Monday, May 3, 2010

05-03-10 Activist Newsletter

May 3, 2010, Issue #158


Editor's Note:

Don't miss our two-part article below on Obama's Military Intentions. You may be surprised. It's based on the actions and key documents from the Obama Administration about the Pentagon's plans in the next few years and the White House initiatives on nuclear weapons.

We don't frequently carry articles about religion, but by sheer coincidence we have ended up with three articles relating to the Roman Catholic Church in one way or another. They are: Jesus, The Vital Agitator; Long Live Oscar Romero!; and A Season of Debate for Catholics.

The May Activist Calendar for Hudson Valley readers will be sent later today.

We enjoy your email letters commenting on articles. We'd like to know your view of this issue's analysis of Obama's Military Intentions.



1. OBAMA'S MILITARY INTENTIONSPart 1: The Pentagon's View of U.S. Power. There's more war in America's future.

2. OBAMA'S MILITARY INTENTIONS Part 2: America's Nuclear Posture. President Obama seeks "a world without nuclear weapons," but indicates it may not be possible in his lifetime. Why Not?

3. COMPANY RECALLS U.S. FLAG Manufacturer cites series of fatal malfunctions dating back to 1777.

4. GOODBYE BILL, GOOD MORNING AMYWe'll miss Moyers, but we still have Democracy Now.

5. 35 YEARS LATER: A REMEMBERANCEApril 30 was the 35th anniversary of the victory of the Vietnamese people in the war for national independence and reunification.

6. THE PROBLEM WITH OFFSHORE DRILLING — Just look at the oil slick.

7. BAN OFFSHORE OIL DRILLINGA few weeks ago, Obama said "It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don't cause spills." "How wrong he was," says Bill McKibben.

8. PLANTING THE FLAG OF RESISTANCEANSWER'S Brian Becker writes about the Democrats and the peace movement.

9. IT PAYS TO PROTESTThere are times when it literally pays to take part in a protest demonstration — to the tune of $18,000 each. Were you arrested in Washington on April 15, 2000?

10. FROM THE PARTNERSHIP FOR CIVIL JUSTICE — Here's how you can collect your portion of the settlement.

11. COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE BUSH WAR CRIMESIt's about time. Ramsey Clark is involved, of course.

12. JESUS, THE VITAL AGITATOR Ammon Hennacy and Eugene Debs said so. Sounds good to our unbelieving ears. The more agitators the better!

13. LONG LIVE OSCAR ROMERO! The Archbishop was murdered by neofascists in San Salvador 30 years ago this year. He was a good man. We reprint some of his words.

14. A SEASON OF DEBATE FOR CATHOLICSAndrew J. Bacevich, a Catholic, has some critical thoughts about the Roman Catholic Church.

15. THE POPULISM OF THE PRIVILEGEDThere is authentic populist anger out there. But you won’t find much of it at the tea parties.

16. ISRAEL AT 62 The liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz offers a critical analysis of where Israel is at on Independence Day.

17. REGRESSIVE TAXATION BUDGET CUTSLower rates on higher incomes, higher rates on lower incomes — a report from Institute for Policy Studies.

18. VENEZUELA — MOVING LEFT ON 200th ANNIVERSARYWhy not? It's old enough.

— Sea birds at risk; lower population growth and the environment; Binghamton mayor posts war cost calculator in City Hall; foreclosures keep rising.

20. ARE CIA DRONE STRIKES ILLEGAL? Interesting argument, experts differ.


Part 1: The Pentagon's View of U.S. Power
By Jack A. Smith, Activist Newsletter

There's more war in America's future — a great deal more, judging by the Obama Administration's reports, pronouncements and actions in recent months.

These documents and deeds include the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the Ballistic Missile Defense Report, the Nuclear Security Summit in New York, and the May 3-28 UN Non-Proliferation review conference, as well as the continuing Bush-Obama wars in the Middle East and Central Asia, and the 2011 Pentagon war budget request.

The United States government presides as a military colossus of unrivalled dimension, but the QDR, which was published in February, suggests Washington views America as being constantly under the threat of attack from a multitude of fearsome forces bent on its destruction. As such, trillions more dollars must be invested in present and future wars — ostensibly to make safe the besieged homeland.

The NPR says the long range U.S. goal is a "nuclear free" world but despite token reductions in its arsenal of such weapons, the Pentagon is strengthening its nuclear force and bolstering it with a devastating "conventional deterrent" intended to strike any target in the world within one hour. In addition this document, published in April, retains "hair-trigger" nuclear launch readiness, refuses to declare its nuclear force is for deterrence only (suggesting offensive use) and for the first time authorizes a nuclear attack, if necessary, on a non-nuclear state (Iran).

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is vigorously expanding the Bush Administration wars, and enhancing and deploying America's unparalleled military power.

The Obama Administration's one positive achievement in terms of militarism and war was the April 9 signing in Prague of the new START treaty with Russia that reduces deployed strategic nuclear weapons to 1,550 warheads each. It was a step forward, but all agree it was extremely modest, and it does not even faintly diminish the danger of nuclear war.

The Quadrennial Defense Review is a 128-page Defense Dept. report mandated by Congress to be compiled every four years to put forward a 20-year projection of U.S. military planning. A 20-member civilian panel, selected by the Pentagon and Congress, analyzes the document and suggests changes in order to provide an "independent" perspective. Eleven of the members, including the panel’s co-chairmen — former Defense Secretary William Perry and former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley — are employed by the defense industry.

Although the Pentagon is working on preparations for a possible World War III and beyond, the new report is largely focused on the relatively near future and only generalizes about the longer term. Of the QDR's many priorities three stand out.

• The first priority is to "prevail in today's wars" in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and wherever else Washington's post-9/11 military intrusions penetrate in coming years. Introducing the report Feb. 1, Bush-Obama Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued this significant statement: "Success in wars to come will depend on success in these wars in progress." The "wars to come" were not identified. Further, the QDR states that military victory in Iraq and Afghanistan is "only the first step toward achieving our strategic objectives."

• Second, while in the past the U.S. concentrated on the ability to fight two big wars simultaneously, the QDR suggests that's not enough. Now, the Obama Administration posits the "need for a robust force capable of protecting U.S. interests against a multiplicity of threats, including two capable nation-state aggressors." Now it's two-plus wars — the plus being the obligation to "conduct large-scale counterinsurgency, stability, and counterterrorism operations in a wide range of environments," mainly in small, poor countries like Afghanistan. Other "plus" targets include "non-state actors" such as al-Qaeda, "failed states" such as Somalia, and medium size but well defended states that do not bend the knee to Uncle Sam, such as Iran or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and some day perhaps Venezuela.

• Third, it's fairly obvious from the QDR, though not acknowledged, that the Obama government believes China and Russia are the two possible "nation-state aggressors" against which Washington must prepare to "defend" itself. Neither Beijing nor Moscow has taken any action to justify the Pentagon's assumption that they will ever be suicidal enough to attack the far more powerful United States.

After all, the U.S., with 4.54% of the world's population, invests more on war and war preparations than the rest of the world combined. President Obama's 2010 Pentagon budget is $680 billion, but the real total is double that when all Washington's national security expenditures in other departmental budgets are also included, such as the cost of nuclear weapons, the 16 intelligence agencies, Homeland Security, and interest on war debts, among other programs.

Annual war-related expenditures are well over $1 trillion. In calling for a discretionary freeze on government programs in January's State of the Union address, Obama specifically exempted Pentagon/national security expenditures from the freeze. Obama is a big war spender. His $708 billion Pentagon allotment for fiscal 2011 (not counting a pending $33 billion Congress will approve for the Afghan "surge") exceeds President Bush's highest budget of $651 billion for fiscal 2009.

At present U.S. military power permeates the entire world. As the QDR notes: "The United States is a global power with global responsibilities. Including operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, approximately 400,000 U.S. military personnel are forward-stationed or rotationally deployed around the world."

The Pentagon presides over 1,000 overseas military bases (including those in the war zones), great fleets in every ocean, a globe-spanning air force, military satellites in space, and nuclear missiles on hair trigger alert pre-targeted on "enemy" or potential "enemy" cities and military facilities. A reading of the QDR shows none of this will change except for upgrading, enlarging (the Pentagon just added six new bases in Colombia) and adding new systems such as Prompt Global Strike, an important new offensive weapon system, which we shall discuss below.

The phrase "full spectrum military dominance" — an expression concocted by the neoconservatives in the 1990s that was adopted by Bush Administration to define its aggressive military strategy — was cleverly not included in the 2010 QDR, but retaining and augmenting dominance remains the Pentagon's prime preoccupation.

The QDR is peppered with expressions such as "America’s interests and role in the world require armed forces with unmatched capabilities" and calls for "the continued dominance of America’s Armed Forces in large-scale force-on-force warfare." Gates went further in his Feb. 1 press conference: "The United States needs a broad portfolio of military capabilities, with maximum versatility across the widest possible spectrum of conflicts." Obama bragged recently that he commanded "the finest military in the history of the world."

Evidently, the Pentagon is planning to engage in numerous future wars interrupted by brief periods of peace while preparing for the next war. Given that the only entity expressing an interest in attacking the United States is al-Qaeda — a non-government paramilitary organization of extreme religious fanatics with about a thousand reliable active members around the world — it is obvious that America's unprecedented military might is actually intended for another purpose.

In our view that "other purpose" is geopolitical — to strengthen even further the Pentagon's military machine to assure that the United States retains its position as the dominant global hegemon at a time of acute indebtedness, the severe erosion of its manufacturing base, near gridlock in domestic politics, and the swift rise to global prominence of several other nations and blocs.

The QDR touches upon this with admirable delicacy: "The distribution of global political, economic, and military power is shifting and becoming more diffuse. The rise of China, the world’s most populous country, and India, the world’s largest democracy, will continue to reshape the international system. While the United States will remain the most powerful actor, it must increasingly cooperate with key allies and partners to build and sustain peace and security. Whether and how rising powers fully integrate into the global system will be among this century’s defining questions, and are thus central to America’s interests." (Italics ours.)

At the moment, the QDR indicates Washington is worried about foreign "anti-access" strategies that limit its "power projection capabilities" in various parts of the world. What this means is that certain countries such China and Russia are developing sophisticated new weapons that match those of the U.S., thus "impeding" the deployment of American forces to wherever the Pentagon desires. For instance:

"China is developing and fielding large numbers of advanced medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles, new attack submarines equipped with advanced weapons, increasingly capable long-range air defense systems, electronic warfare and computer network attack capabilities, advanced fighter aircraft, and counter-space systems. China has shared only limited information about the pace, scope, and ultimate aims of its military modernization programs, raising a number of legitimate questions regarding its long-term intentions."

To counter this trend in China and elsewhere, the Pentagon is planning, at a huge and unannounced cost, the following enhancements: "Expand future long-range strike capabilities; Exploit advantages in subsurface operations; Increase the resiliency of U.S. forward posture and base infrastructure; Assure access to space and the use of space assets; Enhance the robustness of key ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) capabilities; Defeat enemy sensors and engagement systems; and Enhance the presence and responsiveness of U.S. forces abroad."

In addition, the U.S. not only targets China with nuclear missiles and bombs, it is surrounding the country (and Russia as well, of course) with anti-ballistic missiles. The purpose is plain: In case the U.S. finds it "necessary" to launch ballistic missiles toward China, the ABMs will be able to destroy its limited retaliatory capacity.

According to an article in the Feb. 22 issue of China Daily, the country's English language newspaper: "Washington appears determined to surround China with U.S.-built anti-missile systems, military scholars have observed.... Air force colonel Dai Xu, a renowned military strategist, wrote in an article released this month that 'China is in a crescent-shaped ring of encirclement. The ring begins in Japan, stretches through nations in the South China Sea to India, and ends in Afghanistan.'"

Compared to the Bush Administration's 2006 QDR, there has been a conscious effort to tone down the anti-China rhetoric in the current document. But it is entirely clear that China is number one in the QDR's references to "potentially hostile nation states."

According to the Feb. 18 Defense News, a publication that serves the military-industrial complex, "Analysts say the QDR attempts to address the threat posed by China without further enraging Beijing. 'If you look at the list of further enhancements to U.S. forces and capabilities... those are primarily capabilities needed for defeating China, not Iran, North Korea or Hezbollah,' said Roger Cliff, a China military specialist at Rand. 'So even though not a lot of time is spent naming China... analysis of the China threat is nonetheless driving a lot of the modernization programs described in the QDR.'"

Incidentally, according to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, this year's Chinese defense budget, for a country four times larger than the United States, is $78 billion, compared to the $664 billion for the Pentagon (without all the national security extras harbored in other department budgets). China possesses 100-200 nuclear warheads compared to America's 9,326 (when both deployed and stored weapons are included). China is contemplating the construction of an aircraft carrier; the U.S. Navy floats 11 of them. China has no military bases abroad.

In our view, China appears to be constructing weapons for defense, not offense against the U.S.— and its foreign policy is based on refusing to be pushed around by Washington while doing everything possible to avoid a serious confrontation.

Russia as well is treated better in the new Quadrennial than in 2006, but it is included with China in most cases. Despite Moscow's huge nuclear deterrent and abundant oil and gas supplies, it's only "potential enemy" number two in terms of the big powers. Washington feels more threatened by Beijing. This is largely because of China's size, rapid development, fairly successful state-guided capitalist economy directed by the Communist Party, and the fact that it is on the road to becoming the world's economic leader, surpassing the U.S. in 20 to 40 years.

It seems fairly obvious, but hardly mentioned publicly, that this is an extremely dangerous situation. China does not seek to dominate the world, nor will it allow itself to be dominated. Beijing supports the concept of a multi-polar world order, with a number of countries and blocs playing roles. At issue, perhaps, is who will be first among equals.

Washington prefers the situation that has existed these 20 years after the implosion of the Soviet Union and much of the socialist world left the United States as the remaining military superpower and boss of the expanded capitalist bloc. During this time Washington has functioned as the unipolar world hegemon and doesn't want to relinquish the title.

This is all changing now as other countries rise, led by China, and the U.S. appears to be in gradual decline. How the transition to multi-polarity is handled over the next couple of decades may determine whether or not a disastrous war will be avoided.

Next: America's Nuclear Posture


Part 2: America's Nuclear Posture
By Jack A. Smith, Activist Newsletter

The Nuclear Posture Review is of great importance because it concerns the most deadly weapons in the world. The report is overflowing with ambiguity. First it notes that President Obama seeks "a world without nuclear weapons," but that he recognizes it may not be possible "in his lifetime."

Then it notes that after the Cold War "The threat of global nuclear war has become remote, but the risk of nuclear attack has increased" because a terrorist may seek to bring a nuclear weapon into the United States. We assume this does not mean it is more dangerous today that during the Cold War, but it's not entirely clear.

It probably means that an al-Qaeda operative may enter the U.S. with a nuclear weapon and detonate it. If so, it's odd that the NPR does not explain that in the unlikely event a weapon falls into the wrong hands, the chances of a successful nuclear terror attack are exceptionally slight due to complex technical reasons, and the fact that such a weapon has many intricate safeguards. Instead the American people are given one more exaggerated fear to dwell upon.

The New York Times and many websites carried the following comment regarding nuclear terrorism: "Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has written on nuclear history, said: 'The fear of a clandestine nuclear attack on American soil goes back to the very beginning of the nuclear era. There’s certainly nothing new here, even if they didn’t call it terrorism back in the ’50s.... If you consider that the threat has been around for more than 60 years, you don’t get overwhelmed by fear.'"

One of the memorable descriptions of the Posture Review was supplied by Robert Haddick, editor of the Small Wars Journal April 9:

"The authors of the... NPR are attempting to deliver two messages. The first message attempts to show that the U.S. government is making some significant changes to its nuclear weapons doctrine and force structure, changes that bring the world closer to being free of nuclear weapons. The second message asserts that the United States is doing no such thing at all and in fact will remain a fully modernized and supreme nuclear power."

The NPR lists "five key objectives of our nuclear weapons and posture." They are 1. Preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism; 2. Reducing the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy; 3. Maintaining strategic deterrence and stability at reduced nuclear force levels; 4. Strengthening regional deterrence and reassuring U.S. allies and partners; and 5. Sustaining a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal. We shall discuss number one and two, the most important.

• "Preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism" is a worthy goal, but the Obama Administration's approach to the problem is inadequate and politically motivated. No effort is made in the document to explain why complete nuclear disarmament — the only way to eliminate nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism, and nuclear war — won't even be possible for the next 35 years (Obama's statistically remaining life span), if ever.

The U.S. has been the main obstacle to complete nuclear disarmament during and after the Cold War. The Soviet Union repeatedly called for nuclear disarmament, and even proposed general and complete disarmament of each country's military apparatus, including nuclear weapons. In January 1986, several years before the USSR collapsed from internal political and economic contradictions, Premier Gorbachev introduced another plan — this time calling for complete nuclear disarmament by 2000. Although at times sectors of the U.S. ruling establishment viewed various such proposals favorably, a majority always demurred, as it does today.

If Washington boldly proposed the total nuclear disarmament of all nine nuclear nations under strict UN supervision, it probably would result in a treaty to eliminate the weapons within several years.

In this connection, when the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed in 1970, the several nations in possession of nuclear weapons at the time were supposed to gradually reduce their arsenals to the extent of complete nuclear disarmament. That was 40 years ago, and while there have been reductions in Russian and U.S. stockpiles, the final goal is absurdly distant. It should have transpired years ago.

President Obama's effort to halt proliferation cannot possibly be sincere when he refuses to condemn and sanction three of the four countries that have produced a substantial number of nuclear weapons illegally in total violation of the NPT because they are U.S. allies — India, Pakistan and Israel. Instead Obama vents fury, sanctions, and the threat of attack upon the DPRK, which possesses only a couple of relatively small nuclear weapons.

Most telling of all, however, is the NPR's implied threat to punish Iran with a nuclear attack, even though it does not have any nuclear weapons and repeatedly promises not to produce them. Here is the sentence pertaining to Iran: "The United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations." Iran is technical violation because of a couple of a minor incidents.

Here is how Defense Secretary Gates elaborated upon this sentence: "The NPR has a very strong message for both Iran and North Korea, because whether it’s in declaratory policy or in other elements of the NPR, we essentially carve out states like Iran and North Korea that are not in compliance with NPT. And basically, all options are on the table when it comes to countries in that category, along with non-state actors who might acquire nuclear weapons."

The phrase "all options are on the table," which Gates repeated in his next paragraph for emphasis, is standard Bush-Obamaspeak for threatening certain small and weaker countries that displease the White House. Such bullying would never be directed against well-protected Russia.

According to Robert Parry, editor of the website Consortium News, on April 18: "What is perhaps even more extraordinary about Obama’s comments — and the nonchalant response from the U.S. news media — is that the President appears to be exploiting technical disputes to overturn a broader principle that nuclear states should not threaten non-nuclear states with nuclear destruction."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded with these words: "Even Bush did not say what Obama is saying."

Tehran is filing a formal complaint with the UN, reports an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman who noted that "such remarks prove that the countries which possess nuclear arms are the greatest threat to the global security." Iran strongly supports complete nuclear disarmament. At the Arab League summit in Libya March 28 delegates called for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons. They also requested the International Atomic Energy Agency to end technical assistance programs in Israel if Tel Aviv continues to avoid UN inspections.

• The NPR's second objective is "reducing the role of U.S. nuclear weapons." This does not mean reducing the number, deployed or in storage, just the role. And there is a very good reason to reduce the role: The U.S. is developing a major non-nuclear alternative. It's called Prompt Global Strike (PGS) and sometimes Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS).

The U.S. government realizes that there are serious problems about using nuclear weapons. Such weapons may be justified as a deterrent to avoid a nuclear exchange because strike and counter-strike would result in mutually assured destruction (MAD). But the entire world would object to a preemptive unilateral strike against a non-nuclear state. For instance, had the Bush Administration's "shock and awe" terror bombing of Baghdad included nuclear weapons, the global outcry — substantial to begin with — would have been magnified a hundred fold, and the act would never be forgiven by much of the world. Indeed, it would spark proliferation as countries scrambled to build nuclear deterrents of their own, as did the DPRK, to forestall a possible nuclear attack.

The document barely mentions Prompt Global Strike, revealing only that the Pentagon "is studying the appropriate mix of long-range strike capabilities, including heavy bombers as well as non-nuclear prompt global strike." Global Strike usually means nuclear bombs and missile warheads. PGS or CPGS means conventional, i.e., non-nuclear.

Prompt Global Strike relies on high speed missiles, satellite mapping and other cutting edge military technology to launch a devastating non-nuclear payload from a military base in the U.S to destroy a target anywhere in the world in less than one hour. The purpose is to resolve the conundrum posed by the global inhibition toward the use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, thus greatly strengthening the Obama Administration's full spectrum military dominance.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a once leading Cold War hawk, had PGS in mind in an article he placed in the January-February 2009 Foreign Affairs titled A Balanced Strategy: Reprogramming the Pentagon for a New Age. Writing of the need to balance nuclear capabilities with non-nuclear weapons, he declared: “The United States cannot take its current dominance for granted and needs to invest in the programs, platforms and personnel that will ensure that dominance's persistence,” he said.

PGS is a non-nuclear weapon on steroids. Along with existing nuclear missiles and anti-missile systems, this new addition, still in its experimental stage, will provide the United States with a decisive advantage over China and Russia, unnecessarily provoking an arms race, defensive or offensive, in a totally new weapon category.

According to a March 15 article by Global Security Newswire's Elaine M. Grossman, the Air Force's Conventional Strike Missile, as it is named, "would initially boost into space like a ballistic missile, dispatch a 'hypersonic test vehicle' to glide and maneuver into a programmed destination, which could be updated or altered remotely during flight. Finally, it would dispense precision-guided munitions to hit its target. Traveling at speeds exceeding hypersonic Mach 5 the weapon could go from initial launch to destroying a target halfway around the globe in less than an hour.

"A U.S. president might be more likely to approve the launch of a Conventional Strike Missile because it would involve fewer negative consequences and less stigma than nuclear weapons, government officials assert. As it stands, the capability is very expensive, with per-weapon estimates approaching $100 million or more. The Obama administration has requested $239.9 million for prompt global strike research and development across the military services in fiscal 2011." It is expected to be war-ready in five to seven years.

To insure the right wing doesn't characterize claims of reducing weapons as signs of weakness, the White House dispatched both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Gates to TV news programs last month to sing the praises of Pentagon power.

Appearing April 11 on "This Week," hawkish Clinton intoned: "I think if you actually read the nuclear posture review, you would [understand] we intend to maintain a robust nuclear deterrent. Let no one be mistaken. The United States will defend ourselves, and defend our partners and allies. We intend to sustain that nuclear deterrent by modernizing the existing stockpile. In fact, we have $5 billion in this year's budget going into that very purpose.

"We believe... that we can have the kind of deterrent that we need by modernizing our stockpile, but not necessarily having to replace and build new nuclear weapons. But if there is a conclusion down the road that there does have to be consideration for some kind of replacement, that decision will go to the president.... We do not see this as in any way a diminishment of what we are able to do."

Gates then chimed in: “We have more robust deterrents today, because we’ve added to the nuclear deterrent missile defense. And with the phased adaptive approach that the president has approved, we will have significantly greater capability to deter the Iranians, because we will have a significantly greater missile defense. We’re also developing this conventional prompt global strike, which really hadn’t gone anywhere in the Bush administration, but has been embraced by the new administration. That allows us to use long range missiles with conventional warheads. So we have more tools, if you will, in the deterrents kit bag than — than we used to.”

Everything is expressed as defensive deterrents; that's almost always the aggressor's way. Prompt Global Strike is an offensive tool par excellence. Nuclear weapons are both defensive, as a deterrent, and offensive, particularly when coupled with an ABM network.

Hans M. Kristensen, Project Director for the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, wrote the following April 7 for the FAS website: "The new NPR comes across as a surprisingly cautious document that... for now preserves many of the key nuclear weapons force structure and policy elements of the previous administration.... For those of us who looked forward to the NPR to clearly and significantly reduce the role and numbers of nuclear weapons, however, the report is a disappointment. President Obama has cautioned that his vision of a nuclear free world might not happen in our lifetime and the NPR shows why he might be right."

The United States and Russia possess over 90% of global nuclear weapons and delivery systems, mostly accumulated during the Cold War (1945-1990). Significant reductions have taken place in the past. The recent U.S-Russian START II treaty reduced a portion of deployed nuclear warheads and delivery systems by about 30% to a shared total of over 3,000 strategic warheads, and 1,600 deployed strategic launchers.

The withdrawn weapons are to be taken off line and stored for possible future deployment, not destroyed. No new warheads are to be built since existing warheads will be upgraded for future deployment if required. The treaty did not interfere with the 200 U.S. intermediate range warheads and delivery systems based in Western Europe, much to the chagrin of several European governments.

START II will become operative if approved in the Senate by a two-thirds majority. It may have been watered down sufficiently to gain the 67 votes needed for approval. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said April 12 he believed it would pass but it might take several months. Congress still has not approved the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly nearly 14 years ago.

In an analysis of the START treaty for Truthout April 19, Joseph Gerson, director of programs for the New England American Friends Service Committee, declared it "is widely recognized as a very modest step that at best helps to stabilize relations between the world's two nuclear superpowers," noting that the reductions still leave the two states with "the destructive capacity on the order of 60,000 Hiroshimas." He further quotes The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to the effect that "due to the arcane arms control counting methods, a fully armed B-52 bomber will be counted as a single warhead, resulting in smaller reductions than most anticipate. No cuts in U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles of about 20,000 warheads are included."

The State Department April 8 made a special point of the fact that "the new START treaty does not contain any constraints on current or planned U.S. conventional Prompt Global Strike capability." We have no evidence but assume the Russians must have raised the point and lost since Moscow is on record as strongly opposing PGS.

The QDR and NPR, followed by the Obama Administration's April 12-13 47-nation nuclear summit meeting in New York are intended to set the stage for promoting the U.S. agenda at the May 3-28 meeting of the UN's important 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Washington wants its principal priorities — strengthening the NPT and intensifying efforts against nuclear terrorism — to be acted upon. It seeks to have Iran and the DPRK punished. And it wants to be looked upon as being compliant with the NPT in terms working toward complete nuclear disarmament.

Above all, the Obama Administration seeks to convey the impression to the people of the U.S. and the world that it is diligently trying to reduce weapons, ease world tensions, and diminish the danger of more war. In reality, the U.S. government is widening the wars, hiking military spending, introducing an entirely new and disruptive weapon, while erecting obstacles to the swift attainment of nuclear disarmament.


By The Onion

Citing a series of fatal malfunctions dating back to 1777, flag manufacturer Annin & Company announced April 12 that it would be recalling all makes and models of its popular American flag from both foreign and domestic markets.

Representatives from the nation's leading flag producer claimed that as many as 143 million deaths in the past two centuries can be attributed directly to the faulty U.S. models, which have been utilized extensively since the 18th century in sectors as diverse as government, the military, and public education.

"It has come to our attention that, due to the inherent risks and hazards it poses, the American flag is simply unfit for general use," said Annin president Ronald Burman, who confirmed that the number of flag-related deaths had noticeably spiked since 2003. "I would like to strongly urge all U.S. citizens: If you have an American flag hanging in your home or place of business, please discontinue using it immediately."

Added Burman, "The last thing we would want is for more innocent men and women around the world to die because of our product."

Millions of U.S. flag–related injuries and fatalities have been reported over a 230-year period in locations as far flung as Europe, Cuba, Korea, the Philippines, and Iraq. In addition, the company found that U.S. flag exports to Vietnam during the late 1960s and early 1970s resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths [Editor: 3 million], a clear sign that there was something seriously wrong with its product.

Despite fears about the flag's safety — especially when improperly used or manipulated in ways not originally intended — sales continued unabated over the years, potentially putting billions of unsuspecting people in danger.

"At first, we wanted one of our flags in every home in America," Burman said. "Unfortunately, the practical applications of this product are far outnumbered by the risks it presents. Millions have died needlessly, and when you ask people why, they point to the flag.... Frankly, we should have pulled it off the market decades ago."

Studies conducted by the Annin & Company research and development department revealed that faulty U.S. flags have caused more than just injuries and deaths. During the mid-1950s, the flags were found to have the bizarre side effect of causing fear, paranoia, and hysterical behavior among millions of Americans. This was dismissed as an isolated event until September 2001, when similar symptoms reemerged on a massive scale.

As hazardous as the flags may be on their own, Annin officials claimed the products become even more dangerous when used in conjunction with other common household items.

"When combined with alcohol, excessive patriotism, grief, or well-intentioned but ultimately misguided ideals, U.S. flags transform into ticking time bombs, just waiting to go off," Burman said.

Manufacturers are addressing the flag's unsafe and potentially lethal alignment of stars and stripes by designing a revised model that they hope will cut down on deaths in the United States and overseas, where experts say the flag is nearly 1,000 times as deadly.


By the Activist Newsletter

The retirement of Bill Moyers is a big loss for progressives. "Bill Moyers Journal" on PBS Friday nights was the best public affairs program on TV, in our opinion. The first segment of his last program April 30, about the Iowa's populist activists, had us clapping in parts and wishing we could organize they way they did. It was inspirational, as were so many of Moyers' programs.

We're relieved that the Democracy Now news and commentary program with Amy Goodman is still going strong, and hopefully will do so for many years to come. If you miss Moyers and don't know how good Democracy Now is, check it out.

We think this one-hour radio-TV-internet program Monday to Friday is usually the most informative hour of the day. We listen to it via computer at At the website you have the option to listen directly or through a number of radio-TV programs that are listed at the site and are available directly or on the computer. You can listen or watch it just about any time of the day or night after the original program airs 8-9 a.m. The written text of the broadcast is available online every mid-afternoon.

So goodbye Bill, you had a great run and we'll miss you. And Monday to Friday it's hello Democracy Now with Goodman and her colleagues.


By the Editor

April 30 was the 35th anniversary of the victory of the Vietnamese people in the war for national independence and reunification of north and south. Washington was forced to withdraw its troops two years earlier but continued to support, finance, and supply the puppet government it had put in power in Saigon, capital of the southern half of Vietnam.

The liberation struggle, led by communists, actually began in the 1930s against the French colonialists, then continued against the Japanese imperialist invaders during World War II, then resumed against the French when they returned after the war. The U.S. took over the for the French in the latter 1950s when they finally were defeated.

Throughout the Vietnam years, beginning in 1963, I worked for the Guardian Newsweekly, first as a reporter, than managing editor and editor. The Guardian was the principal independent leftist paper in the U.S. at the time. I left in 1984.

The Guardian was a staunch opponent of the Vietnam war from beginning to end. The paper's antiwar coverage was without parallel because of the intensity of its coverage of the war and antiwar movement, and the fact that one of the great journalists and war correspondents of our time, Wilfred Burchett, reported for us weekly from the "Liberated Zones" of contested South Vietnam, and also from Hanoi in North Vietnam, Cambodia and the Paris peace talks.

Burchett, an Australian, covered the war for us from the "other side," and his dispatches convinced many thousands of Americans to join the peace movement. The Guardian's foreign and domestic coverage of the war continued year after year until that extraordinary day in the spring of 1975 when it was no longer necessary to predict "Vietnam will win" — as we had been writing for a number of years — because Vietnam actually did win at long last. (Burchett wrote a book titled "Vietnam Will Win" that was published in 1968 by Monthly Review Press, seven years before victory.)

People in the Guardian office in Manhattan were weeping with joy the day it became official, April 30, 1975. The front page headline on our next issue read in large type, "VICTORY IN VIETNAM! I wrote the editorial, titled "LIBERATION." It began, "Vietnam has won. In the morning hours of April 30 the remnants of U.S. imperialism's puppet regime in Saigon surrendered unconditionally to the military forces of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam...."

We didn't mince words in those progressive and liberating days, which all too soon drew to a close.

Those of us who remained with the paper and the antiwar struggle through those tough, exciting years were proud. We knew we had played a role in helping to end a terrible and unjust war, and in bringing about the independence of the Indochinese people.

The Guardian went on for another 15 years to report and take part in different struggles, but to those who were fortunate enough to have played some role in guiding the paper during those incredible antiwar years, the struggle against imperialism in Southeast Asia was that newspaper's finest moment. And for some of us, our own as well.

Thirty years after Vietnam's triumph and two decades after I left the Guardian, the Vietnamese government invited me to join in the ceremonies greeting the 30th anniversary of the liberation of Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon) in 2005. It was my second trip to Vietnam. As managing editor of the Guardian at the time I was invited to spend several weeks in North Vietnam in late 1974 and early 1975, a few months before victory.

What a difference between wartime and peacetime Vietnam! The first thing I noticed flying over Vietnam in 2005 was that the bomb craters — so ubiquitous from the air in my earlier visit — had mostly vanished. Ho Chi Minh City, named after the leader of the fight for national independence who died in 1969, was thriving, as was Hanoi and much of the country. The several days of celebrations were wonderful.

We were taken on tours, watched an anniversary parade, and attended banquets over several days. I even got to shake hands with the legendary Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, who won the 1954 battle of Dien Bien Phu that smashed French colonialism, led the Tet Offensive in 1968 that turned the tide of the American war, and directed the 1975 campaign that swept into Saigon and liberated the south. The general was 93 when we briefly met, a short, slight elderly man in a beautiful white uniform, smiling graciously. I was aware of being in the presence of a giant.

At the end they gave me a medal for being the editor of a paper that supported their cause. I accepted it on behalf of the old Guardian staff. It was the second gift I received from Vietnam. The first was the privilege of being able to join with them, even in a very small way, in the long struggle for the liberation of South Vietnam and the unification of the country.


By Dave Lindorff and Activist Newsletter

Offshore oil drilling — a cause championed by far-right Republicans led by Sarah Palin of "Drill baby drill!" fame — became more respectable among Democrats when President Barack Obama announced in March that he was incorporating drilling into his energy/environmental program. Even some environmental groups who earlier condemned offshore drilling went along with the uncomfortable switch, believing this concession to the hard right might help the bill gain passage.

But that was then. The April 20 explosion and fire on a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, followed two days later by its collapse into the mile-deep depths off the coast of Venice, Louisiana, south of New Orleans, seems to have changed everything. With oil gushing out of the underwater well and a 30-mile oil slick heading toward the coast that appears unstoppable, it is difficult to believe that President Obama, who visited the scene May 2 — not to mention sympathetic environmental organizations — can maintain support for continued drilling.

At this point it may take weeks or months to plug the well. It's already a disaster. It may become a catastrophe. Journalist Dave Lindorff wrote the following article for Common Dreams a few days ago. We updated one of his statistics. Here is an excerpt:

British Petroleum had a fail-safe system for its Deepwater Horizon floating deep-water drilling rig. You know, the one that blew up and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving a tangled spaghetti pile of 22-inch steel pipe one mile long all balled up on the sea floor a mile below the surface, and that is leaking oil, [as much as 210,000] gallons per day, so far.

The thing is, the fail-safe system, about the size of a McMansion sitting at the wellhead on the ocean floor, um, failed. It didn't collapse and shut off the flow of oil as intended, and it could take months now to shut the well down, during which time the leak rate is likely to increase to up to 300,000 gallons per day, or over two million gallons a week.

President Obama claimed last month that off-shore drilling technology had become so advanced that oil spills and blowouts were a thing of the past. Of course, as he said this, Australia and Indonesia were still assessing the damage from a similar offshore oil platform, the Montana, in the Timor Sea, which blew out and poured millions of gallons of oil into the ocean off Western Australia for over three months before it could be sealed off.

Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Given that this is true, particularly of complex technological enterprises, the question that needs to be asked is not, what is the probability of a catastrophic failure of an offshore well?, but what is the potential damage in the event of even one such catastrophe for the local environment?

In the case of the Deepwater Horizon, the potential damage if this well really blows is staggering. Just 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, it poses a near fatal risk to the region's wetlands and bayous, with their shrimp and oyster fisheries, not to mention the breeding grounds they provide for endangered birds, fish and other animals.

But the real lesson of the Deepwater Horizon is what it means for expanded drilling in the Arctic waters north of Alaska.

Oil companies, including BP, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell and others, like Goldman traders looking at a tranche of subprime mortgages, are casting covetous eyes on the Arctic Ocean and the oil and gas that studies suggest lie under the virgin sea floor. Their plan is to drill for these hydrocarbons once the summer sea ice vanishes as a result of rising global temperatures (more about this in a future article).

Obama, as part of his opening of more coastal areas to drilling, is including areas of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, which are already ice free during summer.

But let's think about this for a moment. Suppose there were a blowout like the one in the Gulf of Mexico at a rig drilling in the Arctic? Suppose it happened towards the end of the short summer, when the ice was about to return to cover the ocean surface? If it was a blowout that couldn't be plugged, like the Montana blowout in the Timor Sea, or if the fail-safe system at the wellhead failed, as with the Deepwater Horizon, and if the only solution was, as with the Montana well, to drill new wells to ease the pressure on the blown well, how would this be done, once the ice moved in?

Answer? It couldn't be done. Murphy's Law again. And so millions of gallons of crude oil would rise up out of the burst wellhead to spread out underneath the ice, whence it would eventually move on to destroy hundreds of miles of fragile coastline, probably killing untold numbers of species that live in the affected waters. The damage from such a completely predictable disaster wouldn't just be staggering, like the Montana or the Deepwater Horizon blowouts, but incomprehensible!



[Editor's Note: Following is an article about the oil spill written by Bill McKibben, the long-time environmental leader who founded In it he discusses the oil spill and invites you to send a letter to the politicians in Washington asking for a ban on offshore oil drilling.]

The oil spreading across the Gulf is a test, pure and simple.

Think of its twisted outline as a Rorschach ink blot for a society — maybe for a whole civilization. Will we respond in ways deep enough to matter? Or will we see nothing wrong in the devastating images of the oil slick, and continue on this path of destruction, danger, and dirty energy?

Forty one years ago, similar pictures of oil-soaked beaches and dying sea-birds off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif., galvanized the nation and set the stage for the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

But over the years, that environmental fervor faded, and we returned to business as usual — mostly, the business of burning more fossil fuel. In late March, President Obama decided to "drill baby drill," lifting a moratorium on coastal drilling that had its roots in that first spill.

Just a few weeks ago, Obama said "It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don't cause spills." How wrong he was.

So now we've got another chance — not just to come to terms with offshore drilling, but far more importantly, to come to terms with fossil fuel itself. Please take a few seconds and send a message to President Obama and your Senators asking them to ban offshore drilling, and instead invest in safe, clean energy:

The water off the Mississippi Delta is slick with oil, but that's barely the tip of the damage from fossil fuel. We now know that carbon dioxide spreading invisibly across the atmosphere is driving change on a massive scale: by raising the planet's temperature, it's melting everything frozen, raising the level of the ocean, powering ever stronger storms. In the Gulf, and in every other ocean on the planet, that extra carbon is turning seawater acid.

And there's no way to prevent global warming with better valves on oil rigs. The only way is by ending our addiction to fossil fuel with great speed. The scrawny climate bill that the Senate may take up later this summer barely nudges the oil industry, as Republican Senator Lindsay Graham explained earlier this week, the big companies helped write the bill themselves.

So now is the time to demand more — a new chance to ignite a broad movement to protect everything we hold dear.



[Editor’s Note: The American antiwar movement is experiencing difficult times because many Democrats who opposed Bush’s wars are now reluctant to take a public stand against Obama’s wars. We asked Brian Becker, the national coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, for his views about the March 20 protest in the nation’s capital, San Francisco, Los Angeles and elsewhere within this context. Here is his reply.]

By Brian Becker, Activist Newsletter article

In evaluating the impact of any mobilization it is important to take into account the primary multiple factors that shape the current political atmosphere.

The March 20 mobilizations constitute, in our opinion, the opening of a new stage in the U.S. antiwar movement.

The 10,000 people who joined in the dramatic march in Washington D.C. were, in the main, significantly younger than in years past.

There was a high energy. Most of those who marched had probably supported and voted for Obama when he won the presidency. Just 15 months ago millions of people gathered together around the Obama inauguration. They were filled with enthusiasm. Not only was Bush gone but there was a high expectation that the Bush-era was gone too.

That was a powerful sentiment. The people were nearly euphoric but it was a sentiment based on an illusion. It was an illusion that fed political passivity. Life itself has now shattered that illusion at least for a growing segment of society.

Those who took to the streets on March 20 did so because their real-life experience of the past year has proven to them that the problems of imperial war are not the byproduct of the personality and program, of Bush or the neocons, but is rather the fundamental policy of the U.S. government.

These young people supported Obama not because they were loyal to the Democratic Party as their parents may be. They were excited about Obama because they wanted real change. They thought the wars would end. Instead the war in Afghanistan has expanded under Obama whose military commanders and Defense Secretary are the very same individuals who ran the show for Bush.

We, in the ANSWER Coalition, never shared the illusion that a Democratic Party presidency would lead to a diminution of war. Our assessment was that U.S. foreign policy, including its military operations, are based on the global interests of U.S. banking and corporate elites. And that the White House is the nerve center of their global empire. The Military-Industrial Complex is in many ways a foundational pillar of U.S. capitalism and the politicians of both parties serve this machine.

March 20 was a significant mobilization but smaller than the 2007 protests against Bush’s war policy. It planted the flag of resistance and opposition. The lasting significance of the action will be measured by the extent to which it contributed to the further dissolution of the political illusion about the Democrats and served as a catalyst for a new generation of activists to intensify the struggle to bring the troops home now.


From the ANSWER Coalition

There are times when it literally pays to take part in a protest demonstration — to the tune of $18,000 each in this case — according to this message from ANSWER Coalition National Coordinator Brian Becker:

Ten years ago on April 15, nearly 700 people were illegally arrested in Washington, D.C., while protesting against the brutality, racism and exploitation that are institutionalized in the vast Prison-Industrial Complex in the United States.

While we were trapped and detained on 20th St., we announced over a bullhorn that the police action was illegal and that we would seek to file a class-action lawsuit against the D.C. police and government.

After 10 long years of litigation filed by the attorneys from the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund on behalf of those of us who were arrested, a huge civil liberties victory has been achieved, resulting in the largest protest arrest settlement in U.S. history.

This victory was due to the amazing diligence and expertise of the Partnership for Civil Justice, who worked pro bono for the decade, and the steadfastness of those who had been arrested.

Everyone who was arrested at 20th St., NW between I and K St., on April 15, 2000, is now eligible to collect $18,000, but they must file their claim by May 17, 2010. If this message pertains to you, or to someone you know, you must read and act upon information from the Partnership for Civil Justice, just below my message, on how people can collect their $18,000. If claims are not filed by May 17, 2010, that money will revert back to the government.

We need your help to circulate this email to as many friends, progressive list serves and social networking sites so those who are entitled to collect $18,000 can do so.

For my part, I am donating the settlement money to the ANSWER Coalition so that the movement against war and for social justice can continue to organize. We hope others will consider doing the same, or donating a part of their settlement money. The ANSWER Coalition has a fiscal sponsor, the Progress Unity Fund, that allows for tax-deductible contributions. Checks may be sent to 167 Anderson St., San Francisco, CA 94110 and made out to Progress Unity Fund.

Brian Becker, ANSWER Coalition,
Washington, D.C., National Office, (202) 265-1948,



This is the largest class action settlement of protester claims in U.S. history, totaling nearly $14 million dollars, and those arrestees are each entitled to up to $18,000. Claim forms must be filed by May 17, 2010! The time period for filing claims opened on Feb. 12, 2010, and time is running out. Millions of dollars are available, but arrestees must file their claim forms — unclaimed funds will revert to the government. Please spread the word to all the peace- and justice-minded people.

In addition to monetary payments, the arrest of class members will be expunged; each arrestee who participates in the settlement will receive a court order declaring his or her arrest to be legally null and void. There is also substantial equitable relief, changes in the law and to police policies and practices that have been achieved in the course of the litigation.

Click here to view the Notice to Class Members, which describes the litigation and settlement and answers questions that potential claimants may have.

Click here to download the Proof of Claim form, which must be filled out and timely submitted by potential claimants to the Class Administrator.

The official website, established by the Class Administrator, is at Additional materials are available there, and answers to frequently asked questions will be posted there as questions are presented to the Administrator. If you have questions, please first read the Notice to Class Members, which is in Q & A format and answers many important questions about the settlement and the process. The Class Administrator has also set up a toll free number, 1-877-567-4780, in case you have questions that are not answered in the notice or on the web site.

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) is a not-for-profit legal and educational organization which, among other things, seeks to ensure constitutional accountability within police practices. It has litigated class action lawsuits against the District of Columbia for the mass false arrests of more than 1,000 persons during First Amendment protected demonstrations. The PCJF won a unanimous ruling at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals finding the MPD's unprecedented military-style police checkpoint program unconstitutional. The PCJ previously uncovered and disclosed that the D.C. police employed an unlawful domestic spying and agent provocateur program in which officers were sent on long-term assignments posing as political activists and infiltrated lawful and peaceful groups. For more information go to:


By the Activist Newsletter

At a meeting of over 150 lawyers, legal scholars and human rights campaigners in Beirut, Lebanon, April 3, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark was chosen to be the chairperson of an international campaign to investigate war crimes committed by officials the Bush Administration.

Representatives at the meeting came from all over the world. The campaign will investigate the lies, deceit and manipulation leading up to the Iraq war; the conduct of the war itself against an essentially defenseless country; and the horrors of the continued occupation. Lawyers and judges in several countries are exploring prosecution.

Clark emphasized that it is the imperative responsibility of the American people to relentlessly pursue this investigation, and to seek prosecution and indictment inside of the United States. During the March 20 antiwar rally in Washington Clark made an impassioned call for Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and indict George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Some 10,000 people roared their approval.

The culture of criminal conduct started at the top in the White House itself and seeped far down the chain of command. The White House is responsible for these crimes—from the hideous torture scenes at Abu Ghraib prison to the shockingly grotesque, cold-blooded murder of innocent civilians by U.S. helicopter pilots in Baghdad in 2007, as shown in a video released this month.

Clark, 82, who launched a national movement to impeach President Bush in 2002, made the point that all the war crimes and crimes against humanity flow from the commission of the most supreme crimes, which he identified as the Crimes against Peace. This was the finding at the Nuremberg trial, and it is enshrined in the Nuremberg Principles.

This now-galvanized international movement will also conduct independent inquiries in several countries to review the conduct of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Rove, Yoo and other Bush-era officials.

For information about the Indict Bush campaign, and to vote in a referendum, visit


By the Activist Newsletter

With both tax day and Easter falling in April, our thoughts a couple of weeks ago turned to the inimitable Ammon Hennacy, the well-known (at the time) radical pacifist tax resister and member of the Catholic Worker movement who died 40 years ago.

He told us around 1960 he was convinced that Jesus Christ, in today’s context, "was a revolutionary and a socialist." We were dubious, and also explained to Ammon that we were not religious, a conviction that remains to this day, and that made us more dubious still. “Read what Debs said,” he advised.

Debs, of course, was Eugene Victor Debs (1855-1926), the great railway union leader, a founder of the Industrial Workers of the World, and five-time Socialist Party candidate for President. He gained 3.42% of the popular vote in 1920, campaigning from the jail cell he occupied since his conviction in 1918 for giving a speech opposing World War I. From that same cell in 1919, Debs said to a newspaper reporter:

“I told my friends of the cloth that I did not believe Christ was meek and lowly but a real living, vital agitator who went into the temple with a lash and a knout and whipped the oppressors of the poor, routed them out of the doors and spilled their blood and got silver on the floor. He told the robbed and misruled and exploited and driven people to disobey their plunderers, he denounced the profiteers, and it was for this that they nailed his quivering body to the cross and spiked it to the gates of Jerusalem, not because he told them to love one another. That was harmless doctrine. But when he touched their profits and denounced them before their people he was marked for crucifixion.”

The modern Vatican hierarchy has often supported or signed truces with right wing and even fascist dictatorships, including throughout much of South America in the 1960s-80s. But there are times, such as during the rise of liberation theology in parts of Latin America beginning in the late 1960s and prominent into the 1980s, when a number of Catholic priests and nuns devoted themselves to the poor and oppressed, and often supported resistance to the brutal neofascist governments of the time.

Repressive Latin American regimes despised these "subversive" followers of the Nazarene carpenter, as the Roman Catholic Maryknoll priest and exponent of liberation theology Blase Bonpane suggested in the 1980s. He was expelled from Guatemala for speaking out about the atrocities perpetrated against the workers and peasants, and wrote:

“In Guatemala, when the poor attempt to organize they are called communists.... I once asked a death squad leader why one of our most promising students had been selected for torture and death. ‘Because he is a communist,’ was the reply. When asked how that was determined, I received a second answer: ‘We heard him say he would give his life for the poor.’ According to these standards, Jesus is a communist in Guatemala....”

Inevitably this brings to mind the famous words of Dom Helder Camara, the Archbishop of Recife, Brazil: “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” Also, from Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, who was assassinated by the rightists 30 years ago in March: “The oligarchy is the cause of all our misfortunes. This small nucleus of families does not care if the rest of the people starve to death." (See article below for more of Romero's words.)

Rome has done its best to suppress the liberation theology movement embraced by many progressive priests and nuns after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council of the mid-1960s. Suppression has largely succeeded though not completely, especially in Brazil where it has deep roots. Before he was Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was the stern archconservative prefect of the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and a staunch enemy of the liberationist clergy. He declared in 2004 that "liberation theology... constitutes a fundamental threat to the faith of the Church."

As has been frequently noted, there were occasional Marxist overtones to aspects of liberation theology. When politically aware people think of Karl Marx and religion they contemplate his famous phrase, religion “is the opiate of the people.” But Marx's view of religion was more nuanced and sensitive than this seeming dismissal, even within the paragraph containing the oft-repeated phrase. Here’s the full paragraph, from “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law,” 1844:

“Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and also the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opiate of the people. To abolish religion as the illusory happiness of the people is to demand their real happiness. The demand to give up illusions about the existing state of affairs is the demand to give up a state of affairs which needs illusions.”

The religious exponents of liberation theology protested against the real distress of the Latin American masses, and in their time and place they were the heart of a heartless world. Most people who support genuine democratic equality and an end to class oppression can agree — the religious and nonreligious — on the need to eliminate the "real distress" to which Marx alluded. We think this is what Ammon Hennacy meant about Jesus the revolutionary, and what Eugene Debs meant when he referred to Jesus as the "vital agitator."

The struggle against the real distress of the people in today's world — the distress of poverty and low wages, social and economic inequality, militarism and war, injustice and impending ecological disaster — requires more revolutionaries and vital agitators to "disobey their plunderers" and construct better societies while there's still time.



By the Activist Newsletter

Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, El Salvador, was assassinated by a gunman in the pay of the right wing 30 years ago on March 24, while offering mass in a small church.

Romero was associated with many of the perspectives of the remarkable leftist liberation theology movement espoused by a considerable number of Roman Catholic priests and nuns in sectors of Latin America at the time. The anniversary was marked in church services last month.

Monsignor Romero, according to James Rodriguez in San Salvador, who collected the quotations that will follow, was "perceived as a dangerous enemy by certain military and right wing civil groups. His homilies, which constantly focused on human rights violations, profoundly irritated these factions. Romero’s murder in particular, polarized even more Salvadorian society and became the breaking point that symbolized the utmost disregard for human rights and a clearly marked prelude to the full blown war between the government and the guerrilla forces."

In memory of Romero we publish some of his words:

• "Peace is not the absence of war. Peace is not an equilibrium of two opposing forces in a struggle. Peace above all is not reached by repressing until death those who are not allowed to speak…. True peace is based on justice and equality.”

• “I denounce above all the absolute control of wealth. This is the root of all evil in El Salvador: wealth and private property as an untouchable absolutism, as a high voltage cable that will burn down whoever dares even touch it! It is not fair that few have it all… while the vast marginalized majority starves to death.”

• “[Economic indexes of] progress are not the solution in this country. It is necessary that progress is based on the foundations of justice. If not, national security will become the personal security of those few who are rich, and progress will always benefit a minority.”

• “I do not know why, in a civilized country, we still discriminate [against] women. Why will a woman not earn as much as a man if she works just as hard?”

• “The oligarchy is the cause of all our misfortunes. This small nucleus of families does not care if the rest of the people starve to death. In fact, they need these conditions to have abundant cheap labor available to them for the picking and exporting of their harvests.”

• “Why is there an income available to the poor peasant majority only during the sowing and harvesting of coffee, cotton and sugar cane? Why does this society need to have unemployed peasant farmers, an underpaid working class, and unfair salaries? These mechanisms must be analyzed not from the eyes of an economist or a sociologist, but from a Christian point of view so as not to be an accomplice to this machinery that continually makes people poorer, marginalized, homeless.”

• “It is a shame to have a mass media that is completely sold out. It is a shame not to be able to trust the information from the newspapers or the television or the radio because everything has been bought off and the truth is not divulged.”

• “Until when are we to endure these crimes without any vindication of justice? Where is this justice in our country? Where is the Supreme Court of Justice? Where is the honor in our democracy if people are to die in this way, like dogs, and their deaths are never investigated?”

• “The [political] right means social injustice. It is not morally correct to ever maintain a right-wing political agenda.”

• “The military aid provided by the United States is only reinforcing the oppressors of the people.”

• “When the people are unorganized, they become a mass that can easily be manipulated. But when they become organized and defend their values, their justice, they become a force that must be reckoned with.” (March 2, 1980)

This week I received information that I am on the list to be eliminated next week. I want to leave on record that now, the voice of justice can no longer be killed.”

• (March 23, 1980, one day before his assassination.) “I want to make a special request to the men in the armed forces: brothers, we are from the same country, yet you continually kill your peasant brothers. Before any order given by a man, the law of God must prevail: ‘You shall not kill.… No person should have to follow an immoral law.... We want the government to be aware that blood-stained reforms are completely worthless. In the name of God, and in the name of the Salvadorian people who have suffered enormously and whose wails rise each day higher and higher towards the sky, I beg you, I beseech you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression!

Oscar Romero, Presente!



[Editor's note: Boston University history Professor Andrew J. Bacevich, a former U.S. Army officer and Vietnam veteran, is one of America's most trenchant critics of imperialism and militarism, and we have quoted him many times in articles opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also describes himself as fairly conservative, and a Catholic. The following article, headlined "Don’t look to Rome for the true Catholic voices," appeared in the Boston Globe April 9. In it, Bacevich asserts his support for "the real church, not the institutional one."]

The detonations occur with all the regularity of bombs going off in downtown Baghdad: the Church of Rome — the church of pomp, hierarchy, and authority — is imploding. The damage already sustained qualifies as catastrophic. There is more to come.

For Catholics, Easter this year was a joyless occasion. Rather than celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus, anguished pastors lamented the continued disintegration of the institution to which they have devoted their lives. In the pews, their dwindling flocks listened with a combination of sadness, dismay, and disgust.

The crisis touched off in 2002 by the clergy sex abuse scandal in Boston has now gone global. The Holy See’s obtuse response, combining self-denial with self-pity — it’s all the fault of a gossip-mongering media apparently — has shredded the last vestiges of Vatican credibility.

Simply put, what Rome says no longer matters. The bishops — those of this country in the vanguard — have already squandered any claim to trust. The pope himself now seems hell-bent on forfeiting what remains of his authority. If Wall Street rules applied, the Catholic Church would today be filing for Chapter 11 protection while fending off an Anglican takeover bid — depending on your point of view, a delicious or ironic prospect.

Yet this moment of painful mortification holds great potential for clarification and renewal. The collapse of Christendom — the concept of a secular order based on Christian precepts — is now fully complete. So too is the triumph of modernity. No encyclical handed down from on high will reverse that verdict. We ourselves must deal with the consequences.

To its proponents, modernity implied liberation. To others, it suggested moral anarchy. Either way, the quickening tempo of change diluted and then dissolved established authority. Truth became first malleable and then seemingly obsolete.

For decades, the Roman Church placed itself at the forefront of those resisting these developments. Resistance proved futile. In a particularly squalid and reprehensible fashion, the Church’s very leadership has now succumbed to what it had long warned against.

Why would anyone choose voluntarily to affiliate with such an organization? In offering his own answer to that question, the novelist Walker Percy, himself a convert, once wrote: “The reason I am a Catholic is that I believe that what the Catholic Church proposes is true.’’ Yet if truth exists and if a Catholic Christian interpretation of truth retains any potential for illuminating the human condition, its advocates will henceforth have to come from somewhere other than Rome.

Here lies the challenge facing present-day believers. Members of a discredited hierarchy are no longer capable of articulating the truth entrusted to the Church. So people of faith must assume responsibility for doing so, interpreting the message of the Gospels for our time and thereby fashioning a much needed critique of the cultural confusion that modernity has wrought.

In this undertaking, Catholics in this country have a large role to play. Preoccupied with keeping discipline and order and with preserving their own status (no ordination of women!), American bishops will have little to offer.

The main burden of engaging the world from an authentically Catholic perspective will fall elsewhere. We must look to universities like Notre Dame and Boston College that remain seriously committed to their Catholic identity; to independent publications such as Commonweal magazine and the Jesuit weekly America; to grassroots lay organizations such as Voice of the Faithful or to the radical Catholic Worker movement founded by Dorothy Day; and to the communities of religious men and women, their numbers in decline, who in forsaking worldly ambition pursue lives of quiet holiness.

This church — the real church, not the institutional one — will necessarily speak with many contending voices. Out of introspection and before discernment comes disagreement and dissent. A season of debate is upon us, with the outcome revealing what — if anything — a movement based on the teachings of Jesus Christ still has to say to a post-Christian world. The prospect of that debate — which the hierarchy will seek to suppress — is something that serious Catholics should relish.

Seldom has the summons to witness to truth been clearer. Whether we Catholics will answer that summons now becomes the issue.Italic


By E.J. Dionne

The tea party is nothing new, it represents a relatively small minority of Americans on the right end of politics, and it will not determine the outcome of the 2010 elections.

In fact, both parties stand to lose if they accept the laughable notion that this media-created protest movement is the voice of true populism. Democrats will spend their time chasing votes that they will never win. Republicans will turn their party into an angry and narrow redoubt with no hope of building a durable majority.

The news media’s incessant focus on the tea party is creating a badly distorted picture of what most Americans think and is warping our policy debates. The New York Times and CBS News thus performed a public service in mid-April by conducting a careful study of just who is in the tea party movement.

Their findings suggest that the tea party is essentially the reappearance of an old anti-government far right that has always been with us and accounts for about one-fifth of the country. The Times reported that tea party supporters “tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45.” This is the populism of the privileged.

Tea party backers are far more likely than others to describe their views as “very conservative,” and are decidedly more inclined than the rest of us to believe that too much is made of the problems facing black people.

This last finding points to a disconcerting fact that white Americans are reluctant to discuss: Part of the anger at President Barack Obama is driven by the color of his skin.

Saying this invites immediate denunciations from defenders of those who bring guns to rallies, threaten violence to “take our country back” and mouth old slogans about states’ rights and the Confederacy. So let’s be clear: Opposition to the president is driven by many factors that have nothing to do with race. But race is definitely part of what’s going on.

Here is the poll question in its entirety: “In recent years, do you think too much has been made of the problems facing black people, too little has been made, or is it about right?”

Twenty-eight percent of all Americans — and just 19% of those who are not tea party loyalists — answered “too much.” But among tea party supporters, the figure is 52%. Tea partiers are almost three times as likely as the rest of us to say that too much attention is being paid to the problems of blacks.

Among all Americans, 11% say that the Obama administration’s policies favor blacks over whites; 25% of tea party sympathizers say this. Again, more is going on here than race, but race is in the picture.

Tea party enthusiasts also consistently side with the better-off against the poor, putting them at odds with most Americans. The poll found that while only 38% of all Americans said that “providing government benefits to poor people encourages them to remain poor,” 73% of tea party partisans believed this. Among all Americans, 50% agreed that “the federal government should spend money to create jobs, even if it means increasing the budget deficit.” Only 17% of tea party supporters took this view.

As for raising taxes on households making more than $250,000 a year to provide health care for the uninsured, 54% of Americans favored doing so, as against only 17% of tea party backers.

And this must be the first “populist” movement ever driven by a television network: 63% of the tea party folks say they mostly watch Fox News “for information about politics and current events,” compared with 23% of the country as a whole.

The right-wing fifth of the American population deserves news coverage like everyone else, and Fox is perfectly free to pander to its own viewers. What makes no sense is allowing a sliver of opinion out of touch with, yes, the “real” America to dominate the media and distort our political discourse.

Democrats face problems not from right-wingers who have never voted for them, but from a lack of energy among their own supporters and from dispirited independents and moderates who look to government for competence in solving problems and have little confidence in its ability to deliver.

A just-released Pew Research Center study found widespread mistrust of government, but also of banks, financial institutions and large corporations. Yes, there is authentic populist anger out there. But you won’t find much of it at the tea parties.

— E.J. Dionne’s columns are syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group.


16. ISRAEL AT 62

[Editor's note: The voice of the moderate Israeli left is rarely heard in the United States, where Washington and the mass media concentrate on the views of Israel's center-right to far-right politicians and constituencies. As such, a one-sided perspective is what reaches the American people. The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, published in both Hebrew and English editions, is the mainstream Israeli vehicle for liberal oppositional news and views, with a weekday circulation of over 70,000, larger on weekends. Following is its April 19 editorial commemorating the 62nd anniversary of Israel's Independence Day.]

By Haaretz

The joy attendant on Israel's Independence Day traditionally focused on emphasizing the growing list of the young state's achievements and the sense that the country was progressing toward a better future — one of peace, enhanced physical and existential security, integration into the family of nations and the region, and a normalized existence. But the country's lifespan, which was considered a great virtue in and of itself during the first few decades, has become secondary to a far more important question: Within what dynamic is Israel operating? Is time on Israel's side? Is it setting goals for itself and working toward their realization? Has it blossomed into maturity? Are its citizens more secure and happier? Does it greet the future with hope?

Unfortunately, Israel's 62nd Independence Day finds it in a kind of diplomatic, security and moral limbo that is certainly no cause for celebration. It is isolated globally and embroiled in a conflict with the superpower whose friendship and support are vital to its very existence. It is devoid of any diplomatic plan aside from holding onto the [Palestinian] territories and afraid of any movement. It wallows in a sense of existential threat that has only grown with time. It seizes on every instance of anti-Semitism, whether real or imagined, as a pretext for continued apathy and passivity. In many respects, it seems that Israel has lost the dynamism and hope of its early decades, and is once again mired in the ghetto mentality against which its founders rebelled.

Granted, Israel is not the sole custodian of its fate. Yet the shortcomings that have cast a pall over the country since its founding — the ethnocentrism, the dominance of the army and religious functionaries, the socioeconomic gaps, the subservience to the settlers, the mystical mode of thinking and the adherence to false beliefs — have, instead of disappearing over time, only gathered steam. The optimistic, pragmatic, peace-seeking spirit that once filled the Israeli people, in tune with the Zionist revolution, which sought to alter Jewish fate, has weakened. And it is not clear whether the current government is deepening the reactionary counterrevolution or merely giving it faithful expression.

On the eve of Independence Day last year, we wrote in this space: "Stagnation has taken the place of change. Not only does this government, which was formed not long ago, not bode well for hope and change. It champions a policy of regression in a number of areas: the diplomatic front; the Palestinian question; the state's attitude toward the settlers; issues of state and religion; its handling of Israeli Arabs; and its general behavior toward our Arab neighbors and the world. Whoever clings to the vision of 'managing the conflict' and despairs of reaching a solution to the conflict will find himself treading water. Instead of growing and reinventing ourselves, we will be the ones managed by crises."

It is saddening to discover that all these fears came true this year, to an even greater degree than we expected. When the prime minister's main message to the country is that we are once again on the verge of a holocaust, and his vision consists primarily of delving into the Bible, nurturing nationalist symbols and clinging to "national heritage sites," it seems that Hebrew independence has become a caricature of itself. One can only hope that forces within the nation will soon arise to reshape the state and the leadership in a way worthy of us all.

— The English edition of Haaretz is at


By Institute for Policy Studies, April 7

The scene has become depressingly familiar. A governor — or a mayor or a county executive — steps to the podium and somberly intones the necessity of making “hard choices” and “living within our means.” The elected leader then proceeds to announce prodigious budget cuts that will overcrowd classrooms, furlough public employees, and deny medications to poor families.

Some observers blame these painful podium processions on the Great Recession and the resulting drop-off in income that can be taxed. Others blame former President George W. Bush. His administration’s massive 2001 and 2003 tax cuts left the federal budget deeply in the red — and state and local governments on their own, overwhelmed by federal mandates for everything from Medicaid to special ed.

The recession and the second Bush administration no doubt contributed — and significantly so — to the fiscal crisis we face today. But the roots of today’s crisis go back farther. Indeed, by Bush’s inauguration in 2001, the prime damage had already been done. By 2001, the United States had already stopped taxing the rich at the levels that had promoted middle-class prosperity in the mid 20th century.

Middle-class Americans entered the 21st century paying a higher share of their incomes in federal taxes than they paid midway through the 20th century. Wealthy Americans entered the new century paying less. Far less. Over the last half century, America’s wealthiest taxpayers have seen their tax outlays, as a share of income, drop enormously, by as much as two-thirds for the highest-income grouping that the IRS tracks.

This massive giveaway to America’s financially favored has been a bipartisan effort. Republicans have claimed the most credit for the “tax cuts” that have turned the U.S. tax system upside down over recent decades. But votes by Democratic lawmakers have, at every critical juncture, eased the way.

The tax shift we have witnessed since the 1950s has been enormous. From 1950 through 1963, the federal tax rate on ordinary personal income over $400,000 never dropped below 91%. Between 1936 and 1980, that same top rate never dropped below 70%.

But today, the top personal income tax rate, after the 2001 tax cut, is 35% if allowed to expire at the end of 2010, this rate will return to the 39.6% level in place during the Clinton years. [President Obama could have ended this tax giveaway when he took office 15 months ago but decided to let it end at its appointed time.]

These lower rates on high incomes actually understate the full extent of tax benefits for America’s wealthiest households. The tax rate on capital gains, the income stream that flows most robustly to those in the highest income brackets, dropped to 15% in 2003, down from as high as 39.875% in 1977.


Adapted from

In a massive show of support for the Bolivarian Revolution led by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, an estimated 1 million red-clad supporters turned out to watch the “Independence and Revolution” bicentennial civic-military parade, in Los Procéres, Caracas on April 19.

The parade marked 200 years since the founding of the First Republic of Venezuela — the first Spanish American colony to free itself from Madrid's rule. The process sparked a broader war of independence across Latin America led by Venezuelan independence fighter Simon Bolivar, after whom Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” is named.

Leaders of the country’s 33 Indigenous groups together with Venezuelan athletes headed the parade, which featured some 6,600 military personnel and 5,400 civilians, including student and peasant groups, workers militias from the state-owned oil and steel companies, as well as representatives of social movements, collectives and cultural organizations.

Guests who attended the celebrations included presidents Cristina Fernandez of Argentina, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Raul Castro of Cuba, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic, as well as the prime ministers of Antigua and Barbuda, Winston Baldwin Spencer; of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit; and of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves; as well as diplomatic representatives of many other countries.

President Fernandez, who was the guest of honor at the celebrations, spoke of a “second independence” in Latin America that is signified by the growing push for independence from U.S. domination and for regional integration. “The first centenary of independence in 1910 brought us an America far removed from what they [the independence fighters] dreamed. A system was imposed on us that subordinated our region to the extraction of raw materials to generate wealth far from our lands.”

“The bicentenary finds the peoples of South America in a new stage of transformation and in what I call the Second Independence... we are pursuing the liberation of our peoples and the unity of our region, always respecting our differences and the plurality of our identities”, she said. Fernandez added that "the world has changed more over the last 20 or 30 years, than in 200 years, and this brings us new challenges and new interpretations. A new international order is being born.”

Chavez, who was elected on a wave of anti-neoliberal rebellion in 1998, initiated the founding of what is known as the Fifth Republic or the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela via a constituent assembly and the adoption of a new constitution through a popular referendum in 1999. Since then he has pursued a project of radical change in Venezuela with the aim of building “Socialism of the 21st century”, which has the backing of the country’s poor majority, but brought him into conflict with traditional ruling elites.

Internationally, he has pursued a vigorous policy of independence, sovereignty and the promotion of Latin American unity based on the ideas of Bolivar, which has earned him the hostility of the United States, which in 2002 backed a short-lived military coup against him.


By Nathan Rosenblum, Activist Newsletter

GLOBAL WARMING A BIG RISK TO SEA BIRDS: A new report from the U.S. Interior Department indicates that global warming increases threats to oceanic and Hawaiian bird species. The report, entitled “The State of the Birds: 2010 Report on Climate Change," is part of a proposed $25 million dollar plan to set up eight centers in different parts of the country to study the effects of global warming on local ecosystems. Oceanic birds are particularly susceptible to climate change because they lay only a few eggs each season, nest only on certain islands vulnerable to rising sea levels, and inhabit a rapidly changing marine ecosystem. Hawaiian birds may be increasingly affected by changing disease vectors bringing the spread of mosquito-borne diseases to the population. Also at increased risk are birds in coastal, arctic-alpine, grassland, and island habitats. It is estimated that a third of the approximately 800 bird species in the United States are endangered, threatened, or in decline.

LIMITING POPULATION GROWTH: New research suggests that limiting population growth through improving women's access to reproductive health and family planning services may also have a beneficial impact on the environment. Some 200 million women worldwide lack these services. It is estimated that each $7 spent on family planning over the next decade could result in a reduction of one metric ton of carbon emissions. These expenditures would also assist in maternal health. Such programs could eliminate 52 million unintended pregnancies annually, thus reducing by 25% the number of pregnancy related deaths each year, annually saving the lives of up to 150,000 women.

NYS MAYOR POSTS WAR COSTS ON CITY HALL: Binghamton, N.Y., Mayor Matt Ryan has installed a digital “cost of war” counter on City Hall to show how much money has been spent by the local community on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The sign is being paid for by Broome (County) Cost of War, a local peace group. The amount on the board the other day was $138 million — a figure is based on an equal division among all U.S. citizens of the current cost, estimated at about $1 trillion. According to Nobel Economist Joseph Stiglitz, the cost for the Iraq war alone will eventually total about $3 trillion. Mayor Ryan's goal is to create discussion on funding priorities. Binghamton suffers from substantial levels of poverty caused by deindustrialization. It also faces major budget shortfalls. According to one estimate, the money spent by the city on the war would fund the local public library for 60 years or provide free tuition for four-year programs for 95% of the students at SUNY Binghamton.

FORECLOSURES CONTINUE TO RISE: According to new figures, home foreclosures have reached a record high and are continuing to increase. As of April, 2010 foreclosure filings exceeded 367,000. About 230,000 homes and other properties were actually foreclosed in the first three months. This is an increase of 32% from April 2008. The largest proportion of these new foreclosures are not sub-prime but regular “market rate” mortgages. Many banks appear to be foreclosing on homes that had been previously covered by moratoria, a trend that is expected to increase. The effects of the main Obama plan — the Making Home Affordable Program — has had a negligible impact, assisting only about 10% of borrowers. With unemployment continuing apace, the number of foreclosures will continue rising.


Combined from FindLaw and Associated Press

Is the CIA's secret program of drone strikes against alleged terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen a case of illegal assassinations or legitimate self defense?

That was a central question as the program came under fire from several legal scholars who called for greater oversight by Congress, arguing the attacks may violate international law and put intelligence officers at risk of prosecution for murder in foreign countries.

The question was debated at an April 28 hearing of the National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Four law professors offered conflicting views, underscoring the murky legal nature of America's nine-year-old war against "extremists." The conflict has spread from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to a complex campaign against al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other insurgents worldwide.

Both the Bush and Obama Administrations have defended the use of attacks from unmanned aircraft. But they have also tiptoed around the issue because the CIA program — which has escalated in Pakistan over the past year — is classified and has not yet been acknowledged publicly by the government.

According to Joanne Mariner, writing April 27 in FindLaw, "While the Bush Administration had an active drone warfare program, U.S. reliance on drones increased greatly after President Obama took office.... [T]he Bush Administration carried out a total of 45 drone strikes in eight years, whereas the Obama Administration carried out 53 strikes in 2009 alone. The pace of such attacks quickened even further in 2010.

"CIA drone strikes are now common in the tribal areas of Pakistan that border Afghanistan, an area over which the Pakistani government has little effective control. In Yemen, additionally, the U.S. military's secretive Joint Special Operations Command is believed to have carried out a couple of drone strikes late last year.

"The use of drones to target suspected militants raises a plethora of complex legal and policy questions. Notably, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, has voiced concern over the U.S. use of unmanned drones, warning that the attacks may fall afoul of international human rights and humanitarian law."

The CIA strikes are "a clear violation of international law," said Mary Ellen O'Connell, law professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School, who added that going after terrorists should be a law enforcement activity. She said the rest of the world does not recognize American authority to carry out attacks in Yemen and Pakistan, countries where the U.S. is not involved in direct armed conflict.

CIA officers who operate the drones could be arrested and charged with murder in other countries, O'Connell warned, likening it to having the Mexican police or military bomb hotels in Arizona in order to target drug lords who may be hiding there.

Others on the panel disagreed, saying enemy forces are legitimate targets, particularly when they operate out of countries that won't take action themselves.

The U.S. has long declared the legal view that as important as sovereignty is, "it is lawful to go and strike a person where a country is unable or unwilling" to control its own territory, said Kenneth Anderson, a professor at American University's Washington College of Law.

His comments echoed remarks last month by State Department legal adviser Harold Koh. In a carefully worded speech, Koh said the Obama Administration is committed to following the law in its operations against terrorists.

And, while noting that there were limits to what he could say on the matter, Koh added that "U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war."

Koh asserted that as a matter of international law, U.S. drone strikes against suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban militants were justified under the country's inherent right of self-defense, which was triggered by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. As a matter of U.S. domestic law, he further explained, the strikes were allowed by the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).

According to Mariner: "This justification, which mirrors the legal rationale behind the U.S. policy of detaining suspected terrorists at Guantanamo and Bagram, does not appear to depart in any dramatic way from the legal rationale asserted by the Bush Administration in defense of its counterterrorist efforts.

"There was, however, one hint of a new or revised approach, when Koh spoke of a state (i.e., the United States) using lethal force when it is 'engaged in an armed conflict or in legitimate self-defense.' .... [T]he comment opened up the possibility that the U.S. might kill suspected militants in an exercise of 'legitimate self-defense' outside of the context of armed conflict.

"This raises a host of questions, including whether, in the absence of an armed conflict, normal human rights constraints apply to such killings." Here are two of many Mariner mentioned:

• Is the US currently considering – or has it ever previously considered – conducting drone strikes in countries other than Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen? (Suspected al-Qaeda operatives can be found in dozens of countries.) If not, are the limits on drone use based on political concerns or legal constraints?

• What kind of after-action review is carried out in the wake of a drone strike? [Many innocent Afghani adults and children have been killed in the drone attacks.]

At the hearing lawmakers and the professors were also divided on the administration's move to put Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Muslim cleric who has been linked to the recent attacks against America, on the CIA's list of terrorists to be killed or captured.

O'Connell said the idea that the U.S. can go after anyone it wants [including the assassination of an American citizen] is "a fiction created by lawyers." The U.S. she said, should be working with countries like Pakistan and Yemen, and not treat them like combat zones or dismiss them as unwilling or unable. Mariner, in her article asked "are the standards applied when targeting U.S. citizens for drone strikes the same as the standards used when targeting foreign nationals?"

David Glazier, professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, argued that enemy forces are legitimate targets anywhere. He said if a neutral country gives its consent or is not being helpful, it has historically been considered lawful to do limited operations in countries not directly involved in a conflict.

The U.S. has worked with the militaries in both Pakistan and Yemen, providing training and equipment as well as intelligence and surveillance assistance. And, according to officials, the U.S. has participated in strikes either at the request of the host country or with its implicit approval.

CIA spokesman George Little would only say April 28 that the CIA's counterterrorism operations are conducted in strict accord with the law.

— This article was based on reports by the AP's Lolita C. Baldor and a FindLaw article by human rights attorney Joanne Mariner.