Archive for September, 2009

Missile Defense: The Other Story

By Bruce Gagnon


Yesterday we witnessed a flurry of emails and articles proclaiming victory after President Obama’s announcement that he was going to scrap George W. Bush’s plans to deploy missile defense interceptors in Poland and a Star Wars radar in the Czech Republic.  There is no doubt that our peace activist friends in those two countries do indeed have reason to celebrate after their hard and determined work to stop those deployments.  We also need to recognize and thank the many people around the world who acted in solidarity with them during these past couple years of intensive campaigning.

But now that we’ve had a day to rejoice, the time has come for more reflection on what the Obama administration intends to do next.  I’ve quickly learned during these eight months of watching Obama in action that when he gives something with one hand it is wise to watch what his other hand is taking away.

In his September 17 speech Obama stated that his new missile defense architecture for Europe would be more “comprehensive than the previous [Bush] program” and would be “enhanced” by NATO involvement.

Secretary of War Robert Gates was left to explain the details of the new missile defense “architecture” that would replace the now rejected deployment plan for Poland and the Czech Republic.

Gates stated that he was the one who had proposed three years ago to deploy the missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic.  He concluded that the original plan was no longer the best military “architecture” for the current “threat” from Iran.  Thus instead of missile defense interceptors that would target offending missiles in their mid-course of flight, and that had a series of bad test results, the Pentagon now wanted to deploy in northern and southern Europe missile defense systems that had a proven testing record and were more appropriate for the kind of threat now expected from Iran.

The intelligence community now assesses that the threat from Iran’s short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, such as the Shahab-3, is developing more rapidly than previously projected,” Gates said. “This poses an increased and more immediate threat to our forces on the European continent, as well as to our allies.”

Gates continued, “We now have proven capabilities to intercept these [short range] ballistic missiles with land and sea-based interceptors supported by much improved sensors.  This allows us to deploy a distributed sensor network rather than a single-fixed site, like the kind slated for the Czech Republic.”

US Navy Aegis destroyers, outfitted with Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) missile defense interceptors, would “provide flexibility to move interceptors from one region to another,” Gates said.  In years to come the SM-3 will be upgraded and be deployed throughout Europe as land-based systems as well.  Since 2007 the SM-3 has had eight successful tests, including the February of 2008 shoot-down of a falling military satellite with an SM-3 missile from an Aegis ship in what many saw as proof that these systems also had “anti-satellite” weapons capability.

You can watch brief video clips of Gates at <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vBF0OJskbY&amp;feature=player_embedded>  and Obama at <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cx-nLJSkJgA&amp;feature=player_embedded>  from yesterday.

The Russians first reaction was positive, as would be expected, since they were deeply concerned that the Poland and Czech deployments could be used by the US as the shield in a first-strike attack.  But their concerns have not completely disappeared.

The Washington Post  <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/17/AR2009091700639.html?hpid=topnews&amp;sid=ST2009091701841> reported today that Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, former chief of the Russian military’s main research institute for nuclear strategy, cautioned that the reconfigured U.S. system could still pose a threat to Russia. “Everything depends on the scale of such a system,” he told the Interfax news agency. “If it comprises a multitude of facilities, including a space echelon, it may threaten the Russian potential of nuclear deterrence.”

As described by Gates and his top generals, Obama’s new missile defense plan will unfold in three stages. By 2011, the Pentagon will deploy Navy Aegis ships equipped with SM-3 interceptors in the eastern Mediterranean.

A second phase in about 2015 will field an upgraded, land-based SM-3 in allied countries, and discussions are underway with Poland and the Czech Republic on basing the missiles in their territory, Gates said. In 2018, the third phase will deploy a larger and more capable missile, which will allow the system to protect Europe and the United States against short- and intermediate-range rockets and, eventually, intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Bloomberg News  <http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&amp;sid=aXU5ox7TB9i8> reports that, “This shift clearly benefits Lockheed Martin and Raytheon and is negative” for Boeing.  “The move away from fixed missile-defense sites in Eastern Europe is a continuation of the more flexible, tactical missile-defense shield that Secretary Gates advocated,” said Rob Stallard, an analyst at Macquarie Capital Inc. in New York.

The Pentagon’s 2010 budget seeks 250 Standard Missile-3 interceptors. It also seeks to increase to 27 from 21 the number of warships equipped to
launch the Standard Missile-3s and requests $1.6 billion to develop software and hardware to upgrade ships and to develop a ground-based model.

The Pentagon is also now promising Poland that Patriot missiles will still be deployed in that country as previously planned.

So in the end I see this as an adjustment in strategy due to technology as much as anything.  The flexible, more mobile, short range missile defense systems are proving ready to go while the former Bush proposal for Poland and Czech Republic included technologies that are not yet proven.

Obama can appear to be stepping back from an immediate confrontation with Russia but in fact he is following the lead of the Pentagon who for some time has been saying that they must move to expand the more promising Navy Aegis-based missile defense system.  This program has already been dramatically growing in the Asian-Pacific region and will now be slated for expanded European operations.

Bruce K. Gagnon
Coordinator
Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
PO Box 652
Brunswick, ME 04011

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Letter to Teabaggers

Dear Teabaggers:

I’d like to congratulate all of you who gathered in Washington yesterday. You have accomplished an act of great significance, even if I’m not sure exactly what it was.  You certainly deserve kudos for proving the MSM actually will cover a protest, if it resonates with their news values.

I feel that due to ignorance I might have missed a great opportunity to join you yesterday. But maybe you can help me make sense of what you were protesting and why.

1)    According to your signs and spoken words you were objecting to government bailouts and stimulus spending because they vastly increased the federal deficit, right?  Therefore, you surely took to the streets when George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans cost the government (and therefore taxpayers like you) a trillion dollars, didn’t you?

2)    You angrily denounced President Obama’s health care plan and waved signs that said it should be buried with Kennedy (presumably Ted, but probably any Kennedy would do). So instead of alleged government death panels and health care rationing, you prefer that these decisions continue to be made by the insurance companies that you know and trust?

3)    You said Obama’s initiatives are threatening the Constitution, usurping power in a Nazi-style takeover. So of course you were out there with your signs and your colonial costumes in 2001 when the Bush administration railroaded the USA Patriot Act through Congress? And when he later ordered domestic spying and wiretaps on American citizens? And when his signing statements and executive initiatives gave him emergency powers to deploy troops on American soil and declare any and each of you enemy combatants and render you overseas to be tortured?

4)    You accuse Obama and the Democrats of an “overstuffed government” that has made the deficit balloon, a burden that will be borne by our grandchildren. So surely you praised Bill Clinton when he eliminated deficit spending in the late ‘90s?

5)    You are outraged that Obama wants to spend $900 billion over 10 years to give ordinary Americans access to better and more affordable health care. And you praised Joe Wilson, who shouted, “You lie” at Obama. So I’m certain you were screaming for his head when Dubya lied to you, then spent close to a trillion dollars of your money on two wars that have killed over 4,000 GIs and wounded many thousands more?

6)    You call Obama a socialist because you want a smaller government like the Founding Fathers envisioned, so it follows that you want to abolish Social Security, Medicare, veterans’ benefits, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control, right? You don’t want your swine flu shot, do you?

7)    You’re worried that the government will take away your right to bear arms, so to prove you can do so responsibly you don’t bring your assault weapons to public events and brandish them outside town hall meetings where the president is speaking, correct?

8)    You don’t think it’s appropriate that the President of the United States talk to schoolchildren. So of course you objected when George Bush read them a book about goats, didn’t you?

9)    Most of all, you say you’re worried about the Bill of Rights and this president who is becoming a dictator, threatening your future as freedom-loving Americans. So it follows that you’re proud to be the latest in a long line of socially conscious protesters whose forbears fought against slavery and segregation and demanded workers’ rights and equal rights and protections for women, gays and minorities, right?

What’s that? You say you and yours weren’t out on the streets back then or in 1963 and 2001 and 2003 and 2006 because there was nothing to protest? You watched the network news for as long as you can remember and life was good…because the American Dream was alive and well, so why would anyone have anything to protest about, unless they were crazy? Except for abortion, that is, because the born can take care of themselves, but we might need to kill people to protect the rights of the unborn?

Well, you’re so worked up, I’m confident that yours must be a cause worth fighting for, even if I’m not smart enough to figure out what it is. And if you dress up like patriots, that’s enough to convince me you must not be crazy.

One more thing: I’m sure this all has nothing to do with race, but just let me know the next time that family in the White House is acting uppity, OK?

Steve Klinger

Grassroots Press

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Town Hall Mentality: The Time for Bewilderment is Over

By Steve Klinger

When Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) interrupted President Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress last night, it became evident how close this country is to boiling over.

Wilson shouted out, “You lie!” after Obama declared that health insurance reform would not cover illegal aliens. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi exchanged an aghast look with Vice President Biden, and Obama himself paused before reiterating his assertion, but there was no denying a historic protocol of civility had been breached… in effect turning a formal occasion into another town hall meeting.

Wilson, under pressure from fellow Republicans, issued a measured apology after the speech, but many of those same Republicans who felt he went too far had themselves laughed, snickered and held up signs during Obama’s address, indicating they trailed Wilson only in degree, not spirit of disrespect.

But it’s not just disrespect that is overtaking America, it is mass insanity, self-righteous anger fulminating from the mouths of citizens who are making no sense whatsoever – even denouncing Obama for trying to spread his “socialist message” to schoolchildren. Like the morons shouting, “Don’t let the government mess with my Medicare,” the Joe Wilsons in public office show there is a growing rumble of unrest spreading across this yahoo nation that increasingly portends violence.

Check out the video just posted on this web site (http://www.youtube.com/stagnews) of a town hall meeting on health care, with protesters spouting demented references to socialism, Nazism and threats to overthrow the government. Elsewhere, protesters with automatic weapons have defiantly strutted only a couple of hundred yards from Obama himself , proclaiming their Second Amendment rights. Timorous Democrats and Secret Service spokesmen just clear their throats and mumble that such types are kept at a safe distance from the president and aren’t doing anything illegal. As if you can ultimately contain these hordes by making sure you don’t piss them off.

Now the Roberts Supreme Court seems poised to extend its interpretation that corporations have all the same constitutional rights and protections as individuals (even if some of the former are mostly foreign-owned?), which could, if the ruling is broad enough, unleash a poisonous flood of corporate dollars directly aimed at candidates. Campaign finance reform, anyone? As if the current system of legalized bribes we call lobbying and “soft money” hadn’t already pushed democracy to the edge of the cliff.

This is no digression because corporate megabucks have been fueling much of the populist uprising, spawning the teabagger movement and the town hall obstructionism.

Progressives are largely still in disbelief, baffled how citizens can erupt like this, completely against their own self-interest – fearing health care reform and government spending that might equalize the playing field that is tilting so heavily in the direction of the corporatocracy that has all but eliminated the middle class. To reshape Obama’s words from last night: the time for bewilderment is over.

Unlike some, I don’t think the forces of greed and evil have entirely won out yet. But with a stacked court and a rigged system, it’s only a matter of time, especially now that the brainwashed morons have turned on this beleagured, most centrist of presidents and the fragmented ranks of gelatinous Democrats. We’re in the ninth inning, folks, and if we lose on health care we will only embolden the real corporate enemies lurking behind the angry rabble.

Obviously, in a rational discourse of the issues facing this country, the actions and attitudes of that rabble are incomprehensible, but whoever said that just because some of us are rational we should expect the same from our enemies?

Go back and reread 1984. The hallmark of totalitarianism is its strength in turning black in to white by rewriting history, redefining the most basic words, dredging up collective fears and turning them into defiant, uberpatriotic mindlessness that embraces war as peace and falsehood as truth.

The common denominator is fear. Mostly as in racism. Would Joe Wilson have dared to shout out, “You lie!” to a white president? I doubt it. Would the birther movement continue to defy logic and reason if Obama were a white man who might have been born in Canada?  Would the angry white folks with their panties in such a knot be so worked up if the demographics of this country weren’t relentlessly threatening to erode their grip on power and privilege? Wilson’s outburst not only was targeted at a black president but was prompted by the coded racial issue of illegal immigration.

But racism itself is both an unevolved tribal phobia and an exploited collective fear that can be cultivated most easily among people bred in such a culture, which plays right into the hands of the puppetmasters — those who have figured out it’s easier to consolidate power by manipulating the yahoos into intimidating the moderates, at the same time they rig the system to use their plentiful dollars to elect more of their own.

Obama showed his usual grace and poise in accepting Wilson’s “mistake.” I’m sure he didn’t want to deflect the focus from his message on health care. Trouble is, Wilson’s outburst is precisely the issue.  There’s a very hostile uprising brewing out there.

Bottom line: the naïve, fragmented left in this country needs to wake up and realize this is hardball out on that playing field. Obama needs to bear down and pitch inside. He may need to plunk a batter or two. But if he can’t rally those who elected him, and if they can’t steer him in a tougher direction, this game is lost.

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Pull the Trigger Already

By Steve Klinger

In the bizarre, near-carnival world of health-care reform debate, things took a pointed turn on Wednesday when an anti-reform activist got into a fist fight at a town hall meeting in Thousand Oaks, Calif. The naysayer punched the reform advocate in the mouth, whereupon the punchee (reportedly a member of Code Pink) chomped down and bit off his pinkie. The 65-year-old anti-reformer drove himself to a hospital where doctors stitched up the shortened digit. The four- or five-digit bill will be paid by his socialist Medicare, doubtless with no objection from him.

Meanwhile the finger-pointing returns to Washington next week, where President Obama will address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. Will Obama express a stiffened resolve and insist on sweeping legislation with a strong public option? If you think that, I would ask in the newly immortal words of Barney Frank, on what planet do you spend most of your time?

My money is on the odiferous copout being pushed by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), the lone Republican willing to even discuss health-care reform with Obama or the Democrats. Snowe is proposing that instead of a public option (or even health-insurance cooperatives) the bill contain a trigger mechanism that would take effect if the insurance companies fail to rein in costs to a certain standard. Talk about a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. We already have such a trigger mechanism on the $700 billion giveaway known as the Medicare Reform Act of 2003. It hasn’t kicked in yet.

Obama and the Dems made their fatal mistake in taking single payer off the table before the process began. You won’t get an argument from me that they had the votes to pass single payer, but if they had a realistic expectation of a bill with a strong public option, that was the way to start. As anyone who’s ever held a garage sale knows, successful negotiators don’t bargain with themselves. If you want $2 for the old toaster, price it at $3, not $2.05. Start with a public option (maybe, kinda, sorta) and you wind up with a trigger mechanism.

So despite Obama’s campaign promises of sweeping change and a health-care system overhaul, what we are likely to get may be for many Americans worse than nothing at all.  For the few concessions the insurance industry has agreed to (no pre-existing conditions, no dropped policies), they and big pharma are poised to receive a truly obscene bonanza as legislation will require that all Americans purchase insurance but there will be no way to control its cost. This opens up exactly the demographic that is most profitable to cover: the young and relatively healthy, since the elderly are already on Medicare. Mandatory insurance with no effective control over rising costs (read: incentives) is a national train wreck waiting to happen.

Centrists and moderates will argue that incremental reform is better than none, and that if the Democrats hold out for a public option they will fail and the voters will retaliate. To that I say, GSO (gelatinous spinal offal). Of course, that is a pre-existing condition endemic to Democrats.

Think about it: You don’t have quite enough votes to avoid a filibuster and move a strong health care reform bill?  Fine. Force the GOP (Grand Obstructionist Party) to actually conduct a filibuster and let the American people see who is blocking reform of a system that’s killing this country. Make them go on for days or weeks. Meanwhile, focus your message and cut through the lies about death panels, rationing and evil socialism.

Yes, there are those whose cognitive dissonance will drown out the rational argument that we already have death panels and rationing, not from the government but from an unregulated insurance industry. The racists (flagrant and pocket) and me-first libertarians will continue to use the socialist code word to rant against any minority empowerment or perceived redistribution of the spoils of their greed. Only in America are the great unwashed blue-collar have-nots so brainwashed as to rally against their own longterm self-interests (which include a healthier, more moral and more productive nation under an equitable universal health-care system). But of course they all think they’ll be rich some day, so don’t mess with their American Dream.

Obama and the Congressional Dems won last year with convincing majorities. Can they lay bare the lies and hysteria and refocus the electorate? The patient lies etherized upon the table. Will Obama arrive brandishing a scalpel or a Band-Aid? Will he chomp down on the putrescent Republican finger being waved in his face or will he knuckle under?

As long as trillions of health care dollars hang in the balance and the corporatocracy rules with its golden campaign-finance fist, Obama and Congress won’t pull the trigger. People would have to rise up and take to the streets (and I’m not talking about tea parties). They’d have to march on Washington, go on strike, protest in every major city. That would take food shortages, gas rationing, rampant homelessness. Hmmmm. Maybe next year.

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