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Judge Refuses to Dismiss War Crimes Case Against Blackwater

Judge Refuses to Dismiss War Crimes Case Against Blackwater
By Jeremy Scahill | The Nation

On Wednesday, a federal judge rejected a series of arguments by lawyers for the mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater seeking to dismiss five high-stakes war crimes cases brought by Iraqi victims against both the company and its owner, Erik Prince. At the same time, Judge TS Ellis III sent the Iraqis' lawyers back to the legal drawing board to amend and refile their cases, saying that the Iraqi plaintiffs need to provide more specific details on the alleged crimes before a final decision can be made on whether or not the lawsuits will proceed.

"We were very pleased with the ruling," says Susan Burke, the lead attorney for the Iraqis. Burke, who filed the lawsuits in cooperation with the Center for Constitutional Rights, is now preparing to re-file the suits. Blackwater's spokesperson Stacy DeLuke said, "We are confident that [the plaintiffs] will not be able to meet the high standard specified in Judge Ellis' opinion."

Judge Ellis, a Reagan appointee with a mixed record on national security issues, rejected several of the central arguments Blackwater made in its motion to dismiss, namely the company's contention that it cannot be sued by the Iraqis under US law and that the company should not be subjected to potential punitive damages in the cases. The Iraqi victims brought their suits under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows for litigation in US courts for violations of fundamental human rights committed overseas by individuals or corporations with a US presence. Ellis said that Blackwater's argument that it cannot be sued under the ATS is "unavailing," adding that corporations and individuals can both be held responsible for crimes and torts. He said bluntly that "claims alleging direct corporate liability for war crimes" are legitimate under the statute.

Ellis also rejected Blackwater's argument that "conduct constitutes a war crime only if it is perpetrated in furtherance of a 'military objective' rather than for economic or ideological reasons." Ellis said that under Blackwater's logic "it is arguable that nobody who receives a paycheck would ever be liable for war crimes. Moreover, so narrow is the scope of [Blackwater's] standard that it would exclude murders of civilians committed by soldiers where there was no legitimate 'military objective' for committing the murders."

"What is important here is that the judge is saying that violations of war crimes can be committed by private people or corporations," says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He said Ellis's ruling is "an affirmation of the precedent set by CCR thirty years ago" when it brought the first successful Alien Tort suit in 200 years "that those who engage in violations of fundamental human rights abroad can be held liable in the US." Ellis's ruling, he says, "is sympathetic to the idea that the Blackwater case is an appropriate use of the law." Read more.

Pentagon Instructs Officials to Cancel Contracts with ACORN. The Problem: They Don't Exist

Pentagon Instructs Officials to Cancel Contracts with ACORN. The Problem: They Don't Exist
While the DoD targets a community group that does no business with the Pentagon, actual corporate crooks go un-confronted and continue to rake in $ billions in contracts.
By Jeremy Scahill | Rebel Reports

While the DoD sends out memos regarding an organization that it does not contract with, the Pentagon currently does business with a slew of corporate criminals whose billions of dollars in annual federal contracts make the $53 million in government funds received by ACORN over the past 15 years look like, well, acorns. The top three government contractors—all of them weapons manufacturers—committed 109 acts of misconduct since 1995, according to the Project on Oversight and Government Reform. In that period, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Boeing paid fines or settlements totaling nearly $3 billion. In 2007 alone, the three companies won some $77 billion in federal contracts. There has been no letter sent around to federal agencies instructing them to cancel contracts with these companies that have ripped off taxpayers and engaged in a variety of fraudulent activities with federal dollars.

On Tuesday night, US Undersecretary of Defense Shay Assad, the Pentagon’s top contracting official, sent a memo to the commanders and directors of all branches of the military instructing them to cease all business with the embattled community organization ACORN and to take “all necessary and appropriate” steps to prevent future contracts with the organization. Assad’s brief memo [PDF] contained the two-page guidelines issued October 7 by Peter Orszag, the director of the Office of Management and Budget. Orszag’s guidelines were issued following the passage of Congressional legislation aimed at “defunding ACORN.”

Orszag’s guidelines were sent on October 7 to “the heads of Executive Departments and Agencies” and instructed them to “immediately commence all necessary and appropriate steps” to comply with the terms of the Defund ACORN Act. These include: no future obligation of funds, suspension of grant and contract payments and no funding of ACORN and its affiliates through Federal grantees or contractors. “Your agency should take steps so that no Federal funds are awarded or obligated” to ACORN, wrote Orszag.

While the DoD memo sent by Assad is basically a formality initiated by Orszag’s guidelines to all federal agencies, it is nonetheless remarkable given that ACORN is not a Defense Department contractor. According to an ACORN spokesperson, the group has not received Pentagon funds, nor has the community group even considered applying for such funds. “Of course we were hoping to win the contract to build the B-1 bomber, but we didn’t get that one,” says Brian Kettering, ACORN’s Deputy Director of National Operations, sarcastically. “This is all just silly, but the travesty here is that once again the witch-hunt against ACORN continues while there is a total neglect of [the misconduct] of the likes of Blackwater and Halliburton.” Read more.

Rape Victim's Choice: Risk AIDS or Health Insurance? Huff Po Initiates Citizen Journalism Project

Rape Victim's Choice: Risk AIDS or Health Insurance?
By Danielle Ivory | Huffington Post

Christina Turner feared that she might have been sexually assaulted after two men slipped her a knockout drug. She thought she was taking proper precautions when her doctor prescribed a month's worth of anti-AIDS medicine.

Only later did she learn that she had made herself all but uninsurable.

Turner had let the men buy her drinks at a bar in Fort Lauderdale. The next thing she knew, she said, she was lying on a roadside with cuts and bruises that indicated she had been raped. She never developed an HIV infection. But months later, when she lost her health insurance and sought new coverage, she ran into a problem.

Turner, 45, who used to be a health insurance underwriter herself, said the insurance companies examined her health records. Even after she explained the assault, the insurers would not sell her a policy because the HIV medication raised too many health questions. They told her they might reconsider in three or more years if she could prove that she was still AIDS-free.

Stories of how victims of sexual assault can get tangled in the health insurance system have been one result of the Huffington Post Investigative Fund's citizen journalism project, which is calling on readers to provide information and anecdotes about the inner workings of the insurance industry. The project aims to uncover details and data that can inform the larger debate over how to fix the nation's health care system. As the Investigative Fund reported in September, health insurance companies are not required to make public their records on how often claims are denied and for what reasons. Read more.

Cheney Falsely Accuses Obama Of ‘Libel’ Against CIA Over Torture

Cheney falsely accuses Obama of ‘libel’ against CIA over torture
By Ron Brynaert | Raw Story

Torture is not torture, according to former Vice President Dick Cheney, and to refer it to as such should be considered libelous. Even if it doesn't actually qualify as libel.

The Washington Times' Amanda Carpenter reports, "Maintaining his stature as one of the most forceful defenders of the Bush Administration's defense policies former Vice President Dick Cheney accused President Obama of committing 'libel' against CIA interrogators on Wednesday" during a speech at the Center for Security Policy.

"In the speech, Mr. Cheney charged that President Obama has 'filled the air with vague and useless platitude' when talking about torture and by calling enhanced interrogation techniques 'torture" he has committed 'libel' against CIA interrogators whom Mr. Cheney described as 'dedicated professionals who acted honorably and well, in our country’s name and in our country’s cause,'" Carpenter adds.

Cheney's full comments Wednesday:

"In short, to call enhanced interrogation a program of torture is not only to disregard the program’s legal underpinnings and safeguards. Such accusations are a libel against dedicated professionals who acted honorably and well, in our country’s name and in our country’s cause. What’s more, to completely rule out enhanced interrogation in the future, in favor of half-measures, is unwise in the extreme. In the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half exposed."

As Salon's Glenn Greenwald noted last June, "The U.S. has prosecuted those acts as torture in the past. Multiple media outlets and even the U.S. Government have routinely described those acts as “torture” when used against Americans, rather than by Americans. The tactics are ones we copied from manuals designed to inure our own troops to the torture techniques used by some of the world’s worst tyrants. They resulted in numerous deaths. Until the Bush administration decided to call it something other than 'torture' so that they could do it, nobody had any questions about whether this was 'torture.'" Read more.

Pentagon Used Psychological Operation On US Public, Documents Show

Pentagon used psychological operation on US public, documents show
Figure in Bush propaganda operation remains Pentagon spokesman
By Brad Jacobson | Raw Story

In Part I of this series, Raw Story revealed that Bryan Whitman, the current deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations, was an active senior participant in a Bush administration covert Pentagon program that used retired military analysts to generate positive wartime news coverage.

A months-long review of documents and interviews with Pentagon personnel has revealed that the Bush Administration's military analyst program -- aimed at selling the Iraq war to the American people -- operated through a secretive collaboration between the Defense Department's press and community relations offices.

Raw Story has also uncovered evidence that directly ties the activities undertaken in the military analyst program to an official US military document’s definition of psychological operations -- propaganda that is only supposed to be directed toward foreign audiences.

The investigation of Pentagon documents and interviews with Defense Department officials and experts in public relations found that the decision to fold the military analyst program into community relations and portray it as “outreach” served to obscure the intent of the project as well as that office’s partnership with the press office. It also helped shield its senior supervisor, Bryan Whitman, assistant secretary of defense for media operations, whose role was unknown when the original story of the analyst program broke. Read more.

Big Companies Getting Closer To Big Iraq Oil Fields

Big companies getting closer to big Iraq oil fields
By Ben Lando | Uruknet

A half dozen major international oil companies are close to deals with Iraq, on the heels of BP and the Chinese National Petroleum Corp., which are one step away from receiving the first new oil contract issued by Baghdad – for the largest oil field in the country.

The deals are part of the Iraqi Oil Ministry effort to bring foreign capital, expertise and technology to dramatically boost production in the underachieving yet third largest oil reserves in the world. Iraq holds 115 billion barrels of proven reserves but produces just around 2.4 million barrels per day (bpd).

Iraq’s prime minister and oil minister are in Washington, D.C., right now courting investment at an investment conference organized by Iraq’s National Investment Commission, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The 17 billion barrel Rumaila field was awarded to BP/CNPC during a June 30 auction. After months of negotiations, the ministry and companies reached an agreement, which was approved last week by the Iraqi Council of Ministers. Read more.

Not Too Big to Jail - Protest in Chicago

Not Too Big to Jail - Protest in Chicago

Last week, we got a slew of submissions to our "Foundation for Reform" paper! Consensus starts to crack. We just need to keep building the momentum.

So, have you heard about what promises to be the largest protests against the banks yet - Showdown in Chicago on October 25th? All ANWF members who want to go and need more details should contact us. As much as we can, we need to show up! We expect thousands of people to show, we hope you will too. The protest is being organized by dozens of organizations, including ANWF, and will take place outside of the American Bankers Association's annual meeting. You can help at this critical moment, find rides, organize a contingent and go. We'll help you meet up with other ANWF members. We'll have even more info for you next week, but the time to make a decision about going is now.

Our friends at the Center for Media and Democracy recently started working on bank reform too with a new go-to site for updates on the fight: www.BanksterUSA.org. Their "Action Center" is a hotbed of popular campaigning on the crisis, helping us to ramp up the campaign to demand the Federal Reserve fix what's broken (see the ANWF petition):

Fight the Big Boys on Wall Street at www.BanksterUSA.org.

Center for Media & Democracy Fights the Big Boys on Wall Street with "BanksterUSA.org"

"Fight the Big Boys on Wall Street at www.BanksterUSA.org

The Banksters have pulled off the biggest heist of all time. They have crashed the global economy, throwing 7.5 million Americans out of work, emptying retirement and college funds and forcing many into hardship and homelessness. Yet they continue to be rewarded with trillions of taxpayer dollars that underwrite their Bankster bonuses, they prey upon the vulnerable with ballooning bank fees and macabre investment schemes such as "death bonds" and their taxpayer-subsidized lobbyists swarm Capitol Hill to prevent the passage of any meaningful reform of the financial system.

The Smackdown Starts Now

This fall is a critical time. Congress is now taking up a series of bills to restore confidence in the financial sector. If you want to rein in the Banksters and if you think America deserves better than a "boom and bail" economy, you need to muscle up and weigh in. Only you can tell Congress to prioritize the interests of Main Street over the interests of Wall Street.

Bust the Banksters at BanksterUSA

www.BanksterUSA.org is the go-to site for updates on the financial services re-regulation fights in Congress and for progressive netroots campaigning against the big boys on Wall Street.

Our "Action Center" is a hotbed of popular campaigning on the crisis.

We know that it is wrong that a full year since the Wall Street meltdown no employee of any major American bank or blue chip financial institution is behind bars. Compare this to the Savings and Loan crisis 20 years ago. No less than 1,852 S&L officials were prosecuted and 1,072 were jailed.

Our motto? Too big to fail, but not too big for jail! Click here to email the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI and tell them to get cracking!

Obamacare Targets Entitlements

Obamacare Targets Entitlements
By Stephen Lendman

Meeting with the Washington Post's editorial staff on January 16, President-elect Obama pledged to reform entitlements saying the process would begin straightaway by convening a "fiscal responsibility summit" before delivering his first budget to Congress.

"What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further," he said. "We have to signal seriousness in this by making sure some of the hard decisions are made under my watch, not someone else's."

Key, he said, is reigning in entitlement costs by making "very difficult choices and....sacrifice(s)....Social Security, we can solve. The big problem is Medicare (and, of course, Medicaid covering 60 million in 2005), which (are) unsustainable."

In a major April 14 Georgetown University speech, he again highlighted the problem saying cutting health care costs and "restoring fiscal discipline" are two of the top "pillars" of his agenda.

"Let's not kid ourselves and suggest that we can solve this problem by trimming a few earmarks," he said. The "biggest cost drivers in our budget are entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, all of which get more and more expensive every year, (so) if we want to get serious about fiscal discipline - and I do - we will have to get serious about entitlement reform," implying a clear long-term goal of:

shifting the burden from Washington, handing it to the states, and ultimately to taxpayers directly with no government aid or indirectly through taxes.

The US Debt Clock.org shows why. Besides the official $11.9 trillion exponentially growing national debt (some economists say $15 trillion or more), the big problem is unfunded liabilities:

  • $13.9 trillion for Social Security;
  • $18.4 trillion for prescription drugs; and
  • $73.3 trillion for Medicare/Medicaid for a total of nearly $105.7 trillion.

Administration Refutes Geithner and Summers' Approval of BofA-Merrill Merger

Administration Refutes Geithner and Summers' Approval of BofA-Merrill Merger
Internal Bank Documents Show Obama Aides Were 'On Board'
By Matthew Jaffe | ABC News

"The Bank of America-Merrill Lynch merger was the outcome of a collaborative effort orchestrated by Ken Lewis, Henry Paulson, Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner, and Larry Summers," Bardella said in a statement. "As a result of this collaboration, the taxpayers ended up footing the bill so Bank of America didn't have to absorb Merrill's losses." ...

In January, when the Obama administration took over, Summers became National Economic Council director and Geithner replaced Henry Paulson as Treasury secretary.

During last year's transition period between presidential regimes, Obama economic aides Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers signed off on the Bush administration's deal to bail out Bank of America if it finalized its merger with ailing investment bank Merrill Lynch, according to bank documents obtained Tuesday by ABC News.

However, both the White House and Treasury today disputed that Summers and Geithner ever agreed to any financial decisions made during this time period.

"Mr. Summers received occasional briefings by Federal Reserve officials during the transition, but he did not make, review, or approve decisions regarding financial institutions during that time," White House spokesman Matthew Vogel said in a statement. Read more.

Why Obama Has To Do What Letterman Did: Refuse to Pay Hush Money

Why Obama Has to do What Letterman Did: Refuse to Pay Hush Money
The former labor secretary says that by buying off Big Pharma in return for its support on health-care reform, the president has succumbed to blackmail.
By Robert Reich | Robert Reich's Blog

But when they all get paid off, who will do the paying? Middle-class Americans who are already in a financial squeeze -- whose wages are lower, adjusted for inflation, than they were thirty years ago, and whose jobs are disappearing. They'll face still higher premiums, co-payments, and deductibles; and they'll pay higher drug prices, Medicare premiums, and taxes to cover the rest.

That's because these payoffs make it next to impossible to contain the wildly escalating costs of health care. And 25 to 30 million additional Americans will be covered....

The three big means of containing costs: (1) A true public option (better yet, one that allows anyone now holding private insurance to opt into; (2) authority for Medicare to negotiate low drug prices; and (3) lower Medicare reimbursement rates to doctors (in other words, no "doctor fix").

In addition, the so-called "medical exchanges" in the emerging bills (as well as the public option, which hopefully will be included) should give preference to pre-paid heathcare plans, like Kaiser Permanente, whose doctors are on salary and have every incentive to keep people healthy rather than charge for more services and tests.

Last January, as I understand it, the White House promised Big Pharma, big insurance, and the American Medical Association the moral equivalent of what Joel Halderman allegedly demanded of David Letterman: hush money. The groups agreed to stay silent or even be supportive of healthcare reform, as long as they were paid off.

But now that it's time to collect, the bill is larger than the White House expected, and it's going to fall like an avalanche on middle class Americans in coming years. Read more.

An Appeal: Time to Oppose Military Recruiting

AN APPEAL: TIME TO OPPOSE MILITARY RECRUITING
By Sherwood Ross

From every appearance, President Obama intends to step up the war in Afghanistan. Even though the American people voted for peace last November and would prefer to devote themselves to the ways of peace –working a full-time job if they can find one, educating their children, providing essential services in their communities, etc., Obama plans to remain in Afghanistan, squandering billions more on a war that the latest poll shows 57% of the American people oppose. Obama also has given no signal that he will withdraw the remaining U.S. troops from Iraq and is providing the Pakistanis with the money, means, and encouragement to expand President Bush’s criminal wars’ into yet a third nation.

We need to ask ourselves: who is better off for all these wars? Are Americans better off today than nine years ago? What of our 30,000 wounded? What of our 5,000 dead? (Contractors are human beings, too, so I count them.) What of the 1-million slaughtered Iraqis? What of the millions of Iraqi civilians wounded and/or driven from their homes? What of the ruined Iraq infrastructure and economy? What of millions of motorists and homeowners world-wide who have seen oil prices escalate? What of the homeless and malnourished Iraqi children? The only ones who appear to be better off from the Bush-Obama wars are the arms manufacturers and various public officials vegetating on the government payrolls in Washington. From steel mills to banks and from airlines to automobiles, the rest of American industry is suffering.

Long ago, Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828-1910), the author of “War and Peace,” wrote these harsh words about Russia: “The truth is that the state is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens.” It takes little imagination to divine what the good Count would have said about America today and its serial wars of aggression centered upon the Middle East oil fields and the proposed pipeline access routes to and from them. Face it: USA today is corrupting its people, turning its children into killers, and sending them out to fight and die in wrong wars half way around the world.

Tomgram: Will Today's U.S.-Armed Ally Be Tomorrow's Enemy?

Tomgram: Will Today's U.S.-Armed Ally Be Tomorrow's Enemy? | TomDispatch.com

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: In the past weeks, you could catch original pieces by Barbara Ehrenreich, Arundhati Roy, Pepe Escobar, Michael Klare, Ann Jones, and Rebecca Solnit, among others, at this website. It's the sort of line-up you might otherwise find at a top-notch magazine. Every piece posted here is -- we hope -- original, well written, well edited, thoughtful, informative, and provocative.

Those of you who get email notices whenever a new piece is posted, as well as the tens of thousands who bookmark TomDispatch or read its pieces reposted elsewhere, can help get word out about the work we do by encouraging new readers to sign on. TD spreads mainly by word of mouth, a formidable force in the on-line world. For those of you already hooked, I want to suggest, as I do every few months, that you lend the site just a few minutes of your time and a little more of that word-of-mouth power. I hope you'll consider putting together a modest list of friends, colleagues, relatives, or, for that matter, people you like to argue with who might benefit from getting TomDispatch regularly. You should urge them to go to the "sign up" window at the upper right of the main screen, put in an e-mail address, answer the confirmation letter that will quickly arrive in their email boxes (or, fair warning, spam folders), and join the TD crew. --Tom

Who's Next?
Lessons from the Long War and a Blowback World
By Tom Engelhardt

Is it too early -- or already too late -- to begin drawing lessons from "the Long War"? That phrase, coined in 2002 and, by 2005, being championed by Centcom Commander General John Abizaid, was meant to be a catchier name for George W. Bush's "Global War on Terror." That was back in the days when inside-the-Beltway types were still dreaming about a global Pax Americana and its domestic partner, a Pax Republicana, and imagining that both, once firmly established, might last forever.

"The Long War" merely exchanged the shock-'n'-awe geographical breadth of the President Bush's chosen moniker ("global") for a shock-'n'-awe time span. Our all-out, no-holds-barred struggle against evil-doers would be nothing short of generational as well as planetary. From Abizaid's point of view, perhaps a little in-office surgical operation on the nomenclature of Bush's war was, in any case, in order at a time when the Iraq War was going disastrously badly and the Afghan one was starting to look more than a little peaked as well. It was like saying: Forget that "mission accomplished" sprint to victory in 2003 and keep your eyes on the prize. We're in it for the long slog.

When Bush officials and Pentagon brass used "the long war" -- a phrase that never gained much traction outside administration circles and admiring think tanks -- they were (being Americans) predicting the future, not commenting on the past. In their view, the fight against the Islamist terrorists and assorted bad guys who wanted to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction and truly bloody the American nose would be decades long.

And of that past? In the American tradition, they were Fordian (as in Henry) in their contempt for most history. If it didn't involve Winston Churchill, or the U.S. occupying Germany or Japan successfully after World War II, or thrashing the Soviet Union in the Cold War, it was largely discardable bunk. And who cared, since we had arrived at a moment of destiny when the greatest country in the world had at its beck and call the greatest, most technologically advanced military of all time. That was what mattered, and the future -- momentary pratfalls aside -- would surely be ours, as long as we Americans were willing to buckle down and fund an eternal fight for it. Read more.

What Incentive Do Insurers Have to Cover Us When We Can't Sue Them If They Don't?

What Incentive Do Insurers Have to Cover Us When We Can't Sue Them If They Don't?
By Susie Madrak | Crooks & Liars

Remember Nataline Sarkisyan? She was the 17-year-old who died because CIGNA wouldn't pay for her liver transplant. Said it was "experimental." And by the time public outrage forced them to backtrack, she was dead.

Now her parents are trying to change the law that forbids them from suing CIGNA for damages - because until they do, it's cheaper for insurers to let people die:

"It was the worst thing in life," Hilda Sarkisyan said in a recent interview.

Mark Geragos, the high-profile trial lawyer who helped the family make its pleas to Cigna while Nataline was alive, filed the wrongful death suit on the family's behalf last year.

"If you don't sue, you can't make changes," Hilda Sarkisyan said. "It's not about the money. It's about the principle. They are just going to keep denying people care if we don't stop them."

Cigna said the dismissal of the wrongful-death case in April showed that the court "agreed with our position that the Sarkisyans' claims regarding Cigna's decision making were without merit."

In fact, the court did not consider the merits of the family's wrongful-death claims. Instead, it decided those claims could not be heard.

Judge Feess cited rulings by the Supreme Court and others interpreting 1974's Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, which governs employee retirement funds and benefit plans.

Under ERISA, the courts have said, the only monetary damages that beneficiaries of workplace health plans can sue for is the cost of the treatment of service in dispute. Read more.

Bybee Avoids Judicial Complaint

Bybee Avoids Judicial Complaint
By Scott Horton | Harper's

As head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Jay Bybee issued a series of memoranda—rescinded by the Justice Department before Bush left office—purporting to legalize the torture and mistreatment of prisoners held in the war on terror. His conduct is potentially chargeable under the War Crimes Act and the Anti-Torture Act. But the Ninth Circuit doesn’t consider it worth serious consideration in the context of a judicial misconduct complaint. The Ninth Circuit’s Judicial Council has turned back a complaint directed against Judge Bybee based on his key role in crafting torture policy. The decision, issued by Judge Alex Kozinski, did not deal with the merits of the accusations leveled against Bybee, or the claim that Bybee never would have been confirmed by the Senate had it been informed of his role in the torture scandal. The complaint was “dismissed for failure to allege judicial conduct prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts” because the misconduct that was its subject occurred before Bybee became a circuit judge.

Bybee currently remains on the bench, notwithstanding the fact that he is the subject of a criminal investigation overseas and cannot travel abroad without risking arrest and imprisonment.

Activists seeking Bybee’s removal have one more card to play: impeachment. The record is clear that judges may be impeached and removed for crimes committed before they came on the bench. The question now passes to John Conyers and the House Judiciary Committee.

Retired Colonel Argues for Afghanistan Withdrawal during Atlanta Visit

Retired Colonel Argues for Afghanistan Withdrawal during Atlanta Visit
By Matthew Cardinale, News Editor | The Atlanta Progressive News

Retired Colonel Ann Wright, who resigned from the US State Department over the US Invasion of Iraq, was in Atlanta last week to promote her new book and argue for a phased US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Wright's visit was sponsored by the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition, Atlanta, and included several events around Atlanta. Wright made a keynote address Tuesday evening, October 06, 2009, at the First Iconium Baptist Church.

"I helped open the US embassy in Afghanistan in 2001...We thought there was a small window of opportunity for the international community to get together," to try to improve the country, Wright said during her speech.

Wright noted that first the former USSR had invaded Afghanistan, in an occupation which lasted ten years. During this crisis, the US "was giving weapons to the Mujahideen to force the Soviets out of the country," Wright said.

"Now the weapons are owned by warlords. The Mujahideen triggered the formation of the Taliban... students who came together who are now known as the Taliban," Wright said.

"Then the US came in after 9/11, going after Al-Qaeda, forcing out the Taliban," Wright said. Read more.

Obama Threatens Insurers’ Anti-Trust Exemption

Obama Threatens Insurers’ Anti-Trust Exemption
By Peter Baker | NY Times

President Obama mounted a frontal assault on the insurance industry on Saturday, accusing it of using “deceptive and dishonest ads” to derail his health care legislation and threatening to strip the industry of its longstanding exemption from federal antitrust laws.

In unusually harsh terms, Mr. Obama cast insurance companies as obstacles to change interested only in preserving their own “profits and bonuses” and willing to “bend the truth or break it” to stop his drive to remake the nation’s health care system. The president used his weekly radio and Internet address to challenge industry assertions that legislation will drive up premiums.

“It’s smoke and mirrors,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s bogus. And it’s all too familiar. Every time we get close to passing reform, the insurance companies produce these phony studies as a prescription and say, ‘Take one of these, and call us in a decade.’ Well, not this time.”

Rather than trying to curb costs and help patients, he said, the industry is busy “figuring out how to avoid covering people.”

“And they’re earning these profits and bonuses while enjoying a privileged exemption from our antitrust laws,” he said, “a matter that Congress is rightfully reviewing.” Read more.

Funding Sweatshops Globally

Funding Sweatshops Globally
By Stephen Lendman

In July 2008, SweatFree Communities (SFC) released a report titled, "Subsidizing Sweatshops: How Our Tax Dollars Fund the Race to the Bottom, and What Cities and States Can Do" in which it studied 12 factories in nine countries that produce employee uniforms for nine major companies.

Widespread human and labor rights violations were revealed, including child labor; illegal below-poverty wages; few or no benefits; forced or unpaid overtime; hazardous working conditions; verbal, physical, and sexual abuses; forced pregnancy testing to be hired and while employed; excessive long working hours causing physical ailments, stress, and harm; denial of free expression, association, and collective bargaining rights; and elaborate schemes to commit fraud and deceive corporate auditors.

In April 2009, Subsidizing Sweatshops II followed to provide more evidence of a global problem. It tracked developments in four factories from the first report and four new ones in five countries on three continents producing uniforms for nine major firms in China, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and America.

Two cases relied on investigations by independent factory monitors. Three others used personal worker interviews conducted by "credible local unions and non-governmental organizations with expertise in labor rights." Three more are based on SFC-conducted interviews.

In all cases, the global economic crisis materially increased worker hardships leaving them more vulnerable, in jeopardy, and unable to secure their rights. Most often, the following violations were found:

  • children as young as 14 forced to work the same long hours as adults and under the same onerous conditions;
  • wages so low, they only cover one-fourth to one-half of essential needs;
  • workers in at least two factories not paid overtime;
  • because of excessive production quotas, workers forced to skip breaks, not go to the bathroom, and work sick through grueling 12-hour or longer days;
  • unhealthy work environments in stifling heat and thick fabric dust detrimental to health;
  • numerous sewing machine accidents causing wounds and loss of fingers; and
  • instances of severe repression against union supporters and organizers, including harassment, intimidation, firing, and blacklisting from further employment elsewhere.

John Bolton Suggests Nuclear Attack on Iran

John Bolton Suggests Nuclear Attack on Iran
By Daniel Luban | Faster Times

This Friday, the American Enterprise Institute will hosted an event addressing the question “Should Israel attack Iran?” The event includes, among others, Iran uberhawk Michael Rubin and infamous “torture lawyer” John Yoo, but the real star is likely to be John Bolton, the former U.N. ambassador whose right-of-Attila views left him an outcast even within the second Bush administration. (Bolton was eventually forced out when it became clear that he would be unable to win Senate confirmation for the U.N. post.)

If Bolton’s recent rhetoric is any indication, his AEI appearance may accomplish the formidable feat of making Michael Rubin sound like a dove. Discussing Iran during a Tuesday speech at the University of Chicago, Bolton appeared to call for nothing less than an Israeli nuclear first strike against the Islamic Republic. (The speech, sponsored by the University Young Republicans and Chicago Friends of Israel, was titled, apparently without a trace of irony, “Ensuring Peace.”) Read more.

The War on Language

The War on Language
By Chris Hedges | Truthdig

There is a scene in “Othello” when the Moor is so consumed by jealousy and rage that he loses the eloquence and poetry that make him the most articulate man in Venice. He turns to the audience, shortly before he murders Desdemona, and sputters, “Goats and monkeys!” Othello fell prey to wild self-delusion and unchecked rage, and his words became captive to hollow clichés. The debasement of language, which Shakespeare understood was a prelude to violence, is the curse of modernity. We have stopped communicating, even with ourselves. And the consequences will be as extreme as in the Shakespearean tragedy.

Those who seek to dominate our behavior first seek to dominate our speech. They seek to obscure meaning. They make war on language. And the English- and Arabic-speaking worlds are each beset with a similar assault on language. The graffiti on the mud walls of Gaza that calls for holy war or the crude rants of Islamic militants are expressed in a simplified, impoverished form of Arabic. This is not the classical language of 1,500 years of science, poetry and philosophy. It is an argot of clichés, distorted Quranic verses and slogans. This Arabic is no more comprehensible to the literate in the Arab world than the carnival barking that pollutes our airwaves is comprehensible to our literate classes. The reduction of popular discourse to banalities, exacerbated by the elite’s retreat into obscure, specialized jargon, creates internal walls that thwart real communication. This breakdown in language makes reflection and debate impossible. It transforms foreign cultures, which we lack the capacity to investigate, into reversed images of ourselves. If we represent virtue, progress and justice, as our clichés constantly assure us, then the Arabs, or the Iranians, or anyone else we deem hostile, represent evil, backwardness and injustice. An impoverished language solidifies a binary world and renders us children with weapons. Read more.

Honduran Human Rights Defender Bertha Oliva to Come to the November Vigil to Close the SOA in Georgia

SOA's Hendrik Voss wrote:

Honduran Human Rights Defender Bertha Oliva to Come to the November Vigil to Close the SOA in Georgia

We just talked with Human Rights Defender Bertha Oliva from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. She is planning to come to the United States to stand with thousands and to speak out at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia during the November Vigil to close the SOA (November 10-22, 2009). She will bring the call for accountability and the anti-coup resistance to the place where the coup plotters received their training: the School of the Americas (SOA/ WHINSEC)!

Bertha wanted to relay her gratitude for all that people here are doing in solidarity with Honduras. We have kept her abreast of our efforts, and she senses the outpouring of solidarity, along with concrete actions.

She told us that, although she and everyone else are exhausted, and a few pounds lighter, that they are exhilarated at the energy and hope and spirit of the resistance movement. She feels so proud of her people at this moment.

I asked Bertha how we could be of help in addition to what we are doing. Her response was: Send concrete reports (photos, places, statements) about Honduran solidarity events that have taken place in the U.S. International solidarity is having a huge impact on Honduran society, and is putting pressure on the coup govt. By sending info about these expressions of solidarity throughout the U.S., you would make a huge contribution, according to Bertha. COFADEH's press team is very effective in getting things out widely there, as Father Roy and Lisa Sullivan have experienced in several visits, and they would get this info out. She mentioned several times that this would be very helpful.

Capitalism: An Apathy Story

Capitalism: An Apathy Story
By Cindy Sheehan

This Thursday, in a move that would make Baron von Louis Rothschild blush with shame (or burst with pride), Goldman Sachs will announce that it is more than doubling its bonus pool: from 11 billion in 2007 to 23 billion in 2008.

I always thought the concept of the “Welfare Queen” was eliminated during the Clinton Regime (where his SecTreas was a former chair of G S) however, Goldman Sachs has received billions of dollars in taxpayer welfare and supposedly paid that back, except for the 13 billion that was funneled through AIG to Goldman through loan guarantees.

Well, wouldn’t it be hunky dory if every loan we consumers took out from these banksters came with a guarantee that if we failed, our government would pay our loans off?

Kucinich: Military Presence in Afghanistan is Counterproductive

Kucinich: Military Presence in Afghanistan is Counterproductive | Press Release

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), who has been a leading advocate against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, today made the following statement after the Washington Post and other media outlets reported that the Pentagon has authorized the deployment of an additional 13,000 troops to Afghanistan to primarily serve in a support capacity:

“It is not simply combat troops that present a problem, but our entire military presence is counterproductive to our security. Sending additional military personnel indicates that we are deepening our military involvement in Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan is a nation of independent tribes that is rife with corruption. Nation building cannot come from the barrel of a gun. Instead the United States should work with Afghanistan’s neighbors to help provide regional security to allow the Afghan people to rebuild their nation. It is time that Congress takes control of this war by eliminating its funding and bringing our troops home.

Pro-War Officials Play Up Taliban-al Qaeda Ties

Pro-War Officials Play Up Taliban-al Qaeda Ties
Analysis by Gareth Porter | IPS News

U.S. national security officials, concerned that President Barack Obama might be abandoning the strategy of full-fledged counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan, are claiming new intelligence assessments suggesting that al Qaeda would be allowed to return to Afghanistan in the event of a Taliban victory.

But two former senior intelligence analysts who have long followed the issue of al Qaeda's involvement in Afghanistan question the alleged new intelligence assessments. They say that the Taliban leadership still blames Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda for their loss of power after 9/11 and that the Taliban-al Qaeda cooperation is much narrower today than it was during the period of Taliban rule.

The nature of the relationship between al Qaeda and the Taliban has been a central issue in the White House discussions on Afghanistan strategy that began last month, according to both White House spokesman Robert Gibbs and National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones.

One of the arguments for an alternative to the present counterinsurgency strategy by officials, including aides to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, is that the Taliban wouldn't allow al Qaeda to reestablish bases inside Afghanistan, The Wall Street Journal reported Oct. 5. The reasoning behind the argument, according to the report, is that the Taliban realises that its previous alliance with al Qaeda had caused it to lose power after the Sep. 11 attacks.

Officials in national security organs that are committed to the counterinsurgency strategy have now pushed back against the officials who they see as undermining the war policy.

McClatchy newspapers reported Sunday that officials have cited what they call "recent U.S. intelligence assessments" that the Taliban and other Afghan insurgent groups have "much closer ties to al Qaida now than they did before 9/11" and would allow al Qaeda to re-establish bases in Afghanistan if they were to prevail. Read more.

Bleak U.S. Job Market Boosts Military Recruitment

Bleak U.S. job market boosts military recruitment | Reuters

Aided by a bleak job market, the U.S. military met all of its recruitment goals in the past year for the first time since it became an all-volunteer force in 1973, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

Military services have been stretched thin by conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, giving added weight to recruitment efforts as President Barack Obama considers sending another 40,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan next year.

The United States already has 67,000 troops in Afghanistan and about 119,000 in Iraq.

Pentagon officials said recruitment gains were fueled by the deepest U.S. recession since the Great Depression and an unemployment rate nearing 10 percent.

"For the first time since the advent of the all-volunteer force, all of the military components, active and reserve, met their number as well as their quality goals," said Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy.

The U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force sent a total of about 169,000 active duty recruits to training in the 2009 fiscal year that ended on September 30, beating their 164,000-member goal, the Pentagon said.

National guard and reserve forces sent about 128,000 recruits to training, beating their goal. Read more.

Don’t Fail, or Reward Success

Don’t Fail, or Reward Success
By Andrew Ross Sorkin | NY Times

“Compensation continues to generate controversy and anger,” Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, said last month. “And, in many respects, much of it is understandable and appropriate.”

On Thursday, Mr. Blankfein and his colleagues will likely be subject to some of that anger when Goldman reports its third-quarter results — and discloses the latest tally of just how much its employees will probably take home for their work this year. By most analyst estimates, the annual bonus pool will swell to more than $23 billion. In its second quarter, Goldman disclosed it had put aside $11.4 billion for the first half of the year.

“The absolute size of compensation payouts will rise significantly,” Keith Horowitz, an analyst at Citigroup, wrote in a note to clients two weeks ago.

To put that $23 billion bonus pool number in perspective, it is the most Goldman Sachs has accumulated for bonuses in its history — twice as much as in 2008. And it is doing so while memories are still fresh that just a year ago taxpayers had to step in when Wall Street, and even Goldman, were facing a run on the bank.

So should we be upset about the bonuses? Is this a problem? Viscerally, it can be infuriating to watch Goldman executives gobble up piles of money, especially when the government — an overused euphemism for taxpayers — had helped support the firm. It hasn’t been forgotten that the government gave Goldman $10 billion in bailout cash — which it has since returned and said it never needed. And don’t forget the cheap financing it now gets as a bank holding company. Read more.

Regarding The Sit-Ins At CIGNA, Aetna, et al...

Regarding the sit-ins at CIGNA, Aetna, et al...
By John Jonik

This is in hope that the topic of for-profit insurers' huge investments in health-damaging industries is raised prominently, especially during any actions at For-Profit Headquarters.

Those investments create utterly unacceptable conflicts of interest that prompt or virtually require those insurers to do As Little As Possible to expose or warn about health harms caused by their investment properties.

An incentive is also created to ignore or mis-diagnose industrial causes of illnesses. This system virtually institutionalizes malpractice.

This system perpetuates what we have now---a preponderance of "health concerns" about anything BUT industrial-caused health harms. We hear little else except highly arbitrary "concerns" ("truthy" though they may be) for peoples' behavior (smoking, drinking, over-eating, sexual activity, etc.), or about natural causes...tobacco plants, viruses, germs, insects, bacteria, pollen, the sun, "faulty genes", etc., and that old standby, "unknown factors".

Often they say "environmental factors" are or may be to blame...but without mentioning that that means industrial pollutants of our vital natural environment. To just say the causes are or may be "environmental factors" would have some think that it's nature on the attack. Use of that term also hints that environmentalists are somehow associated with the Bad Side. Who's going to join with the environmentalists if they are associated with cancer etc? Generally speaking, no word or phrase is used by the commercial media accidentally.

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