News and Opinion Based on Facts

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A 2nd Bill of Rights For America

People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

This is an excerpt from FDR's last state of the Union Message
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. "Necessitous men are not free men." People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.  
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident

"It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.”[2] People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world."

This is the full text of the speech:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Message From the President

Moments ago, the Senate voted to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

When that bill reaches my desk, I will sign it, and this discriminatory law will be repealed.

Gay and lesbian service members -- brave Americans who enable our freedoms -- will no longer have to hide who they are.

The fight for civil rights, a struggle that continues, will no longer include this one.

This victory belongs to you. Without your commitment, the promise I made as a candidate would have remained just that.

Instead, you helped prove again that no one should underestimate this movement. Every phone call to a senator on the fence, every letter to the editor in a local paper, and every message in a congressional inbox makes it clear to those who would stand in the way of justice: We will not quit.

This victory also belongs to Senator Harry Reid, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and our many allies in Congress who refused to let politics get in the way of what was right.

Like you, they never gave up, and I want them to know how grateful we are for that commitment.

Will you join me in thanking them by adding your name to Organizing for America's letter?

I will make sure these messages are delivered -- you can also add a comment about what the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" means to you.

As Commander in Chief, I fought to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" because it weakens our national security and military readiness. It violates the fundamental American principles of equality and fairness.

But this victory is also personal.

I will never know what it feels like to be discriminated against because of my sexual orientation.

But I know my story would not be possible without the sacrifice and struggle of those who came before me -- many I will never meet, and can never thank.

I know this repeal is a crucial step for civil rights, and that it strengthens our military and national security. I know it is the right thing to do.

But the rightness of our cause does not guarantee success, and today, celebration of this historic step forward is tempered by the defeat of another -- the DREAM Act. I am incredibly disappointed that a minority of senators refused to move forward on this important, commonsense reform that most Americans understand is the right thing for our country. On this issue, our work must continue.

Today, I'm proud that we took these fights on.

Please join me in thanking those in Congress who helped make "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal possible:

Thank you,


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Happening now: Largest Prison Strike in American History

Georgia Prison Strike

by Donal 12/13/2010 - 8:43 pm   |

I listened to WEAA 88.9 FM tonight, on the walk to the light rail. (I'd rather bike, but they were calling for snow.) After a good discussion on WikiLeaks, Marc Steiner interviewed Bruce Dixon of the Black Agenda Report for a story that has been largely unreported, the Georgia Prison Strike.
In an action which is unprecedented on several levels, black, brown and white inmates of Georgia's notorious state prison system are standing together for a historic one day peaceful strike today, during which they are remaining in their cells, refusing work and other assignments and activities. This is a groundbreaking event not only because inmates are standing up for themselves and their own human rights, but because prisoners are setting an example by reaching across racial boundaries which, in prisons, have historically been used to pit oppressed communities against each other.

The action is taking place today in at least half a dozen of Georgia's more than one hundred state prisons, correctional facilities, work camps, county prisons and other correctional facilities.  We have unconfirmed reports that authorities at Macon State prison have aggressively responded to the strike by sending tactical squads in to rough up and menace inmates.

Steiner, and occasional cohost Anthony McCarthy introduced the story by quoting stats from a blog by Ta-Nehisi Coates, who is called TNC at The Atlantic. TNC wrote that blacks, African-Americans of both sexes, make up 0.6% of the world population, but African-American males represent 8% of the world prison population. If the US released all our black prisoners, we would fall slightly behind China in the number imprisoned.

But why are the Georgia prisoners so worked up, and so unified? They have a list of demands, but Dixon spoke of the increasing costs of staying in touch with family. According to Dixon, it used to be that family could send small amounts of cash directly to inmates with a money order. I can see where cash should be regulated, but now they have to go through something called J-Pay, who take nearly ten percent off the top. Fifteen minutes of phone calls to an inmate through Global Tel-Link can cost $55 per month. The strike is continuing, and Dixon posted a second article at the Black Agenda Report:
It's a fact that Georgia prisons skimp on medical care and nutrition behind the walls, and that in Georgia's prisons recreational facilities are non-existent, and there are no educational programs available beyond GED, with the exception of a single program that trains inmates to be Baptist ministers. Inmates know that upon their release they will have no more education than they did when they went in, and will be legally excluded from Pell Grants and most kinds of educational assistance, they and their families potentially locked into a disadvantaged economic status for life.

Monday, November 15, 2010

wholesale torture taking place inside U.S. prisons

By Deborah Davies

They are just some of the victims of wholesale torture taking place inside the U.S. prison system that we uncovered during a four-month investigation for BBC Channel 4 . It’s terrible to watch some of the videos and realise that you’re not only seeing torture in action but, in the most extreme cases, you are witnessing young men dying.

The prison guards stand over their captives with electric cattle prods, stun guns, and dogs. Many of the prisoners have been ordered to strip naked. The guards are yelling abuse at them, ordering them to lie on the ground and crawl. ‘Crawl, motherf*****s, crawl.’

If a prisoner doesn’t drop to the ground fast enough, a guard kicks him or stamps on his back. There’s a high-pitched scream from one man as a dog clamps its teeth onto his lower leg.

Another prisoner has a broken ankle. He can’t crawl fast enough so a guard jabs a stun gun onto his buttocks. The jolt of electricity zaps through his naked flesh and genitals. For hours afterwards his whole body shakes.

Lines of men are now slithering across the floor of the cellblock while the guards stand over them shouting, prodding and kicking.

Second by second, their humiliation is captured on a video camera by one of the guards.

The images of abuse and brutality he records are horrifyingly familiar. These were exactly the kind of pictures from inside Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad that shocked the world this time last year.

And they are similar, too, to the images of brutality against Iraqi prisoners that this week led to the conviction of three British soldiers.

But there is a difference. These prisoners are not caught up in a war zone. They are Americans, and the video comes from inside a prison in Texas

They are just some of the victims of wholesale torture taking place inside the U.S. prison system that we uncovered during a four-month investigation for Channel 4 that will be broadcast next week.

Our findings were not based on rumour or suspicion. They were based on solid evidence, chiefly videotapes that we collected from all over the U.S.

In many American states, prison regulations demand that any ‘use of force operation’, such as searching cells for drugs, must be filmed by a guard.

The theory is that the tapes will show proper procedure was followed and that no excessive force was used. In fact, many of them record the exact opposite.

Each tape provides a shocking insight into the reality of life inside the U.S. prison system – a reality that sits very uncomfortably with President Bush’s commitment to the battle for freedom and democracy against the forces of tyranny and oppression.

In fact, the Texas episode outlined above dates from 1996, when Bush was state Governor.

Frank Carlson was one of the lawyers who fought a compensation battle on behalf of the victims. I asked him about his reaction when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke last year and U.S. politicians rushed to express their astonishment and disgust that such abuses could happen at the hands of American guards.

‘I thought: “What hypocrisy,” Carlson told me. ‘Because they know we do it here every day.’

All the lawyers I spoke to during our investigations shared Carlson’s belief that Abu Ghraib, far from being the work of a few rogue individuals, was simply the export of the worst practices that take place in the domestic prison system all the time. They pointed to the mountain of files stacked on their desks, on the floor, in their office corridors – endless stories of appalling, sadistic treatment inside America’s own prisons.

Many of the tapes we’ve collected are several years old. That’s because they only surface when determined lawyers prise them out of reluctant state prison departments during protracted lawsuits.

But for every ‘historical’ tape we collected, we also found a more recent story. What you see on the tape is still happening daily.

It’s terrible to watch some of the videos and realise that you’re not only seeing torture in action but, in the most extreme cases, you are witnessing young men dying.

In one horrific scene, a naked man, passive and vacant, is seen being led out of his cell by prison guards. They strap him into a medieval-looking device called a ‘restraint chair’. His hands and feet are shackled, there’s a strap across his chest, his head lolls forward. He looks dead. He’s not. Not yet.

The chair is his punishment because guards saw him in his cell with a pillowcase on his head and he refused to take it off. The man has a long history of severe schizophrenia. Sixteen hours later, they release him from the chair. And two hours after that, he dies from a blood clot resulting from his barbaric treatment.

The tape comes from Utah – but there are others from Connecticut, Florida, Texas, Arizona and probably many more. We found more than 20 cases of prisoners who’ve died in the past few years after being held in a restraint chair.

Two of the deaths we investigated were in the same county jail in Phoenix, Arizona, which is run by a man who revels in the title of ‘America’s Toughest Sheriff.’

His name is Joe Arpaio. He positively welcomes TV crews and we were promised ‘unfettered access.’ It was a reassuring turn of phrase – you don’t want to be fettered in one of Sheriff Joe’s jails.

We uncovered two videotapes from surveillance cameras showing how his tough stance can end in tragedy.

The first tape, from 2001, shows a man named Charles Agster dragged in by police, handcuffed at the wrists and ankles. Agster is mentally disturbed and a drug user. He was arrested for causing a disturbance in a late-night grocery store. The police handed him over to the Sheriff’s deputies in the jail. Agster is a tiny man, weighing no more than nine stone, but he’s struggling.

The tape shows nine deputies manhandling him into the restraint chair. One of them kneels on Agster’s stomach, pushing his head forward on to his knees and pulling his arms back to strap his wrists into the chair.

Bending someone double for any length of time is dangerous – the manuals on the use of the 'restraint chair’ warn of the dangers of ‘positional asphyxia.’

Fifteen minutes later, a nurse notices Agster is unconscious. The cameras show frantic efforts to resuscitate him, but he’s already brain dead. He died three days later in hospital. Agster's family is currently suing Arizona County.

His mother, Carol, cried as she told me: ‘If that’s not torture, I don’t know what is.’ Charles’s father, Chuck, listened in silence as we filmed the interview, but every so often he padded out of the room to cry quietly in the kitchen.

The second tape, from five years earlier, shows Scott Norberg dying a similar death in the same jail. He was also a drug user arrested for causing a nuisance. Norberg was severely beaten by the guards, stunned up to 19 times with a Taser gun and forced into the chair where – like Charles Agster – he suffocated.

The county’s insurers paid Norberg’s family more than £4 millions in an out-of-court settlement, but the sheriff was furious with the deal. ‘My officers were clear,’ he said. ‘The insurance firm was afraid to go before a jury.’

Now he’s determined to fight the Agster case all the way through the courts. Yet tonight, in Sheriff Joe’s jail, there’ll probably be someone else strapped into the chair.

Not all the tapes we uncovered were filmed by the guards themselves. Linda Evans smuggled a video camera into a hospital to record her son, Brian. You can barely see his face through all the tubes and all you can hear is the rhythmic sucking of the ventilator.

He was another of Sheriff Joe’s inmates. After an argument with guards, he told a prison doctor they’d beaten him up. Six days later, he was found unconscious of the floor of his cell with a broken neck, broken toes and internal injuries. After a month in a coma, he died from septicaemia.

‘Mr Arpaio is responsible.’ Linda Evans told me, struggling to speak through her tears. ‘He seems to thrive on this cruelty and this mentality that these men are nothing.’

In some of the tapes it’s not just the images, it’s also the sounds that are so unbearable. There’s one tape from Florida which I’ve seen dozens of times but it still catches me in the stomach.

It’s an authorised ‘use of force operation’ – so a guard is videoing what happens. They’re going to Taser a prisoner for refusing orders.

The tape shows a prisoner lying on an examination table in the prison hospital. The guards are instructing him to climb down into a wheelchair. ‘I can’t, I can’t!’ he shouts with increasing desperation. ‘It hurts!’

One guard then jabs him on both hips with a Taser. The man jerks as the electricity hits him and shrieks, but still won’t get into the wheelchair.

The guards grab him and drop him into the chair. As they try to bend his legs up on to the footrest, he screams in pain. The man’s lawyer told me he has a very limited mental capacity. He says he has a back injury and can’t walk or bend his legs without intense pain.

The tape becomes even more harrowing. The guards try to make the prisoner stand up and hold a walking frame. He falls on the floor, crying in agony. They Taser him again. He runs out of the energy and breath to cry and just lies there moaning.

One of the most recent video tapes was filmed in January last year. A surveillance camera in a youth institution in California records an argument between staff members and two ‘wards’ – they’re not called prisoners.

One of the youths hits a staff member in the face. He knocks the ward to the floor then sits astride him punching him over and over again in the head.

Watching the tape you can almost feel each blow. The second youth is also punched and kicked in the head – even after he’s been handcuffed. Other staff just stand around and watch.

We also collected some truly horrific photographs.

A few years ago, in Florida, the new warden of the high security state prison ordered an end to the videoing of ‘use of force operations.’ So we have no tapes to show how prison guards use pepper spray to punish prisoners.

But we do have the lawsuit describing how men were doused in pepper spray and then left to cook in the burning fog of chemicals. Photographs taken by their lawyers show one man has a huge patch of raw skin over his hip. Another is covered in an angry rash across his neck, back and arms. A third has deep burns on his buttocks.

‘They usually use fire extinguishers size canisters of pepper spray,’ lawyer Christopher Jones explained. ‘We have had prisoners who have had second degree burns all over their bodies.

‘The tell-tale sign is they turn off the ventilation fans in the unit. Prisoners report that cardboard is shoved in the crack of the door to make sure it’s really air-tight.’

And why were they sprayed? According to the official prison reports, their infringements included banging on the cell door and refusing medication. From the same Florida prison we also have photographs of Frank Valdes – autopsy pictures. Realistically, he had little chance of ever getting out of prison alive. He was on Death Row for killing a prison officer. He had time to reconcile himself to the Electric Chair – he didn’t expect to be beaten to death.

Valdes started writing to local Florida newspapers to expose the corruption and brutality of prison officers. So a gang of guards stormed into his cell to shut him up. They broke almost every one of his ribs, punctured his lung, smashed his spleen and left him to die.

Several of the guards were later charged with murder, but the trial was held in their own small hometown where almost everyone works for, or has connection with, the five prisons which ring the town. The foreman of the jury was former prison officer. The guards were all acquitted.

Meanwhile, the warden who was in charge of the prison at the time of the killing – the same man who changed the policy on videoing – has been promoted. He’s now the man in charge of all the Florida prisons.

How could anyone excuse – still less condone – such behaviour? The few prison guards who would talk to us have a siege mentality. They see themselves outnumbered, surrounded by dangerous, violent criminals, so they back each other up, no matter what.

I asked one serving officer what happened if colleagues beat up an inmate. ‘We cover up. Because we’re the good guys.’

No one should doubt that the vast majority of U.S. prison officers are decent individuals doing their best in difficult circumstances. But when horrific abuse by the few goes unreported and uninvestigated, it solidifies into a general climate of acceptance among the many.

At the same time the overall hardening of attitudes in modern-day America has meant the notion of rehabilitation has been almost lost. The focus is entirely on punishment – even loss of liberty is not seen as punishment enough. Being on the restraint devices and the chemical sprays.

Since we finished filming for the programme in January, I’ve stayed in contact with various prisoners’ rights groups and the families of many of the victims. Every single day come more e-mails full of fresh horror stories. In the past weeks, two more prisoners have died, in Alabama and Ohio. One man was pepper sprayed, the other tasered.

Then, three weeks ago, reports emerged of 20 hours of video material from Guantanamo Bay showing prisoners being stripped, beaten and pepper sprayed. One of those affected is Omar Deghayes, one of the seven British residents still being held there.

His lawyer says Deghayes is now permanently blind in one eye. American military investigators have reviewed the tapes and apparently found ‘no evidence of systematic abuse.’

But then, as one of the prison reformers we met on our journey across the U.S. told me: ‘We’ve become immune to the abuse. The brutality has become customary.’

So far, the U.S. government is refusing to release these Guantanamo tapes. If they are ever made public – or leaked – I suspect the images will be very familiar.

Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo – or even Texas. The prisoners and all guards may vary, but the abuse is still too familiar. And much is it is taking place in America’s own backyard.

Deborah Davies is a reporter for Channel 4 Dispatches. Her investigation, Torture: America’s Brutal Prisons, was shown on Wednesday, March 2, at 11.05pm.
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Information Clearing House has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Information Clearing House endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Message of Thanks From Keith Olberman

Statement To The Viewers Of Countdown

I want to sincerely thank you for the honor of your extraordinary and ground-rattling support.
Your efforts have been integral to the remedying of these recent events, and the results should remind us of the power of individuals spontaneously acting together to correct injustices great or small.

...I also wish to apologize to you viewers for having precipitated such anxiety and unnecessary drama. You should know that I mistakenly violated an inconsistently applied rule – which I previously knew nothing about -- that pertains to the process by which such political contributions are approved by NBC.

Certainly this mistake merited a form of public acknowledgment and/or internal warning, and an on-air discussion about the merits of limitations on such campaign contributions by all employees of news organizations.
Instead, after my representative was assured that no suspension was contemplated, I was suspended without a hearing, and learned of that suspension through the media.

You should also know that I did not attempt to keep any of these political contributions secret; I knew they would be known to you and the rest of the public. I did not make them through a relative, friend, corporation, PAC, or any other intermediary, and I did not blame them on some kind of convenient 'mistake' by their recipients.
When a website contacted NBC about one of the donations, I immediately volunteered that there were in fact three of them; and contrary to much of the subsequent reporting, I immediately volunteered to explain all this, on-air and off, in the fashion MSNBC desired.        
I genuinely look forward to rejoining you on Countdown on Tuesday, to begin the repayment of your latest display of support and loyalty - support and loyalty that is truly mutual.


Sign the national congrats card:

Not Michael BlackburnClick here.

Keith is BACK on MSNBC this Tuesday -- after 300,000 of us signed a petition that was delivered directly to MSNBC's President. Keith wrote the he was "overwhelmed" and "stunned" by the public support.
Sign the national congrats card -- and tell Keith what he means to you. We'll deliver your message directly to Keith.
Olbermann victory

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Petition: Put Olbermann Back On The Air NOW!

Petition: Put Olbermann Back On The Air NOW!

Sign the emergency petition to MSNBC:

"Keith Olbermann made your network a success. If you want your viewers to keep tuning in to MSNBC, put Keith back on TV now!" 

Huffington Post reports: "MSNBC has suspended star anchor Keith Olbermann following the news that he had donated to three Democratic candidates this election cycle."
NBC policy does not prohibit employees from donating to political candidates -- but MSNBC president Phil Griffin wants to give "prior approval" first. Meanwhile, Republicans Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan also gave political contributions, but are not suspended. We've had enough insanity this week -- America doesn't need more with Keith kicked off the air.
Sign the petition to MSNBC -- then tell your friends.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Whatever happened to "GOP"?

All of the Republican Candidates are either severely mentally challenged, borderline intellectual functioning, or just plain insane.

Look at Palin, former cheer-leader and current republican Presidential hopeful.
Christine O'Donnell, self-proclaimed witch and cheer-leader.
Ken Buck, R. Co, thinks being Gay is the same as being an Alcoholic.
Joe Miller,
Carly fiorini,
Michele Bachman,
Meg Whitman

Aside from their many well publicized, wacky views, they all support forced pregnancy for rape victims.

Need I say more?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ahmadinejad's target audience

Ahmadinejad's target audience
By Caroline B. Glick | By Iranian and Hizbullah accounts, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Lebanon next week will be a splendid affair. The man who stole his office and then killed his countrymen to protect his crime will be greeted as a conquering hero. Billboards bidding him welcome and Iranian flags will line the roads from the Beirut airport down to the border with Israel.
Ahmadinejad's visit to southern Lebanon will be the highlight of his two-day visit. In preparation for his arrival, in the border town of Maroun A-Ras, Hizbullah has built a replica of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem festooned with an Iranian flag. Ahmadinejad is scheduled to stand outside the structure and throw stones at IDF forces patrolling what he has reportedly referred to as "Iran's border with Israel."
Many Israelis are rattled by Ahmadinejad's trip to our neck of the woods. It is unsettling that the man who personifies the Islamist goal of eradicating the Jewish people will be literally standing at our doorstep, provoking us.
Before we lose our composure it is far from clear that Israel is Ahmadinejad's primary audience. By throwing stones at Israel Ahmadinejad will not be telling us anything we don't already know about his sentiments towards the Jews and our state. He won't be signaling anything we don't already know about his proxy force Hizbullah's capacity to make war on us.
So what new message is Ahmadinejad bringing with him? Who is he communicating with?
Ahmadinejad's visit must be seen within the regional context that it is taking place. Specifically, it must be seen against the backdrop of Lebanese politics. It must also be seen in the context of waning US power and influence in the region. Finally it should be evaluated in terms of Iranian domestic affairs and Ahmadinejad's ongoing struggle with his people who reject his leadership. While Iran's ill-intentions towards Israel remain static, all of the other developments in the region are dynamic.
One aspect of Ahmadinejad's visit is abundantly clear. It is the diplomatic equivalent of a victory lap. Iran's ruler is using his trip as an opportunity to flaunt his position as the colonial overlord of Lebanon.
That means that Iran now believes it is in its interest to expose that Lebanon today is nothing more than an Iranian colony. Lebanon's independence is a mirage that Iran no longer believes it is in its interest to maintain.
Moreover, not only does Ahmadinejad's triumphalist visit show that Lebanon has lost its independence and serves as an Iranian vassal state. It exposes as a myth the popular Western tale that Hizbullah is an independent Lebanese political and military force.
Ahead of Ahmadinejad's visit, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have deployed in force throughout Lebanon. Hizbullah is operating openly under the Revolutionary Guards Command. This is not the behavior of an indigenous, Lebanese entity. It is the behavior of a wholly owned and operated franchise of Iran.
Over the past week, many regional commentators and officials have warned that Ahmadinejad's visit may be the prelude to the consolidation of Hizbullah's control of Lebanon. Recent events lend credence to these warnings.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has not had a day of peace since he bowed to Hizbullah pressure and formed a government in November 2009 in which the Iranian proxy was given veto power over all government decisions. Hariri's move put him into the unenviable position of having to bow and scrape before the Syrian and Hizbullah assassins who murdered his father, former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.
Syrian and Hizbullah culpability for Hariri Sr.'s murder in February 2005 has been the focal point of the UN investigative tribunal charged with investigating the crime. The latest reports indicate that the UN's investigators will name Hizbullah officers as responsible for the hit. The UN tribunal is scheduled to announce its findings in the coming weeks.
So Ahmadinejad's visit comes just before his Lebanese proxy force is set to get some serious egg on its chin. A UN pronouncement of Hizbullah culpability would diminish both Hizbullah's standing in Lebanon and its international reputation. Iran has a clear interest in neutralizing the impact of the expected announcement.
To this end, Syria and Hizbullah have steadily escalated their demands that Hariri and his associates in the March 14 movement disown the UN investigation and denounce all their colleagues who implicated Syria and Hizbullah in the 2005 hit. Ratcheting up the pressure, on Monday Syria issued arrest warrants against 33 senior Lebanese officials allied with Hariri for what Damascus alleges are their false testimonies before the UN commission. Hizbullah and its underlings in Lebanese politics have followed suit, demanding that the government disown the UN tribunal and refuse to fund it.
As of the end of this week, Hariri and his allies are refusing to bow to this newest round of pressure. They recognize that if they submit, it will destroy the March 14 movement as an independent political force in Lebanon.
Unfortunately for the March 14 forces, the fact of the matter is that if they take a last stand, it will likely be an exercise in futility. Arabic media reports this week claimed that Hariri and his allies may be seeking Saudi and Egyptian support for Christian and Sunni militias that may be attacked by Hizbullah in the anticipated post-Ahmadinejad visit showdown.
But the official responses to these stories indicate that no one is willing to do more than express rhetorical support for the Lebanese. Thursday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul Gheit denied that Egypt is aiding the militias but he also pointed an accusatory finger at Iran. After calling the reports "a lie," Gheit added, "Some people in Lebanon want to have a single control over the country and this issue is linked to Iran."
This lack of Arab support for Hariri and his allies is a direct consequence of the US's effective abandonment of the March 14 forces. While the Bush administration arguably did the most damage when it forced Israel to seek a ceasefire in 2006 and then did nothing to defeat Hizbullah's coup in May 2008, the Obama administration has exacerbated the damage with its abject fecklessness.
First there is the administration's stubborn maintenance of its massive support for the Lebanese military despite overwhelming evidence that today the Lebanese army acts as a Hizbullah proxy. In order to maintain that support, the administration faced down a wave of Congressional pressure after the Lebanese military's assassination of IDF Lt. Col. Dov Harari in August.
Then there is the administration's preening and scraping before Assad. The administration's obsession with the so-called peace process between Israel and its neighbors has made it impossible for Washington to take a concerted stand against Syria which it hopes to convince to negotiate with Israel. Even as Assad visited Teheran and declared his undying devotion to Iran, the administration hosted his deputy foreign minister Faisal Moqdad in Washington and cooed that Syria is "absolutely essential" for "comprehensive peace" and regional stability.
And on the subject of US strategic incompetence, there is US President Barack Obama's senior counterterrorism advisor John Brennan's laudatory comments on Hizbullah from this past May to consider. In a public lecture, Brennan referred to Hizbullah as "a very interesting organization." Ignoring completely the fact that Hizbullah is controlled by Iran, Brennan said that the US seeks to "build up the more moderate elements," of Hizbullah at the expense of those "elements of Hizbullah that are truly a concern to us."
The US descent into strategic imbecility has convinced Arab leaders that they should avoid getting on Iran's wrong side. With the US even standing aside as Iran paralyzes Iraq's post-election government, no one can take US guarantees seriously anymore. And if anyone had any doubts about this state of affairs, the fact that the US has no leverage with which it can compel the Lebanese government to cancel Ahmadinejad's visit reinforces the glum reality.
The last target audience for Ahmadinejad's visit is the Iranian people. As some commentators have noted, his victory lap in Bint J'Beil and Maroun A-Ras is a message to his own people. On the one hand it shows the Iranian people, who seek the overthrow of their despotic regime that Ahmadinejad is a rising star regionally. On the other hand, Hizbullah's expected violent consolidation of its control over Lebanon is a signal that the Iranian people should be very afraid. Just as its Lebanese proxy will not hesitate to murder its fellow Lebanese to advance the interests of the Iranian regime, so the Iranian regime will not hesitate to use all force necessary to quell any domestic opponents.
If indeed, Ahmadinejad's target audiences are Lebanese, pan-Arab and Iranian, then should Israel be concerned about his visit? The answer to this is yes, and not because his visit, in and of itself increases the likelihood of war. With its complete control over southern Lebanon and its 40,000 missiles, Hizbullah can open a war with Israel at any time. Ahmadinejad's visit neither adds nor detracts from this grim reality.
The reason that Israelis should be concerned is because Ahmadinejad's visit can negatively impact perceptions of the likely political outcome of a war with Israel.
In October 1973, Egypt knew that it did not have the wherewithal to defeat Israel militarily. Israel's strategic advantage over Egypt was clear. But events preceding that war -- including Egypt's move from the Soviet to the US side of the Cold War -- convinced Egyptian president Anwar Saadat that he could use a limited military victory to gain a strategic political victory against Israel. His gamble paid off as a year later, the US forced Israel to withdraw from much of the Sinai Peninsula.
The insecurity of the Arab states, the rise of Iran in Lebanon and throughout the region, the waning of US regional power, and the voices of sympathy for Hizbullah in the Obama administration all form a political climate that increase the likelihood that Iran will wage another war against Israel though Hizbullah. Israel's options in this context are limited. Obviously, it must prepare for war and commit itself to defeating Hizbullah as a fighting force and delivering a paralyzing blow to Syria in the event that war breaks out. Israel must also take what political steps it can to impact the political calculations of various regional actors.
Having Ahmadinejad on the border is unsettling. But to properly prepare and contend with the threat he poses, we must understand what he is doing there.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Free At Last, Free At Last...Gays in Military Gain Civil Rights

Its been a long time coming.

Gays have always been in the military, but because of homophobia have been required to deny themselves .

A federal judge issued a worldwide injunction Tuesday immediately stopping enforcement of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, suspending the 17-year-old ban on openly gay U.S. troops.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips' landmark ruling also ordered the government to suspend and discontinue all pending discharge proceedings and investigations under the policy.
U.S. Department of Justice attorneys have 60 days to appeal. Pentagon and Department of Justice officials said they are reviewing the case and had no immediate comment.
The injunction goes into effect immediately, said Dan Woods, the attorney who represented the Log Cabin Republicans, the gay rights group that filed the lawsuit in 2004 to stop the ban's enforcement.
"Don't ask, don't tell, as of today at least, is done, and the government is going to have to do something now to resurrect it," Woods said. "This is an extremely significant, historic decision. Once and for all, this failed policy is stopped. Fortunately now we hope all Americans who wish to serve their country can."
Legal experts say the Obama administration is under no legal obligation to appeal and could let Phillips' ruling stand.
Phillips' decision was widely cheered by gay rights organizations that credited her with getting accomplished what President Obama and Washington politics could not.
"This order from Judge Phillips is another historic and courageous step in the right direction, a step that Congress has been noticeably slow in taking," said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, the nation's largest organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans.
He was the sole named veteran plaintiff in the case along with the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights organization that filed the lawsuit in 2004 to stop the ban's enforcement.
Gay rights groups warned gay troops not to make their sexual orientation public just yet. Aaron Tax, the legal director for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said he expects the Justice Department to appeal. If that happens, the case would be brought to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, where the decision could be reversed.
"Service members must proceed safely and should not come out at this time," Tax said in a statement.
Supporters of the ban said Phillips overstepped her bounds.
"The judge ignored the evidence to impose her ill-informed and biased opinion on our military, endangering morale, health and security of our military at a time of war," said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, a women's group on public policy. "She did not do what Congress did when it passed the law and investigate the far-reaching effects of how this will detrimentally impact the men and women who risk their lives to defend us."
The case put the Obama administration in the awkward position of defending a policy it wants Congress to repeal.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of StaffAdm. Mike Mullen, the military's top uniformed officer, have both said they support lifting the ban. But Gates and Mullen also have said they would prefer to move slowly.
Gates has ordered a sweeping study, due Dec. 1, that includes a survey of troops and their families.
President Obama agreed to the Pentagon study but also worked with Democrats to write a bill that would have lifted the ban, pending completion of the Defense Department review and certification from the military that troop morale wouldn't suffer.
That legislation passed the House but was blocked in the Senate by Republicans.
Gates has said the purpose of his study isn't to determine whether to change the law — something he says is probably inevitable but up for Congress to decide. Instead, the study is intended to determine how to lift the ban without causing serious disruption at a time when troops are fighting two wars.
"The president has taken a very consistent position here, and that is: 'Look, I will not use my discretion in any way that will step on Congress' ability to be the sole decider about this policy here,' " said Diane H. Mazur, legal co-director of the Palm Center, a think tank at the University of California at Santa Barbara that supports a repeal.
Government attorneys had warned Phillips that such an abrupt change might harm military operations in a time of war. They had asked Phillips to limit her ruling to the 19,000 members of the Log Cabin Republicans, which includes current and former military service members.
The Department of Justice attorneys also said Congress should decide the issue — not her court.
Phillips disagreed, saying the law doesn't help military readiness and instead has a "direct and deleterious effect" on the armed services by hurting recruiting during wartime and requiring the discharge of service members with critical skills and training.
"Furthermore, there is no adequate remedy at law to prevent the continued violation of servicemembers' rights or to compensate them for violation of their rights," Phillips said in her order.
She said Department of Justice attorneys did not address these issues in their objection to her expected injunction.
Phillips declared the law unconstitutional after listening to the testimony of discharged service members during a two-week nonjury trial this summer in federal court in Riverside.
She said the Log Cabin Republicans "established at trial that the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Act irreparably injures servicemembers by infringing their fundamental rights." She said the policy violates due process rights, freedom of speech and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Phillips is the second federal judge in recent weeks to throw the law into disarray.
A federal judge last month in Tacoma, Wash., ruled that a decorated flight nurse discharged from the Air Force for being gay should be given her job back as soon as possible. Barring an appeal, Maj. Margaret Witt who was suspended in 2004, will now be able to serve despite being openly gay.
Gay rights advocates have worried they lost a crucial opportunity to change the law when Senate Republicans opposed the defense bill last month because of a "don't ask, don't tell" repeal provision.
If Democrats lose seats in the upcoming elections, repealing the ban could prove even more difficult — if not impossible — next year.
The "don't ask, don't tell" policy prohibits the military from asking about the sexual orientation of service members but bans those who are openly gay. Under the 1993 policy, service men and women who acknowledge being gay or are discovered engaging in homosexual activity, even in the privacy of their own homes off base, are subject to discharge.
Associated Press Writer Anne Flaherty contributed to this report from Washington, DC