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Green Light? State Department Tar Sands Report Sparks Outrage August 27, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Environment.
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Published on Friday, August 26, 2011 by Canadian Press

  by Lee-Anne Goodman

WASHINGTON – The U.S. State Department says TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline poses no major risks to the environment and will not spur further oilsands production in Alberta, moving the controversial project one step further to a final decision by the Obama administration.

The State Dept. report was not a surprise to the American environmental movement, for whom opposition to the pipeline has become a passionate rallying cry in the aftermath of failed climate change legislation last year. (Photo: Ben Powless for Tar Sands Action/CC BY)

Insisting repeatedly that its long-awaited assessment was “not a rubberstamp,” the department’s Kerri-Ann Jones said Friday there’s no evidence the pipeline will significantly impact the six U.S. states in its path as it carries crude from northern Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas.

“This is not the rubberstamp for this project,” said Jones, disputing several big American environmental groups who immediately decried it as such.

“The permit that is required for this project has not been approved or rejected at all … it should not be seen as a lean in any direction either for or against this pipeline. We are in a state of neutrality.”

Canadian officials intend to continue to develop technologies that will lessen the greenhouse gas emissions associated with oilsands production, according to the analysis.

“We are working closely with them,” Jones told a conference call in the U.S. capital. “We closely follow what’s going on in terms of international regulations in this area.”

She added that oilsands production will continue with or without the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Obama administration now has 90 days to determine whether the controversial project is in the national interest of the United States. In that determination, Jones said, State Department officials will consider the environmental assessment as well as the economic impact of the pipeline and “foreign policy concerns.”

The outcome wasn’t a surprise to the American environmental movement, for whom opposition to the pipeline has become a passionate rallying cry in the aftermath of failed climate change legislation last year.

Leading environmentalists say the State Department has refused to fully assess the risks.

The Natural Resources Defense Council accused the State Department of failing to study pipeline safety measures or examine alternate routes that would avoid the Ogallala aquifer in Nebraska, a crucial source of water in the state.

In fact, the State Department report said TransCanada needed to conduct more study, and possibly add more anti-spill precautions, around the aquifer.

Jones add that alternative routes had also been studied.

“We feel that the proposed route of the applicant is the preferred route … alternative routes were either worse or similar,” she said.

The NRDC’s Susan Casey-Lefkowitz expressed dismay at the State Department’s assessment in a statement.

“It is utterly beyond me how the administration can claim the pipeline will have ‘no significant impacts’ if they haven’t bothered to do in-depth studies around the issues of contention,” she said.

“The public has made their concerns clear and the administration seems to have ignored them. If permitted, the proposed Keystone XL tarsands pipeline will be a dirty legacy that will haunt President Obama and Secretary Clinton for years to come.”

Jim Lyon, senior vice-president of the National Wildlife Federation, said the analysis was “strike 3 for the State Department” after two “failed rounds” of environmental review and warned of legal woes ahead.

“The document still fails to address the key concerns for landowners and wildlife,” he said. “It is almost certain to be scrutinized in other venues, including a probable legal challenge. This only escalates the controversy in a process that is far from over.”

The State Department analysis comes as anti-pipeline activists continue a two-week civil disobedience campaign outside the White House.

More than 300 people, including Canadian actress Margot Kidder, have been arrested as they try to convince U.S. President Barack Obama to block the pipeline. As many as 54 more were arrested on Friday.

Environmental activists say Keystone XL is a disaster waiting to happen, pointing to several recent spills along pipelines, and are opposed to Alberta’s oilsands due to the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions involved in their production.

Proponents, meantime, say the pipeline will create thousands of jobs and help end U.S. reliance on Middle Eastern oil.

TransCanada president Russ Girling welcomed the State Department report.

“Support for Keystone XL continues to grow because the public, opinion leaders and elected officials can see the clear benefits that this pipeline will deliver to Americans,” he said in a news release.

“The fundamental issue is energy security. Through the Keystone system, the U.S. can secure access to a stable and reliable supply of oil from Canada where we protect human rights and the environment, or it can import more higher-priced oil from nations who do not share America’s interests or values.”

© 2011 Canadian Press

Interview: James Hansen on the Tar Sands Pipeline Protest, the Obama Administration and Intergenerational Justice

Posted: 8/21/11 06:21 PM ET
On the first day of a planned two-week sit in at the White House organized by TarSandsAction over 70 people were arrested including one of the lead organizers organizer Bill McKibben.
In an attempt to intimidate concerned citizens and policy makers from
continuing the sit-in, the National Park Service did not honor its
previous agreement with McKibben and others to “catch and release”
participants but is holding them in jail over the weekend. Numerous
environmental organizations and leading climate scientists have
condemned the Keystone XL Pipeline project which would bring 900,000
barrels of dirty oil from the Alberta Tar Sands to Texas refineries.
Preeminent climate scientist and director of NASA’s Goddard Institute James Hansen
has described the Alberta Tar Sands oil extraction development as a
game-over proposition for climate change. Sunday afternoon, he addressed
the continuing struggle to address the ever increasing threat of
anthropogenic climate change. Dr. Hansen will be participating in the
protest against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in Washington, DC on
August 29th with religious leaders.

JC: President Obama had lofty promises regarding climate change and
the environment during his campaign. To date, his administration has
failed to deliver and is now positioned to approve the Tar Sands
Pipeline, the worst idea in many years in terms of its impact on
climate. Do you see any signs that the Obama administration is moving to
seriously address climate change? Do you feel they administration
deserves a second chance?

JH: Are they serious?  The tar sands pipeline approval or
disapproval will provide the sign of whether the Obama administration is
serious about climate change and protecting the future of young people.Do they deserve a second chance?  Yes, everybody deserves a second chance.

Obama’s first chance was when he was elected — he could have made
energy independence and climate a top priority.  Talking nice about sun
and wind and green jobs is just greenwash.  The only effective policy
would be a rising carbon fee collected from fossil fuel companies with
100 percent of the funds distributed to the public — stimulating the
economy and moving us rapidly toward a clean energy future.  Anything
less is just blather.


JC: CO2 levels have now exceeded 391 ppm, and US emissions are growing
again at a record rate, over 4% this year so far. This in spite of an
ever increasing body of scientific evidence that unequivocally
demonstrates anthropogenic climate change to be seriously affecting
global climate life support systems. It would seem that policy makers
and business leaders the world over are incapable of altering the
dead-on course to climate collapse. What can be done?

JH: The problem is that the policy makers the world over are
paying more attention to the fossil fuel lobbyists than they are to the
well being of young people and nature, as my colleagues and I have
described in the paper “The Case for Young People and Nature”.Until the public demands otherwise, the policy makers will continue to serve their financiers.

That’s the point of the present action — to draw attention to the
inter-generational injustice of current policies — our children and
grandchildren are getting shafted by our well-oiled coal-fired
politicians who do not look beyond their next election.

The tar sands verdict will show whether he really intends to move us
to clean energy or whether he will instead support going after dirtier
and dirtier fuels (tar sands, oil shale, mountaintop removal, long-wall
coal mining, hydro-fracking, deep ocean and Arctic exploration, etc.).

2011-08-21-6062545625_9e52c822e5.jpgGus Speth, Bill McKibben, and others at White House
protesting the proposed Tar Sands Pipeline/Photo Credit: Josh

JC: As you know over 70 people including our friends Bill McKibben and
Gus Speth were arrested yesterday in front of the White House. As
always, Bill and the group had repeated discussions with the authorities
prior to the action and were assured that this would be “catch and
release”. As it turns out the National Park Service changed the terms of
engagement and are holding everyone (except DC residents) over the
weekend to discourage others from participating in the two weeks of
protest. Do you think this change of tactic by the National Park Service
will be effective in dissuading others from attending?

JH: No.  What we are doing to the future of our children,
and the other species on the planet, is a clear moral issue.  As Albert
Einstein said, “thought without action is a crime.”  Choosing silence
and safety is not an option.Jail threats did not dissuade Martin Luther King — and
intergenerational justice is a moral issue of comparable magnitude to
civil rights.


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President Obama, Why Did You Pay Blackwater $70 Million in February? March 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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For those already outraged at the AIG bonus scandal, here is a fact that should add more fuel to the fire: The Obama administration has paid the mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater nearly $70 million to operate in Iraq and, according to the Washington Times, may keep the company on the payroll months past the official expiration of its Iraq contract in May. I reviewed Blackwater’s recent transactions with the Obama State Department and discovered a $45 million payment to Blackwater on February 4, 2009 for “protective services-Iraq.” It is described as a “funding action only.” Here is the interesting part: The estimated “Ultimate Completion Date” is 5/07/2011.

The Washington Times (as described below) reported on a $22 million payment to Blackwater on February 2. Combined with the $45 million payment I discovered, that’s nearly $67 million in 72 hours. Not bad for a company supposedly going down in flames.

With the US economy in shambles and millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet and keep their homes, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton need to explain to US taxpayers how they justify these mega-payments to a scandal-plagued mercenary company. (At the very least, someone should ask Robert Gibbs about it).

It has been widely reported that the Bush administration’s preferred mercenary company, which recently renamed itself Xe, will soon be leaving Iraq. That news came early this year after the State Department, under immense public pressure, announced it would not renew the company’s lucrative deal to act as the private paramilitary force for senior US occupation officials. The Iraqi government has said it wants the company to leave Iraq and says it has revoked the company’s operating license. The Obama administration continues to use Blackwater in Afghanistan and the company has extensive domestic training contracts with the military and law enforcement agencies inside the borders of the US.

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that some of Blackwater’s armed operatives may simply be rehired by two other US mercenary firms that are expected to take over Blackwater’s work in Iraq under the Obama administration: Triple Canopy and DynCorp. Now, The Washington Times reports that the State Department has signed contracts with Blackwater that appear to extend the company’s presence in Iraq at least until September 2009.

According to the paper:

“On Feb. 2, a department spokesman was asked whether officials planned to renew one of Blackwater’s contracts past May. The spokesman, Robert Wood, said the department had told Blackwater ‘we did not plan to renew the company’s existing task force orders for protective security details in Iraq.’

“But records available through a federal procurement database show that on that same day, the State Department approved a $22.2 million contract modification for Blackwater ‘security personnel’ in Iraq, with a job completion date of Sept. 3, 2009.”

“Why would you continue to use Blackwater when the Iraqi government has banned the highly controversial company and there are other choices?” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the nonpartisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

State Department spokesman Noel Clay told the Washington Times the contract modification involves aviation services. “The place of performance is Iraq, but it is totally different than the Baghdad one that expires in May,” he said. Sloan called the State Department’s explanation of the Feb. 2 deal a “parsing of words” and said “they should just be straight with us.” Xe spokeswoman Anne Tyrell declined to comment on the status of the company’s work in Iraq or the Feb. 2 contract modification. She said the company was aware that the State Department had indicated that it did not plan to renew its contracts in Iraq but that Xe officials had not received specific information about leaving the country. “We’re following their direction,” she said.

Blackwater recently renamed itself Xe and its owner Erik Prince “resigned” as CEO, though he remains its sole owner and chairman.

UPDATE: Could Arlen Specter’s Logic on AIG Bonuses Be Applied to Blackwater?

Several people have written me asking what the Obama administration SHOULD do with Blackwater, following the reports last night that the State Department paid the company some $70 million over a 72 hour period in February.

Many people take the position that Obama is dealing with remnants of the Bush administration’s disastrous policies and that it will take time to unravel. Fair enough. But, with the US economy in shambles, is it really a priority to make good on payments to a company like Blackwater?

I have long written that the Obama Iraq policy will necessitate using mercenary forces. This is true for a number of reasons, not the least of which is Obama’s refusal to scrap that monstrous US fortress they are calling an embassy. If it’s not going to be Blackwater guarding Obama’s occupation officials, it will be Triple Canopy and DynCorp (who will in turn hire a bunch of the “fired” Blackwater guys anyway). The point here is this: I disagree that the reality is simply that Obama needs time to phase out Blackwater and his hands are tied when it comes to paying them on existing contracts. I believe Obama needs them to sustain his bad Iraq policy, which will continue the occupation, albeit with a softer face. If Obama wanted to, he could outright fire Blackwater. Henry Waxman and others have called for that. He certainly would have the support of the American people, particularly given how much money Blackwater has milked from the US treasury.

All of this brings me to Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, former chair of the Judiciary Committee. Yesterday, he was interviewed on MSNBC by Andrea Mitchell about the AIG bonuses. Read what he says about the AIG contracts not having to be honored and then apply the logic to Obama’s Blackwater situation:

MITCHELL: What say you when it comes to these bonuses? Should they be taxed back? Should the AIG executives who approved the bonuses have to commit hari-kari? With whom do you side?

SPECTER: Andrea, they’re not enforceable under the law. They are against public policy. It is obviously against public policy to pay bonuses to people who caused the problem. If you have, for example, a contract for the sale of heroin, that’s not enforceable. You take those cases to court, they won’t be enforced. It’s just that plain. It’s set out very simply in the restatement of the law on contracts


MITCHELL: Well, you know, there’s been a lot ventilating on all sides, but you’re a former district attorney, a former prosecutor, experienced lawyer and we tend to trust your judgment on this, former Judiciary Chairman. So let me hear you out on when you say they’re not enforceable, the top economic adviser and the Treasury Secretary said that these were contracts that if the government broke the contracts, there would be greater expense in going to court and suing to get the money back.

What would the next steps be in a practical way to get the money back and break the contracts?

SEN. SPECTER: The top economic adviser and the Secretary of the Treasury are wrong again. It happens too often to be excusable. I’d like to argue this as a legal matter. If you have a contract, which is against public policy, it is not enforceable. I gave you an extreme example. If you have a contract for the delivery of heroin, the use of heroin, the delivery of heroin is against the law, you can’t enforce it.

Let those individuals who claim that they’re entitled to bonuses go to court and the government will defend the case and will say these are against public policy. How can you pay a bonus to this individual in this company, which raised the problem and caused this $180 billion bailout and now they want bonuses on top? It is simply unenforceable.

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

State Department Ushers in Dennis Ross in the Dark of the Night February 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Cheryl Biren-Wright

http://cherylbirenwright.wordpress.com , February 24, 2009

Late last night, according to the Washington Post, the State Department announced that Dennis Ross will be the “special adviser to Secretary of State Clinton responsible for developing a strategy for engaging Iran.”

The State Department, in fact, has yet to specifically cite Iran in Ross’s title. Dennis Ross will be “adviser to the secretary of state for the Gulf and Southwest Asia.” State Department officials, the Washington Post reports, said the title is a euphemism for Iran.

For months many concerns have been raised over the prospect of a Ross appointment as a special envoy to or an adviser on Iran. To assign the former diplomat who actively supports not only coercive actions against Iran, but the policy option of a preventive military attack seems counterintuitive to the need for trust in this highly sensitive relationship.

In 2007 and 2008 Dennis Ross, working on the Presidential Task Force for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), convened the report “How to Deepen the U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge.”

This task force met numerous times including a two-day retreat in Virginia with ten Israeli counterparts. In an effort to bring aboard those who had the ear of the major presidential candidates at the time, signatories included Richard Clarke, Anthony Lake, Susan Rice, Vin Weber and James Woolsey.

The report focused on halting Iran’s nuclear program and indicated that it’s not just a bomb they are worried about but also Iran having influence in the region. It criticized the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that found that Iran had halted the weaponization component of its nuclear program in 2003 for “reducing the sense of urgency for additional pressure.” It added that “Israeli intelligence analysts have doubts about both the facts and duration of Iran’s suspension of weaponization efforts.”

The first section of the report titled “The Importance of Prevention” raises concerns that the U.S. might favor deterrence over prevention. Prevention in this case would be the act of a preventive military strike against Iran. It points out that “Americans should recognize that deterrence is, in Israeli eyes, an unattractive alternative to prevention, because if deterrence fails, Israel would suffer terribly.” The result of this, they explain, would be that Israel may decide to act independently against Iran.

While this may be a valid concern, it raises the question of whether the United States should support preventive military action simply because Israel might do it first. The report criticizes Iran for not abiding by UN Security Council resolutions calling on it to suspend its enrichment program, but Ross and his fellow signatories show little concern for the UN Charter that requires that member nations refrain from the threat or use of force and that if a dispute is not settled it shall be referred to the Security Council which will make recommendations. While the Charter allows for military action in self-defense, no strong case for even an imminent attack currently exists.

The United States has been down this preventive route before most recently in March 2003. That Dennis Ross and the folks on this task force don’t seem to take into account the disastrous effects of the preventive attack on Iraq and would consider this option with Iran is at the minimum an unsettling notion.

Interestingly, after recognizing the “abiding commitment” the United States has to Israel, they make a point of stating that “critics who argue that Israel has manipulated the U.S. government to act counter to the American national interest, which – if properly understood – would see Israel as a liability.” “We reject that critique,” reads the report.

The task force recommends four policy options when dealing with Iran. The first two involve diplomatic engagement and political and economic pressure. It advises that Israel be brought in “as a full partner in planning discussions regarding initiatives involving the UN Security Council; and U.S-EU, U.S.-Arab, and other relevant forums.”

The other two policy options include “coercive options such as an embargo on Iran’s sale of oil or import of refined petroleum products, and preventive military action.”

Before signing off, the report revisits the issue of the relationship with Israel and the United States. It calls for the president to use the “bully pulpit” to educate the American public that Iran poses a direct threat to the United States quickly adding, “The central argument is that preventing Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability is not special pleading for America’s ally Israel – it is vital to America’s own security.”

When considering that Dennis Ross will be “responsible for developing a strategy for engaging Iran,” it is important to note that the blueprint for this strategy from Ross’s perspective is deeply rooted in WINEPs presidential task force that endorses the policy option of a preventive strike and included not just American statesmen, diplomats and scholars, but ten anonymous Israeli counterparts.

While the State Department continues to use vague language about the connection between Dennis Ross and Iran, WINEP’s presidential task force makes clear that Ross will not be alone at the table.

Hugo Chávez: tides of victory February 21, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Venezuela.
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The referendum victory of Venezuela’s president is founded on an extension of the understanding of democracy that has both national roots and regional parallels, says Julia Buxton.


The Venezuelan electorate is bent on using democratic mechanisms to fuel the demagogic ambitions of its populist president, Hugo Chávez. The voters  have backed him and his party in thirteen of the fourteen elections and referendums held in the country since Chávez was inaugurated in February 1999. Now, on 15 February 2009, a majority of them went so far as to grant him his wish of being president for life: for in the referendum on that day 56% voted to lift term-limits on elected officials, thereby eroding a noble Latin American tradition of safeguarding democracy by limiting incumbency.

The distant hope 

So argue Hugo Chávez’s opponents at home and overseas – particularly in Washington, were the anti-Chávez lobby is striving to maintain the disproportionate influence it had under George W Bush into the Barack Obama administration. After the 15 February referendum, media and academic commentators have painted a frighteningly dystopian vision of Venezuela’s political future. It all amounts to significant pressure on the new Democratic administration to follow the Bush policy of isolating and destabilising Chávez.

There had been high hopes in Washington that the opposition would build on its defeat of Chávez in the referendum in December 2007 on lifting term-limits held, as well as on gains made in the November 2008 regional elections (including the capture of the municipal capital, Caracas). A further defeat for Chávez would have chastened the president’s grand ambition to build “21st-century socialism” in Venezuela. Along with the declining price of oil, the mainstay of the Venezuelan economy, and domestic turbulence preoccupying Russia and Iran – Venezuela’s partners in building a multi-polar world order – a second referendum defeat would have made Chávez a weakened proposition.  

So why did the electorate ruin this scenario by turning out in significant numbers (the turnout was 66%) to approve this major change? The government’s opponents and critics point to the usual problems: the administration’s abuse of public spending, violation of election laws, intimidation of the opposition, manipulation of voters, even anti-semitism. A Spanish deputy from the European parliament – in Venezuela as an international election observer – was moved to violate all norms of election observation by condemning dictatorship in Venezuela as soon as he landed in the country. 

The terms of victory

The reality is more complex, democratic – and worrying for Chávez’s opponents. The decision by Venezuelan voters to lift term-limits is of regional as well as domestic significance. It merits cool-headed scrutiny by the new United States state-department team ahead of the expected meeting between Chávez and Obama at the fifth Summit of the Americas on 17-19 April 2009 in Trinidad.

The “yes” vote won – fairly and freely according to international observers – for three reasons, which have nothing to do with intimidation or fraud. First, Chávez learnt from past defeat. Instead of the unwieldy sixty-nine proposals that bewildered voters in December 2007, there was just one question in the new proposal: should five articles in the 1999 constitution be amended in order to lift the two-term limit on officials serving in elected office?

Chávez, a formidable campaigner, expended significant energy mobilising his supporters and explaining why lifting term-limits – and opening up the prospect of his re-election in 2012 – was in the interest of the Venezuelan people. Unlike December 2007, he did not take success for granted. And in contrast to the messy infighting over candidacies in the ruling PSUV ahead of the November 2008 regional elections, the Chavistas unified around a single proposition and a single figure: Hugo Chávez. 

Second, the Chavistas’ success also reflected the ongoing weakness and disarray of the opposition, dashing critics’ hopes of presenting Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton with a viable alternative to Chávez. In theory, Chávez could now outlast Obama. There was no opposition campaign to speak of other than disruptive protests by belligerent students, feted and funded as democratic freedom-fighters by America’s libertarian right. Key opposition leaders were outfoxed by the extension of the term-limit issue to all elected officials (not just the presidency); and they relied on the old (and repeatedly unsuccessful) formula of branding Chávez a demagogue in recycling their ever-negative campaign message.  

The context of change

The third and and even more important issue underlying the referendum result relates to how Venezuelans understand and interpret democracy, and the type of democracy that they want to see in their country. A majority of voters did not support lifting term-limits because they were misled or manipulated by Chávez or because they have an authoritarian political streak. Rather, as the much respected regional Latinobarometro survey has shown on an annual basis, Venezuelan public opinion is one of the most democratic in the region and strongly opposed to autocracy. Venezuelans consistently express a high level of support for their political model, and confidence in the democratic system is constantly above the regional average. While critics may see Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution as an authoritarian project, majority opinion in Venezuela judges it democratic.     

In this broader context, the fundamentals of democracy are not altered by the lifting of term-limits. If anything, they may be enhanced. Whether or not Chávez intends to be president for life, he still has to face the electorate in 2012 if he wants to remain in power; and even then there is no guarantee that he will win a third term and retain the presidency. To do so, he needs to respond to popular concerns relating to crime, insecurity, corruption and inflation – or he runs the risk of defeat.

Moreover, the Venezuelan constitution provides for mid-term “recall referendums” on elected officials, thereby maintaining checks and balances on government at national, regional and municipal level. Term-limits have traditionally been deeply destabilising in Venezuelan politics, producing factional power struggles and lame-duck presidents. This can now be avoided, while allowing the electorate to stick with their preferred candidate – a democratic innovation. True, incumbency brings undoubted benefits; but they are delivered only if voters are contented with the performance of ruling officials and the opposition fails to present a viable alternative.   

In the liberal-democratic model, term-limits are viewed as essential for the checking and balancing of executive power. But this emphasis on procedural mechanics and ideal-types does not match popular understanding or expectations of democracy at the grassroots of Venezuelan society. Most Venezuelan voters are clearly of the view that term-limits are not the only, or necessarily an invaluable, mechanism for restraining power. A host of other parliamentary systems have survived without limiting prospects for re-election. Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary-general of the Organisation of American States, is among those who has highlighted the democratising potentialities of lifting term-limits.

Venezuela has taken the regional lead in implementing projects of major social transformation that challenge the power and vested interests of minority elites. Hugo Chávez argued that the opportunity to run for a third term was essential for the consolidation of his Bolivarian revolution. His lead is now likely to be followed by Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua. Each of these heads of state are considering lifting term-limits on the basis that this will allow for continuity and the institutionalisation of change. In a region traditionally characterised by instability and fragile institutions, this may prove to be a good thing.  

The clear message to the United States state department is that South American societies want to mould their own unique political systems and break with a rigid and limited liberal-democratic model that minimises popular input. Variation and innovation in this context amount to pluralism not authoritarianism.

Julia Buxton is senior research fellow in the department of peace studies, Bradford University. Her work includes The Failure of Political Reform in Venezuela (Ashgate, 2001)

Activists ‘shocked’ at Clinton stance on China rights February 21, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, Foreign Policy.
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WASHINGTON (AFP) — Amnesty International and a pro-Tibet group voiced shock Friday after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed not to let human rights concerns hinder cooperation with China.

Paying her first visit to Asia as the top US diplomat, Clinton said the United States would continue to press China on long-standing US concerns over human rights such as its rule over Tibet.

“But our pressing on those issues can’t interfere on the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis,” Clinton told reporters in Seoul just before leaving for Beijing.

T. Kumar of Amnesty International USA said the global rights lobby was “shocked and extremely disappointed” by Clinton’s remarks.

“The United States is one of the only countries that can meaningfully stand up to China on human rights issues,” he said.

“But by commenting that human rights will not interfere with other priorities, Secretary Clinton damages future US initiatives to protect those rights in China,” he said.

Students for a Free Tibet said Clinton’s remarks sent the wrong signal to China at a sensitive time.

“The US government cannot afford to let Beijing set the agenda,” said Tenzin Dorjee, deputy director of the New York-based advocacy group.

China has been pouring troops into the Himalayan territory ahead of next month’s 50th anniversary of the uprising that sent Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama into exile in India.

“Leaders really need to step up and pressure China. It’s often easy to wonder whether pressure makes a difference. It may not make a difference in one day or one month, but it would be visible after some years,” Dorjee said.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had sent a letter to Clinton before her maiden Asia visit urging her to raise human rights concerns with Chinese leaders.

Before she left, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said human rights would be “an important issue” for Clinton and that she would “raise the issue when appropriate.”

China has greeted President Barack Obama’s administration nervously, believing he would press Beijing harder on human rights and trade issues than former president George W. Bush.

Hillary Clinton, Saudi Arabia and “Foggy Bottom” December 22, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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www.huffingtonpost.com, December 2, 2008

Raymond J. Learsy

Last Thursday Bill Clinton disclosed his complete donor list of contributors to his foundation that funds his library and charitable work, in an effort to abate concerns of conflicts of interest should Senator Hillary Clinton be confirmed as President-elect Obama’s Secretary of State.

Does it, or does it just raise additional and potentially disturbing issues? According to Bloomberg, the Clinton foundation collected at least $41 million from foreign nations. Leading the list of open-handed generosity was a donation of between $10 and $25 million from Saudi Arabia. And that of course is singularly worrisome as it raises the question of whether our putative Secretary of State would be, in any way, beholden to Saudi Arabia.

We have come to realize that Saudi donations and contributions both direct and indirect, have achieved insidious influence on the American Government extending from the price and supply of oil to U.S. policies toward the Persian Gulf states, Iran and Iraq. The incestuous relationship between the American government and Saudi Arabia, seeded by President George H.W. Bush and his appointees, has reached its apogee under the presidency of George W. Bush. During these years the nation has endured the embarrassment of having Prince Bandar, the Saudi Ambassador to Washington, treat the Oval Office as an annex of the Saudi Embassy.

The relationship with Saudi Arabia has had debilitating cost to the United States in lives and fortune. 9/11 came and went, and under President George W. Bush Saudi Arabia has never been held to account for the fact that the majority of hijackers who carried out their murderous attack were Saudis. Nor has there been a serious American policy of bringing to an end the billions of Saudi money from Saudi citizens and charities that are flooding Wahhabi schools and cultural centers in Pakistan and around the world, forming today’s and tomorrow’s extremists, while teaching young minds hatred of Shiites, Hindus, Christians and Jews. Not to speak of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan where Saudi Jihadists are part and parcel of the irredentist fabric of murder and pillage.

And then of course there is the issue of oil where Saudi Arabia, in its leadership role within OPEC, has led OPEC to the promised land of $147 barrel oil. This, while our administration continued to stock up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve irrespective of price or market perception, nor effectively initiating meaningful programs for alternative energy nor significantly reducing our fossil fuel consumption. And of course never seriously confronting the Saudis on their manipulative production and pricing policies, much to the pleasure of the administration’s friends in the oil industry, and at enormous cost to the nation as a whole.

On December 17, 2008 the Financial Times would categorize Saudi Arabia’s pricing influence within OPEC, and I quote, “Saudi Arabia’s willingness to sacrifice market share should consolidate its power as the only country able to influence the price of oil and therefore the world’s economic health.”

A benign and cooperative American administration toward OPEC is key to the Saudis and their focused policies for ever higher oil prices. We are in effect the de facto protectors of their independence and we have extended that protection under an amenable Bush administration without any meaningful quid pro quo. Herein the State Department of the next administration will have to play a key role.

Senator Hillary Clinton is a personage of outstanding ability and extensive experience. If Bill Clinton’s brush with the Saudis makes her more pious than the pope in encouraging arms length monitoring of Saudi issues and limiting Saudi access, so much the better. It is long past time that our relationship with Saudi Arabia be based on clear cut national interests and not clouded by Saudi access, influence, and personal relationships at the highest levels — influence that is forever at the expense of this nation and its citizens and to the benefit of the Saudis and its royals. That has been the case these last eight years, and to some degree before. Can Hillary Clinton assure us that there will not be any Saudi preferential access to Foggy Bottom in spite of the myriad millions visited on the Clinton foundation? That there will be no preferential treatment given to that telephone call seeking to jump the line coming from Riyadh or the Saudi Embassy, even if its 3 A.M.?!

Remaking the World in America’s Image December 4, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, Political Commentary.
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Posted on Dec 4, 2008


By William Pfaff

HEIDELBERG, Germany—U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has completed his national security team, and its composition confirms that nothing fundamental is likely to change in American foreign policy.

“Fundamental” is the key word, meaning change in the goals pursued and the assumptions that underlie policy. One expects an end to the blatant contempt for international law and institutions displayed by the Bush administration. The torture, illegal seizures of individuals and secret imprisonments, and flaunting of generally accepted norms of human rights will probably end, although the records of all the new appointees are not entirely clear on this subject.

However, the war on Muslim radicalism will go on. The evidence suggests that American policy under Obama will be a continuation of the neoconservative foreign policy of the Bush administration, given a human face.

According to Obama’s own intention to carry the war against al-Qaida into the Pakistan tribal territories, the current American attitude toward national sovereignty remains unchanged.

As early as 2003, Condoleezza Rice condemned the Westphalian system of state sovereignty as leading to competition and war, calling for its replacement by an alliance or federation of the democracies, under U.S. leadership, to keep order in the world.

The same idea was argued by John McCain in his presidential campaign, and Obama endorsed it. The preceding Reagan and Clinton administrations displayed little compunction about invading or bombarding small countries. (Ronald Reagan had to be stiffly reminded by Queen Elizabeth that she was the queen of Grenada, a Commonwealth country he had chosen to invade in 1983.) A Pentagon official recently said that sovereignty extends to what you can defend. Implied was that territory a country cannot defend is open to whatever the U.S. chooses to do there.

In June 2008, the Defense Department, acting on the authority of Robert Gates, issued a new version of its National Defense Strategy. This presented a list of requirements meant to compel removal of military, political and international legal obstacles to American attacks on terrorist targets, and to American interventions to replace regimes.

The New York Times last Sunday carried a major article based on information from an unnamed source among the Obama planners, who said that a “vastly expanded” number of military officers, diplomats and aid people will be prepared for projects dealing with the aftermath of conflict and to rebuild “failed states.”

The informant said “the U.S. and its allies (will) use their varied tools to build government capacity in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, the Philippines and beyond. Grand strategists may imagine a new global architecture, but the real global architecture of the future will emerge organically from these day-to-day nation-building operations.”

According to Stephen Flanagan of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, planning includes “increasing the size of the State Department, building a civilian corps that can do development in dangerous parts of the world, creating interagency nation-building institutions, helping local reformers build governing capacity in fragile places like Pakistan and the Palestinian territories, and exporting American universities while importing more foreign students.”

Last summer, Secretary of State Rice declared that the Bush government was mistaken in its initial hostility to nation building. She wrote (in Foreign Affairs) that “democratic state building is now an urgent component of our national interest. … It is absolutely clear that we will be engaged in nation building for years to come.” She said that this reflects “a uniquely American realism” that teaches “it is America’s job to change the world, and in its own image.”

The war on terror, which began in reaction to an attack on the United States by a small group of nationalist and Islamist Muslims, outraged by the presence of American military bases in close proximity to the Islamic holy places in Saudi Arabia, has now become a war against radicalism itself, disorderly states, other conflicts and failures in the non-Western world, poverty and social disorder (“breeding grounds” for terrorism), and “rogue nations,” meaning those that want to have nuclear weapons in order to deter attack by foreign enemies.

Simon Sefarty, a senior figure in the Washington policy community, listing what were “increasingly agreed” with the European allies (in summer 2008) to be the “nontraditional” threats to Europe and America, began with the threat of “terrorist groups of global reach and potential access to weapons of mass destruction,” and continued with “WMD diversification and proliferation, failed states, organized crime, access to energy, climate change, pandemics and more.”

He urged a “complex mixture of military and civilian capabilities along with a combination of institutional tools, both national and multilateral” to resolve the threats. His list left out resurgent superpowers (presumably traditional threats), but otherwise would seem to include the failings of most of the non-Western world.

This same war to make other states “into the American image” has been waged repeatedly during the last 50 years: in Vietnam, in Laos and Cambodia, in Nicaragua, in Iraq where “victory” (whatever that would be) still eludes the U.S., in Afghanistan in a war now spreading into Pakistan, in Somalia (through an Ethiopian proxy), and against Hezbollah and Hamas.

It invariably has failed, at heavy cost to the societies involved, and little or no benefit to the United States. The rule long ago empirically established is that intervention in other countries to remake them invariably inflames and sustains nationalist resistance to the invader. But Barack Obama and his team seem ready to try again.

Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.