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Hundreds of U.S. civilians may be sent to Afghanistan in a program to support security, governance and local development, Obama administration officials said.
The new civilian diplomats and specialists from U.S. departments such as Agriculture and Justice, along with hundreds of "full-time, temporary" hires, would work at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the officials said.
Other civilians would be assigned to U.S. "provincial reconstruction teams" and to other efforts "to build Afghan civilian capacity around the country," The Washington Post (NYSE:WPO) reported.
The new civilian force would complement 17,000 new U.S. troops scheduled for deployment this year, bringing the total to about 55,000, administration and Pentagon officials said.
Gates to Dover AFB
Now, watch Gates' Emotional Reaction to His Visit to Dover AFB here.
Gates said: "...very difficult...I will add a sentence or two...I went to the back of the plane by myself, and spent time with each of the 'transfer cases'...I think I'll stop there."
Sources: U.S. to sign U.N. gay rights declaration | MSNBC
Former President Bush had refused to endorse the measure in December
The Obama administration will endorse a U.N. declaration calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality that then-President George W. Bush had refused to sign, The Associated Press has learned.
U.S. officials said Tuesday they had notified the declaration's French sponsors that the administration wants to be added as a supporter. The Bush administration was criticized in December when it was the only western government that refused to sign on.
The move was made after an interagency review of the Bush administration's position on the nonbinding document, which was signed by all 27 European Union members as well as Japan, Australia, Mexico and three dozen other countries, the officials said.
By Dave Lindorff
For years, advocates of open government, mostly on the left, but also on the right, have railed against the growing secrecy of the US government. But the focus, particularly of left critics, has been on the Intelligence budget, a $40+ billion “black box” that is completely protected from public and even congressional scrutiny, and on large swaths of the Pentagon budget, which are kept hidden allegedly for “national security” reasons.
For the most part, the American public has adopted an ovine attitude towards such secrecy, assuming that the “government knows best.”
Now, however, with the economic crisis, and the collapse of AIG, Citibank, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, General Motors, Chrysler and other leading US firms, and with bailouts that are putting taxpayers on the hook to the tune of trillions of dollars, the people are waking up, or at least are starting to get restless in their slumber.
The United States has always paid for its wars. For 200 years we paid for the Revolution, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, even LBJ's Great Society, and had yet to reach a national debt of $1 trillion -- until 1982. Now our government in the past eight years has borrowed, spent, and added to the national debt $5 trillion.
The Congressional Budget Office reported that in the first four years of the Bush term, deficits were caused by: 48% tax cuts, 37% wars, and 15% increased spending. We kept the government on steroids during the Bush years and household debt of $7 trillion joined the binge.
Obama should reverse course and reject Bush-Cheney policies on the drug war, illegal surveillance, executive power
WASHINGTON, DC -- Green Party leaders challenged the Obama Administration to reverse the failed policies and reject the agenda of the Bush Administration, citing as examples the war on drugs; torture, illegal surveillance, and other Bush-Cheney abuses of power; and cuts in Social Security.
"The Clinton Administration accomplished what the Republicans had tried to enact but failed -- welfare 'reform', NAFTA and other antidemocratic international trade authorities, deregulation of credit markets and telecommunications giants. Will Barack Obama deliver what George W. Bush promised?" asked Budd Dickinson, co-chair of the Green Party of the U.S.
Greens said that the Democratic Party's retreats, betrayals, and capitulations on so many major issues proved the failure of the two-party status quo and the need for the Green Party's emergence.
WAR ON DRUGS
By Dave Lindorff
It may not be obvious today, and certainly it’s not how the corporate media reported it, but future historians are likely to look back at March 13, 2009 as the day that American imperialism began it’s inexorable decline. That’s the day that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao announced that his country was “worried” about its holdings of over $1 trillion in US treasury securities, and warned that he wanted the US to assure China that it would maintain its good credit and “honor its promises” and “maintain the safety of China’s assets.”
There is no way that the US can accommodate Premier Wen and still finance and operate a global military system with over 1000 overseas bases, massive aircraft carrier battle groups, and with hundreds of thousands of men and women armed to the teeth with the latest high-tech military hardware, not to mention fight endless wars on the far side of the globe.
In a filing today with the federal District Court for the District of Columbia, the Department of Justice submitted a new standard for the government’s authority to hold detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. The definition does not rely on the President’s authority as Commander-in-Chief independent of Congress’s specific authorization. It draws on the international laws of war to inform the statutory authority conferred by Congress. It provides that individuals who supported al Qaeda or the Taliban are detainable only if the support was substantial. And it does not employ the phrase "enemy combatant."
The protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are forcing the Obama administration to rethink what for more than two decades has been a central premise of American strategy: that the nation need only prepare to fight two major wars at a time.
For more than six years now, the United States has in fact been fighting two wars, with more than 170,000 troops now deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. The military has openly acknowledged that the wars have left troops and equipment severely strained, and has said that it would be difficult to carry out any kind of significant operation elsewhere.
After nearly a decade of an often tense and estranged relationship with the United Nations, Washington appears to be taking a much more conciliatory and multilateral approach to the world body.
U.S. President Barack Obama formally restored funding for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) Wednesday by signing a major spending bill, prompting U.N. officials to again welcome the policy shift on women's health-related rights.
In January, Obama issued an executive order lifting an eight-year ban on U.S. funding for overseas family-planning groups and clinics that perform or promote abortion or lobby for its legalisation.
The Obama administration is trying to protect top Bush administration military officials from lawsuits brought by prisoners who say they were tortured while being held at Guantanamo Bay.
The Justice Department argued in a filing Thursday with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that holding military officials liable for their treatment of prisoners could cause them to make future decisions based on fear of litigation rather than appropriate military policy.
Obama Afghan Plan Focuses on Pakistan Aid and Appeal to Militants
By Helene Cooper and Thom Shanker | NYTimes
The emerging outlines of President Obama’s plan for Afghanistan include proposals to shift more American efforts toward problems in neighboring Pakistan and to seek some kind of political reconciliation with the vast majority of insurgents in the region, according to administration officials.
The plan reflects in part a conclusion within the administration that most of the insurgent foot soldiers in Afghanistan and Pakistan are “reconcilable” and can be pried away from the hard-core organizations of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. At least 70 percent of the insurgents, and possibly more, can be encouraged to lay down their arms with the proper incentives, administration officials have said.
The Obama administration said Friday that it is abandoning one of President George W. Bush's key phrases in the war on terrorism: enemy combatant.
But that won't change much for the detainees at the U.S. naval base in Cuba — Obama still asserts the military's authority to hold them. Human rights attorneys said they were disappointed that Obama didn't take a new stance.
The Justice Department said in legal filings that it will no longer use the term "enemy combatants' to justify holding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
"This is really a case of old wine in new bottles," the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been fighting the detainees' detention, said in a statement. "It is still unlawful to hold people indefinitely without charge. The men who have been held for more than seven years by our government must be charged or released."
In another court filing Thursday criticized by human rights advocates, the Obama administration tried to protect top Bush administration military officials from lawsuits brought by prisoners who say they were tortured while being held at Guantanamo Bay.
The Obama administration's position on use of the phrase "enemy combatants" came in response to a deadline by U.S. District Judge John Bates, who is overseeing lawsuits of detainees challenging their detention. Bates asked the administration to give its definition of whom the United States may hold as an "enemy combatant."
Thank you, President Obama. At long last - better late than never - a high-level official of the Obama Administration has clearly affirmed U.S. neutrality ahead of Sunday's Presidential election in El Salvador.
Voice of America reports:
Friday in Washington, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon said the United States supports the democratic process in El Salvador and will work with whomever is elected.
Also on Friday, Rep. Howard Berman, (D-CA), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, affirmed that neither Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorans in the U.S. nor remittance flows from the U.S. to El Salvador would be affected by the outcome of the election. From the Committee website:
Only if our troop levels hit 100,000 and fighting floods over into Taliban havens in Pakistan will Washington be likely to look hard at the alternative policy for Afghanistan — withdrawing most American forces and refocusing our power on containing, deterring and diplomatically encircling the terrorist threat. But by then it will be too late.
Obama takes US closer to total ban on cluster bombs
By Peter Beaumont | The Guardian
The United States has stepped closer to a total ban on the use and export of cluster bombs with the signing by Barack Obama of a new permanent law that would make it almost impossible for the US to sell the controversial weapons.
The decision was hailed by opponents of the weapons as a "major turnaround in US policy" that overrode Pentagon calls to permit their continued export.
The new legislation, tacked on to a huge budget bill, was passed earlier this week by Congress and now sets such stringent rules for the bombs' use, including a ban on sales where they might be suspected of being used where civilians are present, that it seems unlikely the US could export them again.
Eventually the Obama administration needs to evaluate the serious crimes of the Bush administration and to initiate prosecutions wherever warranted or else turn the matter over to a special prosecutor. If it fails to do that, it will be condoning torture.
Individuals who are associated with the policy of torture are likely to find themselves facing the very same tap on the shoulder that Augusto Pinochet got so unexpectedly on October 16, 1998.
Last week, more than 30 Members of Congress joined Rep. Raul Grijalva in asking President Obama to affirm U.S. neutrality in El Salvador's Presidential election on Sunday March 15, to stop the recycling in El Salvador of US threats when Salvadorans voted in 2004. But there has been no high-level response from the Obama Administration, Rep. Grijalva told Democracy Now! yesterday.
But right-wing Republicans in Congress have not been quiet. Upside Down News reports:
President Obama has recently threatened to rescind the "blank check" the Bush administration offered to big defense contractors. So now is the time when all that planning by Lockheed Martin and the other major arms manufacturers comes into play. One of that company's major weapons systems, the F-22 Raptor, is potentially on the chopping block. How convenient then that, in the midst of an economic meltdown, Lockheed just happens to have more than 1,000 parts suppliers for that jet carefully scattered across 44 states, all of which, as far as I know, have representatives in Congress. This is pretty typical.
If you're interested in a "way forward" in Afghanistan that's not built around killing a bunch of innocent people for no reason, then I strongly encourage you to read and absorb every word of Carlotta Gall's report in Wednesday's New York Times, "As U.S. Weighs Taliban Negotiations, Afghans Are Already Talking."
Some key points, based on conversations with Afghan officials and Western diplomats in Kabul:
- Far from being "pie in the sky," discussions with the Taliban leadership are already underway and could be developed into more formal talks with the support of the US. The ongoing talks were actually initiated by an overture from the Taliban: the Taliban leadership council first approached the government about peace talks last year.
Retired Amb. Chas Freeman, who said today that he no longer accepts an offer to chair the National Intelligence Council, has just sent this message:
You will by now have seen the statement by Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair reporting that I have withdrawn my previous acceptance of his invitation to chair the National Intelligence Council.
Report: Slain US Nazi hated Obama, had parts for 'dirty bomb'
Claim: Depleted uranium purchased over the Internet from an American company
By Stephen C. Webster | Raw Story
Trust fund millionaire James G. Cummings, an American Nazi sympathizer from Maine who was slain by his wife Amber in December, allegedly had the radioactive components necessary to construct a "dirty bomb," a newly released threat analysis report states.
The man, allegedly furious over the election of President Obama, purchased depleted uranium over the Internet from an American company.
"According to an FBI field intelligence report from the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center posted online by WikiLeaks, an organization that posts leaked documents, an investigation into the case revealed that radioactive materials were removed from Cummings’ home after his shooting death on Dec. 9," reported the Bangor Daily News.
"Amber (Cummings) indicated James was very upset with Barack Obama being elected President," reported the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center (PDF link). "She indicated James had been in contact with 'white supremacist group(s).' Amber also indicated James mixed chemicals in the kitchen sink at their residence and had mentioned 'dirty bombs.'"
Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood hit back hard on Monday to charges from White House critics that President Barack Obama's economic policies -- focused on leveraging government spending to stimulate demand -- had exacerbated the recession and constituted a form of socialism.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, LaHood, one of the few Republican members of the Obama administration, scoffed at the recent talking points emanating from the congressional leaders of his own party. His voice rising at times with emotion, the transportation czar tackled first the notion that the president was a socialist in disguise.
President Barack Obama firmly resists ideological labels, but at the end of a private meeting with a group of moderate Democrats Tuesday afternoon he offered a statement of solidarity.
“I am a New Democrat,” he told the New Democrat Coalition, according to two sources at the White House session.
The group is comprised of centrist Democratic members of the House, who support free trade and a muscular foreign policy but are more moderate than the conservative Blue Dog coalition.
Obama made his comment in discussing his budget priorities and broader goals, also calling himself a “pro-growth Democrat” during the course of conversation.
By William Fisher, The Public Record
Barack Obama, Eric Holder and Leon Panetta are all lawyers, And Holder and Panetta both work for Obama. Wouldn’t that suggest that they would agree on really important issues – at least in public?
Well, apparently they don’t. And Obama’s recent interview with the New York Times editorial board provides lots of examples.
During that session, President Obama stated categorically:
“We ultimately provide anybody that we’re detaining an opportunity through habeas corpus to answer to charges.”
Then how do we explain the conflicting position taken by the President’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, and the Department of Justice he runs?
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release March 9, 2009
MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES
SUBJECT: Presidential Signing Statements
For nearly two centuries, Presidents have issued statements
addressing constitutional or other legal questions upon signing
bills into law (signing statements). Particularly since omnibus
bills have become prevalent, signing statements have often been
used to ensure that concerns about the constitutionality of
discrete statutory provisions do not require a veto of the
In recent years, there has been considerable public discussion
and criticism of the use of signing statements to raise
constitutional objections to statutory provisions. There is
no doubt that the practice of issuing such statements can be
abused. Constitutional signing statements should not be used to
Russian advice: More troops won't help in Afghanistan
By Tom Lasseter | McClatchy Newspapers
The old diplomat sighed as he recalled his years in Afghanistan, and then leaned forward and said in a booming voice that no escalation of troops would bring lasting peace.
As the Soviet ambassador to Afghanistan from 1979 to 1986, Fikryat Tabeyev saw the numbers rise to more than 100,000 troops without any possibility of victory against a growing insurgency.