Obama’s chief of staff choice favors compulsory universal service

Obama’s chief of staff choice favors compulsory

universal service

by J.D. Tuccille

Rahm Emanuel
Rep. Rahm Emanuel wants to force people 18 to 25
to labor for the government.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, President-Elect Barack Obama’s choice for chief of staff in his incoming administration, is co-author of a book, The Plan: Big Ideas for America, that calls for, among other things, compulsory service for all Americans ages 18 to 25. The following excerpt is from pages 61-62 of the 2006 book:

It’s time for a real Patriot Act that brings out the patriot in all of us. We propose universal civilian service for every young American. Under this plan, All Americans between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five will be asked to serve their country by going through three months of basic training, civil defense preparation and community service.

Here’s how it would work. Young people will know that between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, the nation will enlist them for three months of civilian service. They’ll be asked to report for three months of basic civil defense training in their state or community, where they will learn what to do in the event of biochemical, nuclear or conventional attack; how to assist others in an evacuation; how to respond when a levee breaks or we’re hit by a natural disaster. These young people will be available to address their communities’ most pressing needs.

Emanuel and co-author Bruce Reed insist “this is not a draft,” but go on to write of young men and women, “the nation will enlist them for three months of civilian service.” They also warn, “[s]ome Republicans will squeal about individual freedom,” ruling out any likelihood that they would let people opt out of universal citizen service.

As chief of staff, Emanuel will not be in a position to directly introduce public policy, but his enthusiasm for compulsory service, combined with Barack Obama’s own plan to require high school students to perform 50 hours of government-approved service, suggest an unfortunate direction for the new administration.

US: “It’s Taliban’s fault if we slaughter Afghan children”

US: “It’s Taliban’s fault if we slaughter Afghan children”



U.S. Says Taliban Put Afghans in Line of Fire

KABUL, Afghanistan — As Afghan officials reported more civilian casualties from coalition airstrikes on Thursday, witnesses to a strike that apparently hit a wedding party on Monday said the civilian death toll could be more than double the 40 reported so far by Afghan officials.

The United States military says it is conducting a joint investigation with the Afghan authorities into the strike on the wedding party, which took place in the Shah Wali Kot district of the southern province of Kandahar, where the Taliban insurgency has been strong.

On Thursday, American officials offered their first account of the events, saying that insurgents had prevented civilians from fleeing the area, trapping them in a firefight pitting coalition and Afghan Army forces against the militants who had ambushed those forces.

Referring to the deaths in both that strike and another reported on Thursday, in which Afghan officials said at least seven civilians were killed in the northwestern province of Badghis, Col. Greg Julian, a spokesman for United States forces, said, “We hope that it’s not from our fire, but we suspect it may well have been.”

In a telephone interview, Colonel Julian accused Taliban forces of “immersing themselves” among civilians on Monday to deter American forces from using airstrikes.

“Our close air support has been so devastating with the Taliban that they are trying to stop us using it” by provoking situations in which civilians are caught up in fighting and killed, he said.

People who said they saw the wedding party attack said the death toll among civilians was much higher than the official Afghan figure of 40. “I counted 90 dead bodies,” said Abdul Rahim, 26, who said he was a survivor of the family that hosted the wedding party. “I saw them with my own eyes,” he said in a telephone interview from Kandahar Province. “I discovered them under the debris.”

He said he had lost 15 members of his family, including two brothers, 8 and 10 years old; several women; and other children. Mr. Rahim said he was in a neighboring village collecting more food for the wedding party when the airstrike happened.

He said Taliban insurgents had fired some shots from the top of a hill toward a convoy of American vehicles, and the Americans had returned fire. About an hour later, the Americans called in an airstrike, he said. Four houses, including the house where the wedding party was under way, were destroyed, Mr. Rahim said.

A tribal elder of Shah Wali Kot, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety, said he could not confirm the exact death toll, but he also insisted that the casualties were higher than the Afghan government’s estimate of 40.

The United States military, in its statement, made no reference to airstrikes, saying only that militants had “ambushed a coalition security patrol using rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars” and that Afghan and coalition forces had “responded with a variety of weapons fire.”

“Civilians reportedly attempted to leave the area, but the insurgents forced them to remain as they continued to fire” on Afghan and coalition forces, the statement continued. It quoted a local police commander as saying that there had been reports that several civilians had been wounded while trying to leave the area.

The United States statement said nine insurgents had been killed, but did not refer to civilian deaths. But an earlier statement said that “if innocent people were killed in this operation, we apologize and express our condolences to the families and people of Afghanistan.”

The American military used almost identical language in a statement on Thursday about the latest reported attack, on three villages in northwestern Afghanistan.

In that case, Abdullah Waqif, the district governor of the Ghormach area of Badghis Province, said that fighting and coalition airstrikes had killed 7 civilians and 15 Taliban fighters.

Qari Dawlat Khan, the provincial council leader in the area, said as many as 20 civilians might have been killed. One council member, Tawakal Khan, said he had lost two sons, 12 and 35 years old, and a grandson, 7.

Colonel Julian, the United States spokesman, said the attack early Thursday happened after a Taliban ambush, when two quick reaction units came to the assistance of the force under attack and called in airstrikes.

States face unemployment cash crisis

States face unemployment cash crisis

Rising unemployment drains state trust funds, forcing them to borrow from Washington to continue paying claims.

By Tami Luhby

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — State unemployment insurance trust funds are rapidly running out of money amid soaring job losses.

This is prompting state officials to consider raising employer taxes or curtailing benefits, while forcing them to borrow from the federal government to cover claims.

“Some states didn’t have adequate reserves built up,” said Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project. “They are having significant problems paying out the increased number of benefits.”

The number of people collecting state unemployment benefits hit a 25-year high of 3.84 million, on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Labor Department said Thursday. The following day, the department announced that 240,000 jobs were lost in October, pushing the unemployment rate up to 6.5%, up from 6.1%. It’s the highest rate since March 1994. Nearly 1.2 million jobs have been lost this year.

With companies unveiling mass layoffs almost daily, states are likely to see further strains on their trust funds. This comes at a time when the weakening economy is already putting great stress on governments and employers alike.

The trust funds are financed through unemployment insurance taxes levied on businesses. States must pay out the claims promised under the law, even if they have to borrow the funds from the feds.

The trust funds of five states are insolvent – meaning they have reserves of three months or less – while another eight state funds are nearly insolvent with reserves of four to six months, according to the National Employment Law Project. Six other states don’t have enough money to cover a year of payments.

Michigan is hurting

Michigan, hit hard by the collapse of the auto industry, has essentially nothing left in its trust fund, said Norman Isotalo, spokesman for state’s Department of Labor & Economic Growth. New initial claims are up 21% over a year ago, while the unemployment rate hit 8.7% in September, up from 7.3% a year earlier.

Though it has borrowed money from the feds to cover claims since 2006, Michigan has avoided paying interest on the loan by repaying it quickly. The state, however, no longer has the funds to repay the loan, which currently totals nearly $473 million. The debt will starting accruing interest in January, and the state will pass along the additional fees to employers.

Businesses already shell out between .06% and 10.3% on the first $9,000 of earnings of each worker, depending on how many of their former employees are drawing benefits. About 20% of companies soon will start paying up to $67.50 in an additional solvency tax, levied on employers who have paid less in unemployment taxes than their former employees have received in benefits.

The state realizes the additional tax will impose yet another burden on struggling companies, but the law does not allow exceptions, said Stephen Geskey, director of Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency.

“It is not an optimal time for the solvency tax to kick in,” Geskey said. “But there’s really no wiggle room.”

The Michigan fund is being squeezed, in part, because of changes lawmakers made over the past 12 years, Geskey said. When times were good — the fund had a $3 billion balance in 2001 — officials lowered the tax rate. This resulted in a loss of $1.1 billion in contributions, he said.

Spurred by the looming interest payments, legislators are only now planning to address the matter. Discussions should begin soon, said Democratic state Sen. Michael Switalski.

“Now it has our attention,” Switalski said. “We’re going to have to deal with it.”

Ohio contemplates benefit freeze

In Ohio, claims are running 40% above last year’s levels. The state’s trust fund is running an uncomfortably low balance of $305.6 million. Its own calculations show it needs $2.3 billion to withstand a moderate recession, said Sara Hall Phillips, labor policy analyst with the state’s Department of Job and Family Services.

Ohio lawmakers failed to act on recommendations by a state advisory council to replenish the fund. The council had proposed raising taxes paid by employers and freezing workers’ benefits for three years, Hall Phillips said.

Employers in Ohio pay between 0.5% and 9.2% on the first $9,000 of earnings of each worker. The maximum weekly benefit is $365 for a worker with no dependents.

Even though the fund will likely run out of money by early January, lawmakers likely won’t address the issue before the middle of next year.

The rising number of claims is not the only reason the fund is running out of money, Hall Phillips said. The law calls for benefits to increase annually, though there’s no provision for taxes to do the same.

When Ohio faced a similar fiscal crunch in the 1980s, forcing it to borrow from the feds from 1980 through 1988, it had to temporarily freeze benefits and raise taxes.

“Claimants will still receive unemployment compensation benefits and that will continue no matter what happens with the trust fund or with the legislature,” she said. But “benefits may be locked at that level for a few years.”

Wall Street woes hit New York

The implosion of Wall Street and the weakened economy around the state has led to a surge of unemployment claims in New York. The state now pays benefits to 148,000 people, up from 113,000 a year ago, said Leo Rosales, spokesman for the state Department of Labor.

As a result, New York’s trust fund has dwindled to $357 million, down from $538 million a year ago. To meet its obligations, the state has been borrowing from the feds for years, receiving nearly $1.1 billion over the past three years alone. In 2006, the state had to pay $7 million in interest of $1.5 billion it borrowed in 2005.

The state legislature tried unsuccessfully in the spring to increase unemployment insurance taxes, while also raising the maximum weekly benefit, which now stands at $410, to $550. The bill would have increased the wage base to $11,500 over time, from its current $8,500.

Tuesday’s election left Democrats in control of both chambers of the state legislature, and the bill now has a better chance of getting passed, said Assembly member Susan John, a Democrat, chair of the labor committee.

“Members are back home in their districts and are recognizing how much people are struggling,” John said. To top of page

Deep Events and the CIA’s Global Drug Connection

Deep Events and the CIA’s Global Drug Connection

by Peter Dale Scott


Recently I published two articles pointing to suggestive similarities between the recurring deep events in recent American history – those events which, because of their intelligence aspects, are ignored, misrepresented, or covered up in the American media. The first article pointed to overall similarities in many deep events since World War II. The second pointed to surprising points of comparison in the two deep events which were followed shortly by major U.S. wars: the John F. Kennedy assassination and 9/11. In the background of all these events, I suggested, was recurring evidence of the milieu “combining intelligence officials with elements from the drug-trafficking underworld.”

In this essay I shall first attempt to lay out the complex geography or network of that milieu, which I call the global drug connection, and its connections to what has been called an “alternative” or “shadow” CIA. I shall then show how this network, of banks, financial agents of influence, and the alternative CIA, contributed to the infrastructure of the Kennedy assassination and a series of other, superficially unrelated, major deep events.

In this narrative, the names of individuals, their institutions, and their connections are relatively unimportant. What matters is to see that such a milieu existed; that it was on-going, well-connected, and protected; and that, with increasing independence from governmental restraint, it played a role in major deep events in the last half century.  (read more)

Obama advisers discuss preparations for war on Iran

Obama advisers discuss preparations for war on Iran

By Peter Symonds
6 November 2008

On the eve of the US elections, the New York Times cautiously pointed on Monday to the emergence of a bipartisan consensus in Washington for an aggressive new strategy towards Iran. While virtually nothing was said in the course of the election campaign, behind-the-scenes top advisers from the Obama and McCain camps have been discussing the rapid escalation of diplomatic pressure and punitive sanctions against Iran, backed by preparations for military strikes.

The article entitled “New Beltway Debate: What to do about Iran” noted with a degree of alarm: “It is a frightening notion, but it not just the trigger-happy Bush administration discussing—if only theoretically—the possibility of military action to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program… [R]easonable people from both parties are examining the so-called military option, along with new diplomatic initiatives.”

Behind the backs of American voters, top advisers for President-elect Barack Obama have been setting the stage for a dramatic escalation of confrontation with Iran as soon as the new administration takes office. A report released in September from the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank, argued that a nuclear weapons capable Iran was “strategically untenable” and detailed a robust approach, “incorporating new diplomatic, economic and military tools in an integrated fashion”.

A key member of the Center’s task force was Obama’s top Middle East adviser, Dennis Ross, who is well known for his hawkish views. He backed the US invasion of Iraq and is closely associated with neo-cons such as Paul Wolfowitz. Ross worked under Wolfowitz in the Carter and Reagan administrations before becoming the chief Middle East envoy under presidents Bush senior and Clinton. After leaving the State Department in 2000, he joined the right-wing, pro-Israel think tank—the Washington Institute for Near East Policy—and signed up as a foreign policy analyst for Fox News.

The Bipartisan Policy Center report insisted that time was short, declaring: “Tehran’s progress means that the next administration might have little time and fewer options to deal with this threat.” It rejected out-of-hand both Tehran’s claims that its nuclear programs were for peaceful purposes, and the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate by US intelligence agencies which found that Iran had ended any nuclear weapons program in 2003.

The report was critical of the Bush administration’s failure to stop Iran’s nuclear programs, but its strategy is essentially the same—limited inducements backed by harsher economic sanctions and the threat of war. Its plan for consolidating international support is likewise premised on preemptive military action against Iran. Russia, China and the European powers are all to be warned that their failure to accede to tough sanctions, including a provocative blockade on Iranian oil exports, will only increase the likelihood of war.

To underscore these warnings, the report proposed that the US would need to immediately boost its military presence in the Persian Gulf. “This should commence the first day the new president enters office, especially as the Islamic Republic and its proxies might seek to test the new administration. It would involve pre-positioning US and allied forces, deploying additional aircraft carrier battle groups and minesweepers, [and] emplacing other war materiel in the region,” it stated.

In language that closely parallels Bush’s insistence that “all options remain on the table”, the report declared: “We believe a military strike is a feasible option and must remain a last resort to retard Iran’s nuclear program.” Such a military strike “would have to target not only Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, but also its conventional military infrastructure in order to suppress an Iranian response.”

Significantly, the report was drafted by Michael Rubin, from the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute, which was heavily involved in promoting the 2003 invasion of Iraq. A number of Obama’s senior Democratic advisers “unanimously approved” the document, including Dennis Ross, former senator Charles Robb, who co-chaired the task force, and Ashton Carter, who served as assistant secretary for defense under Clinton.

Carter and Ross also participated in writing a report for the bipartisan Center for a New American Security, published in September, which concluded that military action against Iran had to be “an element of any true option”. While Ross examined the diplomatic options in detail, Carter laid out the “military elements” that had to underpin them, including a cost/benefit analysis of a US aerial bombardment of Iran.

Other senior Obama foreign policy and defense advisers have been closely involved in these discussions. A statement entitled, “Strengthening the Partnership: How to deepen US-Israel cooperation on the Iranian nuclear challenge”, drafted in June by a Washington Institute for Near East Policy task force, recommended the next administration hold discussions with Israel over “the entire range of policy options”, including “preventative military action”. Ross was a taskforce co-convener, and top Obama advisers Anthony Lake, Susan Rice and Richard Clarke all put their names to the document.

As the New York Times noted on Monday, Obama defense adviser Richard Danzig, former navy secretary under Clinton, attended a conference on the Middle East convened in September by the same pro-Israel think tank. He told the audience that his candidate believed that a military attack on Iran was a “terrible” choice, but “it may be that in some terrible world we will have to come to grips with such a terrible choice”. Richard Clarke, who was also present, declared that Obama was of the view that “Tehran’s growing influence must be curbed and that Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon is unacceptable.” While “his first inclination is not to pull the trigger,” Clarke stated, “if circumstances required the use of military force, Obama would not hesitate.”

While the New York Times article was muted and did not examine the reports too deeply, writer Carol Giacomo was clearly concerned at the parallels with the US invasion of Iraq. After pointing out that “the American public is largely unaware of this discussion,” she declared: “What makes me nervous is that’s what happened in the run-up to the Iraq war.”

Giacomo continued: “Bush administration officials drove the discussion, but the cognoscenti were complicit. The question was asked and answered in policy circles before most Americans know what was happening… As a diplomatic correspondent for Reuters in those days, I feel some responsibility for not doing more to ensure that the calamitous decision to invade Iraq was more skeptically vetted.”

The emerging consensus on Iran in US foreign policy circles again underscores the fact that the differences between Obama and McCain were purely tactical. While millions of Americans voted for the Democratic candidate believing he would end the war in Iraq and address their pressing economic needs, powerful sections of the American elite swung behind him as a better vehicle to prosecute US economic and strategic interests in the Middle East and Central Asia—including the use of military force against Iran.

Obama Picks Pro-Israel Hardliner

Obama Picks Pro-Israel Hardliner

For Top Post

By Ali Abunimah

06 November, 2008
The Electronic Intifada

During the United States election campaign, racists and pro-Israel hardliners tried to make an issue out of President-elect Barack Obama’s middle name, Hussein. Such people might take comfort in another middle name, that of Obama’s pick for White House Chief of Staff: Rahm Israel Emanuel.

Emanuel is Obama’s first high-level appointment and it’s one likely to disappointment those who hoped the president-elect would break with the George W. Bush Administration’s pro-Israel policies. White House Chief of Staff is often considered the most powerful office in the executive branch, next to the president. Obama has offered Emanuel the position according to Democratic party sources cited by media including Reuters and The New York Times. While Emanuel is expected to accept the post, that had not been confirmed by Wednesday evening the day after the election.

Rahm Emanuel was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1959, the son of Benjamin Emanuel, a pediatrician who helped smuggle weapons to the Irgun, the Zionist militia of former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, in the 1940s. The Irgun carried out numerous terrorist attacks on Palestinian civilians including the bombing of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel in 1946.

Emanuel continued his father’s tradition of active support for Israel; during the 1991 Gulf War he volunteered to help maintain Israeli army vehicles near the Lebanon border when southern Lebanon was still occupied by Israeli forces.

As White House political director in the first Clinton administration, Emanuel orchestrated the famous 1993 signing ceremony of the “Declaration of Principles” between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Emanuel was elected to Congress representing a north Chicago district in 2002 and he is credited with a key role in delivering a Democratic majority in the 2006 mid-term elections. He has been a prominent supporter of neoliberal economic policies on free trade and welfare reform.

One of the most influential politicians and fundraisers in his party, Emanuel accompanied Obama to a meeting of AIPAC’s executive board just after the Illinois senator had addressed the pro-Israel lobby’s conference last June.

In Congress, Emanuel has been a consistent and vocal pro-Israel hardliner, sometimes more so than President Bush. In June 2003, for example, he signed a letter criticizing Bush for being insufficiently supportive of Israel. “We were deeply dismayed to hear your criticism of Israel for fighting acts of terror,” Emanuel, along with 33 other Democrats wrote to Bush. The letter said that Israel’s policy of assassinating Palestinian political leaders “was clearly justified as an application of Israel’s right to self-defense” (“Pelosi supports Israel’s attacks on Hamas group,” San Francisco Chronicle, 14 June 2003).

In July 2006, Emanuel was one of several members who called for the cancellation of a speech to Congress by visiting Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki because al-Maliki had criticized Israel’s bombing of Lebanon. Emanuel called the Lebanese and Palestinian governments “totalitarian entities with militias and terrorists acting as democracies” in a 19 July 2006 speech supporting a House resolution backing Israel’s bombing of both countries that caused thousands of civilian victims.

Emanuel has sometimes posed as a defender of Palestinian lives, though never from the constant Israeli violence that is responsible for the vast majority of deaths and injuries. On 14 June 2007 he wrote to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “on behalf of students in the Gaza Strip whose future is threatened by the ongoing fighting there” which he blamed on “the violence and militancy of their elders.” In fact, the fighting between members of Hamas and Fatah, which claimed dozens of lives, was the result of a failed scheme by US-backed militias to violently overthrow the elected Hamas-led national unity government. Emanuel’s letter urged Rice “to work with allies in the region, such as Egypt and Jordan, to either find a secure location in Gaza for these students, or to transport them to a neighboring country where they can study and take their exams in peace.” Palestinians often view such proposals as a pretext to permanently “transfer” them from their country, as many Israeli leaders have threatened. Emanuel has never said anything in support of millions of Palestinian children whose education has been disrupted by Israeli occupation, closures and blockades.

Emanuel has also used his position to explicitly push Israel’s interests in normalizing relations with Arab states and isolating Hamas. In 2006 he initiated a letter to President Bush opposing United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based Dubai Ports World’s attempt to buy the management business of six US seaports. The letter, signed by dozens of other lawmakers, stated that “The UAE has pledged to provide financial support to the Hamas-led government of the Palestinian Authority and openly participates in the Arab League boycott against Israel.” It argued that allowing the deal to go through “not only could place the safety and security of US ports at risk, but enhance the ability of the UAE to bolster the Hamas regime and its efforts to promote terrorism and violence against Israel” (“Dems Tie Israel, Ports,” Forward, 10 March 2006).

Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, told Fox News that picking Emanuel is “just another indication that despite the attempts to imply that Obama would somehow appoint the wrong person or listen to the wrong people when it comes to the US-Israel relationship … that was never true.”

Over the course of the campaign, Obama publicly distanced himself from friends and advisers suspected or accused of having “pro-Palestinian” sympathies. There are no early indications of a more balanced course.

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli- Palestinian Impasse (Metropolitan Books, 2006).