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Blackwater: America’s condottieri?

Tehran times

By J. Damu

Unbelievably, Sandip Roy’s interview with Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary author Jeremy Scahill, circulated by New American Media, though an informative interview, understates the issue of private military armed forces in the U.S. and abroad.

In my estimation what is new in the interview (at least unknown to me) is Blackwater’s ties to the religious right. But it is not surprising.

Blackwater is simply the most recent and most spectacularly successful example of the corporatization of the “death squad movement” that first drew international attention in apartheid South Africa and Nicaragua and El Salvador in the 1970s and 1980s.

Furthermore, despite longstanding federal laws prohibiting private U.S. citizens from launching military operations from U.S. soil, Congress and the Justice Department’s wink and a nod reaction to terrorism against Cuba launched from Florida inevitably led to policies that tolerated the recruitment of mercenaries in the U.S. These mercenaries were sent to Angola to support the U.S. and South Africa backed Jonas Savimbi and his ultranationalist group UNITA.

In the 1980s, official U.S. anathema to leftist organizations in Latin America helped the U.S. to peacefully coexist with Roberto D’Aubuisson’s death squads in El Salvador and Eden Pastora’s mercenaries in Nicaragua until they turned on Washington and began to threaten the lives of State Department officials.

It was South Africa’s apartheid government though, in its life-and-death struggle with the African National Congress and her Frontline neighbors Angola, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, that gave birth to the mercenary business as a modern global enterprise.

Executive Outcomes was one of the early corporations that accepted outsourcing grants from various African countries and oil corporations to exercise concentrated military force. Executive Outcomes was birthed within the offices of South Africa’s Civil Cooperation Bureau, that branch of Pretoria’s intelligence apparatus that among other assignments carried out assassinations of apartheid’s enemies.

EO was active on the African continent for a number of years, first as a security contractor for oil corporations in Angola, then the Angolan government itself, and later in Sierra Leone.

Eventually, South Africa’s Mbeki government put EO out of business, but the die was clearly cast. The successes of EO and that company’s ability to carry out foreign policy far from the pressures of public awareness would prove valuable to national governments, none more so than the United States.

In 2004, Washington used San Francisco’s Steele Foundation to facilitate and camouflage the kidnapping of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Had Aristide’s “security detail” worn U.S. armed forces uniforms rather than the civilian clothes of Steele employees, the world would have yelled “gross interference on the part of U.S. imperialism.” Instead the criticism was muted. It was Steele employees who escorted Aristide from the presidential palace and forced him on board the American aircraft that stole him ironically to Africa.

Blackwater has now leapfrogged the other mercenary corporations, apparently through its ties, according to Roy and Scahill, to the religious right. Blackwater’s lobbying for a contract in Darfur is superfluous. That company is already in Sudan with a contract to train the army of the “Republic of Southern Sudan”, in long-term preparation, I believe, for southern Sudan to begin its breakaway fight from Sudan.

Blackwater’s entry into Darfur is only a matter of time. The only surprising element here is that the Save Darfur Movement has not taken up Blackwater’s cause.

In his 1991 book The Transformation of War, Israeli military historian and theoretician Martin Van Crevald argues that “conventional wars waged by nation states are fading from the map and that future ‘war making entities’ will resemble those of the pre-modern era -- tribes, city-states, religious associations, private mercenary bands, and commercial organizations such as the old British East India Company.”

In the last year alone we have seen Hezbollah vs. Israel, the armies of Moqtada al-Sadr vs. the United States, and Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union vs. interventionist Ethiopia with U.S. support, to mention three of the most well-known examples -- not to mention Al-Qaeda vs. the world.

Van Crevald theorizes the new relationships of war signify the reunification of economic and military interests as those two bodies were unified in pre-capitalist Europe.

................................

Just as the Italian condottieri hired themselves out to the highest bidders in the 13th and 14th centuries and ultimately began dictating policy to the city-states, it is not inconceivable that Blackwater will begin at some point dictating policy to the State Department. Or given Blackwater’s ties to the religious right and the theo-cons (theocratic conservatives) who are running amok there, perhaps Blackwater has already become the condottieri of the United States.

The NAFTA Superhighway

by Ron Paul

By now many Texans have heard about the proposed “NAFTA Superhighway,” which is also referred to as the trans-Texas corridor. What you may not know is the extent to which plans for such a superhighway are moving forward without congressional oversight or media attention.

This superhighway would connect Mexico, the United States, and Canada, cutting a wide swath through the middle of Texas and up through Kansas City. Offshoots would connect the main artery to the west coast, Florida, and northeast. Proponents envision a ten-lane colossus the width of several football fields, with freight and rail lines, fiber-optic cable lines, and oil and natural gas pipelines running alongside.

This will require coordinated federal and state eminent domain actions on an unprecedented scale, as literally millions of people and businesses could be displaced. The loss of whole communities is almost certain, as planners cannot wind the highway around every quaint town, historic building, or senior citizen apartment for thousands of miles.

Governor Perry is a supporter of the superhighway project, and Congress has provided small amounts of money to study the proposal. Since this money was just one item in an enormous transportation appropriations bill, however, most members of Congress were not aware of it.

The proposed highway is part of a broader plan advanced by a quasi-government organization called the “Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America,” or SPP.

The SPP was first launched in 2005 by the heads of state of Canada, Mexico, and the United States at a summit in Waco.

The SPP was not created by a treaty between the nations involved, nor was Congress involved in any way. Instead, the SPP is an unholy alliance of foreign consortiums and officials from several governments. One principal player is a Spanish construction company, which plans to build the highway and operate it as a toll road. But don’t be fooled: the superhighway proposal is not the result of free market demand, but rather an extension of government-managed trade schemes like NAFTA that benefit politically-connected interests.

The real issue is national sovereignty. Once again, decisions that affect millions of Americans are not being made by those Americans themselves, or even by their elected representatives in Congress. Instead, a handful of elites use their government connections to bypass national legislatures and ignore our Constitution – which expressly grants Congress the sole authority to regulate international trade.

The ultimate goal is not simply a superhighway, but an integrated North American Union – complete with a currency, a cross-national bureaucracy, and virtually borderless travel within the Union. Like the European Union, a North American Union would represent another step toward the abolition of national sovereignty altogether.

A new resolution, introduced by Representative Virgil Goode of Virginia, expresses the sense of Congress that the United States should not engage in the construction of a NAFTA superhighway, or enter into any agreement that advances the concept of a North American Union. I wholeheartedly support this legislation, and predict that the superhighway will become a sleeper issue in the 2008 election.

Any movement toward a North American Union diminishes the ability of average Americans to influence the laws under which they must live. The SPP agreement, including the plan for a major transnational superhighway through Texas, is moving forward without congressional oversight – and that is an outrage. The administration needs a strong message from Congress that the American people will not tolerate backroom deals that threaten our sovereignty.

U.S. court to decide case of Mexican on death row

http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN1943302920070430

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday it would decide whether President George W. Bush had the authority to direct a state court to comply with an international tribunal's ruling in the case of a Mexican on death row in Texas.

The justices agreed to review a decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that concluded Bush had exceeded his constitutional authority by intruding into the independent powers of the judiciary.

The case involved Jose Medellin, who was denied the right to meet with a consular officer from Mexico after his arrest for murder.

The World Court in The Hague in 2004 ordered the United States to review the cases of Medellin and 50 other Mexican death row inmates because U.S. officials failed to tell them of their right under the Vienna Convention to talk to consular officers immediately after their arrests.

Bush in 2005 decided to comply with the World Court's ruling and he directed state courts to review the 51 cases to determine whether the violation of their rights caused the defendants any harm at trial or at sentencing.

Bush's action caused the Supreme Court to dismiss an earlier appeal by Medellin without deciding the merits of the dispute and to send the case back to the Texas courts.

After losing before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Medellin's attorneys again appealed to the Supreme Court. They said the Texas court has put the United States in violation of its undisputed treaty obligations.

Bush administration attorneys supported Medellin's appeal. They said Bush acted within his authority and that the Texas court invalidated a presidential action "on a matter of international importance."

Medellin, a gang member, was sentenced to death in state court for the 1993 rape and murder of two teenage girls in Houston. The brutal killings stemmed from a gang initiation.

Lawyers for the state opposed the appeal. They said Bush exceeded his authority and that he cannot pre-empt Texas criminal law.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments and decide the case during its upcoming term that begins in October.

Supreme court to decide.

Canada: You Can Come Any Time You Want

by Mike Palecek

Global Research, April 29, 2007

pacificfreepress.com - 2007-04-20

I was in Canada from about 3:30 p.m. to about 5:15 p.m. this afternoon. I was trying to get into Canada to go to my book reading in Winnipeg tonight at Mondragon Books. They asked me at the window who I was, what I was doing, where I was going, what kind of books did I write, what I was thinking.

Umm, political fiction.

Why?

Then they sent me inside. Park under the ramp.

Talk to the customs people, no, go over there instead, to the immigration folks.

I can do that. How you doing, eh? How about that Red Green Show, huh? I mean, eh? You know him? I love that show. I want to move to Canada sometime. You folks seem like nice people. You count your votes, here, right? How do you feel about anthrax?

Do you have a passport?

Umm, know, I didn't think you had ... I thought that was next yea ...

Birth certificate? How do I know you are really an American citizen if all you have is an Iowa driver's license.

Hey. How about those Maple Leafs, huh? You skate? I can't skate. I wish I could skate ...

Have you ever been arrested?

... But I never learned.

... Yeah, I guess. Hey, lots of ducks around here, eh? I used to hunt. I don't hunt anymore. Bet it gets cold up here.

Sit down. There.

Here?

Well, I guess you guys are stuck with me now. I always thought Canada was kind of an option. You know, go up there and sit in the park, feed bread crumbs to the moose.

But now it looks like this is kind of it.

Canada kicked me out because I have been to prison for protesting against the United States military at Offutt Air Force Base.

I thought they would appreciate something like that. I thought Canadians were different.

Hmmm.

Well, the young woman immigration officer, agent, takes my papers, Iowa driver's license, back to some room down the immigration hall and disappears for about half an hour, while Mom & Pop Back To Winnipeg From The Winter In Miama get high-fives from the immigration and customs staff, and I'm sitting over in the corner on the Group W bench.

The young woman Canadian person came back and told me to come through the swinging doors with her and please step into the second open door on the right.

One, two.

We sit down and she explains that I can pay $200 to make an application to get considered to enter Canada. Then the application will be studied and a determination will be made as to whether I have been "rehabilitated" enough to sit in a borrowed rowboat and drink Moosehead Beer.

Then I am escorted out of the building — young immigration woman keeps my dissolute Iowa driver's license in her hand and tells me where I need to turn around to head back to wherever the hell I came from.

She will only hand me back my license as I pass by her on the sidewalk.

I then drive back the quarter mile or so to the United States immigration complex, a crew whose acquaintance I cannot wait to make.

The American immigration window woman asks me why Canada won't take me.

She directs me to Garage Number Two, where I wait until the door opens and American immigration man motions me inside.

He asks me why Canada won't take me.

Mrs. American Immigration Woman stands close by. They both have on fresh protective gloves, kind of a robins-egg-blue.

He asks what air force base I protested at that got me sent to prison. I tell him.

He asks if I have ever been to Fort Benning, the School of the Americas.

I say no, but I would like to go there sometime. Mr. American immigration man, young fat blond boy with crewcut, does not smile.

He is fingering, smelling, the money in my billfold.

He directs me to "the waiting room." I know that's what it is because it says "The Waiting Room" on the door. I can see the chairs inside.

I go sit down in one of the chairs and look toward where Mr. & Mrs. American Immigration Persons are ruffling through my undies and political fiction books.

I can't see them.

Because of the one-way window.

You can't watch them as they search your vehicle.

I can hear slamming and clanking and something like dirty socks being sniffed by a drug-smelling Mrs. Immigration American Woman, and I try not to imagine her walking into The Waiting Room with a smile on her face holding a bag of marijuana.

And then they have me. They can put me in Leavenworth or Butterworth or whatever new below-ground federal prison they have these days, and they never have to hear me talking about how Bush did 9-11 and killed Wellstone, ever again.

The door opens.

Mr. New Immigration Man, the other one must have gone home for the day, says that I'm set to go.

Turn right and head back to wherever the hell you came from.

Can I have the paper from The Country Of Canada that says why I can't come in?

No, we keep that.

I turn right, head back to Grand Forks.

I look at the sheet on my passenger seat that Miss Immigration Canadian Person Woman gave me.

It's a list of Canadian Consulates in the United States.

That is where I need to send the $200 to get them to study me to see if I am rehabilitated enough to fish in a decent lake.

I wonder how they would make their determination.

Are you glad you broke the law? Yes.

Do you support the United States. No, not really. We suck. Our military is a bunch of thugs, paid killers. No money should go to them. In fact, I sent in a crossed-out tax form to the IRS in Kansas City before I left home on this book tour.

Well, son, looks like you will never see Thunder Bay — ever, in your lifetime. I think we are through here. We'll take those flapjacks with us, and the flannel shirt, the cedar logs.

I told the woman with a smile that I was not rehabilitated, while we were sitting inside the second open door on the right. I thought, being Canadian and all, she would understand what I meant. I wouldn't even try that line down the road with the Americans.

They'd be like, what? Go Packers.

I really thought Canada would be different.

You know, like another country.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Centre for Research on Globalization.

To become a Member of Global Research

The CRG grants permission to cross-post original Global Research articles on community internet sites as long as the text & title are not modified. The source and the author's copyright must be displayed. For publication of Global Research articles in print or other forms including commercial internet sites, contact: crgeditor@yahoo.com

www.globalresearch.ca contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to our readers under the provisions of "fair use" in an effort to advance a better understanding of political, economic and social issues. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than "fair use" you must request permission from the copyright owner.

For media inquiries: crgeditor@yahoo.com

© Copyright Mike Palecek , pacificfreepress.com, 2007

Right Now is the Most Important Time in American History......
.....If YOU will take 3 simple steps, YOU can change the course of history for the better.

Ask yourself: IS AMERICA BETTER OFF NOW than it was 13 years ago when NAFTA was signed into law?

Go to Wallmart and nearly everything in the store is made in China. Americans have lost millions of manufacturing jobs during this time. The standard of living has continually declined in America.

The US Dollar is now in a Freefall, and is rapidly approaching its all-time low. http://goldmoney.com/en/commentary-print.html

We have an estimated 12-15 million illegal immigrants living here. According to the Heritage Foundation most immigrants cost tax payers an average of $22,449 each year per immigrant. If NAFTA has helped Mexico so much, why are so many immigrants coming here illegally from that country? www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=55135

As part of the NAFTA agreement, Mexican trucking companies are expected to soon begin (within weeks) shipping their loads to any destination in America. This is an issue that defeats national security. http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=55155

The MS-13 Gang has become one of the largest and most violent organized crime syndicates in the world. The MS-13 is a threat to national security, and it's another reason we need to close our borders. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11240718

Right now there are just an handful of good congressmen left that haven't sold YOU out to corporate interests. A few of these real American patriots are putting together legislation to withdraw the United States from NAFTA, and the NAU.

We badly need this legislation to pass for America's future!!!!!

A reference article, below, contains a more detailed discussion of the points listed above (about a 10 minute read). I encourage you to read it to better understand NAFTA and the NAU, so you can make an informed decision. Please read it, and then TAKE action.

Reference Article... http://newswithviews.com/Devvy/kidd266.htm

Unless AMERICANS cause an uproar, nothing will be done. This is one of the most important things YOU can do for YOUR future.

TAKE ACTION:

1) Find your members of Congress by typing in your ZIP code http://www.congress.org/congressorg/dbq/officials/

U.S. Congressional Switchboard... (202) 224-3121

2) Call the Congressional switchboard and ask to be connected to the offices your congressmen TODAY (do this for each representative of your state both congress and senate) and DEMAND passage of H.CON.RES.22 to withdraw these United States of America from the unconstitutional NAFTA treaty.

Farmers and other producers: we can have fair trade with other nations without destroying our country. Think about the future, please. Also DEMAND passage of H.CON.RES.487: "...the United States should not engage in the construction of a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Superhighway System or enter into a North American Union with Mexico and Canada."

Tell Congress if they do not put an end to this, and the tide of illegal immigration YOU will vote them OUT of office!

3) Forward this email to all the AMERICANS you know!

' Mission Accomplished.': 48 blood soaked months later...

www.GlobalResearch.ca

Four years ago (alleged) Draft Dodger in Chief, landed on aircraft carrier USS Lincoln & declared: ' mission accomplished'!

by Felicity Arbuthnot.

Global Research, May 1, 2007

Four years ago today the (alleged) Draft Dodger in Chief, landed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and declared: ' mission accomplished' In Iraq.

Forty eight blood soaked months later, what exactly has been accomplished?

* Possibly as many as one million Iraqi dead, four million fled or displaced internally. The largest exodus since the establisment of the State of Israel in 1948.

* The erasing of the history, monuments, archeological sites of the Cradle of Civilisation.

* The kidnapping and lynching of the President and members of the legitimate government.

* The slaughter of the President's sons and grandson.

* One hundred journalists and thirty seven support workers killed. A figure in order of magnitude higher than any war zone on earth (shoot the messengers of this illegal disaster?) It seemed to be policy from day one, literally.

* Over three hundred academics assassinated and thousands fled. The education of the next generation snatched from Iraq's youth, in the country that brought near every academic subject to the world.

* Overflowing morgues.

* Sectarian gangs roaming hospitals and pulling patients from beds and taking them to their death.

* Over two thousand physicians killed, two hundred and fifty kidnapped and eighteen thousand fled.

* Palestinians who have lived in Iraq for generations, killed, threatened and fleeing again to a no man's land unsafe in Iraq, unable to cross borders.

* Sectarian strife, militias, introduced with the invasion, between peoples who had lived together for a thousand years.

* Ongoing suicide bombings in a country where they were unheard of.

* Rigged elections, the results achieved by threats, including death, bribery, threat of ration card confiscation.

* Abu Ghraib's torture, death, sodomy, naked prisoners, electrodes. For ever 'liberation's' - and the US Army's - image.

* The uncounted numerous other secret prisons across Iraq.

* Falluja, Samarra, Tel Afar, Ramadi, Al Quaim, Mahmoudia, Iskanderiya, Baquba, Haditha, Najav, Kerbala, Basra and the slaughters too many to mention, across Iraq.

* The US troops rape of a child and the burning of her family.

* Kicking down doors at 3 a.m., to humiliate, terrify - and steal family jewellery, money, valuables.

* The disappeared in their thousands.

* The destruction of an entire civil society with every institution and all records of its citizens.

* Attempted theft of Iraq's oil. (Not going too well, with the pipelines being blown up - historically, that happens when theft of it looms.)

* Destruction of schools and hospitals and the inability (or lack of will) to rebuild and restock.

* The missing Iraqi and aid $billions in the grand theft auto that is the USA invasion.

* The illegal rewriting of the constituion.

* The installation of a quisling government with loyalties largely, to anywhere but Iraq.

* The death squads under America's watch and for which she is - as an occupying army - responsible.

* The ghetto walls, razor wire, curfews, road blocks in Mansur's 'Round City' on the Tigris, Baghdad - and across the country.

* The soldiers that sell unthinkable photographs of the dead, maimed, tortured to porn sites in exchange for drooling over the depraved.

* Taking a secular state and attempting to turn it into a fundamentalist theocrocy.

* Committing Nuremberg's 'supreme crime', a war of aggression, based on a pack of lies.

* Demands for impeachment increasing by the day.

* The destruction of America and Britain's image for generations to come - and the inability of their citizens to feel safe anywhere, also for generations.

* A death toll heading towards four thousand dead US troops (admitted to) and thousands horrifically injured.

* A trillion$ plus debt and predictions of the collapse of the dollar.

* Madrid, London, Bali, Sharm El Sheikh .... [Who is behind these terror attacks?]

* Near universal loathing.

* The words 'freedom', 'democrocy' and 'liberation', consigned to shame and history's trash can.

* For ever being associated with hoods, shackles and inhumanity and illegality.

Some accomplishment....

Today, ironically, also marks the tenth anniversary of dodgy dossier supremo, Prime Minister Blair's, term in office. Two anniversaries, two leaders, whose ruined reputations will for ever lie in the sands of Mesapotamia, along with the UN Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (to which the US is, shamefully not a signatory) But whom Nuremberg may yet return to haunt. Perhaps instead of 'praying together' they should put an end to it all and eat Pretzels together. Or take a fling on a quad byke.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Centre for Research on Globalization.

To become a Member of Global Research

The CRG grants permission to cross-post original Global Research articles on community internet sites as long as the text & title are not modified. The source and the author's copyright must be displayed. For publication of Global Research articles in print or other forms including commercial internet sites, contact: crgeditor@yahoo.com

www.globalresearch.ca contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to our readers under the provisions of "fair use" in an effort to advance a better understanding of political, economic and social issues. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than "fair use" you must request permission from the copyright owner.

For media inquiries: crgeditor@yahoo.com

© Copyright Felicity Arbuthnot., GlobalResearch.ca, 2007

Pentagon to Merge Next-Gen Binoculars With Soldiers' Brains

Sharon Weinberger

Forces may soon have a strange and powerful new weapon in their arsenal: a pair of high-tech binoculars 10 times more powerful than anything available today, augmented by an alerting system that literally taps the wearer's prefrontal cortex to warn of furtive threats detected by the soldier's subconscious.

In a new effort dubbed "Luke's Binoculars" -- after the high-tech binoculars Luke Skywalker uses in Star Wars -- the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is setting out to create its own version of this science-fiction hardware. And while the Pentagon's R&D arm often focuses on technologies 20 years out, this new effort is dramatically different -- Darpa says it expects to have prototypes in the hands of soldiers in three years.

The agency claims no scientific breakthrough is needed on the project -- formally called the Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System. Instead, Darpa hopes to integrate technologies that have been simmering in laboratories for years, ranging from flat-field, wide-angle optics, to the use of advanced electroencephalograms, or EEGs, to rapidly recognize brainwave signatures.

In March, Darpa held a meeting in Arlington, Virginia, for scientists and defense contractors who might participate in the project. According to the presentations from the meeting, the agency wants the binoculars to have a range of 1,000 to 10,000 meters, compared to the current generation, which can see out only 300 to 1,000 meters. Darpa also wants the binoculars to provide a 120-degree field of view and be able to spot moving vehicles as far as 10 kilometers away.

The most far-reaching component of the binocs has nothing to do with the optics: it's Darpa's aspirations to integrate EEG electrodes that monitor the wearer's neural signals, cueing soldiers to recognize targets faster than the unaided brain could on its own. The idea is that EEG can spot "neural signatures" for target detection before the conscious mind becomes aware of a potential threat or target.

Darpa's ambitions are grounded in solid research, says Dennis McBride, president of the Potomac Institute and an expert in the field. "This is all about target recognition and pattern recognition," says McBride, who previously worked for the Navy as an experimental psychologist and has consulted for Darpa. "It turns out that humans in particular have evolved over these many millions of years with a prominent prefrontal cortex."

That prefrontal cortex, he explains, allows the brain to pick up patterns quickly, but it also exercises a powerful impulse control, inhibiting false alarms. EEG would essentially allow the binoculars to bypass this inhibitory reaction and signal the wearer to a potential threat. In other words, like Spiderman's "spider sense," a soldier could be alerted to danger that his or her brain had sensed, but not yet had time to process.

That said, researchers are circumspect about plans to deploy the technology. One participant in last month's Darpa workshop, John Murray, a scientist at SRI International, says he thought the technology was feasible "in a demonstration environment," but fielding it is another matter.

"In recent years the ability to measure neural signals and to analyze them quickly has advanced significantly," says Murray, whose own work focuses on human effectiveness. "Typically in these situations, there are a whole lot of other issues (involved) in building and deploying, beyond the research."

It's unclear what the final system will look like. The agency's presentations show soldiers operating with EEG sensors attached helmet-style to their heads. Although the electrodes might initially seem ungainly, McBride says that the EEG technology is becoming smaller and less obtrusive. "It's easier and easier," he says.

But getting the system down to a target weight of less than five pounds will be a challenge, and Darpa's presentations make it clear that size and power are also issues. But even if EEG doesn't make it into the initial binoculars, researchers involved in other areas say there are plenty of improvements to existing technology that can be fielded.

For example, another key aspect of the binoculars will detect threats using neuromorphic engineering, the science of using hardware and software to mimic biological systems. Paul Hasler, a Georgia Institute of Technology professor who specializes in this area and attended the Darpa workshop, describes, for example, an effort to use neural computation to "emulate the brain's visual cortex" -- creating sensors that, like the brain, can scan across a wide field of view and "figure out what's interesting to look at."

While some engineers are mimicking the brain, others are going after the eye. Vladimir Brojavic, a former Carnegie Mellon University professor, specializes in a technology that replicates the function of the human retina to allow cameras to see in shadows and poor illumination. He attended last month's workshop, but he said he was unsure whether his company, Intrigue Technologies, would bid for work on the project. "I'm hesitant to pick it up, in case it would distract us from our product development," he says.

According to the Darpa presentations, the first prototypes of Luke's Binoculars could be in soldiers' hands within three years. That's an ambitious schedule, and an unusual one for Darpa, note several workshop attendees, who also say they expect fierce competition over the project. The list of attendees at the meeting ranged from university professors to major contractors. Spokespeople for Lockheed Martin and Raytheon both confirmed interest in the program, but declined to say whether they would bid on it.

Once fielded, Darpa indicates the measure of success lies with the military. According to information the agency provided to industry, initial prototypes would go to Special Forces. If the military asks to keep the binoculars after the trials, "that's exactly what you want here," Darpa wrote. "That's success."

Why all the rush? "I have to wonder if they aren't under pressure from Congress to make a contribution (to the war on terrorism), or if DOD is really leaning on them to come up with some stuff," suggests Jonathan Moreno, a professor of ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, whose recent book, Mind Wars, looks at the Pentagon's burgeoning interest in neuroscience. Darpa did not respond to press inquiries about the program.

Despite the fast schedule, McBride, of the Potomac Institute, thinks the idea is doable. "It's a risky venture, but that's what Darpa does," he says. "It's absolutely feasible."

Fighting the Corporate Theft of Our Water

By Tara Lohan

The Bush administration is helping multinationals buy U.S. municipal water systems, putting our most important resource in the hands of corporations with no public accountability.

All across the United States, municipal water systems are being bought up by multinational corporations, turning one of our last remaining public commons and our most vital resource into a commodity.The road to privatization is being paved by our own government. The Bush administration is actively working to loosen the hold that cities and towns have over public water, enabling corporations to own the very thing we depend on for survival. The effects of the federal government's actions are being felt all the way down to Conference of Mayors, which has become a "feeding frenzy" for corporations looking to make sure that nothing is left in the public's hands, including clean, affordable water.

Documentary filmmakers Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman recently teamed up with author Michael Fox to write "Thirst: Fighting the Corporate Theft of Our Water" (Wiley, 2007). The three followed water privatization battles across the United States -- from California to Massachusetts and from Georgia to Wisconsin, documenting the rise of public opposition to corporate control of water resources.

They found that the issue of privatization ran deep.

"We came to see that the conflicts over water are really about fundamental questions of democracy itself: Who will make the decisions that affect our future, and who will be excluded?" they wrote in the book's preface. "And if citizens no longer control their most basic resource, their water, do they really control anything at all?"

As the effects of climate change are being felt around the world, including decreasing snowpacks and rainfall, water is quickly becoming the market's new holy grail.

Mayor Gary Podesto, in his State of the City address to his constituents in 2003, sang the praises of privatization to his community, located in California's Central Valley. "It's time that Stockton enter the 21st century in its delivery of services and think of our citizens as customers," he said.

And there is the crux of the issue -- privatization means transforming citizens into customers. Or, in other words, making people engaged in a democratic process into consumers looking to get the best deal.

It is also means taking our most important resource and putting it at the whims of the market.

Currently, water systems are controlled publicly in 90 percent of communities across the world and 85 percent in the United States, but that number is changing rapidly, the authors report in "Thirst." In 1990, 50 million people worldwide got their water services from private companies, but by 2002 it was 300 million and growing.

There are a number of reasons to be concerned.

"Globally, corporations are promoting water privatization under the guise of efficiency, but the fact is that they are not paying the full cost of public infrastructure, environmental damage, or healthcare for those they hurt," said Ashley Schaeffer of Corporate Accountability International. "Water is a human right and not a privilege."

There are also significant environmental considerations -- with private corporations, sustainability can be tossed out the window. "Climate change is a warning that uncontrolled abuse of the earth's natural resources is leading toward planetary catastrophe," the authors write in "Thirst." "Who is to set the necessary limits to the abuse of the environment? Private companies fighting for market share are incapable of doing so."

Privatization has been pushed aggressively at the federal level for decades, but especially so in the last six years. "There is a kind of fire sale of everything in the public sector right now," said Alan Snitow. "Water, we think, is the line in the sand -- when your water is actually a profit mechanism, people really react negatively to that."

"Thirst" beautifully documents the coalitions that are forming in communities that are fighting back. But the battles are not easy: They must confront massive political muscle and unlimited financial resources of multinational corporations, not to mention our society's religious belief in the power of the marketplace.

Privatizing municipal water systems is globalization come home, said Deborah Kaufman. In 2000 Bechtel privatized water in Cochabamba, Bolivia, with such miserable consequences that it was shortly driven out of the country in an incredible feat of cross-class organizing. But just a few years later, it was awarded a $680 million contract to "fix" Iraq's ruined water systems.

"What's happened in Iraq is really emblematic of what the Bush administration is doing," said Kaufman. "We view the privatization of water in the United States as the World Bank come home -- the third-worldization of America and American communities."

It turns out the United States is an attractive place for multinationals looking to make inroads in the water business. The three main players are the French companies Suez and Veolia (formerly Vivendi), and the German group RWE. The companies first pushed water privatization in developing nations. "But in many instances, those attempts didn't pan out as planned, it being difficult to gouge governments and customers that don't have a lot of money," Public Citizen reports. "The U.S., by contrast, presented the promise of a steady, reliable revenue stream from customers willing and able to pay water bills."

The companies that already controlled the small percentage of U.S. water held privately were bought by the big three: Veolia picked up U.S Filter, Suez got United Water and RWE took over American Water Works.

The results have been disastrous, as "Thirst" shows -- rates are increasing, quality is suffering, customer service is declining, profits are leaving communities and accountability has fallen by the wayside.

In Felton, Calif., a small regional utility ran the water system until it was purchased in 2001 by California American Water, a subsidiary of American Water, which is a subsidiary of Thames Water in London, which has also become a subsidiary of German giant RWE. Residents in Felton saw their rates skyrocket, "Thirst" reports. A woman who runs a facility for people in need saw her water bill increase from $250 to $1,275 a month.

RWE also bought the company controlling the water system in Urbana, Ill., and locals have been unhappy with the service it provides. "A few months ago, I got a notice on my door saying the water was turned off, and that when it came back on, I needed to boil it before I used it," said the city's mayor, Laurel Prussing. But when she called the number, the company didn't know what was going on -- and it was no wonder, because the call center was located in Florida.

The list of abuses in "Thirst," which represent only a handful of communities, are plentiful:

In 2006, two top managers at a Suez/United Water plant in New Jersey were indicted for covering up high radium levels in drinking water ... In Milwaukee, Suez subsidiary United Water discharged more than a million gallons of untreated sewage into Lake Michigan because it had shut down pumps to reduce electricity bills ... In Stockton, Calif., a citizen's watchdog group reported that water leakage doubled in the first year that OMI/Thames took over system operations. In Indianapolis, customer complaints nearly tripled the first year of Veolia's contract, and inadequate maintenance resulted in hundreds of fire hydrants freezing in the winter ...

Overall, it has proved to be a recipe for disaster.

"Seeking to consolidate market share, private water companies are merging or buying other companies, creating a volatile and unpredictable market," they conclude, "hardly the kind of stability required for a life-and-death resource like water."

The water crisis comes home

Corporate interest in water systems in the United States exists for very good reason -- we have a water crisis. Our drinking and wastewater systems were largely designed a hundred years ago and in many places, little improvements have been made.

Aging systems combined with the pressures of increasing population, development, and pollution have left many communities close to disaster.

As a result, corporations have swooped in to offer public officials an easy out -- not only will they run these aging plants, but they'll save the city millions of dollars in the process. At least that's the promise. So far, it hasn't panned out.

In 2005,"Thirst" reports, 200 mayors of large and small cities said they would consider privatization if it would save money. In addition to lobbyists, publicists and ad campaigns, the corporations have also directly gone after public officials to sell their wares.

"The U.S. Conference of Mayors has become an engine of water privatization through its Urban Water Council," they write in "Thirst." "One mayor described a Conference of Mayors session he attended as a kind of feeding frenzy, with companies bidding to take over everything from his city's school-lunch program to its traffic lights and water services. Financed by the private water industry, staffed by former industry officials, the UWC works hard to give its corporate sponsors 'face time' with mayors."

And the federal government is not doing anything to help -- in fact, it's doing the opposite. "The administration has backed language in legislation to reauthorize existing federal water funding assistance programs that would require cities to consider water privatization before they could receive federal funding," reports Public Citizen. "And in lockstep with private industry's goals, the EPA is increasingly playing down the role of federal financial assistance while actively encouraging communities to pay for system upgrades by raising rates to consumers -- exactly the strategy the industry hopes will drive cash-strapped and embattled local politicians to opt for the false promise of privatization."

The EPA has projected a needed $446 billion for drinking water infrastructure over the next 20 years, but the money that is needed and that is actually allocated in the budget falls billions short.

Snitow calls the under funding of public water systems and public infrastructure as a whole, "systematic" under the Bush administration. "On water, President Bush says he wants to fund private companies to do it. He does not want to give money, even loan money, to government agencies at the local level to improve their own water systems."

This mindset goes against public opinion and environmental law. The Safe Drinking Water Act passed in 1974 says, "The federal government needs to provide assistance to communities to help the communities meet federal drinking water requirements." And a national poll showed that 86 percent of Americans supported creating a water infrastructure trust fund.

But this issue is not a partisan problem. As reported in "Thirst," in 1997 the Clinton administration changed the law to the benefit of private companies. Previously municipal utility contracts were limited to five years, but Clinton changed it to allow contracts to be extended up to 20 years. "The rule change unleashed a wave of industry euphoria with predictions that private companies would soon be running much of what is now a public service," they wrote. In the following five years, municipal water contracts with private companies tripled.

"Privatization comes from both Democrats and Republicans. Particularly the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party. Clinton advanced this in a number of areas -- Bush has taken it to the extreme," said Snitow.

And across the country, Democrats are guilty as well as Republicans. "In Lee [Mass.], one of the key people supporting the Veolia privatization is a liberal Democrat. He has a great record with unions, on gay rights. He is a social liberal, but he wants to privatize key public services," said Snitow.

"There is an ideology that is bipartisan and is part of the old Washington consensus which is that the market can do everything better, it can be more efficient," he continued. "I think that we are seeing the chickens come home to roost on this with Iraq. You are seeing the ultimate apotheosis of the kind of vision that they had in mind -- where they would turn over the entire government and the resources to private multinationals. And, if that is efficiency, I think that most people in the world would want themselves counted out."

Not for sale

"Thirst" documents not just the consolidation of power through corporations but the public resistance that is often, despite seemingly impossible odds, successful.

Time and time again throughout the book, citizens responded to local threats but realized they were part of much bigger effort against water privatization around the world and the wholesale auction of the commons.

Even if you don't live somewhere under threat at the moment, there is something for everyone to do. We can work to create a trust for drinking water and wastewater; to drop conditions in federal funding that favor privatizing water resources; to block water corporations from obtaining access to public funding through tax-exempt private activity bonds; and to promote strong public management of water resources. Or you can work to support organizations like Corporate Accountability International, Food and Water Watch, Sierra Club and others who are organizing around the issue.

"There has to be preemption -- companies come in secretly and people don't know there are negotiations going on, and communities that are organizing are coming from behind," said Snitow. "If there is more consciousness about this and more mayors know that their political lives are going to be spent fighting this issue, then I think fewer and fewer of them are going to say this not the way for me to leave my mark on the city. They'll choose something else. I think there is a lot of potential for victories, for changing the water policy in this country and it won't be a minute too soon, given what's going to be happening with global warming."

Taking a stand against corporate control of water means believing that some things, like the lifeblood of our communities, should not be for sale.

"Whether clean and safe water will remain accessible to all, affordable and sustainable into the future, depends on us," write Snitow, Kaufman and Fox. "The stakes could not be higher. The outcome will surely be a measure of democracy in the 21st century."

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