Americans want a Peace Dividend, but their leaders won’t give it to them. Despite multiple polls showing broad support for cuts in U.S. defense spending, a sort of anti-democratic bipartisanship has emerged in Washington, where both Republicans and Democrats oppose such cuts, often vocally.
The most recent polling data on the issue, released last week by the Program for Public Consultation (PPC), in conjunction with the Center for Public Integrity and the Stimson Center, shows that Americans believe defense spending should shrink next year by a fifth to a sixth of its present size. Other polls released during 2012, including surveys by Gallup, Roper, and others, have been similar, although variations have occurred.
The issue has arisen this summer because, under a budget compromise reached last year between Democrats and Republicans, 10% across the board cuts are set to kick in at the beginning of 2013, which would give the Department of Defense a budget next year of $470 billion—an amount it got by on during the George W. Bush administration while the U.S. was fully engaged in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Nevertheless, both Republicans and some Democrats in Congress oppose these spending reductions, and former Vice President Dick Cheney recently emerged to lobby Congress against them, joined by representatives of Lockheed Martin Corp., who warned of thousands of layoffs if the cuts occur.
Lockheed Martin, the largest arms merchant in the world, is eager to keep filling up from the taxpayers’ money spigot. With annual revenues of about $45 billion, it invests its profits in influence, especially in Washington, where since 1989 Lockheed has donated $23 million to political campaigns, spent $125 million on lobbying; received $20 million in earmarks; received 31 grants and 15,358 contracts from the federal government; and placed 257 of their people on 135 government advisory committees.
The economic impact of defense cuts, especially on jobs, is one of the main reasons otherwise moderate or liberal Democrats oppose defense cuts, reasoning that the recession-ravaged economy cannot sustain a significant spending cut. Yet according to the PPC poll the public, even when provided information about the possible economic consequences of defense spending reductions, still opts for them over cuts to domestic programs like Social Security, health care, or education. Further, people in congressional districts with high defense spending supported defense cuts as readily as those in other districts, although Democrats generally supported larger cuts than Republicans.
“The idea that Americans would want to keep total defense spending up so as to preserve local jobs is not supported by the data,” said PPC director Steven Kull. On average, Democrats supported a Pentagon cut of 22%, while Republicans wanted a cut of 12%.
- Poll: 76% of Americans favor cutting military spending (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Survey Finds Large Majorities In GOP Districts Support Reducing Military Spending (thinkprogress.org)
- House exceeds budget cap with huge defense spending bill (rawstory.com)
US President Barack Obama shook hands with some of his wealthiest supporters Tuesday night at a fundraising shindig in San Francisco. Also on hand, though, was a matter the commander-in-chief just can’t seem to shake: his failed deal with Solyndra.
Around sixty patrons paid $35,800 a piece to attend a party in honor of President Obama this week, including a pair of gentlemen who have become central figures in an energy debacle that has haunted the Oval Office since last year. Among those in attendance were two key players in the Solyndra scandal.
President Obama touted Solyndra, a California solar-panel start-up, as an example of perfect American entrepreneurship early on in his presidency. Last year, however, the infant green energy company filed for bankruptcy, despite the president earlier approving a gigantic loan guarantee worth $535 million for the Silicon Valley start-up. The company had borrowed all but $8 million of the massive loan before calling it quits late last year, a move that prompted Obama’s opponents to ridicule the president over what some said was “a dubious investment” and even initiated an investigated by the FBI.
Nearly a year after Solyndra first filed for bankruptcy, the scandal took center stage again this week after Monday’s fundraiser funneled in donations from Matt Rogers, a former adviser at the Department of Energy that helped approve the loan as part of the stimulus plan, and Steve Westly, a venture capitalist that warned the White House against offering a deal to Solyndra before the president offered his own endorsement. Darren Samuelsohn of Politico was on-hand at Monday’s fundraiser and writes that it appears that the president isn’t exactly distancing himself from one of the most costly scandals of his administration.
Officials within the campaign to elect Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for president have already attacked the administration for still maintaining ties with people privy to the Solyndra deal. In a statement addressing the latest news, Romney spokesman Ryan Williams writes, “The Obama Administration betrayed American taxpayers when it dumped hundreds of millions of public dollars into Solyndra while ignoring clear warnings about the company’s dire financial situation.”
“President Obama’s first term worked out well for his donors who got special access and taxpayer money for their failed ventures. It hasn’t worked as well for the 23 million Americans struggling for work in the worst economic recovery our country has ever had,” Williams adds.
Japan’s prime minister says that he will not allow the U.S. military to fly its newest transport aircraft in his country until safety concerns are first addressed.
Yoshihiko Noda told parliament on Tuesday that no flights of the MV-22 Osprey aircraft would be allowed to take place until investigations into two recent crashes were completed.
The crashes took place in April and June, and Japan says that it will not allow them to operate over its airspace and from its soil until the government is satisfied that safety checks have been completed.
The deployment of the MV-22s to a U.S. military base on the island of Okinawa has become a political headache for the Japanese government due to intense local opposition.
Okinawa hosts more than half of the roughly 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan. The deployment of the aircraft has become an issue for anti-U.S. protesters to rally around.
The first 12 Ospreys headed for Okinawa arrived in Japan on Monday.
The Osprey is a hybrid aircraft with rotors that allow it to take off like a helicopter and engines that can tilt forward, enabling it to fly like an airplane at higher speed than helicopters.
The aircraft’s development was plagued with issues in its early years in the 1990s, but U.S. officials say the technical glitches have been cleared up.
It is used by the U.S. marines, primarily as a troop transport aircraft, allowing soldiers on the ground greater range than current transport helicopters offer.
The European Union has flatly rejected an Israeli call to blacklist Hezbollah as a terrorist group, saying there is no such agreement among the bloc’s member states.
“There is no consensus for putting Hezbollah on the list of terrorist organizations,” Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said on Tuesday.
Israel’s hawkish Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman made the request for blacklisting the Lebanese resistance movement while sitting alongside the Cypriot minister at a news conference held after annual EU-Israel talks.
“The time has come to put Hezbollah on the terrorist list of Europe,” Lieberman urged. “It would give the right signal to the international community and the Israeli people.”
But Kozakou-Marcoullis highlighted Hezbollah’s active role as a political party, stating that the EU would consider the move if there were tangible evidence of Hezbollah engaging in acts of terror.
Lieberman’s call comes days after the sixth anniversary of Israel’s war against Lebanon in July 2006, a 33-day conflict which ended in Hezbollah’s victory and heavy losses on the Israeli side.
This raised serious questions about Tel Aviv’s long-boasted military capabilities and forced several Israeli commanders to resign over their poor handling of the war.
- J’lem begins campaign to out Iran, Hezbollah as terrorists – Jerusalem Post (jpost.com)
- Why the Buenos Aires Bombing is a False Indicator on Burgas (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- EU to Upgrade Relations With Israel (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The Washington, DC chief of police on Friday issued a new “General Order” to members of the police department on “Video Recording, Photographing, and Audio Recording of Metropolitan Police Department Members by the Public.” The order, which was part of the settlement of an ACLU lawsuit, includes some very interesting, groundbreaking provisions.
The order reminds police officers in Washington that:
• Still and video photography “of places, buildings, structures and events are common and lawful activities.”
• A bystander has the right under the First Amendment to observe and record members [of the police force] in the public discharge of their duties.”
• A bystander has the same right to take photographs or make records as a member of the media” as long as the bystander has a right to be where he or she is.
Of course, the order also makes clear that these protections only apply insofar as individuals are not impeding or interfering with the performance of police duties.
One of the most interesting portions of the order has to do with those cases where police believe that a smartphone or other recording device may contain evidence of a crime. Generally police do not have the right to seize anyone’s camera or phone—though (as we explained in our Photographer’s “Know Your Rights” piece) the only exception might be when the police believe that a device contains evidence of a crime.
I spoke with my ACLU colleague Art Spitzer, who handled this case for the ACLU of the National Capital Area, and he told me how the case unfolded, and how that issue was addressed:
Our client is a young African-American guy named Jerome Vorus who is still a student but is also a budding photojournalist and has had a number of jobs at well-known media outlets around town—internships and summer jobs. And so he carries his video equipment with him everywhere he goes, and is especially interested in police and fire activity. He was walking in Georgetown one day in July 2010 when he saw some DC police officers conducting a traffic stop, and he stopped on the sidewalk and started taking still pictures. And when the police officers saw what he was doing, they came over and essentially told him he was not allowed to do that, and detained him for about half an hour on the scene. He very commendably stood up for his rights and told them that he had every right to do that. And eventually, they backed down, and gave him back his driver’s license which they had asked for, and let him go. And he actually did an audio recording of a lot of the transactions with the police, so we had a good record of what had happened.
We saw his blog about the incident and contacted him. We wrote to the police chief—a long letter describing what had happened and stating our view that what the officers had done was improper. We got no response to that. So eventually we filed a lawsuit, which got their attention. At that point, they asked us if we thought we could work out a settlement, and we said what Mr. Vorus really wants—he’d like some money for the fact that he was improperly detained—but mostly what he’s interested in and what we’re interested in is getting the police to understand how they should behave: when someone’s taking their picture, basically they should just smile.
It took us a long time, negotiating back and forth, and they agreed they would issue some guidance to the police department about this. It took a long time to come to agreement on the form, which is a General Order—the highest level of instruction in the police department. There are general orders on most basic subjects—how the police should do things, how they should conduct searches and seizures, how they should conduct investigations, what various parts of the law mean.
The part that actually took longest to negotiate was the question of what do you do if the police have reason to believe that someone’s camera has evidence that might be important, either in prosecuting a crime or in perhaps in showing police misconduct. We didn’t want the police to be just grabbing people’s cameras—which has certainly happened sometimes—and we also certainly didn’t want police to be browsing through people’s photographs and video to see what else might be there that’s really of no legitimate interest to the police.
And we eventually agreed. I think the most creative thing about this order—my idea was, why can’t the police department set up an email address so that someone can simply email the relevant photographs or video, so you’ll have it, but I get to keep my camera. So that’s been incorporated in the order.
There still may be some situations where the person refuses to do that, where the police believe they need the evidence. In that case they have to call a higher-ranking official to the scene, who would presumably first try to persuade the person to voluntarily hand over the photographs. But if the person won’t, then eventually that higher official can make a decision on whether it’s necessary to seize the camera.
If the camera is seized, the police are not allowed to look at what’s on it without going to a judge and getting a search warrant, which would give them permission only to look at the relevant photographs or video, and not to look at everything.
So we thought we protected that about as best we could, understanding that there surely may be some cases where the pictures are important evidence, and the government has a right to get that evidence.
As far as we know, this DC general order is the first time that anyone has tackled this issue, and it looks like Art and the DC police department reached a very good resolution of this issue, which sensibly preserves everyone’s interests. It also (in DC at least) helps further the long overdue and frustratingly intractable process of educating officers on the street about citizens’ right to record.
- ACLU Seeks Policies Ensuring Right To Video Police (baltimore.cbslocal.com)
- Houston Police Kill Unarmed Man, Allegedly Took Witness’ Cellphone When She Tried to Record (reason.com)
There are some policies that are pretty much no-brainers. We all agree that the Food and Drug Administration should keep dangerous drugs off the market. We all agree that the government should provide police and fire protection. And, we pretty much all agree that workers should be able to count on at least some minimal pay for a day’s work.
The minimum wage is non-controversial. The vast majority of people across the political spectrum support the minimum wage. In fact, one of the big accomplishments of the Gingrich Congress in 1996 was a 22 percent increase in the minimum wage. The only real issue is how high it should be. There are good reasons for believing that the minimum wage should be considerably higher than it is today.
At the current rate of $7.25 an hour, a full-time year-round worker would have gross pay of less than $15,000 a year. This is less than half of what the average Fortune 500 CEO makes in a day. It would be hard enough for a single person to survive on this income, imagine trying to support a child or even two on this money. And, close to 40 percent of the workers who would be benefited by a minimum wage increase have kids.
The counter-argument against raising the minimum wage is that it would actually hurt the people we are trying to help by reducing employment. There is little basis for this claim. The impact of the minimum wage on employment is one of the most heavily researched topics in economics.
Most recent research finds that it has no impact on employment. Even the research that finds job loss shows that the effect is small, suggesting that a 20 percent increase in the minimum wage may reduce employment of young people by around 2 to 3 percent.
While it’s not desirable to see anyone lose their job, it is important to remember the character of these jobs. They tend to be high turnover jobs that people leave after working relatively short periods of time. Job loss in this context is not likely to mean people being fired, rather it means that firms might be somewhat slower to hire. This would cause a typical low-wage worker to spend somewhat longer between jobs.
The dollars and cents might mean, for example, that a typical low wage worker ends up working 2 percent fewer hours in a year, but they take home 20 percent more pay for each hour that they work. This nets out to an increase in pay of 18 percent, a deal that most workers would likely consider pretty good.
In terms of whether we can afford a higher minimum wage, it is worth remembering that the minimum wage in 1968 would be almost $9.22 an hour in today’s dollars. In spite of the high minimum wage in the late 1960s, the job creators of that period pushed the unemployment rate down to 3.0 percent.
And, the country has not gotten poorer in the last four and a half decades. We have policy wonks running around Washington who seem to think that cell phones, computers, the Internet, and all other innovations of the past four decades that we now take for granted have reduced our standard of living.
This is of course nonsense. Productivity has increased by more than 120 percent since the late 1960s. If the minimum wage had kept step with productivity growth and inflation it would be over $20 an hour today.
The real problem in our economy today is not a lack of productivity. The problem is that the gains from productivity growth have not been broadly shared. The wealthy have used their power to rig the deck so that most of the benefits of growth have gone those at the top. They have used their control of trade policy, the Federal Reserve Board, and more recently the Wall Street bailout, to ensure that those at the top have gained at the expense of everyone else.
A higher minimum wage is an important step toward reversing this rigging. It should not be too much to expect that workers today should get at least as much as they did 45 years ago, and perhaps some dividend to allow them to share in the benefits of economic growth over this period. A minimum wage of $10 an hour would be a big step in the right direction.
Dr. Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.
- Want a Real Recovery? Raise the Minimum Wage (bilerico.com)
- Large, Profitable Companies Employ Most Minimum-Wage Earners (thenation.com)
Britain’s former Special Air Service (SAS) commandos are reportedly training armed opposition groups fighting against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, reports say.
The Daily Mail and Sunday Express have revealed that the mercenaries have set up training camps in Iraq and on the Syrian border for the armed rebels.
British army sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said the militants are receiving instructions in military tactics, weapons handling and communications systems.
Groups of 50 militants at a time are being trained by two Mideast-based private security firms which employ former SAS personnel.
More than 300 rebel forces have completed the commando training program, and are said to account for a number of the opposition’s combatant units fighting Syrian security forces in Damascus.
Britain has also placed more than 600 troops on standby over the unrest in Syria.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague says London should be acting outside the UN Security Council and step up its support for militant groups in Syria.
Syria has been the scene of violence by armed groups since March 2011.
Damascus blames “outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorist groups” for the unrest, asserting that it is being orchestrated from abroad.
The FAA has been adopting new rules to expand the use of small drones domestically, and by 2012 UAVs are expected to dominate the country’s airspace. Trevor Timm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation brings his take on whether Americans should worry about what law enforcement is doing.
- EFF Obtains FAA Documents Detailing Domestic Drone Use (blacklistednews.com)
- Revealed: 64 Drone Bases on American Soil (wired.com)
Recent remarks by Sir John Sawers, who heads Britain’s MI6 (the Secret Intelligence Service that is Britain’s CIA counterpart), leave us wondering if Sawers is preparing to “fix” intelligence on Iran, as his immediate predecessor, Sir John Scarlett, did on Iraq.
Scarlett’s pre-Iraq war role in creating “dodgy dossiers” hyping the threat of non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” is relatively well known. On July 4, the red warning light for politicization was again flashing brightly in London, as Sawers told British senior civil servants that Iran is “two years away” from becoming a “nuclear weapons state.” How did Sawers come up with “two years?”
Since late 2007, the benchmark for weighing Iran’s nuclear program has been the unanimous assessment by all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in late 2003 and that, as of mid-2007, had not restarted it. Those judgments have been revalidated every year since, despite strong pressure to bow to more ominous — but evidence-starved — assessments by Israel and its neo-conservative supporters.
The 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate helped thwart plans to attack Iran in 2008, the last year of the Bush/Cheney administration. This shines through in George Bush’s own memoir, Decision Points, in which he rues the NIE’s “eye-popping declaration: ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.’”
Bush continues, “But after the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?” (Decision Points, p. 419)
Hands tied on the military side, U.S. covert operations flowered, with $400 million appropriated at that same time for a major escalation of the dark-side struggle against Iran, according to military, intelligence, and congressional sources cited by Seymour Hersh in 2008.
The clandestine but all-too-real war on Iran has included attacks with computer viruses, the murders of Iranian scientists, and what the Israelis call the “unnatural” demise of senior officials like Revolutionary Guards Major General Hassan Moghaddam, father of Iran’s missile program.
Moghaddam was killed in a large explosion last November, with Time magazine citing a “western intelligence source” as saying the Israel’s Mossad was behind the blast. More threatening still to Iran are the severe economic sanctions laid upon it, sanctions which are tantamount to an act of war.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pro-Israel neo-conservatives in the U.S. and elsewhere have been pushing hard for an attack on Iran, seizing every pretext they can find. Netanyahu was suspiciously fast off the blocks, for example, in claiming that Iran was behind the tragic terrorist bombing of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria on July 18, despite Bulgarian authorities and even the White House warning that it is too early to attribute responsibility.
Netanyahu’s instant indictment of Iran strongly suggests he is looking for excuses to up the ante. With the Persian Gulf looking like an accident waiting to happen, stocked as it is with warships from the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere — and with no fail-safe way of communicating with Iranian naval commanders — an escalation-generating accident or provocation is now more likely than ever.
July 23, a Day of Infamy
Oddly, Sawers’s speech of July 4 came just as an important date approached — the tenth anniversary of a sad day for British and U.S. intelligence on Iraq. On July 23, 2002 at a meeting at 10 Downing Street, then-MI6 head, John Dearlove, briefed Prime Minister Tony Blair and other senior officials on his talks with his American counterpart, CIA Director George Tenet, in Washington three days before.
In the official minutes of that briefing (now known as the Downing Street Memo), which were leaked to the London Times and published on May 1, 2005, Dearlove explains that George Bush has decided to attack Iraq and the war was to be “justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.”
When then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw points out that the case was “thin,” Dearlove explains matter-of-factly, “The intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy.”
There is no sign in the minutes that anyone hiccupped — much less demurred — at making a case for war and furthering Blair’s determination to join Bush in launching the kind of “war of aggression” outlawed by the Nuremberg Tribunal after World War II and by the United Nations Charter.
Helped by the acquiescence of its chief spies, the Blair government mainlined into the body politic un-assessed, raw intelligence and forged documents, with disastrous consequences for the world.
UK citizens were spoon-fed fake intelligence in the September Dossier (2002) and then, just six weeks before the attack on Iraq, the “Dodgy Dossier,” based largely on a 12-year old PhD thesis culled from the Internet — all presented by spy and politician alike as ominous premonitory intelligence.
So was made the case for war. All lies, resulting in hundreds of thousands dead and maimed and millions of Iraqis displaced — yet no one held to account.
Sir Richard Dearlove, who might have prevented this had he had the integrity to speak out, was allowed to retire with full honors and became the Master of a Cambridge college. John Scarlett, who as chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee signed off on the fraudulent dossiers, was rewarded with the top spy job at MI6 and a knighthood. George W. Bush gave George Tenet the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest civilian award.
What need have we for further proof? “So are they all, all honorable men” — reminiscent of those standing with Brutus in Shakespeare’s play, but with no Mark Antony to expose them and stir the appropriate popular reaction.
Therein lies the problem: instead of being held accountable, these “honorable men” were, well, honored. Their soft landings offer a noxious object lesson for ambitious bureaucrats who are ready to play fast and loose with the truth and trim their sails to the prevailing winds.
Ill-begot honors offer neither deterrent nor disincentive to current and future intelligence chiefs tempted to follow suit and corrupt intelligence rather than challenge their political leaders with hard, un-“fixed” facts. Integrity? In this milieu integrity brings one knowing smirks rather than honors. And it can get you kicked out of the club.
Fixing Intelligence on Iran
Are we in for another round of “fixing” — this time on Iran? We may know soon. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, citing the terrorist attack in Bulgaria, has already provided what amounts to a variation on Dearlove’s ten-year-old theme regarding how war can be “justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.”
According to the Jerusalem Post on July 17, Netanyahu said all countries that understand that Iran is an exporter of world terror must join Israel in “stating that fact clearly,” in order to emphasize the importance of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday as well as on Fox News Sunday, Netanyahu returned to that theme. Blaming the July 18 terrorist attack in Bulgaria on Hezbollah supported by Iran, he asked TV viewers to imagine what would happen if the world’s most dangerous regime got the world’s most dangerous weapons.
This has too familiar a ring. Has it been just ten years?
Will MI6 chief Sawers model his conduct today on that of his predecessors who, ten years ago, “justified” war on Iraq? Will he “fix” intelligence around U.K./U.S./Israeli policy on Iran? Parliamentary overseers should demand a briefing from Sawers forthwith, before erstwhile bulldog Britain is again dragged like a poodle into another unnecessary war.
Annie Machon is a former intelligence officer in the UK’s MI5 Security Service (the U.S. counterpart is the FBI), and Ray McGovern is a former U.S. Army Intelligence officer and CIA analyst.
- Con Coughlin making up stuff about Iran and the MI6 again (alethonews.wordpress.com)