Thursday, December 31, 2009



Video: Gaza Lives On



George Ciccariello-Maher invited you to "Justice for Oscar Grant! Gone But Not Forgotten!" on Friday, January 1 at 2:00pm-4:00pm Vigil at Fruitvale BART.
Gathering at Humanist Hall 6:00-11:00pm
(390-27th St. near Broadway, Oakland)

Continued reflection through music, spoken word, video and other arts, including activists who've worked long and hard in the struggle.

Performers include Ise Lyfe, Boots, Cat and many others. Check back for updates!

Bring pictures, candles, flowers and mementos for Community Altar

Everyone Welcome / All Ages / NO ALCOHOL / Wheelchair Accessible / FREE EVENT (Donations Encouraged)

For more information, contact the General Assembly for Justice for Oscar Grant at and/or the New Years Movement for Justice at . For ongoing coverage and critical background
information, see: .

To see more details and RSVP, follow the link below:




Bay Area United Against War Newsletter
Table of Contents:




Fw: Gaza Freedom March - San Francisco...join in!
----- Forwarded Message ----
From: Nancy Mancias
To: Nancy Mancias

Please circulate!

Hey everyone,

Please come out on December 31st to the Golden Gate Bridge at 12noon to stand in solidarity with the people of Gaza and the thousands of compassionate international activists who will travel to Cairo to march against siege in Gaza.

Organizers with the Bay Area Network for a Free Palestine, CODEPINK and others have been organizing a solidarity march across the Golden Gate Bridge. We hope you can join us!

You know the drill if you've participated in any of CODEPINK's Sunday bridge peace walks.

We are expecting company!

Israel backers set S.F. counterprotests

StandWithUs/S.F. Voice for Israel has planned three counterprotests in support of Israel in December. All three events are in San Francisco.

The first will take place Tuesday, Dec. 15, when the Israel supporters will stand in front of the San Francisco Hilton Hotel, site of an AIPAC membership dinner. Pro-Palestinian protesters often stand outside the annual dinner and in the past have harassed attendees entering the hotel, according to S.F. Voice for Israel.

Voice for Israel will demonstrate its support in front of the Union Square hotel from 4 to 6 p.m. The AIPAC event begins at 5 p.m.

The second counter demonstration is scheduled for 5 p.m. Dec. 27 at Union Square to show support for Israel during a candlelight memorial service for the men, women and children killed in Gaza.

The third counter protest will take place during a Dec. 31 "Walk for Gaza" across the Golden Gate Bridge. The walk, from 12 to 2 p.m., is connected to the Gaza Freedom March taking place the same day in Egypt, calling for Gaza residents' right to access food, medicine, rebuilding materials and clean water.

For more information, check or e-mail

Support the Gaza Freedom March

December 31st: March across the Golden Gate Bridge to support the Gaza Freedom March from Egypt into Gaza, scheduled for the same day. The Gaza Freedom March will have over 1000 people from 40+ countries hopefully) crossing into Gaza to lift the brutal siege, and to bring preasure on the US and other governments who continue to support Israel in depriving the citizens of Gaza adequate food, medicine, rebuilding materials, and clean water. Meet at 12pm, on the south end parking lot of the Golden Gate Bridge. No large signs, no flags = bridge rules.)

Nancy L. Mancias
CODEPINK Women for Peace
PINKTank ::
Facebook ::
Twitter :: nancymancias


"Homes Not Streets"
December 31st, 2009, New Year's Eve
7:00 PM Alameda County Board of Supervisors
1221 Oak Street, Oakland, in the Plaza

The General Assistance (GA) population includes the disabled,
veterans, seniors, victims of domestic violence, transition age youth and

Before November, 2009 the GA loan was at most $336.

The county has slashed the GA grant:
--up to $84 if a recipient lives with a roommate and
--$40 unless the person receives Medi-Cal.
--Up to $231 unless the landlord signs the W9 or
--Up to $231 if the recipient's rent is over the GA grant.

After January 2010, GA recipients can only get aide 3 months out of 12
months if Social Service deems the recipient employable.

There are no plans in place to how "employability" will be determined.
It is critical that the Board of Supervisors hear from YOU.

The cuts will increase hunger, increase violence due to desperation and
hopelessness, and decrease people's ability to find jobs and stay housed due
to lack of money.

With grants as low as $105 a month for only 3 months out of the year
($315 a year)...many will drift back to the streets adding to the mass
homelessness crisis impacting Alameda County during this economic recession.
For more information contact Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency - boona cheema 510 649-1930 x 225

East Bay Community Law Center - Luan Huynh (510) 548-4040 ext. 371
Homeless Action Center - Patricia Wall (510) 540-0878 x 301
Coalition to Stop The GA Cuts

Bay Area Legal Aide, Berkeley Food and Housing Project, Berkeley Community
Coalition, Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, East Bay Community
Law Center, Homeless Action Center, Public Interest Law Project, St. Mary's


SATURDAY, JANUARY 9, 2010, 2:00 P.M.
Between 16th and 15th Streets, SF)

The first meeting was held Wednesday, December 9 at 7:00 P.M. It was a broad, democratically run meeting with over 40 people in attendance from many different groups and organizations as well as individuals.

There was an atmosphere of renewed energy and resolve to build as large a demonstration as possible to mark the seventh year of "Shock and Awe" against the people of Iraq. It was especially poignant on the eve of Obama's Orwellian "war is for peace" Nobel speech.

We are encouraging all groups, organizations and individuals to join with us to demand an immediate end of these wars and to demand that the trillions spent on war be used for jobs, housing, healthcare, education for all!

Obama, in his Nobel remarks, points out his intentions to escalate his "wars for peace" wherever the U.S. empire desires to go.

As many pointed out at the first coalition meeting on Wednesday night, the financial, physical and emotional burden for these wars falls on working people across the globe in the broadest war plan ever devised by any empire!

The honeymoon is over! These are Obama's wars and we must organize massively against them.

Please plan on attending the next March 20, 2010 coalition meeting so we can organize broad outreach in our communities and make March 20, 2010 a powerful statement of opposition to the wars and for a world of equality, peace and justice for all.

For more information call: 415-821-6545

In solidarity,

Bonnie Weinstein,


National Call for March 4 Strike and Day of Action To Defend Public Education
By Elly

California has recently seen a massive movement erupt in defense of public education -- but layoffs, fee hikes, cuts, and the re-segregation of public education are attacks taking place throughout the country. A nationwide resistance movement is needed.

We call on all students, workers, teachers, parents, and their organizations and communities across the country to massively mobilize for a Strike and Day of Action in Defense of Public Education on March 4, 2010. Education cuts are attacks against all of us, particularly in working-class communities and communities of color.

The politicians and administrators say there is no money for education and social services. They say that "there is no alternative" to the cuts. But if there's money for wars, bank bailouts, and prisons, why is there no money for public education?

We can beat back the cuts if we unite students, workers, and teachers across all sectors of public education - Pre K-12, adult education, community colleges, and state-funded universities. We appeal to the leaders of the trade union movement to support and organize strikes and/or mass actions on March 4. The weight of workers and students united in strikes and mobilizations would shift the balance of forces entirely against the current agenda of cuts and make victory possible.

Building a powerful movement to defend public education will, in turn, advance the struggle in defense of all public-sector workers and services and will be an inspiration to all those fighting against the wars, for immigrants rights, in defense of jobs, for single-payer health care, and other progressive causes.

Why March 4? On October 24, 2009 more than 800 students, workers, and teachers converged at UC Berkeley at the Mobilizing Conference to Save Public Education. This massive meeting brought together representatives from over 100 different schools, unions, and organizations from all across California and from all sectors of public education. After hours of open collective discussion, the participants voted democratically, as their main decision, to call for a Strike and Day of Action on March 4, 2010. All schools, unions and organizations are free to choose their specific demands and tactics -- such as strikes, rallies, walkouts, occupations, sit-ins, teach-ins, etc. -- as well as the duration of such actions.

Let's make March 4 an historic turning point in the struggle against the cuts, layoffs, fee hikes, and the re-segregation of public education.

- The California Coordinating Committee

To endorse this call and to receive more information contact:

and check out:

Andy Griggs



San Francisco March and Rally
on Saturday, March 20, 2010
11am, Civic Center Plaza

National March on Washington
on Saturday, March 20, 2010
Fri., March 19 Day of Action & Outreach in D.C.

People from all over the country are organizing to converge on Washington, D.C., to demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan and Iraq.

On Saturday, March 20, 2010, there will be a massive National March & Rally in D.C. A day of action and outreach in Washington, D.C., will take place on Friday, March 19, preceding the Saturday march.

There will be coinciding mass marches on March 20 in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The national actions are initiated by a large number of organizations and prominent individuals. see below)

Click here to become an endorser:

Click here to make a donation:

We will march together to say "No Colonial-type Wars and Occupations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine!" We will march together to say "No War Against Iran!" We will march together to say "No War for Empire Anywhere!"

Instead of war, we will demand funds so that every person can have a job, free and universal health care, decent schools, and affordable housing.

March 20 is the seventh anniversary of the criminal war of aggression launched by Bush and Cheney against Iraq. One million or more Iraqis have died. Tens of thousands of U.S. troops have lost their lives or been maimed, and continue to suffer a whole host of enduring problems from this terrible war.

This is the time for united action. The slogans on banners may differ, but all those who carry them should be marching shoulder to shoulder.

Killing and dying to avoid the perception of defeat

Bush is gone, but the war and occupation in Iraq still go on. The Pentagon is demanding a widening of the war in Afghanistan. They project an endless war with shifting battlefields. And a "single-payer" war budget that only grows larger and larger each year. We must act.

Both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were predicated on the imperial fantasy that the U.S. could create stable, proxy colonial-type governments in both countries. They were to serve as an extension of "American" power in these strategic and resource-rich regions.

That fantasy has been destroyed. Now U.S. troops are being sent to kill or be killed so that the politicians in uniform "the generals and admirals") and those in three-piece suits "our elected officials") can avoid taking responsibility for a military setback in wars that should have never been started. Their military ambitions are now reduced to avoiding the appearance of defeat.

That is exactly what happened in Vietnam! Avoiding defeat, or the perception of defeat, was the goal Nixon and Kissinger set for themselves when they took office in 1969. For this noble cause, another 30,000 young GIs perished before the inevitable troop pullout from Vietnam in 1973. The number of Vietnamese killed between 1969 and 1973 was greater by many hundreds of thousands.

All of us can make the difference - progress and change comes from the streets and from the grassroots.

The people went to the polls in 2008, and the enthusiasm and desire for change after eight years of the Bush regime was the dominant cause that led to election of a big Democratic Party majority in both Houses of Congress and the election of Barack Obama to the White House.

But it should now be obvious to all that waiting for politicians to bring real change - on any front - is simply a prescription for passivity by progressives and an invitation to the array of corporate interests from military contractors to the banks, to big oil, to the health insurance giants that dominate the political life of the country. These corporate interests work around the clock to frustrate efforts for real change, and they are the guiding hand behind the recent street mobilizations of the ultra-right.

It is up to us to act. If people had waited for politicians to do the right thing, there would have never been a Civil Rights Act, or unions, women's rights, an end to the Vietnam war or any of the profound social achievements and basic rights that people cherish.

It is time to be back in the streets. Organizing centers are being set up in cities and towns throughout the country.

We must raise $50,000 immediately just to get started. Please make your contribution today. We need to reserve buses, which are expensive $1,800 from NYC, $5,000 from Chicago, etc.). We have to print 100,000 leaflets, posters and stickers. There will be other substantial expenses as March 20 draws closer.

Please become an endorser and active supporter of the March 20 National March on Washington.

Please make an urgently needed tax-deductible donation today. We can't do this without your active support.

The initiators of the March 20 National March on Washington preceded by the March 19 Day of Action and Outreach in D.C.) include: the ANSWER Coalition; Muslim American Society Freedom; National Council of Arab Americans; Cynthia McKinney; Malik Rahim, co-founder of Common Ground Collective; Ramsey Clark; Cindy Sheehan; Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK; Deborah Sweet, Director, World Can't Wait; Mike Ferner, President, Veterans for Peace; Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition; Heidi Boghosian, Executive Director, National Lawyers Guild; Ron Kovic, author of "Born on the 4th of July"; Juan Jose Gutierrez, Director, Latino Movement USA; Col. Ann Wright ret.); March Forward!; Partnership for Civil Justice; Palestinian American Women Association; Alliance for a Just and Lasting Peace in the Philippines; Alliance for Global Justice; Claudia de la Cruz, Pastor, Iglesia San Romero de Las Americas-UCC; Phil Portluck, Social Justice Ministry, Covenant Baptist Church, D.C.; Blase & Theresa Bonpane, Office of the Americas; Coalition for Peace and Democracy in Honduras; Comite Pro-Democracia en Mexico; Frente Unido de los Pueblos Americanos; Comites de Base FMLN, Los Angeles; Free Palestine Alliance; GABRIELA Network; Justice for Filipino American Veterans; KmB Pro-People Youth; Students Fight Back; Jim Lafferty, Executive Director, National Lawyers Guild - LA Chapter; LEF Foundation; National Coalition to Free the Angola 3; Community Futures Collective; Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival; Companeros del Barrio; Barrio Unido for Full and Unconditional Amnesty, Bay Area United Against War.

A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition
National Office in Washington DC: 202-265-1948
New York City: 212-694-8720
Los Angeles: 213-251-1025
San Francisco: 415-821-6545
Chicago: 773-463-0311


The US Social Forum II
" June 22-26, 2010 "
Detroit, Michigan, USA
Another World Is Possible! Another US is Necessary!




Christmas in the Holy Land - 2009

The Unemployment Game Show: Are You *Really* Unemployed? - From


Marc Hall jailed for angry 'Stop-Loss' Hip Hop song
By Courage to Resist. Updated December 16, 2009

Stop-lossed Army Specialist Marc Hall aka Hip Hop artist Marc Watercus) was placed in the Liberty County Jail Friday, December 11 for speaking out against the continuing policy that has barred him from exiting the military, including recording an angry and explicit song. He was shipped off to jail after talking to to his Ft Stewart, Georgia commander Captain Cross about not wanting to redeploy. Call the jail at 912-876-6411 to demand an end to this illegal confinement. Also send letters of protest to: CPT Cross, Commander, B 2-7 INF BN, Fort Stewart GA 31314. Marc is being represented by civilian Washington DC lawyer Jim Klimaski. As of 5:00 pm EST) Monday, December 14, Marc was still in the county jail.

Marc Hall is the self-professed "first Hip Hop President of the World", with the issue of ending the Army's "Stop Loss" program being at the top of his agenda. On a music website, he explains, "I am a political artist. I rap about real issues in life in hopes to recover a solution. Life is based on decisions we make. So we should make decisions that will make us better in the future and fully aware in the present."

Recently Marc recorded an angry song entitled "Stop Loss" in order to artistically express some of his frustrations about his situation.

"Stop Loss" by Marc Hall aka Marc Watercus)


Dear all,

Dear all,
go the link below to endorse the BT petition against the death penalty in Iraq.


Maliki's election platform: 900 Iraqi prisoners face summary execution

In the run-up to elections, Maliki proposes executions to bolster his chances

Democracy in the new Iraq equals death and repression

Maliki serves the US occupation: it is the occupation that kills Iraqis

The machine of repression and death in Iraq continues unabated. The Presidential Council of Iraq has reportedly ratified the death sentences of some 900 detainees who languish on death row. Some 17 of them are confirmed to be women.

None of the condemned had a fair trial. The Iraqi judicial system has been deemed corrupt, fundamentally dysfunctional and plagued with sectarianism by responsible international agencies and all major human rights organisations. Hundreds of lawyers have been assassinated since 2003. The Association of Iraqi Lawyers has publicly declared that it cannot reach the detainees.

In a bid to eliminate its political opponents, further terrorise the Iraqi people, ostensibly into submission, and to be casted the "tough leader" the US pretends it is currently seeking for Iraq, Nouri Al-Maliki has pledged to carry out these executions ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled in March of 2010.

Iraq already has one of the highest rates of executions in the world. On a single day in June, 19 people were hanged in Baghdad. Without global action, 900 people will be hanged imminently.

A culture of terror and detention
Terror through mass detention, torture and abuse is one of the trademarks of the US occupation and Maliki. In addition to mass killing, mass forced displacement, the contamination of Iraqi soil, the destruction of all public infrastructure and means of survival, tens of thousands of Iraqis are arbitrarily detained in both official and ghost facilities all over Iraq.

Exact figures of the number, age and gender of detainees are withheld by authorities. Those who want investigations on abuse are either threatened or killed. In June 2009, Harith Al-Obaidi, an MP and critic of human rights abuses, announced in parliament his plan to investigate allegations of corruption, torture and abuse in Iraqi prisons. He was assassinated the following day.

Depending on the source, the number of detainees varies from 44,014 to some 400,000. Tens of thousands of families don't know the fate of a loved one arbitrarily arrested. Even the number of detention facilities is unknown. The ICRC, responsible for monitoring prisoners in time of conflict, has repeatedly complained of being denied access to all "field operation detention facilities" and secret prisons. Amnesty International, the International Federation of Human Rights and even the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq, mandated by the Security Council to provide human rights reporting, are denied access to official detention centres by US Command.

The Red Cross has reported that intelligence officers of the US occupation themselves estimate that 70-90 per cent of Iraqi detainees are arrested "by mistake". The majority is taken in sweeping and arbitrary mass arrest campaigns. They are held incommunicado, without charges, without visits from families or access to lawyers, for indefinite periods. The few who are formally accused are charged on the basis of confessions made under torture or the testimonies of dubious informants of the occupation. No tangible evidence is ever provided.

Since 2003, an estimated 2,400 children have been detained by the US, some as young as 10 years old. After denying it for years, the occupation has now acknowledged that a large but unspecified number of women are being held. Many were kidnapped to blackmail their husbands, accused of "terrorism," into surrendering. They often have their infants and children in prison with them. Several women inmates interviewed by UN researchers reported being raped and sexually abused while held in custody. The US bears primary and final responsibility for these conditions.

Maliki's new Iraq: repression
Everyday news outlets report more arrests and new killings by persons wearing official uniforms. The Maliki government praises itself for the recent waves of detention. Since its appointment, all it has succeeded in achieving is more repression of his opponents while the crimes against innocent people had never been investigated and punished.

Under occupation, Iraq has become the second most corrupted country in the world, the trade of prisoners one of the government militias' most lucrative businesses. The police kidnap, hold prisoners in ghost prisons, sell them and blackmail their families for ransom with impunity.

Year after year, alarming reports have been published by leading human rights organisations, inside and outside Iraq, pointing to random arrests, unlawful detentions, summary executions, abuses, rape and torture of prisoners in Iraq, both at the hands of occupation forces and their local armed gangs.

Under false accusations and deceitful propaganda, the absence of law or a functioning judicial system, and with the support of the US for its puppet government, humanity and the rights of the human being are insulted every day in Iraq. Millions of Iraqis are suffering.

An occupation that tries to impose its plans and interests by force and destruction on a people whose rights, interests and identity is to resist it can only result in the perpetuation of genocide - the intended destruction of Iraq and the Iraqi people as a state and nation.

Call for global action
We call on all to work to stop these executions, demand the release of all political prisoners, and impose a moratorium on the death penalty in Iraq.

Every Iraqi deserves protection and justice.

We call on the UN Human Rights Council to appoint a Special Rapporteur for the human rights situation in Iraq.

We call on all organisations that defend the first human right - the right to life - to take up with urgency the cause of the 900 prisoners on death row in Iraq.

We call on all lawyers associations to protest the absence of law and due process in Iraq, and to declare the imminent execution of these 900 prisoners unlawful.

900 prisoners killed in Iraq would be 900 insults to the common conscience of humanity.

We call on all to do everything within their means to bring the cases of these 900 prisoners facing death to the public eye, and to demand action by relevant authorities.

The US occupation of Iraq must end. It is that occupation that is the ultimate rope around the neck of Iraq, and the ultimate prison for the Iraqi people.

Hana Al Bayaty, Executive Committee of the BRussells Tribunal
Abdul Ilah Albayaty, Executive Committee of the BRussells Tribunal
Ian Douglas, Executive Committee of the BRussells Tribunal
Dirk Adriaensens, Executive Committee of the BRussells Tribunal

Please endorse, distribute and take action

For more information contact:


Zaineb Alani
"Yesterday I lost a country. / I was in a hurry, / and didn't notice when it fell from me / like a broken branch from a forgetful tree. / Please, if anyone passes by / and stumbles across it, / perhaps in a suitcase / open to the sky, / or engraved on a rock / like a gaping wound, / ... / If anyone stumbles across it, / return it to me please. / Please return it, sir. / Please return it, madam. / It is my country . . . / I was in a hurry / when I lost it yesterday." -Dunya Mikhail, Iraqi poet


----- Forwarded Message ----
From: MOOS-Bay
To: Counter Recruitment Events
Subject: [events] Youth Mini Grants, Online Petition, Discount CR Brochures

CR Brochures Available for Cut Rates!
Full Picture recently purchased a large quantity of the brochure, "What Every Girl Should Know About the U.S. Military," which was produced jointly by the War Resisters League and the Women of Color Resource Center. A copy of the brochure can be seen online at

Our network of counter-recruiting organizations and activists will probably not be able to distribute all of them in the near future. We'd like to see them get out to the youth who need them, and -- if necessary -- are willing to sell them at "a loss" to other counter-recruiters who'll be able to reach youth that we cannot. We paid 11.6 cents each, including shipping, which is significantly less than what you'd pay when buying small quantities. If you can make use of some, let us know how many and how much, if anything, you're able to pay. Please remember that we'll have to incur additional costs to ship them to you unless you're able to pick them up at the AFSC office in San Francisco, where we have them stored.
Kevin Casey, Full Picture Core Group, 510) 289-2621

Support Oakland Youth: Online Petition--Pass the Word!
The BAY-Peace Youth Manifesto is on it's home stretch to win stronger policies to protect Oakland high school students against aggressive military recruiting. Please help us reach our goal of 2000 signatures to deliver to the Oakland School Board. Sign the Youth Manifesto today and forward this link to your contacts to sign our online petition:

Mini-Grants for High School Counter Recruitment Projects
If you are part of a high school student group that would like to do a counter recruitment project, you can apply for a grant of up to $500 to help you get your message out about non-military alternatives for youth, aggressive military recruiting in our schools and resisting war.

Bay Area high school students are encouraged to apply. The deadline is the last day of each month, and the funds will be distributed quickly to qualified applicants, so don't wait to apply! For info contact:


Letter from Lynne from behind bars:

Dear Sisters and Brothers, Friends and Supporters:

Well the moment we all hoped would never come is upon us. Good bye to a good cup of coffee in the morning, a soft chair, the hugs of grandchildren and the smaller pleasures in life. I must say I am being treated well and that is due to my lawyer team and your overwhelming support.

While I have received "celebrity" treatment here in MCC - high visibility - conditions for the other women are deplorable. Medical care, food, education, recreation are all at minimal levels. If it weren't for the unqualified bonds of sisterhood and the commissary it would be even more dismal.

My fellow prisoners have supplied me with books and crosswords, a warm it is cold in here most of the time) sweat shirt and pants, treats from the commissary, and of course, jailhouse humor. Most important many of them know of my work and have a deep reservoir of can I say it? Respect.

I continue to both answer the questions put to me by them, I also can't resist commenting on the T.V. news or what is happening on the floor - a little LS politics always! Smile) to open hearts and minds!

Liz Fink, my lawyer leader, believes I will be here at MCC-NY for a while - perhaps a year before being moved to prison. Being is jail is like suddenly inhabiting a parallel universe but at least I have the luxury of time to read! Tomorrow I will get my commissary order which may include an AM/FM Radio and be restored to WBAI and music classical and jazz).

We are campaigning to get the bladder operation scheduled before I came in to MCC) to happen here in New York City. Please be alert to the website I case I need some outside support.

I want to say that the show of support outside the Courthouse on Thursday as I was "transported" is so cherished by me. The broad organizational representation was breathtaking and the love and politics expressed the anger too) will keep me nourished through this.

Organize - Agitate, Agitate, Agitate! And write to me and others locked down by the Evil Empire.

Love Struggle, Lynne Stewart


Lynne Stewart in Jail!

For further information contact: Jeff Mackler, Coordinator, West Coast Lynne Stewart Defense Committee 510-268-9429
Mail tax free contributions payable to National Lawyers Guild Foundation. Write in memo box: "Lynne Stewart Defense." Mail to: Lynne Stewart Defense, P.O. Box 10328, Oakland, CA 94610.



U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Department of Justice Main Switchboard - 202-514-2000
Office of the Attorney General Public Comment Line - 202-353-1555

To send Lynne a letter, write:
Lynne Stewart
150 Park Row
New York, NY NY 10007

Lynne Stewart speaks in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal


The trial of Johannes Mehserle, killer of unarmed Oscar Grant, has been moved to Los Angeles.

In the case of an innocent verdict, folks are encouraged to head to Oakland City Hall ASAP to express our outrage in a massive and peaceful way! Our power is in our numbers! Oscar Grant's family and friends need our support!

For more information:
Contact BAMN at 510-502-9072


With a New Smile, 'Rage' Fades Away [SINGLE PAYER NOW!!!]

FTA [F**k The Army] Trailer

Jon Stewart: Obama Is Channeling Bush VIDEO)

US anti-war activists protest

Buffy Sainte Marie - No No Keshagesh
[Keshagesh is the Cree word to describe a greedy puppy that wants to keep eating everything, a metaphor for corporate greed]
Buffy Sainte-Marie - No No Keshagesh lyrics:


The Tar Sands Blow
Hi -
I just signed the Tar Sands Blow petition -- and I hope you'll do the same.
The Canadian tar sands produce the dirtiest oil on earth -- including five times the greenhouse gases of conventional oil. World leaders meet next month in Copenhagen to deal with climate change. Sign the petition -- so that we all don't get a raw deal.

The Story of Mouseland: As told by Tommy Douglas in 1944

The Communist Manifesto illustrated by Cartoons


VIDEO INTERVIEW: Dan Berger on Political Prisoners in the United States
By Angola 3 News
Angola 3 News
37 years ago in Louisiana, 3 young black men were silenced for trying to expose continued segregation, systematic corruption, and horrific abuse in the biggest prison in the US, an 18,000-acre former slave plantation called Angola. In 1972 and 1973 prison officials charged Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox, and Robert King with murders they did not commit and threw them into 6x9 ft. cells in solitary confinement, for over 36 years. Robert was freed in 2001, but Herman and Albert remain behind bars.

Taking Aim Radio Program with
Ralph Schoenman and Mya Shone
The Chimera of Capitalist Recovery, Parts 1 and 2



The San Francisco Board of Education has re-installed the Junior Reserve Officer's Training Corps in San Francisco schools -- including allowing it to count for Physical Education credits.

This is a complete reversal of the 2006 decision to end JROTC altogether in San Francisco public schools. Our children need a good physical education program, not a death education program!

With the economy in crisis; jobs and higher education for youth more unattainable; the lure, lies and false promises of military recruiters is driving more and more of our children into the military trap.

This is an economic draft and the San Francisco Board of Education is helping to snare our children to provide cannon fodder for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and for over 700 U.S. military bases around the world!

We can't depend upon "friendly politicians" who, while they are campaigning for office claim they are against the wars but when they get elected vote in favor of military recruitment--the economic draft--in our schools. We can't depend upon them. That has been proven beyond doubt!

It is up to all of us to come together to stop this NOW!


Write, call, pester and ORGANIZE against the re-institution of JROTC in our San Francisco public schools NOW!

In solidarity,

Bonnie Weinstein
Bay Area United Against War Newsletter

San Francisco Board of Education
555 Franklin Street, 1st Floor
San Francisco, CA 94102
415/241-6427, 415) 241-6493



For a donation of only $18.95, we can put a copy of the book "10 Excellent Reasons Not to Join the Military" into a public or high school library of your choice. [Reason number 1: You may be killed]

A letter and bookplate will let readers know that your donation helped make this possible.

Putting a book in either a public or school library ensures that students, parents, and members of the community will have this valuable information when they need it.

Don't have a library you would like us to put it in? We'll find one for you!


This is a must-see video about the life of Oscar Grant, a young man who loved his family and was loved by his family. It's important to watch to understand the tremendous loss felt by his whole family as a result of his cold-blooded murder by BART police officers--Johannes Mehserle being the shooter while the others held Oscar down and handcuffed him to aid Mehserle in the murder of Oscar Grant January 1, 2009.

The family wants to share this video here with you who support justice for Oscar Grant.



Urgent: Ahmad Sa'adat transferred to isolation in Ramon prison!
The Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa'adat


Troy Anthony Davis is an African American man who has spent the last 18 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. There is no physical evidence tying him to the crime and seven out of nine witnesses have recanted. New evidence and new testimony have been presented to the Georgia courts, but the justice system refuses to consider this evidence, which would prove Troy Davis' innocence once and for all.

Sign the petition and join the NAACP, Amnesty International USA, and other partners in demanding justice for Troy Davis!

For Now, High Court Punts on Troy Davis, on Death Row for 18 Years
By Ashby Jones
Wall Street Journal Law Blog
June 30, 2009

Take action now:


Committee To Save Mumia Abu-Jamal
P.O. Box 2012
New York, NY 10159-2012

New videos from April 24 Oakland Mumia event

Donations for Mumia's Legal Defense in the U.S. Our legal effort is the front line of the battle for Mumia's freedom and life. His legal defense needs help. The costs are substantial for our litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court and at the state level. To help, please make your checks payable to the National Lawyers Guild Foundation indicate "Mumia" on the bottom left). All donations are tax deductible under the Internal Revenue Code, section 501c)3), and should be mailed to:

It is outrageous and a violation of human rights that Mumia remains in prison and on death row. His life hangs in the balance. My career has been marked by successfully representing people facing death in murder cases. I will not rest until we win Mumia's case. Justice requires no less.

With best wishes,

Robert R. Bryan
Lead counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal


Short Video About Al-Awda's Work
The following link is to a short video which provides an overview of Al-Awda's work since the founding of our organization in 2000. This video was first shown on Saturday May 23, 2009 at the fundraising banquet of the 7th Annual Int'l Al-Awda Convention in Anaheim California. It was produced from footage collected over the past nine years.
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FLASHPOINTS Interview with Innocent San Quentin Death Row Inmate
Kevin Cooper -- Aired Monday, May 18,2009
To learn more about Kevin Cooper go to:
San Francisco Chronicle article on the recent ruling:
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling and dissent:


Support the troops who refuse to fight!




1) U.S. Put Jails in Lithuania, Premier Says
December 23, 2009

2) Whites Smoke Pot, but Blacks Are Arrested
About New York
December 23, 2009

3) Heads of Fannie and Freddie Could Earn $6 Million
December 25, 2009

4) Memo From Tel Aviv
Tough Military Stance Stirs Little Debate in Israel
December 25, 2009

5) Elite U.S. Force Expanding Hunt in Afghanistan
December 27, 2009

6) Cellphone Searches
NYT Editorial
December 26, 2009

7) Israeli Military Kills 6 Palestinians
December 27, 2009

8) The Big Zero
Op-Ed Columnist
December 28, 2009

9) When It's Cold Inside
December 28, 2009

10) Israel Plans More Homes in East Jerusalem
December 29, 2009

11) A Peril in War Zones: Sexual Abuse by Fellow G.I.'s
Women at Arms
December 28, 2009

12) U.S. Widens Terror War to Yemen, a Qaeda Bastion
December 28, 2009

13) 125 Beached Whales Die in New Zealand, but Rescuers Coax 43 Others Back to Sea
December 28, 2009

14) The Recession Begins Flooding Into the Courts
December 28, 2009

15) A Less Than Honest Policy
Op-Ed Columnist
December 29, 2009

16) Fast-food Standards for Meat Top those for School Lunches
By Peter Eisler, Blake Morrison and Anthony DeBarros

By Cindy Sheehan
December 29, 2009

18) Protesters Gather in Cairo for March to Gaza
December 30, 2009

19) Coalition Forces Killed Afghan Civilians, Official Says
December 30, 2009

20) Oil Field Project in Iraq Won by Lukoil and Statoil
December 30, 2009

21) Billions to Fight Foreclosure, but Few New Loans
December 30, 2009

22) Company's Record on Beef Treatment Questioned
December 31, 2009

23) In Cuba, Hopeful Tenor Toward Obama Is Ebbing
December 31, 2009

24) The Truth of What Happened at the Summit
By Fidel Castro Ruz
December 19, 2009

25) Afghans Say Inquiry Shows Boys Were Killed in Allied Action
December 31, 2009


1) U.S. Put Jails in Lithuania, Premier Says
December 23, 2009

MOSCOW - The prime minister of Lithuania, a former Soviet republic that broke from Moscow's orbit and is now a member of NATO, accused the United States on Tuesday of using "Soviet methods" to set up two secret prisons in Lithuania for terrorism suspects.

The prime minister, Andrius Kubilius, said the United States had reached what he contended were clandestine and illegal arrangements with the Lithuanian secret services for prisons that were outside civilian control.

Mr. Kubilius made his remarks on the day that the national security committee in the Lithuanian Parliament released a report that determined that the country was the site of two small secret prisons, though it did not indicate how they were used.

The report was based on testimony from politicians and national security officials. It was initiated after ABC News described Lithuania's role in hosting so-called black sites, and other questions were raised about its activities in the fight against terrorism.

Arvydas Anusauskas, chairman of the national security committee, said state security officials "received requests from the C.I.A. to establish detention facilities."

He said it was not clear who was housed in the facilities because five planes that apparently transported people to Lithuania were never inspected by civilian officials.

The report contended that state security officials never informed senior government officials, like the prime minister, about the prisons, which supposedly could hold a handful of people.

The scandal over the secret prisons has shaken Lithuania's political system and could lead to an overhaul of the security services. The intelligence chief has already resigned.

Mr. Kubilius did note that "Lithuania is a strategic United States ally, and cooperation in many fields, including secret operations and counterterrorism, is very important." But he said it was "deeply worrying" that security officials established the prisons without oversight from senior civilian officials.


2) Whites Smoke Pot, but Blacks Are Arrested
About New York
December 23, 2009

Outside a music club on Greenwich Street in SoHo, the bouncers smoke joints as they check in the arriving customers. A young graphic artist routinely strolls through Chelsea, joint in hand. And when a publicist calls her supplier to order pot, she uses code words - a studio, a one- or two-bedroom - to signal how much she wants.

New York City is now entering its 10th year of pouring tens of millions of dollars into arresting people for the lowest-level misdemeanor marijuana cases.

But the SoHo bouncers and the Chelsea graphic artist don't have much to worry about, at least from the police: they are white. Even though surveys show they are part of the demographic group that makes the heaviest use of pot, white people in New York are the least likely to be arrested for it.

Last year, black New Yorkers were seven times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession and no more serious crime. Latinos were four times more likely.

In 2001, during his first campaign for mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg was asked by New York magazine if he had ever used marijuana. "You bet I did," he replied. "And I enjoyed it."

Like most white New Yorkers, he stood almost no chance of being locked up for his pot use, then being handcuffed, fingerprinted and spending a night in Central Booking.

Mr. Bloomberg may have been the first major city candidate to acknowledge using pot, but as mayor he has led a sweeping expansion of arrests, according to a recent study by Harry G. Levine, a sociology professor at Queens College.

During Mr. Bloomberg's first two terms in office, the lowest-level marijuana arrests were up, on average, by 50 percent over when his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani, was in office. Last year, Professor Levine said, the city made 40,300 such arrests - about 12 percent of arrests for all crimes. Of these, 87 percent were of blacks or Latinos.

In 2008, the police made more pot arrests "than in the 12 years of Mayor Koch, plus the four years of Mayor Dinkins, plus the first two years of Mayor Giuliani," Mr. Levine wrote. "In other words, in one year, 2008, Bloomberg made more pot arrests than in 18 years of Koch, Dinkins and Giuliani combined."

The mayor's office said on Tuesday that it could not estimate the cost of such arrests. Mr. Levine, drawing on studies done in other cities, estimated that they could range from $53 million to $88 million annually.

WHATEVER the precise costs, are all these marijuana arrests - wildly disproportionate in their racial impact, and consuming the energy of thousands of police officers, the courts, prosecutors and defense lawyers - truly helping the city?

Mr. Bloomberg's chief criminal justice aide, John Feinblatt, declined to discuss the city's approach to marijuana arrests, or the findings of the study. But through a spokesman, he issued a statement maintaining the pot arrests have helped drive down violent crime.

"Marijuana arrests - which rarely lead to jail - are concentrated in neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of violent crime because that's where the police focus their attention in order to reduce victimization," Mr. Feinblatt said. "This continued focus on low-level offending has been part of the city's effective crime-reduction strategy, which has resulted in a 35 percent decrease in crime since 2001."

In effect, Mr. Feinblatt was arguing a variation on the "broken-windows" theory of crime-fighting - that cracking down on symptoms of public disorder helps head off more serious problems.

Mr. Levine argues that such arrests drain resources needed for dealing with serious threats.

The possession of less than an ounce of marijuana was decriminalized by the State Legislature in 1977, reduced to a violation, the equivalent of a traffic ticket. "Burning" it or having it "open to public view" is a misdemeanor.

The handful of white pot smokers who do get arrested can be found in court on Mondays and Tuesdays, when they must answer tickets typically issued for smoking pot in a park. The rest of the week is taken up with blacks and Latinos, who are more likely to have spent a night in jail before court, said Edward McCarthy, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society.

"Some of the police officers, who are at the start of their careers, are apologetic when they make these arrests," Mr. McCarthy said. "They say, 'if my lieutenant or sergeant weren't here, I'd let you go.' "



3) Heads of Fannie and Freddie Could Earn $6 Million
December 25, 2009

The top executives at the mortgage lending giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could get paid as much as $6 million for 2009, despite the companies dismal performance this year.

The chief executive of Fannie Mae, Michael J. Williams, and of Freddie Mac, Charles E. Haldeman Jr. will each receive $900,000 in salary, $3.1 million in deferred payments next year and another $2 million if they meet certain performance goals, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday.

The pay packages were approved by the Treasury Department and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates the two mortgage lenders.

Fannie and Freddie, which were seized by regulators in September 2008, have needed $111 billion in taxpayer money to stay afloat. The news of the chief executives pay could spark new criticism about the government s numerous bailouts.

Freddie Mac hired Mr. Haldeman, a former mutual fund executive, in July. At the time, the company disclosed his annual salary of $900,000 but did not disclose other incentives. In September, the company hired a chief financial officer, Ross J. Kari, and said his pay package would be worth up to $5.5 million.

Mr. Williams, formerly Fannie Mae s chief operating officer, took overas chief executive in April and earned a base salary of $676,000 last year, plus a retention award of $260,000.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac provide vital liquidity to the mortgage industry by purchasing home loans from lenders and selling them to investors. Together, they own or guarantee almost 31 million home loans worth about $5.5 trillion. That is about half of all mortgages.

Without government aid, the firms could have gone broke, leaving millions of people unable to get a mortgage. And most experts say the price tag for the bailouts will rise and complicate the government s exit strategy.

Though the Obama administration has yet to divulge its long-term plans for the two companies, they are unlikely to return to their former power and influence.

Barclays Capital predicts the companies will need anywhere from $230 billion to $300 billion out of a potential $400 billion lifeline, which the Obama administration expanded from the original $200 billion authorized last fall.

Most analysts do not expect the money to be returned anytime soon, if ever.


4) Memo From Tel Aviv
Tough Military Stance Stirs Little Debate in Israel
December 25, 2009

TEL AVIV - In the year since Israel launched its devastating military offensive against Hamas in Gaza, the country's political and military leaders have faced intense international condemnation and accusations of possible war crimes.

But Israel seems to have few qualms. Officials and experts familiar with the country's military doctrine say that given the growing threats from Iranian-backed militant organizations both in Gaza and in Lebanon, Israel will probably find itself fighting another, similar kind of war.

Only next time, some here suggest, Israel will apply more force.

"The next round will be different, but not in the way people think," said Giora Eiland, a retired major general and former chief of Israel's National Security Council. "The only way to be successful is to take much harsher action."

Such talk has raised alarm among some critics in Israel, but so far it has stirred little public debate.

Both the three-week campaign in Gaza, which ended on Jan. 18, and Israel's monthlong war in 2006 against the Shiite Hezbollah organization in Lebanon have brought relative quiet to Israel's borders.

Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, the chief of Israel's military intelligence, said the source of the quiet was "not the adoption of Zionism by our enemies." The main factor, he recently told an audience at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, is Israeli deterrence, starting with the war in Lebanon and continuing with the Gaza operation that the Israelis called Cast Lead.

But decisive victory against irregular forces has been elusive. In the military's assessment, the calm is temporary and fragile; Hamas and Hezbollah are said to be rearming, making another confrontation only a matter of time.

While the Israeli military has a clear advantage in fighting conventional armies, it is still adapting to the new and complicated demands of asymmetric warfare. The military says it is contending with enemies who fight out of uniform and hide behind civilians, intentionally firing rockets out of populated areas into densely populated areas of Israel.

Israel's objective, according to Gabriel Siboni, a retired colonel who runs the military program at the Institute for National Security Studies, is to shorten and intensify the period of fighting and to lengthen the period between rounds.

Israel was accused of using disproportionate force in Lebanon, particularly after it flattened the Dahiya district in Beirut, a Shiite neighborhood that housed the command and control headquarters of Hezbollah. Over the month, more than a thousand Lebanese were killed.

But Israeli experts say that as long as the targets are legitimate ones, the whole point is to try to overwhelm the enemy with maximum force.

The destruction of Dahiya "sent a message to Hezbollah of the consequences" of confrontation, Mr. Siboni said.

The campaign in Gaza, intended to halt years of rocket fire against southern Israel, left up to 1,400 Palestinians dead, including hundreds of civilians. The human toll, as well as the extensive destruction of property, prompted a United Nations mission led by an internationally renowned judge, Richard Goldstone, to accuse Israel of deliberately attacking civilians and of violations of the international laws of war.

Israel rejected the Goldstone report as biased and fundamentally flawed. Israel says that while mistakes were made, it chose its targets on purely military merits and went to extraordinary lengths to warn civilians in Gaza to leave areas under attack.

But one of the abiding difficulties is defining the enemy when it is embedded among the population, whether as the sole power in the area, like Hamas in Gaza, or as a militia operating within a sovereign state, in the case of Hezbollah.

In the 2006 war, which was precipitated by a deadly cross-border raid by Hezbollah, Israel bombed the Beirut airport, a strategic bridge linking north and south Lebanon and some power supplies. But Israel said it was doing so only to hamper Hezbollah's war effort, and it directed the brunt of its attacks against the militia.

Now, with Hezbollah playing a more active role in the Lebanese government, Lebanon could be held more responsible for Hezbollah actions against Israel, Israeli security officials and experts say.

Mr. Siboni said the idea was to inflict such damage that the other side would ask whether confrontation was worthwhile.

Military officials strenuously deny that Israel plans to hit economic or civilian infrastructure to cause suffering to the local population, in the hope of turning it against the war.

Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, chief of the Israeli military's Operations Department, told reporters at a recent briefing in Tel Aviv that the army would not shoot at targets that had no proven link "with any form of terror." But, he added, "we are going to use fire."

General Kochavi said that Israel would never deliberately fire on civilians but that civilian buildings containing weapons or rocket launchers would be bombed after residents had been warned to evacuate.

With the war in Gaza, however, the distinction between military and civilian infrastructure seemed to become increasingly blurred.

Among the targets destroyed in Gaza were the parliament building and the central prison. The Goldstone report said that it had found no evidence that these locations made an effective contribution to Hamas's military effort, and determined that the Israeli attacks on them were a violation of international law.

Israel never claimed that the parliament building was being used to store or fire weapons. But after Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, Israel says, the parliament building became part of the Hamas infrastructure, and therefore a legitimate target to be destroyed.

David Benjamin, a lieutenant colonel in the reserves and a former senior adviser in the Israeli military's legal department, said that Israel did not need to "buy in" to Hamas's definitions of what was military and what was political. Israel considers all of Hamas a terrorist organization. The distinction, Mr. Benjamin said, is "artificial in my view."

But he acknowledged that the bombing of the parliament building was "debatable" as far as the law was concerned. "Of all Cast Lead, maybe this is the only area where the army has been pushing the envelope," he said.

Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, said the Goldstone report was viewed in Israel as a "political threat that needs to be thwarted politically," but there was no sign, he said, that it had led to military restraint.

Critics both inside and outside Israel denounce what they - and at least one senior Israeli Army commander - have called the "Dahiya doctrine," referring to the intention to inflict immense damage and destruction, an approach that would inevitably lead to civilian deaths.

A recent report by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, a local advocacy group, pointed to what it called a "significant change" in the Israeli military's combat doctrine. It said the shift was legally and politically dangerous and cast a "moral stain" on Israeli citizens, and it called for public debate.

But Israeli officials and security experts contend that other Western countries are facing similar challenges in their conflicts abroad. What must change, they say, is not the Israeli military's conduct but the interpretation and application of the laws of war by the rest of the world.

In the meantime, Mr. Siboni said, Israel's wars "may produce more Goldstones, but that may be the price you have to pay."


5) Elite U.S. Force Expanding Hunt in Afghanistan
December 27, 2009

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan - Secretive branches of the military's Special Operations forces have increased counterterrorism missions against some of the most lethal groups in Afghanistan and, because of their success, plan an even bigger expansion next year, according to American commanders.

The commandos, from the Army's Delta Force and the Navy's classified Seals units, have had success weakening the network of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the strongest Taliban warrior in eastern Afghanistan, the officers said. Mr. Haqqani's group has used its bases in neighboring Pakistan to carry out deadly strikes in and around Kabul, the Afghan capital.

Guided by intercepted cellphone communications, the American commandos have also killed some important Taliban operatives in Marja, the most fearsome Taliban stronghold in Helmand Province in the south, the officers said. Marine commanders say they believe that there are some 1,000 fighters holed up in the town.

Although President Obama and his top aides have not publicly discussed these highly classified missions as part of the administration's revamped strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the counterterrorism operations are expected to increase, along with the deployment of 30,000 more American forces in the next year.

The increased counterterrorism operations over the past three or four months reflect growth in every part of the Afghanistan campaign, including conventional forces securing the population, other troops training and partnering with Afghan security forces, and more civilians to complement and capitalize on security gains.

American commanders in Afghanistan rely on the commando units to carry out some of the most complicated operations against militant leaders, and the missions are never publicly acknowledged. The commandos are the same elite forces that have been pursuing Osama bin Laden, captured Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003 and led the hunt that ended in 2006 in the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader in Iraq of the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

In recent interviews here, commanders explained that the special-mission units from the Joint Special Operations Command were playing a pivotal role in degrading some of the toughest militant groups, and buying some time before American reinforcements arrived and more Afghan security forces could be trained.

"They are extremely effective in the areas where we are focused," said one American general in Afghanistan about the commandos, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the classified status of the missions.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, who is in charge of the military's Central Command, mentioned the increased focus on counterterrorism operations in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Dec. 9. But he spoke more obliquely about the teams actually conducting attacks against hard-core Taliban extremists, particularly those in rural areas outside the reach of population centers that conventional forces will focus on.

"We actually will be increasing our counterterrorist component of the overall strategy," General Petraeus told lawmakers. "There's no question you've got to kill or capture those bad guys that are not reconcilable. And we are intending to do that, and we will have additional national mission force elements to do that when the spring rolls around."

Senior military officials say it is not surprising that the commandos are playing such an important role in the fight, particularly because Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the senior American and NATO officer in Afghanistan, led the Joint Special Operations Command for five years.

In addition to the classified American commando missions, military officials say that other NATO special operations forces have teamed up with Afghan counterparts to attack Taliban bomb-making networks and other militant cells.

About six weeks ago, allied and Afghan special operations forces killed about 150 Taliban fighters in several villages near Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan, a senior NATO military official said.

Some missions have killed Taliban fighters while searching for Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, who was reported missing on June 30 in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban in July posted a video on jihadist Web sites in which the soldier identified himself and said that he had been captured when he lagged behind on a patrol. A second video was released on Friday.

"We've been hitting them hard, but I want to be careful not to overstate our progress," said the NATO official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to describe the operations in detail. "It has not yet been decisive."

In Helmand, more than 10,000 Marines, as well as Afghan and British forces, are gearing up for a major confrontation in Marja early next year. Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, the senior Marine commander in the south, said in a recent interview, "The overt message we're putting out is, Marja is next."

General Nicholson said that in addition to covert operations, including stealthy commando raids against specific targets, the military was also conducting an overt propaganda campaign intended to persuade some Taliban fighters to defect.

Military officials say the commandos are mindful of General McChrystal's directive earlier this year to take additional steps to prevent civilian casualties.

In February, before General McChrystal was named to his current position, the head of the Joint Special Operations Command, Vice Adm. William H. McRaven, ordered a halt to most commando missions in Afghanistan, reflecting a growing concern that civilian deaths caused by American firepower were jeopardizing broader goals there.

The halt, which lasted about two weeks, came after a series of nighttime raids by Special Operations troops killed women and children, and after months of mounting outrage in Afghanistan about civilians killed in air and ground attacks. The order covered all commando missions except those against the highest-ranking leaders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, military officials said.

Across the border in Pakistan, where American commandos are not permitted to operate, the Central Intelligence Agency has stepped up its missile strikes by Predator and Reaper drones on groups like the Haqqani network.

But an official with Pakistan's main spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or I.S.I., said there had also been more than 60 joint operations involving the I.S.I. and the C.I.A. in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Baluchistan in the past year.

The official said the missions included "snatch and grabs" - the abduction of important militants - as well as efforts to kill leaders. These operations were based on intelligence provided by either the United States or Pakistan to be used against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the official said.

"We can expect to see more U.S. action against Haqqani," a senior American diplomat in Pakistan said in a recent interview.

The increasing tempo of commando operations in Afghanistan has caused some strains with other American commanders. Many of the top Special Operations forces, as well as intelligence analysts and surveillance aircraft, are being moved to Afghanistan from Iraq, as the Iraq war begins to wind down.

"It's caused some tensions over resources," said Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., the second-ranking American commander in Iraq.

Richard A. Oppel Jr. contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.


6) Cellphone Searches
NYT Editorial
December 26, 2009

The Ohio Supreme Court has struck an important blow for privacy rights, ruling that the police need a warrant to search a cellphone. The court rightly recognized that cellphones today are a lot more than just telephones, that they hold a wealth of personal information and that the privacy interest in them is considerable. This was the first such ruling from a state supreme court. It is a model for other courts to follow.

Searches generally require warrants, but courts have carved out limited categories in which they are not needed. One of these is that police officers are allowed, when they arrest people, to search them and the area immediately surrounding them, as well as some kinds of containers in their possession.

When the police arrested Antwaun Smith on drug charges they seized his cellphone and searched it, examining his call records. The police did not have a warrant or the consent of Mr. Smith.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled this month, by a 4-to-3 vote, that the search violated the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Rather than seeing a cellphone as a simple closed container, the majority noted that modern cellphones - especially ones that permit Internet access - are "capable of storing a wealth of digitized information."

This is information, the court said, for which people reasonably have a high expectation of privacy, and under established Fourth Amendment principles, police officers must get a search warrant before they can look through call logs or examine other data. The court wisely decided that it made no sense to try to distinguish among various kinds of cellphones based on what specific functions they have. All cellphones, the court said, fall under the search warrant requirement.

Few federal courts have considered the issue of cellphone searches, and they have disagreed about whether a warrant should be required. The Ohio ruling eloquently makes the case for why the very personal information that new forms of technology aggregate must be accorded a significant degree of privacy.


7) Israeli Military Kills 6 Palestinians
December 27, 2009

JERUSALEM - The Israeli military killed six Palestinians on Saturday, three in the West Bank whom it accused of killing a Jewish settler and three in Gaza who it said were crawling along the border wall planning an attack. It was the deadliest day in the conflict in nearly a year.

Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, called it "a sad day for Palestinians and their National Authority" and condemned the West Bank operation as an "assassination" and "an attempt to target the state of security and stability that the Palestinian Authority has been able to achieve."

Maj. Peter Lerner, spokesman for Israel's Central Command, which controls the West Bank, said that its forces had spent the past two days looking for the killers of the settler, Rabbi Meir Hai, a 45-year-old teacher and father of seven, who was shot dead on Thursday as he drove near his home in the settlement of Shavei Shomron.

The information gathered, he said, led them to three men in the city of Nablus early Saturday. Troops in jeeps descended on their homes and in each case, he said, the suspect was asked to give himself up. None did so, and all were shot dead.

All three, he added, had been involved in anti-Israel violence in the past through activities in the Aksa Martyrs Brigade, a militia associated with the Fatah movement led by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president. One of them, Annan Sleiman Moustafa Tsubakh, 36, was hiding with two assault rifles, two handguns and ammunition in a crawl space in his house when the Israeli troops found him.

Major Lerner said that the three were the killers of Rabbi Hai and that they acted as an isolated cell rather than as part of some larger organization. Asked if the Israelis had coordinated with the Palestinian security forces that had been patrolling West Bank cities for a year and a half, he said no, that the army's job was first and foremost to protect Israeli civilians.

Ghassan Katib, spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, said Palestinian security had been investigating the killing when the Israelis interfered. "This is what they do," he said. "They kill people and then claim they were responsible. Our security forces had begun an investigation into the killing but the Israelis did not coordinate with us."

Relatives of two of the three men who were in the houses when the raids occurred contended that the men were not armed and that the Israelis shot without warning. In the case of Mr. Tsubakh, relatives said they fled while he remained inside.

In the middle of the second Palestinian uprising in 2002 and 2003, drive-by shootings of settlers like the one that killed Rabbi Hai had become almost common in the West Bank, but a combination of an Israeli clampdown and Palestinian security focus - and greatly increased cooperation between the forces - have turned such attacks into a rarity and led to a sense of increased personal security and potential prosperity.

But since the war in Gaza a year ago and the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, peace talks have been suspended, and officials on both sides fear that violence may pick up again and that security coordination could decline. Each side blames the other. Mr. Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, called on his people not to be "dragged into a circle of violence, chaos and instability."

At the Nablus funeral procession on Saturday for the three killed, attended by thousands, some shouted for revenge and condemned the security coordination with the Israelis.

A man who claimed to speak for Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade issued a statement saying that by killing six Palestinians on Saturday, "the occupation forces have opened the doors of hell on themselves."

The killing of the three Palestinians in Gaza occurred when Israeli soldiers guarding the border from inside Israel saw people crawling along the border barrier near the main civilian crossing point. Israel permits no such movement near its border.

The soldiers said they fired warning shots but the three continued to crawl. An Israeli aircraft then shot at the men and killed them, an army spokeswoman said. She added that the army was convinced that the men were planning an attack.

Khaled Abu Aker contributed reporting from the West Bank.


8) The Big Zero
Op-Ed Columnist
December 28, 2009

Maybe we knew, at some unconscious, instinctive level, that it would be an era best forgotten. Whatever the reason, we got through the first decade of the new millennium without ever agreeing on what to call it. The aughts? The naughties? Whatever. (Yes, I know that strictly speaking the millennium didn't begin until 2001. Do we really care?)

But from an economic point of view, I'd suggest that we call the decade past the Big Zero. It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true.

It was a decade with basically zero job creation. O.K., the headline employment number for December 2009 will be slightly higher than that for December 1999, but only slightly. And private-sector employment has actually declined - the first decade on record in which that happened.

It was a decade with zero economic gains for the typical family. Actually, even at the height of the alleged "Bush boom," in 2007, median household income adjusted for inflation was lower than it had been in 1999. And you know what happened next.

It was a decade of zero gains for homeowners, even if they bought early: right now housing prices, adjusted for inflation, are roughly back to where they were at the beginning of the decade. And for those who bought in the decade's middle years - when all the serious people ridiculed warnings that housing prices made no sense, that we were in the middle of a gigantic bubble - well, I feel your pain. Almost a quarter of all mortgages in America, and 45 percent of mortgages in Florida, are underwater, with owners owing more than their houses are worth.

Last and least for most Americans - but a big deal for retirement accounts, not to mention the talking heads on financial TV - it was a decade of zero gains for stocks, even without taking inflation into account. Remember the excitement when the Dow first topped 10,000, and best-selling books like "Dow 36,000" predicted that the good times would just keep rolling? Well, that was back in 1999. Last week the market closed at 10,520.

So there was a whole lot of nothing going on in measures of economic progress or success. Funny how that happened.

For as the decade began, there was an overwhelming sense of economic triumphalism in America's business and political establishments, a belief that we - more than anyone else in the world - knew what we were doing.

Let me quote from a speech that Lawrence Summers, then deputy Treasury secretary (and now the Obama administration's top economist), gave in 1999. "If you ask why the American financial system succeeds," he said, "at least my reading of the history would be that there is no innovation more important than that of generally accepted accounting principles: it means that every investor gets to see information presented on a comparable basis; that there is discipline on company managements in the way they report and monitor their activities." And he went on to declare that there is "an ongoing process that really is what makes our capital market work and work as stably as it does."

So here's what Mr. Summers - and, to be fair, just about everyone in a policy-making position at the time - believed in 1999: America has honest corporate accounting; this lets investors make good decisions, and also forces management to behave responsibly; and the result is a stable, well-functioning financial system.

What percentage of all this turned out to be true? Zero.

What was truly impressive about the decade past, however, was our unwillingness, as a nation, to learn from our mistakes.

Even as the dot-com bubble deflated, credulous bankers and investors began inflating a new bubble in housing. Even after famous, admired companies like Enron and WorldCom were revealed to have been Potemkin corporations with facades built out of creative accounting, analysts and investors believed banks' claims about their own financial strength and bought into the hype about investments they didn't understand. Even after triggering a global economic collapse, and having to be rescued at taxpayers' expense, bankers wasted no time going right back to the culture of giant bonuses and excessive leverage.

Then there are the politicians. Even now, it's hard to get Democrats, President Obama included, to deliver a full-throated critique of the practices that got us into the mess we're in. And as for the Republicans: now that their policies of tax cuts and deregulation have led us into an economic quagmire, their prescription for recovery is - tax cuts and deregulation.

So let's bid a not at all fond farewell to the Big Zero - the decade in which we achieved nothing and learned nothing. Will the next decade be better? Stay tuned. Oh, and happy New Year.


9) When It's Cold Inside
December 28, 2009

In yet another measure of the economy's troubles, a record number of households - 8.3 million - received federal aid to help pay their energy bills in 2009, up from a record 6.1 million in 2008. Based on early applications for 2010, more than 10 million families are likely to need help to keep the heat on this winter. Many of them have never needed help before.

The surge has caught policy makers unprepared. In the past, rising energy prices usually drove the need for heating assistance. Of late, there have been no sudden price increases. Indeed, average costs are expected to decline modestly this winter. This relatively benign outlook for energy prices led Congress to hold the 2010 appropriation for heating assistance at $5.1 billion - the same level as in 2009.

So what happened? What happened was the recession, which cost jobs, which squeezed incomes. Nearly one in five American workers is currently unemployed or underemployed in a job that offers less pay or fewer hours. And as savings dwindle, many families are simply running out of money, forcing tradeoffs: the rent, the mortgage payment or the utility bill? Food, medicine or heat?

Federal heating assistance is supposed to ensure that no one faces such brutal choices. It is aimed at low-income families and pays about one-half of a recipient's bill, on average. It is also supposed to ensure that no one is exposed to the illnesses that inadequate heating can bring, and that no one is tempted to use dangerous heat sources like kerosene lamps, which pose fire hazards.

Of the $5.1 billion set aside for heating assistance, nearly $600 million is in a contingency fund that requires presidential approval to spend. President Obama should quickly release those funds.

In addition, Congress needs to approve a supplemental appropriation for more heating aid when it returns early next year. Based on current projections, meeting the need this winter would require an additional $2.5 billion. The alternative - no heat for struggling families - is unacceptable.


10) Israel Plans More Homes in East Jerusalem
December 29, 2009

JERUSALEM - Israel announced Monday that it would build nearly 700 housing units in Jewish areas of Jerusalem on territory conquered in the 1967 war that the Palestinians claim for their future state. The move was harshly condemned by Palestinian leaders as evidence that the Israelis are undermining efforts to restart peace talks.

Tenders for the 692 new units were issued by the Housing Ministry as part of the third and last batch of construction permits for 2009 across Israel. The other tenders issued, for about 6,500 units in 54 towns and communities, including more than 2,200 for Arab sectors of the country, drew little concern.

But the future of Jerusalem is among the most contentious issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel's annexation of the parts of Jerusalem won in 1967 and its assertion that the reunified city would remain under its rule as its capital has won almost no support worldwide. The United States consistently condemns unilateral Israeli steps in East Jerusalem as harmful to peace efforts.

Even though the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a freeze on residential housing construction in West Bank settlements until September in order to help restart peace talks, it did not include Jerusalem in the moratorium.

"If this is a moratorium, what does an increase look like?" asked Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, in a telephone interview on the latest announcement. "They are undermining the two-state solution. I hope this will be an eye opener for the American government."

Mark Regev, spokesman for Mr. Netanayahu, said there has been full transparency in relations with Washington over the building. "We make very clear the distinction between the West Bank and Jerusalem, which is our capital and will remain as such," he said.

A month ago, Israel advanced plans for 900 more units in a fourth Jewish area of Jerusalem on land captured in 1967, a move that was criticized by the European Union and the United States.

President Obama said then in a television interview that such building did not make Israel safer, made achieving peace harder and embittered the Palestinians.

Mr. Netanyahu has been trying to persuade the Palestinian Authority to return to peace talks that broke off a year ago when Israel's three-week war in Gaza began. The Palestinians say they will not return to the talks without a complete settlement freeze.

Ghassan Katib, spokesman for the Palestinian government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, said the latest building announcement "will further weaken and marginalize the moderate leadership in Palestine and play into the hands of those who say there is no hope for the peace process. There is little that we Palestinians can do but a great deal that the Americans and international community can do. And we expect them to act."

The 1947 United Nations plan for the Holy Land divided it into two states, one Jewish and the other Palestinian, with Jerusalem - holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews - as a separate international entity. But the war that broke out over Israel's declaration of independence left armistice lines running through Jerusalem, with the western sector held by Israel and the eastern part, including the holy sites of the Old City, held by Jordan.

Until the 1967 war, when Israel took the rest of Jerusalem from Jordan, Israelis were barred from the Old City, the site of the ancient Jewish temple, Judaism's holiest site. After winning that war, Israel declared its citizens would never again suffer that fate and named the entire city its capital. But the Palestinians say East Jerusalem, along with the Old City, is to be the capital of their future state and Israeli building there is a violation of international law.


11) A Peril in War Zones: Sexual Abuse by Fellow G.I.'s
Women at Arms
December 28, 2009

BAGHDAD - Capt. Margaret H. White began a relationship with a warrant officer while both were training to be deployed to Iraq. By the time they arrived this year at Camp Taji, north of here, she felt what she called "creepy vibes" and tried to break it off.

In the claustrophobic confines of a combat post, it was not easy to do. He left notes on the door to her quarters, alternately pleading and menacing. He forced her to have sex, she said. He asked her to marry him, though he was already married. He waited for her outside the women's latrines or her quarters, once for three hours.

"It got to the point that I felt safer outside the wire," Captain White said, referring to operations that take soldiers off their heavily fortified bases, "than I did taking a shower."

Her ordeal ended with the military equivalent of a restraining order and charges of stalking against the officer. It is one case that highlights the new and often messy reality the military has had to face as men and women serve side by side in combat zones more than ever before.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault, which the military now defines broadly to include not only rape but also crimes like groping and stalking, continue to afflict the ranks, and by some measures are rising. While tens of thousands of women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, often in combat, often with distinction, the integration of men and women in places like Camp Taji has forced to the surface issues that commanders rarely, if ever confronted before.

The military - belatedly, critics say - has radically changed the way it handles sexual abuse in particular, expanding access to treatment and toughening rules for prosecution. In the hardships of war, though, the effects of the changes remain unclear.

The strains of combat, close quarters in remote locations, tension and even boredom can create the conditions for abuse, even as they hinder medical care for victims and legal proceedings against those who attack them.

Captain White said she had feared coming forward, despite having become increasingly despondent and suffered panic attacks, because she was wary of she-said-he-said recriminations that would reverberate through the tightknit military world and disrupt the mission. Despite the military's stated "zero tolerance" for abuse or harassment, she had no confidence her case would be taken seriously and so tried to cope on her own, Captain White said.

A Pentagon-appointed task force, in a report released this month, pointedly criticized the military's efforts to prevent sexual abuse, citing the "unique stresses" of deployments in places like Camp Taji. "Some military personnel indicated that predators may believe they will not be held accountable for their misconduct during deployment because commanders' focus on the mission overshadows other concerns," the report said.

That, among other reasons, is why sexual assault and harassment go unreported far more often than not. "You're in the middle of a war zone," Captain White said, reflecting a fear many military women describe of being seen, somehow, as harming the mission.

"So it's kind of like that one little thing is nothing compared with 'There is an I.E.D. that went off in this convoy today and three people were injured,' " she said, referring to an improvised explosive device.

Common Fears

By the Pentagon's own estimate, as few as 10 percent of sexual assaults are reported, far lower than the percentage reported in the civilian world. Specialist Erica A. Beck, a mechanic and gunner who served in Diyala Province in Iraq this summer, recalled a sexual proposition she called "inappropriate" during her first tour in the country in 2006-7. "Not necessarily being vulgar, but he, you know, was asking for favors," she said.

She did not report it, she said, because she feared that her commanders would have reacted harshly - toward her.

"It was harassment," she said. "And because it was a warrant officer, I didn't say anything. I was just a private."

Her fears were common, according to soldiers and advocates who remain skeptical of the military's efforts to address abuse. A report last year by the Government Accountability Office concluded that victims were reluctant to report attacks "for a variety of reasons, including the belief that nothing would be done or that reporting an incident would negatively impact their careers."

When Sgt. Tracey R. Phillips told a superior about an unwanted sexual advance from a private the night their unit arrived in Iraq in May, the accusations unleashed a flurry of charges and countercharges, an initial investigation of her on charges of adultery, a crime in the military justice system, and, according to her account, violations by her commanders of the new procedures meant to ease reporting of abuse.

In the end, she was kicked out of Iraq and the Army itself, while the private remained on duty here.

The military disputed her account but declined to state the reasons for sending her out of Iraq. Her paperwork showed that she received an honorable discharge, though with "serious misconduct" cited as the reason. The so-called misconduct, she said, stemmed from the Army's allegation that she had had an inappropriate relationship with the private she accused. She denied that.

"If I would have never, ever, ever said anything, I wouldn't be sitting here," she said in an interview at her parents' home near San Antonio. "I'd still be in Iraq."

At bases around Iraq, many said that acceptance and respect for women in uniform were now more common than the opposite. In part, they said, that reflects a sweeping change in military culture that has accompanied the rise of women through the ranks and into more positions once reserved for men.

"It's not tolerated - it's just not," said Lt. Brenda L. Beegle, a married military police officer, referring to sexual harassment and abuse.

In an interview at Liberty Base, near Baghdad's airport, she said: "Everyone has heard stories about bad things that have happened. I've never had an issue."

Although exact comparisons to the civilian world are difficult because of different methods of defining and reporting abuse, Pentagon officials and some experts say that the incidence of abuse in the military appears to be no higher than in society generally, and might be lower. It appears to be even lower in combat operations than at bases in the United States, because of stricter discipline and scrutiny during deployments, as well as restrictions on alcohol, which is often a factor in assaults, for example, on college campuses.

Complaints Increase

The number of complaints, though, is rising. Across the military, there were 2,908 reported cases of sexual abuse involving service members as victims or assailants, in the fiscal year that ended in September 2008, the last year for which the Pentagon made numbers available. That was an 8 percent increase from the previous year, when there were 2,688.

In the turbulent regions from Egypt to Afghanistan where most American combat troops are now deployed, the increase in reported cases was even sharper: 251 cases, compared with 174 the year before, a 44 percent increase. The number in Iraq rose to 143, from 112 the year before. Everyone agrees that those represent only a fraction of the instances of assault, let alone harassment.

"A woman in the military is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq," Representative Jane Harman, a Democrat from California, said at a Congressional hearing this year, repeating an assertion she has made a refrain in a campaign of hers to force the military to do more to address abuses.

At least 10 percent of the victims in the last year were men, a reality that the Pentagon's task force said the armed services had done practically nothing to address in terms of counseling, treatment and prosecution. Men are considered even less likely to report attacks, officials said, because of the stigma, and fears that their own sexual orientation would be questioned. In the majority of the reported cases, the attacker was male.

Senior Pentagon officials argued that the increase in reports did not necessarily signify a higher number of attacks. Rather, they said, there is now a greater awareness as well as an improved command climate, encouraging more victims to come forward.

"We believe the increase in the number of reported cases means the department is capturing a greater proportion of the cases that occurred during the year, which is good news," said the Pentagon's senior official overseeing abuse policies, Kaye Whitley.

The military can no more eradicate sexual abuse than can society in general, but soldiers, officers and experts acknowledge that it is particularly harmful when soldiers are in combat zones, affecting not only the victims but also, as the military relies more than ever on women when the nation goes to war, the mission.

"For the military the potential costs are even higher as it can also negatively impact mission readiness," the Pentagon's annual report on sexual abuse said, referring to sexual violence. "Service members risk their lives for one another and bear the responsibility of keeping fellow service members out of harm's way. Sexual assault in the military breaks this bond."

Even investigations into accusations, which are often difficult to prove, can disrupt operations. In Sergeant Phillips's case, she was relieved of her duties leading a squad of soldiers refueling emergency rescue helicopters and other aircraft at Camp Kalsu, south of Baghdad.

Cases like hers suggest that the vagaries of sex and sexual abuse, especially in combat zones, continue to vex commanders on the ground, despite the transformation of the military's policies.

The majority of sexual abuse allegations end with no prosecution at all. Of 2,171 suspects of investigations that were completed during the fiscal year that ended in September 2008, only 317 faced a court-martial. Another 515 faced administrative punishments or discharges. Nearly half of the completed investigations lacked evidence or were "unsubstantiated or unfounded."

The Pentagon, facing criticism, maintains that it has transformed the way it handles sexual abuse. In the wake of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as highly publicized cases and revelations of rampant abuse at the Air Force Academy in 2003, the Pentagon created a single agency to oversee the issue and rewrote the rules of reporting, treatment and prosecution. Beginning in October 2007, the Uniform Code of Military Justice expanded the provision that once covered rape - Article 120 - to include other offenses, like indecent exposure and stalking.

The Army, which has provided the bulk of the forces in Iraq, has increased the number of investigators and lawyers trained to investigate accusations. Most bases now have kits to collect forensic evidence in rape cases, which was not the case immediately after the invasion in 2003.

Larger field hospitals in Balad and Mosul now have the same type of sexual assault nurse examiners widely used in the civilian world, as well as a dozen other examiners who are not nurses but are trained to conduct forensic examinations.

The military has set up a system of confidential advisers women can turn to who are outside the usual chain of command - an avenue Sergeant Phillips said she had been denied.

If they want to, the women can now seek medical treatment and counseling without setting off a criminal investigation. And all the services have started educational programs to address aspects of a hierarchical warrior culture that some say contributes to hostility toward women. Posters for the campaign blanket bulletin boards in offices, chow halls and recreational buildings on bases across Iraq.

The military's efforts, however well intentioned, are often undermined by commanders who are skeptical or even conflicted, suspicious of accusations and fearful that reports of abuse reflect badly on their commands. The Pentagon task force also reported that victims of assault did not come forward because they might "have engaged in misconduct for which they could be disciplined, such as under-age drinking, fraternization or adultery."

Marti Ribeiro, then an Air Force sergeant, said she was raped by another soldier after she stepped away from a guard post in Afghanistan in 2006 to smoke a cigarette, a story first recounted in "The Lonely Soldier," a book by Helen Benedictabout women who served in Iraq and elsewhere. When she went to the abuse coordinator, she was threatened with prosecution for having left her weapon and her post.

"I didn't get any help at all, let alone compassion," said Ms. Ribeiro, who has since retired and joined the Service Women's Action Network, a new advocacy organization devoted to shaping the Pentagon's policy.

The hardships of combat operations often compound the anguish of victims and complicate investigations, as well as counseling and treatment. The Government Accountability Office suggested that the "unique living and social circumstances" of combat posts heightened the risk for assault. Both the G.A.O. and the Pentagon's task force found that, despite the Pentagon's policy, remote bases did not have adequate medical and mental health services for victims. The task force also found that abuse coordinators and victim advocates were often ill trained or absent.

As a result, victims often suffer the consequences alone, working in the heat and dust, living in trailers surrounded by gravel and concrete blast walls, with nowhere private to retreat to. In Captain White's case, she had to work and live beside the man who assaulted and stalked her until their deployment ended in August and they both went home.

"You're in such a fishbowl," she said. "You can't really get away from someone. You see him in the chow hall. You see him in the gym."

The Danger Nearby

Captain White's case is typical of many here, according to military lawyers and experts, in that she knew the man she said assaulted her, circumstances that complicated the investigation and prosecution.

She had dated the warrant officer when they arrived in Fort Dix, N.J., for predeployment training with the 56th Stryker Combat Team. The newly revised article of the Uniform Code of Military Justice says that "a current or previous dating relationship by itself" does not constitute consent.

Once at Camp Taji, a sprawling base just north of Baghdad, she grew troubled by his behavior. He cajoled her with presents and sent her e-mail messages. She said that for fear of running into him, she stopped drinking water after 7 p.m. so she would not have to go to the latrine at night alone.

She never came forward herself. Her case came to light only when military prosecutors questioned her about another investigation involving the warrant officer. He was ultimately charged with 19 offenses, said Lt. Col. Philip J. Smith, a spokesman for the division that oversaw operations in central Iraq. The charges included seven counts of fraternization and two of adultery, interfering with an investigation and, in Captain White's case, stalking.

After their deployment ended in September, the officer pleaded guilty and resigned from the Army in lieu of prosecution, Colonel Smith said.

Captain White said that she was satisfied with the legal outcome of her case, though her account of it highlighted the emotional strains that sexual abuse causes.

"I'm not saying that I handled it the best way," she said in an interview after her own retirement from the Army, "but I handled it at the time and in the situation what I thought was the best way, which was just to keep my head down, keep going - which was kind of an Army thing to say: Drive on."

Kassie Bracken contributed reporting from San Antonio and Houston.


12) U.S. Widens Terror War to Yemen, a Qaeda Bastion
December 28, 2009

WASHINGTON - In the midst of two unfinished major wars, the United States has quietly opened a third, largely covert front against Al Qaeda in Yemen.

A year ago, the Central Intelligence Agency sent several of its top field operatives with counterterrorism experience to the country, according a former top agency official. At the same time, some of the most secretive Special Operations commandos have begun training Yemeni security forces in counterterrorism tactics, senior military officers said.

The Pentagon is spending more than $70 million over the next 18 months, and using teams of Special Forces, to train and equip Yemeni military, Interior Ministry and coast guard forces, more than doubling previous military aid levels.

As American investigators sought to corroborate the claims of a 23-year-old Nigerian man that Qaeda leaders in Yemen had trained and equipped him to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines jet on Christmas Day, the plot casts a spotlight on the Obama administration's complicated relationship with Yemen.

The country has long been a refuge for jihadists, in part because Yemen's government welcomed returning Islamist fighters who had fought in Afghanistan during the 1980s. The Yemen port of Aden was the site of the audacious bombing of the American destroyer Cole in October 2000 by Qaeda militants, which killed 17 sailors.

But Qaeda militants have made much more focused efforts to build a base in Yemen in recent years, drawing recruits from throughout the region and mounting attacks more frequently on foreign embassies and other targets. The White House is seeking to nurture enduring ties with the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and prod him to combat the local Qaeda affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, even as his impoverished country grapples with seemingly intractable internal turmoil.

With fears also growing of a resurgent Islamist extremism in nearby Somalia and East Africa, administration officials and American lawmakers said Yemen could become Al Qaeda's next operational and training hub, rivaling the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan where the organization's top leaders operate.

"Yemen now becomes one of the centers of that fight," said Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut and chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, who visited the country in August. "We have a growing presence there, and we have to, of Special Operations, Green Berets, intelligence," he said on "Fox News Sunday."

American and Yemeni officials said that a pivotal point in the relationship was reached in late summer after separate secret visits to Yemen by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American regional commander, and John O. Brennan, President Obama's counterterrorism adviser.

President Saleh agreed to expanded overt and covert assistance in response to growing pressure from the United States and Yemen's neighbors, notably Saudi Arabia, from which many Qaeda operatives had fled to Yemen, as well as a rising threat against the country's political inner circle, the officials said.

"Yemen's security problems won't just stay in Yemen," said Christopher Boucek, who studies Yemen as an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "They're regional problems and they affect Western interests."

Al Qaeda's profile in Yemen rose sharply a year ago, when a former Guantánamo Bay detainee from Saudi Arabia, Said Ali al-Shihri, fled to Yemen to join Al Qaeda and appeared in a video posted online. Several other former Guantánamo detainees have also joined the group.

Yemen's remote areas are notoriously lawless, but the country's chaos has worsened in the past two years, as the government struggles with an armed rebellion in the northwest and a rising secessionist movement in the south. Yemen is running out of oil, and the government's dwindling finances have affected its ability to strike at Al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, there have been increasing Yemeni ties to plots against the United States. A Muslim man charged in the June 1 killing of a soldier at a recruiting center in a mall in Little Rock, Ark., had traveled to Yemen, prompting a review by the F.B.I. of other domestic extremists who had visited the country.

A radical cleric in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, has been linked to numerous terrorism suspects, including Nidal Malik Hasan, the American Army major who faces murder charges in the shooting deaths of 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in November.

In the latest issue of Sada al-Malahim, the Internet magazine of the Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, the group's leader, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, praised the use of small bombs - not just big ones - to attack an enemy, in an eerie foreshadowing of Friday's episode on the plane to Detroit.

Yemen escalated its campaign against Al Qaeda with major airstrikes on Dec. 17 and last Thursday that killed more than 60 militants.

American officials have been coy about the role of the United States in the strikes, saying that they have provided intelligence and "firepower" for the efforts.

Yemen's foreign minister, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, said Sunday that Yemeni military cooperation with the United States and Saudi Arabia had increased in recent months as fresh intelligence confirmed Al Qaeda's greater assertiveness in the country.

"There was intelligence that they were targeting the British Embassy and a number of government institutions as well as private schools," Mr. Qirbi said in a telephone interview. "The second reason is that they have become more vocal, trying to show that they can undertake terrorist activities in an open fashion. So the government had to respond to that."

The recent airstrikes were planned for two or three months, Mr. Qirbi said, but could not take place until there was fresh intelligence about the location of the Qaeda operatives who were the targets.

He called that intelligence - which included information provided by the United States - "the most important element" in the successful strike on the Qaeda members.

Mr. Qirbi added that although the United States provided Yemen with military hardware, the airstrikes were carried out by the Yemeni military alone.

Although the most important intelligence came from the United States and Saudi Arabia, other countries in the region have increased their financial assistance in recent months to help Yemen, said Mustafa Alani, a security analyst at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai. "There was a fear inside and outside Yemen that Al Qaeda was taking new ground, establishing training centers, making some parts of Yemen no-go areas," Mr. Alani said. The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait in particular provided assistance, he said, because "they feel that sooner or later they will become targets too."

In the past year, Al Qaeda has killed six intelligence officers in the provinces where it is based, part of an unmistakable campaign by the group to secure its sanctuary there, Mr. Alani said. The intelligence officers were trying to gather information on the group, and to disrupt its growing links with local tribes - a significant part of its strategy, Mr. Alani added.

The airstrikes of the past two weeks have been successful but have come at a price, Yemeni officials said. "They have been hit hard, but they have not yet been disabled," said one high-ranking Yemeni official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic issues involved. "The problem is that the involvement of the United States creates sympathy for Al Qaeda. The cooperation is necessary - but there is no doubt that it has an effect for the common man. He sympathizes with Al Qaeda."

As if to reaffirm that message, Al Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate released a statement to Internet sites on Sunday that put strong emphasis on the American role in the recent raids, deriding the Yemeni government for claiming responsibility.

Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, and Robert F. Worth from Beirut, Lebanon.


13) 125 Beached Whales Die in New Zealand, but Rescuers Coax 43 Others Back to Sea
December 28, 2009

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) - About 125 pilot whales died in New Zealand after being stranded on two beaches over the weekend, but vacationers and conservation workers managed to coax 43 others back out to sea on Sunday.

On North Island, rescuers monitored the survivors as they swam away from Colville Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula, and by Monday morning they were reported well out to sea.

Workers for the Conservation Department and hundreds of volunteers helped refloat the 43 whales at high tide. The volunteers covered the stranded whales in sheets and kept them wet through the day.

"Some 63 pilot whales stranded, but it looks pretty good, we've got 43 live ones," said a department ranger, Steve Bolten, as the pod swam out to sea.

Mr. Bolten said that one of the whales might have been sick, or that their sonar might have led them into the shallow harbor from which they could not find their way out.

Hundreds of miles away on South Island, 105 long-finned pilot whales died Saturday, conservation officials said Monday.

Hans Stoffregen, the biodiversity program manager for the Golden Bay region, said that the whales were spotted by the pilot of a tourist plane and that only 30 were alive when conservation workers arrived. "They were in bad shape. By the time we got there, two-thirds of them had already died," Mr. Stoffregen said. "We had to euthanize the rest."

The whales had been out of the water for a long time.

"It has been quite hot, and they were very distressed," Mr. Stoffregen was quoted as telling The Southland Times. "You could see the pain and suffering in their eyes."

Because the site is part of a natural reserve, the 105 whale carcasses were left to decompose where they became stranded, he said.

Large numbers of whales become stranded on New Zealand's beaches each summer, for undetermined reasons, as they pass by on their way to breeding grounds from Antarctic waters.


14) The Recession Begins Flooding Into the Courts
December 28, 2009

New York State's courts are closing the year with 4.7 million cases - the highest tally ever - and new statistics suggest that courtrooms are now seeing the delayed result of the country's economic collapse. The Great Recession may be showing signs of easing, but the legal fallout from the financial troubles, the numbers suggest, may have only just begun.

And the increase in New York offers a preview of the recession-related cases showing up in courts across the nation.

New York's judges are wading into these types of cases by the tens of thousands, according to the new statistics, cases involving not only bad debts and soured deals, but also filings that are indirect but still jarring measures of economic stresses, like charges of violence in families torn apart by lost jobs and homes in jeopardy.

Contract disputes statewide in 2009 are projected to be up 9 percent from the year before. Statewide home foreclosure filings increased 17 percent, to 48,127 filings. Cases involving charges like assault by family members were up 18 percent statewide. While serious crime remains low, misdemeanor charges in New York City were up 7 percent and lesser violations were up 18 percent in 2009.

Judges and lawyers say the tales behind any number of cases, including low-level offenses like turnstile jumping and petty theft, are often a barometer of bad times. And they said that the data showed that courts nationally would be working through the recession's consequences for years, much as they did with the flood of cases stemming from the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s, even after the epidemic had slowed.

"Society's problems come to us," New York's chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, said. "We are the emergency room for society."

For most court systems nationally, official tallies of cases filed since the 2008 economic collapse are not yet complete. But the New York data, compiled by state court officials after a request from The New York Times, provide an early measure of the wave of recession cases nationally.

Florida officials say there were some 400,000 foreclosure filings there this year, an increase of 446 percent since 2006. In Arizona, officials say eviction cases have tripled in the last year, contract disputes are up 77 percent over the last two years, and there is a notable increase in cases seeking to commit people for mental health treatment because of stress-related conditions.

"The New York experience is representative. That's what we are seeing here," said John T. Broderick Jr., the chief justice of New Hampshire's Supreme Court, adding that many divorce, petty crime and domestic violence cases seem to have their roots in financial troubles.

Steve C. Hollon, an Ohio court official who is president of the Conference of State Court Administrators, said court officials nationally had noticed a growing number of people saying their circumstances were so desperate that they could not afford lawyers, turning virtually every kind of case into a journey through the economy's rough edges.

The new statistics in New York show the breadth of the recession-related cases - in family, criminal and commercial courts and on across the judicial system. The cases turn the courts into theaters of the economic crisis.

Court administrators said it is likely they have seen only the first wave of recession cases because courtroom battles take time to brew. They said they were bracing for more suits over business disputes, foreclosures, evictions and family disputes as the costs of the downturn continued to be revealed.

New York's projected caseload this year has risen by some 63,000 cases from last year, which would appear to be a modest increase. But court administrators say the broad impact of the recession is clear in hundreds of thousands of new cases across the judicial system, including people challenging their real estate taxes, home foreclosures, contract disputes and family offenses. The 17 percent increase in statewide home foreclosure filings, for example, is part of an 84 percent climb over the last four years, to nearly 50,000.

The city's Civil Courts, where suits seeking less than $25,000 are heard, have seen caseloads balloon to more than 577,000 this year, from about 200,000 10 years ago. Court administrators say much of the increase is because of suits over unpaid credit card bills.

"Until you're standing amidst 40 people who are worried about losing their homes, you can't really appreciate how significant the whole downturn was," said Hilary J. Bauer, a lawyer for the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged who represents homeowners facing foreclosure.

Court cases need not be about money to offer a measure of the recession's impact, said a Family Court judge, Pam Jackman-Brown. From her bench in Queens, she said, every day she sees formerly middle-class families wrenched by anger and fear. A judge, she said, does not always have the answer when family anxiety turns into tussles and shoves, and then into charges of assault or menacing.

"I am seeing the ripple effects that destroy the family structure," Judge Jackman-Brown said.

In her courtroom, she said, people who were once climbing corporate ladders describe cascading disappointments: phones shut off, child care no longer affordable, couples separated. "You're trying to wrap your head around all of this," Judge Jackman-Brown said, "trying to find something that works."

The ripple effects sometimes seem nearly infinite in the courts. New York judges are working through multimillion-dollar business deals that fell apart. They are processing what some judges call business divorces, the cases that can become as ugly as real divorces when partners turn on each other in bad times.

A hotel development company struck by the downturn argued unsuccessfully in State Supreme Court a few months ago that the "ongoing economic crisis" was akin to an act of God that ought to entitle it to a break in its obligation to pay the owner of the Lower Manhattan plot where the hotel was to rise.

State Supreme Court in Manhattan is at the center of the financial collapse. The view from the bench there lately, judges said, is of one industry after another pushing through the debris left from the last year or so.

Plaintiffs and defendants are the former high-flying hedge funds and investment banks, as well as the city's less glamorous businesses like restaurants and clothing manufacturers.

"Suppliers are ordering goods, and they end up not being able to pay," said a State Supreme Court justice, Bernard J. Fried.

The Civil Courts hum with stories of people who got credit too easily, people who are no longer earning what they were and people who are no longer earning anything at all. Sometimes, the debtor is a lawyer or a banker.

A Manhattan Civil Court judge, Anil C. Singh, said he often sees people who cannot afford lawyers but who qualified for one credit card after another in the years when people seemed to think the economy could only go up.

The credit card cases, some judges say, are like the one-act plays of the recession, not as complex as the dramas of foreclosure, but concise and gripping. "You see a lot of people," said another Civil Court judge, Peter H. Moulton, "who have lost their jobs and were just a paycheck away from being destitute."

Nationally, court administrators say budget pressures are forcing them to do more with less. That is certain to be the challenge for New York's 1,253 state judges, said the state's chief administrative judge, Ann Pfau.

With legal emergencies everywhere, Judge Pfau said, "we're going to have to be making choices."

Judge Singh of the Civil Court said that, from his bench, it was hard to see signs of a recovery.

"I would describe it as a train wreck," he said, "and I think it's going to get worse for the next couple of years."


by Sonja Karkar
- Australians for Palestine -
27 December 2009

They came one cold December day. Not fearless warriors but fearsome hoardes hell-bent on destruction of the genocidal kind that leaves no room for regeneration. That was one year ago in Gaza.

The attack shocked a complacent world into finally seeing Israel's merciless ferocity against the Palestinians already hounded, herded and imprisoned in compounds throughout their land, if not actually driven out. More than sixty years of Western devotion to Israel's security was blown wide open as truth shattered spin in three weeks of carnage and devastation.

Dead bodies do not lie and neither do the maimed and the disfigured. Thousands have been left to make sense of the horrors they saw and the hollow aftermath to which they have been abandoned. Landscapes of rubble as far as the eye can see are still testament to the homes once standing in villages and towns, the homeless now huddled in tents while they wait one year on for materials to re-build. Little food, contaminated water, rationed fuel and electricity and the barest of medical supplies are just more of many cruel and wanton deprivations pushing Palestinian society to the limits of endurance.

This is Gaza: a population of 1.5 million people kept in formaldehyde by Israel's crippling siege. It is a human catastrophe that has many enablers. World leaders have shut their eyes to the crimes witnessed and documented countless times over by human rights groups. World media continuously sidesteps the truth and deliberately ignores international efforts to highlight the humanitarian crisis. Together they are complicit in Israel's dehumanisation of a people.

We are also complicit if we remain silent and do nothing. It is not enough to know and empathise. Change can only come from people being engaged - learning, thinking, communicating, and being prepared to act.

Almost 2000 internationals have taken action. Some 200 are in Jordan after a three-week trek through Europe in the Viva Palestina convoy of trucks filled with humanitarian aid while another 300 joined them from Greece, Turkey and Jordan; and then, there are the 1400 who have landed in Egypt from all over the world for the scheduled Gaza Freedom March on 31 December. Neither group has been given clearance to enter Gaza. This is where the rest of us who were unable to join these brave souls can bring some power to bear.

There simply is no time to waste. Letters, faxes, emails must be written to governments, embassies and media outlets. Not one letter, not one time, but a constant stream. We have to urge friends and families to write as well. We have to urge governments to put pressure on Egypt to open the Rafah crossing and pressure on Israel to lift the siege. We have to hound the media like they hound us when they sniff a story. And Gaza is a story that needs to be told. The marchers and the convoy bringing aid to a besieged Gaza are only a part of that story. The real story is Israel's ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from their homeland.

Israel must be held to account because it is the instigator of all this misery. Israel has acted with impunity for far too long. It is a bully in world affairs and our leaders and media are all shamefully intimidated. Only people coming together collectively can change that dynamic - and we must come together, before we too become craven hostages to Israel's criminal enterprise.

Standing up for Palestinian human rights is not anti-Semitic because the Palestinians are also a Semitic people. Nor is it anti-Israel, but rather a protest against Israel's Zionist policies and practices designed to permanently fragment and dissipate Palestinian society. So brutal is its Zionist agenda and so contrary to Judaic teachings that many Jews are already speaking out in shame at what is being done in their name.

As decent and honourable citizens of the world, we too need to speak out in shame at what we have allowed to occur for far too long. Terrible crimes have been committed and some predict that even more terrible ones are to come. The reality is that all along we have been witnessing a slow genocide and we have allowed guilt, pragmatism and self-interest to stand in the way of our common humanity. The world needs to say "enough" and refuse to indulge Israel's Zionist leaders and advocates whose free ride has taken them to the heady heights of arrogance. That universal effort needs to begin before the bitter winter freezes any kind of hope in Gaza and it needs to be sustained for as long as it takes to free all of Palestine. Anything less, will hasten a 21st century genocide.

Sonja Karkar is the founder of Women for Palestine and co-founder of Australians for Palestine in Melbourne, Australia. She has written numerous articles on Palestine, which have been published in various e-journals and newspapers and accessed on the website she edits She can be contacted at


15) A Less Than Honest Policy
Op-Ed Columnist
December 29, 2009

There is a middle-class tax time bomb ticking in the Senate's version of President Obama's effort to reform health care.

The bill that passed the Senate with such fanfare on Christmas Eve would impose a confiscatory 40 percent excise tax on so-called Cadillac health plans, which are popularly viewed as over-the-top plans held only by the very wealthy. In fact, it's a tax that in a few years will hammer millions of middle-class policyholders, forcing them to scale back their access to medical care.

Which is exactly what the tax is designed to do.

The tax would kick in on plans exceeding $23,000 annually for family coverage and $8,500 for individuals, starting in 2013. In the first year it would affect relatively few people in the middle class. But because of the steadily rising costs of health care in the U.S., more and more plans would reach the taxation threshold each year.

Within three years of its implementation, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the tax would apply to nearly 20 percent of all workers with employer-provided health coverage in the country, affecting some 31 million people. Within six years, according to Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation, the tax would reach a fifth of all households earning between $50,000 and $75,000 annually. Those families can hardly be considered very wealthy.

Proponents say the tax will raise nearly $150 billion over 10 years, but there's a catch. It's not expected to raise this money directly. The dirty little secret behind this onerous tax is that no one expects very many people to pay it. The idea is that rather than fork over 40 percent in taxes on the amount by which policies exceed the threshold, employers (and individuals who purchase health insurance on their own) will have little choice but to ratchet down the quality of their health plans.

These lower-value plans would have higher out-of-pocket costs, thus increasing the very things that are so maddening to so many policyholders right now: higher and higher co-payments, soaring deductibles and so forth. Some of the benefits of higher-end policies can be expected in many cases to go by the boards: dental and vision care, for example, and expensive mental health coverage.

Proponents say this is a terrific way to hold down health care costs. If policyholders have to pay more out of their own pockets, they will be more careful - that is to say, more reluctant - to access health services. On the other hand, people with very serious illnesses will be saddled with much higher out-of-pocket costs. And a reluctance to seek treatment for something that might seem relatively minor at first could well have terrible (and terribly expensive) consequences in the long run.

If even the plan's proponents do not expect policyholders to pay the tax, how will it raise $150 billion in a decade? Great question.

We all remember learning in school about the suspension of disbelief. This part of the Senate's health benefits taxation scheme requires a monumental suspension of disbelief. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, less than 18 percent of the revenue will come from the tax itself. The rest of the $150 billion, more than 82 percent of it, will come from the income taxes paid by workers who have been given pay raises by employers who will have voluntarily handed over the money they saved by offering their employees less valuable health insurance plans.

Can you believe it?

I asked Richard Trumka, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., about this. (Labor unions are outraged at the very thought of a health benefits tax.) I had to wait for him to stop laughing to get his answer. "If you believe that," he said, "I have some oceanfront property in southwestern Pennsylvania that I will sell you at a great price."

A survey of business executives by Mercer, a human resources consulting firm, found that only 16 percent of respondents said they would convert the savings from a reduction in health benefits into higher wages for employees. Yet proponents of the tax are holding steadfast to the belief that nearly all would do so.

"In the real world, companies cut costs and they pocket the money," said Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America and a leader of the opposition to the tax. "Executives tell the shareholders: 'Hey, higher profits without any revenue growth. Great!' "

The tax on health benefits is being sold to the public dishonestly as something that will affect only the rich, and it makes a mockery of President Obama's repeated pledge that if you like the health coverage you have now, you can keep it.

Those who believe this is a good idea should at least have the courage to be straight about it with the American people.

Roger Cohen is off today.


16) Fast-food Standards for Meat Top those for School Lunches
By Peter Eisler, Blake Morrison and Anthony DeBarros

In the past three years, the government has provided the nation's schools with millions of pounds of beef and chicken that wouldn't meet the quality or safety standards of many fast-food restaurants, from Jack in the Box and other burger places to chicken chains such as KFC, a USA TODAY investigation found.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the meat it buys for the National School Lunch Program "meets or exceeds standards in commercial products."

That isn't always the case. McDonald's, Burger King and Costco, for instance, are far more rigorous in checking for bacteria and dangerous pathogens. They test the ground beef they buy five to 10 times more often than the USDA tests beef made for schools during a typical production day.

And the limits Jack in the Box and other big retailers set for certain bacteria in their burgers are up to 10 times more stringent than what the USDA sets for school beef.

For chicken, the USDA has supplied schools with thousands of tons of meat from old birds that might otherwise go to compost or pet food. Called "spent hens" because they're past their egg-laying prime, the chickens don't pass muster with Colonel Sanders- KFC won't buy them - and they don't pass the soup test, either. The Campbell Soup Company says it stopped using them a decade ago based on "quality considerations."

"We simply are not giving our kids in schools the same level of quality and safety as you get when you go to many fast-food restaurants," says J. Glenn Morris, professor of medicine and director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida. "We are not using those same standards."

It wasn't supposed to be this way. In 2000, then-Agriculture secretary Dan Glickman directed the USDA to adopt "the highest standards" for school meat. He cited concerns that fast-food chains had tougher safety and quality requirements than those set by the USDA for schools, and he vowed that "the disparity would exist no more."

Today, USDA rules for meat sent to schools remain more stringent than the department's minimum safety requirements for meat sold at supermarkets. But those government rules have fallen behind the increasingly tough standards that have evolved among fast-food chains and more selective retailers.

Morris, who used to run the USDA office that investigates food-borne illnesses, says the department's purchases of meat that doesn't satisfy higher-end commercial standards are especially worrisome because the meat goes to schools. It's not just that children are more vulnerable to food-borne illnesses because of their fledgling immune systems; it's also because there's less assurance that school cafeteria workers will cook the meat well enough to kill any pathogens that might slip through the USDA's less stringent safety checks.

USDA-purchased meat is donated to almost every school district in the country and served to 31 million students a day, 62% of whom qualify for free or reduced-price meals. President Obama noted earlier this year that, for many children, school lunches are "their most nutritious meal - sometimes their only meal - of the day."

Next year, Congress will revisit the Child Nutrition Act, which governs the lunch program.

"If there are higher quality and safety standards, the government should set them," says Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor. "Ensuring the safety of food in schools is something we'll look at closely."

Officials with the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the USDA agency that buys meat for the school lunch program, insist that schools get top-notch products.

AMS standards for meat sent to schools have been "extremely successful in protecting against food-borne pathogens," AMS Administrator Rayne Pegg says in a written statement. She notes that AMS oversight, inspections and tests of that meat exceed those required for meat sold to the general public.

The AMS also has a "zero-tolerance" policy that requires rejection of meat that tests positive for salmonella or E. coli O157:H7, pathogens that can cause serious illness or death.

Still, after USA TODAY presented USDA officials with its findings, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack promised an independent review of testing requirements for ground beef that the AMS sends to schools. The review, set for next year, is meant "to ensure the food served to our school children is as safe as possible," Vilsack says in a statement.

Tougher standards for school meat would better protect students, experts say. Today's AMS program "is a sort of snapshot of the way things were in (2000), whereas the industry has continued to clamp down," says James Marsden, a Kansas State University professor who advises the meat industry on safety. "It needs to be modernized."

The difference

USA TODAY examined about 150,000 tests on beef purchased by the AMS for the school lunch program. The agency buys more than 100 million pounds of beef a year for schools, and the vast majority of it would satisfy the standards of most commercial buyers. But USA TODAY also found cases in which the agency bought meat that retailers and fast-food chains would have rejected.

Like the AMS, many big commercial buyers reject meat that tests positive for salmonella or E. coli O157:H7. But many fast-food chains and premium retailers set tougher limits than the AMS on so-called indicator bacteria. Although not necessarily dangerous themselves, high levels of the bacteria can suggest an increased likelihood that meat may have pathogens that tests might miss.

From 2005 to this year, the AMS purchased six orders of ground beef that exceeded the limits some commercial buyers set for indicator bacteria. The meat came from five companies: Beef Packers of Fresno, which filled two of the orders; Skylark Meats of Omaha; Duerson Foods of Pleasant Prairie, Wis.; N'Genuity Enterprises of Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Palo Duro Meat Processing of Amarillo, Texas.

Palo Duro is the largest provider of ground beef to schools. Beef Packers is one of the most troubled; it has been suspended as an AMS supplier three times, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., called this week for the plant to be closed temporarily in the wake of two recalls.

From late November 2008 through January this year, the AMS bought nearly 500,000 pounds of ground beef from Beef Packers and Skylark with unusually high levels of an indicator bacteria known as "generic E. coli." The organism is considered an indicator of whether potential contaminants from the intestines of cattle have gotten into slaughtered meat - a source of the far more dangerous E. coli O157:H7.

The indicator bacteria are measured in CFUs, or colony-forming units. Jack in the Box, which pioneered many of the safety standards now used across the fast-food industry, won't accept beef with generic E. coli levels of more than 100 CFUs per gram. The AMS, on the other hand, will buy beef for the school lunch program with generic E. coli counts of up to 1,000 CFUs per gram - 10 times the Jack in the Box limit.

"That's a significant difference," says Marsden, the professor and beef industry adviser.

The shipments of beef that the AMS bought a year ago had generic E. coli levels up to four times higher than what Jack in the Box would accept. "Most higher-end companies certainly would reject that," Marsden says. Those bacteria levels "would be a yellow light (that) something's not right."

E. coli isn't the only indicator bacteria that the AMS allows at higher levels. The government also accepts beef with more than double the limit set by many fast-food chains for total coliform, which is used to assess whether a beef producer is minimizing fecal contamination in its meat.

"We look at those (measures) to gauge how a supplier is doing," says David Theno, who developed the safety program at Jack in the Box before retiring last year. If shipments regularly exceed the company's limits on indicator bacteria, "we'd stop doing business with them," he says.

AMS officials say the differences between the agency's bacteria limits and those of private industry are inconsequential. They note that there isn't even a requirement that beef sold in a typical grocery store has to be tested for the organisms.

"We remain confident, based upon past benchmarking activities, that our testing and standards are similar to or exceed those of most major large volume buyers," AMS chief Pegg says.

Suspect samples

The biggest disparity between the AMS and other big buyers of ground beef may not be in the levels of bacteria they allow but in the effort they make to detect such contamination.

On a given manufacturing day, AMS workers testing ground beef bound for schools sample the meat eight times, regardless of how long the production lines are running. Those samples are combined into a single composite sample for testing.

Jack in the Box, McDonald's, Burger King and other more selective buyers sample the ground beef on their production lines every 15 minutes. Some, such as Jack in the Box, combine those samples to create a composite sample for testing every hour during the production run. Others, such as McDonald's and Burger King, combine those samples to create a composite sample for testing every two hours.

That means Jack in the Box would test at least 10 composite samples during a typical 10-hour production run, which could yield 100,000 pounds or more of ground beef. The AMS would test just one sample for the entire 100,000-pound run.

The AMS approach to sampling "is not robust enough to find anything," says Mansour Samadpour, a Seattle-based food safety consultant and microbiologist.

Fast-food chains aren't the only ones with better sampling. Other beef buyers, such as Costco and afa Foods, a Pennsylvania firm that supplies beef to restaurants, use similar programs.

AMS officials say the agency accounts for less frequent sampling by being more aggressive in rejecting meat that fails to meet its standards. When a test shows salmonella, for instance, the AMS rejects all the meat produced by that supplier during that production run - tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds.

But the AMS approach doesn't resonate with some scientists.

"AMS is saying once they detect, they take drastic action," says Ewen Todd, a professor at Michigan State University, "but if they are less likely to detect, the risk is still higher."

Adds Theno: "If you do more sampling and you do it on smaller lots, you have a better chance of finding problems."

Theno helped pioneer the sampling and testing standards now used widely in the fast-food world after he arrived at Jack in the Box in the wake of the industry's most notorious safety lapse.

In 1993, an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 at Jack in the Box restaurants left hundreds sick and four children dead. Victims, most from the West, won more than $50 million from the company and its suppliers. Reverberations from the event rippled across the fast-food industry.

In the aftermath, Theno says, Jack in the Box asked him to build a food safety program that would "set a new (industry) standard."

Today, most fast-food companies and premium grocery chains have safety programs built on the same pillars Theno set up at Jack in the Box: frequent sampling requirements, tight limits on indicator bacteria, and zero tolerance for dangerous pathogens.

Food safety officials from fast-food chains and other big beef buyers share ideas and information about their programs, says Dane Bernard, vice president for food safety at Keystone Foods, a ground beef supplier to McDonald's. "Our testing programs are constantly evolving. We watch the science closely."

Raising the bar

The AMS could "very easily" raise the standards for federally purchased school lunch meat, says Barry Carpenter, a former AMS official who helped set up the current sampling and testing requirements in 2000. "If I was still at AMS, I'd say, 'Where are we (with today's rules) and where do we need to tighten them?' "

Carpenter, now head of the National Meat Association, notes that raising AMS standards "wouldn't cost much," and it would help combat perceptions that the school lunch program is "a market of last resort" for meat that can't pass muster with commercial buyers.

That perception could be reinforced by the reality of how AMS makes its purchasing decision: Contracts go to the lowest qualified bidders. Orders are placed on a computer system that can be accessed by all of the agency's suppliers - those certified as able to meet the special sampling and testing requirements set for school lunch food. When an order is placed, suppliers enter bids into the system, and the computer automatically awards contracts to low bidders.

Industry experts say tougher standards would not significantly add to the agency's costs for school meat. Theno says the safety requirements set by Jack in the Box added less than a penny a pound to its beef costs. Other big buyers outside the school program say it's a worthwhile investment in safety.

"It's not about transactional cost; it's about value," says Justin Malvick, a vice president at Keystone, the McDonald's supplier.

Carpenter says the meat industry that he now represents would have no problem with a decision to modernize - and toughen - AMS standards for school lunch meat.

Most major beef suppliers and processors already have procedures in place to ensure that their products can satisfy the tougher sampling and testing requirements set by many commercial buyers, he adds. If the AMS followed, he says, "I don't think the industry would have any hiccup at all."

Some lawmakers say a change is overdue. "Why are we even looking at giving (schools) ... food that wouldn't be accepted by a restaurant?," asks Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y. "That's absolutely crazy."

Contributing: Elizabeth Weise


By Cindy Sheehan
December 29, 2009

One of my friends, Joshua Smith, just texted me from Cairo and said that some U.S. citizens of the Gaza Freedom March went to the U.S. Embassy today there to try and implore the staff there to intercede on behalf of the March to help get them into Gaza--they were not so warmly welcomed.

Recently, almost 1400 people from around the globe met in Cairo to march into Gaza to join Gazans in solidarity and to help expose their plight after years of blockade and exactly a year after the violent attack in what Israel called "Operation Cast Lead" that killed hundreds of innocent Gazan civilians. So far the Marchers have been denied access (Egypt closed the Rafah crossing) and their gatherings have become increasingly and more violently suppressed.

In my understanding of world affairs, embassies are stationed in various countries so citizens who are traveling can seek help in times of trouble, but this doesn't appear to be so right at this moment in Cairo.

Josh reports, and I also just got off the phone with my good friend and Veterans for Peace board member, Mike Hearington, that about 50 U.S. citizens were very roughly seized and thrown (in at least one case literally) into a detention cell at the U.S. embassy. We are talking about U.S. citizens here being manhandled by Egyptian riot police. According to Josh and Mike (who both just narrowly escaped), it appears that people with cameras are especially being targeted. Another good friend of mine, and good friend of peace, Fr. Louis Vitale is one of those being detained. Fr. Louis is well into his seventies!

Josh posted this on his Facebook wall about his near-detention experience:

We just got away. They were trying to drag me in but we kept moving... And most were dog piling another guy. Then they drug him into the parking lot barricaded riot police zone, lifted him up and threw him over the police and down into the zone. And attacking those taking pictures or attempting to.

When I was talking to Mike he said that an Egyptian told him that all Egyptians are in solidarity with the Marchers and with the people of Gaza/Palestine, of course, but the "Big Boss" (the U.S.) is calling the shots.

Egypt is third in line for U.S. foreign aid (behind Iraq and Israel) and its dictator for life, Hosni Mubarek, is a willing puppet for his masters: the US/Israeli cabal. Israel could not pursue its apartheid policies without the U.S. and it's equally important for this cabal to have a sold-out ally as its neighbor.

Today also happens to be the anniversary of the 1890 U.S. massacre of Native Americans (Lakota Sioux) at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. It is sad enough that we are also living on stolen land, but also that the Israeli government had good teachers in disposing of its indigenous population!

What are the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, if not stolen land from the indigenous population and what is Gaza if not a mega-reservation? As at Wounded Knee 119 years ago, the Israeli siege and attack on Gaza is nothing more than big bullies shooting fish in a barrel.

Call the U.S. Embassy to demand the release of those detained/that permission is granted for the March to cross into Gaza: Telephone: (20-2) 2797 3300.

Please re-post this alert and spread the word.

Weren't things supposed to "change" in the Age of Obama?


18) Protesters Gather in Cairo for March to Gaza
December 30, 2009

CAIRO - More than 1,000 people from around the world were gathered here on Tuesday for a solidarity march into Gaza despite Egypt's insistence that the Gaza border crossing that it controls would remain closed to the vast majority of them.

The protest, the Gaza Freedom March, was planned for Thursday and intended to mark a year since Israel's three-week military assault on the territory. On Tuesday, hundreds of the frustrated activists gathered to press their case on the front steps of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate here, holding "Free Gaza" signs and chanting, "Let us go." Some declared a hunger strike.

About 100 French citizens staged a sit-in in front of the French Embassy, and some Americans pleaded for help at the United States Consulate.

The Egyptian government agreed to let 100 activists into Gaza on Wednesday, according to one of the organizers of the march.

The crossing, at Rafah, Egypt, has been closed for most purposes since the summer of 2007, when the militant group Hamas seized control of Gaza from the rival Western-backed forces of Fatah. Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza, and the Egyptian government, citing its own security needs, closed the crossing, drawing criticism from within Egypt and across the Arab world.

International criticism of Israel spiked after the Gaza assault, which left as many as 1,400 Palestinians dead, including hundreds of civilians. Thirteen Israelis were killed. While both sides were accused of war crimes, most of the outrage was focused on Israel because of its overwhelming military strength and the enormous differences in the death tolls.

International activists have been challenging Israel's control of Gaza's waters, sending in boats to bring in supplies and convey support; Israel has blocked many.

Egypt repeatedly refused to open its border ahead of the planned march, citing what its officials said were "security reasons," but participants in the march flew to Cairo anyway, hoping the government would relent.

"We have not come to Egypt to create trouble or cause conflict," organizers of the march wrote in an open letter to Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak. "We have come because we believe that all people - including the Palestinians of Gaza - should have access to the resources they need to live in dignity."

The letter said the group, which is urging Israel to lift its blockade, raised tens of thousands of dollars for medical aid, school supplies and clothing to take to Gaza.

The Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, expressed frustration at the activists who came to Cairo despite the warning that the border was closed.

"Those who tried to conspire against us, and they are more than a thousand, we will leave them in the street," he said.

One protester, Hedy Epstein, 85, a Holocaust survivor, arrived in Egypt from the United States on Saturday. She said she started a hunger strike on Monday.

"My message is for the world governments to wake up and treat Israel like they treat any other country and not to be afraid to reprimand and criticize Israel for its violent policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians," Ms. Epstein said. "I brought a suitcase full of things, pencils, pens, crayons, writing paper to take to children in Gaza - I can't take that back home."


19) Coalition Forces Killed Afghan Civilians, Official Says
December 30, 2009

KABUL (AP) -- The head of a presidential delegation investigating the deaths of 10 people in eastern Afghanistan concluded Wednesday that civilians -- including schoolchildren -- were killed in an attack involving foreign troops, disputing NATO reports that the dead were insurgents.

Asadullah Wafa, a senior adviser to President Hamid Karzai, told The Associated Press by telephone that eight schoolchildren between the ages of 12 and 14 were among the dead discovered in a village house in the Narang district of Kunar province.

A NATO official has said initial reports from troops involved in the fighting on Sunday indicated that those killed were insurgents -- all young males.

Civilian deaths are one of the most sensitive issues for foreign troops in Afghanistan, especially now when some additional 37,000 U.S. and NATO troops are being deployed to the war-ravaged country. Although far more civilians are killed by the Taliban, those blamed on international forces spark widespread resentment and undermine the fight against militants.

Several hundred Afghans protested the deaths Wednesday in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad and in the capital of Kabul. In Jalalabad, they burned President Barack Obama's effigy and an American flag, chanting ''death'' to Obama and Karzai.

In Kabul, protesters chanted, ''Unity, unity, death to the enemy of Islam!'' and a protester with a bullhorn called on Obama to ''take your soldiers out of Afghanistan.''

Wafa said he was convinced all those killed in the Kunar incident were innocent civilians.

''I have talked to the principal of the school in the village and he gave us details about the killed children,'' Wafa said. ''The schoolchildren cannot be al-Qaida. I confirm they are innocent people killed by mistake. I talked to Karzai about the findings.''

The bodies had already been buried by the time Wafa's team arrived. A joint Afghan-NATO probe will continue to investigate what happened.

Wafa said the villagers demanded from the 10-member delegation of government officials and lawmakers that informants ''who gave the wrong target to the Americans must be found and punished by a court.''

Karzai said in a statement Wednesday that he talked to the relatives of the Kunar victims to express his condolences and pledge to bring to justice those responsible for the attack.

Col. Wayne Shanks, spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, said at a news conference Wednesday the allegations were being investigated together with Afghan authorities.

He said the force takes all such allegations seriously and goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties.

''In fact, you can see that our enemy, the insurgents, have very little regard for the Afghan people,'' he said. ''We have noticed a very dramatic increase in civilian casualties caused by roadside bombs, by attacks that insurgents have on the Afghan people.''

The latest figures released by the United Nations show that 2,021 civilians died during clashes in the first 10 months of this year, up from 1,838 for the same period last year. Taliban insurgents were blamed for 68 percent of the deaths this year -- three times more than NATO forces, according to the U.N.

Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic in Kabul contributed to this report.


20) Oil Field Project in Iraq Won by Lukoil and Statoil
December 30, 2009

Lukoil of Russia and Statoil of Norway on Tuesday formally signed a contract with Iraqi authorities to develop the vast West Qurna 2 oil field. The untapped reserves are seen as critical to Iraqi reconstruction efforts.

"This is unquestionably an incredible deal for Iraq," said Alex Munton, a Middle East analyst for Wood Mackenzie, a research and consulting firm based in Edinburgh. "The overwhelming beneficiary is the Iraqi state, as it will gain almost all of the revenues associated with the project," he said.

Lukoil and Statoil had secured the winning bid on the field in Basra Province, in the south of the country, during a second licensing round held a few weeks ago. The deal still requires final approval from Iraqi authorities, likely to be the country's council of ministers, analysts said.

Companies like Lukoil and Statoil are eager to snap up fields in Iraq - even on terms that may offer little immediate reward - to deepen their involvement in a country that appears poised to become a top-tier producer.

"The returns will be fairly negligible," Mr. Munton said. "The companies have the opportunity to recover everything they spend and to get a wafer-thin profit on top, but this is really an opportunity to get into Iraq."

Iraq has reserves of 115 billion barrels and possibly more, Mr. Munton said, quoting estimates by his firm.

But fields like West Qurna 2, discovered in the early 1970s, have been neglected for decades. Violence in the aftermath of the invasion led by the United States to oust the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has kept the country from recovering its prewar output levels.

Lukoil was originally granted rights to develop West Qurna 2 in 1997 by Mr. Hussein, but he rescinded the contract early this decade.

Iraq currently produces 2.5 million barrels a day, of which about 1.9 million are exported. But analysts said the country could more than triple that level of production over the coming decade.

The consortium led by Lukoil offered to develop the West Qurna field in exchange for $1.15 for each barrel of oil it extracted. That offer beat out bids from companies including BP of Britain and Total of France.

The consortium foresees producing up to 1.8 million barrels a day at the field, which Lukoil has estimated contains total recoverable reserves of 12.9 billion barrels.

Some analysts said there were dangers for Iraq in signing deals that were so favorable to its own interests.

"The weakness of a service contract is that the oil companies may need to spend money very freely to develop the field, and if those costs spiral, that would not be good for Iraq," said Valerie Marcel, an associate fellow with Chatham House, a research institute based in London.

"For this to be a win-win deal for the companies and for Iraq, the work must be done at reasonable cost," Ms. Marcel said.

Oil revenues make up as much as 90 percent of the Iraqi national budget, underlining the importance of the deal for the country, she said.

Statoil said Tuesday that it had renegotiated the terms of the deal to give it a somewhat larger stake than was originally foreseen.

Under the new terms, Statoil will eventually hold 18.75 percent of the consortium, with Lukoil holding 56.25 percent and a partner from the Iraqi state holding the remainder, said Ola Aanestad, a spokesman for Statoil.

The new arrangement was "more balanced from Statoil's point of view," Mr. Aanestad said.

Mr. Munton said the biggest potential threat hanging over the deal probably was the future security of Iraq. Even so, he acknowledged that the companies could eventually grow frustrated with the terms of the contract.

"There is a danger that the companies, within a few years, may begin to rethink whether they have a continued interest in investing as the returns are so low," he said.


21) Billions to Fight Foreclosure, but Few New Loans
December 30, 2009

They milled about the hallways of the cavernous State Supreme Court building in Jamaica, Queens - 42 homeowners whispering, studying old bills, waiting for a court officer to call their names and wave them, one by one, through a door.

There, in a dusty, high-ceilinged room with a steam radiator that never stopped wheezing, they took a seat across a table from a lawyer for a mortgage company. Then their work began: trying to persuade a stranger not to foreclose on their home.

The Obama administration's plan to rescue Americans from foreclosure plays out day after day in rooms like this. On this day, as on most, nothing happened. One lawyer, visibly bored, put in a brief, token appearance. A few others seemed barely familiar with their cases. Another asked for more records, hinting that maybe next month the lender might talk about a settlement.

Ismail Ali, a silver-haired immigrant from Guyana, hoped to save his home in Ozone Park. "If it takes you another three months to evaluate me, and I keep paying, will I get a new mortgage?" he asked, almost pleading.

The lawyer shrugged, not unsympathetically. "I can't answer that for you," he said.

Ten months ago President Obama announced a $75 billion program to keep as many as four million Americans in their homes by persuading banks to renegotiate their mortgages. Lenders have accepted more than one million applications and cut three-month trial deals with 759,000 homeowners. But they have converted just 31,000 of those to the permanent new mortgages that are the plan's goal.

In New York City, where 20,000 homeowners faced foreclosure this year, a recent study by the Center for NYC Neighborhoods found that lenders have offered new or trial mortgages to just 3 percent of the homeowners who have sought help.

Big mortgage companies - servicers, in the parlance of the industry - stand at the heart of this program. Many of the servicers that have agreed to participate are subsidiaries of the nation's largest banks - Wells Fargo, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase.

They say their performance is improving. "We ourselves stated that we fell short of our customer service goals," said Mary Coffin, executive vice president for loan servicing at Wells Fargo. "Now we are doing three modifications for every foreclosure."

But a drove of critics, including homeowners, nonprofit loan counselors, legal services lawyers and court officials, say these companies are also at the heart of the problem. Servicers, they say, pile delay upon delay, and too often steer homeowners into new mortgages with onerous terms. Some companies have insisted that homeowners waive their right to sue before getting a new mortgage, even though the Obama plan prohibits such demands.

Administration officials have vowed to shame servicers into action. And New York State lawmakers, like their counterparts in a few other states and cities, have tried to slow the headlong hurtle toward foreclosure by requiring lenders to negotiate with troubled borrowers in court.

Leonard N. Florio, a court-appointed referee, oversees such sessions in that dusty room in Queens. He is a chatty man and punctilious about not taking sides. But as he watched Mr. Ali, the Ozone Park homeowner, load his piles of bills and receipts back into his shopping bags, he could not help noting a pattern.

"I have yet to see an attorney for a servicer cut a deal," he said. "Update this, update that. I mean, what's the holdup?"

Loan servicers argue that homeowners are as often to blame: Many cannot show proof of income, and fail to make payments even on modified mortgages. And millions are in bigger trouble than the public realizes, burdened with monthly payments so exorbitant that even a reduced mortgage payment will not save their home.

The servicing companies make money either way. The Obama program pays them $1,000 for each loan modified, and another $1,000 per year for three more years if the borrower avoids foreclosure. On the other hand, the companies make large sums charging late and legal fees on overdue mortgage payments, and sometimes it is cheaper to foreclose than to cut the mortgage payment.

These same companies turned billions of dollars in profits during the fat years of the bubble. Four years ago, lenders strung banners from storefronts in Jamaica and Cypress Hills and Bedford-Stuyvesant, promising "You will not be turned down!" A no-documents-needed mortgage was easily obtained, often accompanied by the flimsiest of appraisals.

Now the lenders toss up daunting hurdles. Homeowners say they send and resend thick piles of documentation, only to be told that their papers have been misplaced, or that their pay stubs are out of date. Housing counselors dial a dozen times just to get a servicer on the phone.

"It's a constant Catch-22: They never give you their name," said Gerald Carter, a counselor with the Parodneck Foundation in New York City, which receives city and state money to advise homeowners. "You call back and say, 'No, I was talking to Bob last time,' but Bob wouldn't give his last name - not even an employee ID number. So you start over."

Last month, the Legal Aid Society of New York sued the federal government and a mortgage servicer, Aurora Loan Services, on behalf of four Queens homeowners. Aurora, which has a $116 billion loan portfolio, was a subsidiary of Lehman Brothers before that firm went bankrupt; it offered loans with interest rates just a bit lower than subprime rates, which are typically a few percentage points higher than rates on conventional mortgages.

The lawsuit charges that Aurora, and by implication many other servicers, systematically denied homeowners access to the federal rescue program. And, the lawsuit asserts, the Obama plan provides far too few safeguards for homeowners.

"The servicers ignore their obligations, and are throwing unaffordable agreements at people and setting them up for another default," said Oda Friedheim, a staff lawyer with the Legal Aid Society.

Asked to respond, an Aurora spokeswoman e-mailed a statement saying the company tries to prevent foreclosure for its customers.

Tom Vellucci, 54, is one of the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and a soldier in this army of the potentially dispossessed. Once a maintenance man for an insurance company, with a modest home in Floral Park, Queens, he lost his health and then his job. When a tenant stopped paying rent, he fell behind on his mortgage. A so-called rescue firm offered to negotiate better terms and wheedled Mr. Vellucci and his wife, Maria, out of $8,000 in fees.

When the inevitable foreclosure notice arrived in March, the Velluccis called Aurora Loan Services and asked for a break. The company, he said, responded by piling on legal fees and giving them a four-month trial agreement that did not reduce their monthly payment.

The Velluccis say they drained their savings making payments. Then the couple asked Aurora if they could revise their mortgage terms under the Obama rescue plan. They say the company refused, saying their mortgage was not eligible because it was owned by investors.

Aurora makes a similar statement about investor-owned mortgages on its Web site. These claims are not true. The Obama program requires companies to make an effort to modify such mortgages.

Sitting on a bench in the Queens courthouse, where he has become a regular, Mr. Vellucci ran his fingers through thick black hair and shook his head. "We kept trying to pay on faith, all faith, so we could prove we were honest people," he said. "Now all we look like is stupid."

Phyllis Caldwell, chief of the Treasury Department's Home Ownership Preservation Office, is not inclined toward tough talk about servicers, perhaps because the Obama plan, which she oversees, lacks enforcement teeth. Asked about Aurora's refusal to consider modifying investor-owned mortgages, she suggested a reporter call the program's compliance unit.

"If it is reported in The New York Times and someone chooses to audit it, that's important," she said.

She sees a brighter day coming. "We are holding the servicers accountable to report to us," she said. "They are being much more transparent."

For now, however, the Velluccis and thousands like them dangle perilously close to calamity.

Born in Italy, Mr. Vellucci and his wife migrated here as teenagers. They raised children, bought a house, lived their dream in Technicolor. Then his kidney gave out and their economic slide began. After court on this day, he would go for dialysis. The couple hope the lawsuit might give them one more shot at the Obama plan.

"I don't sleep at night, I don't sleep at all," he said, rising slowly. "I tell Maria, 'If we lose the house, I want to stop my dialysis.' I want to die, honestly."


22) Company's Record on Beef Treatment Questioned
December 31, 2009

Eight years ago, federal officials were struggling to remove potentially deadly E. coli from hamburgers when an entrepreneurial company from South Dakota came up with a novel idea: injecting beef with ammonia.

The company, Beef Products Inc., had been looking to expand into the hamburger business with a product made from beef that included fatty trimmings the industry once relegated to pet food and cooking oil. The trimmings were particularly susceptible to contamination, but a study commissioned by the company showed that the ammonia process would kill E. coli as well as salmonella.

Officials at the United States Department of Agriculture endorsed the company's ammonia treatment, and have said it destroys E. coli "to an undetectable level." They decided it was so effective that in 2007, when the department began routine testing of meat used in hamburger sold to the general public, they exempted Beef Products.

With the U.S.D.A.'s stamp of approval, the company's processed beef has become a mainstay in America's hamburgers. McDonald's, Burger King and other fast-food giants use it as a component in ground beef, as do grocery chains. The federal school lunch program used an estimated 5.5 million pounds of the processed beef last year alone.

But government and industry records obtained by The New York Times show that in testing for the school lunch program, E. coli and salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in Beef Products meat, challenging claims by the company and the U.S.D.A. about the effectiveness of the treatment. Since 2005, E. coli has been found 3 times and salmonella 48 times, including back-to-back incidents in August in which two 27,000-pound batches were found to be contaminated. The meat was caught before reaching lunch-rooms trays.

In July, school lunch officials temporarily banned their hamburger makers from using meat from a Beef Products facility in Kansas because of salmonella - the third suspension in three years, records show. Yet the facility remained approved by the U.S.D.A. for other customers.

Presented by The Times with the school lunch test results, top department officials said they were not aware of what their colleagues in the lunch program had been finding for years.

In response, the agriculture department said it was revoking Beef Products' exemption from routine testing and conducting a review of the company's operations and research. The department said it was also reversing its policy for handling Beef Products during pathogen outbreaks. Since it was seen as pathogen-free, the processed beef was excluded from recalls, even when it was an ingredient in hamburgers found to be contaminated.

The Beef Products case reveals a schism between the main Department of Agriculture and its division that oversees the school lunch program, a divide that underscores the government's faltering effort to make hamburger safe. The U.S.D.A. banned the sale of meat found to be contaminated with the O157:H7 strain of E. coli 15 years ago, after a deadly outbreak was traced to Jack in the Box restaurants. Meat tainted with salmonella is also a hazard. But while the school lunch program will not buy meat contaminated with salmonella, the agriculture department does not ban its sale to the general public.

Even so, E. coli outbreaks nationwide have increased in recent years. And this summer, two outbreaks of particularly virulent strains of salmonella in hamburger prompted large recalls of ground beef across several states.

Although no outbreak has been tied to Beef Products, officials said they would thoroughly scrutinize any future industry innovations for fighting contamination "to ensure that they are scientifically sound and protect public health," and that they were examining the government's overall meat safety policies.

The founder and owner of Beef Products, Eldon N. Roth, declined requests for interviews or access to the company's production facilities. Responding to written questions, Beef Products said it had a deep commitment to hamburger safety and was continually refining its operation to provide the safest product possible. "B.P.I.'s track record demonstrates the progress B.P.I. has made compared to the industry norm," the company said. "Like any responsible member of the meat industry, we are not perfect."

Beef Products maintains that its ammonia process remains effective. It said it tests samples of each batch it ships to customers and has found E. coli in only 0.06 percent of the samples this year.

The company says its processed beef, a mashlike substance frozen into blocks or chips, is used in a majority of the hamburger sold nationwide. But it has remained little known outside industry and government circles. Federal officials agreed to the company's request that the ammonia be classified as a "processing agent" and not an ingredient that would be listed on labels.

Within the U.S.D.A., the treated beef has been a source of friction for years. The department accepted the company's own study as evidence that the treatment was effective. School lunch officials, who had some doubts about its effectiveness, required that Beef Products meat be tested, as they do all beef used by the program.

School lunch officials said that in some years Beef Products testing results were worse than many of the program's two dozen other suppliers, which use traditional meat processing methods. From 2005 to 2009, Beef Products had a rate of 36 positive results for salmonella per 1,000 tests, compared to a rate of nine positive results per 1,000 tests for the other suppliers, according to statistics from the program. Beef Products said its testing regime was more likely to detect contamination.

Despite some misgivings, school lunch officials say they use Beef Products because its price is substantially lower than ordinary meat trimmings, saving about $1 million a year.

Another snapshot of processed beef's performance emerges from confidential records of tests in 2007 by the food giant Cargill. In the preceding year and a half, Cargill, which used more than 50 vendors, suspended three facilities for excessive salmonella; two were Beef Products plants, records show.

Since introducing the treated meat, Beef Products has faced the challenge of balancing safety with taste, records and interviews show.

Pathogens died when enough ammonia was used to raise the alkalinity of the beef to a high level, company research found. But early on, school lunch officials and other customers complained about the taste and smell of the beef. Samples of the processed beef obtained by The Times revealed lower levels of alkalinity, suggesting less ammonia was used.

Beef Products acknowledged lowering the alkalinity, and the U.S.D.A. said it had determined that "at least some of B.P.I.'s product was no longer receiving the full lethality treatment."

Beef Products said it had submitted new research to the agriculture department showing that its treatment remained effective with lower alkalinity. Agriculture officials said Beef Products' latest study is under review.

A Safety Solution

Headstrong and self-assured, Eldon N. Roth had the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time.

Mr. Roth spent the 1990s looking to give Beef Products a competitive edge by turning fatty slaughterhouse trimmings into usable lean beef.

Mr. Roth and others in the industry had discovered that liquefying the fat and extracting the protein from the trimmings in a centrifuge resulted in a lean product that was desirable to hamburger-makers.

The greater challenge was eliminating E. coli and salmonella, which are more prevalent in fatty trimmings than in higher grades of beef. According to a 2003 study financed by Beef Products, the trimmings "typically includes most of the material from the outer surfaces of the carcass" and contains "larger microbiological populations." Beef Products said it also used trimmings from inside cuts of meat.

Mr. Roth was well suited to tackle the problem, friends say. Though lacking a science background, he had a knack for machinery and obtained patents for over two dozen pieces of equipment and methods used in processing beef.

"He looked and looked at stuff and always wondered, why can't it be done this way?" said Dr. David M. Theno, a food safety consultant and friend of Mr. Roth. "He is like a lot of inventors. Not everyone sees Eldon's vision."

One of Mr. Roth's early trials involved running electricity through the trimmings to kill bacteria, Dr. Theno and others said. Mr. Roth eventually settled on ammonia, which had been shown to suppress spoilage. Meat is sent through pipes where it is exposed to ammonia gas, and then flash frozen and compressed - all steps that help kill pathogens, company research found.

The treated beef landed in Washington in 2001, when federal officials were searching for ways to eliminate E. coli. Beef Products already had one study showing its treatment would do that; another company-sponsored study by an Iowa State University professor that was published in a professional journal seconded that finding.

Mr. Roth asserted that his product would kill pathogens in untreated meat when it was used as an ingredient in ground beef - raising the prospect of a risk-free burger. "Given the technology, we firmly believe that the two pathogens of major concern in raw ground beef - E. coli O157:H7 and salmonella - are on the verge of elimination," Mr. Roth wrote to the department.

The Food and Drug Administration signed off on the use of ammonia, concluding it was safe when used as a processing agent in foods. This year, a top official with the U.S.D.A.'s Food Safety and Inspection Service said, "It eliminates E. coli to the same degree as if you cooked the product."

Carl S. Custer, a former U.S.D.A. microbiologist, said he and other scientists were concerned that the department had approved the treated beef for sale without obtaining independent validation of the potential safety risk. Another department microbiologist, Gerald Zirnstein, called the processed beef "pink slime" in a 2002 e-mail message to colleagues and said, "I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling."

One of the toughest hurdles for Beef Products was the Agricultural Marketing Service, the U.S.D.A. division that buys food for school lunches. Officials cited complaints about the odor, and wrote in a 2002 memorandum that they had "to determine if the addition of ammonia to the product is in the best interest to A.M.S. from a quality standpoint."

"It is our contention," the memo added, "that product should be labeled accordingly."

Represented by Dennis R. Johnson, a top lawyer and lobbyist for the meat industry, Beef Products prevailed on the question of whether ammonia should be listed as an ingredient, arguing that the government had just decided against requiring another company to list a chemical used in treating poultry.

School lunch officials said they ultimately agreed to use the treated meat because it shaved about 3 cents off the cost of making a pound of ground beef."Several packers have unofficially raised concern regarding the use of the product since the perception of quality is inferior," the 2002 memo said. "But will use product to obtain lower bid."

In 2004, lunch officials increased the amount of Beef Products meat allowed in its hamburgers to 15 percent, from 10 percent, to increase savings. In a taste test at the time, some school children favored burgers with higher amounts of processed beef.

Beef Products does not disclose its earnings, but its reported production of seven million pounds a week would generate about $440 million in annual revenue, according to industry records.

Dr. Theno, the food safety consultant, applauds Mr. Roth for figuring out how to convert high-fat trimmings "with no functional value."

"There were some issues with that," Dr. Theno said. "But he, and God bless him, amassed a tidy fortune for it."

As sales took off, Mr. Roth started offering a buy-back guarantee: If any of the most virulent E. coli was found in ground beef containing Beef Products meat, the company would buy the tainted meat.

This was based on Mr. Roth's initial prediction that his treated beef could kill E. coli in any meat it was mixed with. The company acknowledges that its subsequent study found no evidence to back that up, although it says it is now trying with an enhanced treatment. The guarantee remains on the company Web site: "Contact a B.P.I. sales representative today to take the challenge!"

Odor and Alkalinity

As suppliers of national restaurant chains and government-financed programs were buying Beef Product meat to use in ground beef, complaints about its pungent odor began to emerge.

In early 2003, officials in Georgia returned nearly 7,000 pounds to Beef Products after cooks who were making meatloaf for state prisoners detected a "very strong odor of ammonia" in 60-pound blocks of the trimmings, state records show.

"It was frozen, but you could still smell ammonia," said Dr. Charles Tant, a Georgia agriculture department official. "I've never seen anything like it."

Unaware that the meat was treated with ammonia - since it was not on the label - Georgia officials assumed it was accidentally contaminated and alerted the agriculture department. In their complaint, the officials noted that the level of ammonia in the beef was similar to levels found in contamination incidents involving chicken and milk that had sickened schoolchildren.

Beef Products said the ammonia did not pose a danger and would be diluted when its beef was mixed with other meat. The U.S.D.A. accepted Beef Product's conclusion, but other customers had also complained about the smell.

Untreated beef naturally contains ammonia and is typically about 6 on the pH scale, near that of rain water and milk. The Beef Products' study that won U.S.D.A. approval used an ammonia treatment that raised the pH of the meat to as high as 10, an alkalinity well beyond the range of most foods. The company's 2003 study cited the "potential issues surrounding the palatability of a pH-9.5 product."

Soon after getting initial approval from the agriculture department, the company devised a plan to make a less alkaline version of the beef, internal company documents show. Beef Products acknowledged in an e-mail exchange that it was making a lower pH version, but did not specify the level or when it began selling it.

In 2008, after the school lunch program temporarily suspended a Beef Products plant for salmonella contamination, the company wrote in a letter that its effort to combat ammonia "aroma" might have reduced the alkalinity below the initial target levels. It said it was taking steps to ensure that the alkalinity remained elevated.

Samples of the treated beef obtained by The Times this month showed a pH as low as 7.75, according to an analysis by two laboratories. Dr. Michael P. Doyle, a food industry consultant and director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, said one point on the exponential pH scale was a considerable difference, and "could have a significant effect on the antimicrobial effectiveness of the ammonia."

This month, Beef Products provided The Times with new research that the company said showed that E. coli and salmonella were undetectable at a pH level of 8.5. The agriculture department said it did not learn that Beef Products was using lower levels until October, after inquiries by The Times, and that it was studying the company's research.

McDonald's, whose hamburgers have contained Beef Products meat since 2004, declined to say if it monitored it for pH. But Danya Proud, a chain spokeswoman, said, "We expect the pH level to meet the specifications that are approved by the U.S.D.A."

Contagion and Notification

At 6:36 a.m. on Aug. 10, the Beef Products plant in South Sioux City, Neb., started up its production line for the school lunch program. In 60 minutes, the plant produced a batch of 26,880 pounds of processed beef that tested positive for E. coli.

Six days later at the same plant, another 26,880-pound lot was found to have salmonella, government records and interviews show.

Within hours of confirming the contamination, the school lunch division of the Agriculture Department in Washington began investigating.

Just down the hall at department headquarters, the division that oversees meat for the general public did not conduct its own inquiry for another month and half, after receiving questions from The Times.

The problems in South Sioux City came shortly after school lunch officials had suspended a Beef Products plant in Holcomb, Kan., for excessive salmonella. The main U.S.D.A. was not notified of the suspension by school lunch officials, and the plant continued to supply other customers.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has since directed school lunch officials to share information about their suspensions with the department's meat safety division.

In addressing the latest contamination cases in Nebraska, Beef Products said it suspected a glitch in its treatment operations, referring to ammonia gas by its chemical name, NH3, according to an e-mail message to school lunch officials.

"The system was stopped for two minutes in order to install a new valve," the company said. "When the system was restarted, there was product flow for approximately one minute without NH3 flow."

After the school lunch officials replied that the glitch might explain only one of the two episodes, Beef Products shifted focus to its suppliers, saying it would more closely scrutinize them for contamination.

Under the U.S.D.A.'s new policy for Beef Products, the company itself is also likely to get more scrutiny.

Cargill, one of the nation's largest hamburger makers, is a big buyer of Beef Products' ammoniated trimmings for its patties. Company records show that Beef Products, like other suppliers, has periodically exceeded Cargill's limits on acceptable bacteria levels. That led Cargill to stop buying meat from two Beef Products plants for several months in 2006 after company tests showed excessive levels of salmonella.

But the following year, when Cargill faced an E. coli outbreak, it ruled out Beef Products as a possible culprit, citing the U.S.D.A.'s view that the ammonia treatment provided a "lethality step" for the pathogen. In addition, Cargill officials said recently, they suspect that another supplier, not Beef Products, was the problem. As a result, Beef Products did not face as wide a recall as other Cargill suppliers.

Recently, another E. coli outbreak was traced to a hamburger maker in upstate New York that also used multiple suppliers, including Beef Products. This time, the agriculture department said Beef Products was being recalled with other suppliers, although a source of the contamination had not been identified.

"This will continue to be our approach going forward," the department said.

Griff Palmer contributed reporting.


23) In Cuba, Hopeful Tenor Toward Obama Is Ebbing
December 31, 2009

HAVANA - The Obama honeymoon here is over.

When President Obama came to office, the unflattering billboards of George W. Bush, including one outside the United States Interests Section of him scowling alongside Hitler, came down and the anti-American vitriol softened. Raúl Castro, who took over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2006, even raised the possibility of a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Obama, which would have been the first time one of the Castros met with a sitting American president.

But the tenor here has changed considerably, and Mr. Obama, whose election was broadly celebrated by Cuba's racially diverse population, is now being portrayed by this nation's leaders as an imperialistic, warmongering Cuba hater.

"As things appear now, there will be no big change in the relationship in the near future," said Ricardo Alarcón, the president of Cuba's National Assembly. He dismissed the Obama administration's recent steps, like loosening restrictions on Cuban Americans' traveling or sending money to the island and allowing American telecommunications companies to do business there, as "minor changes."

The two countries have postponed the talks they restarted at the beginning of the Obama administration to discuss migration, postal delivery and other issues, blaming each other for the delays. In the absence of talks, Mr. Obama's carrot-and-stick approach of relaxing some Bush-era policies while continuing to denounce the Castro government on human rights has failed to engage - and perhaps has enraged - the Cuban leadership.

While Raúl Castro repeated the offer to meet with Mr. Obama in a fiery speech recently, he also blasted the Obama administration for "undercover subversion" against Cuba and warned that his nation was ready for any American invasion. In one of his recent written commentaries in the state press, Fidel Castro, who has not appeared in public in nearly three years, wrote that Mr. Obama's "friendly smile and African-American face" masked his sinister intentions to control Latin America.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla also recently accused Mr. Obama of behaving like an "imperial chief" at the climate change talks in Copenhagen, displaying "arrogant" behavior aimed at quashing developing countries.

"It's unfortunate," Wayne S. Smith, a former American diplomat in Havana, said of the rising tensions. "There was and still is potential for the Obama administration to change relations with Cuba. These comments coming out of Havana don't help."

Mr. Obama is the 11th president from what the Cubans call "El Imperio," or "The Empire," that the Castros have jousted with since the revolution a half century ago. And given that the Cubans have used Washington as a foil for so long, some of the high-voltage criticism of Mr. Obama is chalked up by some Cuba analysts as merely Havana's normal stance when it comes to the United States. It is only a matter of time before the first anti-Obama billboard goes up, some experts speculate.

Mr. Alarcón, the National Assembly president, did give Mr. Obama credit for using language that is "more peaceful, and civilized and open" than his predecessor. But he said that it was clear to him that the White House was too distracted with other issues to make Cuba a priority.

Others in the Cuban government take matters further, maintaining that Mr. Obama, despite some initial steps toward rapprochement, has continued to follow the Bush administration's goal of toppling the Communist leadership. "In the last few weeks we have witnessed the stepping up of the new administration's efforts in this area," Raúl Castro told Cuba's National Assembly during its annual session on Dec. 19. "They are giving new breath to open and undercover subversion against Cuba."

He was referring to the detention this month of an American contractor distributing cellphones, laptops and satellite equipment in Cuba on behalf of the Obama administration. The Cubans have accused the contractor, whose identity has not been made public, of giving the equipment to civil society groups in Cuba without permission. For its part, the Obama administration complains that Raúl Castro is running the island exactly like his brother did, without fundamental freedoms and with continued abuses against political opponents. But Cuban officials say Washington's insistence on more democracy in Cuba continues an old pattern of meddling in their country's sovereign affairs.

"If the American government really wants to advance relations with Cuba, I recommend they leave behind the conditions of internal governance that they are trying to impose on us and that only Cubans can decide," Raúl Castro said in his assembly speech.

Cuba continues to press its own issues with the United States, arguing, for instance, that Mr. Obama ought to immediately pardon five Cuban agents, known on the island as the Cuban Five, who are serving long prison terms in the United States for gathering information about Cuban exile groups in south Florida.

Mr. Alarcón reiterated a proposal that Raúl Castro has made on more than one occasion: the exchange of political prisoners in Cuba for the five Cubans held in the United States

The Cubans also insist that the Obama administration extradite to Venezuela Luis Posada Carriles, an anti-Castro militant accused of helping to blow up a Cuban airliner in 1976, killing 73 people. Mr. Posada, who is living in Miami on bail, faces charges in federal court in Texas for making what the government says were false statements to immigration officials. An immigration judge has ruled that he cannot be sent to Venezuela, a close ally of Cuba, because he faces a high likelihood of torture there.

"With the previous administration, it didn't make sense to talk about anything," said Mr. Alarcón. "This administration came to office pledging to change and to improve relations. Obama has nothing to do with the past but he's finished his first year and so far nothing has happened with these issues."

Mr. Smith, now a Cuba analyst at the Center for International Policy who advocates a lifting of the American trade and travel bans on Cuba, was supposed to accompany Barry McCaffrey, a retired American Army general, on a trip to Havana from Jan. 3 to 6 to discuss how the two countries could cooperate on fighting drug trafficking. But General McCaffrey pulled out, incensed by recent criticisms of Mr. Obama by Cuban officials.

"This type of shallow and vitriolic 1960s public diplomacy also makes Cuban leadership appear to be nonserious, polemical amateurs," he said in a letter to Mr. Smith. "President Obama is the most thoughtful and nonideological U.S. chief executive that the Cubans have seen in 50 years."

At the same time, still hopeful that the two countries can put their grudges aside, Mr. Smith said the United States should continue efforts to improve relations by removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, for instance, and by closing Radio Martí and TV Martí, the anti-Castro broadcasts financed by the United States government and sent from American soil to Cuba.

Some Cuban exiles, however, argue that Mr. Obama has gone far enough and that it is Cuba's turn to make a meaningful gesture.


24) The Truth of What Happened at the Summit
By Fidel Castro Ruz
December 19, 2009

The youth is more interested than anyone else in the future.

Until very recently, the discussion revolved around the kind of society we would have. Today, the discussion centers on whether human society will survive.

These are not dramatic phrases. We must get used to the true facts. Hope is the last thing human beings can relinquish. With truthful arguments, men and women of all ages, especially young people, have waged an exemplary battle at the Summit and taught the world a great lesson.

It is important now that Cuba and the world come to know as much as possible of what happened in Copenhagen. The truth can be stronger than the influenced and often misinformed minds of those holding in their hands the destiny of the world.

If anything significant was achieved in the Danish capital, it was that the media coverage allowed the world public to watch the political chaos created there and the humiliating treatment accorded to Heads of States or Governments, ministers and thousands of representatives of social movements and institutions that, in hope and expectation, traveled to the Summit's venue in Copenhagen. The brutal repression of peaceful protesters by the police was a reminder of the behavior of the Nazi assault troops that occupied neighboring Denmark on April 1940.

But no one could have thought that on December 18, 2009, the last day of the Summit, this would be suspended by the Danish government-a NATO ally associated with the carnage in Afghanistan-to offer the conference's plenary hall to President Obama for a meeting where only he and a selected group of guests, 16 in all, would have the exclusive right to speak.

Obama's deceitful, demagogic and ambiguous remarks failed to involve a binding commitment and ignored the Kyoto Framework Convention. He then left the room shortly after listening to a few other speakers. Among those invited to take the floor were the highest industrialized nations, several emerging economies and some of the poorest countries in the world. The leaders and representatives of over 170 countries were only allowed to listen.

At the end of the speeches of the 16 chosen, Evo Morales, with the authority of his indigenous Aymara origin and his recent reelection with 65 percent of the vote as well as the support of two-thirds of the Bolivian House and Senate, requested the floor. The Danish president had no choice but to yield to the insistence of the other delegations. When Evo had concluded his wise and deep observations, the Danish had to give the floor to Hugo Chavez. Both speeches will be registered by history as examples of short and timely remarks. Then, with their mission duly accomplished they both left for their respective countries. But when Obama disappeared, he had yet to fulfill his task in the host country.

From the evening of the 17th and the early morning hours of the 18th, the Prime Minister of Denmark and senior representatives of the United States had been meeting with the Chairman of the European Commission and the leaders of 27 nations to introduce to them-on behalf of Obama-a draft agreement in whose elaboration none of the other leaders of the rest of the world had taken part. It was an antidemocratic and practically clandestine initiative that disregarded the thousands of representatives of social movements, scientific and religious institutions and other participants in the Summit.

Through the night of the 18th and until 3:00 A.M. of the 19th, when many Heads of States had already departed, the representatives of the countries waited for the resumption of the sessions and the conclusion of the event. Throughout the 18th, Obama held meetings and press conferences, and the same did the European leaders. Then, they left.

Something unexpected happened then: at three in the morning of the 19th, the Prime Minister of Denmark convened a meeting to conclude the Summit. By then, the countries were represented by ministers, officials, ambassadors and technical staff.

However, an amazing battle was waged that morning by a group of representatives of Third World countries challenging the attempt by Obama and the wealthiest on the planet to introduce a document imposed by the United States as one agreed by consensus in the Summit.

The representative of Venezuela, Claudia Salerno, showed with impressive energy her right hand bleeding from strongly slamming on the table to claim her right to take the floor. Her tone of voice and the dignity of her arguments will never be forgotten.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba made a vigorous speech of approximately one thousand words from which I have chosen a few paragraphs to include in this Reflection:

"The document that you, Mister Chairman, repeatedly claimed that did not exist shows up now. [...] we have seen drafts circulating surreptitiously and being discussed in secret meetings...

"...I deeply resent the way you have led this conference.

"...Cuba considers the text of this apocryphal draft extremely inadequate and inadmissible. The goal of two degrees centigrade is unacceptable and it would have incalculable catastrophic consequences...

"The document that you are unfortunately introducing is not binding in any way with respect to the reduction of the greenhouse-gas emissions.

"I am aware of the previous drafts, which also through questionable and clandestine procedures, were negotiated by small groups of people...

"The document you are introducing now fails to include the already meager and lacking key phrases contained in that draft...

" far as Cuba is concerned, it is incompatible with the universally recognized scientific view sustaining that it is urgent and inescapable to ensure the reduction of at least 45 percent of the emissions by the year 2020, and of no less than 80 percent or 90 percent by 2050.

"Any argument on the continuation of the negotiations to reach agreement in the future to cut down emissions must inevitably include the concept of the validity of the Kyoto Protocol [...] Your paper, Mister Chairman, is a death certificate of the Kyoto Protocol and my delegation cannot accept it.

"The Cuban delegation would like to emphasize the preeminence of the principle of 'common by differentiated responsibilities,' as the core of the future process of negotiations. Your paper does not include a word on that.

"This draft declaration fails to mention concrete financial commitments and the transfers of technologies to developing countries, which are part of the obligations contracted by the developed countries under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change [...] Mister Chairman, by imposing their interests through your document, the developed nations are avoiding any concrete commitment.

"...What you, Mister Chairman, define as 'a group of representative leaders' is to me a gross violation of the principle of sovereign equality consecrated in the United Nations Charter...

"Mr. Chairman, I formally request that this statement be included in the final report of the works of this regrettable and shameful 15th session of the Conference of the Parties."

The representatives of the countries had been given only one hour to present their views. This led to complicated, shameful and embarrassing situations.

Then, a lengthy debate ensued where the delegations from the developed countries put heavy pressure on the rest to make the conference adopt the abovementioned document as the final result of their deliberations.

A small number of countries firmly insisted on the grave omissions and ambiguities of the document promoted by the United States, particularly the absence of a commitment by the developed countries on the reduction of carbon emissions and on the financing that would allow the South countries to adopt alleviating and adjustment measures.

After a long and extremely tense discussion, the position of the ALBA countries and Sudan, as President of the G-77, prevailed that the document was unacceptable to the conference thus it could not be adopted.

In view of the absence of consensus, the Conference could only "take note" of the existence of that document representing the position of a group of about 25 countries.

After that decision was made-at 10:30 in the morning Denmark's time-Bruno, together with other ALBA representatives, had a friendly discussion with the UN Secretary to whom they expressed their willingness to continue struggling alongside the United Nations to prevent the terrible consequences of climate change. Their mission completed, our Foreign Minister and Cuban Vice-President Esteban Lazo departed to come back home and attend the National Assembly session. A few members of the delegation and the ambassador stayed in Copenhagen to take part in the final procedures.

This afternoon they reported the following:

"...both, those who were involved in the elaboration of the document, and those like the President of the United States who anticipated its adoption by the they could not disregard the decision to simply 'take note' of the alleged 'Copenhagen Agreement,' they tried to introduce a procedure allowing the other COP countries that had not been a part of the shady deal to adhere to it, and make it public, the intention being to pretend such an agreement was legal, something that could precondition the results of the negotiations that should carry on.

"Such belated attempt was again firmly opposed by Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia. These countries warned that a document which had not been adopted by the Convention could not be considered legal and that there was not a COP document; therefore, no regulations could be established for its alleged adoption...

"This is how the meeting in Copenhagen is coming to an end, without the adoption of the document surreptitiously worked out in the past few days under the clear ideological guidance of the U.S. Administration..."

Tomorrow our attention will be focused on the National Assembly.

Lazo, Bruno and the other members of the delegation will be arriving at midnight today. On Monday, the Minister of Foreign Affairs will be able to explain in details and with the necessary accuracy the truth of what happened at the Summit.

-, December 19, 2009


25) Afghans Say Inquiry Shows Boys Were Killed in Allied Action
December 31, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan - Deepening a rift between allies, Afghan investigators on Wednesday sharply contradicted accounts by NATO officials about the deaths of 10 civilians in eastern Afghanistan, saying a visit to the remote site showed that nearly all those killed were school-age boys and one was an elderly man. They blamed international forces for the deaths.

NATO officials said earlier this week that all those killed last weekend in a joint operation by Afghan and international forces in a remote district of eastern Kunar Province were armed insurgents who smuggled bombs.

They backed away somewhat from those assertions on Wednesday, but said they had no information to substantiate the claims by an Afghan delegation that looked into the deaths. The NATO officials said they would undertake a joint investigation with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

"We've not been briefed by the delegation; we have no way to corroborate those claims," said Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, the director of communication for NATO and United States forces in Afghanistan.

"However, we've already talked to President Karzai and he's agreed to a joint investigation" by an impartial panel, Admiral Smith said.

There remain a number of discrepancies in the accounts, from both Afghan and American officials, raising the possibility that the competing versions of events are far from complete and candid.

Nonetheless, on Wednesday, in a statement e-mailed to reporters, Mr. Karzai's office left little doubt that the president believed that international forces had committed a serious crime against civilians, portraying an episode that, if substantiated, would make the deaths some of the most egregious of the war.

"The delegation concluded that a unit of international forces descended from a plane Sunday night into Ghazi Khan village, in Narang District of the eastern province of Kunar, and took 10 people from 3 homes, 8 of them school students in grades 6, 9 and 10, one of them a guest, the rest from the same family, and shot them dead," said the statement from the president's office.

Mr. Karzai, the statement said, "was deeply grieved at the loss of civilians and assured the mourning families of his every effort for a serious and thorough investigation and said perpetrators would be legally dealt with."

Despite Mr. Karzai's tone of certainty, international military officials insisted that it was not clear that all those killed were students. Some who have seen photographs of the dead said that several of them appeared to have beards, suggesting they were not young adolescents.

NATO officials also said on Wednesday that the operation was carried out by a joint Afghan and international force, which they said came under fire. The Afghan government has not acknowledged that any Afghan forces were involved.

The issue of civilian casualties has become one of the most divisive between the Afghan government and its international backers. The civilian toll has outraged Afghans and undercut the credibility of both the Afghan government and international forces, making it look as if the country's allies have little regard for the lives of average Afghans.

Since he took command last summer, the leader of international forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has directed foreign troops to avoid harming civilians even if it means retreating in some instances.

While Afghan government officials said there had been a significant drop in civilian casualties caused by foreign troops since then, events like the one in Kunar fuel fears about the risk to civilians as the United States prepares to add 30,000 troops to the 68,000 American troops already in the country.

The Afghan delegation's leaders, who visited the site in Kunar Province, offered an account similar to the president's statement. Though it could not be independently confirmed, it, too, painted a devastating picture for the Americans.

They said they had found that three of the eight students killed were in sixth grade and four in eighth grade.

"They gathered eight school students from two compounds and put them in one room and shot them with small arms," said the delegation's leader, Asadullah Wafa, a senior adviser to Mr. Karzai and a former governor of Kunar.

The delegation visited the school that the boys attended and spoke to the principal, who told them: " 'All of them are students in my school and they were here until late afternoon and were present in their classes,' " Mr. Wafa said.

"In total 10 were killed; eight were school students and one was an elderly man," he said.

The 10th casualty was a local farmer, according to a Parliament member, Shujaul Mookh, who accompanied the delegation. He noted that the principal was also the grandfather of several of the boys who were killed, which could raise questions about the impartiality of his account.

News of the casualties reverberated through the Afghan media. A demonstration in Kabul drew about 200 people, mostly young men, chanting and waving signs in Pashto and English that said: "Stop Killing Us" and "Stop Afghanicide." The protesters said they were considering holding a similar demonstration in the eastern city of Jalalabad later in the week.

Allocating blame for civilian casualties has proved difficult in the past. In some cases, international military forces have been at fault, as they were in a bombing in Farah Province in May, when dozens of civilians were killed.

In others, the Taliban have been extremely adept at fanning public outcry over the deaths of local insurgents by presenting them as innocent civilians, as in a recent raid in Laghman Province that killed at least four people.

In still other cases, a mix of Taliban and civilians have been victims, as they were in the NATO bombing of two hijacked fuel trucks in Kunduz Province in September.

Although the civilian casualties caused by foreign troops receive the biggest headlines, the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties are caused by the insurgents, according to a United Nations report released this week.

The report found that civilian casualties rose by 10.8 percent in the first 10 months of 2009 compared with the same period in 2008. But it found that more than half of the deaths this year were caused by insurgents, said Aleem Siddique, the spokesman for the United Nations special representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide.