Headlines: Report: Global Military Spending Rose to $1.46 Trillion in 2008; Nation’s Unemployment Rate Surges to 9.4%

Democracy Now Headlines: Report: Global Military Spending Rose to $1.46 Trillion in 2008; Nation's Unemployment Rate Surges to 9.4%

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Two U.S. Journalists Sentenced to 12 Years in North Korea

A North Korean court has sentenced two U.S. journalists to 12 years of hard labor after they were convicted of “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry.” Euna Lee and Laura Ling were detained along the Chinese border in March. Both work for Al Gore’s Current TV. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the charges “baseless.”

Hillary Clinton: “We are incredibly concerned on both a diplomatic and, on my behalf, a personal basis. I have met with their families and I share the grave anxiety that they feel about the safety and security of these two young women. We call again on the North Korean government to release them and enable them to come home as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile the Obama administration has announced it is considering adding North Korea back to a list of state sponsors of terrorism and to seek a way to interdict North Korean sea and air shipments suspected of carrying weapons or nuclear technology.

U.S.-Backed Coalition Wins in Lebanon

A U.S.-backed coalition led by Saad al-Hariri appears to have won Lebanon’s parliamentary elections defeating Hezbollah. The outcome is seen as a blow to Syria and Iran and welcome news for the United States, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which backs the so-called “March 14” coalition led by Saad al-Hariri, the son of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005.

Center-Right Parties Retain Control Of European Parliament

In another closely watched election, center-right parties retained control of the European Parliament in an election that ended on Sunday with a record low turnout.

Nation’s Unemployment Rate Surges to 9.4%

The nation’s unemployment rate has surged to 9.4 percent – the highest it has been since 1983. 345,000 jobs were lost during the month of May. The current unemployment rate would jump to 16.8 percent if it included laid-off workers who have given up looking for new jobs or have had to settle for part-time work. The latest government statistics also reveal the nation’s long-term unemployment rate is at the highest its been since the government began keeping records in 1948. 4.5 percent of the work force has been out of work for 15 weeks or more.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis: “I would say to you the number, in terms of the unemployment rate, is still very, very high, not acceptable. We know that we have to do much, much more to put American workers back to work. We have seen some leveling off in comparison to the last few months. We do see jobs that are not being lost as quickly, but I think that’s going to happen between now and the next few months.”

Anti-Abortion Activist Warns of More Violent Acts

The anti-abortion activist accused of killing Dr. George Tilller has warned that more violent acts are planned against abortion providers. In a phone interview from jail, Scott Roeder told the Associated Press “I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal.” Roeder called the AP on Sunday, one day after one thousand people gathered in Wichita, Kansas for the funeral of Doctor Tiller. On Friday the Justice Department announced it had launched a federal investigation into Tiller’s death.

Dozens Killed in Clashes Between Peruvian Police and Indigenous Groups

In Peru dozens of people are believed to have been killed in clashes between police and indigenous activists in the northern Peruvian Amazonian province of Bagua. Peruvian authorities have declared a military curfew and troops are patrolling towns in the Amazon jungle. For weeks indigenous activists in Peru have been protesting a series of presidential decrees that open up natural resource sectors like gas, lumber and oil to private investors. We’ll have more on Peru after headlines.

More Than 100 Killed in Somalia; Radio Journalist Assassinated

In Somalia, more than 100 people have been killed in clashes between rival armed groups in some of the heaviest fighting this year. Meanwhile the director of a prominent Somalia radio station was assassinated on Sunday. Mukhtar Mohammad Hirabe died after being shot in the head five times. Hirabe is the fifth journalist killed in Somalia this year.

Panel Finds Lax Oversight of Wartime Contracting

An independent commission investigating waste and fraud in wartime spending, has found the Pentagon has failed to provide adequate oversight over tens of billions of dollars in contracts to support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Wartime Contracting Commission found U.S. reliance on private sector employees has grown to “unprecedented proportions,” yet the government has no central database of who all these contractors are, what they do or how much they’re paid.

Iraqi Government Arrests Five U.S. Contractors

This comes as the Iraqi government has arrested five U.S. contractors in connection with the killing of another U.S. contractor. If the case proceeds to an Iraqi court, the five men will be the first Americans to be tried under Iraqi law. The men are accused of murdering 60-year-old James Owen Kitterman, president of Peregrine, a contracting company based in Kuwait. Four of the five detained contractors work for North Carolina-based Corporate Training Unlimited–a security firm headed by Donald Feeney, who, along with his son, Donald Feeney III, has been detained.

Report: Global Military Spending Rose to $1.46 Trillion in 2008

A new study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has found global military spending rose four percent last year to a record $1.46 trillion dollars despite the global financial crisis. Overall military spending has increased by 45 percent since 1999. The US remains the biggest spender, accounting for 58% of the total global spending increase during the past decade.

Obama Visits Site of Buchenwald Concentration Camp

On Friday President Barack Obama paid tribute to the six million victims of the Holocaust during a somber visit to the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.

He laid a white rose on the “living memorial” on the site where survivors erected a temporary monument for Buchenwald’s liberation in April 1945.

President Obama: “To this day we know there are those who insist the Holocaust never happened, a denial of a fact or truth that is baseless, ignorant and hateful. This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts, a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history. Also to this day there are those who perpetuate every form of intolerance, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism and more. Hatred that degrades its victims and diminishes us all.”

Couple Accused of Spying for Cuba

A former State Department analyst and his wife have been arrested on accusations they spied for the Cuban government for nearly 30 years. Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro called the charges ridiculous and questioned the timing of the arrests. Walter Kendall Myers, and his wife Gwendolyn were arrested just days after the Organization of American States lifted its forty-seven-year suspension of Cuba.

Nominee Linked to CIA Torture Declines Position

The Obama administration’s pick for a top Homeland Security position has withdrawn from consideration amid questions about his links to CIA torture. Philip Mudd had been nominated to become secretary of intelligence and analysis at Homeland Security. Under the Bush administration, Mudd helped spearhead an FBI program that sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian secret agents.

Palestinian Protester Shot Dead by Israeli Troops

In the West Bank, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian man Friday in the village of Nilin during the weekly protest against the construction of Israel’s separation wall through the West Bank. Medics said the 35-year-old Aqel Srour was hit in the chest by a live bullet and another protester was wounded when soldiers fired at the protesters. On Saturday close to 200 Israelis and Palestinians gathered near the West Bank city of Hebon to show their objection to the ongoing building of illegal Jewish settlements. An attempt to erect their own outpost named ‘Obama 2’ near the Jewish settlement of Sussiya was foiled by Israeli security forces, who tore the makeshift construction down. Meanwhile in Gaza, Israeli troops killed four Palestinians along the Gaza border earlier today. Israel claimed the men were militants trying to cross into Israel.

Gay Rights Activist Cleve Jones Calls For March On Washington

Prominent gay rights activist Cleve Jones has called for a national march on Washington in October to demand that Congress establish equal rights for the lesbian, gay and transgender community. Jones conceived NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and is the co-founder of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

Civil Rights and AIDS Activist Dr. Alan Berkman Dies

And the longtime civil rights and AIDS activist Dr. Alan Berkman has died. Berkman was a founder of Health GAP which campaigns to eliminate barriers to global access to affordable life-sustaining medicines for people living with HIV/AIDS. During the 1970s Berkman provided medical care to Native American activists at Wounded Knee as well as inmates injured during the Attica prison uprising. In the 1980s Dr. Berkman was sentenced to eight years in jail for treating activists tied to the Black Liberation Army and Weather Underground following a shoot-out with police in Nyack, New York.

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Servants of War: Private Military Corporations and the Profit of Conflict

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

Over the years, I’ve read a number of books on the private mercenary industry and the use of military contractors in the so-called “War on Terror.” Most often, these books have focused on one or two companies–for example Blackwater–and used them to draw conclusions about the industry as a whole.

Rolf Uesseler’s Servants of War: Private Military Corporations and the Profit of Conflict takes a different approach and focuses on the industry as a whole and uses short case studies of specific companies in order to illustrate broader points. Instead of focusing solely on the “War on Terror” and the most recent wars of the United States, Uesseler takes a much broader view and looks at private military companies around the world. This may owe to the fact that the book was translated from German, but whatever the reason, it offers a welcome break from the typically U.S.-centered literature on the topic.

Uesseler examines how governments, intelligence agencies, private companies, warlords, drug cartels, and rebel groups have come to rely on private military companies to support a wide variety of activities. Private corporations use them to support resource extraction and to police sweatshops, states use them to prop up weak governments and enforce their rule, and intelligence agencies use them to facilitate illegal arms trades. States also use private military corporations to circumvent national laws. For example, a state can hire a private military contractor to fight a war or support one side in a war without needing to officially enter the conflict.

Through all of these activities, private military companies often operate in a legal gray area. The pursuit of profit is their main goal and all other concerns–including law–are often superseded by this goal. That is why in countries like Iraq we see mercenaries run amok–all the companies really care about is the constant flow of lucrative contracts. In many cases, there are no local laws that govern the conduct of mercenaries–as was initially the case in Iraq when they were granted immunity from prosecution–and the countries that send contractors often have little legal oversight of their activities. Moreover, in many cases private military companies subvert democratic notions and are able to conduct their activities with limited oversight and transparency.

In addition his examination of the contemporary activities of private military corporations, Uesseler also includes a brief overview of the historical evolution of mercenaries. He looks at their origins in Ancient Greece through the French Revolution when they largely went out of favor. However, with the end of the Cold War, they have experienced a resurgence. This resurgence is owed to many factors, among those Uesseler highlights a security vacuum with the collapse of the Cold War, conflicts in the Third World, a national energy policy in the United States that demands access to oil regardless of the cost, the increasingly technological orientation of warfare and militaries’ inability to keep up with the technological advances of the private sector, and similar technological gains in the intelligence sector.

Overall, Servants of War is one of the most comprehensive books on private military corporations. It’s very thorough and well-researched, and while that is good, it does make for reading that is a bit on the dry side of things. You will certainly walk away having learned a lot, but there are sure to be times when you wished the author wrote in a more engaging style. Nevertheless, it’s an important book that deserves to be read, especially by those who consider themselves anti-war.

Rolf Uesseler, Servants of War: Private Military Corporations and the Profit of Conflict, (Soft Skull Press, 2008).

Amendment to Call for Afghanistan “Exit Strategy”

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In recent months, MediaMouse.org has joined the growing chorus of bloggers opposing the United States continued occupation of Afghanistan. We’ve blogged on the issue and worked to educate people about the realities of the war including its cost</a, the rising death toll, and the opposition of Afghan civilians to the war.

There are numerous reasons to call for an end to the war, but unfortunately we haven’t been able to encourage people to take much as far as specific action to press for an end to the war. Aside from advocating hearings on the war, there have been few calls made. Locally, there hasn’t been much organizing against the Afghanistan War since 2002.

However, we were please to learn today that Congressman Jim McGovern–a Democrat from Massachusetts–has proposed an amendment to the Supplemental Appropriation for Iraq and Afghanistan that would call for “an exit” from Afghanistan. According to McGovern’s as of yet unintroduced amendment would require the Obama administration to develop an “exit strategy” for the war and report it to Congress by the end of the year. In the past Obama has said that he supports an “exit strategy,” but has not proposed one–this amendment would do that.

The anti-war group Peace Action West has prepared a letter encouraging Congress members to support co-sponsor the amendment. Please send it immediately, as this is one of the more concrete actions we can take.

There is precedence for this–the Appropriations Committee in the House of Representatives voted in an amendment to the supplemental spending request that restricts the conduct of the Iraq War. It says that Congress supports Obama’s policy to withdrawal all combat troops by August 2010 and all remaining troops by the end of 2011. It also orders the Pentagon to provide monthly reports on how the troops, contractors, and equipment are being removed from Iraq.

While support for the Afghanistan War is higher than the Iraq War, it’s dropping. Now is a good time to be advocating for this and it offers a simple and effective way to advocate for an end to the war.

Headlines: Report: CIA Prisoners Still Missing; Israeli Military Finds No Fault in Gaza Attack

Democracy Now Headlines: Report: CIA Prisoners Still Missing; Israeli Military Finds No Fault in Gaza Attack

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Rice, Ashcroft Approved Torture in July 2002

More details have been revealed on high-level Bush administration involvement in authorizing torture. According to a timeline in the newly declassified Senate Intelligence Committee report, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other top White House officials approved torture methods, including waterboarding, as early as 2002. Attorney General Eric Holder has described waterboarding as illegal, while President Obama now says he won’t rule out prosecuting top Bush officials who approved illegal acts. Rice’s backing came in July 2002, when she gave a green light for the interrogation of suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. One year later, the list of officials voicing approval grew to Vice President Dick Cheney, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger.

Report: Obama Rejected Investigative Commission on Torture

The news comes as lawmakers have begun debating calls for an investigation into Bush-era officials for potential prosecution. On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed an investigation and said witnesses shouldn’t receive immunity for testifying. Meanwhile, the Washington Post is reporting President Obama personally nixed a proposal to create a 9/11 Commission-style panel as an alternative to releasing the memos. Obama made the decision following weeks of administration debate. A White House official summarized Obama’s reponse as: “I banned all this. This chapter is over. What we don’t need now is to become a sort of feeding frenzy where we go back and re-litigate all this.”

Report: CIA Prisoners Still Missing

The Obama administration has claimed it’s closed Bush-era secret prisons. But the investigative website ProPublica is reporting more than three dozen CIA prisoners are still missing. Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch said, “The Obama administration needs to reveal the fate and whereabouts of every person who was held in CIA custody. If these men are now rotting in some Egyptian dungeon, the administration can’t pretend it’s closed the door on the CIA program.”

Judge Upholds Habeus Corpus for Gitmo Prisoner

A federal judge has rejected a government motion to dismiss or delay a challenge to the jailing of Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mohamed Jawad. Jawad was arrested in Afghanistan when he was sixteen or seventeen years old on allegations of wounding US soldiers with a grenade. He’s claimed he was drugged and threatened with death by Afghan interrogators unless he admitted to the charges. His case was one of five that led Guantanamo military prosecutor Darrel Vandeveld to resign last year. On Wednesday, US District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle rejected the government’s attempts to deny Jawad habeas corpus. Attorney Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union said, “While the Justice Department chose to continue Bush administration policies that sought to evade scrutiny of Mr. Jawad’s unlawful detention, today’s order emphasizes the importance of independent judicial review for prisoners who have been held for years with no legal recourse.”

Obama: Days of US Inaction on Energy Crisis “Now Over”

President Obama visited Iowa Wednesday to mark International Earth Day. Speaking at a wind plant, Obama vowed to change US inaction on combating global warming.

President Obama: “If we’ve got problems with climate change and the temperature rising all around the world, that knows no boundaries. The decisions of any nation will affect every nation. So, next week I will be gathering leaders of major economies from all around the world to talk about how we can work together to address this energy crisis and this climate crisis. Truth is, the United States has been slow to participate in this kind of a process, working with other nations. But those days are over now.”

White House Withholds Endorsement on Bill Capping Emissions

Despite Obama’s comments, the White House is so far refusing to endorse the nation’s first-ever bill to limit emissions of greenhouse gases. As lawmakers opened hearings on Wednesday, top Obama environment officials said they are still studying the measure and have yet to make a decision. Energy industry lobbyists are vocally opposing the bill. It calls for reducing emissions to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and reducing them by 83 percent by 2050. On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi set a new timeline for passing legislation, saying it would take more than a year. Her comments came one day after vowing to pass legislation this year.

UN Holds Climate Talks Ahead of Copenhagen Summit

As debate on the emissions bill began in Washington, the UN opened the year’s first ministerial-level meeting in talks toward reaching a new global climate deal at the Copenhagen summit later this year. The UN’s top climate official, Yvo de Boer, said US involvement in agreeing to emissions cuts is essential.

Yvo de Boer: “Trying to come to a long-term response on climate change without the United States makes no sense. In other words, US engagement is essential. And what is very encouraging is that President Obama is committed to this issue, is committed to taking action in the United States.”

IMF: Global Economy to Shrink 1.3%

The International Monetary Fund is forecasting the global economy will decline this year for the first time since the Second World War. On Wednesday, the IMF said the global economy would see a 1.3 percent decline in what it called “by far the deepest global recession since the Great Depression.” Speaking in Washington, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the US bears significant responsibility for the global decline.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “We bear in the United States a substantial responsibility, a substantial share of the responsibility for what has happened. But the factors that have made this crisis so acute and so difficult to contain lie in a broader set of global forces that built up in the years before the start of the present downturn. Never before has so much of the world been simultaneously hit by a confluence of economic and financial turmoil.”

Freddie Mac CFO Found Dead in Apparent Suicide

The chief financial officer of the troubled government-backed mortgage giant Freddie Mac has been found dead in an apparent suicide. Police say the body of forty-one-year-old David Kellermann was found hanging in his Virginia home. Kellermann was named Freddie Mac’s acting chief financial officer in September after sixteen years at the company. He came under scrutiny earlier this month after it was revealed he and other top Freddie Mac executives stood to receive some $210 million in bonuses over the next two years.

Red Cross: “Hundreds” Killed or Wounded in Sri Lanka Fighting

In Sri Lanka, the Red Cross is warning scores of civilians have been killed or wounded in the latest military attacks on the remaining Tamil Tiger stronghold. Tens of thousands remain trapped between the crossfire. In a statement, the Red Cross said it couldn’t precisely identify the number of civilian casualties but said they are in the “hundreds.”

Taliban Fighters Seize Control of Pakistani District

In Pakistan, Taliban militants have seized control of a new area just seventy miles from the capital Islamabad. The Buner district has a population of more than one million people.

Israeli Military Finds No Fault in Gaza Attack

The Israeli military says it’s concluded an investigation absolving its forces of committing any crimes during the three-week assault on the Gaza Strip beginning late last year. Israeli military deputy chief of staff General Dan Harel said Israel’s lone mistakes came down to intelligence and operational errors.

General Dan Harel: “We found out that the IDF operated under the international law and according to a very high standard of professionalism and moral standards. Saying that, we found out several mistakes-intelligence and operations mistakes we made, and we are dealing with them.”

Israel killed more than 1,300 Palestinians during the Gaza attack, most of them women and children. It bombed crowded civilian areas, ambulances, aid compounds, UN facilities, mosques and several schools. Hamas spokesperson Ayman Taha dismissed the Israeli investigation as a sham.

Ayman Taha: “This is a mockery of all the crimes that have been committed against our people. And the reason that the Israeli army cannot consider what has happened in the Gaza Strip as criminal is because the criminal himself cannot also be the judge. Therefore, these findings of Israeli army innocence are unreliable. The crimes that have been committed are crystal clear.”

The Israeli probe comes ahead of a UN investigation headed by former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone. Bill Van Esveld of Human Rights Watch called the IDF move a preliminary reaction to the UN’s anticipated findings.

Bill Van Esveld: “This appears to be a whitewash investigation that is happening just before the Goldstone investigation mandated by the United Nations. And it seems to prove the point that Human Rights Watch has been making all along, which is that there needs to be an independent and impartial United Nations investigation into these allegations of laws of war violations, because the IDF has not lived up to the job.”

Israel Demolishes Palestinian Home in East Jerusalem

In other news from Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israel has defied U.S. warnings and demolished another Palestinian home in East Jerusalem. The Obama administration’s few mild criticisms of Israel have centered around destroying homes on Palestinian land. The home belonged to the Hudidon family, which includes seven children.

Clinton Vows Continued U.S. Boycott of Palestinians

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has renewed U.S. vows to boycott the Palestinian government unless Hamas meets U.S.-Israeli demands. Clinton testified Wednesday before the House foreign affairs committee.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We will not deal with nor in any way fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas unless and until Hamas has renounced violence, recognized Israel, and agreed to follow the previous obligations of the Palestinian Authority. And that is our policy and that is exactly what is guiding us, but we want to leave open the door that that can happen.”

The policy of opening the door to Hamas’ acceptance marks a slight rhetorical deviation from Bush administration policy, which unequivocally rejected any dealings with Hamas. But it continues the Bush policy of imposing conditions on Palestinians not imposed on Israel. Israel has long refused to renounce violence, recognize Palestine or agree to uphold prior agreements. In response to Clinton’s comments, Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan said: “Hillary Clinton must understand that there is a Palestinian democracy and there [were] Palestinian elections and someone won those elections.” Meanwhile, Clinton was also asked about former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s comments the Obama administration’s rollback of Bush torture policies is endangering the nation.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Well it won’t surprise you I don’t consider him a particularly reliable source.”

This week Cheney called for the release of documents that could prove what he called the “success” of the Bush administration’s torture methods in gaining new intelligence.

Internal Displacements Rise in Colombia

In Colombia, a new report says the number of internally displaced people continued to rise last year. Jorge Rojas of Colombia’s Human Rights and Displacement Council attributed most of the displacements to right-wing Colombian paramilitaries.

Jorge Rojas: “It is an unfortunate figure for us because it shows an increasing tendency. It shows that the number of displaced people in Colombian is still growing due to the armed conflict, human rights violations and infractions against the human rights. Last year, we registered the displacement of about 380,000 people. This shows a 24 percent increase compared to the year before.”

Colombia has the world’s second-largest internally displaced population after Sudan. Most of the refugees are indigenous, peasant workers or Afro-Colombians.

Morales Addresses UN in Earth Day Speech

Bolivian President Evo Morales addressed the UN General Assembly Wednesday. In a speech marking international Earth Day, Morales criticized former President George W. Bush for supporting a failed coup plot against him last year. He also addressed the controversy surrounding last week’s Bolivian police killing of three people in an alleged assassination plot against him. Morales also discussed the World Bank, which he said is no longer trying to impose privatization as a condition for loans.

Bolivian President Evo Morales: “Before it used to impose conditions on Bolivia in order for us to have access to loans. In the first year of my government, some World Bank representatives came to Bolivia and they tried to blackmail me, and I said, ‘OK, if it’s unconditional help, fine, but if it’s conditioned to privatization of basic services, privatization of natural resources, then no.'”

Morales went on to call for adding new text to the UN resolution establishing Earth Day, saying it should affirm the right of ecosystems, plants or animals to exist without threat of irresponsible human acts.

Venezuelan Opposition Leader Seeks Peru Asylum

A Venezuelan opposition leader is seeking asylum in Peru over what he calls political persecution at home. Manuel Rosales is in the Peruvian capital of Lima where government officials say they’re examining his asylum request. On Wednesday, a Venezuelan judge ordered Rosales’ arrest on corruption charges.

ANC Leads Returns in South African Elections

In South Africa, tens of millions of people voted Wednesday in national elections. The ruling African National Congress is leading initial returns. ANC leader Jacob Zuma is poised to become president, overcoming recent controversies that have included allegations of rape and corruption.

Reports: GM to Close U.S. Plants for 9 Weeks

And back in the United States, the auto giant General Motors is reportedly planning on closing most of its U.S. factories for up to nine weeks this summer. GM faces a June 1st deadline to qualify for additional government loans on top of the more than $13 billion dollars it’s already received.

Obama’s War Spending Request Could be Better Spent in Michigan

The National Priorities Project has released a new analysis showing that President Barack Obama’s recent request for $83.4 billion for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars could be better spent funding social programs in Michigan.

According to the analysis, $22,060,228,423 from Michigan has been spent thus far to finance the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama’s recent request will add $2,047,572,900 to that total (a long with another $40.3 million from Grand Rapids).

That $2 billion is enough to provide:

  • 769,874 people with health insurance for one year
  • 2,877,761 homes with renewable electricity for one year
  • 382,724 students with maximum Pell Grants ($5350)

To date, the cost of war that has been approved by Congress is $830.2 billion with $657.3 billion to Iraq and $172.9 billion to Afghanistan. The $77.1 billion from the supplemental request brings total war spending to $907.3 billion dollars since 2001.

Ten Things You Can Do to Oppose the War in Afghanistan

Afghanistan War Protest

In recent months, we have posted a fair number of articles objecting to President Barack Obama’s plans to escalate the Afghanistan War. Unfortunately–as is so often the case–we’ve often neglected to say what people can do to stop the escalation.

Thankfully, The Nation has published a list. While we have mixed feelings about some of the suggestions, they are a worthy starting point:

 1 Watch parts one and two of Brave New Films’ documentary Rethink Afghanistan, which explores many fundamental questions.

 2 Read up on the war. Anand Gopal‘s coverage for the Christian Science Monitor has been insightful; see also Ann Jones’s Kabul in Winter and articles like Gilles Dorronsoro’s “Focus and Exit: An Alternative Strategy for the Afghan War”. The Nation‘s own Robert Dreyfuss has more “For Your Reading Pleasure.”

 3 Check out the coalition of bloggers and activists seeking nonmilitary alternatives to escalation at Get Afghanistan Right.

 4 Demand Congressional oversight hearings. It is Congress’s duty to challenge policy-makers and inform the public about everything from the overall mission to the efficiency of military agencies. Sign a petition calling on Senator John Kerry and Representative Howard Berman to hold hearings immediately.

 5 What question would you ask at a Congressional hearing on Afghanistan? Take a video of yourself or a friend asking your question and e-mail it to Brave New Foundation via YouTube. For help on recording and uploading your video to YouTube, watch the tutorial video and follow the Quick Capture instructions and then go to Rethink Afghanistan to submit the video.

 6 Contact your senators and representative directly to demand Congressional oversight hearings. If you can’t visit their offices, a phone call or e-mail to voice your opinion can be just as effective.

 7 Write to your local paper’s editorial board and your favorite political blogs to raise concerns about the war. Don’t let the mainstream media remain silent as they did before the Iraq War!

 8 Support anti-escalation Afghan groups working for women’s rights and social justice. You can aid organizations like the Afghan Women’s Mission, MADRE and the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) by buying them equipment from their Amazon “wish list” that helps them document and spread the news about their efforts. Stay updated with the Afghan Women’s Mission newswire.

 9 Join the Campus Antiwar Network and hold teach-ins, debates, talks, demonstrations and walkouts on college campuses across the country.

10 Get involved in the peace movement with groups like Win Without War and Peace Action West, which are devoted to finding nonviolent alternatives to military escalation in Afghanistan. Follow Peace Action West on Twitter.

Break the Silence on Afghanistan

Today, in honor of the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s decision to speak out against the Vietnam War, has been declared a day of action for bloggers to speak out against the escalation of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Progressive bloggers across the United States will be taking the opportunity today to speak out against the war and President Barack Obama’s plan to escalate it.

There are already some great posts circulating online:

For more during the day, check out GetAfghanistanRight.com. You can also read past articles on MediaMouse.org about Afghanistan.

Folks are also encouraged to call their representatives to oppose Obama’s plan.

Headlines: Massive US Arms Sale to Israel Disclosed; Mass Shootings Spur Call for Gun Control Laws

Democracy Now Headlines: Massive US Arms Sale to Israel Disclosed; Mass Shootings Spur Call for Gun Control Laws

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

North Korea Tests Long-Range Rocket

The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting Sunday, hours after North Korea defied international warnings and test-fired a long-range rocket. The rocket flew over Japanese airspace before crashing into the Pacific Ocean. North Korea claimed the test was a success, but international experts disputed their claim. President Obama condemned the launch as “provocative.”

Obama Calls for Nuclear-Free World

Hours after the rocket launch, President Obama spoke in Prague and outlined a vision for ridding the world of nuclear weapons. Obama said he wanted an immediate end to nuclear tests, confirmed and vowed to hold a global summit on nuclear security.

President Obama: “As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it.”

Last week, President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed on fast-track negotiations to slash their nuclear stockpiles by about a third from the end of this year. The US and Russia have a total of 23,000 nuclear weapons. President Obama is not the first US president to call for the abolition of nuclear weapons. In the 1950s President Dwight Eisenhower said, “Controlled universal disarmament is the imperative of our time.” Even President Ronald Reagan once proposed the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

Czechs Protest US Missile Shield Base

While President Obama spoke in Prague, over 1,000 protesters gathered nearby to condemn US plans to build a missile shield system in the Czech Republic and Poland. Protesters included Jan Majicek of the No Bases Initiative.

Jan Majicek: “We are here to tell Barack Obama, who is now in Prague, that 70 percent of Czechs are against this plan and that we don’t want a foreign military base here in the Czech Republic.”

NATO Allies Refuse to Send More Combat Troops to Afghanistan

During the NATO summit in Strasbourg, European allies rejected President Obama’s request to send more combat troops to Afghanistan as part of the US escalation of the war. Instead, NATO nations will send 3,000 soldiers to assist in securing the national elections scheduled for August and 2,000 military trainers to help the Afghan army. Outside the NATO meeting, some 30,000 people took part in protests along the French-German border condemning the escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Police arrested 325 people. At least three buildings were set on fire, including a hotel and a border post.

Obama Ends Overseas Trip in Turkey

President Obama is in Turkey today making his first visit to a Muslim nation as president.

President Obama: “I have now spent a week traveling through Europe, and I’ve been asked, ‘Are you trying to make a statement by ending this week-long trip in Turkey?’ And the answer is yes, I am trying to make a statement. I’m trying to make a statement about the importance of Turkey, not just to the United States, but to the world.”

Mass Shootings Spur Call for New Gun Control Laws

Gun control advocates are urging lawmakers to rewrite the nation’s gun control laws after mass shootings in upstate New York, Pittsburgh and Washington state. In Binghamton, New York, a gunman attacked an immigration center on Friday, killing thirteen people before taking his own life. Most of the dead were immigrants who were taking classes at the immigration center. The gunman was a Vietnamese-born immigrant who recently lost his job.

Binghamton Police Chief Joseph Zikuski: “What we do know is Mr. Wong arrived at that residence wearing body armor, which would tell us that at one point in his thinking process he was going to take the police on or at least try to stop us from stopping him. He must have been a coward. We speculate when he heard the sirens that he decided to end his own life, so that’s what–he was heavily armed, had a lot of ammunition on him. And thank God, before more lives were lost, that he decided to do that.”

On Saturday in Pittsburgh, three police officers were shot dead as they responded to a domestic violence call. Meanwhile, in Washington state a thirty-four-year-old man shot dead his five children on Saturday before killing himself. The children were between the ages of seven and sixteen. There was also a series of high-profile mass shootings last month in North Carolina, California and Alabama that killed a total of twenty-three people. Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said, “The laws on the books aren’t getting the job done. Now is the time to take effective steps to prevent gun violence.” According to the Brady Campaign, about 30,000 people die every year in the United States from gun violence. That’s about eighty people a day.

One in Six Americans Now Unemployed or Underemployed

In economic news, the nation’s unemployment rate has reached 8.5 percent, the highest it’s been in twenty-five years. 663,000 jobs were lost last month. A total of 5.1 million jobs have been lost in the past fourteen months. The current unemployment rate would jump to 15.6 percent if it included laid-off workers who have given up looking for new jobs or have had to settle for part-time work. This means one in every six workers in America is now either unemployed or underemployed.

Wall Street Firms Gave Lawrence Summers Millions in 2008

Newly released documents show Lawrence Summers, one of President Obama’s top economic aides, received nearly $2.7 million in speaking fees last year from several of the financial companies that have received government bailouts, including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch. Goldman Sachs paid Summers $135,000 last April for a single speech. In addition, Summers earned over $5 million working one day a week at the D.E. Shaw hedge fund.

Thousands Protest on Wall Street

In New York, thousands marched on Wall Street Saturday on the forty-first anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Justice helped organize the protest.

Leslie Cagan: “Decades of bloated military spending have undermined our economic security. Instead of pouring hundreds of billions of dollars year in and year out into war, into weapons of mass destruction, into militarism and military spending, that money should have been used and now must be used to reinvest in our communities. Our communities need schools, we need healthcare, we need a completely restructured infrastructure, we need money pouring into job creation, and we need to deal with the global crisis of the environment. So there’s much to do, above and beyond bailing out bankers and continuing to pour money into wars.”

Iowa Supreme Court Overturns Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

In a unanimous decision, the Iowa Supreme Court has overturned a ten-year-old ban on same-sex marriage, making Iowa the third state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage. The ruling takes effect April 24. Meanwhile, Swedish lawmakers voted last week to make Sweden become the fifth European country to allow same-sex marriages.

26 Killed in Iraqi Car Bombings

In Iraq, five car bombs exploded across Baghdad today, killing twenty-six people and wounding scores. The bombings come following a week of arrests in Baghdad by Iraq’s Shiite-led government of Sunni Arab fighters known as Awakening Councils.

Pakistan Taliban Unleashes Wave of Suicide Attacks

In Pakistan, a senior commander of the Pakistani Taliban is threatening to launch two suicide attacks per week if the Obama administration does not stop missile strikes on Pakistani territory. Over the weekend, at least thirty-eight people died in three suicide attacks. In the deadliest bombing, twenty-two people died in a blast at a Shiite mosque in the capital of Islamabad.

Report: 1 Million Pakistanis Displaced by US Drone Attacks

On Saturday, a suspected US drone attack killed thirteen people in North Waziristan. The Sunday Times of London reports as many as one million Pakistanis have fled their homes to escape the attacks by the unmanned US drones.

Protests Condemn Public Flogging of Pakistani Girl

Meanwhile, protests were held across Pakistan this weekend over a video that showed the public flogging of a seventeen-year-old girl in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The video showed the girl being pinned down by three men and lashed thirty-four times. Under a deal with the Pakistani government, the Swat Valley is now ruled by Islamic law. The girl had been accused of being seen with a man who was not her husband.

Israeli Newspapers Remove Female Cabinet Ministers from Photo

In Israel, two ultra-Orthodox Jewish newspapers have digitally manipulated a photograph of Israel’s new cabinet, removing two female ministers. One newspaper changed the photo by replacing the two female cabinet members with men. Another newspaper blacked the women out. The ultra-Orthodox newspapers consider it immodest to print images of women. Limor Livnat is Israel’s new Minister of Culture & Sport. Sofa Landver is the country’s Minister of Immigrant Absorption.

Massive US Arms Sale to Israel Disclosed

Amnesty International has revealed that the United States has sent a massive new shipment of arms to Israel despite evidence that US weapons were misused against civilians in the Gaza attacks. Amnesty said a German cargo ship carrying about 14,000 tons of arms docked in late March at the Israeli port of Ashdod, about twenty-five miles north of Gaza. The ship left for Israel on December 20, a week before the start of Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

New York Times Threatens to Close Boston Globe

In media news, the New York Times Company is threatening to close the Boston Globe within thirty days unless the Globe’s unions agree to $20 million in cuts. The concessions would likely involve pay cuts and ending contributions by the company to employee pension plans. Last month, the New York Times Company laid off 100 employees and cut salaries for non-union workers by five percent.

Media Covers US War Dead’s Return After 18-Year Ban

The media was permitted on Sunday to cover the arrival of a US soldier’s coffin at the Pentagon’s main mortuary in Delaware for the first time in eighteen years. President Barack Obama has relaxed a Pentagon ban on media coverage of returning US war dead, giving grieving families the choice of whether to allow cameras at the solemn arrival ceremony. On Sunday, a flag-draped coffin bearing the remains of Staff Sgt. Phillip Myers arrived at Dover Air Force Base. The thirty-year-old soldier was killed in Afghanistan on Saturday.

Report: Obama to Lift Restrictions on Family Travel to Cuba

The Wall Street Journal reports the Obama administration is planning to abolish limits on family travel and cash remittances between the United States and Cuba. This would allow Cubans living in the United States to travel freely to the island, instead of once a year as at present. Obama, however, has rejected calls to lift the embargo. Meanwhile, a group of US lawmakers arrived in Havana Friday. This is Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA): “We’re here to engage in discussions with regard to US-Cuba relations. Personally, I believe, many believe, that it’s time to talk to Cuba, and we want to find out what the dialog should entail, and we’ll communicate this very clearly to our government officials upon our return.”

Egyptian Police Arrest 25 Ahead of Nationwide Protests

And in Egypt, police arrested twenty-five people Sunday ahead of today’s nationwide protest against the policies of President Hosni Mubarak. Egyptian dissident Ayman Nour is the leader of the Ghad, or Tomorrow Party, a key organizer of today’s protests, which are being held on the first anniversary of an uprising in an industrial town north of Cairo that was brutally repressed by Egyptian security forces. Ayman Nour, who ran against Mubarak in presidential elections in 2005, was arrested soon after the elections and released this February after spending over three years in prison. He spoke to Democracy Now! producer Anjali Kamat last month about the demands his party would raise at the protests on this April 6th.

Ayman Nour: “We are giving the government one year to reform the constitution and to lift the barriers preventing widespread participation in politics and elections. If our demands are not met–and these are reformist, democratic demands–we will call for a general strike on April 6th of 2010. The future of the current Egyptian regime depends on its ability to understand that its role must come to an end, that it must provide a real opportunity for power to circulate among the Egyptians. It has to give the Egyptian people their right to choose their rulers and representatives without texts that restrict and frustrate these rights and freedoms to the extent that they don’t exist at all or become some kind of a mirage.”

Aid Groups Warn NATO over Afghanistan Escalation

Afghanistan Escalation

A coalition of eleven international aid agencies including Oxfam, ActionAid, CARE, and Save the Children UK have released a new report titled “Caught in the Conflict” is critical of plans to escalate the war in Afghanistan.

The report–released in advance of a NATO Summit in France where Afghanistan will be on the agenda–argues that increases in troop levels and military operations will likely lead to higher levels of displacement, restrictions on social services, and difficulties for aid agencies.

The report is highly critical of military operations in Afghanistan, which it says are increasingly causing civilian casualties and inflicting brutality on civilians:

“The intensification and spread of the conflict in Afghanistan is increasingly affecting civilians. In 2008 there were over 2,100 civilian casualties, 55% of which were caused by militants. Despite steps to reduce civilian casualties, international military forces (IMF) caused 552 civilian deaths through airstrikes in 2008, which is up by 72% on 2007. IMF have also carried out or supported raids and search operations, a large number of which have involved an excessive use of force, including loss of life, physical assault, damage to property and theft, as well as aggressive and improper treatment of women. Such conduct not only generates anger and mistrust towards foreign troops, but is steadily eroding popular support for the international presence in the country. Furthermore, many individuals detained by Afghan and US forces are held for long periods without charge or trial, and there are allegations of mistreatment and torture.”

The report also criticizes U.S. and allied military forces for their plans to arm district councils as a way of dealing with the insurgency. It also criticizes the military for undertaking humanitarian and assistance work for counter-insurgency purposes. The report criticizes the military for blurring the distinction between aid agencies and military operations.

Recommendations to Improve Military Operations in Afghanistan

The organizations offer several recommendations on how the military strategy can be altered to lessen its impacts on civilians. Among the recommendations are suggestions that rules be tightened for using military force and air strikes, the protection of civilians should be the ultimate goal of all military operations, and there should be further transparency and accountability on the part of military forces in Afghanistan. For example, there should be a simple procedure for filing claims of property damage and other complaints against the military.

54% of Tax Revenue Goes to Fund the Military

The War Resisters League has released its annual pie chart showing how federal tax dollars are used to support the military. This year, 54% will be spent on past and current military operations.

The United States accounts for 47% of the total world military spending on the military. The United States spending is more than the next 15 countries combined (12 of these countries are the United States’ allies).

The chart:

033109-military_tax.png

War Tax Activism

As with previous years, the War Resisters League encourages people to take action on the issue by flyering with the chart on Tax Day, engaging in a war tax boycott, or simply using the information as a way of talking about how little is spent on social services in the United States.