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Georgia’s Dangerous Quest for American Weapons

Since Mikheil Saakashvili took power in Georgia, the small post-Soviet republic has become one of the U.S.’s most devoted allies. It has been the highest per capita troop contributor in both Iraq and Afghanistan — even while two of its erstwhile territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, host hostile Russian forces.

Saakashvili was frightened of the Russian...

And Georgia hasn’t been particularly shy about suggesting that it sees its contributions to U.S. military missions as part of a quid pro quo. “As soldiers here, we help the American soldiers,” one Georgian corporal in Iraq told the New York Times in 2007. “Then America as a country will help our country.” In Afghanistan, it’s volunteered to serve in the dangerous Helmand province, where seven of its soldiers have been killed so far.

The help Georgia wants in return is protection against its nemesis, Russia, and to help Georgia regain control over Russian-occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Thus far, though, aside from rhetoric, the U.S. hasn’t given much actual help. George W. Bush visited Tbilisi in 2005 and called Georgia “a beacon for democracy.” Last month, a U.S. Marine Corps general effusively praised Georgians’ service in Afghanistan, noting: “Georgians like to fight.”

But talk is cheap, and there has never been much action to back up those words. Tellingly, when war broke out in 2008 over South Ossetia, the U.S. — after giving Saakashvili the impression that Washington would have his back in the case of conflict with Russia — stood by, except for one poignant move: U.S. military planes flew the Georgian soldiers serving in Iraq back home. But, by the time those troops got home, the war had already been lost.

Georgia’s primary security goal for most of Saakashvili’s rule has been to join NATO, and the U.S. did back that, but to no avail — the war with Russia took serious consideration of NATO membership off the table. After all, had Georgia been a member at the conflict’s onset, it would have forced the U.S. and the rest of NATO to declare war against Russia. Now Georgia has a new target in its sights: American weapons. Last year, it began a serious push to get the U.S. to provide it with “defensive weapons,” in particular air defense and anti-tank systems.

Providing Georgia with weapons would perpetuate a “Berlin Wall mentality”

“[L]eaving Georgia defenseless doesn’t help the situation,” Saakashvili told Newsweek. “Georgia cannot attack Russia, while a defenseless Georgia is a big temptation for Russia to change our government through military means. … As part of ongoing security cooperation, we hope that the U.S. will help us with defense-weapons capabilities.”

Lately, he’s upped the rhetorical stakes by claiming that only the U.S. could sell Georgia the weapons it needs to protect itself: “What Georgia really needs is something that it cannot get from anywhere else and that’s anti-air and anti-tank [weapons] and that’s completely obvious. … That’s where should be the next stage of the cooperation.”

The U.S. has never been a particularly large supplier of weapons to Georgia, which inherited Soviet equipment upon independence and then came to rely on other former Soviet and Warsaw Pact countries for reinforcements. While the Pentagon has set up a number of military training programs with Georgia, those programs focus on preparing the Georgians for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the issue of American weapons has now come to define the state of the U.S.-Georgia relationship, with Georgia and its allies in Washington arguing that if the U.S. doesn’t give Georgia weapons, it’s kowtowing to Russia for the sake of a wishful-thinking “reset.” U.S. Senator John McCain is the leading advocate for weapons provisions; in March he told a Congressional hearing, “It is hard for me to understand, since the Russians still occupy territory that is clearly Georgian territory and continue to threaten Georgia, and yet we’re not even giving them weapons with which to defend themselves. It is not comprehensible.”

Georgia spent about $1.5 million on four top D.C. lobbying firms last year alone, far outpacing comparable countries. Those lobbying efforts include an aggressive press campaign arguing that the State Department is enforcing a “de facto embargo” by quietly blocking Georgia’s attempted arms purchases, although there is no evidence of such an embargo.

One key, but answered, question is whether Georgia expects to buy the weapons or for the U.S. to give them as aid. When asked, Georgian officials duck the question, saying that discussions aren’t that far along. But it’s one thing to allow Georgia to buy weapons, and quite another to use U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund them. But the numbers suggest that Georgia could never afford American hardware on its own.

Georgia is poor and Americans weapons are expensive. Tbilisi’s estimated defense budget for 2011 is about $370 million, of which one-third — $123 million — is available for procurement. The United Arab Emirates, to take one point of comparison, has just spent $7 billion on U.S. air-defense equipment. A single Patriot anti-aircraft missile costs nearly $6 million, meaning that 20 missiles — to say nothing of the launchers, radars or other essential components — would be all Georgia could afford with an entire year’s budget..

If Georgia actually wants to use its own money for weapons, then, it would do better to buy weapons from a cheaper source. Russia has intimidated many of Georgia’s former arms suppliers, especially in Eastern Europe and Israel, into ending cooperation with Georgia. But other arms manufacturers, such as China, India, Brazil, or Turkey, could surely step in.

Even if Georgia were armed to the teeth, however, it’s not clear how much good it would do them. Russia’s military is so much stronger than Georgia’s that additional weapons would be a moot point. Or worse: Though Georgia repeatedly emphasizes that it is only seeking “defensive” weapons, any defensive weapon makes aggression easier by improving defense against a counterattack. Georgia touts the threat of a Russian attack, but it was in fact Georgia which fired the first shots that precipitated the 2008 war with Russia, in an apparent belief that Russia would stand idly by.

In a paper published earlier this year, two scholars of the region, Cory Welt and Samuel Charap, argue that providing Georgia with weapons would perpetuate a “Berlin Wall mentality” of eternal conflict, and block the path that Georgia really needs to take with regard to its lost territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. That, Welt and Charap write, is the slow, painstaking process of “conflict transformation that reduces tensions, brings people together across the conflict lines, creates trust, builds trade links, and normalizes contacts among authorities.”
But subtlety is not Saakashvili’s strong suit. While American weapons may not make any difference on the ground, they would be a tangible sign of hard support from the West, which Saakashvili clearly craves. Over the last few years, Georgia has perhaps done more, for less reward, than any other ally of the United States. That’s not an argument for shipping Georgia free missile systems, of course. It just makes the situation all the more tragic.

Georgia’s Dangerous Quest for American Weapons

Baltimore a sign of crisis in America

March 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Leonard Gray used to leave his house in Baltimore every day to come to the Inner Harbor. It was a job, a living and a piece of Baltimore’s million-dollar revival. Until one day, Gray and the other 160 employees of Disney’s ESPN Zone were laid off.

“I worked here at ESPN Zone for six years and without notice they gave us the ax, they threw us out like we was just some paper cups,” Gray said.

That’s how Leonard joined the ranks of Baltimore’s unemployed – it’s a crowded place with 11.4 percent of the city’s residents.

“Right now, I’m struggling to survive, struggling to pay my bills, sometimes I can’t go to the market to eat,” Gray said.

But business is booming in the Inner Harbor, a luxury retail and dining district that the city has sunk millions into and made its model of economic development.

“People think that the Inner Harbor is a happy-go-lucky place, but they don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. People are being disrespected, people are getting unfair wages,” said Gray.

Like much of America–where the richest 20 percent own 84 percent of the wealth–Baltimore’s harbor is split along class lines, said Luis Larrin, a labor organizer with the grassroots United Workers organization.

“The workers who work in these restaurants can’t even eat what they’re cooking because they’re charged the same price,” Larrin said. “$7.00 for a hamburger, an hour’s wage. They could never even think of bringing their families to spend the day here.”

It’s also split along racial lines, said sociologist and Professor Kris Marsh.

“You can say it’s a class thing, but ironically enough most of the people who are pushed out by this new development happen to be blacks, or happen to be Latinos,” said Marsh.

Just a few blocks East or West of the Harbor, the reality is much different–a city crumbling under the weight of foreclosures and crushing economic crisis.

It was against this backdrop that President Obama announced 1.1 trillion dollars in cuts to the budget last month. On the domestic spending chopping block were 13.9 billion dollars in cuts to food stamp programs, which about 530,000 Maryland depend on. Maryland has seen a 32 percent increase since in food stamp recipients since 2008.

Currently, 20 percent of Baltimore residents live below the poverty line–six percent more than when Obama stopped here days before his inauguration in 2009.

“This is what I believe, Baltimore, but you made this belief real. You proved once more the people who love this country can change it,” US President Barack Obama told a massive crowd gathered in 2009, days before his inauguration.

But residents in these blocks and blocks of abandoned row-houses told us that they haven’t been able to change the spreading poverty threatening to engulf more and more of Baltimore.

Ylan Mui, a staff writer for the Washington Post explained the system of capitalism creates a byproduct of inequality; it’s how the system is structured.

“The question becomes, what are the social implications of that?” she said. “What are the economic implications of that? Does such a large amount of wealth being concentrated among the top tiers of American households, does that simulate economic growth, does that trickle down to other economic classes? What we are really grappling with is not necessarily the fact of income inequality, but the magnitude of income inequality.”

Across the world and in the US food prices have been rising, further impacting lower income earners, a growing group in the US.

“Lower income households spend a large portion of their income on food, on these basic necessities. That leaves them less money to spend on discretionary items, which is one thing that actually helps drive the economy,” Mui said.

She explained it is important to think about the impact of food on consumers when measuring economic growth and costs. Necessity items are where most is spent for low income earners, and these items do not contribute to economic growth in the same was as other products.

“Income inequality needs to be rectified,” she added. “There is a growing recognition that it is a problem.”

Protests In Wisconsin: Union Protests Spread Across The US

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Over 20,000 angry union supporters gathered at the Wisconsin state capital expressing opposition to an anti-union bill and an end to Walker’s governorship. Now, pro-union protests have spread to other states proposing cutbacks.

Republican lawmakers are trying to secure quorum in Wisconsin to hold a vote on a measure to kill the collective bargaining rights of state union workers, however the Democratic law makers have refused to show up at the legislature and have fled the state to avoid being brought into the capital by state police.

The Republican controlled Senate dispatched the state troopers to find the Democrats, but they were unsuccessful. A group of them have opted to stay in a hotel just on the other side of the state line in Illinois.

Without quorum a vote cannot be held, effectively stalling the passage of the legislation.

Meanwhile, the State legislature in Tennessee has also proposed a bill that will dissolve the collective bargaining rights of the state’s teachers and proposed police layoffs in Hartford, Connecticut were met with hundreds of police marching the it streets, expressing their opposition. In Ohio crowds of hundreds have descended on the state capitol to protest legislation that would strip all state employees of their collective bargaining rights.

Opposition to cuts to workers and labor rights continue to be met with opposition, opposition which appears to be speeding across the country.

The Wisconsin protest is being called the largest set of protests the state has encountered in years.

Widely seen as the boldest anti-union bill in the nation, the law has been engineered to combat the $3.6 billion state budget shortfall.

If passed, the law would bring about a major political shift in Wisconsin. The state has been widely seen as progressive in the past, being the first state to pass comprehensive pro-union legislation in 1959.

Over 40 percent of the 2,600 unionized teachers and staff called in sick in Madison, Wisconsin, forcing the State’s second largest school district to cancel school for the day.

The state’s prisons are staffed by unionized guards. These guards would lose their bargaining rights under the new law. So far, the guards have not opted to protest or walk out. That may change.

Under the proposed law, unions could not force employees to pay dues, but could choose to represent state workers. However, they could not seek pay increases above the listed maximum in the Consumer Price Index without approval from a public referendum.

In exchange for the loss of their labor rights, the state government would promise not to engage in furloughs or layoffs. If the bill fails, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has threatened to lay-off 6,000 state workers.

Walker plans to move forward, insisting he has the necessary votes in the state legislature to pass the bill.

Support for the measure comes from the state’s Republicans who control the legislature. The state’s Democrats and union members adamantly oppose the proposed law. The Republicans claim they have the votes, despite public outcry, to pass the new law.

Activists nevertheless are pushing for a ‘citizen’s filibuster’ to prevent the passage of the bill by forcing discussion into unsociable hours.

While a number of other US states are considering bills which target labor rights, Wisconsin’s is by far the most antagonistic anti-labor measure aimed at solving budgetary shortfalls.

David Vines, a protestor and a student at the University of Wisconsin argued the Republican controlled state government is trying to bust up unions and is creating a culture war to drive poor people away from the polls.

He explained the government was elected based on promises of jobs, but instead has opted to take on issues people see as less vital, such as voter ID rules and anti-union laws.

“They are not concerned about jobs at all right now,” he said. “They come in here and they try and bust up unions and use these culture wars as a way to drive younger people and poorer people away from polls.”

Radio Host Alex Jones said this is a huge development, and the main driver behind the protests is the economy as a whole which has been driven down by the inflated dollar.

Austerity and globalism are impacting the world, what began in Europe, and the Middle East is spreading to the US, he contended.

“We’re seeing massive protests, riots. We’re seeing people get very angry,” Jones said. “We’ve seen the governor of Wisconsin threaten preemptively to call out the National Guard.”

He added, “The question is will the people be victorious against this or will the offshore robber barons of the new world order be successful brining in their new world government?”

Jones argued the protests have been coordinated and organized by international powers in order to create reasons to bring in a new global power structure and eventually a world government.

An Empire Of US Military Bases?

February 16, 2011 Leave a comment

The United States boats hundreds of military bases around the world, perhaps even thousands. But, no one knows for sure because even the Pentagon does not bother to keep track.

Historian and journalist Nick Turse explained, “What I’m relatively sure of is that there are no less than 1,077 US bases or sites in foreign countries….and likely there are many more than that, we just can’t be sure.”

What is known is that the US Defense budget is now about the equal to military spending in all other countries combined, and since 9/11, military and security expenditures have soared 119 percent.

Some of these bases are on tiny islands, and some, like Guantanamo Bay, serve dual purposes.

A great deal of money goes towards maintaining those bases, but once again, taxpayers and the military do not know exactly how much is allocated towards construction and maintenance at each.

Experts argue the reason for sustaining all these military installations abroad is to “maintain a far flung global empire,” and they point out that in places like Saudi Arabia and Okinawa, US military presence has been denounced by locals.

“Cleary there’s no need from the point of view of self defense for the US to have military installations all over the world. It’s really part of maintaining a far flung global empire, and at the heart of the empire and corporate and banking interests and elites that the US military is defending. Each place that the United States has a military base, the US has political power, economic power, and it’s a matter of coercion,” said Brian Becker of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition.

A local Kyrgyz man told RT, “We are living here and raising our children. Why do we need this US Air base?”

In Okinawa, locals are forced to give up ten to twenty percent of the island to the US military for a base that they associate with noise, crime, and pollution. Some say the US plays under a double standard when it comes to this.

Becker argued, “The United States would never tolerate China having military bases in Canada, in Mexico, in Haiti, in the DR, in other words in countries that ring the United States. It’s not a question of law, it’s a question of might makes right. In other words, the United States is the 700 pound gorilla. It sits wherever it chooses to sit.”

While the US chooses to “sit wherever,” those most affected by these bases, both at home and abroad, don’t necessarily have a place at the table.

Jacob Hornberger, the president of The Future of Freedom Foundation said the secrecy of empire leads to the massive number of bases, a number which is not disclosed.

“They call it a Department of Defense, but we all know that’s just a charade,” he said. “This is really just a department of empire and war.”

He explained the extensive military empire combined with foreign aid to dictators generates anger and hate towards the US, which in turn which generates terrorism and the validation the government uses to take away freedoms from Americans in the United States.

“It’s really created nothing but problems for us,” Hornberger added.

David Vine, a professor of anthropology at American University explained the argument the Pentagon uses to justify its military presence across the globe is “self-defense”. Even when it comes to confirmed US allies like Japan, Italy and Germany, as well as various tiny islands through the Pacific and Indian oceans.

“Why does the United States have a military base in the middle of the Indian ocean? Why does the United States need one? Is it protecting the United States in anyway?” asked Vine. “Not to mention, why are we spending tens of millions of dollars on things like golf courses. The Pentagon has somewhere on the order of 230 golf courses around the world. Couldn’t we cut a few of those, close down a few of those, put the money back into Pell Grants or housing programs or homelessness diversion programs?”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai once admitted that with the US military bases established permanently in Afghanistan there’ll be economic prosperity and end to the violence in the country. At the same time, the US economy continues in dire straits yet little is being done to address it.

“We should take the money that we would spend to expend building US bases overseas and invest in real national security needs here at home. Not just the military, but going far beyond,” argued Vine.

An empire of US military bases

NATO’s New Headquarters to cost €1 Billion!!!

February 9, 2011 Leave a comment

The price tag on Nato’s giant new headquarters currently under construction is expected to hit €1 billion, the organisation’s secretary general said on Monday (7 february) as he warned of the dangers of not co-ordinating defence budget cuts in Europe.

“The total estimated cost of the new Nato headquarters is about €1 billion euros,” the alliance’s spokeswoman, Oana Lungescu, told journalists on the margins of a press briefing by Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

In reply to a question on the cost, Mr Rasmussen said that “the final figure happens to be a bit lower than the original expectation,” as a result of construction prices dropping amid the economic crisis.

The initial price tag for the construction itself was at €650 million, but following the bidding procedure, the Belgian state who hosts the facility managed to lower it by 28 percent, to €460 million. On top of that come other expenses, such as demolition costs, site security, cabling, IT and audiovisual facilities, as well as personnel costs, leading to the total estimate of €1 billion.

During a ground-breaking ceremony in December 2010, Mr Rasmussen had said the new mega-headquarters were needed to accommodate all the delegations and staff, currently hosted in a barrack-style compound that was provisionally offered to Nato by the Belgian state in 1967 when the alliance was kicked out of France.

“Our current building simply cannot cope with the demands that we are placing on it. It is too small, it is too inflexible, and it is inefficient,” Mr Rasmussen said at the inauguration ceremony in December.

Expected to last five years, the construction works will stretch over 250,000 square metres across the street from the current location on the highway between Brussels and the international airport in Zaventem and house some 4,000 people, as well as conference rooms, sport facilities and shops.

The construction was agreed upon in 2004, with progress moving slowly through project tenders, land appropriations and the demolition of a former Belgian military base.

“In terms of location, Nato is somewhat on the outskirts of Brussels, but I think we are very much at the heart of the European debate when it comes to dealing with the effects of the economic crisis on our security,” Mr Rasmussen said in the press conference on Monday.

He again warned against “un-coordinated” budget cuts and urged the 26 members of the alliance to use the Nato forum when deciding which defence programmes to slash. “Over the past two years, European defence spending by Nato’s European member nations has shrunk by some 45 billion dollars – that is the equivalent of Germany’s entire annual defence budget,” Mr Rasmussen noted.

Nato itself is due to decide in June which command bases and local headquarters scattered across Europe to cut in a bid to lower its overall costs.

Nato’s new headquarters to cost €1 billion