|Progressive Calendar 02.17.09||<– Date –> <– Thread –>|
|From: David Shove (shove001tc.umn.edu)|
|Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2009 05:51:20 -0800 (PST)|
P R O G R E S S I V E C A L E N D A R 02.17.09 1. StP budget cuts 2.17 5:30pm 2. Terrorizing Dissent 2.17 6:30pm 3. HIRE/jobs 2.17 6:30pm 4. $$$ meltdown/PBS 2.17 9pm?? 5. Civil liberties 2.18 4pm 6. Native thought 2.18 6pm 7. Palestine/boycott 2.18 3:30pm/7pm 8. Patrick Irelan - Venezuela ends term limits; Chavez & the WashPost 9. Eric Stoner - Attack of the killer robots 10. William Astore - Is the US military now an imperial police force? 11. ed - Rich men and war (poem) --------1 of 11-------- From: Anne R. Carroll <carrfran [at] qwest.net> Subject: StP budget cuts 2.17 5:30pm Horrendous budget cuts in St. Paul as well as in St. Paul Public Schools. And yes, sometimes the numbers and impacts seem so overwhelming, and the solutions to complex and equally problematic that it's hard to know how to respond. One enormous additional challenge in both cases is that there's very little we can do locally to solve it. While the city has direct tax levying authority, the school district doesn't, but in both cases the majority of the current financial crisis is a result of decisions made at the state and federal levels, combined with various impacts from the financial crisis. I really, really encourage people to share their perspectives and ideas on this Issues Forum, and also to let electeds know what you think. The city is hosting two input sessions on the budget and cuts to local government aid: * 5:30 to 7 p.m. Feb. 17 in the auditorium at El Rio Vista Rec Center/Neighborhood House, 179 E. Robie Street; and * 5:30 to 7 p.m. Feb. 24 in the Bullard Rainforest Auditorium at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory Visitor Center, 1225 Estabrook Drive. More here: http://www.stpaul.gov/index.asp?nid=2960 The School District is dealing with both large-scale system change and budget cuts. Here's the link to all that information: http://www.spps.org/ConversationU.html. Here's the link to various upcoming community engagement opportunities: http://www.spps.org/sites/209472fd-849d-4015-bcbe-8839b20be25b/uploads/NextO pR2.pdf Many of these are still in the planning stage, so check back for updates. What I find most disheartening is the devastating combination of cuts. St. Paul lists itself as "The most livable city in Amerca," and SPPS offers "A world of opportunities." I'm pretty hard-wired as an optimist, but things are looking bleak for our community's ability to serve people well. I heard an interesting comment on the radio yesterday about the distinction between being an optimist and being hopeful; my takeaway is that one can be hopeful even when it's no longer realistic to be optimistic ;-). So I'm working on the hopeful part, and further hope that all of you will weigh in to both the city and the school district on your good ideas as we tackle both short- and long-term challenges -- and opportunities. -- Anne Carroll (St. Paul Bd of Ed) --------2 of 11-------- From: patty <pattypax [at] earthlink.net> Subject: Terrorizing Dissent 2.17 6:30pm This Tuesday, February 17, we will show one part of the film Terrorizing Dissent. This is the documentary film of what took place in our Twin Cities during the Republican National Convention last September. While the Republicans were inside the Xcel center hooping it up with Sarah Palin, the streets were something different. As one delegate said on TV, "We really don't care about what is happening on the outside, we are inside and just having a good time." A timely metaphor if i must say so. Come and see what your taxes paid for during these harsh days. The second part will be next week. We hope to start right at 6:30, end the film at 8 and leave time for talk. Pax Salons ( http://justcomm.org/pax-salon ) are held (unless otherwise noted in advance): Tuesdays, 6:30 to 8:30 pm. Mad Hatter's Tea House, 943 W 7th, St Paul, MN Salons are free but donations encouraged for program and treats. Call 651-227-3228 or 651-227-2511 for information. --------3 of 11-------- From: Jennifer Jimenez-Wheatley <jennifer [at] metrostability.org> Subject: HIRE/jobs 2.17 6:30pm Help us create jobs, protect our environment and strengthen communities Alliance for Metropolitan Stability HIRE Minnesota Town Hall Meeting 6:30 - 8 pm Tuesday, February 17 Minneapolis American Indian Center 1530 E Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis The government is making big decisions about how to stimulate our economy by investing in infrastructure and new technologies. But who will make these decisions and who will benefit from those investments? You have a voice! Tell our public officials that our investments must: * Jump start our economy * Create and preserve millions of jobs * Create sustainable income for low-income people and people of color * Reduce our oil dependency * Ease the climate crisis Join us! Together we can create new jobs, protect our environment and strengthen communities! Be prepared! Be heard! Nearly 400 people attended our last town hall meeting in St. Paul. Free food and musical entertainment! RSVP online to let the Alliance know you're coming H.I.R.E. Minnesota is a coalition of community groups led by the Summit Academy OIC and the Will Steger Foundation. Coalition members include: American Indian OIC, African American Men Project, Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, Asian American Press, Catholic Charities Office for Social Justice, Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota, Green Water Energy, Insight News, ISAIAH, LVY Investments, Minnesota Baptist Convention, Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium, Minnesota OIC State Council, Minority Business Television, Sabathani Community Center, Stairstep and the Women's Environmental Institute. --------4 of 11-------- From: Lydia Howell <lydiahowell [at] visi.com> Subject: $$$ meltdown/PBS 2.17 9pm?? FRONTLINE http://www.pbs.org/frontline/ - This Week: "Inside the Meltdown" (60 minutes), Feb.17th at 9pm on PBS (Check local listings) - Live Discussion: Chat with producer Michael Kirk, Feb. 18th, 11am ET Watch this week's FRONTLINE episode and you might come away asking some unsettling questions: How close did the American economy really come to total collapse this past fall? Why were some big banks and financial institutions bailed out, but not others? And what could policymakers have done differently during a historic weekend last September that may have helped slow the speed of the crash? In "Inside the Meltdown," airing this Tuesday night (check local listings), veteran FRONTLINE producer Michael Kirk goes behind closed doors in Washington and on Wall Street to investigate how the economy went so bad so fast, and why emergency actions--taken by then Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, and others--failed to prevent the worst economic crisis in some 70 years. "I'm sure that Paulson is sitting there....everybody was sitting there saying, 'My god, we may be presiding over the second Great Depression,'" Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman tells FRONTLINE. "This is the utter nightmare of an economic policy maker. You're sitting there and you may have just made the decision that destroyed the world." "The politics of the situation on September 15th is, 'Let [the big financial institutions] fail,'" says former federal regulator Michael Greenberger of the critical policy shift made by the Bush economic team this past fall. "Within 24 hours, they had to throw their principles out the door and save the economy." You can watch excerpts from "Inside the Meltdown" right now at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/meltdown/ , and also take a behind-the-scenes look at the film with producer Michael Kirk at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/story/2009/02/the-making-of.html We hope you'll join us on air this Tuesday night. Afterward, visit our Web site, where you can watch the program again online, read extended interviews with Wall Street and Washington insiders, and explore a timeline of the end of Wall Street as we know it. --------5 of 11-------- From: Human Rights Center/Lauren Merritt <humanrts [at] umn.edu> Subject: Civil liberties 2.18 4pm Co-sponsored by the American Constitution Society, Amnesty International Legal Support Network, and the Human Rights Center Steven T. Wax Steven T. Wax, as a federal public defender, represented two men caught up in post 9/11 counterterrorism "War on Terror". In his book, Kafka Comes to civil liberties have been battered and violated since 9/11 and how the public can make a difference to reestablish those civil liberties. FREE & OPEN TO THE PUBLIC! REFRESHMENTS WILL BE SERVED WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2009 4:00 P.M.-5:15 P.M. ROOM 35 MONDALE HALL UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA LAW SCHOOL 229 19TH AVE S. MINNEAPOLIS, MN 55455 The Human Rights Center works locally, nationally, and internationally to provide training, education materials, and assistance to professionals, students, and volunteers working to promote and protect human rights. --------6 of 11-------- From: PRO826 [at] aol.com Subject: Native thought 2.18 6pm FREE CLASSES Instructor: Ray Tricomo In the lobby of the Student Center at Hamline University, 1551 Hewitt in St. Paul Wednesday evenings, 6-8pm INDIGENOUS IMPERATIVE: The Role of Native Thought in Reshaping World Society Topics will include: Discussion of North American and South American Indigenous cultures, The Great Law of Peace, the upcoming independence of Greenland from Denmark, etc. Thursday evenings, 6-8pm THE GODFATHER: Microcosm of an American Tragedy Analysis of "The Godfather" movie, ecology, Sicilian immigration and the American predatory ideology FFI contact: Ray Tricomo at 651-714-0288 or rtricomo [at] yahoo.com --------7 of 11-------- From: Meredith Aby <awcmere [at] gmail.com> Subject: Palestine/boycott 2.18 3:30pm/7pm Palestine Week at the U of M Wednesday 2/18: A showing of Occupation 101 at 3:30 pm, Coffman Room 217. BOYCOTT & PROTEST THE BATSHEVA DANCE COMPANY 7:30 PM Wednesday February 18 @ Northrop Auditorium, 84 Church St. SE, University of Minnesota The University of Minnesota is bringing the Batsheva Dance Company of Tel Aviv to Minneapolis for one performance. This is a violation of the 2004 Palestinian call to "comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions"and the 2005 call of 171 Palestinian civil society organizations for broad boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. This Dance Company is funded by the Israeli government and is considered a "leading ambassador" of the Israeli government. Particularly in the aftermath of the recent invasion of the Gaza Strip, and the ongoing occupation of Palestinian land, it is time to honor the call for a boycott of Israel called for by Palestinian civil society and solidarity groups around the world, including South Africa. The challenge posed to us today in ending the apartheid like policies of the State of Israel is no different than the challenge that people of good faith faced in the 1980s in responding to calls to boycott the white supremacist government in South Africa. We urge you to join us as we nonviolently oppose this performance as part of building a sustained BDS campaign. "The latest Palestinian Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) - supported by a large majority of Palestinian civil society - does not target Jews or Israelis qua Jews; on the contrary, it actually addresses conscientious Israeli Jews, urging them to support efforts to bring about Israel's compliance with international law and fundamental human rights, both necessary elements in reaching true peace based on justice. Many around the world recognize the extent of Israel's breach of international law. The real challenge now is to do something about it. Only by applying effective international pressure against Israel similar in scope and comprehensiveness to that successfully used to end apartheid in South Africa will intellectuals and academics be fulfilling their moral obligation to stand up for right, for justice, for equality and for a chance to validate the prevalence of universal ethical principles. By doing so, they will also serve in the most effective manner the cause of coexistence and real peace." by Omar Barghouti (a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) What you can do: 1. Call, write, or send an e-letter to Ben Johnson, Director of Concerts and Lectures, asking him to cancel the show and honor the boycott against Israel: phone 612-624-4473, fax 612-626-1750, email benjohn [at] umn.edu, Department of Concerts and Lectures, 109 Northrop, 84 Church St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455 2. Write letters to the editor of the Minnesota Daily and local media 3. Don't buy tickets to the Batsheva performance. If you already have tickets then exchange them for another show 4. Please join us in nonviolently protesting the Batsheva perform The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee's call to boycott is supported by The Middle East Committee of WAMM, Coalition for Palestinian Rights, Middle East Peace Now, Jewish anti-Zionist Network-Twin Cities (IJAN-TC), the Palestinian Institute of Minnesota, the Anti-War Committee and other people of conscience who are taking a moral stand against Israel's oppressive policies More info: http://www.pacbi.org/ http://www.bdsmovement.net/ --------8 of 11-------- Chavez and the Washington Post Venezuela Ends Term Limits By PATRICK IRELAN February 16, 2009 CounterPunch Venezuelan voters have approved a referendum that ends term limits for the president and all other elected officials. Fifty-four percent of those who took part voted in favor of the measure Sunday. The Washington Post, in its colorful fashion, stated the matter like this: "President Hugo Chavez persuaded Venezuelans today to end term limits through a referendum that allows him to rule far into the 21st century to complete his socialist transformation of this oil-rich country". Chavez is already 54 years old. If he rules for another 20 or 30 years, "far into the 21st century," he'll be older than John McCain and won't remember how many houses he owns. The Post went on to say that "Chavez took office in 1999 and has since amassed overwhelming control over virtually every government institution". This statement is a gross exaggeration, but reporter Juan Forero probably had to skip lightly over the truth to meet a deadline. He also failed to state that the referendum ended term limits for all elected officials and is likely to turn the National Assembly into a geriatric ward. With only one exception, the major newspapers in Caracas always go well beyond the timid Post when expressing their contempt for President Chavez. El Universal stated that 54.36 percent of the voters "endorsed President Hugo Chavez's proposal to amend the Constitution in order to establish endless reelection of all elected officials". In other words, from now on it's automatic. According to the Constitution, once you're in, you're in forever. That's how it works in the U.S. Senate. Why not do the same in Venezuela? At El Universal, the Cold War never ended and never will. Consider the first sentence from an editorial called "Communism," dated September 09, 2008: "Venezuela is sliding down the steady slope toward the dictatorial communist life of Cuba". Moreover, "The authorities insist that its iron-fisted rule reflects the will of the people. True, millions of Venezuelans appear to be going along with whatever the government demands out of fear, complacency or neglectfulness". At this point, I feel the need to suggest that millions of Venezuelans may not really be fearful, complacent, or neglectful. I think that millions of people favor the policies of Hugo Chavez and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) because socialism has improved their lives. In February of this year, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) released a study of the first 10 years of the Chavez administration. Mark Weisbrot, Rebecca Ray, and Luis Sandoval wrote this report, which is called "The Chavez Administration at 10 Years: The Economy and Social Indicators". I'll list only a few of the details from this study. "During the current economic expansion, the poverty rate has been cut by more than half, from 54 percent of households in the first half of 2003 to 26 percent at the end of 2008. Extreme poverty has fallen even more, by 72 percent". "From 1998-2006, infant mortality has fallen by more than one-third. The number of primary care physicians in the public sector increased 12-fold from 1999-2007, providing health care to millions of Venezuelans who previously did not have access". "There have been substantial gains in education, especially higher education, where gross enrollment rates more than doubled from 1999-2000 to 2007-2008". "The labor market also improved substantially over the last decade, with unemployment dropping from 11.3 percent to 7.8 percent. During the current expansion it has fallen by more than half. Other labor market indicators also show substantial gains". I'll stop there. I realize that many readers have an aversion to statistics. But the point of these and many other statistics is that the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela is working. It has decreased poverty while improving health care, education, employment, and other opportunities for the common people. That's why 54 percent of the population voted in favor of abolishing term limits. The evidence in this report is not part of a conspiracy launched by Hugo Chavez and the PSUV. The CEPR is a nonpartisan think tank located in Washington, D.C. Its advisory board includes Nobel Laureate economists Robert Solow and Joseph Stiglitz; plus Janet Gornick, Professor at the CUNY Graduate School and Director of the Luxembourg Income Study; Richard Freeman, Professor of Economics at Harvard University; and Eileen Appelbaum, Professor and Director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University. Venezuela is blessed with large reserves of oil, and Chavez has increased the country's revenues by raising the amount foreign oil companies must pay to extract that oil. Critics of Chavez and the PSUV say that the current recession in North America and elsewhere has caused a decline in the price of oil and will put an end to the successes of the last 10 years. But Venezuela has $82 billion in reserves and can survive an occasional decline in the price of oil. Oil prices have gone up and down in the past and will continue to do so in the future. In addition, the Venezuelan economy is not entirely dependent on oil. Mining, manufacturing, agriculture, and other enterprises also contribute to economic growth. Critics also blame the country's inflation on Chavez. Inflation presently hovers at around 30 percent per year. But the CEPR study points out that this figure is about the same as it was 10 years ago when Chavez was first elected. Like any other country, Venezuela has many problems. The present government is doing more than any other in recent memory to improve the lives of the poor majority while defending the rights of the wealthy minority. It helps no one to pretend that the Bolivarian Revolution will follow the same path as the Cuban Revolution. History is far more complicated than that. And it verges on criminality when the Washington Post claims that Hugo Chavez is an authoritarian leader. Where was the Post when the Bush-Cheney autocrats attacked Afghanistan and Iraq, kidnapped and tortured both soldiers and civilians, denied American citizens their constitutional rights, and applauded loudly when Pedro Carmona and a squad of Venezuelan generals launched a coup against Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela? Fortunately, other Venezuelan military officers did not approve of treason. And patriotic citizens of Venezuela came down from the barrios and demanded to have their president returned to office. Those heroes saved their democracy from the kind of fascism that devastated Chile, and Pedro Carmona - who held the office of president for only 48 hours - will be forever remembered as "Pedro the Brief". Patrick Irelan is a retired high-school teacher. He is the author of A Firefly in the Night (Ice Cube Press) and Central Standard: A Time, a Place, a Family (University of Iowa Press). You can contact him at pwirelan43 [at] yahoo.com. --------9 of 11-------- Attack of the Killer Robots The Pentagon's dream of a techno army is doomed to fail. by Eric Stoner Published on Monday, February 16, 2009 by In These Times common dreams One of the most captivating storylines in science fiction involves a nightmarish vision of the future in which autonomous killer robots turn on their creators and threaten the extinction of the human race. Hollywood blockbusters such as Terminator and The Matrix are versions of this cautionary tale, as was R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), the 1920 Czech play by Karel Capek that marked the first use of the word "robot". In May 2007, the U.S. military reached an ominous milestone in the history of warfare - one that took an eerie step toward making this fiction a reality. After more than three years of development, the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division based south of Baghdad, deployed armed ground robots. Although only three of these weaponized "unmanned systems" have hit Iraq's streets, to date, National Defense magazine reported in September 2007 that the Army has placed an order for another 80. A month after the robots arrived in Iraq, they received "urgent material release approval" to allow their use by soldiers in the field. The military, however, appears to be proceeding with caution. According to a statement by Duane Gotvald, deputy project manager of the Defense Department's Robotic Systems Joint Project Office, soldiers are using the robots "for surveillance and peacekeeping/guard operations" in Iraq. By all accounts, robots have not fired their weapons in combat since their deployment more than a year and a half ago. But it is only a matter of time before that line is crossed. Future fighting force? For many in the military-industrial complex, this technological revolution could not come soon enough. Robots' strategic impact on the battlefield, however - along with the moral and ethical implications of their use in war - have yet to be debated. Designed by Massachusetts-based defense contractor Foster-Miller, the Special Weapons Observation Remote Direct-Action System, or SWORDS, stands three feet tall and rolls on two tank treads. It is similar to the company's popular TALON bomb disposal robot - which the U.S. military has used on more than 20,000 missions since 2000 - except, unlike TALON, SWORDS has a weapons platform fixed to its chassis. Currently fitted with an M249 machine gun that fires 750 rounds per minute, the robot can accommodate other powerful weapons, including a 40 mm grenade launcher or an M202 rocket launcher. Five cameras enable an operator to control SWORDS from up to 800 meters away with a modified laptop and two joysticks. The control unit also has a special "kill button" that turns the robot off should it malfunction. (During testing, it had the nasty habit of spinning out of control.) Developed on a shoestring budget of about $4.5 million, SWORDS is a primitive robot that gives us but a glimpse of things to come. Future modelsincluding - several prototypes being tested by the military - promise to be more sophisticated. Congress has been a steady backer of this budding industry, which has a long-term vision for technological transformation of the armed forces. In 2001, the Defense Authorization Act directed the Pentagon to "aggressively develop and field" robotic systems in an effort to reach the ambitious goal of having one-third of the deep strike aircraft unmanned within 10 years, and one-third of the ground combat vehicles unmanned within 15 years. To make this a reality, federal funding for military robotics has skyrocketed. From fiscal year 2006 through 2012, the government will spend an estimated $1.7 billion on research for ground-based robots, according to the congressionally funded National Center for Defense Robotics. This triples what was allocated annually for such projects as recently as 2004. The centerpiece of this roboticized fighting force of the future will be the 14 networked, manned and unmanned systems that will make up the Army's Future Combat Systemshould - it ever get off the ground. The creation of the weapons systems is also one of the most controversial and expensive the Pentagon has ever undertaken. In July 2006, the Defense Department's Cost Analysis Improvement Group estimated that its price tag had risen to more than $300 billion - an increase of 225 percent over the Army's original $92 billion estimate in 2003, and nearly half of President Obama's proposed stimulus package. "War in a can" Despite the defense world's excitement and the dramatic affect robots have on how war is fought, U.S. mainstream media coverage of SWORDS has been virtually nonexistent. Worse, the scant attention these robots have received has often been little more than free publicity. Time magazine, for example, named SWORDS one of the "coolest inventions" of 2004. "Insurgents, be afraid," is how its brief puff piece began. And while most articles are not that one-sided, any skepticism is usually mentioned as a side note. On the other hand, prior to the deployment of SWORDS, numerous arguments in their defense could regularly be found in the press. According to their proponents - generally the robot's designers or defense officials - robots will not have any of the pesky weaknesses of flesh-and-blood soldiers. "They don't get hungry," Gordon Johnson, who headed a program on unmanned systems at the Joint Forces Command at the Pentagon told the New York Times in 2005. "They're not afraid. They don't forget their orders. They don't care if the guy next to them has just been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes". Ronald Arkin, a leading roboticist at Georgia Tech, whose research the Defense Department funds, argues without a sense of irony that autonomous robots will be more humane than humans. Atrocities like the massacre by U.S. troops in Haditha, Iraq, would be less likely with robots, he told The Atlanta in November 2007, because they won't have emotions that "cloud their judgment and cause them to get angry". Robots are also promoted as being cost-effective. On top of the annual salary and extra pay for combat duty, the government invests a great deal in recruiting, training, housing and feeding each soldier. Not to mention the costs of healthcare and death benefits, should a soldier be injured or killed. By comparison, the current $245,000 price tag on SWORDS - .which could drop to $115,000 per unit if they are mass-produced - is a steal. After attending a conference on military robotics in Baltimore, journalist Steve Featherstone summed up their function in Harper's in February 2007: "Robots are, quite literally, an off-the-shelf war-fighting capability 'war in a can'". And the most popular talking point in favor of armed robots is that they will save U.S. soldiers' lives. To drive the point home, proponents pose this rhetorical question: Would you rather have a machine get blown up in Iraq, or your son or daughter? Remove from reality At first glance, these benefits of military robots sound sensible. But they fall apart upon examination. Armed robots will be far from cost effective. Until these machines are given greater autonomywhich - is currently a distant goal - the human soldier will not be taken out of the loop. And because each operator can now handle only one robot, the number of soldiers on the Pentagon's payroll will not be slashed anytime soon. More realistically, SWORDS should best be viewed as an additional, expensive remote-controlled weapons system at the military's disposal. A different perspective is gained when the price of the robot is compared with the low-tech, low-cost weaponry that U.S. forces face on a daily basis in Iraq. "You don't want your defenses to be so expensive that they'll bankrupt you," says Sharon Weinberger, a reporter for Wired's Danger Room blog. "If it costs us $100,000 to defeat a $500 roadside bomb, that doesn't sound like such a good strategy - as pretty as it may look on YouTube and in press releases". The claim that robots would be more ethical than humans similarly runs contrary to both evidence and basic common sense. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman writes in his 1996 book On Killing that despite the portrayal in our popular culture of violence being easy, "There is within most men an intense resistance to killing their fellow man. A resistance so strong that, in many circumstances, soldiers on the battlefield will die before they can overcome it". One of the most effective solutions to this quandary, the military has discovered, is to introduce distance into the equation. Studies show that the farther the would-be killer is from the victim, the easier it is to pull the trigger. Death and suffering become more sanitized - the humanity of the enemy can be more easily denied. By giving the Army and Marines the capability to kill from greater distances, armed robots will make it easier for soldiers to take life without troubling their consciences. The Rev. G. Simon Harak, an ethicist and the director of the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking, says, "Effectively, what these remote control robots are doing is removing people farther and farther from the consequences of their actions". Moreover, the similarity that the robots have to the life-like video games that young people grow up playing will blur reality further. "If guys in the field already have difficulties distinguishing between civilians and combatants," Harak asks, "what about when they are looking through a video screen?" Rather than being a cause for concern, however, Maj. Michael Pottratz at the Army's Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center in Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., says in an e-mail that developers are in the process of making the control unit for the SWORDS more like a "Game Boy type controller". It is not only possible but likely that a surge of armed robots would lead to an increase in the number of civilian casualties, not a decrease. The supposed conversation-ender that armed robots will save U.S. lives isn't nearly as clear as it is often presented, either. "If you take a narrow view, fewer soldiers would die," Harak says, "but that would be only on the battlefield". As happens in every war, however, those facing new technology will adapt to them. "If those people being attacked feel helpless to strike at the robots themselves, they will try to strike at their command centers," Harak says, "which might well be back in the United States or among civilian centers. That would then displace the battlefield to manufacturing plants and research facilities at universities where such things are being invented or assembled. The whole notion that we can be invulnerable is just a delusion". The new mercenaries Even if gun-totting robots could reduce U.S. casualties, other dangerous consequences of their use are overlooked. Frida Berrigan, a senior program associate at the New America Foundation's Arms and Security Initiative and In These Times contributing editor, argues that similar to the tens of thousands of unaccountable private security contractors in Iraq, robots will help those in power "get around having a draft, higher casualty figures and a real political debate about how we want to be using our military force". In effect, by reducing the political capital at stake, robots will make it far easier for governments to start wars in the first place. Since the rising U.S. death toll appears to be the primary factor that has turned Americans against the war - rather than its devastating economic costs or the far greater suffering of the Iraqi peoplearmed - robots could also slow the speed with which future wars are brought to an end. When Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) infamously remarked that he would be fine with staying in Iraq for 100 years, few noted that he qualified that statement by saying, "as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed". Robot soldiers will be similar to mercenaries in at least one more respect. They both serve to further erode the state's longstanding monopoly on the use of force. "If war no longer requires people, and robots are able to conduct war or acts of war on a large scale, then governments will no longer be needed to conduct war," Col. Thomas Cowan Jr. wrote in a March 2007 paper for the U.S. Army War College. "Non-state actors with plenty of money, access to the technology and a few controllers will be able to take on an entire nation, particularly one which is not as technologically advanced". This may not be farfetched. In December 2007, Fortune magazine told the story of Adam Gettings, "a 25-year-old self-taught engineer," who started a company in Silicon Valley called Robotex. Within six months, the company built an armed robot similar to the SWORDS - except that it costs a mere $30,000 to $50,000. And these costs will drop. As this happens, and as the lethal technology involved becomes more accessible, Noel Sharkey, a professor of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, warns that it will be only a matter of time before extremist groups or terrorists develop and use robots. Evidence now suggests that using armed robots to combat insurgencies would be counterproductive from a military perspective. One study, published in the journal International Organization in June 2008, by Jason Lyall, an associate professor of international relations at Princeton, and Lt. Col. Isaiah Wilson III, who was the chief war planner for the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq and who currently teaches at West Point, looks at 285 insurgencies dating back to 1800. After analyzing the cases, Lyall and Wilson conclude that the more mechanized a military is, the lower its probability of success. "All counterinsurgent forces must solve a basic problem: How do you identify the insurgents hiding among noncombatant populations and deal with them in a selective, discriminate fashion?" Lyall writes in an e-mail. To gain such knowledge, troops must cultivate relationships with the local population. This requires cultural awareness, language skills and, importantly, a willingness to share at least some of the same risks as the local population. The Counterinsurgency Field Manual, which was released in December 2006 and co-authored by Gen. David Petraeus, would seem to agree. "Ultimate success in COIN [counterinsurgency] is gained by protecting the populace, not the COIN force," the manual states. "If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents". Mechanized militaries, however, put greater emphasis on protecting their own soldiers. Consequently, Lyall and Wilson argue in their study that such forces lack the information necessary to use force discriminately, and therefore, "often inadvertently fuel, rather than suppress, insurgencies". Given such findings, deploying armed robots in greater numbers in Iraq or Afghanistan would likely only enflame resistance to the occupation, and, in turn, lead to greater carnage. To understand this point, put yourself in the shoes of an Iraqi or Afghani. How could seeing a robot with a machine gun rumble down your street or point its weapon at your child illicit any reaction other than one of terror or extreme anger? What would you do under such circumstances? Who would not resist? And how would you know that someone is controlling the robot? For all the Iraqis know, SWORDS is the autonomous killer of science fiction - American-made, of course. The hope that killer robots will lower U.S. casualties may excite military officials and a war-weary public, but the grave moral and ethical implications - not to mention the dubious strategic impact - associated with their use should give pause to those in search of a quick technological fix to our woes. By distancing soldiers from the horrors of war and making it easier for politicians to resort to military force, armed robots will likely give birth to a far more dangerous world. Eric Stoner is a New York-based contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus. His articles have appeared in The Nation, NACLA, The Indypendent and The Huffington Post. Copyright 2009 In These Times --------10 of 11-------- Is the US Military Now an Imperial Police Force? An American Foreign Legion by William Astore Published on Monday, February 16, 2009 by TomDispatch.com common dreams A leaner, meaner, higher tech force - that was what George W. Bush and his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld promised to transform the American military into. Instead, they came close to turning it into a foreign legion. Foreign as in being constantly deployed overseas on imperial errands; foreign as in being ever more reliant on private military contractors; foreign as in being increasingly segregated from the elites that profit most from its actions, yet serve the least in its ranks. Now would be a good time for President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to begin to reclaim that military for its proper purpose: to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Now would be a good time to ask exactly why, and for whom, our troops are currently fighting and dying in the urban jungles of Iraq and the hostile hills of Afghanistan. A few fortnights and forever ago, in the Bush years, our "expeditionary" military came remarkably close to resembling an updated version of the French Foreign Legion in the ways it was conceived and used by those in power - and even, to some extent, in its makeup. For the metropolitan French elite of an earlier era, the Foreign Legion - best known to Americans from countless old action films - was an assemblage of military adventurers and rootless romantics, volunteers willing to man an army fighting colonial wars in far-flung places. Those wars served the narrow interests of people who weren't particularly concerned about the fate of the legion itself. It's easy enough to imagine one of them saying, la Rumsfeld, "You go to war with the legion you have, not the legion you might want or wish to have." Such a blithe statement would have been uncontroversial back then, since the French Foreign Legion was - well - so foreign. Its members, recruited worldwide, but especially from French colonial possessions, were considered expendable, a fate captured in its grim, sardonic motto: "You joined the Legion to die. The Legion will send you where you can die!" Looking back on the last eight years, what's remarkable is the degree to which Rumsfeld and others in the Bush administration treated the U.S. military in a similarly dismissive manner. Bullying his generals and ignoring their concerns, the Secretary of Defense even dismissed the vulnerability of the troops in Iraq, who, in the early years, motored about in inadequately armored Humvees and other thin-skinned vehicles. Last year, Vice President Dick Cheney offered another Legionnaire-worthy version of such dismissiveness. Informed that most Americans no longer supported the war in Iraq, he infamously and succinctly countered, "So?" - as if the U.S. military weren't the American people's instrument, but his own private army, fed and supplied by private contractor KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary whose former CEO was the very same Dick Cheney. Fond of posing in flight suits, leather jackets, and related pseudo-military gear, President Bush might, on the other hand, have seemed overly invested in the military. Certainly, his tough war talk resonated within conservative circles, and he visibly relished speaking before masses of hooah-ing soldiers. Too often, however, Bush simply used them as patriotic props, while his administration did its best to hide their deaths from public view. In that way, he and his top officials made our troops into foreigners, in part by making their ultimate sacrifice, their deaths, as foreign to us as was humanly possible. Put another way, his administration made the very idea of national "sacrifice" - by anyone but our troops - foreign to most Americans. In response to the 9/11 attacks, Americans were, as the President famously suggested only 16 days after the attacks, to show their grit by visiting Disney World and shopping till they dropped. Military service instills (and thrives on) an ethic of sacrifice that was, for more than seven years, consciously disavowed domestically. As the Obama administration begins to deploy U.S. troops back to the Iraq or Afghan war zones for their fourth or fifth tours of duty, I remain amazed at the silent complicity of my country. Why have we been so quiet? Is it because the Bush administration was, in fact, successful in sending our military down the path to foreign legion-hood? Is the fate of our troops no longer of much importance to most Americans? Even the military's recruitment and demographics are increasingly alien to much of the country. Troops are now regularly recruited in "foreign" places like South Central Los Angeles and Appalachia that more affluent Americans wouldn't be caught dead visiting. In some cases, those new recruits are quite literally "foreign" - non-U.S. citizens allowed to seek a fast-track to citizenship by volunteering for frontline, war-zone duty in the U.S. Army or Marines. And when, in these last years, the military has fallen short of its recruitment goals - less likely today thanks to the ongoing economic meltdown - mercenaries have simply been hired at inflated prices from civilian contractors with names like Triple Canopy or Blackwater redolent of foreign adventures. With respect to demographics, it'll take more than the sons of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin to redress inequities in burden-sharing. With startlingly few exceptions, America's sons and daughters dodging bullets remain the progeny of rural America, of immigrant America, of the working and lower middle classes. As long as our so-called best and brightest continue to be AWOL when it comes to serving among the rank-and-file, count on our foreign adventurism to continue to surge. Diversity is now our societal byword. But how about more class diversity in our military? How about a combat regiment of rich young volunteers from uptown Manhattan? (After all, some of their great-grandfathers probably fought with New York's famed "Silk Stocking" regiment in World War I.) How about more Ivy League recruits like George H.W. Bush and John F. Kennedy, who respectively piloted a dive bomber and a PT boat in World War II? Heck, why not a few prominent Hollywood actors like Jimmy Stewart, who piloted heavy bombers in the flak-filled skies of Europe in that same war? Instead of collective patriotic sacrifice, however, it's clear that the military will now be running the equivalent of a poverty and recession "draft" to fill the "all-volunteer" military. Those without jobs or down on their luck in terrible times will have the singular honor of fighting our future wars. Who would deny that drawing such recruits from dead-end situations in the hinterlands or central cities is strikingly Foreign Legion-esque? Caught in the shock and awe of 9/11, we allowed our military to be transformed into a neocon imperial police force. Now, approaching our eighth year in Afghanistan and sixth year in Iraq, what exactly is that force defending? Before President Obama acts to double the number of American boots-on-the-ground in Afghanistan - before even more of our troops are sucked deeper into yet another quagmire - shouldn't we ask this question with renewed urgency? Shouldn't we wonder just why, despite all the reverent words about "our troops," we really seem to care so little about sending them back into the wilderness again and again? Where indeed is the outcry? The French Foreign Legionnaires knew better than to expect such an outcry: The elites for whom they fought didn't give a damn about what happened to them. Our military may not yet be a foreign legion - but don't fool yourself, it's getting there. 2009 William Astore William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), taught for six years at the Air Force Academy. He currently teaches at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. A TomDispatch regular, he is the author of Hindenburg: Icon of German Militarism (Potomac Press, 2005), among other works. He may be reached at wastore [at] pct.edu. --------11 of 11-------- Rich men and war go together. Like hogs and stink. 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