid actually dispersed.
- Center for American Progress, Aug. 14, 2008

*”Afghan Living Standards Among the Lowest, U.N. Finds,” Carlotta Gall, New York Times, February 22, 2005.

U.S. secret war in Pakistan

100 American Special Forces [estimate]

US $400 million for Frontier Corps of 85,000 paramilitaries in tribal areas

Source: “U.S. Plan Widens Role in Training Pakistani Forces in Qaeda Battle,” Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, New York Times, March 2, 2008

framing the alternatives


domestic recommendations
Call for democratic debate and hearings on an exit strategy by US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. John Kerry, chair, including peace movement critics.
Call for hearings and critical questioning from House Progressive Caucus and Out of Iraq Caucus to focus on Afghanistan

diplomatic-political recommendations

Non-intervention by US in August 20 Afghanistan national election
Do nothing further to provoke Pashtun nationalism.
Meet the Afghan government’s request for investment in agricultural irrigation, energy, and roads.
Talk to the Taliban [Greg Mills, special advisor to ISAF, New York Times, September 18, 2006]
Diplomacy with Iran [anti-Taliban, shares border, supported US in 2001]
Diplomacy with Pakistan [supports Taliban to project power in Afghanistan, is strongly against US tilt to India over Kashmir]
Diplomacy with Russia

military recommendations

End US/Coalition air strikes, offensive operations against insurgents, and Predator attacks on Pakistan
Define US military mission as interim holding action pending diplomatic solution with deadlines and metrics
Lessen militant Taliban/al Qaeda/jihadi support base by withdrawing troops from Iraq and immediate progress on Palestinian rights
No mass human displacements from aerial eradication of poppies

“The only meaningful way to halt the insurgency’s momentum is to start withdrawing troops. The presence of foreign troops is the most important element driving the resurgence of the Taliban.”
- Gilles Dorronsoro, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Report, January 2009

“Our military strategy...should focus on counter-terrorism – not counter-insurgency. Our presence so far has prevented al-Qaeda from establishing training camps in Afghanistan.”
- Rory Stewart, Time, July 28, 2008

“A troop increase is likely to inflame Afghan nationalism because Afghans are more foreign than we acknowledge and the support for our presence in the insurgency areas is declining. The Taliban, which was a largely discredited and backward movement, gains support by portraying itself as fighting for Islam and Afghanistan against a foreign military occupation.”
- Rory Stewart, Time, July 28, 2008.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Joseph Stiglitz: Nationalized Banks Are "Only Answer"

Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz talks about the need for nationalizing banks; Hillary Rodham Clinton to head efforts on new treaty with Russia to reduce nuclear warheads; giant Chinese dam may have triggered earthquake that left 80,000 dead; Dan Bacher on the collapse of fish populations in California; Robert Kuttner on Obama's pro-labor policies; layoffs affecting more men than women are transforming gender roles at home; David Lazarus makes a case against health savings accounts; green technology classes flourish in schools; The Los Angeles Times urges swift action by Obama to press for DC voting rights; and more ... Browse our continually updating front page at

Friday, February 6, 2009

CIA Using Viagra to Bribe Afghan Warlords

Friday, December 26, 2008 2:17 PM By: Dave Eberhart
The CIA has developed a novel incentive to gain cooperation and support in Taliban-plagued Afghanistan - handing out libido-enhancing Viagra pills to targeted village patriarchs, according to a report in the Washington Post.
Whatever it takes to make friends and influence people - whether it’s building a school or handing out Viagra, said one agency operative with multiple tours in that war torn country.
Standard incentives - such as money, jewelry and cars - are too ostentatious, noted another operative to the Post.
If you give an asset $1,000, he’ll go out and buy the shiniest junk he can find, and it will be apparent that he has suddenly come into a lot of money from someone, said Jamie Smith, a veteran of CIA covert operations in Afghanistan. Even if he doesn’t get killed, he becomes ineffective as an informant because everyone knows where he got it.
The key, Smith said, is to find a way to meet the informant’s personal needs in a way that keeps him firmly on your side but leaves little or no visible trace.

Panetta Questioned for Second Day


Leon Panetta, Pres. Obama’s nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency, returned for a second day before the Senate Intelligence Cmte. During yesterday’s nomination hearing, Mr. Panetta said he opposed extraordinary rendition – sending suspects to foreign countries for interrogation – and called the technique of waterboarding torture.Pamela Hess, The Associated Press: "CIA Director nominee Leon Panetta assured senators Thursday that the Obama administration will not send prisoners to countries for torture or other treatment that violates US values as he contended had occurred during the Bush presidency. Panetta said that President Barack Obama forbids what Panetta called 'that kind of extraordinary rendition - when we send someone for the purpose of torture or actions by another country that violate our human values.'"

Thursday, February 5, 2009

L.A. CODEPINKer Confronts Karl Rove at Loyola Marymount University

Los Angeles CODEPINK activist Patricia Foulrod was brandishing handcuffs at Loyola Marymount University last night, where Karl Rove was a guest speaker on the First Amendment. Patricia managed to be up front for his visit, and seized the opporunity to ask Rove about the injustices of the war in Iraq. Visit the PinkTank to read her blog on the experience.

Afghanistan: Losing a No-Win War

"Our greatest military challenge right now is Afghanistan," said Defense Secretary Robert Gates in his recent testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. But, he offered something less than a rousing defense of the new Afghan plan that he and Gen. David Petraeus will formally give President Obama. As one pundit put it, Gates's call to arms sounded more like "pre-emptive CYA."ore lawmakers. The SEC failed to act despite receiving credible allegations of fraud from Markopolos about Madoff's operations over a decade
by: Steve Weissman t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

National Priorities Project | Bringing the Federal Budget Home

National Priorities Project | Bringing the Federal Budget Home

CIA Secret Rendition Policy Backed by Human Rights Groups?

It is confirmed that one of the loopholes in the president's anti-torture orders allows the continuance of rendition by the CIA, which consists of secretly snatching suspects off the street without any due process and "rendering" them to jails in other countries. Rendition is at the heart of the state secrecy apparatus, and should be of concern to any civil liberties, human rights, or democracy advocates.
But Human Rights Watch and, apparently, other human rights groups signed off on renditions in talks with the Obama administration, saying publicly that there is "a legitimate place" for the practice.
That's not a position that represents most human rights advocates, and deserves to be reconsidered in the months of drafting the new administration's rules. Human Rights Watch could have celebrated Obama's presidential order while vowing to close the rendition loophole. Instead, according to the LA Times, the proposal "did not draw major protests" among human rights groups because of "a sense that nations need certain tools to combat terrorism." [see LA Times , Feb. 1, 2009]
"You still have to go after the bad guys", says an Obama spokesman in defense of renditions, which have been condemned by the European parliament. A Human Rights Watch representative, Tom Malinowski, says he urged the administration to guarantee public hearings in the countries to which they are rendered, as a protection against torture and disappearances. That would be an important corrective, but leaves unanswered the purpose of the secret abductions in which the CIA is the judge, jury, and in certain cases the executioner.
Italian politics were shaken when it was revealed that the CIA, in cooperation with the Berlosconi government, abducted an Egyptian cleric who was flown to Egypt and tortured in 2003. In another 2003 case, an Egyptian citizen, Khalid Masri, was grabbed by men wearing ski masks, stripped, blindfolded, placed in diapers, shackled and flown from Macedonia to Albania. He was released five months later as a case of mistaken identity. There perhaps have been hundreds of cases of rendition, tracked by European citizens as suspected CIA planes utilized landing rights in other countries. Despite causing an international uproar, the numbers of renditions may never be known.
If the Obama Justice Department wants to defend renditions as constitutional on "executive privilege" and "national security" grounds, human rights groups should perhaps meet them in court and seek a better outcome.
As the policy stands now, Jack Bauer would be pleased.

Tom Hayden

Monday, February 2, 2009

China: Human Rights Lawyer in Arbitrary Detention

We are intensely fearful for Gao Zhisheng’s safety at this time, given the security authorities’ long history of abusing him and his family.
Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch
Government Should Confirm Gao Zhisheng is Not Being Tortured or Ill-Treated
February 2, 2009
(New York) – The Chinese government should immediately disclose the whereabouts of Gao Zhisheng, a leading human rights lawyer who disappeared two weeks ago, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Human Rights in China said today in a joint statement. The three organizations stressed that Gao was at immediate risk of severe torture and ill-treatment by the Chinese security services and called for his immediate release.
“We are intensely fearful for Gao Zhisheng’s safety at this time, given the security authorities’ long history of abusing him and his family,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “He has given detailed accounts of how he was tortured in police custody in the past and he may well be suffering more of the same right now.”
Lawyer Gao, who had been under constant police surveillance, along with his family, since receiving a suspended sentence for “inciting subversion” in 2006, was last heard from on January 19, 2009. According to reliable sources, he was subsequently detained by security forces and is being held at an unknown location.
“On February 9, the Chinese government will undergo a comprehensive review of its human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China. “Coming close on the heels of the scathing review by the Committee Against Torture in November 2008, arbitrarily detaining and torturing a leading rights advocate is no way to show human rights progress.”
In September 2007, Gao was detained for several weeks shortly after sending an open letter to the US Congress denouncing the human rights situation in China and describing his and his family’s treatment at the hands of the security forces.
Gao detailed his illegal detention in 2007 as well as severe and sustained torture at the hands of security agents – including violent beatings, repeated electric shocks to his genitals, and having lit cigarettes held close to his eyes over a prolonged period, which left him partially blind for days afterwards. After he was released, acquaintances described him as seeming to be “a broken man,” both physically and spiritually.
“China should immediately release Gao Zhisheng,” said Roseann Rife, Asia-Pacific deputy director at Amnesty International. “China should demonstrate that its takes its international obligations seriously, in this case specifically the obligations under the convention against torture, which the Chinese government voluntarily took on in 1988.”
In November 2008, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) reported in its “Concluding Observations” on China that it remains “deeply concerned about the continued allegations, corroborated by numerous Chinese legal sources, of routine and widespread use of torture and ill-treatment of suspects in police custody.”
Amnesty International, Human Rights in China and Human Rights Watch strongly urged concerned governments and intergovernmental bodies to call on the Chinese government to take all necessary steps to ensure Gao Zhisheng's safety and well being while in police custody and to release him at the earliest possible date.
Voted in 2001 as “one of China’s top ten lawyers” by a publication run by the PRC Ministry of Justice, Gao is a self-trained legal professional with a history of representing the victims of some of the most egregious and politically controversial cases of human rights abuses by the police and other government agencies. In October 2005, he wrote a series of three letters to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao calling on them to halt the continuing torture and ill-treatment of detained Falun Gong practitioners and the ongoing persecution of underground Christians and democracy activists.
After his 2007 detention, Gao expressed fears that he would be tortured again if he was rearrested.
In June 2007, Gao received the Courageous Advocacy Award of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). His memoirs, A China More Just, were published in English the same year.

Fannie Mae’s overpaid board: Can President Obama turn words into action?

Last week, President Obama called it "shameful" that the bank executives, who took taxpayer money through the bailout last fall, paid themselves large bonuses. While the vast majority of the public agrees with this view, there is little that President Obama can directly do about these bonuses at this point.

However, with more bailout money on the way (probably much more), President Obama will be in a position to seriously constrain executive compensation in the future at the banks that are subsisting on government largess. However, before we even get to Round II of the bailout, there is some quick business that he should attend to right here in Washington.
Last month, on the day before Christmas, Fannie Mae announced that it had reconstituted its board of directors. According to The Washington Post, the nine directors will receive annual pay of $160,000 each (more if they chair a committee), while the chair of the board will take home $290,000 a year.
This pay seems rather high for two reasons. First, being a director is a very part-time job. A director's duties almost certainly require an average of less than one day a week. This means that the $160,000 annual salary for board members would translate into a full-time salary of more than $800,000.
The other reason this pay package is so disturbing is that Fannie Mae is currently in conservatorship. It is being run as a government company, with most of the oversight responsibilities of a corporate board being handled by the Federal Housing Finance Agency. In other words, Fannie Mae's new directors are effectively getting paid $160,000 a year at a part-time government job, which is even more part-time than usual, because a government agency is actually doing most of their work.
So, why are these people getting $160,000 for a part-time job, almost five times the pay of a typical worker? We can skip the "great skills" story. Three of the ten directors were on the board when Fannie slipped into bankruptcy last year. Obviously, these folks were sleeping at the point when a board's intervention could have made a difference. If this failure is not sufficient to keep a director from being reappointed, then there is no reason to believe that the seven new members have any special skills.
In short, the Fannie directors give us another classic example of people in business getting large paychecks in instances where they provide no obvious value. The unusual aspect in this situation is that they are actually on the government payroll at the moment, since Fannie is effectively bankrupt. This gives President Obama the opportunity to crack down on this abuse.
The money wasted on overpayments to Fannie's directors is relatively small, but it is a harbinger of a much bigger problem. The bankers are clamoring for a second round of bailouts since their banks are essentially bankrupt due to the mountain of bad debts. The government can impose serious restrictions on executive compensation this time as a condition of getting bailout money.
In fact, it would be outrageous if the government did not impose restrictions on executive compensation. Without such restrictions, we would effectively be using the tax dollars of ordinary workers, schoolteachers and firefighters to subsidize the salaries of bank executives earning millions, or even tens of millions, of dollars. This sort of upward redistribution is difficult to justify.
It is especially hard to justify since the banks are bankrupt because of the incredible incompetence of the people who run them. These highly paid executives were somehow unable to see the largest housing bubble in the history of the world. If a truck driver or dishwasher performed their jobs as badly as the executives of these banks, they would be unemployed. And, of course, their mistakes would not be responsible for millions of people losing their jobs and tens of million losing their life's savings.
However, instead of being unemployed, the Wall Street crew expects the taxpayers to pay their multi-million dollar salaries. President Obama should not allow them to get away with it.