Monday, January 8, 2007

Editor's Note: See new articles at the other blog

The other blog: CRIMES AND CORRUPTION OF THE NEW WORLD ORDER NEWS

A New Congress? : Not when it comes to Iran

Now that the Democrats are back in power, the American public can finally exhale. Bush is doomed. Cheney is on the ropes. Condi is updating her résumé while Rove prepares his exodus. Well, such an optimistic outlook is boldly misguided. The Democrats may have regained control of both houses of government after twelve long years, yet small changes are all we’re likely to see come out of the 110th United States Congress.

On the surface things look like they are moving in the right direction. Democrats are enthused to increase the minimum wage and roll back subsidies to the oil cartels. They want the Fed to work with Big Pharma to give Americans access to cheaper prescription drugs. Democrats also want to lower interest rates on student loans. Not bad for the first 100 hours in office. But not all that wonderful either.

Most of what Democratic leaders are proposing are minor, long-overdue reforms, not the type of progressive restructuring we really need. As Ralph Nader recently warned, “Early and troubling signals from Capitol Hill indicate that the Democrats are not going to move to remove the brazen Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, are not going to go after the huge waste and redundancy in military weapons contracts ... are not going to end massive corporate welfare … and are not going to propose a serious crackdown on widespread corporate crime, fraud and abuse.”

Perhaps even more alarming than Nader’s prescient omen is that our Middle East foreign policy isn’t on the road to recovery. Israel will continue to have an affable government in the U.S. that funds the occupation of Palestine and supports Israel’s bullying of Iran. As The Times in the UK recently revealed; Israel may be planning a nuclear strike on Iran to destroy the country’s uranium enrichment facilities, something Israel denies. All contradictions aside, the Democrats in Washington overwhelming back such an attack.

Following these reports, the new House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told the Jerusalem Post that Democrats wouldn’t rule out using force on Iran to block Tehran’s nuclear aspirations. In the past similar remarks had been made by Democratic leaders Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, along with presidential hopeful John Edwards and Sen. Hillary Clinton. Even superman Barack Obama won’t challenge the Bush administration’s erroneous Iran approach.

As Obama told the Chicago Tribune in September of 2004, "[T]he big question is going to be, if Iran is resistant to these pressures [to stop its nuclear program], including economic sanctions, which I hope will be imposed if they do not cooperate, at what point ... if any, are we going to take military action? ... [L]aunching some missile strikes into Iran is not the optimal position for us to be in" given the ongoing war in Iraq. "On the other hand, having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse."

Some other Democrats seem to have come to their senses, and many plan on objecting to Bush’s push for more troops in Iraq, a commonsense position that we should hardly congratulate them for taking. Sen. Harry Reid had initially supported such a surge, but later back-peddled after realizing he’d see repercussions from the antiwar wing of his party.

Similarly, if we want the Democrats to change their tune on Israel and Iran, we’ve got to hold their feet to the fire. If left to their own devices Democrats will continue to mimic the neocon’s strategy for the Middle East, not alter it.

--Joshua Frank

US or Israeli Attack on Iran could contaminate Middle East

January 8, 2007

By Sherwood Ross

If the U.S. or Israel attack Iranian nuclear power facilities "huge amounts of radioactive material will be lofted into the air to contaminate the people of Iran and surrounding countries," an eminent international authority on nuclear weapons warns.

"This fallout will induce cancers, leukemia, and genetic disease in these populations for years to come, both a medical catastrophe and a war crime of immense proportions," Dr. Helen Caldicott writes in her new book, "Nuclear Power Is Not The Answer," published by The New Press.

Dr. Caldicott said the Pentagon has met with its Israeli counterparts "to discuss the participation of Israel in plans to attack Iran" even though President Bush said "this notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous."

Citing the accidental meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine in April, 1986, as an example of what can happen when radioactivity is released, she termed it a "medical catastrophe (that) will continue to plague much of Russia, Belarus, the Ukraine, and Europe for the rest of time." Between 5,000 and 10,000 people have died prematurely to date, she said.

Between 1986 and 2001, Belarus suffered 8,358 cases of thyroid cancer as a result of the Chernobyl meltdown, and most of the afflicted have had their thyroids surgically removed, leaving them dependent on thyroid medications for the rest of their lives, said Dr. Caldicott, a physician and anti-nuclear activist. She writes the areas of Europe, and its populations, afflicted by the Chernobyl accident will suffer from its impact "for thousands of years."

Dr. Caldicott noted Israel, along with Pakistan and India, are "rogue nations, outlaws who choose not to abide by international law" for their refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty(NPT). "Understandably, the Arab states resent the IAEA's intrusions on Iran, as the United States accuses it of a covert but un-proven nuclear weapons program, whereas Israel, also a covert nuclear state but a close U.S. ally, receives no such scrutiny."

"It is unwise and dangerous for Israel to possess a nuclear arsenal," she pointed out, as "such weapons are highly provocative for Israel's Arab neighbors" and their presence "actively encourages Arab states to build their own."

One or two nuclear bombs landing on the tiny Israeli nation would obliterate it," Dr. Caldicott said. "Or, conversely, if a large conventional weapon landed on Dimona (the Negev Nuclear Research Center), the ensuing meltdown would kill millions of people."

Dr. Caldicott said "the Bush administration has adopted some very provocative and dangerous policies --- all of them in direct violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty---which inevitably have led and will continue to lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons in other countries."

She charged Bush has drafted a revised plan allowing military commanders to request presidential approval to use nuclear weapons to preempt an attack by a nation or terrorist group deemed to be planning to use WMD.

"The 'revised plan' reflects a preemptive nuclear strategy first enunciated by the White House in 2002. Had this strategy been in place before the invasion of Iraq, a nuclear attack could have been justified to 'take out' Iraq's imaginary WMD," Dr. Caldicott wrote.

Under the NPT, Dr. Caldicott said, Iran is "perfectly entitled to pursue a uranium enrichment program for peaceful purposes" and she noted in the past "Iran was actively encouraged by the United States to develop its own nuclear power program."

She quoted Tony Benn, a former British M.P., stating that when he was secretary of state for energy "enormous pressure was put on me...to agree to sell nuclear power stations" to the Shah of Iran, "who had been put on the throne by the U.S." Benn said the pressure came from the Atomic Energy Authority and U.S. manufacturer Westinghouse, "who were anxious to promote their own design of reactor."

Dr. Caldicott said, "Having initially encouraged Iran to develop nuclear capabilities, the United States now has plans to bomb Iran with nuclear weapons for doing so."

Dr. Caldicott not only opposes development, stockpiling, and deployment of nuclear weapons but the use of nuclear plants for supplying energy as well on grounds they are inherently dangerous -- as meltdowns at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island in the U.S. on March 28, 1979, demonstrated.

Additionally, she contends the extraction of the world's dwindling supply of uranium ore for reactors is very costly and contributes greatly to the greenhouse effect, just the opposite of the nuclear power industry's contention nuclear plants are environmentally friendly.


Sherwood Ross is an American reporter and columnist. Reach him at sherwoodr1@yahoo.com

Revealed: Source of Gas-Like Odor in New York City

The area's worst storm in 20 years is headed my way. Arrrrgh...

---

January 8, 2007 -- The environmental "surge" you're not hearing anything about.

According to U.S. maritime industry sources, tanker captains are reporting an increase in onboard alarms from hazard sensors designed to detect hydrocarbon gas leaks and, specifically, methane leaks. However, the leaks are not emanating from cargo holds or pump rooms but from continental shelves venting increasing amounts of trapped methane into the atmosphere. With rising ocean temperatures, methane is increasingly escaping from deep ocean floors. Methane is also 21 more times capable of trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

In fact, one of the major sources for increased methane venting is the Hudson Submarine Canyon, which extends 400 miles into the Atlantic from the New York-New Jersey harbor. Another location experiencing increased venting is the Santa Barbara Channel on the California coast.

Fuel tankers reporting increased methane venting from sea beds.

Meanwhile, a strong natural gas odor was reported this morning in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Jersey City, Weehawken, and Newark. The strong odor was also detected in Union City, Secaucus, and Hoboken. Last August, a similar unexplained gas odor sent people to the hospital in Staten Island and Queens. Although methane is odorless, natural methane venting is often accompanied by the venting of acrid hydrogen sulfide, a byproduct of bacterial decomposition.

The US Coast Guard sent a message to ships and tugs in the bay and ocean south of New York requesting any reports of the odor being detected at sea. There were also an unconfirmed report of a similar strong odor being detected this morning on the Delaware coast near Lewes. This morning, the prevailing winds in New York and New Jersey were southerly at 5 to 10 miles per hour.

In other global warming news, the warm temperatures on the U.S. East Coast are resulting in early blooming of the cherry trees and azaleas in Washington, DC and New York City, apple and peach trees in Maryland, and roses, forsythias, and crocuses in Connecticut. A number of people along the East Coast are suffering from allergies usually experienced in April. Monk parakeets from South America have invaded the Chicago area.

George W. Bush continues to insist that global warming is "silly science" based on "fuzzy math." Corporate news media masters are pressuring plastic-faced and neatly-coiffured TV weathermen to treat the current abnormal warm weather as an unexpected "gift" for their viewers. The latte-sipping and SUV-driving yuppies in Washington, DC are certainly taking the current weather abnormality in stride -- they almost appear ecstatic about the weather, obviously unaware that the future of our planet is hanging on a thread.

Iraqi Civilian Death Toll Tripled In Late 2006

War's Toll on Iraqis Put at 22,950 in '06
Statistics From Health Ministry Official Show Tripling of Civilian, Police Deaths

By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, January 8, 2007; A01

BAGHDAD, Jan. 7 -- More than 17,000 Iraqi civilians and police officers died violently in the latter half of 2006, according to Iraqi Health Ministry statistics, a sharp increase that coincided with rising sectarian strife since the February bombing of a landmark Shiite shrine.

In the first six months of last year, 5,640 Iraqi civilians and police officers were killed, but that number more than tripled to 17,310 in the latter half of the year, according to data provided by a Health Ministry official with direct knowledge of the statistics. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information, said those numbers remained incomplete, suggesting the final tally of violent deaths could be higher.

Much of last year's politically motivated bloodshed unfolded in Baghdad. The Bush administration is considering sending more U.S. troops there, as the newly ascendant Democrats in Congress press for a military withdrawal. Bringing stability and rule of law to the capital is a cornerstone of the administration's strategy to exit Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced over the weekend his own security push to tame Baghdad's sectarian strife.

Last year's spike in casualties occurred despite an ambitious U.S. military operation in the capital, Together Forward, that involved thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops cordoning off some of the deadliest neighborhoods and conducting house-to-house searches.

"We have been in a reaction mode in many ways to the events that occurred because of the [February] bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, and that began a cycle of sectarian violence that we've been working very, very, very hard to keep under control," Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the former second-ranking commander in Iraq, told reporters last month.

"Now, I'm not in any way happy with what I see in Baghdad. The level of violence is way too high," he added.

The Health Ministry's full-year death toll of 22,950, although incomplete, is higher than the 13,896 violent deaths of civilians, police officers and soldiers reported Jan. 1 by Iraq's ministries of defense, health and interior. The United Nations, in a November report, estimated that more than 28,000 Iraqi civilians had died violently in the first 10 months of 2006, but that count was disputed by the government. The differences in the numbers could not be reconciled.

Iraq's death toll from violence is controversial because it provides a vivid report card on the difficulty of U.S. and Iraqi efforts to bring order to the country. Neither the U.S. government nor the military provides death totals for Iraqis.

"It is often very difficult to gain consensus on the numbers of casualties in Iraq. It really is a government of Iraq issue," said Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, a U.S. military spokesman. U.S. and Iraqi officials have discouraged Baghdad's medical officials from releasing morgue counts.

The Iraqi government does not provide a single official death toll, leaving it up to individual ministries to release data, which are often conflicting.

The Health Ministry compiles data from morgues across the nation and from government hospitals. Those figures include Iraqis killed in bombings, terrorist acts, militia attacks, roadside explosions, drive-by shootings, kidnappings and other acts of violence. They also include the numerous unidentified corpses that turn up virtually every day, often handcuffed and showing signs of torture.

The Health Ministry data are believed to be more reliable than those issued by other sources because they are based solely on death certificates. But the Health Ministry, as a policy, does not publicly release these statistics. The ministry is under the control of the Shiite religious party of Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia is behind much of the sectarian killing.

The numbers are considered so sensitive that some Iraqi officials, when told of the Health Ministry data, dismissed them as exaggerated, but at the same time did not offer any other numbers. Previous reports about such body counts have drawn similar denials.

"I don't know of these numbers," said Health Ministry spokesman Qasim Yahya. "The Ministry of Health does not give out such numbers."

He referred all comments to the Interior Ministry, which he said was responsible for releasing such statistics.

Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said the Health Ministry was "not authorized to give out such statistics. It's a very big number. It's not close to the truth."

The Interior Ministry's figures are based primarily on data from police stations, police units and emergency patrols. Those numbers do not include the wounded who die later from their injuries, those kidnapped and later killed, armed men who die in clashes with U.S. or Iraqi forces, unidentified bodies, and other categories of deaths.

Another source of data is the United Nations, which relies on reports it culls from the Health Ministry, the Baghdad morgue and government hospitals, and releases death figures every two months. The organization does not include Iraqi police or military casualties in its reports.

The United Nations reported 28,076 violent deaths of civilians in the first 10 months of 2006, including 3,709 killed in October, according to its latest report, issued in November. At that time, Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh disputed the U.N. numbers as "inaccurate and exaggerated" because they were not based on official government reports.

"Yes, we have casualties, but not that huge number of casualties," Health Minister Ali Hussein al-Shamari said on Iraqi television. "The true number might be a quarter that, although we feel sorry for those who are dying. But they want to mislead the world about the conditions in Iraq." During a visit to Vienna that month, however, he said as many as 150,000 Iraqi civilians had died since 2003 as a result of violence. Dabbagh, who is traveling outside of Iraq, was not available for comment on Friday.

Sadiq al-Rikabi, a political adviser to the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, disputed the figures, saying they probably included those who were killed in car accidents or day-to-day crimes.

The Health Ministry official made clear that the statistics counted only those who had died from political violence.

"Everyone can guess, but what is the real number? I'm not sure if anyone knows how many people are killed due to the violence and the terrorism," Rikabi said.

The Associated Press count for last year, assembled from its daily dispatches, is roughly 13,700 civilians, police and soldiers. But the news service has said that it believes its figures are substantially lower than the actual number of deaths because it lacked access to government data. Iraq Body Count, a British-based research group that reports on civilian deaths in Iraq, says the number is at most roughly 58,000 since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The group relies on deaths reported by the news media, and suggests on its Web site that its totals are an underrepresentation because "many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported." Critics have accused the group of grossly underreporting Iraqi deaths.

A study on Iraqi mortality rates published in October by the Lancet medical journal estimated that more than 600,000 Iraqis had died from violence since the invasion. That number was extrapolated from population surveys rather than a compilation of actual deaths. The U.S. and Iraqi governments, as well as Iraq Body Count, dismissed the Lancet findings as inaccurate.

The United Nations is scheduled to release death tolls for November and December within the next two weeks, an official said. According to the Health Ministry figures obtained last week, November's death toll was 3,293, while December's fell to 2,748.

In November, four family members of Abu Taha al-Adhami, a computer engineer in Baghdad, were killed, he said, and one was kidnapped and remains missing. During the first half of last year, he lost no relatives, he said.

"The violence wasn't that obvious during the first half of last year," he said. "During the second half, the violence started to grow and grow and become more severe. It's all because of the political atmosphere."

A Washington Post special correspondent in Baghdad contributed to this report.

The Christian Divide: Liberal Protestants Criticize Israel, the Religious Right Defends Her

the new york observer

The latest battle in the ideological war over Israel/Palestine took place the other day at a high school outside Boston. Andover High had invited a pro-Palestinian group called Wheels of Justice

to talk at the school. Local Jewish groups rose in opposition; the event was cancelled. Then the ACLU stepped in and the event took place, 300 people jammed into a library, with loud protest.

A few comments:

1. As Jimmy Carter has shown, there is a new actor on the political stage: liberal Christians. (Per the Globe):

The Rev. Ralph Galen, minister of Andover's Unitarian Universalist Congregation and a member of Merrimack Valley People for Peace, said [Rabbi Robert] Goldstein's stance against Wheels of Justice has disappointed him. "The situation in the Middle East is so complex that it's already at a boiling point," said Galen, who helped bring The Wheels of Justice to neighboring North Andover two years ago with less resistance. "It just pushes us over and it's so hard to maintain our rationality, but we must."

Liberal Protestants used to be quiet about the Middle East, now they're demanding to be heard; the Presbyterian church, for instance, is debating divestment. This is part of the rage at Jimmy Carter: rightwing Jews want to keep the Middle East club exclusive.

2. Contrast the liberal churches' position with the strength that pro-Israel groups are drawing from the religious right. See Zev Chafets's new book, A Match Made in Heaven, about evangelicals' support for Israel (celebrated by Commentary Magazine). Chafets calls it the "wonderful Judeo-evangelical alliance." I wonder how wonderful it is. To preserve Israel from criticism, the American-Jewish community is being drawn further and further right.

3. The Globe article features a student at Andover High calling for a balanced panel discussion of the issues, rather than "just" Wheels for Justice. The pity to me here is that a Jewish kid is being mobilized in an argument about a country he probably has never been to, and whose apartheid-like practices he has no idea of. The pressure on Jewish kids these days is sure intense! I feel for them. When I was a little Jewish kid, I was protesting the Vietnam War with my parents and hearing about the Freedom Riders. What larks! True enough, I was being indoctrinated, too, but it was a hopeful set of values, one I still choose to embrace, liberal universalist ideas going back to abolitionism. These kids are being indoctrinated in a narrower set of religious-nationalist values: basically, Arabs Bad, Israelis Good.

Posted by Phil Weiss on January 8, 2007 2:46 PM |

2007: Decisive Year for the Israeli-Neocon Attack Iran Plan

Monday January 01st 2007, 10:34 pm

As if to kick off the New Year, and usher in the required political mindset, the Israelis are switching the attack Iran mantra into hyperdrive.

“As an American strike in Iran is essential for our existence, we must help him pave the way by lobbying the Democratic Party (which is conducting itself foolishly) and US newspaper editors,” declares Israeli Brigadier General Oded Tira. “We need to do this in order to turn the Iranian issue to a bipartisan one and unrelated to the Iraq failure.”

It is refreshing, in a sadistic sort of way, so little translation is required here. First, Tira, a former IDF chief artillery officer, has cut to the chase, not belaboring us with the sort of platitudes uttered by a Binyamin Netanyahu or Ehud Olmert. In order for Israel to exist, so the reasoning goes, it is required for the United States to attack Iran and kick off world war three, or as the neocons call it, world war four. Of course, by “existence” the former IDF officer means Israel must continue the illegal occupation of Palestinian land, continue killing and torturing the Palestinian people, and mucking around in the domestic affairs of its Arab neighbors.

I believe the second point, however, is not necessary, as in many ways the Democrats are more pro-Israel than the Republicans, if that is possible. Killing large numbers of Muslims—650,000, by conservative estimates, in Iraq alone as the year ends—is indeed a bipartisan affair. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, while dissing the neocon occupation of Iraq in the name of political expediency, have called for invading Iran. But the likely Democrat presidential selectee, John Edwards, is even more pro-Zionist than either Clinton or Obama.

“Edwards has been one of Israel’s strongest and most consistent supporters in the U.S. Senate, and as President, he will work in the tradition of Democratic Presidents like Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Bill Clinton to strengthen the special relationship between the United States and Israel and the Jewish people. He will work tirelessly to strengthen America’s economic and political ties with Israel—the region’s only democracy—and will ensure that America will do what is necessary to ensure Israel’s security, including through economic and military aid,” declares the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, billed as a “non-partisan” organization established “to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship by emphasizing the fundamentals of the alliance,” that is to say disseminate propaganda through the Jewish Virtual Library, a sprawling online encyclopedia.

Specifically, in regard to Iran, Edwards said during a vice presidential selectee “debate” in 2004: “It’s important for America to confront the situation in Iran, because Iran is an enormous threat to Israel and to the Israeli people.” Not the American people, mind you, but the Israeli people. As president, Edwards will carry Israel’s torch forward, making certain to ignite Iran—not that he will be required to do such, as the departing neocons will do it for him, possibly sooner before later.

Mr. Tira offers a few choice suggestions on how best to start world war four and ultimately destroy America. “For our part, we must prepare an independent military strike by coordinating flights in Iraqi airspace with the US. We should also coordinate with Azerbaijan the use of airbases in its territory and also enlist the support of the Azeri minority in Iran. In addition, we must immediately start preparing for an Iranian response to an attack.”

In addition to the lucrative Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and billions in oil and gas revenue, the Israelis are interested in using Azerbaijan as a staging platform for a future attack, as Tira notes. According to Seymour Hersh and Scott Ritter, the Israeli Mossad is busily at work unleashing covert intelligence cells inside Iran, “supplemented with specially trained commandos entering Iran disguised as local villagers,” according to Hersh. In an interview published by Aljazeera, Ritter claims “the Mossad is working with the Azeri population” to undermine Iranian sovereignty.

The strategic importance of the Israeli-Azeri alliance should not be underestimated—Azeris are the second largest ethnic group within Iran. “Human Rights Watch reports that between 15 and 20 million Azeris reside in Iran, and that they ‘inhabit a strategically important, prosperous area in northwest Iran, relatively close to Tehran,’” notes Nick Grace C.

According to Glenn Hauser, who monitors short wave radio, the Voice of Southern Azerbaijan is an Israeli operation. Wolfgang Bueschel, another short wave monitor, told “IPS in October 1992 from Baku, that the Israelian (sic) secret service specialist David Kimche and… Richard Secord, who was involved in the Iran-Contra-Affair, visited Azerbaijan, (and) presented a delegation of more Israelian secret service personnel. Mr. Culuzadeh took part on a return visit to Israel, (and) lead a delegation of Azerbaijan/Uzbek/Kazakh secret services.”

But simply stirring up the Azeri population will not be enough, not without an aroused United States, once again willing to lend its once powerful, now increasingly impotent, military to the Israeli cause. “Based on the urgency of General Tira’s extraordinary pleas, it is immediately apparent that he has been shocked by the turn of political events inside America. By this time, he has learned from official US sources that the long-anticipated attack against Iran has been shelved because of tectonic shifts in American politics,” writes Michael Carmichael.

In short, the Israelis are not prepared to wait for the glacial turn of American politics, especially now that the decidedly pro-Israel Democrats are taking over the reigns of Congress. Israel has demanded the United States invade Israel for a couple years now and is obviously growing increasingly agitated with the slow move in that direction, a move nonetheless promised before Bush leaves office.

Even though Mr. Carmichael believes the neocon plan for attacking Iran is in decline, the principals remain faithful to the cause. For instance, Binyamin Netyanahu.

In an op-ed published in the neocon-infested Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu declares “Iran can still be stopped,” and the Israelis “must make it clear to the government, the Congress and the American public that a nuclear Iran is a threat to the US and the entire world, not only Israel.”

In other words, in regard to the in-coming Democrat Congress, there must be “an intense, international, public relations front focusing first and foremost on the US…. The time has come for the Israeli government to put our existence in its utmost priority. If it does so, I guarantee that both my party members and myself will give our full support in preparation against the Iranian threat, as we did in the Lebanon war,” never mind that “war” went badly for Israel, as it ran smack up against the reality of a well-armed and trained Hezbollah.

Come the invasion of Iran, Hezbollah’s resistance will look like an informal dress rehearsal by way of comparison.

As it now appears, 2007 will be the decisive year for Israel’s long-planned attack on Iran, thanks to a never-ending stream of propaganda and the easily exploitable ignorance of the American people. “The Bush administration, with the able help of the Israeli government and the pro-Israel Lobby, has succeeded in exploiting the ignorance of the American people about nuclear technology and nuclear weapons,” writes Scott Ritter. “If there is an American war with Iran, it is a war that was made in Israel and nowhere else.”

In addition to AIPAC influence and the overtime work of the neocons, the latter with a virtual electronic forum thanks to the corporate media and the former now diligently canvassing Congress for easily won support, there is Bush’s “legacy” to consider.

“Bush can’t stop now,” writes Scott Horton. “He figures his legacy as a disgrace to America and all mankind can be postponed or perhaps somehow even reversed if he could have just a little more time. Time for what? Could it be that Bush truly intends to carry out the full neoconservative program in the Middle East, complete with more regime changes? …. Perhaps the question is whether Israel will start a war in Syria as a back door to the expansion of America’s war to Iran, or will the U.S. simply fake another Gulf of Tonkin provocation in the Indian Ocean and hit Syria second?…. Robert Parry reports that Bush, Blair and Olmert are already planning for more war in the new year. The Iranians seem to have waited too long to get their act together. If they had withdrawn from the NPT and started harvesting plutonium the way North Korea did, instead of throwing their books wide open to the UN and trying to go along, they’d have a nuclear deterrent by now.”

Deterrent or not, Iran will not come out on the short end of any attack, although doubtless plenty of Iranians will die. It will be the United States and Israel that will ultimately suffer, or rather the people of these countries. If Israel manages to goad the United States into an attack, the economic consequences alone will put an end to the demented aspirations of Pax Americana, and this will spell disaster for Israel as well, as it cannot possibly hope to exist in current form if its nanny funds, to the tune of billions each year, suddenly evaporate.

Realm of the possible: The Trial of Tony Blair

Channel 4's drama The Trial of Tony Blair portrays the PM standing before a judge for his part in the Iraq war, but could it actually happen?

January 8, 2007 02:16 PM

Phillipe Sands
Phillipe Sands QC is a practising barrister in the Matrix Chambers and a professor of international law at University College London

History may well view the decision to join President Bush's invasion of Iraq as the most foolish decision taken by a British prime minister at any time in the last 50 years. The war has occasioned great suffering and loss without much apparent benefit, to this country or any other. Four years on the effects of this decision are felt ever more widely. Yet all the major decision-makers - Messrs Blair, Hoon and Straw together with their legal adviser Lord Goldsmith - remain in high office, and there is still no recognition of responsibility. In another age all four would long ago have been out of office.

Confronted with this dismal situation it is left to Channel 4 to take a hint from Lord Byron - "Fools are my theme, let satire be my song" - and feed the viewer's imagination with possibilities that may yet unfold. Alistair Beaton's The Trial of Tony Blair is about responsibility. It is premised on the idea that the prime minister's action was not merely foolish, but that it crossed the line separating error from criminality. Across the political spectrum a great many will draw sustenance - and perhaps some pleasure - from Robert Lindsay's tragicomic portrayal of Tony Blair slip-sliding away, from the retirement home in Connaught Square (around the corner from the Edgware Road's Little Beirut) towards custody and justice in The Hague.

Could it actually happen?

I must declare a minor interest. A few months back I received an unexpected phone call from David Aukin, theatre, film and television producer and occasional mischief-maker. I had come to know David when we were on the board of the Soho Theatre, not well, but well enough to know that an invitation to dinner was most likely connected to some new project. "There's someone I'd like you to meet," he said.

That someone was Alistair Beaton, satirist and playwright. The previous autumn David and Alistair had collaborated on A Very Social Secretary, the unforgiving account of David Blunkett's ill-fated relationship with Kimberley Quinn. That project had inaugurated Channel 4's new cable TV channel, More 4. Now they were working on a new project, and they needed a little help on the international law. "We've been looking at your book Lawless World. We want to do a satire about Tony Blair being 'Pinocheted' for waging an illegal war in Iraq. We're interested in the different scenarios," he explained. The last two chapters of Lawless World were on the illegality of the Iraq war, and it included a few sentences on the legal dangers that Mr Blair might face once he was out of office.

Satire works if it has some connection with reality. The less tenuous the better. To many the idea that any former British prime minister could be hauled before some judge for an international crime is little short of ludicrous (although perhaps a little less so in this case, since the PM was questioned by Scotland Yard in the cash-for-peerages investigation). Yet the subject is one that occupies the minds of a growing number of people, in this country and around the world.

The possibility that Mr Blair might face difficulty was plausible enough to trouble Mr Blair's attorney general. The legal advice of March 7 2003 - leaked during the last general election campaign, when the PM had to be rescued by Gordon "I would have done the same thing" Brown - pointed towards the illegality of the war without a second security council resolution explicitly authorising the use of force. A little-publicised part of Lord Goldsmith's advice addresses the consequences: he notes the possibility of a prosecution for the crime of aggression, since it "is a crime under customary law which automatically forms part of domestic law". This advice was not made available to cabinet or parliament, and the attorney's truncated and revised "view" made available to parliament just before the war did not include this or any of the other warnings in the full advice.

Just before the war began - without security council authorisation - the legal argument on which the government acted caused the deputy legal adviser at the Foreign Office to resign. Elizabeth Wilmshurst's letter of resignation did not mince words: "I cannot in conscience go along with advice ... which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression."

The possibility that Mr Blair should be subject to criminal investigation for the circumstances in which he took Britain to war causes a surprisingly large number of people to write to me. Their backgrounds are varied; from around the world journalists, judges, politicians and even some prosecutors have written, wanting to know whether an illegal war can give rise to the crime of aggression and what can be done about it for Messrs Blair and Bush. I am able to point them to Lord Goldsmith's advice.

He was right to highlight the possibility. The crime of aggression came of age in 1945, during the Nuremburg trials, where it was an Anglo-American invention. Since then it has become part of general international law. It has also been incorporated by legislation into the domestic law of a great many countries, as one of my research assistants discovered (for the interested reader: countries in central and eastern Europe and South America seem to have a particular affection for legislation of this kind). In a recent judicial decision the House of Lords confirmed that the crime of aggression was well defined and established as part of general international law, but not yet part of English law since parliament had not yet legislated.

Against this background there can be little doubt that The Trial of Tony Blair is based on a plausible premise. It gets off the ground. Whether or not the illegality of the war could give rise to the individual criminal responsibility of the prime minister is far more complex. It turns on a series of factual questions. When did he take his decision to go to war? Did he know the intelligence on WMD was dodgy? Did he know another security council resolution was needed? Did he lean on his attorney general? Did he mislead parliament and the cabinet? Did he fail to take adequate steps on post-conflict measures and reconstruction? The answers to these and other questions are not yet fully known. There is enough material in the public domain, however, to suggest that the prime minister's potential difficulties are not entirely theoretical.

Alistair Beaton falls into the category of diligent satirists. He wants to know: "What are the various scenarios for the arrest of Mr Blair?" With food and wine the possibilities seem endless.

Option number one is arrest while travelling in a country that has made the crime of aggression illegal in its domestic law. Alistair has spotted an endnote in Lawless World that identifies Azerbaijan as one such country. For dramatic purposes this is not attractive. If Mr Blair is holed up in central Europe he is less closely in contact with his current and former colleagues. There is also the fact that English is perhaps not widely spoken in Baku.

These factors also seem to make option two less feasible. This is the Pinochet scenario (and in the real world the least implausible): Mr Blair travels to a friendly foreign country (Spain? France?) which has received a secret extradition request from another foreign country (Cuba? Venezuela?). This option has one dramatic advantage: travel could be to an English-speaking country. (Ireland? Canada? A Caribbean country where a 1970s pop star has a holiday home?) On a Channel 4 budget and for dramatic purposes, this too has its drawbacks.

Alistair is excited by option three: an indictment by the international criminal court in The Hague. This is a total non-starter, since the ICC does not yet have jurisdiction over the crime of aggression (the reader will have to accept this as the truth, and be willing to forego for now a detailed exposition as to the differences between genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity - over which the ICC does have jurisdiction - and the crime of aggression - over which it does not).

Option four is equally attractive to Alistair's dramatic requirements: Mr Blair is prosecuted in England at a time of a future Conservative government. Apart from the minor difficulty that the crime of aggression is not part of English law, Alistair is eventually persuaded that the prospect of some future attorney general authorising such a prosecution is so remote as to make it non-existent. There is a momentary pause to examine the possibility of a prosecution in Scotland (which has its own legal system). That too seems unlikely.

Which brings us to option five, the one Alistair finally chooses for The Trial of Tony Blair: a new international court created by the UN to address various aspects of Iraq. It might be called the Charles Taylor option, since it is the model used to address the barbarous atrocities that occurred in Sierra Leone. It is perhaps not the likeliest of all the possibilities, but it has the dramatic merit of dropping a key decision - whether Britain should veto the security council resolution setting up a special international court - into Mr Brown's lap (let critics not dwell too long on the fact that Mr Brown could be a co-conspirator, having sat in the cabinet throughout and supported all the key decisions on Iraq).

The Trial of Tony Blair is for those with a fertile imagination. Some will say it is more likely than a Tony Blair Institute of Foreign Policy being established at the LSE. Yet it raises issues that are mightily serious, focusing on the one act of Mr Blair's premiership that will forever dominate his legacy. Whether that legacy ever leads down an unexpected path of criminal process is another matter, but one that cannot be excluded out of hand. At the very least, Mr Blair's advisers will make sure that his future trips abroad are carefully planned. Book signings, lecture tours and invitations from icons of the 70s will need to be carefully screened.


Phillipe Sands QC is a practising barrister in the Matrix Chambers and a professor of international law at University College London. He appears regularly on news and current affairs programmes in the UK and abroad, reviews and writes for the British broadsheets and has been involved in many of the recent high profile cases at the World Court.

Bush to fight proxy war with Iran

Jan 8, 2006

Yesterday, I talked about the proxy war that Bush is fighting against the Islamists of Somalia through the Ethiopian Army. After looking at the evidence, all indications are that Bush is similarly planning to wage a proxy war with Iran as well.

Our troop strengths have been stretched to their limits. There is no way for the Bush administration to bring in 500,000 troops to Iraq even if they wanted to. Some have speculated that Bush is planning to send 50,000 troops to Iraq in order to invade Iran; those numbers are far too small for that kind of an invasion. This is no more than a propaganda device to convince people that if we would just wait a little longer, we could "win" Iraq, whatever that means.

Therefore, there has been speculation that Bush may be planning to launch a nuclear strike of Iran. That option, however, has been discussed and rejected for pragmatic reasons. The reasons planners rejected the nuclear option were as follows:

--The intelligence to execute a successful strike is lacking;

--Only 80% of the territory is mapped out; even the territory that is mapped out is only done so sketchily;

--A nuclear strike would unleash rampant terrorism, missile strikes, and further destabilize Iraq;

In addition, John Negroponte, the current intelligence czar, has said that there are numerous technical errors in their nuclear program and that there is no hurry:

John Negroponte, director of national intelligence, has told President George W Bush that there is no rush to use force as Iran’s nuclear programme is beset with technical errors. "He has been saying, ‘Slow down, it’s not an immediate problem’," said Patrick Clawson, an Iran expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

All indications, therefore, point to Bush fighting a proxy war using Israel and various insurgent groups to deter or destabilize the Iranian regime.

As ambassador to Honduras during the Reagan years, Negroponte was one of the key people for their efforts. He set up a clearinghouse for efforts to train and equip Contra fighters and right-wing Honduran death squads in an effort to overthrow the Sandinistas and to stamp out political opponents to the right-wing Honduran regime. He managed it in a way in which he could then turn around and claim that he did not know anything even as people were being kidnapped and tortured to death.

Negroponte's experience in organizing and directing insurgent efforts is why Bush has appointed him to the position of Deputy Secretary of State. He has been touted specifically for his experience with Iran. Therefore, all indications are that he plans to use that experience to organize and coordinate efforts to destabilize the Iranian regime through passing on vital intelligence and through coordination dissident activities.

Another indication that Bush is planning to fight a proxy war with Iran can be found in the recent behavior of the Israeli government. For years, they had denied that they had nuclear evidence and had gone out of their way to suppress evidence to the contrary. Now, they have completely reversed that policy and not only admitted that they have nuclear weapons, but that they intend to use them on Iran if they go too far with their nuclear program, similar to their bombing of Saddam's nuclear reactor.

Negroponte and the invasion skeptics are of the opinion that the American intelligence on Iran's nuclear program is sketchy at best and that it should therefore be up to Israel, whose intel-gathering ability they regard as superior, to determine if Iran has gone too far. After all, it costs a lot less American lives and resources if some other country is fighting our wars for us than if we are doing all the heavy lifting.

This is similar to the attitudes displayed by the Soviet Union towards the conflicts in North Korea and Vietnam. Their economy was too shattered by the Second World War for them to risk a full-scale war with the US over those places. However, they were totally willing to let proxies fight their wars for them. In fact, when they invaded Afghanistan, they were drawn into a war that bled their resources dry and contributed to their collapse.

The appointment of John Negroponte also touches on the conflict between Bush I and Bush II. The father was always the Machivellian, always plotting behind the scenes to overthrow a regime or turn on a person he didn't like. He did not like to launch an invasion until he had an overwhelming force behind him as well as overwhelming international support.

However, the petulant son is the one who always wonders why the father does nothing. He wonders why the father does not grind everyone to pieces and destroy them instead of letting them live. He wonders why the father let Saddam live to try to kill him off instead of finish him off in 1991. But the petulant son does not understand that the father wants to be remembered as a great statesman and not a warmonger. The petulant son does not understand that the father wants to destroy Saddam as much as he does, but recognizes the limits of his mandate and thus can only continue the war through proxy (encouraging the Iraqi people to rise up and overthrow Saddam).

However, it seems that the daddy has won this conflict. Daddy knows quite well all about the son's shenanigans from way back when and can simply make a few phone calls to bring them out into the open. Daddy is enraged at the petulant son's outing of CIA agents for partisan political purposes. Daddy is sad that all of his life's work is going to hell thanks to his wayward son and cannot easily be rebuilt again. For all his petulance, the wayward son must obey daddy or find himself ridden out of town on a rail, helped by a convenient "Deep Throat II" episode.

Thus, while daddy can no longer be President anymore, the son must appoint all of daddy's old people to positions of high importance. This explains the appointment of Negroponte. Negroponte is not a neocon, but he is a student of the Kissinger school of realpolitik. Negroponte is a company man, completely amoral, and completely willing to look the other way when necessary to implement the company's objectives. He is daddy's type of guy -- willing to do whatever it takes, including lying, to protect the company's reputation. And even the petulant son understands the value of having someone around who is completely loyal to the program.

The fact that Bush is appointing a Machiavellian like Negroponte to help Rice out suggests that he is not planning to invade Iran himself, but to fight a proxy war using Israel and anti-Iranian insurgent groups as pawns in order to achieve his objective.

Democrats are Reverting to Form

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Reverting to form, Democrats in Congress are cautiously trying to have it both ways so as to avoid having to take a stand on any of the issues that matter.

Faced with President Bush's own disastrous decision to go "double or nothing" on his losing Iraq War by adding another 20,000 or more troops to the front, House leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate leader Harry Reid chose to…write a letter to the White House "urging" the president not to go that route.

The idea seems to be that if he goes ahead and sends the additional troops into the cauldron and things go from bad to worse, Pelosi and Reid will be able to say that they opposed the idea, while they will be immune from right-wing charges that they undermined the commander in chief, since they didn't do anything concrete to block his insane plan.

The truth is that Democrats could, if they had any principle and if they honored the wishes of the electorate, bring U.S. involvement in the Iraq War to a screeching halt. How? They could vote to cut off all funding for the Iraq War except for the costs of safely withdrawing all troops from the country. Nobody could accuse them, were they to do this, with putting American troops at risk. But they would have to face those who would accuse them of "cutting and running."

Democrats also have the votes to put an end to Bush's serial trashing of cherished civil liberties. Instead of grumbling about violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth and other Amendments, as Democrats have been doing so ineffectively now for five years, they could simply vote to revoke the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, approved almost without objection by both houses of Congress back in September 2001 (resolutions are not subject to veto). It is that resolution which Bush and his mob attorneys in the White House and the "Justice" Department have been citing as justification for the president’s assumption of dictatorial powers, such as the power to revoke habeas corpus rights of American citizens, the power to authorize torture and detention without trial, the power to kidnap and render people, the power to declare American citizens to be "unlawful combatants" devoid of citizenship rights, the power to invalidate duly passed acts of Congress, and the power to ignore federal laws like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Revoke the 2001 AUMF and the president would have no grounds, fraudulent and unconstitutional as they in any case are, to claim that the nation is in a state of war and that he, as commander in chief, is no longer constrained by the Constitution.

We don't hear any calls in Congress to revoke the AUMF though, because that would require taking a concrete and resolute stand on principle in defense of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and taking the heat from right wing cranks who would accuse them of being "soft on terror." (Democrats aren't soft on terror; they are soft on the Constitution.)

And of course there is impeachment.

On Jan. 3 and 4, most members of Congress took their oaths of office for the 110th Congress. That oath pledges them to "support and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic." If they were to take those words to heart, it's pretty clear that--given the president's blatant abuses of power and willful violation of both law and Constitution--they constitute a call to action. This is, after all, not a simply matter of lying about a blowjob; President Bush has already been found by a federal district judge to have violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act--a felony. Moreover, a majority of the Supreme Court justices also declared last June that Bush had violated both the Third Geneva Convention and the U.S. Criminal Code in authorizing and failing to prevent rampant torture of captives in the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War and the so-called "war" on terror. The members of the House and Senate know full well that the president lied to them and to the American people in 2002 and 2003 about the reasons for the Iraq invasion, just as he and his administration are lying now about the reasons for a looming war on Iran. All of these things--and the list runs much longer (check out my book, The Case for Impeachment)--are serious threats to the Constitution, and call for Bush's impeachment.

In fact, the escalation of the war in Iraq, with the addition of 20,000 more troops, will itself be a clear impeachable violation of the War Powers Act unless the president first obtains the approval of both houses of Congress. As constitutional attorney Francis Boyle points out, the Section 4(a)(3) of the War Powers Act states unambiguously that the act is triggered "in the absence of a declaration of war [and there has been no declaration of war in the case of the Iraq invasion], in any case in which United States Armed Forces are introduced…in numbers which substantially enlarge United States Armed Forces equipped for combat already located in a foreign nation."

So where are the bills for impeachment? The party's Grande Dame, Nancy Pelosi, still insists that "impeachment is off the table," and John Conyers (D-MI), the new House Judiciary Committee chair, a man who knows better and who even has a new book out that outlines many of the president’s Constitutional crimes, has so far buckled under to pressure from Pelosi and the rest of the party leadership, even echoing her words about impeachment being "off the table."

The Democrats, so far, are proving yet again that they have become a party devoid of principle, without spine and without conscience.

One thing is certain: If the Democrats, having control of both House and Senate, fail to act on these three critical issues--ending the war, revoking the president's claim to dictatorial powers, and initiating impeachment proceedings--they will have sealed their fate come 2008 as an anachronism, not a party, and will deserve to be abandoned by all thinking voters.

8:07 am pst

Online Activism 2.0: Movement Building

January 08, 2007

By Aaron Kreider

Introduction

What has online activism really done to help activists or would-be activists? For most people, online activism equals an inbox full of email. Our participation is restricted and we generally act as passive consumers. For most groups, they struggle to make their small static website interesting (if they have one at all!) and to distribute an email newsletter – mastering the possibilities of the dynamic web lies far beyond their grasp.

These traditional methods of doing online activism are generally good and have increased our ability to communicate, however they are baby steps compared to how the internet could be used to empower activists and would-be activists. If we fail to democratize online activism, then we will have betrayed our progressive principles. The next wave of online activism should emphasize movement building. Instead of the practice of creating tools to try to help one organization fulfill its mission, a practice that has traditionally benefited the larger and better-funded ones, we should create tools for all movement organizations that encourage them to cooperate.

Right now the Left does not need a grand manifesto, a larger-than-the-last-one national demonstration, a charismatic leader, or a progressive presidential candidate. We need to take a step back and start at the grassroots. From there we should build a mass base of part and full time activists, developing the strength and skills of tens of thousands of community activist groups and interweaving them with each other. Strategically used, online activism can be a powerful tool in facilitating the essential off-line work to rebuild the Left from the ground up.

We need to develop a community of activists and web developers, create web sites that share, develop central repositories of information, increase our efficiency, and develop new forms of online activism that dramatically increase participation.

I will discuss the CampusActivism.org / ActivismNetwork.org project (henceforth referred to as CampusActivism.org) as one way of tackling this issue with the hope that it will inspire other people to develop additional solutions.

Activists have many needs and given my limited experience and privileged background, I do not propose to understand or address all of them. For instance, I am unsure as to how effective online activism can be for needs like fundraising and recruitment. Research shows that recruitment works best in-person. People recruit their friends and acquaintances. You can raise money online, but for most groups traditional means of raising money are many times more important. Also there are still many people who either have no access or slow access – and the access to fast computers is also limited. Given these limitations, there is still potential for online activism to promote strategic thinking and action, and developing alliances. Online innovation can lead to an infusion of strategic thinking that will strengthen the Left.

What Activists Need - Strategy

I have participated in several local activist groups that wanted to make a difference, but did not know how to best do it. For instance, after September 11, I helped start the Notre Dame Peace Coalition. The group had a surge of support, however it only organized educational events (speakers, films, and a camp-out) and protests. Notre Dame had 300 students in ROTC (one of the largest programs in the country), was doing approximately one million dollars of military research per year, and was regularly visited by CIA recruiters (Ralph McGehee and Philip Agee, Notre Dame alumni, worked for the CIA and later wrote anti-CIA books documenting its abuses). However, the group members were new to activism, had not attended any trainings, and chose not to take on a local campaign. Similarly the community’s Michiana Peace and Justice Coalition struggled to get an effective counter military recruitment campaign to work and spent more time organizing vigils. When these local groups failed to stop a national war, they burnout, lost their sense of purpose, and declined or died. By tying their fortunes to a national campaign, lacking in a local angle and any chance of a local victory, thousands of local groups are giving up their power to make a difference.

I have seen and participated in this same lack of direction in the student environmental movement where a thousand groups are organizing recycling, Earth Day events, park or river clean-ups, educational speakers, showing films – but not doing campaigns. On the other hand, there are groups who have taken on global warming and are getting their universities to buy renewable energy. Another successful story was my experience organizing against sweatshops with the Notre Dame Progressive Student Alliance as part of the United Students Against Sweatshops network. We were adequately connected to the network to model our local campaign on those of other groups – and we won.

In the absence of a well-networked movement, we have the apparent success of MoveOn.org. As described in their “Election 2006 People Powered Politics” report, they have been extremely successful in motivating volunteers to support their agenda. The problem is that a very small group of people set the MoveOn agenda, but they got tens of thousands of people to make phone calls and 250,000 people to donate money. The leadership is almost completely inaccessible, without a personal connection. It’s run like a well-oiled corporation, minimizing its payroll by outsourcing the grunt work to organizations like Grassroots Campaigns (See “Activism Inc” for a critique of outsourced politics). MoveOn turns campaigns on and off, activating thousands of volunteers around an election cycle, and then abandoning them. Many activists and progressives who want peace in Iraq have supported MoveOn, and their support is parlayed into votes and dollars for Democrats who vote to support funding for the Iraq war. By contrast, peace activists could be supporting United for Peace and Justice – a democratic coalition with over a thousand member groups that operates on a fraction of MoveOn’s budget. We should be investing in movement-building and developing grassroots leaders, not in TV ads and outsourced politics.

Roughly half of the US population opposes the war in Iraq. Together these people are gifted with talents of organization, speaking, networking, writing, reading, analyzing, graphic design, hard-work, and more. However very few of them are aware of the products of hundreds of years of social struggle because most people do not learn about it in school, or from other forms of training. It isn’t a mathematical science, but modern activists have developed strategies based on a social history of struggle and we need to use them to be as effective as possible.

Strategy also includes an understanding of oppression that is systematically missing from the work of most activists. For instance, there is a massive racial divide between predominantly people of color groups and predominantly white groups that will only be bridged when the predominantly white groups receive anti-racist training and then take action. Similar trainings and actions need to be taken regarding class, gender, and sexual orientation for activists to build inclusive and effective organizations and campaigns.

Where do people currently learn strategy? Historically organizations are the key providers of trainings and strategic materials, however the web is an increasingly important player. Organizations accumulate materials and will produce a packet that is an often-disorganized collection of campaign information and skills. The source materials for this are fact-sheets, articles, case studies, and book chapters assembled from a diversity of sources. Some of these materials are faded copies of copies, with the original long lost, the text outdated and fuzzy. It would be useful to have one or more central repositories where materials could be updated to the latest version, where files could be stored in easy-to-use digital formats, and where new and existing organizations could find a basic set of materials that they can use to build packets, create their own versions, and distribute skills materials to their members.

Due to the lack of a central skill resource repository, organizations are constantly re-inventing the wheel. For example, hundreds of activist groups are writing “How To Write an Effective Press Release” fact sheets. Thousands of peace groups wrote leaflets to oppose the US invasion of Iraq. These resources range from professional quality to fliers that are poorly laid out, text-only, a single column, use strange fonts, and make excessive use of bold, capitals or underlining. The quality of the content varies too. If a social movement is writing thousands of press releases and distributing hundreds of thousands of leaflets then we should invest in quality. For people who are writing poor quality materials, they need to see better examples so that they can learn how to improve. For new authors and people developing new ideas and new campaigns, a resource clearinghouse will provide them with a way to distribute their material and get feedback. People will be motivated to spend the hours necessary to develop quality materials if they know that their material can be widely distributed through a resource clearinghouse. It is possible than an anti-war leaflet could be used by a hundred groups, and that they could distribute tens of thousands of copies. Even the best writers would benefit from being part of a team of activists from across the US (or even the world) who would electronically collaborate in producing the best resource possible – whether it’s a leaflet, fact-sheet, poster, or book.

Collaboration could be done on something as simple as a leaflet, or as elaborate as an organizing guide written by dozens of activists. A person could choose which chapters you wanted, choose a layout, press a button and dynamically create a PDF of your own customized organizing guide (I did a trial run, it is not hard to do). Currently the Midwest Academy’s “Organizing For Social Change” is the best available option, however there are alternative methods of organizing that deserve to be represented as well. An organization could publish it as a book to make it easier to read. You can take a resource and adjust it for your local group or campaign, particularly if the resource is distributed in an editable format (ex. in PageMaker, Microsoft Publisher, Word, or an open standard). Alternatively an innovative resource might stimulate the creation of similar materials. For instance, students have created Disorientation Guides for which they have researched the history of their university and past activist movements, its ties to corporations, and provide a list of ways for first-year students to get involved in progressive social change. CampusActivism.org has Disorientation Guides from eight different schools.

CampusActivism.org has over 400 resources and approximately 1500 resource downloads per month. It is one of the few websites where users can upload an organizing material to a place where it will be seen and downloaded by a larger number of people. However, this is just a start. We should have resource clearinghouses with thousands of resources, and tens of thousands of downloads per month. We also need to work on collaboratively producing materials. So far 13myths.org has shown how this can work with their fact-sheets like: 13 Myths About the Case for War in Iraq. These resources should be distributed across the web by using RSS feeds and web services. For instance, you can subscribe to a RSS feed from CampusActivism.org providing the newest resources, and using web services you can even send CampusActivism.org a search (ex. find all the resources on the issue of racism) and have the results appear on your site. This sharing of information is the beginning of a dynamic revolution that is gradually shaking up the World Wide Web.

What Activists Need – Trainings

Skill materials need to be accompanied with in-person training (and ultimately applied to local campaigns). To get this training, activists need to know about conferences and trainings that are near them. While some organizations are able to provide trainings for their members, not all organizations have the funding or time to do this. For trainings or events that have a high degree of skill component (as opposed to their issues/campaigns component), it makes sense to open them up and publicize them to other activists in the area. It can often be easier to plan an event (ex. find speakers) than to recruit for it. Every year, there are hundreds of conferences and trainings often organized by part-time activists who do it as volunteers and without access to a database or strong network of people and groups who might attend. For instance, several years ago, a student at Bard College organized a weekend-long activist conference. Bard spent several thousands dollars on it, but it only attracted ten people. While there a large number of conferences, often local activists are not aware of events in their own or neighbouring communities. Being able to attend a local conference is especially important for maximizing accessibility (ex. easier for people who work or have other responsibilities to attend) and thus attendance. One solution here is to create an activism event calendar that is syndicated so that it appears on dozens or more of sites. There are some sites that have general calendars (Protest.Net, CampusActivism.org), and a much larger group that have organizational calendars, but no one has managed to achieve critical mass. The other solution is to create a public database of groups and people – to facilitate event outreach.

What Activists Need – Allies

I am a strong believer that people should work on local campaigns and build regional and national networks by finding other people who are working on a similar campaign in their own community. The critical part is helping these people to find each other. Often national organizations are able to do this, but for the issues where national organizations have limited resources (ex. try organizing the US student environmental movement on $30,000/year like the Student Environmental Action Coalition does) or do not exist – then having a website where you can find these people is very helpful. Such a site aids national organizations that can encourage their members to sign-up and find like-minded people on their own. It removes the bureaucracy of having to go through the bureaucracy of the national office, before communicating with a real live grassroots activist. In addition, an online database would encourage people to work with groups outside of their traditional network – potentially reducing the harmful fragmentation of the Left.

CampusActivism.org has over 1500 groups and 3500 people – all of whom added themselves. An activist can find people and groups that are near you, and/or ones that are working on the same issue. In addition, this information is shared publicly using web services. Another website could send a query for all the labor activists in a state and publish the information on its own site. They could simply install the existing CampusActivism.org interface to do this, or develop their own.

What Activists Need – Sharing and Democratic Control

Many activist organizations have realized the importance of using open source software and of building a community around that. This is an important first step, but we need to go beyond sharing code to sharing data. There is a wealth of data that can be shared without violating privacy or threatening organizational identity. Currently we most commonly see sharing happening in blogs, where you can subscribe to a blog’s RSS feed. However, I am much more interested in the potential from sharing information about contacts (groups and people), resources (skills and issue materials), events, and speakers/trainers. People should be able to choose whether to share their information. People should control their information and any content they add to a website. People should be empowered by being able to publish their information on a high-traffic website (or better yet a network of websites) in a place where it will be seen and used. That is what CampusActivism.org lets them do.

Organizations need to adopt a default policy of distributing their materials copyright free (a.k.a. Creative Commons License). Several years ago, the Student Environmental Action Coalition adopted this policy and has made its best resources available online. This should include fact-sheets, leaflets, essays, graphics, publications (even books), computer software (ex. a customized database system – without the data of course), even descriptions of office systems, and more. There is no telling what might be useful. For instance, I would also love to see workshop outlines shared. If we share them, then new trainers will be able to take an outline and modify it to fit their personal ideas and experience. Using an outline of a more experienced trainer will give new people the confidence they need to take the leap into giving workshops and will allow them to start off giving effective ones.

Sharing rich content (events, resources, people, groups, campaign updates, and more) will allow grassroots organizations to make their website more exciting and dynamic by pulling in feeds from other sites. These organizations should be able to pick and choose from a wide array of feeds and web services, to choose quality content that matches the issues, constituency, and geographical area that fit best with their membership. As grassroots organizations start to adopt content management systems (like CivicSpace/Drupal), the use of feeds will increase. But before they do that, someone needs to create the feeds and web services.

What Activists Need – A Tech Community

We need to follow the example of CivicSpace/Drupal (a popular content management system used by many liberal non-profits) and build a community of developers and users around activist website technology. Note that this tech community requires the participation of non-techies who know absolutely zero about computer programming or website design, as we must know the needs of activists so we can fulfill them. There is a small community, but it is fractured and needs work. For instance a lot of developers are concentrated in consulting firms that are helping liberal non-profits and Democrats win elections – and this group is separated from more radical activist techies who work on projects like Indymedia. Efforts like the annual Advocacy Developers conference (organized by Aspiration Tech - http://aspirationtech.org/) are a step forwards. We need ambitious proposals, like an online collaboratively written organizing guide or a quality national activist discussion forum, and to motivate activists to learn how to program so that we can achieve them. Progressives need to invest more of their time and money strategically in new web technology that focuses on movement building and that will lift all progressive boats in the rising tide of justice.

Conclusion

I believe we are at a starting point for democratizing online activism. CampusActivism.org is one example that I would like to see built-upon and spurn others to develop their own innovative movement building projects. I want people to use CampusActivism.org to create online activist networks in their own countries – like activists have done with Indymedia.org. I hope we will see the birth of a new era of online activism which mobilizes the talents of the millions of part-time activists and would-be activists to strengthen existing networks, build new ones, and to fundamentally shift the national and international balance of power to the left.


For Additional Information
-CampusActivism.org / ActivismNetwork.org – my project

-http://www.ActivismNetwork.org/developers/ - for people who want to help.

-http://www.campusactivism.org/links.php – a list of interesting online activist and networking projects.

-“Network-Centric Advocacy. “ Marty Kearns.

http://activist.blogs.com/networkcentricadvocacypaper.pdf

-“Movement as Network.” Gideon Rosenblatt.

http://www.campusactivism.org/server-new/uploads/movementasnetwork-final-1.0.pdf


-“Organizing for Social Change.” Kim Bobo, Jackie Kendall, Steve Max, Midwest Academy.

-Creative Commons Licenses. http://creativecommons.org/

-CivicSpaceLabs - http://www.civicspacelabs.org/

-Drupal. http://www.drupal.org

-Aspiration Tech. http://www.aspirationtech.org

- “Election 2006: People Powered Politics.” MoveOn Report.

http://pol.moveon.org/2006report/

-“MoveOn.org: No Longer a Start-up or an Upstart.” Chris Nolan.

http://www.personaldemocracy.com/node/218

http://www.personaldemocracy.com/node/224

-“Activism, Inc.: How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns Is Strangling Progressive Politics in America.” Dana R. Fischer.

Insurers Increase Profits to Record Levels by Overpricing Policies and Shifting Costs to Consumers and Taxpayers

Press Releases

January 2007

The Occupation Project: A Campaign of Sustained Nonviolent Civil Disobedience to End Iraq War Funding

Related
Challenge to the Supreme Court: Can the U.S. Kill Iraqi Children Legally?
---
January 8, 2007

By Jeff Leys

On February 5, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered his infamous speech to the United Nations in which he set forth the deceptions about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction program. At the conclusion of his speech, no doubt remained: the U.S. invasion of Iraq was imminent.

On February 5, 2007, the Occupation Project (www.vcnv.org or occupationproject@vcnv.org or 773-878-3815) will launch a campaign of sustained nonviolent civil disobedience focused upon Representatives and Senators who refuse to publicly pledge to vote against any additional funding for the Iraq war. The campaign will continue at least through the start of April. Let there be no doubt that the antiwar movement will use all means of nonviolence to end our country's war in and occupation of Iraq.

Initiated by Voices for Creative Nonviolence, the campaign is growing exponentially as such national organizations as Veterans for Peace, CODEPINK, Declaration of Peace, National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance and Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space join the campaign.

The premise is simple. Representatives and Senators: publicly pledge to vote against the $100 billion supplemental war spending package which President Bush will submit in early February or we will occupy your offices.

The premise is simple. This will not be a singular action on a single day. We will return again and again and again until you pledge to vote against funds for the Iraq war.

Organizing for campaigns is underway in states from Maine to Ohio to North Carolina to Iowa to Oregon. While the Occupation Project is a national campaign, it is based firmly within the reality that local organizers will understand what forms of nonviolent civil disobedience will work best in their locality, the best targets and the frequency with which actions will occur. Some will occupy offices on a weekly basis. Others every other week. Others at key times during the hearing and vote process.

Three models are emerging. In Illinois, affinity groups will engage in at least one act of civil disobedience each week over at least an eight week period of time, with the potential to extend through the end of April. In Wisconsin, a portion of the campaign will focus upon Representative David Obey, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, with multiple actions, every other week, which include constituents from his district as well as people from outside his district (given his role as committee chair). In Iowa, the Catholic Worker movement is taking the lead, organizing the campaign as one of sustained sporadic civil disobedience-that is, a weekly vigil will be held at the federal building with at least three acts of civil disobedience planned in the power brokers offices. In Maine, organizers are building upon their long-standing campaigns which focus upon the state's Senators.

Key time periods to act include the weeks of:

February 5, most likely the week when President Bush will submit to Congress his $100 billion supplemental spending request to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the so-called global war on terror;

February 19, when Congress is in recess and elected officials are in their home districts and states;

February 26 and March 5, weeks when the House Appropriations Committee will most likely hold hearings on the bill (if 2005 and 2006 are any guide). The Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations might also hold hearings this year.

March 12, which most likely will be leading up to a full House vote on the war funding. In 2005 and 2006, the House voted just prior to March 16 (when they went into a week long recess).

April 2 through 13, when Congress is in recess. The House will most likely have voted on the war funding by now and so maximum pressure should be exerted upon Senators during this time.

April 16 - Tax Day, with a focus upon Senators.

Through the end of April, during which the full Senate will most likely vote on the funds.

And what of the argument that it is necessary for Representatives and Senators to vote for President Bush's war funding request in order to not place U.S. soldiers in harm's way? Consider the following:

Congress has already appropriated $19.7 billion for the current fiscal year for procurement--to buy new weapons, equipment and ammunition. The Associated Press reports that an additional $26.7 billion will be sought for procurement for this fiscal year. This total of $46.4 billion is double the $23 billion which Congress appropriated for the last fiscal year. Indeed, this nearly equals the $47.3 billion in procurement funds appropriated by Congress for the last 3 fiscal years combined.

Procurement money rolls over from one fiscal year to the next. It does not have to be spent in the year in which it is appropriated. Indeed, in November 2006, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that as of June 2006, $16.8 billion remained to be obligated by September 30, or be carried over to the current fiscal year (which began October 1).

Procurement money rolls over because, as reported by the Congressional Research Service, it takes anywhere from 1 to 3 years from the time money is appropriated to the time equipment or weapons are available and in the field. Money appropriated for procurement now is money intended to fund the war for up to three years into the future.

Operations & Maintenance (O & M) is the other immense portion of the war budget. In 2004, $37.2 billion was appropriated for Operation & Maintenance. In 2006, it had jumped to $59.6 billion-a 60 percent increase in just two years.

Already Congress has appropriated $41 billion for O & M this fiscal year. According to the A.P., the supplemental spending request will seek up to an additional $41.5 billion-for a total of $81.5 billion for Operation & Maintenance. That's a 37 percent increase from last year and over a 100 percent increase since 2004.

It is impossible to track for which purposes these O & M funds are used. According to a November 2006 GAO report, in fiscal year 2005 nearly 26 percent of the funds expended in Operation & Maintenance were categorized by the Defense Department as "other supplies and equipment" and "other services and miscellaneous contracts."

Clearly sufficient funds are already in the pipeline for a safe and effective withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Iraq. The Pentagon can utilize its budgetary transfer authority for any minor additional funds which might be necessary for such a withdrawal.

In what manner has the cost of Operation & Maintenance escalated so dramatically in Iraq as to justify a 37 percent increase in funding? How is it possible to justify appropriating funds to buy weapons, equipment and ammunition which won't reach the troops in the field for at least 1 to 3 years? How long will Representatives and Senators hide behind the excuse that they have to vote for war funds in order to support the troops?

Representatives and Senators. Do your Constitutional duty. Force the withdrawal of U.S. troops to the safety of their homes. Support the troops by voting against any additional war funding.


Jeff Leys is Co-Coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. You can learn more about the campaign at www.vcnv.org or via email, occupationproject@vcnv.org or by calling 773-878-3815.

Empty Promises

frontpicture_fullsize.jpg

Many more sons will die while the Democrats do nothing to stop the war

They have failed to take on the principal reason they were elected and, tragically, the US public is unlikely to force them to

Gary Younge
Monday January 8, 2007
The Guardian


Only the squeaking of the boots of the military pallbearers could be heard in the Calvary church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Thursday as Chad Vollmer's coffin was wheeled to the front. By the time the service was over their steps were inaudible amid the chorus of sobs and sniffles. Vollmer died two weeks ago when a makeshift bomb exploded near his vehicle in Salman Pak, Iraq. His funeral was a profoundly patriotic affair. Family members and fellow soldiers praised the 24-year-old as a young man who "honoured his country, family, and God". Huge billowing flags lined the entrance to the church and one hung over the pulpit; the first hymn was America the Beautiful. "There are two who have died for all of us today," said the army chaplain, Major Timothy Mattison. "Jesus and the US soldier. Jesus died for the freedom of the soul; the US soldier died for the freedom of our land."

Days like these have become all too common in Michigan recently. As the nation marked the 3,000th military death in Iraq, eight families in the state were preparing to bury their young men. Every day bar New Year's Day saw at least one funeral here. Last Saturday there were three.

The emotional consequences of these deaths are clear. People say goodbye to a son, daughter, friend or lover and are left with memories wrapped in a neatly folded American flag and a few medals as they struggle to make sense of their loss. But the political consequences are more complex. Each American death falls like a pebble into a still pool. It makes an impact where it lands and sends out a small ripple that soon fades. Those outside the immediate vicinity rarely feel or are even aware of the death. Curt Norris from Lansing died on the same day as Vollmer in a different incident. Lansing is just 90 miles from Detroit. But the day after Norris's funeral the Detroit Free Press carried just one story from Lansing - about a postman who has been on the same beat for 50 years. Like Norris and Vollmer, it is white kids from small towns who are most vulnerable. (The vastly higher number of Iraqi civilian deaths barely feature at all, although the national press has recently started to acknowledge that they happen.)

President George Bush refuses to attend any soldiers' funerals and the ban on televising coffins returning home, which was introduced but rarely observed by Bill Clinton, is now strictly enforced. Small pebbles keep falling (roughly at the rate of three a day), but none makes a big splash.

The mounting US casualties have relatively little effect on America's views on this war. The months with the heaviest losses have seen no corresponding spikes in opposition. Instead the national mood has soured steadily over the years until the number of those who approve of Bush's handling of the war is now roughly half those who approved of his handling of Hurricane Katrina. According to a recent Army Times poll, more troops disapprove of Bush's handling of this war than back it.

"Public approval rarely gets lower than this," says Christopher Gelpi, an associate professor of political science at Duke university who studies US public opinion and war. "The key factor shaping public opinion is whether we are making progress towards a successful outcome. On those points the public have already made up their mind."

Opposition to the occupation was demonstrated most clearly at the polls in November, when Democrats won both houses of Congress. Indeed just a couple hours after Vollmer was lowered into the ground the new Democratic House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, raised her gavel for the first time. To lend the inauguration the appearance of vitality the party has dedicated itself to a raft of legislative changes over its first 100 hours in power. Among other things, the Democrats will raise the minimum wage, cut interest on student loans and bring in stricter laws on lobbying - all modest, manageable, sensible and centrist. But none of them deals with the key question of the day and the principal reason why they were elected - the war.

There are two reasons for this. First, the Democrats have no coherent position on the war. In fact, most of them voted for it. Second, given that the president is the commander-in-chief and conducts foreign policy, there is a limit to what the Democrats can constitutionally do about it, beyond refusing to fund it. This would represent great political risk, making Democrats vulnerable to the Republican charge that they are putting American soldiers at risk for partisan reasons. Such a stance would demand both principle and determination - neither of which has proven to be their strong suit.

In an attempt to intervene between the supine and the stubborn, the Iraq Study Group last month offered Bush a stern rebuke - but also a way out. This week it will receive his response as he plans to rebuff popular opinion, political opposition and establishment advice and call for a "surge" of between 20,000 and 40,000 troops in Iraq to "stabilise" the situation. The word surge, like every other premise for this war, is misleading. It suggests a brief increase when, in fact, his advisers have told him the extra troops would have to be there for at least 18 months.

"Clearly, this is not a move to shift public opinion," explains Gelpi. "The only thing that Bush can do to turn around public opinion is turn around the situation on the ground. It's a gamble. It's his last chance. This is about his legacy." As such, it poses a clear challenge to the Democratic Congress's legitimacy and to America's democratic political culture.

For if the Democratic Congress is unwilling to use any means at its disposal to fulfil its democratic mandate, then it will be left to the public to make their displeasure known. It is two years and tens of thousands of lives, some of them American, before the next presidential election. The American people clearly don't want this. A CBS poll last month showed that 18% wanted to see an increase in troop levels compared with 59% who want them either decreased or withdrawn completely. The question is: what are they going to do about it?

The tragic answer is probably nothing. For while opposition to the occupation is clearly broad, its depth is more difficult to fathom. "It's rare when people seriously publicly engage," says Leslie Cagan, the national coordinator of the largest anti-war organisation, United for Peace and Justice. "They watch it on TV, they read about it in the newspapers. They get angry, but that doesn't necessarily mean they engage. So it's difficult to know the depth of feeling."

We have been here before. Sensing the unpopularity of the war in Vietnam, Nixon stood for the presidency in 1968 claiming he had a secret plan to end the conflict. It was so secret the Vietnamese hadn't even heard of it. There was no doubt that feelings ran deep then, but it would be another seven years before American troops withdrew. "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" a young John Kerry asked the Senate foreign relations committee in 1971. We have long known it was a mistake. Sadly, the last person to die for it is still a long way off.


g.younge@guardian.co.uk

Gary Younge is a Guardian columnist and feature writer based in the US. He was formerly the paper's New York correspondent. His most recent book is Stranger in a Strange Land: Encounters in the Disunited States; he is also the author of No Place Like Home, published in 1999.