Sections on today's Signs Page:
Editorial: Signs Economic Commentary
Signs of the Times
April 10, 2006
Gold closed at 592.70 dollars an ounce on Friday, after having broken the $600 mark earlier in the day, representing an increase of 1.6% from last week's $583.50 price. The dollar closed at 0.8269 euros on Friday, up 0.2% from 0.8252 at the end of the previous week. That put the euro at 1.2093 dollars, compared to 1.2118 the week before. Gold in euros, then would be 490.12 per ounce, up 1.8% from 481.52. Oil closed at 67.38 dollars a barrel Friday, up 1.6% from $66.35. Oil in euros would be 55.72 euros a barrel, up 1.8% from 54.75 the week before. The gold/oil ratio closed at 8.80, up 0.1% from 8.79 at the end of the previous week. In the U.S. stock market, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 11,120.04 on Friday, down 0.1% from 11,109.32 for the week. The NASDAQ closed at 2,339.02, virtually unchanged from 2,339.79. In U.S. interest rates, the yield on the ten-year U.S. Treasury note closed at 4.98%, up 13 basis points from 4.85 the week before.
Last week we looked at the high rate of corporate profits realized lately. With stocks strong, global growth rates high, and profits high, why does the economy feel so bad for most people? The following article contains some clues:
Profits surge to 40-year high
When will corporations spend some of their hoard?
By Rex Nutting, MarketWatch
Mar 30, 2006
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- U.S. corporate profits have increased 21.3% in the past year and now account for the largest share of national income in 40 years, the Commerce Department said Thursday.
Strong productivity gains and subdued wage growth boosted before-tax profits to 11.6% of national income in the fourth quarter of 2005, the biggest share since the summer of 1966. See full story.
For all of 2005, before-tax profits totaled $1.35 trillion, up from $1.16 trillion in 2004 and just $767 billion in 2001.
Meanwhile, the share of national income going to wage and salary workers has fallen to 56.9%. Except for a brief period in 1997, that's the lowest share for labor income since 1966.
"It's a big puzzle," said Josh Bivens, an economist for the Economic Policy Institute. "If this is a knowledge economy, how come the brains aren't being compensated? Instead, the owners of physical capital are getting the rewards."
Despite the flood of cash coming in the door, corporations are investing comparatively little in expanding their operations. Capital spending has been below average, especially considering the strength of the economy, the level of profits and the special tax breaks given to boost investment.
In the fourth quarter, business fixed investment increased just 4.5%. In the past year, investment has risen 6.8%. The growth rate has been falling for the past four quarters.
Some economists are counting on the corporate sector to pick up their investments in the coming year, to replace the economic stimulus that will be lost as the housing market cools.
Profits have been so high because almost all of the benefits from productivity improvements are flowing to the owners of capital rather than to the workers.
While profits are up 21.3% in the past year, labor compensation is up just 5.5%. After adjusting for inflation, population growth and taxes, real disposable per capita incomes are up just 0.5% in the past year.
The economy is good for the very top of the system, and it is bad for the rest of us and likely to get worse. Neoliberal economics has a hard time understanding exploitation. See this, for example from the New York Times:
The Economics of Henry Ford May Be Passé
April 5, 2006
HENRY FORD was 50 years old, and not all that different from a lot of other successful businessmen, when he summoned the Detroit press corps to his company's offices on Jan. 5, 1914. What he did that day made him a household name.
Mr. Ford announced that he was doubling the pay of thousands of his employees, to at least $5 a day. With his company selling Model T's as fast as it could make them, his workers deserved to share in the profits, he said.
His rivals were horrified. The Wall Street Journal accused him of injecting "Biblical or spiritual principles into a field where they do not belong." The New York Times correspondent who traveled to Detroit to interview him that week asked him if he was a socialist.
But the public loved it. The country was then suffering a deep recession, and the Ford news seemed to offer hope. Within 24 hours, 10,000 men were lined up outside the Ford employment office in Michigan. The following year, Mr. Ford was mentioned as a future presidential contender.
The mythology around this story holds that Mr. Ford wanted to pay his workers enough so they could afford the products they were making.
In fact, that wasn't his original reasoning. But others made the point, and, in time, it became part of Mr. Ford's rationale as well. The idea became a linchpin in an industrial philosophy known as Fordism.
More production could lead to better wages, which in turn would lead to more spending by the public, yet more production and eventually even higher wages.
"One's own employees ought to be one's own best customers," Mr. Ford said years later. "Paying high wages," he concluded, "is behind the prosperity of this country."
This turned into a pillar of 20th-century economic wisdom. It's time to ask, though, whether Mr. Ford's big idea is as ill suited to this century as his car company seems to be.
By any reasonable standard, the last few years have been bad ones for most people's paychecks. The average hourly wage of rank-and-file workers - a group that makes up 80 percent of the work force - is slightly lower than it was four years ago, once inflation is taken into account. That's right: Most Americans have taken a pay cut since 2002.
But you would never know it by looking at the headline numbers on economic growth. From the standpoint of the broad national economy - the value of the goods and services the country produces - the last few years have been stellar. Despite two wars, soaring oil prices and business scandals, the economy has been growing more than 3 percent a year.
Henry Ford would have no idea what to make of this.
What was so comforting about Fordism was that it suggested that the economy operated on a virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle. Only when the middle class did well could the country do well. And as the country grew ever richer, so would the middle class.
In the last few years, however, the economy has kept growing in large part because high-income families - the top 20 percent, roughly - have done so well and have been such devoted spenders. Globalization and new technology have helped many white-collar workers make more money, even as those same changes have closed factories and depressed wages for others. Stock portfolios and houses on the coasts, meanwhile, are much more valuable than they once were, making their owners more willing to spend.
In fact, well-off families, not cash-short ones, have been the ones increasing their borrowing and cutting their savings the most in recent years, according to the Federal Reserve. In 1992, the top fifth of households, as ranked by income, accounted for 42 percent of consumer spending. By 2000, the share had grown to almost 46 percent, and it is probably not much different today. That may sound like a small change, but it's an enormous amount of money, a shift of $300 billion a year in spending from the poor and middle class to the affluent.
In Michigan, Ford and General Motors have been cutting thousands of jobs, creating the country's sickest local economy and hurting even well-to-do suburbs. Yet the Suburban Collection, a car dealership north of Detroit, sold 90 Bentleys last year, up from 70 in 2004. David Butler, a manager there, said he expected to sell more than 100 Bentleys this year. The car costs at least $180,000. The dealership also opened a Lamborghini showroom in January. It is true that Rolls-Royces aren't selling very well, but the main reason seems to be that Mr. Butler's customers don't feel comfortable being seen in a $300,000 car when the state is suffering so badly. "It's not that they can't afford it," he said. "It's because of the image it would give."
Wages are likely to rise slightly in 2006, but stagnation seems to be the norm over the long term. Except for a span of a few years in the late 1990's, the hourly pay of most workers has done no better than inflation for the last 30 years. Even some Democrats, who have long embraced Fordism, are coming to the conclusion that Mr. Ford's reassuring cycle is not the only thing that can keep the American economy humming. "You don't need an equitable distribution to have a sustainable recovery," said Jared Bernstein, a liberal economist in Washington.
Politically, though, I am not so sure that the current trends are sustainable. Before the 1990's boom lifted wages, stagnating pay had helped cause a series of upheavals: Bill Clinton's election, the Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan phenomena, the Republican takeover of Congress. Today, with the boom fading from memory, protectionism is on the rise, and President Bush's approval ratings are miserable.
So it seems as if now would be a good time to start talking about what to do. There has never been a shortage of ideas: helping more teenagers to finish college, training middle-age workers to switch careers, embarking on public projects like better highways and high-speed trains. Or we could pretend it's still 1914.
I guess wanting all workers to be paid well means we think we are in 1914. To be 21st century, according to the New York Times, means to acquiesce in an economy based on a few rich families. The rest of us will be their servants. The logic is strange: because wages haven't been rising in the United States in the last thirty years, then there is nothing we can do about it, it is a fact of nature, and we should only try to re-train people to do jobs that are being offshored anyway.
In order to eliminate any successful model of high pay, strong economies, the globalizers, in coordinated action, are striking at the heart of social democratic Europe, going after French and German workers, perhaps the best-off in the world. The fact that large majorities in both countries favor maintaining social insurance and worker protection matters to ruling groups only to the extent that such support requires those directing change to change tactics:
CPE à la Merkel: Job protection laws to be gutted in Germany
By Dietmar Henning
4 April 2006
With millions of people in France taking to the streets against attacks on the job security of young people, the Grand Coalition government in Germany is quietly attempting to push through parliament its own version of the CPE (First Job Contract), with provisions that go far beyond those in France.
The coalition pact which the government parties - the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its sister organisation the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) - signed last year when they took office specified the extension of the current probationary period for new employees from six months to two years.
During the probationary period, employers can dismiss workers with two weeks' notice, without cause. The right to compensation or redundancy payments is more or less excluded. If the employment contract does not specify a probationary period, the general dismissal period (i.e., four weeks) applies.
At the heart of the French CPE is the establishment of a two-year probationary period during which employees 26 years of age and younger can be terminated without cause. The regulation specified in the German coalition pact is essentially the same, except that it would apply not only to young workers, but to all new hires, regardless of age.
The fact that no protests have occurred against this measure, and that most people are not even aware of its existence, is to be attributed to the German trade unions. They tacitly supported the creation of the Grand Coalition and are doing everything they can to prevent a mobilisation against it.
At the same time, the events in France are leaving their mark on Germany. On the one hand, the tough stance taken by the French government has encouraged the German employer associations and elements within the CDU and CSU to push for a more rapid dismantling of the social security system and the implementation of "reforms" outlined in the coalition pact. The SPD, on the other hand, is growing nervous over the prospect of mass resistance developing in Germany.
Speaking of Germany, Der Spiegel published an interview with Joseph Stiglitz about the true economic cost of the Iraq War:
Interview with Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz
"The War Is Bad for the Economy"
Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, 63, discusses the true $1 trillion cost of the Iraq conflict, its impact on the oil market and the questions of whether the West can afford to impose sanctions on Iran.
SPIEGEL: Professor Stiglitz, at the beginning of the Iraq war, the United States administration was hoping to almost break even in terms of the costs ...
Stiglitz: ... they truly believed the Iraqi people could use their oil revenues to pay for reconstruction.
SPIEGEL: And now you are estimating the cost of war at levels between $1 trillion and $2 trillion. How do you explain this difference?
Stiglitz: First, the war was much more difficult than President Bush and his government expected. They thought they were going to walk in, everybody would say thank you, and they would set up a democratic government and leave. Now that this war is lasting so much longer, they constantly have to adapt their budget. It rose from $50 billion to $250 billion. Today, the Congressional Budget Office talks about $500 billion or more for this adventure.
SPIEGEL: That's still by far lower than your own calculations.
Stiglitz: The reported numbers do not even include the full budgetary costs to the government. And the budgetary costs are but a fraction of the costs to the economy as a whole. And compare this to Gulf War number one, where America almost made a profit!
SPIEGEL: Because Germany paid for it?
Stiglitz: Because Germans paid, because everybody paid. We got our allies to pay full price for used equipment, and we got to refurbish our military. This time, most of the other countries were not willing to do so again.
SPIEGEL: Did Bush just miscalculate, or was he misleading the public about the true costs of war?
Stiglitz: I think it was both. He wanted to believe it was not going to be expensive, he wanted to believe it would be easy. But there's also enormous evidence now that information channels into the White House were distorted. Bush wanted only certain information, and that's mostly what they supplied him with. Larry Lindsey ...
SPIEGEL: ... the White House's former top economic adviser ...
Stiglitz: ... gave -- back in 2002 -- a number of up to $200 billion. I think that was the most accurate inside information at the time. He was dismissed. They didn't want to hear it.
SPIEGEL: In the US, the financial costs of war are seldom discussed. It used to be considered a sacrifice to achieve common goals. Why is it different today?
Stiglitz: This is not like a world war where you're attacked. We were attacked in Pearl Harbor, we had to respond. This time, we had a choice, we had to decide how and who we are going to attack ...
SPIEGEL: ... and if you can afford it.
Stiglitz: Well, we can afford it, that's not the issue. The issue is: $1 trillion or $2 trillion is a lot of money. If our objective is to have stability in the Middle East, secure oil, or extend democracy, you can do a lot of democracy buying for this sum. To put it in context: The whole world spends $50 billion a year on foreign aid. So what we're talking about is multiplying the foreign aid budget 20-fold. Wouldn't you say this could do more for peace and stability and security?
SPIEGEL: Bush would argue it's worth spending that much to decrease the probability of a major terrorist attack on the US.
Stiglitz: Nobody takes that seriously. Instead, most people think the Iraq war has increased the probability of an attack. However, it's difficult to put this aspect into financial terms.
SPIEGEL: How did you calculate the costs of the war?
Stiglitz: The official figures are only the tip of an enormous iceberg. For instance, one of the costs of the war is that soldiers today get very seriously injured but stay alive, and we can keep them alive but at an enormous price.
SPIEGEL: Is this the biggest item in your calculations?
Stiglitz: It's very important. The Bush administration has been doing everything it can to hide the huge number of returning veterans who are severely wounded -- 17,000 so far including roughly 20 percent with serious brain and head injuries. Even the estimate of $500 billion ignores the lifetime disability and healthcare costs that taxpayers will have to spend for years to come. And the administration isn't even generous with veterans, widows and their kids.
SPIEGEL: What does that mean?
Stiglitz: If you're injured in an automobile accident, and you sue the driver, you get much more for your injury than if you're fighting for your country. There's a double standard here. If you happen to put your life at risk fighting for your country, you get a little. If you walk across the street and get injured, you get a lot more. Similarly, payments for a dead soldier amount to only $500,000, which is far less than standard estimates of the lifetime economic cost of a death. This statistical value of a life in the US amounts to circa $6.5 million.
SPIEGEL: How much will a severely brain-damaged soldier cost the US government?
Stiglitz: My moderate estimate is about $4 million. For this group alone there will be a total cost of $35 billion that nobody is talking about. But look at the broader picture: The Veterans Administration originally projected that roughly 23,000 veterans returning from Iraq would seek medical care last year. But in June 2005, it revised this number to an estimated 103,000. No wonder the Veterans Administration had to appeal Congress for emergency funding of $1.5 billion last year.
SPIEGEL: If this is a $1 trillion war, why couldn't the US provide its soldiers with safer body armor and better protected vehicles?
STIGLITZ: Obviously, the US can afford to pay for body armor. Rumsfeld, our Secretary of Defense, said you have to fight with the armor you have, but that's unconscionable. The military is focusing only on the short run costs. If they don't provide appropriate body armor, they save some money today, but the healthcare cost is going to be the future for some other president down the line. I view that as both fiscally and morally irresponsible.
SPIEGEL: This war could have been both safer for the troops and cheaper for the country?
SPIEGEL: Is war no longer affordable even for countries as rich as the United States?
Stiglitz: You have to remember we are an economy of $13 trillion a year. The issue is not whether you can afford it but whether this is the way you want to spend your money. In using the limited resources that we have for fighting this war, we have less resources to do other things. You saw on your TV what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The Reserves or National Guard are usually the people we use for those national emergencies. They weren't here, they were over in Iraq, and so we were less protected.
SPIEGEL: Before the invasion of Iraq, the US administration said the best way to keep oil prices in check is a short and successful war. A barrel was at $25 at that time, and now it's over $60. What of this increase is due to Iraq?
Stiglitz: In our analysis about the cost of war, we only assumed a modest $5 to $10 caused by the war. We wanted to keep our study conservative, so no one would dispute our numbers, and no one did. But I believe that's a vast underestimation of the true cost.
SPIEGEL: But why? China and India are increasing their demand, real global growth has been going on. This is driving the prices.
Stiglitz: When demand rises so does supply -- that's how markets usually work. Now we're seeing that demand for oil is rising but we're not getting a commensurate increase in supply. And there's a simple answer, it's Iraq. But it's not just because it production has been down.
SPIEGEL: Why else?
Stiglitz: The Middle East is the lowest cost producer in the world. They can produce oil for $10, $15 or $20 a barrel. Now we have the technology to produce oil elsewhere for $35 to $45. But who wants to develop fields or invest in new technologies elsewhere if they know that in five years' time, the Middle East may be supplying oil at previous prices?
SPIEGEL: In other words, were peace and stability re-established in the Middle East, the oil price would be back to maybe $25, despite the huge global hunger for energy?
Stiglitz: Yes. By the way that's the price level oil traders were speculating on in futures trading before the outbreak of war.
SPIEGEL: There should be huge economic pressure on Bush to end this conflict.
Stiglitz: The only people benefiting in this war are Bush's friends in the oil industry. He has done the American economy and the global economy an enormous disfavor, but his Texan friends couldn't be happier. The price of oil is up, and they make money when the price of oil goes up. Their profits are at record levels.
SPIEGEL: You don't like this president very much.
Stiglitz: Oh, it's nothing personal. It's all about his politics.
SPIEGEL: There is an old saying: War is good for the economy.
Stiglitz: Listen, World War II was really unusual, because America was in the Great Depression before. So the war did help the US economy to get securely out of this decline. This time, the war is bad for the economy in both the short and long run. We could have spent trillions in research or education instead. This would have led to future productivity increases.
The liberal wing of the neoliberal movement always seems puzzled by events. It stems the fact that they don't understand malevolent exploitation. Stiglitz can detail the Bush administration's mistakes and profligacy with great effectiveness without understanding the deeper reasons, reasons may mean that seemingly stupid moves may actually have been shrewd ones. Here is Salon's Andrew Leonard on Stiglitz and Robert Reich, both liberal/left globalizers. Notice how they assume that those setting economic and trade policy have the best interests of their constituents at heart, when in fact they don't:
The zero-sum globalization game nightmare
Robert Reich asks Joseph Stiglitz a hard question.
Apr. 03, 2006
On Sunday, the New York Times finally got around to reviewing a book that I've been talking about here since January, Joseph Stiglitz and Andrew Charlton's "Fair Trade for All." Maybe the reviewer, Robert Reich, the former Clinton administration labor secretary, had issues with his deadline. But better late than never -- the review is excellent and it nails a point that has come up with increasing frequency in the ongoing conversation at How the World Works about globalization.
Specifically, Stiglitz and Charlton's vision for fair trade is one in which rich nations are obligated to open their markets to poorer nations, but poorer nations enjoy the privilege of protecting their markets against the rich. This is because rich nations can adapt much more effectively to the competition unleashed by free trade.
"Surprisingly, though Stiglitz has spent some years in Washington, he doesn't answer the obvious next question: How can this commendable agenda be sold to richer nations?" writes Reich. "Their political leaders are in a bind since so many of their own citizens are also losing jobs and experiencing declining incomes and, rightly or wrongly, blaming globalization for their plight. This is one of the major reasons the antiglobalization movement is as strong in the developed world as in the developing.
"While Stiglitz and Charlton nobly assert that trade agreements should be viewed as presumptively unfair if they bestow disproportionate benefits on richer nations, they fail to acknowledge that within richer nations free trade is already disproportionately benefiting the best educated and best connected. The wealthy are growing much wealthier while the middle class is being squeezed. In fact, the adjustment mechanisms the authors find lacking in most developing economies -- good public schools, modern infrastructure and adequate social safety nets -- are coming to be less and less available even in America. Free trade surely generates the gains Ricardo claimed for it. But until those gains are more widely shared -- within richer countries as well as between richer and poorer -- we can kiss any further round of trade liberalization goodbye."
I think it's unfair to assert that Stiglitz and Charlton fail to acknowledge the inequality of the distribution of benefits from free trade in the developed world. My own guess is that this is so mind-bendingly obvious to them that they don't feel the need to belabor it.
But Reich's review does set the table for a challenging question. Liberal economists like Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs have focused their energies on trying to make globalization work for the world's poorest regions. In doing so, they run the risk, like Stiglitz here, of demonstrating a lack of concern for the poor and less well-off in their own, highly developed nations. But finding a solution that responds to globalization's pressures, as Stiglitz suggested in the Nation last week, without "trying to enhance the well-being of our citizens at the expense of those abroad who are even poorer" is a desperately hard nut to crack.
In How the World Work's darker moments, we recall an epiphany experienced by Frank Holliwell, the protagonist in Robert Stone's great novel about the U.S. and Central America, "A Flag for Sunrise." Contemplating the mess made by the U.S. in Latin America, he fears that the affluence of the rich countries of the North requires the poverty of the poor nations of the South. In Holliwell's nightmare, globalization is a zero-sum game: Luxury in New York mandates starvation in Zambia.
There's got to be a better way.
The following AP article details a simple fact, one that can only be puzzling to those who don't understand greed and exploitation. If every economic trend of the past thirty years is concentrating wealth in fewer and fewer hands, the following should come as no surprise:
Labor Official Notes Pension Disparities
By WILL LESTER, Associated Press Writer
Thu Apr 6, 7:00 PM ET
The AFL-CIO, pushing for more federal regulation of lucrative corporate salaries and pensions, released information Thursday about some of the sweetest executive retirement deals in the country.
"As corporate America is slashing workers' pensions left and right, we think investors and the public should know about the huge pensions these CEOs are raking in," said Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO.
The labor federation, which represents more than 9 million workers, posted updated information about executive salaries and pensions on its Web site.
Trumka said average executive pay at a company on the Standard & Poor's 500 is already more than 400 times the average worker's wages. And many executives now get multimillion-dollar "supplemental executive retirement plans" at a time that many companies are cutting back on reliable "defined benefit" retirement plans for workers, he said.
Those retirement deals could run as high as $6.5 million annually and may not reflect a company's performance, Trumka said.
The AFL-CIO Web site, http://www.paywatch.org, looks at 25 of the richest executive pension plans in the country, based on research done with the Corporate Library.
Trumka said the Securities and Exchange Commission is pushing for more public disclosure of executive pay and other benefits, an area that has angered company investors. He noted that some companies that have cut worker retirement several times in recent years have some of the richest pension deals for their chief executive.
He urged union supporters to push the SEC to improve disclosure of executive pay and benefits. The labor federation, he said, is urging the SEC to also require companies to publicize their standards for tying strong job performance to executive pay.
On the economic collapse front, a disturbing news item surfaced yesterday in the Financial Times:
Europe simulates financial meltdown
By George Parker in Vienna
Sun Apr 9, 4:10 PM ET
Europe's financial regulators have held a "war game" exercise, simulating a continent-wide financial crisis, amid fears they are ill- prepared to stop a problem in one country spreading across borders.
The exercise involved simulating the collapse of a big bank with operations in several large countries to see whether the European Central Bank, national central banks and finance ministries could work together to contain the crisis.
It is understood the exercise took place at the headquarters of the ECB in Frankfurt at the end of last week. One person involved said: "It is like checking whether a nuclear power plant can survive a plane crashing into it."
The exercise took place on the eve of a meeting of European Union finance ministers and central bank chiefs in Vienna, at which the bloc's financial stability was high on the agenda. Officials at the meeting confirmed that ministers had discussed the ECB crisis management exercise.
The aim was to test the ability of national regulators to share information with other national bodies in a crisis and to overcome "differences in culture" and other practical obstacles. The results are being analysed and will be reported to the Ecofin council in June.
Europe's vulnerability to a cross-border financial crisis was revealed in a confidential report prepared by officials for the Ecofin council. Regulators are particularly worried about the risks to financial stability posed by the growth in hedge funds and credit derivatives.
It said that "progress has been insufficient in most of the member states" in putting in place national structures for crisis management, and urged national regulators to stage their own crisis simulation exercises.
The EU has rejected the creation of a single European financial regulator to manage cross-border risks, and has instead placed its faith in national authorities working together.
Last year regulators signed an agreement that they would share information openly and speedily in the event of a crisis in a national financial institution, in an attempt to stop the contagion spreading across Europe's single market.
The report submitted to the Ecofin council identified a possible housing market crash, a bird flu pandemic and high oil prices as potential sources of risk, but said that the situation in the banking sector was "solid".
However, the report warned that hedge funds and credit derivatives were sources of concern "as related risks remain opaque and they have become extremely relevant in assessing financial stability both across borders and across all financial sectors".
It said that, while hedge funds could contribute to market efficiency, they "can also be sources of systemic risks".
Credit derivatives markets were said to have grown by 128 per cent in 2005 compared with the previous year, with a nominal value of EU12,430bn ($14,900bn, £8,700bn) in June last year….
Comment on this Editorial
Editorial: America's "Noble" Cause: Preserving its Right to Murder, Exploit, Torture, and Impoverish with Impunity
by Jason Miller
America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between. - Oscar Wilde
"Why are we over there in Iraq?"
"To protect our freedoms."
"How are the Iraqis threatening our freedoms?"
"They attacked us on 9/11."
"If that is true, why are so many Americans against the war?"
"I don't know, but I think Cindy Sheehan and all the other war protestors should be rounded up and shot."
I was involved in this exchange with a co-worker about two months ago. I was utterly perplexed at how this individual managed the obvious cognitive dissonance created by thinking that we are fighting to protect our "freedoms" while simultaneously holding the notion that non-violent dissidents "should be rounded up and shot".
In retrospect, why was I so surprised? As a vehement critic of the United States government's foreign and domestic policies, I have received numerous death threats from "patriotic" loyalists to the American Empire over the last year. Recently, a severely brain-washed US resident who maintains a site called American Jihad issued a "Farwa" (his spelling) against the editors of Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, and Uruknet and against dissident writers Mike Whitney and Kurt Nimmo. Many of my essays have appeared on Dissident Voice and Uruknet, so I suppose I am a target of the "Farwa" too.
Violent Extremists Abound
While many death threats issued by American hate-mongers may be hollow, the nations of the Middle East do not have the market cornered on fanatical ideologues who commit acts of terror. Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, Michael Griffin, Paul Hill, Ted Kaczynski, Baruch Goldstein, David Lane, Donald DeFreeze, Clayton Waagner and Earl Krugel are but a few of America's home-grown violent extremists. America, and often components of its government, have a history of assassinating dissidents who become too powerful as they pursue equality and human rights. Fred Hampton, Malcolm X, RFK, MLK, and Paul Wellstone each met a premature demise which ended their efforts to introduce real social justice into the Empire.
Your Mind is our Vessel
Actually, I suspect many of the ardent supporters of the American Empire truly believe that they are preserving and spreading noble principles like freedom, democracy, equality, and human rights. There is no shortage of propaganda to convince them of this "fact". Delusions and illusions "generously" provided by the corporate-controlled mainstream media afford Empire loyalists with the opportunity to avoid the burden of independent thinking. Sound-bites, canards, propaganda, stereo-types, and white-washed versions of the truth supply their programmed minds with a virtually endless loop of rationalizations to justify their approbation of a morally reprehensible entity.
People who continue to nurse at the bosom of Lady Liberty, the noble symbol of an imaginary land which has never existed, rail against those who seek peace, social and economic justice, and human rights. In their perverse worldview, health care, safety, ample nourishment, and adequate shelter are reserved for a select segment of the population in the Empire's homeland. Those of us who believe in a more just and equitable world are indeed a threat to the oppressive capitalist imperialism of the United States. To perpetuate the Empire's military dominance and parasitic exploitation of humanity, our attempts to awaken and rally the masses must be stopped by any means necessary.
Often accusing proponents of a more just and humane world of seeking "entitlements" for the poor and oppressed, the foot soldiers of the Empire are actually struggling with virtually every fiber of their being to preserve what they believe to be their own entitlements. Since the concept of "might making right" reinforces their belief that their "special rights" supersede the Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is time to identify and enumerate these exclusive privileges:
Inalienable Rights of Select Citizens of the American Empire
1. We have the right to pre-emptively attack the nation or region of our choice simply based on our belief that they may be a threat to the Empire. No evidence necessary.
2. We have established and will maintain the right to murder an unlimited number of innocent civilians so long as our military machine does the killing and we label the victims as "collateral damage".
3. We have the right to label whomever we choose as "terrorists" or "enemy combatants" and to hold them indefinitely without a trial.
4. We are exempt from the Geneva Conventions and have the right to commit acts of torture or to rendition our unconvicted prisoners to other countries which will torture them.
5. We have the right to continue glorifying and justifying the land theft and genocide we committed against Native Americans.
6. We have the right to continue to claiming we are the "leader of the free world" when slavery was a legal institution in our nation until the Civil War, women were not able to vote until the Twentieth Century, institutionalized segregation existed until the 1960's, and we deny 5% of our population (Gays and Lesbians) equal rights and protection under the Constitution.
7. We have the right to sell ourselves as a "democracy" despite the fact that we are a constitutional republic, and despite the fact that corporate interests, lobbyists, wealthy campaign donors, and Israel shape most of our foreign and domestic policy.
8. We have the right to bill ourselves as a "bastion of human rights" (and thus justify our imperial interventions) despite the fact that we have the highest prison population in the world, we have a government which tortures on a wide scale, and we are one of the few "developed" nations which metes out the death penalty.
9. We have the right to hoard the largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction in the history of humankind while prohibiting other nations from possessing such weapons. We also are the only nation with the right to employ WMD's on a wide scale, as evidenced by our annihilation of over 100,000 Japanese civilians.
10. We have the right to plunder 25% of the world's resources to provide for a scant 5% of the world's population, while blustering that if the rest of the world embraced laissez-faire capitalism, they could reap the same bountiful harvest. (Forget the mathematical impossibilities involved. Those just get in the way of the propaganda!)
11. We have the right to continue to empower multi-national corporations with the rights of person-hood, limit their exposure to criminal prosecution and civil suits, and to enable them to exploit human beings in other nations. As long as our corporate friends are showing a profit, they can operate sweat-shops, facilitate the murder of labor agitators, maintain monopolies, off-shore American jobs while exploiting the foreign workers who take them, avoid paying taxes by setting up "shell headquarters" in places like Bermuda, destroy the environment, and continue the race to the bottom in wages and benefits, here and abroad.
12. We have the right to maintain and enhance a socio-economic system that places a significant portion of the world's wealth in the hands of about 3 million people (approximately one percent of the US population). Tax cuts and an end to estate taxes will ensure that the Empire's plutocracy perpetuates its reign. We have the right to foster a malevolent world economic order which results in 3 billion human beings living on less than $2 per day.
13. We have the right to account for half of the world's military expenditures to "provide for the common defense" of 5% of the world's population while 46 million of our people have no health insurance, 13% of the overall American population lives in poverty, over a million are homeless, an alarmingly high percentage of Black America suffers poverty and receives a pathetic education, and crises like New Orleans result in passive mass murder and diasporas of "undesirables".
14. We have the right to send military recruiters into public schools. Our recruiters have access to student addresses and phone numbers and we pay them to use propaganda and financial incentives to entice our youth into sacrificing themselves for the latest imperial crusade.
15. We have the right to accrue as much public and personal debt as we deem "necessary" to perpetuate the American Dream for our nation and to satiate our personal obsessions with acquiring material possessions.
16. We have the right to impose our hollow, shallow, and violent cultural values on a world cowed into acceptance by the raw military and economic power of the American Empire.
17. We have the right to spy on our citizens, eliminate habeas corpus, and contract private companies like Blackwater to avoid the constraints of posse comitatus. It is of no concern to us that our actions seriously conflict with the US Constitution.
18. We have the right to produce 25% of greenhouse gasses, ignore and discount mounting evidence of global warming, and refuse to sign the Kyoto Treaty.
19. We have the right to malign, threaten, intimidate, or kill those within the Empire who have the audacity to question or oppose our agenda.
20. We have the right to maintain a corrupt Duopoly consisting of the Republican and Democratic Parties, which consistently present American voters with candidates whose goals are to perpetuate the Empire and the agendas of its corporate and plutocratic leaders.
21. We have the right to use the IMF and World Bank to impose our economic will on "developing" nations which we "help" by burdening them with crushing debt.
22. We have the right to ignore and violate international law while demanding that the rest of the world (excepting Great Britain and Israel) adhere to it stringently.
23. We have the right to subsidize and support Israel's ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.
24. We have the right to concentrate the power of the United States government in the hands of the Executive Branch under the pretext that it is necessitated by the "War on Terror".
25. We have the right to label those who dare to oppose our invasions or genocides as savages or terrorists and strip them of their human rights.
There you have it. Now the American Empire's principal supporters and beneficiaries have their own "Bill of Rights". Ironically, it has more than twice the number of rights guaranteed to all Americans under the original Constitutional Amendments. Since the true Bill of Rights is anathema to their cause, it is essential that the Empire loyalists' "special rights" outnumber the rights protected by our Constitution.
A Severe Spiritual Malady
Certainly believing in America's and its supporters' entitlement to these "special rights" would qualify one as a sociopath (one with minimal concern for the welfare and feelings of others) within the world community. However, in the American Empire, those subscribing to such depraved and self-centered "rights" receive affirmation and acceptance.
Obviously this Bill of Rights II is my construct and does not formally exist. However, each of the entitlements I enumerated is necessary to enable the United States to exist in its current perverse form. If you truly support and pledge allegiance to the American Empire, this Bill of Rights II represents the core of your sociopolitical beliefs.
For those of you who embrace the notion that Divine Providence bestowed these "inalienable rights" upon you and your nation, I call upon you to search your souls. I challenge you to do a long and fearless moral inventory. If you do, and the maleficent elements of the United States of America have not managed to burn your conscience out of your psyche, I predict you will begin the journey to rejoin the brotherhood of humanity by renouncing your support of the American Empire.
If you are so narcissistic (or perhaps morally bereft) that you have no problem with the means by which the American Empire sustains its unregenerate existence, at least consider a pragmatic angle. The United States is pursuing a ruthless course which will eventually lead to a fierce and violent backlash, which will probably affect you. The 6.2 billion other members of the human race are only going to accept so much abuse before they strike back in a powerful way.
Jason Miller is a 39 year old sociopolitical essayist with a degree in liberal arts and an extensive self-education. When he is not spending time with his wife and three sons, researching, or writing, he is working as a loan counselor. He is a member of Amnesty International and an avid supporter of Oxfam International and Human Rights Watch. He welcomes responses at firstname.lastname@example.org or comments on his blog, Thomas Paine's Corner, at http://civillibertarian.blogspot.com/.
Comment on this Editorial
Editorial: "It Can't Happen Here" Edition
April 7, 2006
The Center for an Informed America
At the risk of offending anyone out there, I really need to ask a question here: what the hell is the matter with you people? And by "you people," I don't mean specifically the regular readers of these newsletters, but rather the American people in general. So to all you John and Jane Q. Publics out there, let me rephrase the question: what the hell does it take to get a reaction out of you?
I realize, of course, that there has been a serious dumbing-down of American society and culture over the years. And I realize that government operatives have virtually complete control over the flow of information, so that virtually every thing you read, hear or see is, at best, an approximation of reality. And I realize that you have been systematically conditioned, over the course of many decades, to revere the institutions of this society - the very same institutions whose spokesmen are routinely called upon to serve you up a nice steaming platter of lies.
None of that, however, fully explains the near complete paralysis of the American people as a whole. So let me ask the question once again: what the hell does it take to get a reaction out of you? Let's quickly run through a partial list of things that, thus far, have failed to inspire you to summon your inner Howard Beales: two consecutive stolen presidential elections; back-to-back wars, both of them unprovoked and brazenly illegal, with more on the horizon; the deaths of well over two thousand of your sons and daughters in Central Asia and the Middle East, and the maiming and disfiguring of thousands more; the ongoing slaughter of tens of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis; countless corporate/political scandals directly tied to the Bush mob; diligent efforts by a veritable army of 9-11 skeptics (including a growing list of people that some of you might find more credible than us wacky Internet 'conspiracy theorists') to convince you that the official story of the 'terrorist' attacks of September 11 is a nothing more than a fairy tale; passage of the Patriot Act, and various other attacks on your civil, privacy, and due process rights; the entirely preventable deaths of an unknown number of people in New Orleans; military occupation of southern Louisiana; sanctioning of secret military tribunals; revelations of the widespread use of, and official sanction of, various forms of torture; getting slapped in the face with the Abu Ghraib photos; indefinite, warrantless detentions without access to legal counsel; illegal domestic surveillance; open witch-hunting of 'liberal' members of academia (though it is perfectly acceptable for a former Phoenix Program assassin and torturer to educate your children); gross invasions of your privacy - at airports, at sporting events, when entering many public buildings, even when sitting at home on your computer; massive cuts in social spending, even while hundreds of billions of dollars are spent waging war and militarizing domestic law enforcement; massive tax cuts that primarily benefit corporate America; the steady erosion of the nation's education and healthcare systems; trashing of the environment and environmental protections; the accumulation of an almost unfathomable level of debt; and the act of grand theft masquerading as Medicare 'reform.'
Through all of this and more, you have sat silently by. So again I must ask: what the hell will it take? How much worse does it have to get? How much worse will you allow it to get? And if you continue to sit by and do nothing, who do you think is going to save you from the increasingly bleak future we face? Who do you think is going to stop all the madness for you?
Amazingly enough, some of you actually seem to believe that a 'censure' resolution is the answer to the nation's woes, as if a firm pronouncement of "Bad George!" - perhaps coupled with a swat with a rolled-up newspaper - will effect a drastic change in the national landscape. Others seem to think that impeachment proceedings will rid the country of its diseased organs, but how you have convinced yourselves of such a bizarre notion is beyond my level of understanding. I know that a lot of phony 'progressive' websites regularly offer up such claims as some sort of political pacifier, but that doesn't mean that you have to eagerly suckle that teat.
Who do you think is going to conduct impeachment proceedings, or pass a censure resolution? The venerable United States Congress? The very same Congress that just overwhelmingly passed an extension of the Patriot Act? As I recall, when the act was first passed, you dutifully bought into the lie that many of the congressmen who voted "Aye" did so only because they hadn't had time to actually read the legislation. Buying into that lie, of course, allowed you to preserve your image of Congress as some sort of effective counterbalance to the gang in the White House. But four years, one would think, should have been adequate time for even the slowest readers among our elected representatives to catch up on what it was that they passed into law.
So I'm curious to know: what sort of mental gymnastics are required to still view this Congress as a body interested in, or capable of, reigning in this administration?
What actions by this Congress give you hope for the future? The regular allocation of tens of billions in additional dollars to fund an illegal war based on fully-exposed lies? The moves to retroactively legalize Bush's illegal domestic surveillance programs? The Medicare 'reform' bill? The bankruptcy 'reform' bill? The sterling work done investigating the 9-11 attacks and the unnatural disaster in New Orleans? The routine rubber-stamping of reactionary political appointees? The fast-tracking of 'free trade' legislation, predictably coupled with the wholesale 'outsourcing' of jobs and widespread attacks on wages and benefits? The fact that, for five years, this Congress has marched in total lockstep with the Bush administration, sparing King George the trouble of having to veto a single piece of legislation?
Trust me when I say that I too would like to hold onto a glimmer of hope that America's cancer can be excised through normal political channels, so please tell me what it is that I am missing? What is it that you so desperately cling to? Is it the occasional meaningless posturing by the likes of Russ Feingold, John McCain, Ron Paul, and Harry Reid? Is it because there are occasionally a few token dissenters in the crowd when Congress votes on a major piece of legislation? Or is it because you think that the midterm elections are going to magically usher in a new Congress with a new mindset? Are you one of those who hold out hope that elections are going to fix things? Have you convinced yourself that as long as you show up at your polling place every two years, you are doing your part to halt the headlong plunge into overt fascism?
Some of you think we can just ride out these bad times for a few more years, until the next presidential election rolls around, when some great and wise Democrat will take office and miraculously roll back the landscape to the way it was before the bad men came riding into town. Of course, you held out that same hope leading up to the 2004 elections, because you knew, with a certainty, that the American people were not going to confirm the appointment of this would-be president. And you were right. But guess what? It didn't matter, because it had already been established that in the twenty-first century, election results need not correlate with actual votes cast.
And so you watched it happen once again - after patiently waiting for four years to deliver your message to Washington, you watched passively as another presidential election was stolen in broad daylight - and now you sit back and wait once again. You wait for Hillary Clinton to come and save the day, because you see a Hillary presidency as a backdoor way to get your hero, Bill Clinton, back in the White House. But as I noted just a few newsletters ago, it becomes more obvious with each passing week that Bill and Hillary are wearing Team Bush jerseys. Just weeks after posting that newsletter, it was revealed (albeit discretely) that your hero, Bill Clinton, was a key player working behind the scenes to facilitate his buddy George's Dubai ports deal.
And yet still you hold out hope, just as you held out hope that George's Skull & Bones fraternity brother (seen here cozying up to another kindred spirit, the late Anton LaVey of the Church of Satan) would end the madness. You hold out hope even though all the Democratic Party's potential presidential contenders have demonstrated repeatedly that they will only attack Bush from the political right. They will not question the underlying legitimacy of the 'War on Terrorism,' they will only assert that that 'war' is not being waged aggressively enough. And they will not question the legality of the war in Iraq, they will only question how that war is being waged.
None of the outrages committed by this administration, either individually or collectively, have awakened you from your slumber, so I seriously doubt that there is anything that I could reveal here that would provide the necessary wake-up call. Nevertheless, I will give it my best shot.
What if I were to tell you, for starters, that our benevolent leaders have already got the ball rolling on an ambitious plan to build concentration camps? Right here on American soil! You would, of course, laugh heartily as you dismissed such sensational claims as the product of the overactive imagination of some Internet crackpots - which is exactly why I'm not going to tell you any such thing. Instead, I'm going to let Halliburton break the news to you, in the form of a press release issued on January 24, 2006. You can read it for yourself if you like; it's posted on the company's website. If you stop by for a visit, this is what you'll find:
ARLINGTON, Virginia - KBR announced today that its Government and Infrastructure division has been awarded an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract to support the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities in the event of an emergency. KBR is the engineering and construction subsidiary of Halliburton (NYSE:HAL).
With a maximum total value of $385 million over a five-year term, consisting of a one-year based period and four one-year options, the competitively awarded contract will be executed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District ... The contract, which is effective immediately, provides for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing ICE Detention and Removal Operations (DRO) Program facilities in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs. The contingency support contract provides for planning and, if required, initiation of specific engineering, construction and logistics support tasks to establish, operate and maintain one or more expansion facilities.
The contract may also provide migrant detention support to other U.S. Government organizations in the event of an immigration emergency, as well as the development of a plan to react to a national emergency, such as a natural disaster.
Since there is little indication that America is about to be bum-rushed by "an emergency influx of immigrants," it seems safe to say that the real purpose of these 'detention centers' is to "support the rapid development" of these mysterious, unspecified "new programs." It doesn't take much reading between the lines to recognize that the "new programs" will involve mass detentions following the next disaster to strike the country, whether it be real or imagined, and whether it be of natural or unnatural origins.
The good news here is that, should you find yourself suddenly occupying a room at Guantanamo on the Pacific, you won't have to worry about having a lot of idle time on your hands. That's because the U.S. Army has an ambitious Civilian Inmate Labor Program in effect that you can read all about right here:
http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/r210_35.pdf. As you can see, this report, direct from the Headquarters of the Department of the Army, "provides guidance for establishing and managing civilian inmate labor programs on Army installations. It [also] provides guidance on establishing prison camps on Army installations."
As I'm sure you'll agree, this sounds like a really great program. First of all, it insures that all the shuttered military bases in the country will still provide a benefit to society. And it provides an answer to that vexing question: in this time of greatly increased militarism, why all the base closures in recent years? Turns out they make great forced-labor camps. And everyone wins: the Army is provided with "a source of labor at no direct cost to Army installations to accomplish tasks that would not be possible otherwise due to the manning and funding constraints under which the Army operates," and you, the inmate, are "provid[ed] meaningful work."
Think of the possibilities here, folks: one day you're out demonstrating against a clearly illegal and immoral war, and the next day you're doing the Army's shit work at a military base cum concentration camp!
Due to your new employer's "funding constraints," brought on by the difficulty of operating with a paltry annual budget of less than half a trillion dollars, "the Army is not interested in, nor can afford, any relationship with a corrections facility if that relationship stipulates payment for civilian inmate labor," so it's a pretty safe bet that you won't be getting paid. In fact, your new employer will pretend that you don't really work there at all: "Inmates are not Department of Army employees and are not regarded as such. Inmates must not be referred to as employees. They will not be paid from Department of the Army funds, nor receive any personal or private gratuity for work accomplished or services rendered. Interservice, interagency, or interdepartmental support agreements and/or memoranda of agreement with the corrections facility must not create any appearance of employment of inmates."
This DoD program ostensibly applies only to federal inmates, but there are numerous loopholes that allow for state and local inmates to be drafted into a little forced labor as well. In fact, the program appears to provide incentive for a massive expansion of the number of state and local inmates (already the highest in the world, both in absolute numbers and on a per capita basis). "Inmate labor programs using State and local civilian inmates," you see, is allowed if said inmates are drawn from "on-post prison camps." And "Section 2667, Title 10, United States code governing leases of DoD property allows acceptance of inmate labor as payment in kind for real property leased to correctional systems for use as prison camps."
In other words, any correctional entity can acquire facilities in which to incarcerate you at no cost. So, like I said, everyone wins with this arrangement: the Army gets a steady supply of free slave labor, the correctional system gets free space to house additional inmates, and you are given meaningful employment. Sounds like a sweet deal for everyone.
In addition to the Civilian Inmate Labor Program, the Department of Defense has also drafted an ambitious new Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support. In the Foreword, we find that "Protecting the United States from direct attack is the highest priority of the Department of Defense." This is apparently a new policy, since the Defense Department obviously did nothing to protect the United States either before or during what were purportedly "direct attacks" on the United States on September 11, 2001. Reading on, we learn that "The military has traditionally secured the United States by projecting power overseas. While our current missions abroad continue to play a vital role for the security of our Nation, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 emphasized that we are confronting fundamentally different challenges from those faced during the Cold War."
Different challenges, of course, require different responses. The "terrorists," you see, seek to "exploit the openness of our society to their advantage." Even with all the changes we have seen in the last several years, our society is apparently still entirely too open. The solution to this problem, according to the Pentagon, is to take the military power that we have traditionally projected overseas, and project it right here in the
Fatherland Homeland. What we need is an "active, layered defense" that is "global, seamlessly integrating US capabilities in the forward regions of the world, the global commons of space and cyberspace, in the geographic approaches to US territory, and within the United States. It is a defense in depth."
Ahh, yes, what we need is military control of everything - the nation, the world, the heavens, and the cyber world. What we need to do is create a world where 'terrorists,' as well as garden-variety dissidents and other persons-of-interest, will have no place to run and no place to hide. Because we are, you see, "a nation at war, a war whose length and scope may be unprecedented." To keep pace with this changing and dangerous world, the "DoD will continue to transform US military forces to execute homeland defense missions in the forward regions, approaches, US homeland, and global commons."
The DoD wants us to know that the "Department of Defense is responsible for homeland defense," and the "Department is prepared to conduct homeland defense missions whenever the President, exercising his constitutional authority as Commander in Chief, authorizes military action." The DoD also wants us to know that it "maintains land forces capable of responding rapidly, when so directed, to threats against DoD personnel, defense critical infrastructure, or other domestic targets." Among other duties, these land forces can be used "to support civilian law enforcement in responding to civil disturbances," or to provide "critical CBRNE [chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive mass casualty attacks] consequence management capabilities in support of civil authorities ... DoD must therefore equip and train these war-fighting forces, as necessary, for domestic CBRNE consequence management."
So the plan, it would appear, is to call in combat troops to deal with a variety of domestic situations, including "civil disturbances" and "manag[ing] the consequences of an attack or a disaster." As we all remember from last summer, the DoD and the DHS have already run practice drills in the state of Louisiana, with rather predictable results.
In addition to the illegal domestic deployment of U.S. military forces, the Pentagon's plan for Total War also includes a massive amount of "information sharing across traditional military-civilian boundaries." Already in the works are the development of "automated tools to improve data fusion, analysis, and management, to track systematically large amounts of data, and to detect, fuse, and analyze aberrant patterns of activity," as well as the development of "capabilities to cue, surveil, identify, engage, and access potential threats in real time. Detection and tracking capabilities must be all-weather, around-the-clock, and effective against moving targets."
The grave threat we face today - as opposed to the rather quaint threat of global nuclear annihilation that we faced during the Cold War - "necessitates an unprecedented degree of shared situational awareness among Federal agencies, with state, local, tribal, and private entities, and between the United States and its key foreign partners." Note that the inclusion of "private entities" on the information sharing list is undoubtedly a reference to quasi-governmental paramilitary groups like the infamous Blackwater, which has already been deployed domestically in New Orleans. Note also that, throughout Latin America and other parts of the world, "information sharing" with such mercenary groups has usually involved corrupt governments supplying hit lists and/or round-up lists.
What?! Death squads? People gone missing in the middle-of-the-night? Here?! In America?! Why, that's just absurd! Things like that can't happen here, in the land of the free and the home of the brave!
That is what you're thinking, isn't it? That is the thought that you have always used to comfort yourself. As long as you can remain firm in your commitment to the idea that nothing truly bad can happen in the greatest nation on earth, then you can continue to ignore all evidence to the contrary. It doesn't matter that Halliburton has announced that it has a contract to build detention centers, because you know that the notion of concentration camps in America is absurd. It doesn't matter that the Army is operating a Civilian Inmate Labor Program, because you know that the very idea of forced-labor camps in America is ridiculous. It doesn't matter that the Department of Defense has drafted an ambitious plan to deploy military forces domestically, because you know that the Posse Comitatus Act forbids any such thing.
Not too many years ago, your list of things that "can't happen here" probably included indefinite 'detentions' in horrendous conditions without access to legal counsel. It probably also included the official endorsement of torture and assassination as 'war' fighting tools. It undoubtedly included the domestic deployment of military forces and mercenaries to deal with the aftermath of a hurricane. And it surely included the installation of an illegitimate president through massive voter fraud and Supreme Court intervention. It probably even included open pronouncements that America is now in a state of endless war.
None of that could happen here - you said so yourself, if I recall correctly - but all of it and more already has. Concentration camps and forced labor camps can't happen here, but the plans have already been drawn up and the contracts have already been awarded. How many more things that "can't happen here" have to happen before you come to terms with the fact that America does not have some sort of invisible shield around it that protects you from the evils that befall other nations? Before you answer, let's take a look at some of the other ways that the Pentagon is keeping America safe from the ever-present threat of 'terrorism.'
According to the Strategy for Homeland Defense report, the DoD will "ensure persistent wide-area surveillance and reconnaissance of the US maritime approaches," which will, of course, "require that Navy forces be placed under periodic command and control of US Northern Command as appropriate." That seems fair. After all, if we've already signed up the Army, the Air Force, the Department of Homeland Security, Blackwater, and federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement entities, it wouldn't be right to deny the Navy the opportunity to do some domestic policing.
Reading on through the DoD report, we learn that "Implementation of the Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support may require several new technological investments. Three areas of particular interest for further exploration are advanced information and communications technology, new generations of sensors, and non-lethal capabilities."
"The placement of sensors on high altitude platforms," we are told, "including new generations of unmanned aerial vehicles, satellites, and aerostats, could allow sustained surveillance of wide areas of the earth's surface." The Pentagon is also working feverishly to develop "an urban surveillance system that would use computers and thousands of cameras to track, record and analyze the movement of every vehicle in a city. Named 'Combat Zones That See,' the project is designed to help the U.S. military protect its troops abroad and fight in cities overseas. Police, scientists and privacy experts say the unclassified technology could be adapted easily to spy on Americans. The CTS' centerpiece is groundbreaking computer software that is capable of automatically identifying vehicles by size, color, shape and license tag, or drivers and passengers by face ... The project is being overseen by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is helping the Pentagon develop technologies for combating terrorism and fighting wars in the 21st century. Its other projects include developing software that scans databases of everyday transactions and personal records worldwide to predict terrorist attacks and creating a computerized diary that would record and analyze everything a person says, sees, hears, reads or touches."
As for so-called non-lethal weapons, "potential application to homeland defense missions include: counter-personnel technology, used to deny entry into a particular area, temporarily incapacitate individuals or groups, and clear facilities, structures, and areas," and "counter-material technology, to disable, neutralize, or deny an area to vehicles, vessels, and aircraft, or disable particular items of equipment." In other words, what is referred to as 'non-lethal technology' is actually crowd-control technology. And 'terrorists' don't, as far as I know, tend to gather in crowds. Angry Americans tend to gather in crowds, for the purpose of exercising their alleged constitutional right to assemble. Or at least they should.
Over the last several years, New Scientist magazine has taken a look at some of this emerging crowd-control technology. In June 2004, the publication revealed that "Weapons that can incapacitate crowds of people by sweeping a lightning-like beam of electricity across them are being readied for sale to military and police forces in the US and Europe. At present, commercial stun guns target one person at a time, and work only at close quarters. The new breed of non-lethal weapons can be used on many people at once and operate over far greater distances." As the manufacturer of one of these weapons systems gushed, "We will be able to fire a stream of electricity like water out of a hose at one or many targets in a single sweep." (http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn6014)
In March 2005, we learned that the "US military is funding development of a weapon that delivers a bout of excruciating pain from up to 2 kilometres away. Intended for use against rioters, it is meant to leave victims unharmed. But pain researchers are furious that work aimed at controlling pain has been used to develop a weapon. And they fear that the technology will be used for torture." The explicit goal of the research is to create a weapon capable of causing "the maximum pain possible." (New Scientist)
Returning once again to the Pentagon strategy paper, we find that the Department of Defense will "identify opportunities to share appropriate non-lethal capabilities with domestic law enforcement agencies." The Pentagon, it seems, is all about sharing. And that's a good thing, since these weapons systems will certainly come in handy at those times when batons, pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, bean bags and tasers just aren't enough to break up a legally assembled crowd of pissed-off American citizens.
Elsewhere on the technology front, "A scientist funded by the US government has deliberately created an extremely deadly form of mousepox, a relative of the smallpox virus, through genetic engineering. The new virus kills all mice even if they have been given antiviral drugs as well as a vaccine that would normally protect them. The work has not stopped there. The cowpox virus, which infects a range of animals including humans, has been genetically altered in a similar way ... the research brings closer the prospect of pox viruses that cause only mild infections in humans being turned into diseases lethal even to people who have been vaccinated." (New Scientist) (For much more on 'emerging technologies,' see Sunshine Project. I would provide some excerpts here, but the report really should be read in its entirety to fully grasp all the disturbing avenues of research currently being conducted in US labs, including the development of ethnic-specific biological weapons, weapons aimed at wiping out food supplies, reproductive control weapons, and the resurrection of the Spanish Flu, last seen wiping out some 20-40 million people.)
So there you have it, folks: concentration camps, forced labor, martial law, global surveillance, sadistic forms of crowd control, genocidal biological weapons - all this and more is looming in the not-too-distant future. And our trusty servants in Washington will have no trouble finding some handy justification for fully activating and expanding these programs. A seemingly natural disaster, such as an earthquake or hurricane, could serve as the trigger. So too could another 'terrorist' attack, and the Homeland Defense report promises us that more are coming: "Terrorists will seek and potentially gain surreptitious entry into the United States to conduct mass casualty attacks against Americans on US soil ... Terrorists and/or rogue states will attempt multiple, simultaneous mass casualty attacks against the US homeland."
These triggering events could themselves be triggered by any sudden increase in the anger level of average Americans. Because the truth is, you see, that beneath all the bluster and arrogance, the Washington gang is terrified of you. It's hard to believe, I know, but it is true nonetheless. Even though you have sit idly by while your beloved Constitution and Bill of Rights have been thoroughly trampled over, the powers-that-be view you as a sleeping giant that, if fully awakened, is capable of laying waste to their cherished plans.
Although they have convinced you that you are utterly powerless, they know that that is not the case. They know that they would not be able to contain the seething anger of the masses should it ever fully surface. They know the fury that will be unleashed should the dormant beast awaken to the fact it has been deliberately and systematically lied to. And they fear that some day soon one of their provocations will awaken you.
They will never let you see that fear, of course, for to do so would shatter the illusion that they are omnipotent and you are powerless to resist. But the fear is there, lurking just beneath the arrogant façade. In Washington, in the halls of academia, and in the newsrooms of Fox and CNN and ABC and NBC and CBS, the fear is palpable. It can be found in all the institutions of society that are complicit in serving you up your daily portion of lies.
Their greatest fear is facing the beast at full strength, for they know that if that day of reckoning ever comes, there will be hell to pay for their transgressions against the American people. And so they try to weaken the beast while it lies dormant - by demoralizing it, and by breaking it up into smaller, more manageable pieces, preferably pieces that can be played against each other. And as long as the American people continue to play along, by allowing Washington to dictate the rules of this game, the beast will remain too weak to fight back against the considerable oppressive powers of the state.
The rest of the world has a better understanding of how this game must be played. Turn on your television set and you might catch a glimpse of a few million French citizens taking to the streets to express their anger at their government's labor policies. Turn to another channel and you might see half-a-million Latino immigrants marching through the streets of Los Angeles to protest proposed immigration reforms. And yet the American people, as a whole, cannot summon the energy to take to the streets even as your sons and daughters are being fed into the meat grinder in Iraq.
Make no mistake about it: those images from Paris and Los Angeles scare the shit out of the criminals in Washington, as can be discerned from the tone of the news coverage provided by the Western media. They look at those masses of humanity and begin picturing such scenes in every big city across this nation. And then they imagine public anger becoming so widespread that they begin to lose control of the militarized law enforcement agencies all across the country that they rely upon to keep the masses at bay.
So what's it going to be, people? Are you going to continue to sit passively in the bleachers, or are you going to take to the streets in numbers previously unseen on these shores? Are you going to initiate a general strike and shut corporate America down? Are you going to storm the offices of all the major media outlets and let the opinion-shapers know that aiding and abetting the criminals in Washington is itself a crime, and one that has severe consequences?
Is it not your responsibility to act to protect your children if they are in danger? And can we not agree that virtually all of the key figures in the media are not merely messengers, as we are to believe, but rather highly-paid propagandists for the State? And can we not also agree that the propaganda being sold poses a direct threat to our children's futures? If a 'common criminal,' so to speak, were posing a direct and very serious threat to your children's safety, would you sit idly by doing nothing?
Is it not perfectly obvious that we would not be in our current predicament if we had anything resembling a free and independent press? Washington would still harbor a desire to implement an overtly fascist agenda, to be sure, but without a compliant media machine to obscure the truth and shape public opinion, those plans would remain but a dream. Without a compliant media, we would not be living in a post-911 world, because no 'terrorist' attacks would have occurred on September 11, 2001. Why? Because without a propaganda machine masquerading as a free press, such an audacious and patently fraudulent story could have never been sold to the American people, just as the lie-based wars in Central Asia and the Middle East could have never been marketed.
When your children come to you ten or twenty years in the future (and they will - assuming, of course, that they survive that long, given the unfolding plans to wipe out 90% of humanity, likely justified on the basis of the junk science known as 'Peak Oil' theory: Ebola for Population Reduction) to ask why you were asleep at the wheel while the country was evolving into an overtly fascist police state, what will you tell them? That there was nothing you could do? And when they then ask if you were truly powerless or if you just allowed yourself to be convinced that you were, what will you tell them then?
The Pentagon's Homeland Defense report concludes as follows: "The Department of Defense must change its conceptual approach to homeland defense. The Department can no longer think in terms of the 'home' game and the 'away' game. There is only one game. The Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support is a significant step toward this strategic transformation. Defending the US homeland - our people, property, and freedom - is our most fundamental duty. Failure is not an option."
As has been demonstrated repeatedly in various foreign adventures, the US Department of Defense has little interest in defending freedom or people. Its primary function is the acquisition and defense of property - property 'owned' by US and multinational corporations. In the 'Homeland' as elsewhere, the role of the military will be to protect corporate property and corporate profits, at the expense of the rights and the freedoms of the people - and quite likely at the expense of the very lives of the people.
The responsibility of defending the rights and freedoms of the American people falls squarely on your shoulders. Nobody else is going to do it for you. It is your most fundamental duty. And failure is definitely not an option.
Comment on this Editorial
Editorial: The Anti-War Movement?
By Cindy Sheehan
Being a so-called anti-war movement leader (at least to the MSM), brings much responsibility and so much love for the people and the groups who are working hard to end this insane occupation, but is this enough?
Recently, a blog written by an aquaintance, Scott Ritter, on AlterNet was called to my attention, where Scott, who is a self-proclaimed Republican, conservative who courageously opposed this war from the beginning, is predicting the eminent demise of the anti-war movement.
At first, I was highly offended and defensive at what I thought was Scott's arrogant attack on the movement that I am so intimately and overwhelmingly involved in. But then after my knee-jerk reaction, I realized that for all of the wrong reasons, Scott was partially correct.
The anti-war movement is not on the "verge of collapse" because we are not organized, or because we don't take a "warriors" view of attacking the neocons and the war machine using the tactics of Napoleon, or Sun Tzu-but because the two-thirds of Americans who philosophically agree that the war is wrong, BushCo lied, and the troops should come home, will not get off of their collective, complacent, and comfortable behinds to demonstrate their dissent with our government. Some, like Casey and almost 2400 other Americans and their families give all, while some, like the people of Iraq, have everything stolen from them by unlawful war; some, like myself, give a lot; some give some, by writing letters, attending an occasional vigil or march; but the majority of Americans give nothing-except an occasional vote, which we all know counts practically for nothing with our electoral process being so corrupted and almost rendered meaningless by paperless voting machine, no instant run-offs, and exploitation of the religious right by such contrived issues as gay marriage and teaching evolution in our public schools.
I also agree with Scott that true progressives have many issues that we focus rightly on: a woman's right to have control over her own reproductive system and other human rights issues such as an end to the occupation of Palestine and the atrocities of Darfur and the Sudan. But unlike Scott, I think that these things are all interrelated and we have to expose the people in our government who exploit our young people and people of other countries, who are usually browner than the ruling class in America, for their own profit and imperial arrogance. Scott is definitely correct about this though: even while we are focusing our attentions on ending the occupation of Iraq, the fascist fanatics are planning on spreading their evils of Pax Americana to the next bogus threat of Iran, and who knows where else their fantasies of empire and fabulous ill-gotten booty will take them, and our children's precious lives to. Our anti-war movement must transform itself into a peace movement to resist this with all of our peaceful might!
We saw tens of thousands of young people take to the streets recently to protests against the proposed election year antics of Congress in their smokescreen of an immigration bill. The teens took to the streets because they have something at stake: the very lives of their families. If this bill passes, the families will be split up as their parents are deported back to their countries of origin. The immigrants rightly know that they are being conspired against and that the only way to stand up for your rights, is to get off of your butt and stand up!
The challenge of the peace movement, now that we have identified the problem so well, and have the vast majority of Americans on our side, is to convince each and every last American that he/she has a very intimate and personal stake in what we are allowing our government to do in Iraq and the world.
We are not just outsourcing our torture to other countries or paying private mercenary contractors to do it: by sitting on our duffs and allowing the torturing to continue: we are the torturers. We are the subhuman beings who put the black masks on our victims, water board them, or do other inhumane and despicable acts on fellow human beings.
By writing to our elected officials and complaining about this or that, but by not voting our consciences and allowing ourselves to panic and vote for a party when we know that both parties (except for a few notable exceptions in all parties) have been bobble-headed, rubberstamp tools for the Bush Regime. We are electing people who do not have our best interests at heart, but who vote to fund more money for war and killing and absolve themselves of the responsibility by saying that "they were tricked." We should vote for people who want war to end and did not vote against America by giving George the keys to operate the war machine when they knew he was irresponsible, no matter what party affiliation they claim.
When we see the burned beyond recognition bodies of innocent Iraqi civilians who were targeted with chemical weapons by the US military; when we see babies with their heads blown off and children screaming in pain and dying by the thousands because they don't have the proper medical care, equipment or medicines, and we don't go and figuratively, or literally throw ourselves as human monkey wrenches into the murderous war machine, we may as well be pushing the button ourselves to activate the weapons that immorally and unlawfully kill innocent people: our brothers and sisters, who, no matter what BushCo says, are just like us in every way. They are dark, light; rich, poor; Christian, Muslim; old, young; happy, sad; conservative, liberal; nice, mean; etc: you get the picture. The only difference they have from us is that they live within different artificial boundary lines then we do: but this is not enough to make the innocent people of Iraq the enemies of we the people of America.
I grew up in the 60's during the nuclear-scare era where we would regularly have to dive under our desks in drills to make sure that if a nuclear bomb was dropped on my town that I would be vaporized under my desk, and during the travesty of another misbegotten (aren't they all?) war, Vietnam. I grew up terrified of Communists, until, no thanks to Ronald Reagan, the Soviet Union collapsed under its own weight of a failed economic system that poured its rubles and human treasure into a gigantically bloated war machine and pissing contest of an arms race with the USA, and another misguided decade long war in Afghanistan. If we can't learn the lessons of Vietnam, can we at least learn the lessons of the U.S.S.R.?
Looking back on my life up until Casey was killed in Iraq, on 04/04/04, I have tried to analyze over and over again what went wrong.I knew that our leaders were bought and paid for employees of the war machine, and yet, when Casey came of age, he put on the uniform and marched off to another senseless war to bring his employers that rich reward of money and power. The warning for American mothers and fathers is this: the war machine will get your children, if not now, then your grandchildren. It is a hard and steep price to pay for the certain knowledge that the people in power think of us, not as their employers and electorate whom they swear to serve, but as their tools to be used as cannon fodder whenever the impulse strikes them.
Do we need a mandatory forced conscription to get America out the door and rising up against this same war machine? I am adamantly opposed to a draft, but look what happened with the immigration issue. Democrats have proposed bills with mandatory service to the country to insure equality for the rich and the poor in military service, but no one pays any attention to them because they are proposed by Democrats. Congress should do the people of Iraq and our over-reached and over-worked and abused military a break by proposing a draft bill which would insure massive protests against this war.
With recent revelations that George Bush, himself, authorized the leaks that lead to the outing of Valerie Plame, in revenge for her husband, ex-ambassador Joe Wilson trying to expose the yellow-cake uranium lie, what more proof do we need that Iraq is wrong, not being fought incompetently (we also need to quit buying into the bull crap that there can be a "competent" war), but just wrong from the absolute get-go. What more proof do we need that we need leaders with the courage do finally do the right thing and say that BushCo lied and they need to be held accountable and the troops finally need to be brought home?
There are several opportunities for us to band together and show the illegitimate leaders of our country that we mean business.
This April 12th to the 16th, even though George and family won't be coming to Crawford to celebrate Easter for the first time in years, we will be. We will be gathering at Camp Casey in support of our troops by calling for them to be withdrawn and brought back to their families as healthy and wholly as possible. As usual, everyone is invited down to Camp Casey and can get more information at www.GSFP.org
Also, on April 29th, UFPJ is calling for a massive gathering in NYC to protest the war. I am issuing an invitation to everyone who is personally affected by this war, which is every last person in this country, to come out and visibly show this administration that you don't want to be abused by them anymore.
Yes Scott, the anti-war movement is collapsing into a Peace movement. We won't use the tactics of Napoleon, or your hero, Sun Tzu, we will use the tactics of our heroes: Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Nothing is gained by war, warlike tactics, or warriors, but destruction.
Nothing is gained by doing nothing, either. Do something.
Comment on this Editorial
Editorial: The War on Immigrants
11 April 2006
"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore." Once that was true, but no longer. Emma Lazarus' beautiful and memorable words we've all heard many times and know well are fading into memory. If we're honest, they should be removed from "Lady Liberty" and be replaced with something like: We'll take your Anglos, especially well-off ones, and the ones we choose with needed skills; you keep the rest, especially your poor, dark-skinned and desperate. We needed 'em once for our homegrown sweatshops. No longer. We've got plenty all around the world. It now looks like we'll make an exception though for the menial or toughest low pay, no benefits, no security jobs no one else wants. We're still debating it and will let you know.
Think they'll ever affix anything like that to the Lady's pedestal? Fat chance. Whatever may emerge from the Congress, how would they ever explain the hypocrisy of our once warm welcome and now cold shoulder and callous rejection of immigrants. The fact is there are now fewer decent jobs to go around for a growing population. We thus need to curb the foreign inflow, and most wanting to come here don't have the right skills or connections and aren't the "right" color. We don't say that publicly, but honesty isn't a trait this country is noted for. Neither is honor, integrity or practicing the high principles we espouse. Strip off the mask, look hard at the cold, ugly face beneath and uncaring eyes and see a heart of stone and not a sign of a soul.
Long ago we were building a new nation, needed lots of labor and threw open our doors. Now we can be as picky as we choose and even slam the door and bolt it, except for the special skills we need or the few privileged we always welcome who can jump the queue to get in. We still need lots of help to pick strawberries and cabbages, make beds and clean commodes and so far have allowed the undocumented ones who make it here to stay for that kind of work few others want. But racist and far-right lawmakers in the Congress with a pathological desire to guard our borders like Fort Knox and close them to people with dark skins we denigrate or label potential terrorists are in a dog fight now with less extreme but hardly moderate voices there. So far we don't know who'll win or if it will be a draw to be replayed at a future time. We do know that if even the best of the current proposals now being debated becomes law, future immigrants, those wishing to come, and the undocumented already here will be the losers.
We also know that quality job opportunities for most working people in the country including high-paying manufacturing jobs have been disappearing for years as well as many other good ones we now export to low wage countries. These jobs are routinely shipped abroad to exploit the sweatshop labor there where live bodies, desperate for any work and having to endure terrible on-the-job abuse, can be hired for pennies on the dollar and no benefits or pesky unions compared to manufacturing and labor rates here and what goes with them. So are many other lower level white collar service jobs that can be done anywhere. Even the higher paying ones aren't immune like those in high tech where skilled professionals can be hired in "all you can eat numbers" in countries like India at quarters on the dollar. What corporation hungry for profit could pass up a deal like that. Never mind that doing it hollows out our economy and puts us on the road to third world status just like those other nations whose workers are replacing ours.
Besides well-paying construction jobs and some others, what's left here are mostly lots of low-wage service jobs. These are the unexportable kind at Walmart (the nation's largest employer), McDonald's or menial hotel or restaurant services (plus those strawberry and cabbage pickers) with few or no benefits and often little chance to organize in unions for higher pay, better benefits and worker protection. Other than those, our message now is keep your people at home. We can use 'em right where they are. No need to pay 'em much, pennies an hour will do, forget any social benefits and no need to worry about those annoying unions. None allowed in sweatshop countries like China, Bangladesh, El Salvador or Haiti. When any do spring up in places like Colombia, all you need is a corporate friendly, anti-union president willing to sell out his people to US interests, make the country friendly to giant US transnationals like big oil, and allow paramilitary hired killers free reign to have at as many socially-minded "troublemakers" as possible "eliminating" them and intimidating the rest. That way you can get all the cheap labor you want there practically for nothing. Can't beat a deal like that, so why let 'em in here. We're trying to hold down the number of "undesirables" we've now got so there aren't too many around to become restive and cause trouble. It helps when we can recruit a lot of them to go fight and die for us in our imperial wars. But we're handling the surplus by locking up as many as we can in prison cells for any reasons we can justify passing new laws to allow it. With 2.1+ million already behind bars (the largest prison population in the world - two thirds of them black and Latino) and adding about 900 more a week it seems to be working very well thank you very much. At least so far. I've written at length about this horror under the radar in my article titled "The US Gulag Prison System" - the one at home.
Unlike long ago, the land that once welcomed your tired, poor and huddled masses now has hung out a "no vacancy" sign, is hostile to the undocumented forced to come here because of our destructive trade policies impoverishing them, the many legitimate arrivals already here and contributing more than they get back, and is pretty nasty to the least advantaged who were born here, especially if they're dark-skinned. As things now stand, what's ahead is only likely to get worse.
Once We Welcomed Those Huddled Masses
For well over a century we were a growing nation thriving on the influx of welcomed immigrants. At Ellis Island alone (where my ancestors passed through a century ago) over 12 million of them entered the country between 1892 (when it opened) and 1954 (when it closed). This country was founded and built by immigrants - from Plymouth Rock and Jamestown in the 17th century to Ellis Island up to a half century ago. The numbers were impressive and came in three great waves:
1. About 5 million from 1815 - 1860, mainly English (on my father's side), Irish, German, Scandinavian and northwestern Europe.
2. About 10 million between 1865 (post Civil War) - 1890, again mainly from northwestern Europe.
3. About 15 million from 1890 - 1914, many from Austro-Hungary, Turkey, Lithuania (on my mother's side), Russia, Greece, Italy and Romania. Many Eastern European Jews fleeing religious persecution like my maternal ancestors came in this wave. Thankfully they did and made it. Otherwise it's likely they"d have met their fate either at the hands of Stalin or Hitler.
Many immigrants came to America to escape war, political turmoil, famine, or religious persecution. Others came against their will as chattel. Most, however, came for economic reasons seeking a better life in a land they saw as one offering better opportunity than the one they left. Some found it, others were disappointed and had to wait for their second and third generation offspring to finally reap some of what they themselves never achieved. Still they kept coming en masse as 19th century America was young and growing and needed a plentiful supply of skilled and unskilled workers. After the 1880s the need was almost entirely for the unskilled to fill the growing number of factory jobs.
Restrictive And Exclusionary Immigration Legislation
The Naturalization Act of 1790 established the rules for naturalized citizenship as required by Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. Until 1882, almost anyone could move here and qualify, but thereafter the government began to impose controls. Extreme racism was always in our DNA, and it's surfaced and thrived throughout our history. It was evident in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act that made immigration from China illegal. It didn't matter that it was Chinese labor (first hired in 1865) mainly that helped build the transcontinental railroad, did the most dangerous work in some of the most treacherous areas like the high Sierras, and worked for less than a dollar a day. On May 10, 1869 when the final golden spike was driven at Promontory, Utah to symbolize the connection of the transcontinental system from east to west, ocean to ocean, it was mainly Chinese coolie labor that raced to build the final 10 miles of track in 12 hours to be done in time for the ceremony. We showed our gratitude by excluding them when they were no longer needed. Theodore Roosevelt, a known racist and noted imperialist and war hawk recipient of the Nobel Peace prize, treated the Japanese with equal disdain in the 1906 "Gentleman's Agreement" that allowed the US the right to exclude Japanese immigrants. The result was all Asians couldn't emigrate here until the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924 that established quotas restricting Southern and Eastern European immigration as well as allowing some token numbers in from Asia and other "less preferred" countries.
Through the years the immigration issue would resurface on occasion as it has again today and generally reflected the political bias of the times over any notion of fairness to all those in other countries wishing to come here and those who'd already arrived. We've always had our favored countries and world regions with Anglo Europeans being at the head of the queue followed by Northwestern Europeans overall. People of color from Latin America, Africa and Asia have always been least preferred, except for the 300 years when we forcibly brought black Africans here against their will as chattel or allowed a few million Mexicans the privilege to come and be exploited by the agribusiness of an earlier era. But besides that disgraceful past, our racist heritage was there from the first time a settler met a native Indian. All 18 million of them or so were only "in the way" and had to be removed or first used before we did it - through mass murder, forced resettlement or neglect. Racism was also a major factor in the Mexican War in the 1840s when following our imperial "manifest destiny" we stole half the country from our southern neighbor. We didn't take it all because most of the population was in the southern half, and we didn't want all those dark-skinned people diluting our white Anglo majority.
Asians overall have been relative newcomers to the US because they were either excluded entirely or greatly restricted by discriminatory quotas. When the National Origins Formula was established in 1929, total annual immigration was capped at 150,000, but, beyond some token numbers the "no Asians allowed" sign was still official policy. The important Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (the McCarran-Walter Act) opened the door a crack to Asians, but in that McCarthy era time also increased the power of government to deport illegal immigrants suspected of communist sympathies. The INA ended racial restrictions but retained a quota system with a preference to our more favored countries. Eventually the INA established a system of ethnic preferences and also placed great importance on labor qualifications. But the Act was overturned in 1990 when Congress made it illegal to deny anyone entry because of their beliefs, statements or associations. By then the times were a-changing, the cold war over and the "red scare" of the 1950s was an anachronism. That window of relief with no real enemies would be short-lived.
No legislation is ever written in stone, and in the Immigration Act of 1965 quotas based on national origin were ended and preference instead was given to those having US relatives. This enabled many more Asians to emigrate here, and they along with Hispanics now comprise the fastest growing segments of our population aided by their numbers entering the country legally or illegally. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 granted amnesty to illegal immigrants who had been in the country before 1982 (for many it could be hard to prove) but made it a crime to hire an illegal immigrant.
Immigration Law Becomes More Oppressive
Major changes in immigration law were enacted in 1996 when the 104th Republican Congress enacted and Bill ("I feel your pain") Clinton signed into law the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). These were repressive laws supposedly intended mainly to control illegal immigration and combat "terrorism." They did neither most often. Instead, their provisions affect American families, legal immigrants and others seeking to emigrate legally.
Under the 1996 statutes, legal immigrants are routinely detained without bond, deported without consideration for discretionary relief, restricted in their access to counsel, and barred from appealing to the courts. The laws also allow additional grounds for deportation and can subject long-term immigrants to mandatory detention and automatic deportation for even minor offenses like shoplifting, disturbing the peace or having a "joint" in their pocket. Low-level immigration officials act as judge and jury (no jury of their peers is allowed), and the federal courts are allowed no power to review most deportation decisions and INS activities. These laws can also be applied retroactively. As a result, many law-abiding immigrants living here for many years can now be deported for minor offenses and youthful indiscretions that may have occurred many years ago. These laws literally show no mercy. They allow no second chances, they can change the rules if so desired, and they deny the targeted immigrant due process in a court of law. The result has been families unjustly torn apart and made to suffer. Where are you when we need you Emma Lazarus?
Our leadership before and under George Bush never seemed or seems to miss an opportunity to fail to miss an opportunity to do the right thing. During Bill Clinton's second term Congress passed more immigration legislation in 1997 that spurned most Central American refugee claims and again in 2000 that offered only modest relief for some undocumented immigrants. It was better than nothing but not by much.
Post 9/11 The Gloves Came Off Along With The Mask, And It's A New Ball Game - Not One Any Immigrant Of Color Or Muslim Wants To Play
Everything changed after 9/11, as if we didn't know by now. Start with the passage of the repressive and now infamous USA Patriot Act in 2001. It provided funding for more border guards and technologies to spot and detain/arrest possible "terrorists" trying to enter the country. It also authorized the indefinite detention of any noncitizen suspected of engaging in "terrorist" activities. It gave the Attorney General complete discretion to decide who was a suspected "terrorist" and do it based on no evidence. Those of us paying attention know how things have turned out. But not enough of us have, and that's why this bill passed almost without debate allowing the government to move us dangerously closer to a full-blown national security police state and get away with it - so far.
This act, only a tyrant could love, stripped all legal protection of liberty and justice for Muslims and Arabs in the US or those wishing to come. It sanctioned their being monitored without notification as well as their NGOs, civic, charitable and religious organizations. The American Bar Association calls this unconstitutional, but just try to get redress. It allowed the Justice Department the right to round up and detain an unknown number of "suspects" from the Middle East and South Asia overall including at least 5,000 Muslim men only three of whom were charged with a crime. Federal immigration courts are allowed to hold secret hearings on their status, and those thought to be in the country illegally or who had some immigration violation were ordered deported even when going back to their home country risked their being arrested and tortured. It also gave the government authority to freeze the assets of any organization it deems suspect for any reason. It's since been open season making it legal for the government to conduct a witch-hunt which has gone on ever since including allowing several federal agencies to raid the homes and offices of the national Muslim leadership in Northern Virginia. It all amounts to a war on Muslims and Islam, especially targeted at Muslim immigrants of color or from the Middle East and South Asia.
A New Climate To Silence Dissent, Destroy Civil Liberties And Discourage Immigration
The post 9/11 climate cast a pall of fear over the nation that especially affects our immigrant population, particularly Muslims and especially those from 25 designated countries (all but one majority Muslim). It also includes poor and desperate Latinos mostly from Mexico and Central America who come here undocumented (an estimated 60% of all Latinos are coming from Mexico) or wish to when they can't do it legally. They practically have no other choice because of the economic devastation caused them by the exploitative US instituted so-called "neoliberal free trade agreements" that have destroyed their ability to earn a living at home.
It's resulted in a mass witch-hunt roundup and secret detention of thousands. Also many individuals were targeted for deportation and in their removal proceedings were under gag orders and prevented from talking to anyone. In addition, all foreign students were tracked as potential terrorists, recent Muslim immigrants were asked to voluntarily submit to law enforcement agency interviews and hospitals were required to collect information on immigrant status before providing Medicaid. Also repressive and restrictive regulations were established governing the granting of visas including requiring face-to-face interviews never before needed and withholding visas for certain categories of people until the FBI conducts name checks to assure they're not a terrorist threat. Fingerprinting of all visa-bearing travelers is also required either when they get them or when arriving at airports and seaports. After October 26, 2004 the law required this be done by collecting biometric identifiers at US visa-issuing offices abroad.
How long will it be before all immigrants and those needing visas to visit will be required to have an implanted computer chip for ID and tracking. Think I'm kidding? The FDA has already approved such an experimental chip for use on 1,000 test subjects. Wanna volunteer? They'll even know when you go to the "john." If they're pleased with the results from these "lab rats", it's not far-fetched to imagine a new repressive law one day requiring all of us - citizens, immigrants and visa holders - to be so-implanted so they can monitor every move we make and maybe even one day know what we think.
The new Department of Homeland Security (aka "Big Brother") now controls this Orwellian nightmare system. It's run by an unindicted war criminal, John Negroponte, US ambassador to Honduras from 1981 - 1985 where he was our point man overseeing the infamous Contra wars in Nicaragua and death squad activities and human rights abuses throughout the region. He then briefly served as our "ambassador to the new Iraq" post illegal invasion where he likely introduced the "Salvador death squad option" now being used intensively in a crazed attempt to foment a real civil war to divide the country. It's modeled after the one he was in charge of in El Salvador against that country's freedom-fighting resistance combating the brutal US supported right wing government in the early 80s.
DHS makes the visa rules, decides who can or cannot get them and be allowed into the country. In the past the State Department handled this. It was simpler then which encouraged foreigners to visit, attend school here or emigrate. Now with a maze of hostile regulations, many foreigners are dissuaded from coming at all or prevented from doing so. This has adversely affected US corporations, the travel industry and also many universities heavily reliant on foreign students and scholars. It's caused leaders and officials in business, science and education as well as civil libertarians to be concerned enough to warn this can only be detrimental to the strength of the nation and our precious freedoms fast disappearing.
Blame the Congress for this mess. With immigration a hot issue, they passed the Homeland Security Act in 2002 which abolished the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and moved its functions from the Justice Department to the newly created Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Within the DHS the Bureau of Border Security now has authority over our borders and enforcement of our immigration laws. The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services was given responsibility over visas, citizenship, asylum, and refugee status. Look for more repressive and restrictive rules ahead in a post 9/11 climate hostile to people whether they already live here legally, wish to visit, and especially if they want to emigrate and happen to have a darker complexion than most of us.
A Nation Addicted To The Need For Enemies - Real Or Invented
With the end of the cold war and along with it the great "red scare" and evil empire" of that period, the US was desperate to find new enemies. How else could we justify a high level of military spending and homeland security and readiness unless we could scare the public enough to accept it. It's happened so often before you'd think people would have caught on by to it by now - but you'd be wrong. When our political leaders need an excuse to pursue some awful public-unfriendly agenda for their own private reasons and benefit, they need a good excuse to convince us to go along. They've found the best way most often is by inventing a threat, hyping it to scare us to death, and then declaring war on it. It seems to work every time so why not keep doing it. We've had a "war on drugs" for over 30 years, and in the 1980s Ronald Reagan "fought" that one, the "cold war" and made it a trifecta by declaring a war on "international terrorism." In the 1990s the "cold war" was just a memory, the "war on drugs" continued to lock up mainly our poor and black population, the "war on international terrorism" was shortened to a "war on terrorism" and we added a new war to keep it in threes - the one on immigrants which this essay is about and is very much connected to our so-called but phony "war on terrorism."
First some numbers based on Census Bureau data. That bureau estimates the nation's foreign-born immigrant population (legal and illegal) reached a record high of 35 million in March, 2005. Their data also indicate the first half of the current decade has been the highest five year period of immigration in our history. Between January, 2000 and March, 2005 they estimate 7.9 million new immigrants (legal and illegal) entered the country, 3.7 million of whom they believe came illegally. Their data also shows that between March, 1995 and March, 2000 the foreign-born population grew by 5.7 million or about 1.1 million a year and between 2000 and 2005 an additional 5.2 million immigrated here or about 1 million + a year. Census 2000 also estimates between 8 - 11 million immigrants were living in the country illegally. It's likely up around the higher number now or even more.
Hispanics now are the single largest and fastest growing ethnic or minority group in the country according to the Census Bureau. They number over 41 million or nearly 14% of the population surpassing blacks at about 40 million or 13.4%. The Bureau projects that by 2050 the Hispanic population of the US will reach 102.6 million or 24% of the total. In large and dominant states like California and Texas the totals are even more dramatic with Hispanics numbering about one third of the population and rising. And in no other major city is this trend more prominent than in Los Angeles which is now or shortly will be a majority Hispanic city.
The War On Immigrants On Three Fronts Now Being Waged In The Congress
The current legislation that's now passed the House and a different version so far unpassed in the Senate promises to wage an unholy war against three classes of immigrants primarily - the undocumented ones already here, (especially those of color), those coming or wishing to from Mexico from where they can walk or wade across the border plus their Central American cousins, and all Muslims (again especially those of color) from anywhere including those from Arab countries who aren't white enough. Since 9/11 all Muslims, including the ones living here legally, are clearly public enemy number one. But those dark-skinned Latinos desperate to escape the catastrophic poverty from US imposed "neoliberal free market" trade policies aren't far behind. If anything passes close to its current House form, it will create a legalized racially stereotyped underclass of Untermenschen (subhumans) subject to legalized felony scapegoating. The result will be a living hell for the millions affected and be as far-removed as can be imagined from the 1960s civil rights legislation that tried undo centuries of injustice and persecution of black people and all others long denied their equal rights.
It's unclear how the latest incarnation of immigration legislation will finally emerge or if in an election year whether any will. The compromise Senate bill stalled as the Congress adjourned for their Easter brake. Debate will resume when Congress returns, and if the Senate bill passes, which appears likely but not certain, it will then have to be reconciled in conference committee with the House. It won't be easy and may not happen this year. The debate was heated in both Houses, and when the conference committee meets to produce a final bill, it'll resume again for sure. In the end the current "reform" (always code language for annulling our rights) effort may emerge stillborn. The 109th Congress may just kick it down the road to the 110th and let them deal with a very contentious issue that could easily be solved if we had enough legislators who believed in equity and justice instead of politics as usual liberally seasoned with race hate, demonization and blame the victim.
It's very clear what the new law would look like if the so-called House Sensenbrenner bill ever makes it on the books - HR 4437, The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005. I love the sweet-sounding language they always use that usually conceals a horror beneath it. In the case of HR 4437 it's even worse than that. For me and at my age, it's hard to believe anything like it could be passed by even a single branch of the Congress. But I said the same thing about the USA Patriot Act that passed both Houses quickly and overwhelmingly (only one honorable senator voted against it) and was signed into law about as fast as you could say bombs away. No one in Congress had time to read it or likely even skim it.
Like its Patriot Act cousin, HR 4437 is a bill out of the bowels of hell that only tyrants, racists and hatemongers of all stripes could love. It criminalizes anyone in the country without documentation. Under current law that's a simple civil violation and often or generally ignored when those affected work for agribusiness that wants them or the Walmarts of the world that do as well. Under the neofascist House bill, 11 million or so undocumented workers already here would be legal felons and subject to immediate detention and deportation with little if any recourse through the courts. It would break up and destroy families. The children born here are US citizens and could stay (supposedly, but don't count on it). Their undocumented parent or parents could not. And should those deported decide to return and get caught, it would impose mandatory minimum prison sentences for them and anyone else judged to be promoting illegal entry.
The bill would also make it a felony subject to five years in prison for anyone giving aid and comfort to the undocumented like food and water or desperately needed medical care. There's a whole lot longer list of nightmarish provisions in this monstrosity including building 698 miles of five double-layer apartheid wall segments along the Mexican border with California and Arizona (shades of Israel in the Occupied Territories where the intent is to steal Palestinian land and destroy innocent lives or the Berlin Wall). The Senate bill would pass on a physical barrier and impose a virtual one instead consisting of surveillance cameras, sensors and other monitoring equipment. Both bills call for measures to increase border security. The House version would do it by increasing the size of a Gestapo-like Border Control force 60-fold to 663,546 (that's one third larger than the active duty US Army excluding reservists and National Guard). These "border guards" will be little more than armed thugs legally mandated to do about anything they want because acting tough and terrorizing are terrific deterrents, and they'd only be doing it to poor dark-skinned folks we don't want who don't count for anything anyway.
This huge army, if it's created, already has a volunteer border force in place called the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (MCDC) or "Minutemen" for short. Their name is sacrilegiously borrowed from those "ready in a minute men" that go back in our history to the mid-1600s and were trained to be first on the scene to defend us in a conflict. All this force wants to defend is white supremacy and race hate. It's an ultra-right neofascist group possibly numbering in the thousands of Nazi-like paramilitary street thugs now terrorizing anyone they catch trying to cross our borders and enter the country illegally, primarily in the Southwest. Other organizations are just as extremist like the National Policy Institute that believes the rights of white people come first, "diversity" and "multiculturalism" are practically sinful, Affirmative Action should be abolished and mass deportation is the solution to our "illegal immigrant problem." These groups and organizations are being tacitly supported by our elected officials through their silence or in too many cases their complicity. Let's be clear and call all these groups and their members what they are - white supremacist racist nationalists or simply hatemongers for short.
In the US today, this is what's going on to compound the existing horror from the sort of domestic equivalent of this bill, the USA Patriot Act, for those of us here legally. There's a sinister idea behind all this legislation, other oppressive laws already on the books and a government in charge that believes it can do whatever it wants about anything to anyone, law or no law. We have a president who believes and has said he's "above the law" and the "Constitution is just a goddamed piece of paper." With that kind of attitude, should it surprise anyone that what's now happening is a full-scale effort to create a repressive national security police state with the consent of the public that's scared of its shadow and willing to sacrifice its freedom for the illusion of security. In reality, the Bush administration is trying to "keep the legal and illegal rabble in line" while their quest for empire goes on unobstructed and unabated by waging permanent war on all parts of the world we haven't yet conquered and colonized.
George Bush's Temporary (Guest) Worker Program - A Return Of The "Braceros" If It Becomes Law
George Bush has proposed and the Senate may pass its version of a temporary or guest worker program as part of their immigration legislation when they return from spring brake. Shades of the infamous Bracero Program that was in force from 1942-1964 and gave employers license to exploit over three million Mexican migrant farm workers, deny them their rights and subject them to severe harassment and oppression from extremist groups and racist authorities. Whether or not we enact a new version of that old program, we're currently moving toward establishing a police state as I've already alluded to above to control and restrain the home population from resisting or interfering with their global empire project. The easy targets are those we label possible or likely "terrorists" followed by anyone with dark skin living here, wishing to, already arrived undocumented or others we may allow in to be used, abused and then discarded when no longer needed.
We have a tainted history in our treatment of immigrants going back many years. I discussed earlier what we did to the Chinese who built our transcontinental railroad in the 19th century. It was no different in the 1930s when in the desperation of the Great Depression, Latinos were viewed as taking jobs and getting government benefits from "real Americans." As a result, up to two million Mexicans were "relocated" to Mexico during that decade even though 1.2 million of them were born in the US and were US citizens. In California alone, 400,000 Latino US citizens or legal residents were forced to leave. This virulent racism resurfaced in 1954 when under "Operation Wetback" (the name alone wreaks of race hate) and in a national reaction against illegal immigrants, over one million here illegally were deported back to Mexico by trucks, buses, trains and even ships. In some cases even their US born children were sent with them even though they were US citizens. It's a wonder we didn't put them all on forced marches and make them go back the hard way.
The stalled compromise Senate bill, endorsed by George Bush, is little more than election year politicking to win the Hispanic vote. In addition, it would create a permanently legal underclass of low-paid workers, allow employers the right to exploit them and put added pressure on US workers so as to restrain their wage and benefit demands.
The Senate bill divides illegal immigrants into three groups. Those who arrived after April 1, 2001 could stay permanently if they pass background checks and pay back taxes and a $2,000 fine (no easy task for them); worked at least three of the past five years; work another six years and get in the queue behind other applicants already in it. Immigrants who arrived between April 1, 2001 and January, 2004 would have to return to a US port of entry and re-enter the country legally with a temporary work permit. They would also have to pass background checks and pay back taxes. Finally, illegals who arrived after January, 2004 would be required to leave the country. They could only return on temporary work permits.
Any immigration bill, if passed, will create an overwhelming burden of documentation and verification on millions of immigrants as well as the federal bureaucracy and employers. Immigrants going through the process would be forced to give up their right to privacy protection, asylum and due process. If an Employment Verification System is part of a final resolution, they would also have to get a federal agency's permission to work. In addition, it would require them to learn English and would subject them to overwhelming bureacratic red tape that under the best of conditions likely would be rife with errors and delays that would be nightmarish to resolve. And to boot it would create an easily accessed database that would make all those in it easy pickings for identity theives.
Employers under the Senate plan would be required to verify that their new workers are in the country legally. They now only need to ask for worker documents showing those they hire are allowed to be here. The plan envisions a tamper-proof means of ID, such as a driver's license with a picture, a fingerprint or an iris scan. If that provision becomes law, it's step one on the road to a national identity card for everyone, possibly to include an embedded chip so Homeland Security, the NSA and other snoop agencies could keep tabs on all our moves and whereabouts. "Big Brother" is alive and well and "in our face."
The immigration service would also have its hands full under this plan. It would have to cope with the overwhelming burden of doing background checks and verifying the identity, work history, tax obligations and English language competency of 11 million or more people. This is on top of their already enormous burden handling the influx of immigrants into the country. The IRS and Social Security Administration would also be obligated along with employers to help immigrants calculate what back taxes they owe and what they had paid into Social Security accounts. Employers would have to report these earnings and would be in violation of the law if they didn't.
A Comparison Of Current Proposed Immigration Legislation To Hitler's Nuremberg Race Laws
What's on the table being debated in the Congress is not as extreme as Hitler's infamous Nuremberg Race Laws, but there are some ominous comparisons. Early on in Nazi Germany Hitler wanted to assert the superiority of the "Aryan race." He hoped to create a Master Race of pure blue-eyed, blond Aryan Caucausian Nordic types, and even though the notion of Aryan has no racial meaning he inferred that it did in what he preached and the laws he had enacted. The chosen ones were the Herrenvolk and all others were called Untermenschen or subhumans. In the US today Causausian Judeo-Christians are our Herrenvolk and all others are the Untermenschen, especially people of color and Muslims.
We don't say that openly, write our laws with overtly denigrating or restrictive racist language in them or practice a policy of extermination today to create a "racially" pure society. But we did just that for 300 years to our native population and in the process slaughtered about 18 million of them as we built the nation we now have. Hitler, in fact, used what we did as a model for his own plan to exterminate the Jews and other undesirables he wanted eliminated.
We also used black Africans as slaves over the same period we eliminated our native population and then after freeing them held them in the bondage of Jim Crow laws and racist attitudes that exist to this day despite the landmark civil rights legislation of the 1960s. We never accepted black people or any others of color as co-equals even though we piously say we do and enacted laws that codify it.
The current immigration legislation now being debated is only the latest chapter in white America's attempt to put its oppressive boot on the neck of people of color we see as inferior or now label "terrorists." And we created a new public enemy number one after 9/11, Muslims, and have persecuted them with a vengeance. Just like the saying that "history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes", attributed to Mark Twain, what the US has practiced in recent years is not like Nazi Germany at its worst, but there's similarity enough to be very disturbing and we're heading in the wrong direction.
Hitler, too, began slowly and moderately after being named German Chancellor in January, 1933 (about one month before Franklin Roosevelt became our 32nd President). He needed time to consolidate power and at first didn't want to scare the voters before they lost their franchise or moderate politicians before they no longer had any say. What began modestly gradually became more extreme and isn't too dissimilar to what's happening here now. Bill Clinton's signing into law the 1996 immigration reform act (IIRAIRA) and anti-terrorism act (AEDPA) discussed earlier can be seen as the first shot across the bow in the current war against immigrants. Then after 9/11 the gloves came off, and it was off to the races with the infamous Patriot Act, mass witch-hunt roundups of those labeled potential terrorists and now an extreme and hostile attempted crackdown on those immigrant groups we've targeted - those of color, especially Latinos and Muslims. What's next? Unless the current mass public protest uproar continues, gets stronger and makes the lawmakers nervous enough to believe we really mean business and won't stand for this, you can bet it will only get worse until we're all targeted and become potential victims. That's about how Hitler did it, and we seem headed in the same dangerous direction. Good Germans back then didn't complain as long as it happened to others until one day many discovered it could happen to them too. By then it was too late. That's how tyranny works.
Mass Outrage In The Streets Nationwide In Protest - A New Civil Rights Struggle
In recent weeks millions of people have gone to the streets in cities nationwide to protest en masse against the current immigration legislation in the Congress. These protests have the potential to spread and grow enough to become the new civil rights struggle of our time. Hostile and denigrating legislation in the Congress has lit the fuse, and all the immigrant rights movement may need to combat it is a few Martin Luther King type figures to lead the effort for real justice against a government intent on denying it to them.
The protests are continuing, and at least 60 cities are scheduling more events and demonstrations that include candlelight vigils in Los Angeles, a mass rally at the Washington monument and a "day without Hispanics" in Telluride, CO intended as a work stoppage. In addition, immigration rights activists are planning a national action, student walkout and boycott they call The Great American Boycott of 2006 on May 1 of no work, no school, no shopping and a demand for amnesty and full and equal rights for all working people. Adding overall impact to these mass protests is the presence of Hispanics from Mexico and almost every Central and South American country including Venezuela whose twice democratically elected President, Hugo Chavez, is also a target of US hostility and possible future illegal aggression to oust him. But other immigrant ethnic groups are well represented as well - especially large numbers from the Korean and Chinese communities.
Joshua Hoyt, Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, a 120-member coalition of organizations, said: "There has never been this kind of mobilization in the immigrant community ever. They have kicked the sleeping giant. It's the beginning of a massive immigrant civil rights struggle." And it's gone beyond just the rights of legal and illegal immigrants to include working people of all races who've seen their jobs exported, unions weakened or destroyed, wages stagnated and essential benefits reduced, lost or never gotten. It's seen permanent high-paying jobs replaced by temporary ones at much lower pay and often no benefits. It's seen the oppressive power of big corporations aided by their allies in government wreak havoc over ordinary working people including legal immigrants and the undocumented in a vicious downward cycle of exploitation and repression. The voices in the streets are saying "no mas/no more." I make no bones where I stand - four-square with all those in the streets, and I was born here and am one of the privileged. That could never have happened if my ancestors had been denied entry or had been deported after they arrived.
Look at the impressive numbers in cities around the country. In my city of Chicago alone, from 300,000 - 500,000 protested downtown near where I live in the largest ever protest in the city's history for any reason. In Los Angeles it was the same thing with somewhere between 1 - 1.5 million in the streets, again historic. In New York, tens of thousands marched across the Brooklyn Bridge carrying the flags of their native countries. And those in the streets included more than immigrants - the unions brought out their members, there were young people and students who walked out of class in defiance of school authorities to join in (40,000 alone in Los Angeles). It's hard to tell where this will lead or what effect it will have, but never underestimate the power of organized people. When enough of them speak out, politicians listen, especially when those people are voters or in the case of young people when they have parents who are. Famed Chicago community organizer Sol Linowitz understood it when he once said "the way to beat organized money is with organized people." Social activist Arundhati Roy also understands and she's said "we are many and they are few." And I suggest we all together do a good imitation of Howard Beale, the news anchor from the 1976 movie Network, who one day got fed up yelled out "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore." Any Howards out there? Come on, let me hear you. I start you off and say what I said before - I'm past made as hell, I won't take it anymore, and I intend to fight back to save my civil liberties and the republic and to help the disadvantaged and oppressed achieve the justice they deserve. But I can't do it alone. I need a lot of you with me.
Today's War On Immigrants And "Terrorists" Will Be Tomorrow's War Against Us All - It's Already Begun
I've written now a number of times before that I believe the country is approaching a dangerous watershed. The scenario I paint is a gloomy one in which the situation is grave, the stakes are immense and the time is short. It's a battle to save the republic and our sacred Constitutional rights. I'm desperately trying to sound the alarm against an out-of-control imperial state engaged in a permanent war abroad for empire along with a "second front" at home against all working people (that's most everyone) and especially the ones most easily targeted who comprise the subject of this essay - vulnerable legal and undocumented immigrants. It's a life and death struggle to save us from descending into the hell of tyranny, the repressive police state being created to control it and an endless war on the world. That's not a world I want to live in or pass on to my children or grandchildren. I hope you feel as I do and are willing to do something about it. Unless you do and together we can find a way to reverse course and do it quickly, we'll awaken one day sooner than we may think and find out it's already too late, we've crossed "The Rubicon", and there's no way back. The sad lesson of history will have been repeated again, but this time to us. It can happen here, make no mistake. Will you now head out to the mall complacently with what's at stake? Will you let this happen without a fight? I won't. Are you with me?
An Important Note Of Dedication:
I've never before dedicated one of my articles to anyone, but this time feel I must. I wish to dedicate this one to the wonderful and redoubtable staff at US based Pacifica Radio KPFA's Flashpoints Radio in Berkeley, CA for their courageous, tireless and unrelenting efforts on behalf of the immigrant communities of my country and for their overall work and commitment in the unending fight for humanity and equal justice for all. They inspired me to write this article and several others as well. I'm deeply grateful to them.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com. Also visit his blog address at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
Comment on this Editorial
Editorial: Vive la France !
Signs of the Times
10 April 2006
Oh, the pundits are upset. The idea that the world has changed, and we should all be thankful for a job, any job, has so oozed its way into minds that it is taken as a given, as a fact of life. Eric Margolis, a journalist who shows great lucidity at other times, put it this way:
"Mon dieu! The riots in France continue. It's not revolution, but a combination of spring fever and counter-revolution designed to protect the perks of those who have cushy lifetime jobs and lavish pensions. It's a 'cri du coeur' of anguish from all those sociology and cultural anthropology students who are discovering that they may not have jobs when they graduate."
"Counter-revolution"??? When students and workers take to the streets to demand their rights while more and more state money is being used to finance the private sector and French resources such as EDF/GDF are sold off?
Margolis' words sound like those of an American attacking the so-called leftism in US universities. Disdain for sociology and anthropology students replaces any serious critique.
Another commentator, this one British, had this to say:
Youth unemployment is at a terrifying 23 per cent and rises to 50 per cent in some suburbs; and yet there is almost no way of getting these people into jobs, because in France there is almost no way of getting the shiftless and idle out of their jobs, especially in the state sector.
In order to fire someone, French companies with more than 600 employees must go through legal procedures lasting 106 days. It costs French companies 2.6 times as much to fire a 35-year- old as it costs an English company; and of course there may be some people out there who are sometimes nervous about losing their jobs, and might wish that they had the kind of protections enjoyed in France.
But that is to miss the central economic reality, an understanding that was at the heart of the British labour market reforms of the 1980s, changes that have been very largely responsible for the 52 consecutive quarters of growth enjoyed by Britain and unemployment currently low by European standards.
The point is that if you make it easier to fire, you also make it easier to hire: and that is the way to get the economy moving. Anyone who cares about the future of the European economy - and it matters deeply to us, the fate of our leading trading partners - should get out to Paris and support de Villepin in a counter-demonstration.
All because he is upset at French service on Air France. "It matters deeply to us, the fate of our leading trading partners" he opines, and once again the debate is reduced to the economic level, that god of modern life, Mammon. Worker needs to be set against worker to destroy any solidarity and its concurrent power against the owners and government. With a divided working class, the elite function with impunity. They certainly are allowed to have their lobbies and hunting clubs and golf courses where they do business. They have million dollar and more golden handshakes when they are fired after running a business into the ground. When they go into government, their holdings are put into "blind trusts" where their cronies ensure a level of plausible deniability when companies in which they have holdings just happen, surely a coincidence, to be awarded huge government contratcs. Think Rumsfeld and tamiflu and Cheney and Haliburton.
While we doubt a just and equitable society will ever be, or could ever be, constructed on our poor planet, as long as each of the 6 billion individuals on it remains tethered to the base desires of one's personality, we are happy to see that there are still people who refuse to take the blathering idiocies of economic liberalism as a given, simply because the government and the media tell us so. The French are still able to think for themselves. They are showing us that the future is not yet written. Resistance to globalisation is possible. Resistance to American, pathocratic values is more than possible, it is necessary.
Comment on this Editorial
Bush 'is planning nuclear strikes on Iran's secret sites'
By Philip Sherwell in Washington
The Bush administration is planning to use nuclear weapons against Iran, to prevent it acquiring its own atomic warheads, claims an investigative writer with high-level Pentagon and intelligence contacts.
President George W Bush is said to be so alarmed by the threat of Iran's hard-line leader, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, that privately he refers to him as "the new Hitler", says Seymour Hersh, who broke the story of the Abu Ghraib Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.
Some US military chiefs have unsuccessfully urged the White House to drop the nuclear option from its war plans, Hersh writes in The New Yorker magazine. The conviction that Mr Ahmedinejad would attack Israel or US forces in the Middle East, if Iran obtains atomic weapons, is what drives American planning for the destruction of Teheran's nuclear programme.
Hersh claims that one of the plans, presented to the White House by the Pentagon, entails the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites. One alleged target is Iran's main centrifuge plant, at Natanz, 200 miles south of Teheran.
Although Iran claims that its nuclear programme is peaceful, US and European intelligence agencies are certain that Teheran is trying to develop atomic weapons. In contrast to the run-up to the Iraq invasion, there are no disagreements within Western intelligence about Iran's plans.
This newspaper disclosed recently that senior Pentagon strategists are updating plans to strike Iran's nuclear sites with long-distance B2 bombers and submarine-launched missiles. And last week, the Sunday Telegraph reported a secret meeting at the Ministry of Defence where military chiefs and officials from Downing Street and the Foreign Office discussed the consequences of an American-led attack on Iran, and Britain's role in any such action.
The military option is opposed by London and other European capitals. But there are growing fears in No 10 and the Foreign Office that the British-led push for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear stand-off, will be swept aside by hawks in Washington. Hersh says that within the Bush administration, there are concerns that even a pummelling by conventional strikes, may not sufficiently damage Iran's buried nuclear plants.
Iran has been developing a series of bunkers and facilities to provide hidden command centres for its leaders and to protect its nuclear infrastructure. The lack of reliable intelligence about these subterranean facilities, is fuelling pressure for tactical nuclear weapons to be included in the strike plans as the only guaranteed means to destroy all the sites simultaneously.
The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings among the joint chiefs of staff, and some officers have talked about resigning, Hersh has been told. The military chiefs sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran, without success, a former senior intelligence officer said.
The Pentagon consultant on the war on terror confirmed that some in the administration were looking seriously at this option, which he linked to a resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among defence department political appointees.
The election of Mr Ahmedinejad last year, has hardened attitudes within the Bush Administration. The Iranian president has said that Israel should be "wiped off the map". He has drafted in former fellow Revolutionary Guards commanders to run the nuclear programme, in further signs that he is preparing to back his threats with action.
Mr Bush and others in the White House view him as a potential Adolf Hitler, a former senior intelligence official told Hersh. "That's the name they're using. They say, 'Will Iran get a strategic weapon and threaten another world war?' "
Despite America's public commitment to diplomacy, there is a growing belief in Washington that the only solution to the crisis is regime change. A senior Pentagon consultant said that Mr Bush believes that he must do "what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do," and "that saving Iran is going to be his legacy".
Publicly, the US insists it remains committed to diplomacy to solve the crisis. But with Russia apparently intent on vetoing any threat of punitive action at the UN, the Bush administration is also planning for unilateral military action. Hersh repeated his claims that the US has intensified clandestine activities inside Iran, using special forces to identify targets and establish contact with anti-Teheran ethnic-minority groups.
The senior defence officials said that Mr Bush is "determined to deny Iran the opportunity to begin a pilot programme, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium".
Comment on this Article
Bush critics alarmed over reports of possible strike on Iran
April 9, 2006
WASHINGTON - Critics of the George W. Bush administration expressed alarm about explosive new reports that the president is mulling military options to knock out
Iran's nuclear program.
Retired General Anthony Zinni, the former head of US Central Command, told US television Sunday that he had no detailed knowledge of the alleged military plans, but he suggested a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear program would be extremely risky.
"Any military plan involving Iran is going to be very difficult. We should not fool ourselves to think it will just be a strike and then it will be over," said Zinni.
"The Iranians will retaliate, and they have many possibilities in an area where there are many vulnerabilities, from our troop positions to the oil and gas in the region that can be interrupted, to attacks on
Israel, to the conduct of terrorism," he said.
Zinni made his remarks after the publication of a pair of reports this weekend saying that the administration is seriously considering military action against Iran, amid a stalemate in diplomatic efforts.
The New Yorker magazine reported in its April 17 issue that the administration is planning a massive bombing campaign against Iran, including use of bunker-buster nuclear bombs to destroy a key suspected Iranian nuclear weapons facility.
The article by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh said that Bush and others in the White House have come to view Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a potential "Adolf Hitler."
"That's the name they're using," Hersh quoted a former senior intelligence official as saying.
Hersh told CNN's Late Edition show that a "messianic" president feels driven to try to contain Iran and that the White House is determined to keep open a nuclear option against strong objections from some top
"It's the fact that the White House wouldn't let it go that has got the JCS (Joint Chiefs of Staff) in an uproar," he said.
"He (Bush) thinks, as I wrote, that he's the only one now who will have the courage to do it," said Hersh, the reporter who also broke the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.
Hersh reports in his article that the administration already has advance forces on the ground in Iran.
"I think it's fraught with danger. But they're there," he told CNN.
Democratic Senator John Kerry, one of the administration's most outspoken critics, assailed the White House for what he said is its too-ready reliance on military might.
"That is another example of the shoot-from-the-hip, cowboy diplomacy of this administration," the former Democratic presidential contender said.
"For us to think about exploding tactical nuclear weapons in some way is the height of irresponsibility. It would be destructive to any non-proliferation efforts and the military assessment is, it would not work," he told NBC television's "Meet the Press" program.
Meanwhile, according to a report Sunday in the Washington Post, Bush is studying options for military strikes against Iran as part of a broader strategy of coercive diplomacy to pressure Tehran to abandon its alleged nuclear program.
Citing unnamed US officials and independent analysts, the newspaper said no attack appears likely in the short term, but officials are using the threat to convince Iranians of the seriousness of its intentions.
The paper said Bush views Tehran as a serious menace that must be dealt with before his presidency ends. The White House, in its new National Security Strategy, labeled Iran the most serious challenge to the United States posed by any country.
Zinni said he shared Washington's concerns about Tehran's motives, but said diplomatic efforts should first be exhausted.
"I believe that if the international community would stand fast, the Russians and the Chinese would stay with us, I think that kind of pressure, the fear of being isolated and condemned as a rogue state could have the effect that we need to halt the program.
"I'm not saying that there isn't a military action that will become necessary at some point," Zinni continued.
"But I believe ... when you take that military action, you have to ask the question, 'and then what?' Because you're going to have a series of those 'and then whats' down the road," he said.
Hersh told CNN however, that the White House has spurned Tehran's overtures for dialogue.
"This president is not talking to the Iranians. They are trying very hard to make contact, I can assure you of that, in many different forms," he said.
"He's not talking. And there's no public pressure on the White House to start bilateral talks. And that's what amazes everybody," he said.
Comment: Surprise, surprise! The Bush gang is calling Ahmadinejad a "potential Hitler", just like they did with Saddam. Guess what happens next?
Comment on this Article
Iran accuses US of "psychological war"
Sun Apr 9, 2006
By Parisa Hafezi
TEHRAN - Iran on Sunday brushed aside what it called a U.S. "psychological war" against its nuclear programme after a published report described Pentagon planning for possible military strikes against Iranian atomic facilities.
A report by influential investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker magazine, citing unnamed current and former officials, said Washington has stepped up plans for possible attacks on Iranian facilities to curb its atomic work.
The article said the United States was considering using tactical nuclear weapons to destroy Iran's underground uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz, south of Tehran.
"This is a psychological war launched by Americans because they feel angry and desperate regarding Iran's nuclear dossier," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told a weekly news conference.
"We will stand by our right to nuclear technology. It is our red line. We are ready to deal with any possible scenario. Iran is not afraid of threatening language," he added.
The United Nations has called on Iran to halt uranium enrichment, which the West believes Iran is pursuing to acquire technology to make a nuclear bomb. Iran has rejected the demand and insists it only wants to make fuel for civilian uses.
Iran's decision in January to resume enrichment prompted Britain, France and Germany to break off 2-1/2 years of EU talks with Tehran and back a U.S. demand to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which can impose sanctions.
Asefi said Iran was ready to continue its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and said IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei would visit Iran by Friday to discuss Iran's cooperation with the IAEA.
"We have always had good cooperation with the IAEA and we will continue to do so," he said.
ElBaradei is expected to provide a report to the Council on Iran's nuclear programme entitled "the process of Iranian compliance" at the end of this month.
ElBaradei has said he has found no proof of a weapons programme in Iran but at the same time has said he cannot give the Islamic Republic a clean bill of health.
An IAEA official has said earlier that ElBaradei would travel to Iran on Tuesday or Wednesday for a day of meetings in Tehran to try to win more cooperation from Tehran.
Comment on this Article
US dismisses Iran attack claims
The US has rejected suggestions that it might be preparing to use nuclear weapons against targets in Iran.
A report in The New Yorker magazine said the US was increasing planning for a possible air attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.
It said one option being considered was a tactical nuclear strike against underground nuclear sites.
Dan Bartlett, a senior adviser to President George W Bush, said the report was "ill-informed".
Those who drew definitive conclusions based on normal defence and intelligence planning "are not knowledgeable of the administration's thinking on Iran", he said.
The US has previously refused to rule out military action, but Mr Bartlett said again that the US was committed to a diplomatic solution on the issue of Iran's nuclear development.
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said talk of a US nuclear strike was "completely nuts".
Iran has branded the reports as a "psychological war launched by Americans because they feel angry and desperate regarding Iran's nuclear dossier".
"We will stand by our right to nuclear technology... Iran is not afraid of threatening language," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said on Sunday.
Western powers fear Iran is developing a nuclear bomb. Iran says its nuclear programme is for civilian use.
The US magazine article, by journalist Seymour Hersh, makes three main claims:
US clandestine activities inside Iran have increased
Planning for a possible air attack has intensified
The option of using of tactical nuclear weapons to ensure the destruction of well-protected Iranian nuclear facilities is still on the table.
Mr Hersh also quoted a former senior intelligence official as saying that President Bush and others in the White House were referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a potential Adolf Hitler threatening another world war.
Speaking to the BBC, Mr Hersh said many US allies felt Iran was two to 10 years away from developing a nuclear bomb and that the real aim was regime change.
"No matter what Iran would do, I think in the short run some people are afraid the president will want to go - just as he wanted to go on Iraq," he said.
He said he believed the president felt military action against Iran was something only he could do. "It's messianic, I quote somebody as saying," he said.
Planning for military action had moved beyond the contingency stage and into direct operational planning, he added.
Referring to Mr Straw's comments, he said there were questions about how much information the US government was sharing with its European allies.
Retired General Anthony Zinni, the former head of US Central Command, said on Sunday any plan to use military force against Iran was risky.
"The Iranians will retaliate, and they have many possibilities in an area where there are many vulnerabilities, from our troop positions to the oil and gas in the region that can be interrupted, to attacks on Israel, to the conduct of terrorism," he told the Associated Press news agency.
Talk of military strikes against Iran have been prompted by Iran's refusal to halt nuclear work.
Last month, the UN Security Council gave Iran 30 days to halt its nuclear research, or run the risk of action such as possible sanctions.
Comment: It is, of course, completely normal for the Bush and Blair administrations to deny that they are planning the use of "low-yield" nuclear weapons on Iran, after all, they have lied about everything else, why would they stop now? In short, this denial can be ignored and we can fully expect that the apparently bloodthristy American and British power elite would like nothing better than to turn Iran into one giant glass parking lot for their war machinery.
Comment on this Article
Iran: No hurry to set date for talks with US over Iraq
www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-10 03:03:41
TEHRAN, April 9 (Xinhua) -- Iran said on Sunday that there was no need to set the date for talks with the United States on Iraq in a hurry, ruling out a recent allegation that the postponement of the proposed talks was related to the formation process of the Iraqi government.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying that no date had been fixed for Iran-U.S. talks on Iraqi issues yet.
"Iran has announced that talks with the U.S. have nothing to do with interference in the establishment of a new government in Iraq and this case is related to the Iraqi nation," said the spokesman." Talks with the U.S. in this respect need planning and so far no arrangements have been made," he stressed.
Iraqi Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni leaders are still haggling over the make-up of a new government, almost four months after the December general elections.
Asefi also said that the date would be announced explicitly when all issues concerned became definite.
When asked about the repeated calls from U.S. officials for talks recently, Asefi said Iran had given negative responses to the calls considering U.S. records, but "positively responded despite pessimism and precautions" when Iraqi officials raised this issue.
To hold talks is aimed to discuss withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Iraq and improvement of the U.S. conduct in that country, he said.
Similarly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on March 25 that Iran would hold talks with the U.S. for the sake of the Iraqi people although the Islamic Republic did not trust the U.S. administration.
Meanwhile, local daily Kayhan reported that a group of students on Saturday held a protest against the proposed negotiations with the U.S. in front of the Supreme National Security Council, terming the dialogue with Washington as "betrayal of Islam."
On March 16, Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council Ali Larijani first voiced Iran's readiness to hold talks with the U.S. to solve Iraqi problems as proposed by Iraqi Shiite political leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.
In response, the White House authorized the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad to hold talks with Iran.
Iran, which has been accused by the United States of allowing weapons and insurgents to cross into Iraq, had previously said it was not interested in discussions before the U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq.
Comment on this Article
Moscow issues West a warning
By Judy Dempsey International Herald Tribune
FRIDAY, APRIL 7, 2006
With Chancellor Angela Merkel shifting German foreign policy more markedly toward the United States and the defense of human rights, Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, on Thursday warned the West against isolating his country from helping to broker disputes with Iran and other conflicts in the Middle East.
His warnings come amid growing criticism by the Bush administration and several EU countries over Russia's crackdown on human rights groups and of the Kremlin's willingness to use its vast energy resources as political pressure on its neighbors.
"We often hear from some countries that Russia is becoming strong and unpredictable. But this is not the case," said Lavrov, a former ambassador to the UN who was appointed foreign minister in March 2004. "In the 1990s, when the Commonwealth of Independent states was disintegrating and there were fears of Russia breaking up too, some people in the West said they wanted a strong and united Russia. Now we are here. They should be grateful."
His warnings, made at a lunchtime meeting sponsored by Deutsche Bank in Berlin, were combined with a charm offensive during a two-day visit to Germany. He met Merkel and officials of Germany's biggest companies and banks, which have built on traditionally strong ties to establish a strong presence in Russia.
Germany is still one of Russia's most important Western partners, despite Merkel's attempts to rebalance her foreign policy by breaking the special axis that her Social Democratic predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, had forged with Paris and Moscow at the expense of ties with the United States and the EU.
Russia's image has deteriorated in Germany after Schröder's close ties with President Vladimir Putin came under close scrutiny.
The Economics Ministry in Berlin disclosed last week that just before Schröder left office last November, his government issued a credit guarantee of €1 billion, or $1.2 billion, to Gazprom, Russia's state-owned energy company, to build the North Sea Gas Pipeline with two German companies.
Schröder was appointed chairman of the new company overseeing the construction of the pipeline shortly after leaving office, while the deal itself was clinched last September, just before Germany's parliamentary elections in which Schröder lost to Merkel, a conservative.
Lavrov said he had no idea if Gazprom - the world's largest gas company - would still take up the credit guarantee. "I know nothing about it," he said.
He did say, however, that Merkel supported the pipeline, which will cost over €10 billion to construct. "We wish to diversify the routes of energy exports," he said, adding that the project would lead to more energy security.
But he brushed aside any notion that the pipeline would in fact increase Europe's dependence on Russia for its energy, and that the energy relationship was a one-way street. "Energy security requires consideration for the interests of both energy suppliers and energy consumers," he said. "We depend on Europe for our exports and we also need stable and reliable demand."
Thirty-five percent of Russia's energy is exported, but exports account for 70 percent of Gazprom's revenues because Russia's domestic energy prices are subsized. Over 80 percent of Gazprom's exports are sold to Europe.
Flush with a large trade surplus because of record-high energy prices that has enabled Putin to pay off debt to the Paris Club of Western creditor nations, Russia has more confidently taken foreign policy initiatives.
These include the recent invitation to leaders of Hamas, the Islamic movement that won the Palestinian elections, to visit Moscow. Russia also offered to process uranium for Iran inside Russia in a bid to break the stalemate with the United States and the European negotiating group of Britain, France and Germany over Iran's nuclear program.
Lavrov said those initiatives were justified because Russia was not prepared to accept any "clash of civilizations" between the Western world and the Middle East. In barely veiled criticism of U.S. policy in Mideast, Lavrov said Washington's plans to democratize the region were obsessive.
"We have to take into account the overall energy needs of the world and the obsessions with democratizing the region overnight," he said. "We can't take sides in the conflict of civilizations. We want to help to bring both sides together. We want fair play. Russia's foreign policy is free of ideological considerations."
Lavrov insisted that Russia was pursuing an "unbiased" approach in the region that was crucial to global energy security. Even if all the ambitious plans are implemented to save energy, "the need by the world for energy supplies will not diminish," which is why a new concept of international relations was needed that involved Russia and Germany.
"There must be no going back to zero sum games or political games," he said. "We want to play in a team."
Comment on this Article
Big Mama Ain't Happy
Tornado, Sand-Storms and Oversized Hail Strike Israel
22:26 Apr 05, '06
A small tornado ripped across the western Galilee Tuesday evening. Hail the size of golf balls also fell in the region. Scores were hospitalized. Freak stormy weather across Israel continues.
The tornado touched down during a hailstorm in the Acco region, striking the Arab villages of Julis, Fassouta and Jedaideh. Hail as big as ping-pong balls was reported as far away as Nahariya. In southern Israel, sandstorms reduced visibility to less than three feet.
Nine foot waves were reported on the Red Sea in Eilat, with telephone and cellular service knocked out for the entire city. The highways through the Negev were also covered completely by several inches of sand.
On Sunday, four Israeli Arabs were killed in northern Israel due to flooding. Sahar Mehamid, 23, from Umm al-Fahm was killed in Wadi Ara and three women from the lower Galilee village of Touran were killed in a car accident after driving through floodwater covering the road. PA resident Iyad Taha, from a village near Ramallah, also drowned in the floodwaters.
Tuesday's hail and tornado broke electric poles, overturned cars, uprooted trees, damaged crops and injured more than 75 people - most lightly. Most of those injured were struck by objects whipped up by the strong winds, including two children, who suffered deep lacerations. The villages lost electricity for many hours.
Farmers report that avocado, lychee and banana crops were severely damaged by the winds and hail.
Vadim Amar, Mayor of Julis, said that the tornado damaged dozens of homes and asked that the region be declared a natural disaster site.
Tornados are rare in Israel. The occasional ones that have occurred have mostly taken place over the ocean and along the coast.
Hail was also experienced in elevated areas such as Gush Etzion on both Tuesday and Wednesday.
Elsewhere in Gush Etzion, an earthquake simulation exercise is being held Wednesday in Beitar Illit, in conjunction with the Defense Ministry, MDA, Israel Police, Israel Fire Department and others. The three-hour training event began at 11 AM.
Comment on this Article
Flood threat in Serbia and Germany
April 9, 2006
BERLIN - The swollen Elbe river rose to record levels in parts of northern Germany, while in Serbia authorities declared a maximum alert as the Danube edged up to the danger zone.
But German authorities said the worst of recent flooding would soon be over, and a Serbian official said there was "no need to panic."
The Danube rose to 7.34 meters (24 feet one inch) at the frontier between Serbia and Hungary, its second highest level since 1888.
The record highest level of 7.78 meters in 1965 caused catastrophic flooding in the Voivodine province.
Vladimir Milosev, a city official in the provincial capital Novi Sad, told local media, "we are in a state of maximum alert along the dykes, but for the moment, no negative consequences have been recorded. There is no need to panic."
In Belgrade, authorities warned of possible flooding in low-lying areas of the city because of rises in the level of the Danube and a tributary, the Sava.
In the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, the Elbe had risen to 9.10 metres from its normal level of five meters and was expected to rise another 10 centimetres, a local authority spokesman said.
"We have the situation completely in hand," he said, adding that measures had been taken in the city of Lauenburg to protect historic buildings.
The river has flooded cellars and threatened severe damage to 16th and 17th century houses in the city.
Upstream at Hitzacker, most of the old town was under water after the river swelled to almost three times its normal level.
It was 12 centimetres deeper early on Sunday than in 2002 when northern and eastern Germany suffered devastating floods, but authorities said they expected it would not go beyond the current level of 7.6 metres.
"We are assuming that we have reached the limit," a spokeswoman for the city said, adding that the water was expected to start receding on Monday.
Authorities believed it would take around 12 days to drain away.
Some 3,200 rescue workers and soldiers have been rushed to the area in recent days to place thousands of sandbags along the river to reinforce dykes.
Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Hitzacker on Sunday before taking a helicopter flight over nearby affected regions.
"The situation seems exceptionally threatening," she told reporters.
The Elbe flooded parts of the eastern state of Saxony earlier this month as snow melted at the beginning of spring. It swelled to more than three times its normal level before receding.
The historic state capital of Dresden escaped damage, unlike in 2002 when it was badly hit by the floodwaters.
But authorities said they were concerned about the situation downstream in Prignitz, in Brandenburg state, because, though water levels were receding, a strong wind was putting pressure on dykes.
Comment on this Article
Earthquake In South Of Sumatra
April 10, 2006 12:15 PM
KUALA LUMPUR, April 10 (Bernama) -- An earthquake measuring 5.0 on the Richter scale occurred at 10.36 am Monday in the south of Sumatra, according to a statement by the Meteorological Services Department.
It said the earthquake was located at 89km north of Padang, 366km southwest of Kuala Lumpur at coordinates 0.1 North 100.3 East.
The earthquake posed no tsunami threat, it added.
Comment on this Article
5.2-magnitude quake rattles Greek island
10/04/2006 - 08:38:45
A 5.2-magnitude earthquake jolted the eastern Aegean Sea island of Karpathos early today, causing no injuries or damage, Greek authorities said.
The University of Thessaloniki said the undersea quake occurred at 2.27am (12.27am Irish time).
"This earthquake should not cause particular concern, because it occurred in an area which is seismically active," Efthimios Lekkas, professor of geology at the University of Athens, told state-run NET television.
Comment on this Article
'100 bird flu outbreaks' in Burma
Monday, 10 April 2006
Bird flu has spread in Burma with more than 100 outbreaks across the country, a UN official has said.
He Changchui of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) told a press conference the situation was "more serious than we imagined".
He said the outbreaks were mainly in the central district of Mandalay and the northern district of Sagaing.
On 13 March Burma confirmed its first case of H5N1 since November 2004 and the number subsequently rose to five.
Mr He, who is the FAO's Asia-Pacific representative, was speaking after two teams from the agency visited Burma to assess the situation.
He said it had not been easy to find accurate information.
"The issue there is that awareness is rather poor," he said. "The information is not that comprehensive."
He said Burma lacked scientific equipment and facilities to deal with the outbreaks and would need international assistance.
UN bird flu co-ordinator David Nabarro, who is currently visiting South East Asia, said there were major problems in Burma.
"We're going to be focusing on Myanmar [Burma] a lot in the next few days and weeks, trying to make sure that the authorities and civil society are able to cope better," he said.
On 13 March Burma told the FAO that it had detected the first outbreak of bird flu in poultry in the central town of Mandalay, 700km (450 miles) north of Rangoon.
Five thousand chickens were culled and state media warned people to report suspected infections promptly.
There have been no reported human victims of the virus in Burma. More than 100 people around the world have died from the H5N1 strain of the disease since 2003.
The vast majority of the deaths have been in Asia, but cases in people and birds have also been recorded in Europe and Africa.
Experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily between humans, possibly sparking a pandemic, but there is no evidence that this has happened yet.
Comment on this Article
Revealed: the secret No 10 plan to tackle bird flu food shortages
By Patrick Hennessy, Political Editor
Emergency plans to tackle widespread food shortages in the event of a bird flu pandemic are being drawn up by ministers, according to secret Cabinet documents.
Off-duty firemen and retired lorry drivers would be pressed into service to ensure that essential food and drink supplies were delivered. Laws that restrict the daily hours of drivers and other vital workers would be suspended.
The confidential papers - seen by the Sunday Telegraph - show that a serious lack of long-distance- HGV drivers willing to go to infected areas is seen in Whitehall as a potential "pinch point" if avian flu takes a grip. The papers reveal government concern over a lack of preparation for a pandemic among the biggest food firms.
They also show how, in the event of a serious outbreak overseas, the Government will give preventive medicine to embassy and consular staff - but not to British holidaymakers or UK nationals who live in an infected country.
The Government fears that any pandemic could last more than six months. The documents say that Whitehall should be on alert for a pandemic on an "extended time-scale - certainly for six months ... and perhaps longer". They also suggest "more than one pandemic wave" of bird flu.
Senior vet Douglas Gray inspects a dead swan in Aberdeen
Senior vet Douglas Gray inspects a dead swan in Aberdeen
The documents were drawn up on March 22, a fortnight before a dead swan in a village in Fife was found to have the deadly H5N1 strain of the disease. The swan, which was washed ashore in the village of Cellardyke, had a strain similar to that contracted by 100 birds in Germany. Tests are continuing on hundreds of other dead birds, but none - apart from the swan - has tested positive for H5N1. Fourteen other birds that gave rise to concern tested negative.
The documents show a lack of preparedness in Whitehall that ministers and officials are working round the clock to combat. Their disclosure came as the Government was accused of "astonishing complacency" over planning, with farmers angry about confusing advice and the £1.2 billion poultry industry braced for a consumer backlash.
Industry leaders and poultry staff called for vaccinations to protect birds and farm workers, amid claims that the situation was becoming reminiscent of the foot and mouth crisis, which left thousands of animals on giant pyres.
The Government papers, which have been discussed by the "Cabinet Committee on Influenza Pandemic Planning", include a blueprint for "managing the response" to a pandemic. Whitehall would go into what officials call a full-scale "battle rhythm" with Tony Blair lined up to take personal charge at an as yet unspecified stage.
It is understood that two issues particularly concerning ministers are the difficulties of closing large numbers of schools and the provision of masks to large numbers of people, should the need arise.
A Government paper revealed last week suggested that families might have to wait up to four weeks to bury their dead. Ministers warned that up to 320,000 people could die in a pandemic.
The Cabinet documents reveal how the Environment Department fears that no large-scale plans to combat a pandemic have been lined up by big food companies apart from Marks & Spencer - suggesting a chronic lack of preparedness. They add: "HGV drivers had been identified as a potential pinch-point by some sectors. Various mitigation options were being discussed, including using retired drivers or off-duty fire service personnel, and lifting the requirements of the Working Time Directive."
An accompanying memo by Lord Triesman, the junior foreign office minister, puts forward an exhaustive plan for coping with a bird flu outbreak abroad. In the event of humans being infected, the document suggests, "we may come under pressure from the media and the British public at home to appear to be doing more for our nationals immediately affected by the virus. In particular we would hope to deal with the potential sensitivity of providing Tamilflu antiviral treatment for use by overseas mission staff and their dependents diagnosed with the flu virus under our duty of care obligations, but not to British nationals."
The document admits that France would supply preventive medicine to its overseas citizens while Britons will be told to fend for themselves.
Comment on this Article
Science and Technology
Sample virus targets Windows and Linux
By Joris Evers
April 7, 2006, 5:20 PM PDT
Virus writers have crafted another example of malicious software that can infect computers running Windows or Linux.
The proof-of-concept was submitted to Russian antivirus company Kaspersky Lab, which calls it Bi.a. The virus was written in low-level computer code called "assembler" and is limited, as it only infects files in the current directory, Kaspersky said Friday on its Web site. However, it can infect files in the different formats used by Linux and Windows--ELF and PE, respectively, Kaspersky said.
The virus is a classic proof-of-concept, written to show that it's possible to create a cross-platform virus, Kaspersky said. "However, our experience shows that once proof-of-concept code is released, virus writers are usually quick to take the code and adapt it for their own use," Kaspersky said.
That concern is shared by Swa Frantzen, who tracks incidents at the SANS Internet Storm Center, which monitors network threats. "The impact of the proof-of-concept at this point is very low in itself, but it is a sign the cross-platform aspects are becoming important," Frantzen wrote on the ISC blog. "As the developers of viruses continue to research this, we will see more cross-platform malware come about in the future."
Kaspersky has added detection for the malicious software to its antivirus databases.
Comment: Cross-platform malware! Now that the three major home operating systems (Windows, Linux, and OSX) are all running on Intel or Intel-compatible processors, it'll be that much easier to release a "plague" onto the internet from which Big Brother will most certainly protect us!
Comment on this Article
Viruses used to build tiny batteries
Last Updated Fri, 07 Apr 2006 10:49:57 EDT
Researchers attempting to make microscopic machines have altered viruses to collect metal and build wires for use in tiny batteries.
The viruses have been coaxed into building nanowires that could be used to make tiny lithium-ion batteries as small as a grain of rice, the researchers reported in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
The researchers altered the genes of a laboratory strain of a virus called M13 so that its outer layer would bind metal ions.
They grew the viruses inside bacteria in a solution of cobalt chloride so that crystals of cobalt oxide would collect on the viruses.
The international team of researchers, led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors Angela Belcher, Paula Hammond and Yet-Ming Chiang, also added gold to the mix so that batteries built using this technique will be able to carry more charge.
The viruses were placed between two oppositely charged plates and, because the viruses are negatively charged, they collected into uniform, flexible sheets.
The film of metal-coated viruses can serve as an anode, a positively charged electrode in a battery.
The chemical reactions involved in building the nanowires took place at normal room temperature and pressure, and didn't need expensive pressure-cooking techniques to complete, the researchers said.
Each virus essentially becomes a nanowire 880 nanometres (880 billionths of a metre) long and six nanometres in diameter, the same dimensions as the virus.
Comment on this Article
Web site exposes Air Force One defenses
Paul J. Caffera
The San Francisco Chronicle
Saturday, April 8, 2006
Whenever the president travels, security is a prime consideration. Motorcade routes are kept secret, and premature release of information about a presidential trip aboard one of the twin Air Force One planes can result in the Secret Service canceling a visit.
Thus, the Air Force reacted with alarm last week after The Chronicle told the Secret Service that a government document containing specific information about the anti-missile defenses on Air Force One and detailed interior maps of the two planes -- including the location of Secret Service agents within the planes -- was posted on the Web site of an Air Force base.
The document also shows the location where a terrorist armed with a high-caliber sniper rifle could detonate the tanks that supply oxygen to Air Force One's medical facility.
As of Friday, the document was still posted online. The Secret Service refused to comment on the document's release.
"It is not a good thing" for that information to be in the public domain, said Lt. Col Bruce Alexander, director of public affairs for the Air Mobility Command's 89th Airlift Wing, Andrews Air Force Base, which operates the presidential air transport fleet. "We are concerned with how it got there and how we can get it out. This affects operational security."
Information about Air Force One's anti-missile systems is considered particularly sensitive.
"Having information about a target's countermeasures does two things," said Daniel Goure of the Lexington Institute. "It gives you an opportunity to choose a different weapon and to choose a different attack style ... perhaps choosing to launch a salvo attack, or choose a missile that uses an active beam."
"It is tough enough for the Secret Service to do its job without this," said Leon Panetta, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, who now runs a public policy study center at California State University at Monterey Bay. "If I were still chief of staff, I would order the damned site (to) pull it down."
Comment on this Article
Google opening second research center in Israel?
April 7, 2006
Google is opening a second research center in Israel, according to Israeli tech blog Aviran's Place. "In addition to the first center planned in the northern city of Haifa, Google jobs page now lists new openings for positions in a new research center in Tel Aviv...The job description for the Engineering Center Director states that Google is looking for a person to head their new research and development center in Tel Aviv." Google declined to comment, the article says.
Comment on this Article
Russia Tests Nuclear Turbine In China Without A Hitch
Apr 10, 2006
Mumbai, India - A turbine installed at China's Tianwang nuclear power plant using Russian equipment and technology has passed its first test with flying colors, Russia's top civilian nuclear official said Friday.
Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Power, said the successful test launch of the turbine was an important step in developing nuclear energy cooperation between Russia and China.
"This is a significant stage in the development of our cooperation, and the fact that the turbine was up and running at the first attempt is an unprecedented case in the construction of Russian nuclear power plants," said Kiriyenko, who is visiting the Indian city of Mumbai as part of an Asian tour.
The turbine will be linked into China's electricity grid by the end of April and come online in fall, the Nuclear Power Agency said.
State nuclear technology export company Atomstroiexport has been helping China build the Tianwang facility in eastern Jiangsu Province under a 1997 contract signed following an intergovernmental agreement.
"This is a new step by Russia in conquering the international nuclear machinery market," a company spokesman said.
The Tianwang project will use VVEP-1000/428 pressurized water nuclear reactors with improved safety systems and neutron properties.
Comment on this Article
Seventh planet has a blue ring
By Helen Briggs
BBC News science reporter
Friday, 7 April 2006
Astronomers have discovered that the planet Uranus has a blue ring - only the second found in the Solar System.
Like the blue ring of Saturn, it probably owes its existence to an accompanying small moon.
Scientists suspect subtle forces acting on dust in the rings allow smaller particles to persist while larger ones are recaptured by the moon.
Smaller particles reflect blue light, giving the ring its distinctive colour, the US team reports in Science.
All other rings - those around Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune - are made up of both large and small particles, making the rings reddish in appearance.
Astronomers have long known that the gas giant Uranus is surrounded by rings of dark particulate matter up to ten metres in diameter.
But last December, two new rings - the planet's twelfth and thirteenth - were discovered using the Hubble Space Telescope.
Astronomers observed the ring system at infrared wavelengths with the Keck telescope, in Hawaii.
The outermost ring, and its ice-bound moon Mab, could not be observed in infrared light unlike the red inner ring.
A team led by Imke de Pater, professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, found that the ring was bright blue, something of an oddity in planetary terms.
"The blue colour says that this ring is predominantly submicron-sized material, much smaller than the material in most other rings, which appear red," Professor de Pater said.
The tiny particles - less than a thousandth of the width of a human hair - scatter and reflect predominantly blue light, much like the very small molecules in the air that make the Earth's sky blue.
The more common rings are reddish because they also contain many larger particles, which gives the reflected light its colour, and may be made up of reddish material, perhaps from iron.
It appears that the outer blue rings of Saturn and Uranus are strikingly similar, not least because they are both associated with small moons.
"The moon orbits the planet in the ring," Professor de Pater told the BBC News website.
"It is continuously impacted by very tiny particles [micrometeorites]. On a moon that doesn't have any atmosphere these tiny particles impact the moon at high velocity, and throw stuff up into space.
"Because the moon is so small, it escapes the moon and goes into orbit around the planet.
"The smaller particles stay in orbit around the planet but the larger particles smash back into the moon."
The work was carried out in collaboration with Mark Showalter, of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (Seti) Institute in California; Heidi Hammel, of the Space Science Institute, Colorado; and Seran Gibbard, of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
The scientists plan to carry out further observations next year, when the faint rings of Uranus will be more visible.
Comment on this Article
Chavez threatens to kick out US ambassador
Sun Apr 9, 2006
By Patrick Markey
CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez on Sunday threatened to expel the US ambassador after accusing him of provoking tensions in a warning that will further strain diplomatic ties.
The threat came two days after pro-Chavez demonstrators lobbed eggs, fruit and vegetables at the ambassador's car and the State Department warned Venezuela it could face consequences if it did not protect the US envoy.
Chavez, an ally of Cuba who often charges Washington with trying to topple him, said Ambassador William Brownfield had stirred up Friday's protest and warned he would declare him persona non grata if he provoked more incidents.
"Start packing your bags Mister, if you keep on provoking us, start packing your bags, because I'll kick you out of here," Chavez said on his regular television program.
"If Washington takes any measure against Venezuela because of your provocations, you will be responsible and you will have to leave here, we'll declare you persona non grata in Venezuela," he said.
Chavez and Washington are locked in a fierce dispute over his close ties to Havana and Tehran. Government officials portray the former soldier as a threat to regional democracy and he blasts US policies as "imperialist."
Chavez, who says his socialist revolution fights poverty, earlier this year expelled a US naval attache he accused of spying. Washington responded with the expulsion of a Venezuelan embassy official.
The protest erupted when Brownfield visited a poor Caracas neighborhood to donate baseball equipment. US officials say municipal representatives ordered them out before Chavez supporters chased the embassy convoy on motorbikes.
Venezuela said the embassy had not advised its Venezuelan security detail of its agenda. Goevrnment offcials deny that and accuse local authorities of sanctioning the protest.
It was the third time in the past month that Brownfield has faced open antagonism at public events.
An Embassy spokeswoman said Brownfield "will continue traveling and will not be intimidated."
Despite political tensions, Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter, remains a key supplier of crude to the US market. But Chavez says he wants to wean Venezuela off its economic reliance on the United States.
Comment on this Article
Rice moves to block Chavez power play
By Philip Sherwell in Washington
Condoleezza Rice, the American Secretary of State, is heading a concerted, but little-publicised, diplomatic effort by Washington to thwart the ambitions of Hugo Chavez, the firebrand Venezuelan President, to create and lead an anti-American axis in Latin America.
Faced by a resurgence of Left-wing populism in the Hispanic world, the Bush administration has decided to try "to do business" even with its harshest critics, if it can block the regional power play by Mr Chavez, backed by his friend Fidel Castro, the Cuban dictator.
Ms Rice had a friendly, first meeting last month with Evo Morales, the new Bolivian President, even though he has threatened to nationalise foreign businesses and announced the end of the ban on cultivation of coca, the plant from which cocaine is produced.
The administration is also likely to adopt an initially conciliatory approach towards Ollanta Humala - if he wins the Peruvian vote next weekend. But the prospect is viewed with alarm in Washington.
Roger Noriega, the assistant secretary of state for Western hemisphere affairs until last year, said: "He seems to have a military populist instinct that will undermine the recent democratic restoration."
Mr Noriega, who remains close to the administration, said he believed that Mr Chavez's role in the Morales victory and the Humala campaign has "probably been decisive".
Moderate Left-wing presidents have also won recent elections in Chile, Uruguay and Brazil, but Washington maintains good relations with all three governments.
The next headache for America is looming in Mexico, where the anti-capitalist message of Andres Lopez Obrador has made him front-runner for July's presidential vote.
Comment on this Article
The Danger of Hugo Chávez's Successful Socialism
by Ted Rall
Friday, April 7, 2006
When the hated despots of nations like Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan loot their countries' treasuries, transfer their oil wealth to personal Swiss bank accounts and use the rest to finance (in the House of Saud's case) terrorist extremists, American politicians praise them as trusted friends and allies. But when a democratically elected populist president uses Venezuela's oil profits to lift poor people out of poverty, they accuse him of pandering.
As the United States and Europe continue their shift toward a Darwinomic model where rapacious corporations accrue bigger and bigger profits while workers become poorer and poorer, the socialist economic model espoused by President Hugo Chávez has become wildly popular among Latin Americans tired of watching corrupt right-wing leaders enrich themselves at their expense. Left-of-center governments have recently won power in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. Chávez's uncompromising rhetoric matches his politics, but what's really driving the American government and its corporate masters crazy is that he has the cash to back it up.
In their desperate frenzy to destroy Chávez, state-controlled media is resorting to some of the most transparently and hilariously hypocritical talking points ever. In the April 4th New York Times Juan Forero repeated the trope that Chávez's use of oil revenues is unfair--even cheating somehow: "With Venezuela's oil revenues rising 32 percent last year," the paper exclaimed, "Mr. Chávez has been subsidizing samba parades in Brazil, eye surgery for poor Mexicans and even heating fuel for poor families from Maine to the Bronx to Philadelphia. By some estimates, the spending now surpasses the nearly $2 billion Washington allocates to pay for development programs and the drug war in western South America."
Chávez, the story continued, is poised to become "the next Fidel Castro, a hero to the masses who is intent on opposing every move the United States makes, but with an important advantage."
Heavens be! A rich country using its wealth to spread influence abroad! What God would permit such an abomination? Notice, by the way, that the United States funds "development programs." Oh, and it's a "drug war"--not a bombing campaign against leftist insurgents who oppose South America's few remaining pro-U.S. right-wing regimes.
Quoted by the Times--which editorialized in favor of and ran flattering profiles of the right-wing oligarchs who attempted to overthrow Chávez in a 2002 coup attempt--is "critic" John Negroponte, whose day job happens to be as Bush's Director of National Intelligence. Negroponte complained that Chávez is "spending considerable sums involving himself in the political and economic life of other countries in Latin America and elsewhere, this despite the very real economic development and social needs of his own country."
Pot, kettle, please discuss the $1 billion a week we're wasting on Iraq while people die for lack of medical care and schools fall apart right here in America. Maybe Chávez should have found a better use for the money he spent on Rio's Carnival parade. On the other hand, at least it didn't go to bombs and torture camps.
Televangelist Pat Robertson's 2005 call to assassinate Chávez was criticized only mildly by establishment media, and primarily on the basis that murdering heads of state violates a U.S. law. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accuses Chávez of a "Latin brand of populism that has taken countries down the drain." Which ones? Certainly not Venezuela itself, where a double-digit-GDP boom leads the region and new houses, $10 billion per year is banked for future anti-poverty programs and schools are sprouting like weeds.
Loaded language unworthy of a junior high school newspaper is the norm in coverage of the Venezuelan president. "Chavez insists his government is democratic and accuses Washington of conspiring against him," the San Jose Mercury-News wrote on April 3rd. Why the "insists"? No international observer doubts that Venezuela, where the man who won the election gets to be president, is at least as democratic as the United States. The 2002 coup plotters gathered beforehand at the White House. Surely the Merc could grant Chávez's "accusation" as fact. The paper continued: "He says the United States was behind a short-lived 2002 coup, an allegation that U.S. officials reject." He also happens to be right, though it's hard to tell by reading that sentence.
Eighty-two percent of Venezuelans think Chávez is doing a good job. That's more than twice the approval rating by Americans of Bush. He roundly defeated an attempt to recall him. So why is Washington lecturing Caracas?
"The [Venezuelan] government is making billions of dollars [from its state oil company] and spending them on houses, education, medical care," notes CNN. And--gasp--people's lives are improving.
What if the rest of us noticed? No wonder Chávez has to go.
Comment on this Article
"Centre-Left" Regimes In Latin America
By James Petras
08 April, 2006
Axis Of Logic
Examined here is the phenomenon of the "centre left" regime that has emerged recently in Latin America, and the reasons why such palpably neo-liberal governments attract the uncritical support of leftist intellectuals worldwide. The "centre left" governments of Lula in Brazil, Kirchner in Argentina, Tabare Vazquez in Uruguay, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Toledo in Peru, and Gutierrez in Ecuador are measured against a set of criteria designating espousal of leftist politics, a test failed by them all. It is argued that, in order to develop authentically leftist views about future patterns of agrarian policy and transformation, and to support these once developed, it is necessary first to sweep away the rhetoric that these days is taken for "leftist" views.
Several years ago I asked an editor of a leading US business journal (Forbes) about how he characterized the politics of a Mexican President (Luís Echevarria) who was speaking at a Leftist conference commemorating Salvador Allende, the socialist President of Chile ousted by the military coup of 11th September 1973. In what was a very revealing answer, the business journal editor replied: "He talks to the Left and works for the Right". This response captured more accurately than many leftist analyses, and certainly more cynically than any of them, the nature of the political dilemma facing all current and future attempts at grassroots mobilization - by movements composed of poor peasants, agricultural labourers, and urban workers - throughout Latin America. Namely, the disjuncture between a programme of socialist reform promised by radical politicians before taking office and the actual neoliberal policies implemented once they are in power. A review of the performance by recent "centre left" Presidents in Latin America fits very well with the comment of that Forbes editor, and undermines the faith placed in them by much of the political left in Europe and the US.
Such political betrayals fuel a slide into a-political ideology. Combining an initial optimism with a subsequent pessimism, they culminate in the belief among those at the grassroots that nothing will change, so there is little or no point in trying. Alternatively, they license an unalloyed optimism; the view - more usually held by leftist intellectuals - that the policies implemented are either the socialist ones promised, or the best that can be done in the circumstances. Whilst almost everyone (political leadership and intellectuals alike) seems to be against neo-liberalism, therefore, it is not always clear what - if anything - they are for. The assumption frequently made - that if one is against neoliberalism then this signals an automatic support for a progressive politics, not to say socialism itself - is incorrect. For this reason, the object of the brief presentation that follows is twofold. First, to examine what constitutes a leftist position in the current political climate. And second, to compare the latter with the policies now being implemented by the political leadership in a number of Latin American countries: Lula in Brazil, Kirchner in Argentina, Tabare Vazquez in Uruguay, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Toledo in Peru, and Gutierrez in Ecuador.
In short, the object is critically to analyse what passes for leftist credentials among those holding power in Latin America. The practical importance of this task, as distinct from the necessity for it, is also clear: in order to develop authentically leftist views about future patterns of agrarian policy and transformation, and to support these once developed, it is necessary first to sweep away the rhetoric that these days is taken for 'leftist' views.
WHAT LEFTISM IS
Given the shift away from socialist theory and politics, it is in an important sense hardly surprising that claims made by intellectuals for the leftist nature of a programme with which they are associated, or implementing, is permitted to pass without substantial challenge. Prior to any discussion of "centre left" regimes in Latin America today, therefore, it is important to understand exactly what it means "to be left" -- from a historical, theoretical and practical perspective. The method for determining "What is left" is based on analyzing the substance - and not the symbols or rhetoric - of a regime or politician. The practical measures open to scrutiny include budgets, property, income, employment, labour legislation, and priorities in expenditures and revenues. Of particular importance is to focus on the present social referents, social configurations of power and alliances - not the past - given the changing dynamics of power and class politics. The third methodological issue is to differentiate between a political campaign to gain power and the policies of a political party once in power, as the gulf between them is both wide and well known.
Historically there is a consensus among academics and activists as to what constitute criteria and indicators for defining a leftist politics. These include the following fourteen points, all of which combine to structure what might be termed a minimal leftist programme:
Decreasing social inequalities. Increasing living standards.
Greater public and national ownership in relation to private and foreign ownership. Progressive taxes (on income and corporations) over regressive taxation (VAT, consumption.).
Budget priorities favouring greater social expenditures and public investments in jobs, rather than allocating subsidies both to capitalist producers and to foreign debt payments. Promoting national ownership of raw materials and resources, and protecting the latter from foreign exploitation. Diversification of production to value added products as opposed to selling unprocessed raw materials. Subordinating production-for-export to the development of the domestic market. Popular participation and power in decision-making, not least central planning, as opposed to de facto rule by businesses, international bankers (IMF) and political elites. The selection of key cabinet ministers in consultation with mass grassroots movements (representing poor peasants, agricultural labourers and urban workers) instead of those representing simply local and foreign businesses. Adoption of a progressive foreign policy targeted against the global spread of laissez faire economics (= free markets), military bases and imperial wars and occupation. Reversing privatizations already carried out, and discarding the policy of extending/consolidating privatizations. Increasing the level of the minimum wage. Promoting legislation facilitating trade union organization, plus universal and free public education and health services.
With these criteria in mind, one can proceed to analyze and evaluate the contemporary "centre left" regimes, so as to determine whether "New Winds from the Left" are in fact sweeping Latin America, as many claim.
BRAZIL UNDER PRESIDENT LULA, 2003-06
With the possible exception of Evo Morales (see below), no recent assumption of the Presidency of a Latin American country has attracted as much enthusiasm and acclaim from those on the global left as the election of Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva as President of Brazil. Even before his election, however, Lula, signed a letter of understanding with the International Monetary Fund (June 2002) to pay the foreign debt, to maintain a budget surplus of 4% (up to 4.5% subsequently), to maintain macro-economic stability and to continue neo-liberal "reforms". Once elected, he slashed public employee pensions by 30%, and bragged that he had the "courage" to carry out the IMF "reforms" that previous right-wing presidents had failed to do. To "promote" capital investment, Lula introduced labour legislation increasing the power of employers to fire workers and lowering the cost of severance pay. Social programmes in health and education were sharply reduced by over 5% during the first three years, while foreign debt creditors received punctual (and even early) payments of over US$100 billion dollars - making Brazil a "model" debtor.
Past privatizations of dubious legality of lucrative petrol (Petrobras), mining (Vale del Doce), and banks were extended to public infrastructure, services and telecommunications - reversing seventy years of history - and making Brazil more vulnerable to foreign owned re-locations of production. Brazil's exports increasingly took on the profile of a primary producer; thus exporters of iron, soya, sugar, citrus juice, and timber expanded while its industrial sector stagnated due to the worlds highest interest rates of 18.5% and the lowering of tariff barriers. Over 25,000 shoe workers lost their jobs due to cheap imports from China. After Guatemala, Brazil remained the country with the greatest inequalities in the whole of Latin America.
Agrarian policy was directed toward financing and subsidizing agribusiness exports, while the agrarian reform programme stagnated and even regressed. Lula's promise to his "ally", the Landless Workers' Movement (Movimiento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, or MST), to distribute land to 100,000 families a year was totally disregarded. Under the previous center-right regime of President Cardoso, some 48,000 families received land each year compared to only 25,000 per year under Lula, leaving over 200,000 families camped by highways under plastic tents and 4.5 million landless families with no hope. Lula's policy favouring agroexport led to accelerated exploitation of the Amazon rain forest and deep incursions into Brazilian Indian territory, thanks to budget cuts in the Environment and Indigenous Affairs Agencies.
In foreign policy, Lula sent troops and officials to occupy Haiti and defend the puppet regime resulting from the US orchestrated invasion and deposition of elected President Aristide. Lula's differences with the US over ALCA were clearly over US compliance with "free trade" and not over any defence of national interests. As Lula stated, "Free trade is the best system, providing everyone practices it" - meaning that what he opposed was not free trade per se but rather the failure of the US to adhere to this. Whilst Lula opposed the US-sponsored coup against Venezuela in April 2002, as well as other imperial adventures, and spoke for greater Latin American integration via MERCOSUR, in practice his major trade policies focused on deepening his ties outside the region - with Asia, Europe and North America.
The evidence presented here in outline suggests that Lula fits closer the stereotypical profile of a right-wing neo-liberal politician rather than a "'centre left" President. Why, then, does he continue to be regarded by 'opinion-formers' in the media and the academy as a representative, not to say the embodiment, of leftist interests? The answer is all too simple. Intellectuals and journalists who classify Lula as a leftist do this on the basis of his social, trade union and occupational background, an identity now twenty to thirty years old and no longer relevant to the interests and agency he embodies in the present, plus his theatrical populist symbolic gestures.
ARGENTINA UNDER PRESIDENT KIRCHNER,
2003 TO THE PRESENT
Under President Kirchner, Argentina has grown at a rate of 8.5% per year, substantially increased export earnings, reduced unemployment from over 20% to approximately 15%, raised pensions and wages, re-negotiated a portion of the private foreign debt and rescinded the laws granting impunity to military torturers. Compared to Lula's ultra-liberal policies, therefore, Kirchner appears as a progressive leader. Looked at from a leftist perspective however, the regime falls far short. Kirchner has not reversed any of the fraudulent privatizations of Argentina's strategic energy, petroleum and electrical industries. Under his regime the profits of major agro-industrial and petroleum sectors have skyrocketed with no commensurate increases in salaries. In other words, inequalities have either increased or remained the same, depending on the sectors.
While Kirchner has financed and subsidized the revival of industry and promotion of agricultural exports, salaries and wages have barely reached the level of 1998 - the last year before the economic crisis. Moreover, while poverty levels have declined from their peak of over 50% in 2001, they are still close to 40% - a very high figure a for a country like Argentina which produces enough grain and meat to supply a population six times its current size. As in the case of Lula, Kirchner's central banker and economic and finance ministers have long-term ties to international capital and banks. Whilst economic growth and some social amelioration have taken place, much of it can be attributed to the favourable world commodity prices for beef, grains, petroleum and other primary sector materials. In foreign policy Kirchner - again like Lula - opposes ALCA only because the US has refused to reciprocate in lowering its own tariff barriers.
That Kirchner's foreign policy is hardly anti-imperialist is evident from the fact that Argentine troops occupy Haiti at the behest of the US, and engage in joint manoeuvres with the US. While Kirchner revoked the law of impunity that had hitherto sheltered military torturers, no new trials have been scheduled, nor have any punishments been meted out to those guilty of human rights abuses during the "dirty war". Although Kirchner opposes US attacks on Venezuela, he supports the US proposal to refer Iran to the Security Council of the UN. While unemployment has declined, one out of six Argentines is still out of work. Unemployment relief remains at a very low level, of no more than US$50 per family per month. Despite a nominal increase in salaries, growing inflation of over 10% has reduced real earnings for the majority of public employees.
The structures of socio-economic power remain in place - in fact Kirchner has played a major role in restoring and consolidating capitalist hegemony after the mass popular uprisings of December 2001. He has not redistributed property, income or power - except among the different segments of the capitalist class. His criticism of Washington only extends to the most extreme interventionist measures which seek to prejudice Argentine big business and convert it into a powerless client: hence Argentina's opposition to the State Department's attempt to form an anti-Chavez bloc. Kirchner's rejection stems from almost exclusively from economic considerations: the fact that Argentina receives petroleum from Venezuela at subsidized prices, has secured a major ship-building contract from Venezuela, and has signed lucrative trade agreements with Venezuela to market its agricultural and manufactured products. With regard to Cuba, Kirchner opened diplomatic relations, but has maintained his distance. While on excellent diplomatic terms with Chávez, Kirchner shares none of his redistributive policies.
In conclusion, Kirchner meets none of the leftist criteria set out above. He is more clearly a pragmatic conservative willing to dissent from the US when it is profitable for his agribusiness and industrial capitalist social base. At no point has Kirchner shifted any of the budget surplus now used to pay the foreign debt to fund the depleted health and educational facilities and to provide better salaries for personnel in those vital public sectors.
URUGUAY UNDER PRESIDENT TABARE VAZQUEZ
Tabare Vazquez was elected by an electoral coalition (The Broad Front and Progressive Encounter) which included Tupamaros, Communists, Socialists, as well as an assortment of Christian Democrats and liberal democrats. However, his key appointments to the Central Bank and the Economic Ministry (Danilo Astori) are hardline neo-liberals and defenders of continuing previous budget constraints where social spending is concerned, while generously financing the agro-export elites.
During the Economic Summit in Mar de Plata (Argentina) in November 2005, while tens of thousands protested against Bush, and Chávez declared ALCA dead, Tabare Vazquez and Astori signed a wide reaching 'investment protection' agreement with the US, which embraced the major free market principles embodied in ALCA. With the full backing of Tabare Vazquez, Astori has not only rejected re-nationalization of enterprises, but has given notice of an intention to privatize major state enterprises, including a water company, despite a popular referendum in which more than 65% voted in favour of maintaining state ownership. The Tabare Vazquez regime has taken no measures to lessen inequalities, and has put in place a paltry 'job creation' and emergency food relief programme which covers a small fraction of the poor, indigent and unemployed Uruguayans.
Meanwhile the government has laid down the royal carpet for a Finnish-owned, highly contaminating, cellulose factory which will have an adverse effect on fishing communities and perhaps even the important tourist facilities downstream. Tabare Vazquez and Astori's unilateral signing off on the controversial factory has resulted in a major conflict with Argentina which borders the Uruguay River, where the plant will be located.
The Tabare Vazquez regime has repudiated every major programmatic position embraced by the Broad Front (Frente Amplio) in its 30 years of existence: from sending troops in support of the occupation of Haiti, to privatizing public properties, embracing free trade, welcoming foreign investment and imposing wage cuts and salary austerity controls on the working class. Like Kirchner, Tabare Vazquez has re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba, but he avoids any close relationship with Venezuela. Probably the most bizarre aspect of the Broad Front government is the behaviour of the Tupamaros, the former urban guerrilla group now converted into Senators and Ministers. Mujica, the Minister of Argiculture, supports agribusiness enterprises and foreign investment in agriculture, and simultaneously upholds the law on evicting landless squatters in the interior. Senator Eleuterio Huidobro attacks human rights groups demanding judicial investigations of military officials implicated in assassinations and disappearances of political prisoners. According to Huidobro, the 'past is best forgotten', thereby embracing the military and turning his back on scores of his former comrades who were abducted, tortured, murdered and buried in unmarked graves.
BOLIVIA UNDER EVO MORALES
Probably the most striking example of the "center-left" regimes that have embraced the neo-liberal agenda is that of Evo Morales in Bolivia. His background is both rural and radical: an indigenous farmer growing coca (cocalero), he is also the leader of the Movement to Socialism (Movimiento al Socialismo, or MAS), which draws on strong support from peasant smallholders in the Chapare region. Not only was Morales' election victory beyond dispute - he obtained 54 per cent of the vote cast, a majority unrivalled in the past half century - but it was greeted with enthusiasm by a wide spectrum of world political opinion, especially on the left. Just why the latter in particular should be so pleased about the accession to the Bolivian Presidency of Morales, however, is unclear. Even before he took power, therefore, his political record could only be described as ambivalent.
Between October 2003 and July 2005, scores of factory workers, unemployed urban workers and Indian peasants were killed in the struggle for the nationalization of petroleum and gas, Bolivia's most lucrative economic sector and source of revenue. Two presidents were overthrown by mass uprisings in a two and a half year period for defending the foreign ownership of the energy resources. Yet Evo Morales did not participate in either uprising; in fact he supported the hastily installed neo-liberal President Carlos Mesa until he, too, was driven from power.
As President, Evo Morales has ruled out the possibility that gas and petroleum will be expropriated. Instead he has provided long-term, large-scale guarantees that all the facilities of the major energy multinational corporations will be recognized, respected and protected by the Bolivian state. As a consequence, the multinational corporations have not only expressed their support for Morales, but have also lined up to extend and deepen their control and exploitation of these non-renewable resources. By means of a none-too-clever linguistic sleight of hand, Morales claims that anyway "nationalization" does not correspond to the expropriation and transfer of property to the state. According to his "new" definition, minority state ownership of shares, tax increases and promises to 'industrialize' the raw materials are all equivalent to nationalization.
While the exact terms of the new contracts have yet to be published, all the major multinational corporations are in full agreement with Morales' policies. Evidence of this is that Petrobras, the primarily privately owned Brazilian oil and gas giant, is prepared to invest US$5 billion dollars over the next six years, in the exploitation of gas and petroleum and in the construction of a petro-chemical complex. Other multinational corporations have followed suit: Repsol (a firm based in Spain) promises to invest US$150 million dollars, while Total and BP (French and British respectively) plus a whole host of other major energy and mining corporations are all prepared to expand investments and reap billions in profits under the protective umbrella of Morales and his MAS regime.
No previous government in Bolivian history has opened the country to mineral exploitation by so many foreign capitalist enterprises in such lucrative fields in such a short period of time. In addition to the oil and gas sell-offs, Morales has declared that he intends to privatize the Mutun iron fields (60 square kilometers with an estimated 40 billion tons of ore with an estimated worth of over US$30 billion dollars), following the lead of his neo-liberal predecessors. The only changes which Morales will introduce in the bidding is to raise the share of taxes Bolivia will receive from US$0.50 a ton to an undisclosed 'but reasonable' amount (according to the multinational corporations).
Reneging on his promises, Morales has refused to triple the minimum wage. His Minister of the Economy has undertaken to retain the previous regime's policies of fiscal austerity and "macro-economic stability", while the increase in the minimum wage will amount to less than 10%. And although the Morales government raised the teachers' basic salary a meager 7%, in real terms this amounted to less than 2%. Now the basic salary earned by a teacher is US$75 a month, so their net gain under the new "revolutionary" indigenous president is less than US$2 dollars a month, and this at a time of record prices for Bolivian raw material exports, and a budget surplus.
Despite being the leader of coca growing peasant farmers, Evo Morales has declared his support both for the continued presence of the US military base at Chapare, and for the intrusive presence of the US Drug Enforcement Agency. In keeping with US policy demands, he has reduced the areas of coca production to less than half an acre for domestic medical uses. To appease his peasant supporters, however, Morales not only promotes and funds indigenous cultural events/celebrations, but also encourages the use of indigenous language use in schools located in the Andean highlands, and at public functions. Land reform will involve colonization projects in hitherto unsettled or uncultivated terrain.
Taking land away from large proprietors or plantations, however, is not on the agrarian reform programme. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, both Morales and his Agricultural Minister are opposed to any expropriations of large landowners, 'whether they are owners of...5,000, 10,000, or 25,000 or more acres as long as they are productive'. This has effectively put an end to the hopes of millions of landless Indian peasants for a "profound agrarian reform" as promised by the indigenous President. What Morales is doing instead is to promote agro-export agriculture, a policy effected by means of generous subsidies and tax incentives.
Like those of Lula and Kirchner, the appointments made by Morales to the economic, defence and a number of other ministries all have previous links to the IMF, the World Bank and earlier neo-liberal governments in Bolivia. Indicative of Morales' favourable disposition towards capitalist enterprise was the signing of a pact with the Confederation of Private Businessmen of Bolivia in February 2006, whereby he committed himself to maintain "macro-economic stability" and the "international credibility" of the country. This means in effect curtailing social spending, promoting foreign investment, prioritizing exports, maintaining monetary stability and above all promoting private investment.
Morales' capitulation to the Bolivian capitalist class was evident in his decision to re-activate the National Business Council, which will analyze and take decisions on economic and political issues. About this Morales said, "I am asking the businessmen to support me with their experience." (Forgetting to add their experience in exploiting the labour force.) He went on to ask these capitalists to advise him on "ALCA, MERCOSUR... on agreements with China, the USA...as to their benefits for the country". The president of the Business Confederation, Guillermo Morales, immediately emphasized the importance of signing up to the free trade agreement (ALCA).
Whilst Evo Morales was busy signing a pact with the business community, he refused to meet with the leaders of FEJUVE (The Federation of Neighbourhood Councils of El Alto in La Paz), the biggest, most active, democratic urban organization in Bolivia. It had been very active in leading the mass struggle, both to overthrow the previous neo-liberal presidents and to demand the nationalization of gas and petroleum. Ironically, Morales received 88% of the vote cast in El Alto, an area of the national capital where scores of deaths and injuries occurred in the run-up to his election. He showed his contempt for FEJUVE by naming two of its members as ministers - Mamani as Minister for Water and Patzi as Education Minister - without even consulting the organization, which takes all decisions via popular assemblies. Both Ministers were forced to resign from FEJUVE, in part because Patzi rejected the long-standing grassroots demand to create a teachers' college for the 800,000 residents of El Alto, claiming it was an "unacceptable cost to the system" (given Morales' selective austerity budget). For his part, Mamani refused to expel the foreign multinational company Aguas del Illimani, which overcharges consumers and fails to provide adequate services.
According to FEJUVE the Morales regime has failed to deal with the most elementary problems, such as the exorbitant electricity rates, the absence of any plan to provide and connect households with heating, gas and water lines. The major trade union confederations and federations (COB, Miners and others) have protested against the refusal of Morale to rescind the reactionary labour laws passed by his predecessors which "flexibilized labor" - depriving workers of legislative protection against dismissal, and thus empowering employers to hire and fire workers at will. As a reward for his pro-business policies, Japan, Spain and the World Bank have "forgiven" Bolivia's foreign debt.
In order to sweeten this kind of bitter neo-liberal economic pill, Morales has adopted a familiar ploy: the rhetoric and agency of populism. He has excelled in "public theatre", consisting of a populist folkloric style that reproduces the discourse about a socio-economically uniform people, one of whom is himself. Such images of 'being' no different from the masses, of "belonging" to them, of sharing their not only their interests and background, but also (and therefore) their discomforts and aspirations, are aimed at securing grassroots acceptance of his programme/policies as theirs. To this end, therefore, Morales not only dances with the crowds during carnival, declares a reduction of his presidential salary as part of the austerity programme affecting the living standards of already impoverished Bolivians, but also delivered a section of his Presidential Speech to Congress in the Aymara language.
The same populist logic informed the announcement by him of a "plot" aimed against his person by unspecified oil companies, the object being to rally support among his followers while he prepares to sign away the country's energy resources to these same oil companies. Needless to say, neither the Defence or Interior Ministries were aware of the "plot", nor was any evidence of its existence ever presented. But the non-existent 'plot' did indeed serve to distract attention from his energy sellout. In a similar vein, while Morales has spoken of his dear friend Hugo Chavez, and embraced Fidel Castro, he has conceded military bases to the US and offices to its DEA (the Drug Enforcement Agency), as well as granting concessions to international (= "foreign") capitalist enterprises interested in access to and extraction of Bolivian energy and mining resources.
Although Morales has improved diplomatic relations with Cuba and Venezuela, and secured social and economic aid, therefore, the economic foundations of his policies are oriented toward an integration of Bolivian development with the interests of Western capitalist countries. In this and other respects, the Morales regime is following in the footsteps of his neo-liberal predecessors, not least his pro-big business outlook and his obedience to IMF fiscal, monetary and budgetary imperatives. Accordingly, the policies, appointments, institutional ties of the Morales government all suggest that the most appropriate political label in his case is not a leftist but much rather a "centre right" one.
A NOTE ON PERU UNDER TOLEDO AND
ECUADOR UNDER GUTIERREZ
The election of Toledo in Peru and Gutierrez in Ecuador was hailed by many of those the political left, who in support of this endorsement cited the plebeian origins of both presidential candidates, their alliances with Indian organizations (such as CONAIE in Ecuador) or indigenous identity (Toledo spoke Quechua and wore a poncho during his election campaign). Notwithstanding the fact that Toledo emerged from the neo-liberal graduate programme at Stanford University, and was subsequently a functionary at the World Bank, leftists acclaim centred on his opposition to the Fujimori dictatorship (with US backing) which they asserted was a sign that "change would come".
Change did indeed come, but not of the kind that the global left had anticipated. Much rather, it took the form of intensified privatizations of mining, water and energy, subsidies for agribusiness and mining exporters, the lifting of trade barriers, and a decline in living standards of the middle class as well as the rural and urban poor. For the last three years, the diminished popularity of Toledo's neo-liberal programme can be gauged from the fact that his support in opinion ratings never exceeded 15% and mostly hovered below 10%.
Much the same is true of Ecuador. Once in office, Gutierrez embraced IMF doctrines, extended support to the US-instigated Plan Colombia, backed the US military base in Manta, proposed the privatization of the state oil and electricity companies, jailed protesting trade union leaders, divided the Indian movement through selective funding and ties to right wing evangelical leaders. He was eventually ousted in a popular uprising in 2005. The legacy of Gutierrez was a much-weakened Indian social movement (CONAIE), the discrediting of Pachacutik, its fraternal party, and a neutered trade union movement.
Somewhat predictably, those on the political left was slow to comprehend the direction being taken by these two "centre left" Presidents whose election they had greeted with such optimism. It was only after the political damage was an accomplished fact, therefore, that those on the left belatedly recognized the reactionary nature of the Gutierrez and Toledo regimes. At this point, and almost reluctantly, they dissociated themselves from these politicians, and stopped referring to them as part of the "New Left Winds". When combined with leftist endorsement of Lula, Kirchner, and Morales, that of Toledo and Gutierrez points to a serious failure on the part of progressive opinion to understand the nature of the political programme being supported. Why?
THE UNFORTUNATE HISTORY OF THE LEFT INTELLECTUAL
The great majority of Latin Americans - workers, peasants, unemployed and poor - have suffered grave consequences as a result of the support given by movements to which they belong to "centre left" parties and coalitions. Much of the blame for this situation must fall on the immediate leaders of these movements, some of whom were co-opted, others deceived, manipulated or self-deluding. Part of the fault, however, lies with leftist intellectuals, journalists, NGOs, and academics who wrote and spoke in favor of "centre left" politicians and parties. They promoted their virtues, their histories and their promises; they lauded their opportunities, their plebeian backgrounds, and their probity - in a vastly uninformed, uncritical and superficial manner.
The list of leftist intellectuals culpable of this covers three continents, and reads like a "Who's Who" of progressive opinion: Emir Sader, Adolfo Gilly, Michel Lowy, Heinz Dietrich, Perry Anderson, Atilio Boron, Raul Zibechi, Frei Betto, Noam Chomsky, Ignacio Ramonet among others. To a greater or lesser degree, and over a long or short time frame, all sang to the chorus of "New Left Winds are blowing in Latin America". A close reading of their writings, however, reveals that these left intellectuals were more influenced by the text and rhetoric of "centre left" personalities and parties, and less by their class practices, economic policies, strategic political appointments, and their elite linkages before and after being elected.
In general, the Left intellectuals were seduced by what might be termed superstructural phenomena. The latter encompass political symbols, political forms and identity politics - especially the presence of "Indians" and women in positions of power - and not the socio-economic content and class nature of the policies concerned. Much was made by those on the left of "Indian" and/or ethnic identity, or the social origins of the party or politician, ignoring or overlooking thereby their neo-liberal transformation, their current business elite reference groups, plus their current socio-economic elite associates. They bought into the carefully choreographed political gestures and theatre: the promises to reduce Presidential salaries (Morales), ceremonies paying homage to past struggles (Tupamaros), and weeping or "feeling" for the poor (Lula), all this rather than the selling off of the strategic raw materials to foreign multinational corporations.
It is difficult to overestimate the gravity of the resulting political focus by leftist intellectuals/ academics on form rather than substance. This uncritical espousal by many on the political left of ethnic "otherness" simply because it is an identity that is indigenous, without interrogating the class ideology and politics of this "other" identity, has on occasion played directly into the hands of the political right, who have factored this kind of response into their own agendas. Thus, for example, in the case of the US-engineered coup in 1954 against the democratically elected government of President Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, the US Central Intelligence Agency selected Castillo Armas as a puppet to head the "opposition". To those organizing the coup, one of the main attractions of Castillo Armas was that he appeared to be of an indigenous "other" identity in a country where half the population was Mayan.
In part, the judgment of leftist intellectuals was impaired by a nostalgic remembrance of years past - when they knew Lula as a trade union leader (a quarter of a century earlier), the Frente Amplio as an organization of grassroots struggle (resisting the military dictatorship in Uruguay during the 1970s), Evo Morales as a militant peasant leader (of coca farmers in the 1990s), and Kirchner as a leftist sympathizer (with the Montoneros in the 1970s). Writing on the basis of identities which were no longer current, and thus irrelevant to the present political situation, leftist intellectuals failed to appreciate the extent to which there had been a shift from left to right. Instead they invented a non-existent but hospitable "centre left" label which was affixed - inappropriately, and without reason - to those such as Lula, Kirchner, Morales, Toledo and Gutierrez. In this way, the label created neatly fits in with their wishes and desires to be 'against' the system while being part of it.
Not a few of these left intellectuals were impressed by the "centre left" diplomatic gestures of friendship towards Cuba and Venezuela, the warm reception of Hugo Chávez, even the occasional embrace of progressive leaders. No doubt they confused the favorable diplomatic gestures by Cuba and Venezuela toward the "centre left" regimes - understandable from the view of state policies aimed at countering US pressures - as a general endorsement of their internal policies. Regardless of any reasons for Cuban and Venezuelan support, leftist intellectuals have invented a "common purpose" with the "centre left", some - such as Dietrich - even fantasizing about the presence of a new "left bloc". The latter was based, presumably, on policies such as deepening foreign ownership of strategic materials, widening social inequalities, and promoting free trade.
Symbolic politics is visually accessible on the front pages of the mass media - it does not require a capacity to research, collect and analyze data. Insofar as left intellectuals substituted the "symbolic left" for the real existing converts to neo-liberalism, they can with an easy conscience do things like become political advisers, accept invitations to Presidential inaugurations, and imbibe cocktails at receptions. As history teaches us, this chance to be close to power is indeed a heady experience. Most cynically, it could be argued that the only place where the "Left Winds" blow is through the empty space between their ears.
There are powerful left-wing forces in Latin America, and sooner or later they will contest and challenge the power of the neo-liberal converts, as well as their allies in Washington and in the multinational corporations. In the case of Bolivia this is likely to be sooner, not least because the scale and scope of Morales' broken promises, together with his embrace of the business elite, has already provoked the mobilization of the class-conscious trade unions, the mass urban organizations and landless agricultural workers and poor peasants. The insurrectionary movements on whose back Morales rode to office are still intact, and - more importantly - their co-opted leaders have been replaced by new militants. Populist "gestures" and "folkloric" theatre can have at best only a short-term impact, in that the capacity to divert class-conscious miners and the Indian militants in El Alto from the reality of grinding poverty is of necessity limited. The insurrectionary forces that brought Morales to power can also bring him down.
Left-wing forces are also powerful in Colombia. More than US$3 billion of US military assistance has been spent on Plan Colombia over the past four years by the Uribe regime. Although the latter is propped up by paramilitaries and some 1,500 US Special Forces "advisers", the government of Uribe has nevertheless failed to defeat the FARC (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), and have suffered major defeats in late 2005-2006 in the face of a guerrilla offensive. Uribe may indeed win re-election as President of Colombia, but he will at best rule only half of the country.
In Brazil, the control/co-optation of the class collaborationist labour confederation (CUT) by the Lula regime has led to the formation of a new militant confederation ConLuta (founded May 2006). The not uncritical collaboration with the Lula regime on the part of the MST has led to a political impasse, internal debates and a sharp decline in support within and outside of the organization. This may lead to a political rectification and re-orientation toward class politics. It is nevertheless the case that the Brazilian left faces a "long march" toward re-establishing its political credibility gaining. Much the same is true of the left in Uruguay and Argentina: the new "centre left" neo-liberals, unlike the old right, have co-opted many of the leaders of the major trade unions and some of the unemployed workers groups. This has been done by means of allocation of government posts, inclusion in Congressional electoral slates, and generous stipends.
President Chávez of Venezuela stands as the major political figure representing a real governmental challenge to US imperialism. He has led the fight against ALCA and the US invasion of Haiti; he defeated a US-sponsored coup attempt and has demonstrated that social welfare, nationalism and political independence is viable in the Hemisphere. But as in Cuba, Chávez faces not only US aggression from the outside but opposition from within. Many officials in his party (The Fifth Republic), the state apparatus and sectors of the military are not in favor of his proposed Twenty-First Century Socialism. Between Chávez and the ten million voters who support him is a political apparatus of dubious political credentials, with notable exceptions. In the case of Cuba, Fidel Castro has spoken of a similar internal threat from a 'new class' of rich emerging from the scarcities of the "Special Period in Peacetime" (1992-2000) and the opening to tourism. He has called for a new revolution within the revolution.
If there are "New Left Winds blowing in Latin America", therefore, they come from the call by Castro for a new revolution within the left, from the insistence by Chávez that socialism is the only alternative to capitalism, from the new grassroots leadership in Bolivia, Brazil and elsewhere, as well as from the advancing 25,000 strong guerrilla movement in Colombia. A new generation of autodidactic popular leaders and young militants who are also intellectuals, are emerging in the urban councils of El Alto, in the new class-oriented trade unions of Brazil, and among the students joining the peasant fighters in the jungles of Colombia. They are the 'Left Winds' of Latin America.
By contrast, the "centre left" regimes and their leftist intellectual supporters represent a sad epitaph on the "radical" generation of the 1970s and 1980s: they are a spent force, lacking critical ideas and audacious proposals for challenging imperialism and capitalist rule. They will not fade away - they have too much of a stake in the current system. Although there is a long history in Latin America (and elsewhere) of this kind of deception - by others of the leftist self, and by the leftist self of the leftist self him/herself - there is a huge irony in the pattern of delusion that currently exists.
In the past, therefore, leftist intellectuals aligned with pro-Soviet communist parties tended to put a break on revolutionary mobilization, arguing that the time was not yet ripe. Although such misrecognition persists, now it has been reversed. Leftist intellectuals who are politically non-aligned currently argue that the revolution is already here and must be supported. The element of irony is unmistakable: whereas earlier leftist intellectuals saw no revolutionary potential where this actually existed (at the rural grassroots during the 1960s), present-day ones see revolutionary potential in places (the Presidential Palace) where it is actually non-existent.
When measured against a set of criteria commonly accepted as designating a leftist politics, the Latin American regimes hailed by many intellectuals as "New Winds from the Left" fail to meet the test: none pursue redistributive policies; most have implemented regressive budgeting policies, subsidizing big business and reducing expenditures for social policy; class selective austerity programs have been applied prejudicial to minimum wage earners and low-paid public employees in health and education; privatizations - legal and illegal - have been extended and deepened, even of lucrative publicly-owned mineral and energy sectors; foreign investors have been given privileged access to local markets, cheap labour and privatized enterprises and banks. All the latter have had - and will continue to have - a deleterious impact on the living standards of the rural poor.
While none of the so-called "centre left" regimes can accurately be designated "leftist", there are some variations in the degree of adherence to the neo-liberal model. Kirchner has channelled some of the economic surplus towards the funding of national capitalist development, and also supported some price controls on basic foodstuffs and electricity rates. Lula, by contrast, is found at the other end of the spectrum: he has undermined a specifically national development of manufacturing with an overvalued Brazilian Real and exorbitant interest rates favouring financial capital.
Occupying a slightly different position on this same spectrum, Morales combines the pro-foreign investment programme of Lula - especially in minerals and petroleum - with a policy of increasing tax rates on foreign-owned mining, gas and oil producers. While most of the "centre-left" regimes considered here provide troops for the US-sponsored occupation of Haiti, and continue to support US military bases in Bolivia and Brazil, they are unanimous in their opposition of US direct intervention in Venezuela. And although most on the "centre-left" promote minimalist subsistence anti-poverty programmes, none pursue structural changes in land tenure and public investments aimed at creating employment, so as to get at the root of poverty.
A final irony is that a US policy designed and executed by one of the most extreme rightwing governments in recent Western history has led to some frictions, particularly in its attempt to impose non-reciprocal free trade agreements and a legal basis to punish electoral regimes for not conforming to the dictates of Washington. Such impetus from above is in turn countered by impetus from below. Within the framework of neo-liberal politics, therefore, these "centre-left" regimes also face strong pressures from popular organizations and threats of renewed mass direct action. This in itself serves to compel these regimes to resort to populist discourse: making symbolic gestures of solidarity with the grassroots on the one hand, and asserting their independence from the ultra-imperialist Bush regime, to which they offer only rhetorical defiance/opposition, thereby seeming to distance themselves from the US.
It would be a mistake however to consider such "centre-left" regime gestures as a sign of a major left revival. The credit for the latter development is due to the mass movements outside the regime, mobilizations that in a majority of instances are composed of poor peasants and agricultural workers who demand more than just symbolic defiance and empty gestures of (economically non-existent) "sameness" and solidarity with the grassroots. What the rural (and urban) poor require - indeed, demand - is a sharp turn toward substantial socio-economic transformations. The way in which such changes will affect the current agrarian structure is thus a matter of some political urgency. It is an issue which leftist intellectuals and academics who are enthusiastic supporters of "centre left" regimes in Latin America have yet to address in terms that are specifically leftist.
Anderson, Perry, "Cardoso Legacy", London Review of Books, Vol. 24, No. 24 December 2002
Betto, Frei, "Zero Hunger in the Municipalities", Panama News, April 13-26, 2003
(Frei Betto was one of Lula's chief advisers until Dec. 2004).
Borón, Atilio, "La encrucijada Boliviana", http://rebellion.org December 28, 2005.
Brass, Tom, 2000, Peasants, Populism and Postmodernism: The Return of the Agrarian Myth, London and Portland, OR: Frank Cass Publishers.
Chomsky, Noam, "Latin America and Asia Breaking Free of Washington's Grip", http://counterpunch.org
Deere, Carmen Diana, Niurka Pérez, and Ernel Gonzales, 1994, 'The View from Below: The Cuban Agricultural Sector in the "Special Period in Peacetime", The Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 21, No. 2.
Demmers, Jolle, Alex E. Fernández Jilberto, and Barbara Hogenboom (eds.), 2001, Miraculous Metamorphoses: The Neoliberalization of Latin American Populism, London and New York: Zed Books.
Dietrich, Heinz, 2006, "Evo Morales, Communitarian Socialism and the Regional Power Bloc," at: http://kalawaya.gnn.tv/headlines/7048/
Power_Bloc and http://www.rebellion.org January 8, 2006.
Foot, Paul, 2005, The Vote: How It was Won and How It was Undermined, London; Viking/Penguin Books.
Gilly, Adolfo, 2005 "Bolivia: a 21st Century Revolution", Socialism and Democracy, vol.19, no.3, November 2005, pp 41-45.
Gott, Richard, 2005, Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution, London and New York: Verso.
Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri, 2000, Empire, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri, 2005, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, London: Hamish Hamilton.
Löwy, Michel, (ed) Marxism in Latin America from 1909 to the Present, Humanities Press, 1992
Lucas, Kintto, 2000, We Will Not Dance on Our Grandparents' Tombs: Indigenous Uprisings in Ecuador, London: Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR).
National Commission on Disappeared People [Argentina], 1986, Nunca Mas: The Report, London and Boston, MA: Faber and Faber.
Petras, James, 2002, "A Rose by Any Other Name? The Fragrance of Imperialism," The Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 29, No. 2.
Petras, James, 2006, "The Bankers Can Rest Easy - Evo Morales: All Growl, No Claws?", Counterpunch, 4th January, http://counterpunch.org/petras01042006.html
Petras, James, and Henry Veltmeyer, 2000, Neoliberalism and Class Conflict in Latin America, London and New York: Macmillan Press/St. Martin's Press.
Petras, James, and Henry Veltmeyer, 2001a, Globalization Unmasked: Imperialism in the 21st Century, London and Halifax: Zed Press/Fernwood Publishing.
Petras, James, and Henry Veltmeyer, 2001b, Brasil de Cardoso: expropriação de un pais, Petrópolis: Editorial Vozes.
Petras, James, and Henry Veltmeyer, 2001c, "Are Latin American Peasant Movements Still a Force for Change? Some New Paradigms Revisited," The Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 28, No. 2.
Petras, James, and Henry Veltmeyer, 2002, "The Peasantry and the State in Latin America: A Troubled Past, an Uncertain Future," The Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 29, Nos. 3&4.
Petras, James, and Henry Veltmeyer, 2003a, System in Crisis: The Dynamics of Free Market Capitalism, London and Halifax: Zed Press/Fernwood Publishing.
Petras, James, and Henry Veltmeyer, 2003b, "Whither Lula's Brazil? Neo-Liberalism and 'Third Way' Ideology," The Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 31, No. 1.
Ramonet, Ignacio, "Bolivia", http://www.rebellion.org, December 29, 2005.
Sader, Emir, 2005, "Taking Lula's Measure", New Left Review (Second Series), No. 33. and "Lula: Um oportunidad perdida", 7/ar/libros/osal/sader.doc
Schlesinger, Stephen, and Stephen Kinzer, 1982, Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc.
Taylor, Lewis, 2005, A review of Latin American Peasants, edited by Tom Brass, Bulletin of Latin American Research, Vol. 24, No. 3.
Washbrook, Sarah (ed.), 2005, "Rural Chiapas Ten Years after the Zapatista Uprising," a special issue of The Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 32, Nos. 3&4.
Zibechi, Raul, "The Uruguayan Left: From Cultural to Political Hegemony", CVP Web Site no. 567
 This imagery conjures up a classic scene in film comedy: The Paleface (1948), in which the eponymous and cowardly dentist on the frontier, played by Bob Hope, stalks and is stalked by a gunfighter. On his way to a showdown with the latter, Hope encounters all sorts of contradictory advice - "he shoots from below, so duck to the side", "he fires to the left, so lean to the right," etc., etc. - that fuels the hilarious outcome. Both the confusion generated by advice received, and the kind of advice itself, are not so different from the ones experienced by the ranks of rural and urban workers when confronted with a politician who, like the gunman in the film comedy, says one thing but does another (= "talk to the Left [but] works for the Right").
 For the element of class struggle occasioned by the imposition of neo-liberal programme, see Petras and Veltmeyer [2000; 2001a; 2001c].
 An example, in rather a minor key it has to be said, is the review by Taylor [2005: 418-20] of a book about Latin American peasants that critically examined the leftist credentials of postmodern theory (including "moral economy" and "everyday forms of peasant resistance"). Objecting to the view expressed by a number of contributions to the volume that what such an approach endorses is neither progressive nor socialist but a reactionary form of populist/nationalist politics, the position taken by the reviewer was by contrast that "anyone with firsthand experience of grassroots rural organization in Latin America knows that issues such as 'moral economy' and 'everyday forms of peasant resistance' comprise an essential part of the warp and woof of micro-level politics. Without an understanding of these, no progress can be achieved." The inference both that it is necessary to fit in with rural ideology as presently constituted, that this is somehow compatible with a progressive (never mind a socialist) politics, and that anyway this is the only way forward politically, highlights as clearly as one could hope the malaise among those who continue to think of themselves as on the left. It is this, more than anything else, that has resulted in defeat after defeat for the left in many parts of the Third World, where socialist and communist parties have locked onto existing grassroots discourse in the fond (and frequently unexamined) belief that the politics of opposition are ipso facto socialist and progressive. What it overlooks is the fact that agrarian mobilization against international capitalism is in class terms heterogeneous, and thus projects economic interests and contains programmatic demands that are contradictory, not to say incompatible. Rich peasants in these movements rather obviously want different things from the poor peasants and workers who are also part of the same mobilization, a really rather simple fact that seems to have escaped Taylor.
 This is especially true of the now hugely fashionable analysis of Hardt and Negri [2000; 2005] based on frothy and essentially meaningless concepts such as "multitudes" and "empire", for a critique of which see Petras . Like many other "leftists", they have pinned their political hopes on new social movements such as the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico. Composed for the most part of Mayan peasants, the Zapatista movement is largely a defensive one, about the reproduction of indigenous cultural identity and institutions (see the volume edited by Washbrook ). As such, it has little to do with socialist objectives.
 For the details of the effusive celebration by the left generally that greeted this election victory, see Petras and Veltmeyer [2003b].
 This kind of "hard man" boast by newly elected politicians espousing what they claim to be "centre left" views (= "Third Way") is designed to demonstrate fiscal rectitude both to the domestic middle class and to international capital. The same kind of utterances were made in the UK after 1997 by Tony Blair and 'New' Labour (or, more accurately, New "Labour"), a situation memorably described by the late (and much lamented) Paul Foot, a socialist of the "old" school. About this he wrote [Foot, 2005: 429]: "The case against capitalism, and for a democratic socialist society to replace it, seems every bit as strong in 2003 as it was when the vote was first granted to most people some 85 years ago. Yet the sad fact is that in those years Labour Governments, including particularly the majority Labour Government that came to office at the end of the twentieth century, have done little or nothing to achieve the Party's founding aim - namely to use the power given them by the franchise to represent the organized workers and to close the gap between the rich and the workers in this country or in any other. In the past Labour ministers used to apologize for this failure. Now they boast about it."
 Lula's key economic ministers were dominated by right-wing bankers, corporate executives and neo-liberal ideologues, all linked to the IMF and multinational corporations. These ministers occupied the Finance, Economy, Trade and Agriculture Ministries, plus the Central Bank.
 On the agrarian reform, see Petras and Veltmeyer [2003b: 17ff.].
 The dynamics of the previous regime, that of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, is outlined in Petras and Veltmeyer [2001b].
 ALCA (Área de Libre Comercio de las Americas) is the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
 What Lula objected to, specifically, was the policy of US agricultural subsidies combined with tariff protection extended to US commercial farmers and agribusiness enterprises.
 The MERCOSUR treaty established a common market covering the Southern Cone countries of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
 A quarter of a century after the end of the military dictatorship, immunity extended by the Argentinean state to those who operated death squads during the "dirty war" (guerra sucia) that lasted from 1976 to 1982 remains a live political issue. According to the report of CONADEP, the National Commission on Disappeared People , nearly 9,000 people "disappeared" during this period, although the real figure is said to be around 30, 000. Among the "disappeared" were many participants in rural labour organizations [National Commission on Disappeared People, 1986: 378]: "There were numerous disappearances amongst workers and small farmers...particularly in the northern provinces of Tucuman and Jujuy and the border provinces of Chaco, Formosa, Corrientes, and Misiones, in the two latter especially in connection with the Agrarian Leagues. There were many amongst the members of these Leagues who are now dead, in prison, or disappeared."
 For more on Kirchner, and general background information on the economic crisis faced by Argentina, see Petras and Veltmeyer [2003a: 68ff.].
 This section draws on materials contained in Petras .
 Morales received congratulations from Fidel Castro, as well as from President Chirac of France and Wolfowitz (of the World Bank).
 On a resurgent populism in Latin America, see Brass , Demmers, Fernández Jilberto and Hogenboom , and Petras and Veltmeyer .
 This, of course, corresponds to the relay-in-statement common to populism: namely, that I - your representative, who embodies your (= plebeian) interests and those of the nation - am threatened by "foreigners" who are against me, you, and Bolivia. Such a discourse not only fuses the identity of President and people, fostering thereby the element of national solidarity, but also focusses this on the "outsider" who is, it is inferred, to blame for the ills of 'the people' and their President.
 Formed in 1986, the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador (CONAI) was the public voice of all the different indigenous groups in Ecuador [Lucas, 2000]. For an account of the mobilization in Ecuador of its indigenous population, see Petras and Veltmeyer [2003a: 185ff.].
 For this intellectual support, see Sader , Löwy [...], Dietrich , Anderson [...], Boron [...], Zibechi [...], Betto [...], Chomsky [...], and Ramonet [...].
 A wide ranging agrarian reform was central to the Arbenz government programme, a policy which entailed the expropriation of the large uncultivated reserve belonging to the US-owned agribusiness enterprise, the United Fruit company. The latter was, unsurprisingly, the main instigator of the move to overthrow Arbenz [Schlesinger and Kinzer, 1982].
 The intention was to present to the Guatemalan population a seemingly plebeian figurehead of what was actually a foreign coup, thereby presenting the latter action as a form of grassroots agency. According to the CIA [Schlesinger and Kinzer, 1982: 122], therefore, Castillo Armas 'had no strong ideology beyond simple nationalism and anti-Communism. But he "had that good Indian look about him. He looked like an Indian, which was great for the people' ".
 For this "new left bloc", see Dietrich .
 See Gott  for an interesting account of the domestic policies effected by the Chávez regime.
 See Deere, Pérez and Gonzales  for an account of the contradictions that surfaced in Cuba during the "Special Period in Peacetime". The relaxation by the Cuban state of controls on peasant markets in the 1980s generated a trend towards privatization, in the form of decollectivization, sharecropping, and diverting inputs from state enterprises into private production.
Comment on this Article
Peru elects a new president; protests mark front-runner's vote
April 9, 2006
LIMA - Protesters hurled eggs and insults at presidential front-runner Ollanto Humala as he voted in Peru's election that pitted the political newcomer against a conservative lawyer and an ex-president.
Riot police were called to escort the former army officer after he cast his ballot in the presidential and legislative election at a Lima university.
Several hundred people chanted "assassin, criminal," and some hurled eggs and plastic bottles, as Humala and his wife emerged from the voting station, protected by police shields.
Allegations that surfaced during the electoral campaign accused Humala of responsibility for the torture and "disappearance" of leftist government opponents in 1992, when he was a military officer. Humala has denied the claims.
An ultra-nationalist who wants to tighten state controls over the gas and mining industries, Humala has dominated opinion polls in recent weeks, but his popularity slipped over the past days.
An Apoyo poll out Saturday put his support at 27 percent, with former lawmaker Lourdes Flores and ex-president Alan Garcia each four points behind.
If none of the candidates garner 50 percent, the balloting will go to a second round face-off between the top two vote-getters.
The three leading candidates have all pledged to fight for social justice, but it is Humala who appears to have stirred the imagination of the millions of impoverished Peruvians who often feel they have not shared in the country's economic growth.
A newcomer on the political scene who once led a failed military rebellion, Humala, 43, has called for a redistribution of wealth and exemplary punishment for crooked politicians he says have poisoned the country.
He professes admiration for Venezuela's firebrand President Hugo Chavez, and has called for an end of the US-financed eradication of coca, a medicinal herb and the main ingredient of cocaine.
His rivals and much of the Peruvian media portray him as a dictator in the making who would plunge Peru into total chaos.
Flores, for her part, is backed by the business community, and has battled claims she is the candidate of wealthy Peruvians. A staunch Catholic who opposes abortion, Flores, 46, had already made two unsuccessful bids for the presidency.
Julio Sanchez, 44, a doctor who voted in Lima's middle class San Isidro neighborhood, made it clear he wasn't impressed by any of the candidates.
He said Humala's popularity was cause for concern as the last thing Peru needs is "an improvised candidate."
"I voted for a candidate I don't fully trust," he said in reference to Garcia, whose 1985-1990 presidency was marked by hyperinflation and widespread corruption.
A moderate leftist and a gifted orator, Garcia spent much of his campaign seeking to convince voters he would not repeat past mistakes.
Garcia narrowly to Alejandro Toledo in the 2001 presidential election held after then president
Alberto Fujimori fled to his ancestral Japan at the height of a corruption scandal.
Garcia's APRA party -- Peru's oldest -- dominated opinion polls for Sunday's legislative election, while Fujimori's daughter Keiko was credited with more support than any other congressional candidate.
Alberto Fujimori had hoped to run for a third-five year term, but was arrested in Chile last year as he tried to make his way back to Peru, where he is wanted on charges of corruption and human rights abuses.
More than 160,000 police and military troops were mobilized to guarantee security during the voting, in which members of the armed forces were allowed to participate for the first time in about 150 years.
Comment on this Article
Brazil's first astronaut returns to Earth
Sat Apr 8, 9:11 PM ET
NEAR ARKALYK, Kazakhstan - The Soyuz space capsule carrying Brazil's first astronaut Marcos Pontes, as well as US astronaut William MacArthur and Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev from the International Space Station (ISS), has landed in Kazakhstan, space officials said.
The Soyuz, which had commenced its return journey to Earth at 00:28 am Moscow time (2028 GMT Saturday), landed in the steppes of Kazakhstan in Central Asia at 3:48 am Moscow time, officials said.
Tokarev was the first to exit the capsule, followed by Pontes and MacArthur, and all three were whisked away into a tent pitched in the wind-swept steppe for their comfort, an AFP journalist at the scene reported.
"It was worth it to be in the mission," Pontes said.
Pontes, a 43-year-old air force officer, blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 30. MacArthur and Tokarev had each spent 189 days aboard the ISS.
Fifteen Russian helicopters and planes as well as an American flying hospital and several all-terrain vehicles were amassed at the site to come to the men's assistance, Major General Vladimir Popov of Russia's aviation and cosmic search and rescue service said earlier.
US astronaut Jeffrey Williams and Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov remain in orbit on the ISS.
Comment on this Article
Supreme Court Judges Bush - NOT!
by Nat Hentoff
The Village Voice
April 9th, 2006 8:19 PM
The Supreme Court is now deliberating on the most important case in the Bush presidency, a case that can set precedents for future presidents during what the defendant, Donald Rumsfeld, admits will be a decades-long war against terrorism. It is so important that Chief Justice John Roberts made available audiotapes of the oral arguments on the same day. The last time I remember that happening was in the case of Bush v.Gore, which resulted in the Bush presidency.
On the surface, Hamdan v.Rumsfeld would appear to be primarily about the 10 prisoners at Guantánamo set to appear before military commissions established by the sole order of the president in Military Order No. 1 of November 13, 2001. As USA Today charged in a lead editorial on the day of the oral arguments, these commissions are "a set-up in which the executive branch alone serves as judge, prosecutor and jury; rules of evidence are one-sided and his lawyers don't even have the right to know what the [most crucial] evidence is."
But the much deeper significance of the case is emphasized in Hamdan's brief to the high court, calling on the justices to stop George W. Bush's "unprecedented arrogation of power."
A telling illustration of how the fate of Hamdan can encompass untold numbers, not only of suspected terrorists but also Americans, is the March 25 statement on C-SPAN of Navy Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift, Hamdan's military lawyer. Swift has long been persistently, publicly critical of the mockery of due process by these military commissions that the president and Donald Rumsfeld invented.
Said Swift: "Mr. Bush and his lawyers have made it clear that he wants a precedent [from this case] that says the president, as commander in chief, can arrest any person in the world and then put that person on trial before a military tribunal (or commission).
"They've made it very clear that these powers can be exercised against American citizens right here at home. The president talks about the global war on terror and his lawyers have gone into court frequently saying the United States is a battlefield in this war." (Emphasis added.)
Indeed, I remember the chill when John Ashcroft said the very same thing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and his successor Alberto Gonzales, a faithful vassal of the president, is also a true believer in this war. George W. Bush is the law.
The prisoner, whose fate in this court may, at last, markedly bring the president down to constitutional size, was a driver for Osama bin Laden. A citizen of Yemen, he was picked up in Afghanistan in late 2001 by a warlord and turned over to the United States for a bounty. As Stuart Taylor pointed out in the March 25 National Journal:
"He is charged only with a single count of conspiring to murder civilians, based on allegations so nebulous that a real court might throw the case out. The government has not even claimed that Hamdan helped plot any terrorist attacks or committed any specific criminal act."
Moreover, as his lawyer, Neal Katyal, told the Supreme Court during oral arguments, the laws of war don't permit the stand-alone offense of conspiracy because it's too vague, adding:
"The world rejects conspiracy because, if it's adopted, it allows so many individuals to get swept up within its net. And so, for example, a little old lady in Switzerland who donates money to Al Qaeda and that turns out to be a front for a terrorist act . . . might be swept up within this broad definition of conspiracy. And that's why international law has so rejected the concept of conspiracy."
There are many more dimensions to Hamdan v.Rumsfeld, including-as the government maintains-whether the Supreme Court even has the right to hear it. In the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, a large, clueless majority of Congress passed a provision originated by the anti-constitutionalist South Carolina Republican senator Lindsey Graham and supported by the president that stripped all prisoners at Guantánamo of their most basic rights of habeas corpus, including the right to petition against their confinement and the conditions under which they're imprisoned. This nullifies Senator John McCain's amendment prohibiting cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and McCain remains silent on its vanishing.
This Bush dismissal of habeas, which inflamed several justices of the court during oral arguments, will be part of next week's probe of the president's insatiable expansion of executive powers, along with his blunt rejection of the international Geneva Conventions on treatment of prisoners.
When I first started covering the Supreme Court-Earl Warren was the chief justice-seasoned reporters warned me not to make any predictions on the outcome of cases based on what appeared to be the justices' leanings during oral arguments.
Nonetheless, I predict that we the people, and the Constitution, will win, 5-3, thereby significantly slowing George W. Bush's kneecapping of the separation of powers. Next week, I'll tell you why. We probably won't know if I'm right until June. Also next week: a seeming victory at the Supreme Court in the Padilla case that will actually turn out to be a major defeat for Bush.
"Nonetheless, I predict that we the people, and the Constitution, will win, 5-3, thereby significantly slowing George W. Bush's kneecapping of the separation of powers. Next week, I'll tell you why. We probably won't know if I'm right until June."Well, we're all ears.
From everything we have seen to date, none of the "victories" for civil rights in the US have amounted to a hill of beans in the "real world". Sure, the media makes it seem like things are changing, but the facts on the ground and the actual laws in effect clearly indicate that Bush still has dictatorial powers.
Our guess is that nothing is in peril... it's all for show and to make Bush's dictatorship "legal".
Comment on this Article
Moussaoui's mom lashes out at US, al-Qaeda
PARIS, April 6, 2006 (AFP)
The mother of Zacarias Moussaoui, facing a possible death sentence for the September 11 attacks in the United States, lashed out at both the US government and the al-Qaeda terror network for putting her son's life at stake.
"It is the American government which is responsible for the good and the bad in the world, and they (the Americans) have found the ideal person to blame," said Aicha el-Wafi in a telephone interview with the Paris bureau of AFP.
"My son is going to be condemned to death for things he did not do and he is going to die because he is an Arab," she said.
Moussaoui, a French national of Moroccan origin, has confessed to being an al-Qaeda conspirator, but he has maintained he was due to fly a jetliner into the White House in follow-up attacks and not in the September 11 strikes.
For his mother, Osama bin Laden's terror network is also at fault for abandoning Moussaoui in the wake of the 2001 attacks.
"I would like to know what has happened to all those al-Qaeda chiefs, they must out there somewhere, laughing, while my son is going to die."
She says he is "fed up with this circus, and he is paying for the Islamists and the Americans. He is not responsible for the September 11 attacks."
On Monday, the jury at a court in Alexandria, Virginia, ruled that Moussaoui was eligible for the death penalty. They are now being asked to weigh mitigating or aggravating factors before deciding whether to impose capital punishment.
Until last month in the suburban Washington courtroom, el-Wafi had not seen her youngest son since July 2002.
When asked about her son's sometimes aggressive behavior - even suicidal - and outbursts during court appearances, she said he "wanted to end his life."
"My son told me (on the telephone)'I know that they want my head so I give it to them'," she said.
Her 37-year-old son has his reasons for being aggressive.
"Each time that he asked to see parts of his dossier, the Americans told him that it was a 'state secret'. It is easy to say that but it is a state lie."
She still does not know if she will return to the United States to attend the death penalty phase of his trial.
"I know that the worst is going to happen," she said, convinced that her son will face execution.
Moussaoui who suffers from arthritis wears "an electric belt around his waist" and has swelled up. "They say he is drugged," el-Wafi said.
Moussaoui, a self-proclaimed "slave of Allah," had a rough childhood in southwestern France before hearing the call to jihad for the first time at mosques in London, where he studied international business.
He was arrested in August 2001, weeks before the world's deadliest terror attack, which killed nearly 3,000 people.
But prosecutors contend he knew in advance of the strike and did not mention it to FBI investigators, so he is as guilty as the September 11 hijackers who steered airliners into landmark buildings in New York and Washington.
His court-appointed lawyers, trying to save him from death by lethal injection, have described him as a bit of a buffoon, quoting one terror suspect who branded Moussaoui "cuckoo in the head", claiming he was kicked off the team by "real terrorists" who found him a "headache".
According to his mother, Moussasaoui has been locked up in a "two meters by three" cell where "he doesn't know if it is day or night," his mother said.
He does not have a television or radio, and the only way he gets news is "from his guards who pass him messages" about what "is happening outside" the prison, she said.
"I would like to see him and speak to him calmly, like a mother to a son, away from journalists, from everyone," she said.
The mother also had harsh words for the French authorities who "have done nothing to help my son" and who, once "he is condemned to death," will only then rise up "to say they are against capital punishment."
"My son is an Islamist, I do not deny that, but is that a reason to kill him?" she asked.
Comment on this Article
Amnesty Takes On Rendition
By William Fisher
08 April, 2006
As U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and her team continue to face increasingly harsh criticism from Muslim communities, Amnesty International has issued a new report on one of the practices they criticize most: rendition.
The new report - "Below the radar: Secret flights to torture and disappearance" - describes a U.S. covert operation in which people are arrested or abducted, transferred and held in secret or handed over to countries where they have faced torture and other ill-treatment.
Amnesty lists dozens of destinations around the world where planes associated with "rendition" flights have landed and taken off -- and lists private airlines with permission to land at U.S. military bases worldwide.
The organization says it has records of nearly 1,000 flights directly linked to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), most of which have used European airspace. It claims these flights have been carried out by planes that "appear to have been permanently operated by the CIA through front companies."
While the U.S. has acknowledged that it uses rendition -- a fact widely reported in the international press and on television - the new Amnesty report is likely to further complicate Dr. Rice's current efforts to "win the hearts and minds" of Arabs and other Muslims.
In recent weeks, the Secretary has met with a variety of Muslim groups in the U.S. and abroad. Their view of U.S. policies in the "Global War on Terror" has sometimes been respectful, sometimes raucous, but largely accusatory, skeptical and passionate.
For example, in a recent meeting with British Muslims, Rice heard
complaints about U.S. policies in Iraq, Israeli treatment of Palestinians, and the American-run detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Representatives of such groups were present almost everywhere the secretary went during what was billed as a goodwill visit. Many are also telling Rice that the Bush administration should engage, not isolate, the new Hamas government in the Palestinian areas, because it was elected in a process Washington backed.
Local editorial commentary on Rice's two-day outreach visit to northwest England has been correspondingly harsh. Britain's Guardian newspaper carried a half-page cartoon showing Rice and her host, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, holding a banner saying: "The Case for War." The banner was riddled with holes and the caption read, "Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire," a reference to a line in the Beatles song "A Day in the Life."
Dissatisfaction with U.S. policies has also complicated the work of Rice's public diplomacy chief, Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, a Bush Administration insider tasked by the president to improve the U.S. image in the Muslim world.
During their visit to the United Kingdom, Rice and Hughes defended the continued use of the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where some terrorist suspects have been held for years without trial. Rice said the U.S. doesn't want to keep the prison open longer than necessary, but added: "If the alternative is to release people back on the street so they can do harm again, that we're not going to do."
Rice said, "The United States recognizes ... that there are questions about American foreign policy." But, she asked Muslims to give the Bush administration credit for ending a six-decade policy of backing dictators in the Middle East and promoting democracy instead.
Virtually every public opinion poll taken in Europe, Asia and the Middle East shows increasing hostility toward the U.S. and plummeting approval for its foreign policies.
Amnesty's report is unlikely to improve the situation. It details the destinations and ownership of specific aircraft linked to people interviewed by the organization who have been transferred illegally. For example one particular aircraft is known to have made over 100 stops in Guantanamo Bay. Another took a detainee to Egypt from Germany after he was kidnapped in Italy. Amnesty says there were 488 recorded landings or take-offs between February 2001 and July 2005.
The new report says the U.S. "is manipulating commercial arrangements in order to be able to transfer people in violation of international law." Amnesty's Secretary General, Irene Khan, said, "It demonstrates the length to which the U.S. government will go to conceal these abductions."
She added, "The callous and calculated multiplicity of abuses is shocking. People captured have been subjected to a range of abuses of human rights by a number of governments acting in collusion, and all of this has been shrouded by secrecy and deceit."
The organization urged the aviation sector to ensure that aviation companies do not lease their aircraft in circumstances in which they may be used in renditions. Specifically, it called on governments to insist that any plane or helicopter used to carry out the missions of the intelligence services be declared a 'state' flight, regardless of whether they are carried out using civilian aircraft, prohibit the use of airspace and airports for renditions and actively investigate suspected rendition cases, and disclose the full extent of these practices and the fate of those whose whereabouts are still unknown.
Egypt has been a prime destination for victims of renditions. The Egyptian prime minister noted in 2005 that the U.S. has transferred some 60-70 detainees to that country, and a former CIA agent with experience in the region believes that "hundreds" of detainees may have been sent by the U.S. to prisons in other Middle Eastern countries.
The U.S. has acknowledged the capture of about 30 "high value" detainees whose whereabouts remain unknown, and its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is reportedly investigating some three dozen additional cases of "erroneous rendition", in which people were detained based on flawed evidence or confusion over names.
Criticism of the rendition practice has not been limited to U.S. officials. In Britain, the House of Commons foreign affairs committee has accused ministers of failing in their duty to find out whether Britain has been complicit in US policy. The U.K. government has admitted that 200 suspect CIA flights had used British airspace.
In a report highly critical of the government's attitude toward human rights abuses, members of the committee say they have not been told the full story despite months of trying. They summoned the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, to give evidence again on the issue.
The Council of Europe earlier named five countries that failed to explain what steps they were taking to protect people from being detained and mistreated through rendition.
Meanwhile, criticism continues from human rights and religious leaders in the U.S.
Prof. George Hunsinger, who teaches at Princeton University Theological Seminary and is organizing a National Religious Campaign Against Torture, told IPS, "Outsourcing torture to other regimes is the moral equivalent of practicing it ourselves. How did we enter into league with the world's most despicable torturers? Where is the outcry? What is happening to our country?"
Brian J. Foley, a professor at Florida Coastal School of Law, told IPS that rendition "is a symptom of the great illness afflicting our nation, secrecy." He added, "We need more than just Amnesty International to shine light on these practices -- the American people must stand up and demand knowledge and accountability."
Jo Guldi, a historian at the University of California at Berkeley, told IPS, "No threat is so great that we can afford to cannibalize the very democratic principles upon which our own freedoms turn."
And Angelina Fisher, Arthur Helton Fellow at advocacy group Human Rights First, told IPS, "Failure by the United States to address the allegations of extraordinary rendition undermines the United States' stated commitment to the Convention Against Torture and raises serious questions about the government's respect for the principles of international cooperation."
Fisher was one of the primary researchers and authors of a report on rendition issued by the Bar Association of the City of New York and Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the New York University School of Law.
It's unclear - and intelligence experts say improbable - whether in the face of worldwide and persistent criticism, the U.S. has discontinued its rendition program. It has received far harsher criticism of its prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and that facility remains very much open for business - and very much in the news.
Yet, given these kinds of policies, one has to wonder whether the Public Diplomacy job that President Bush gave his old Texas buddy, Karen Hughes, is do-able at all. Mr. Bush should know from his training as an MBA that professional marketing can do only so much to sell a flawed product.
Comment on this Article
Local Teacher's Run-In With Homeland Security Creates Insecurities
Thu Apr 6, 5:29 PM ET
A local school employee said a rough run-in with a couple of
Homeland Security officers has left him with a strong sense of insecurity.
Leander Pickett, a teacher's assistant at Englewood Elementary, said he was manhandled and handcuffed by two plain clothed Homeland Security officers in front of the school Tuesday for no reason at all.
"I would like to treat people the way I would want to be treated, and yesterday I wasn't treated that way," Pickett said.
Pickett has been working at Englewood for two years, and his principal and colleagues told Channel 4 they have never met a harder worker or nicer guy.
"He's well loved by everyone because he's willing to do anything to help children," said the Englewood Elementary Principal Gail Brinson.
However, Tuesday afternoon Pickett's niceness turned to anger, disappointment, and betrayal when, as Pickett was directing bus traffic, he said he was handcuffed and roughed up and humiliated by the very people that were supposed to protect him.
"I walked up to him and said, 'Sir, you need to move.' That's when he said 'I'm a police officer. I'm with Homeland Security ... I'll move it when I want to.' That's when he started grabbing me on my arm," Pickett said.
However, Homeland Security tells a different story.
The department said the only reason the officers were at the school was because they pulled over to look at a map.
The department also said it's looking into what happened, and that Pickett's version is wrong. It claims he was antagonizing the officers.
Several people were outside of the school, watching the incident take place, and those witnesses agree with Pickett's story.
"Mr. Pickett asked the guy blocking the bus loading zone to move, and the guy told him he would move his car when he got ready to move it," said Englewood coach Alton Jackson.
"At that point I intervened and I went up to the gentleman and said, 'Mr. Pickett is an employee here,' and they said that didn't matter," said Englewood media specialist, Terri Dreisonstok.
"'We're with Homeland Security,' and on and on they went, and pretty soon, before you know it, he's handcuffed and slammed against a car," Brinson said. "All the children are watching, they're all upset."
After about 30 minutes, the men released Pickett.
"The part that really upsets me is all these students were watching, and that and it isn't good," Jackson said.
Pickett said he plans to sue.
"You now you hear these stories everyday and say, 'This will never happen to me,' but yesterday it happened to me," Pickett said.
"If this is Homeland Security, I think we ought to be a little afraid," Brinson said.
The central office of Homeland Security contacted Channel 4 about the incident and stated that it considers all allegations seriously and the matter has been referred to a neutral investigative entity.
Comment on this Article
US arrests White House intruder
www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-10 13:02:28
WASHINGTON, April 9 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Secret Service officers arrested a screaming intruder in the grounds of the White House on Sunday afternoon.
The man, who has a history of jumping the White House fence, entered the president's property while George W. Bush was at home, said Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren.
The intruder, identified as 40-year-old Brian Lee Patterson, wore blue jeans and a ragged white T-shirt with the words "God Bless America" on it, said the spokesman.
Bearded Patterson scaled the While House fence and ran onto the front lawn, waving his arms and repeatedly screamed "I am a victim of terrorism!"
A dozen members of the Secret Service emergency response team, some crouching with guns drawn and one holding a barking dog, chased Patterson and surrounded him near the row of cameras set up for television broadcasts.
"I have intelligence information for the president," said Patterson waving his arms in the air, "I am not afraid of you," he screamed. He was soon forced to his knees, handcuffed and led away.
The incident lasted just a few minutes.
Zahren said the man made "no spoken threats against" the president, but he would be charged with unlawful entry and contempt of court for violating a judge's orders to stay away from the White House.
Patterson has climbed the White House fence three times before. It is not known how he got over the heavily-guarded boundary this time.
Comment on this Article
Thousands Rally for Immigrants Across U.S.
By MARTIGA LOHN
April 10, 2006
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Wearing a bright green T-shirt emblazoned with the word "Mexico," 18-year-old Marco Tapia couldn't wait to join the biggest march for immigrants he had ever seen. The Mexican-born high school senior was among about 30,000 who marched through St. Paul in support of immigrant rights, and among more than half a million people who rallied Sunday in 10 states. Dozens more marches were planned nationwide Monday.
"Hopefully this will change the way America thinks," said Tapia, a high school senior who is living illegally in Minneapolis with his mother and sister. "We're not criminals. We're just regular people like everybody else here."
With an overhaul of immigration law stalled in Congress, demonstrators urged lawmakers to help an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants settle legally in the United States.
The massive turnout at Sunday's protests - police estimated 350,000 to 500,000 in Dallas - continued to surprise organizers and police.
"This is a force, an energy here," said Amir Krummell, a U.S. citizen born in Panama, who marched to Dallas' city hall amid shouts of "Si Se Puede!", Spanish for "Yes, we can!"
In Salt Lake City, a rally expected to draw about 3,000 instead attracted about 20,000, police said, and 50,000 turned out in San Diego. Other demonstrations were held in New Mexico, Michigan, Iowa, Alabama, Oregon and Idaho.
"If we don't protest they'll never hear us," said Oscar Cruz, 23, a construction worker who marched in San Diego. Cruz, who came illegally to the U.S. in 2003, said he had feared a crackdown but felt emboldened by the large marches across the country in recent weeks.
In Birmingham, Ala., demonstrators marched along the same streets where civil rights activists clashed with police in the 1960s and rallied at a park where a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stands as a reminder of the fight for equal rights and the violence that once plagued the city.
"We've got to get back in touch with the Statue of Liberty," said the Rev. Lawton Higgs, a United Methodist pastor and activist. "We've got to get back in touch with the civil rights movement, because that's what this is about."
The rallies also drew counter-demonstrators.
In Salt Lake City, Jerry Owens, 59, a Navy veteran from Midway wearing a blue Minuteman T-shirt and camouflage pants, held a yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag.
"I think it's real sad because these people are really saying it's OK to be illegal aliens," Owens said. "What Americans are saying is 'Yes, come here. But come here legally.' And I think that's the big problem."
Many groups had been preparing to rally since December, when the House passed a bill to build more walls along the U.S.-Mexico border, make it a crime to help undocumented immigrants and make it a felony to be in the country illegally. It is now a civil violation.
Since then, local and regional protests, supported by popular Spanish-language disc jockeys, quickly merged into national plans after hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in dozens of cities last month, culminating March 25 with a 500,000-strong rally in Los Angeles.
"We don't have a leader like Martin Luther King or Cesar Chavez, but this is now a national immigrant rights movement," said Joshua Hoyt, director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which has helped organize rallies around Chicago.
In Minnesota, Latin dance music blared, Mexican flags waved and even a mariachi band in full costume marched to the state Capitol. Homemade signs dotted the crowd: "I'm a taxpayer." "I'm a worker." "I got rights." "I am not a criminal."
Tapia, who plans to study graphic design at a community college, said life has been hard for his family - especially his mother, who has raised him and his sister working a variety of jobs. He hopes that will change.
"All we want," he said, "is a good American life."
Comment: Thousands? Half a million people in 10 states? The Dallas Morning News reports today that up to 500,000 people marched in downtown Dallas alone.
Comment on this Article
Of Course There Is an Israel Lobby
April 6, 2006
The London Review of Books recently published an article, by Professors John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, on the Israel lobby's negative impact on U.S. domestic and international interests. The expected tsunami of rabid responses condemned the report, vilified its authors, and denied there is such a lobby-validating both the lobby's existence and aggressive, pervasive presence and obliging Harvard to remove its name.
All democracies have lobbies. Shrill insistence that no groups promote Israel is ludicrous. Opinions differ on the long-term costs and benefits for both nations, but the lobby's views of Israel's interests have become the basis of U.S. Middle East policies. That this influence largely results from the efforts of people determined to exercise their democratic prerogatives is not open to question-or to challenge.
The dangerous, unacceptable result of that lobbying, however, is the stifling of public debate. Knowing the fiercely negative reactions to accurate, detailed reporting of controversies surrounding Israel, the media fail to cover Israel's violations of every principle for which the United States-and Israel-loudly proclaim they stand. There is only rare, skimpy coverage of the ongoing Israeli mass punishments, house demolitions, illegal settlements, assassinations, settler brutality, curfews and beatings. On the other hand, the blind Palestinian rage generated by decades of receiving humiliating, savage suppression in their homeland is reported in lurid, bloody detail.
The lobby's effectiveness at control was illustrated two years ago. Both government and media condemned China when it arrested, and accused of espionage, a Chinese citizen-Green Card holder visiting from the U.S. Neither the U.S. government nor media has ever protested-has never even mentioned-Israel's years-long multiple arrests and protracted detentions of American citizens, without charge or trial. In September 2000, CNN interviewed four Americans who had been tortured, the only report on this compelling story, and the network has since been forced to refuse selling recordings of that news segment, "Americans Mistreated in Israeli Jails." America would have been fully informed had any other country committed these acts.
The lobby also recently blocked the New York staging of a play, following its successful London run, based on the words of peace activist Rachel Corrie. She was crushed by an armored Caterpillar bulldozer while attempting to prevent demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza. The driver failed to notice her blaze orange vest, yellow hard hat and bullhorn.
No rational American wants anything bad to happen to Israelis or Palestinians or Americans.. But they have happened, are happening, will continue to happen. Israel's actions often involve violations of human rights, international law, and UN resolutions, undertaken at the expense of a helpless, brutalized Palestine, thus denying Israel peace, security, and international support. Worse, they also lead to violent reactions, which are often recognized under the UN Charter as legitimate resistance to occupation.
Israeli actions also generate anti-Semitism, the very label the lobby uses to bludgeon into silence anyone in America who questions relations with Israel and its expansionist policies. This effectively blocks broad public understanding that Israel's interests and America's, sometimes in agreement, are sometimes sharply divergent. Of greater and entirely justifiable concern, the lobby has succeeded in pressuring successive administrations into actions and statements blatantly contrary to announced American principles and the advancement of U.S. objectives.
As the only nation unstintingly providing Israel with vast amounts of money, arms and unhesitating political protection, the United States is perceived as the key facilitator of 40 years of occupation and oppression. The massive, growing political, economic and human costs of continuing that close relationship merit public knowledge, discussion and debate. The Israel lobby prevents it, as Mearsheimer and Walt have carefully documented.
Ambassador Edward Peck is an Advisory Board Member for the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute, was Deputy Director of the Cabinet Task Force on Terrorism in the Reagan White House and former Chief of Mission in Iraq, and was in Jerusalem and the West bank as an international observer of the presidential elections in 2005, and in Gaza for the Legislative Council elections in 2006.
Comment on this Article
In Page Six Inquiry, Gossip Swirls Around Gossips
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON, ALLISON HOPE WEINER and WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM
The New York Times
April 8, 2006
The New York Post is cooperating with a federal investigation into whether a longtime contributor for the Page Six gossip column - the avidly read daily log of wrongdoing, double-dealing and sexual indiscretions by celebrities both minor and major - tried to extort money from a California billionaire, according to a spokesman for the newspaper.
Several people involved in the investigation said the reporter, Jared Paul Stern, had been captured on a video recording demanding a $100,000 payment and a monthly stipend of $10,000 from Ronald W. Burkle in return for keeping negative information about him out of the paper. Mr. Stern was suspended Thursday pending the outcome of the investigation, and could be dismissed, according to Howard Rubenstein, the spokesman.
But while the accusations against Mr. Stern are serious, it is the specter - raised by at least three people who say they know what is on the tapes - that Mr. Stern implicated several celebrities and New York power figures in an undisclosed, symbiotic relationship with Page Six that prompted an extraordinary day of full-throated and at times gleeful gossip among those who love, hate and avidly read the column.
Those who say they know what is on the tape said Mr. Stern named Harvey Weinstein, the co-founder of Miramax films, and Ronald O. Perelman, the chairman of Revlon, as being among those who have had their coverage on the page finessed. Through a spokesman, Mr. Weinstein flatly denied any improper relationship with the column and its main editor, Richard Johnson.
Mr. Perelman's company once hired the fiancée of Mr. Johnson, Sessa von Richthofen, whom he is marrying today, as an administrative assistant. The executive who hired her said yesterday she had not been pressured into hiring her.
In the recordings, Mr. Stern never asserted that money had been used for preferential coverage.
Mr. Rubenstein, who said that lawyers for the newspaper were reviewing Mr. Stern's work, added that the authorities had not asked for information concerning any other reporters for the gossip column. He said the paper was preserving Mr. Stern's computer records and other material for the authorities to review.
One federal law enforcement official said the investigation was in its early stages and that it was unclear if any charges would be brought against Mr. Stern.
Mr. Stern's lawyer, Edward Hayes, defended the writer, who has also edited a Page Six magazine for The Post. "Jared did not and could not guarantee him good coverage or protect him from bad coverage," he said of Mr. Stern's dealings with Mr. Burkle. "Jared made a mistake. He's sorry if it embarrassed The Post and nothing actually happened, and hopefully it will be over and done with."
Mr. Stern said last night, "I apologize for causing The New York Post any embarrassment after almost 11 years of loyal and dedicated service, and hope they would not rush to judgment."
Gary Ginsberg, an executive vice president with the News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch's international media company that owns The Post, said of the investigation, "We're taking it very seriously."
But he added that the allegations had no broader implications for The Post, and noted that Mr. Stern was a part-time contributor. He said that the Page Six magazine had appeared only once. "No one's trying to make any excuses for his alleged behavior, but in terms of what it means for the franchise, I think the franchise is as strong as any in journalism. This is highly aberrational," he said.
The investigation was front-page news for The Post's top rival, The Daily News, which first reported many of the details of the accusations against Mr. Stern.
The scandal that is rattling Page Six began about a year ago, when items about Mr. Burkle, a supermarket magnate and Democratic fund-raiser, began appearing in the column more often.
The accounts of Mr. Burkle's dealings with Mr. Stern and The Post are based on interviews with several associates of Mr. Burkle, as well as two other people who said they knew what is on the tapes. They all refused to be named because of the federal investigation.
Associates of Mr. Burkle said that Page Six items about the billionaire began appearing last year that were wildly inaccurate, without Mr. Burkle's even being called for comment.
Last summer, one associate said, Mr. Burkle arranged to meet Mr. Stern at the Palace Hotel in Manhattan after a friend suggested Mr. Stern could give him some insight into Page Six. There, Mr. Stern asked Mr. Burkle to become a source, dishing on his famous acquaintances. Mr. Burkle declined but as a favor agreed to buy 60 shirts from Skull and Bones, Mr. Stern's clothing line.
The associate said Mr. Burkle protested to editors, including Mr. Johnson and even wrote a personal letter of complaint to Mr. Murdoch, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times. "Every time I am mentioned in your newspaper," the letter read, "the facts are just plain wrong."
The letter concluded: "I hate to bother you with this; but at the end of the day, it is your newspaper."
Colin Myler, the paper's executive editor, wrote back and promised to correct any errors, the associate said. Mr. Burkle also had his lawyer, Martin D. Singer, send several letters threatening litigation, according to several people with knowledge of the correspondence.
On March 14, the associate said, an employee of Mr. Burkle's received an e-mail message from Mr. Stern, a contributor who worked two days a week for Page Six, suggesting that Mr. Burkle had "the means" to change the column's treatment of him.
"I understand Ron is upset about the press he's been getting," the e-mail message read. "If he's really concerned, he needs a strategy for dealing with it and regulating it rather than merely reacting. It's not easy to accomplish, but he certainly has the means to do so."
At that point, Mr. Burkle suspected he was being extorted, the associate said. Then, "he reached out to his attorney, who then reached out to law enforcement," the associate said.
According to many people involved in the episode, Mr. Stern agreed to meet Mr. Burkle face to face at least two times at Mr. Burkle's loft in TriBeCa, the first of which was on March 22. Mr. Burkle's security team, aided by a New York City-based private investigations firm, recorded the meetings in the loft over the last few weeks, according a person who was briefed on the sessions and was granted anonymity because the investigation is continuing. At the final meeting, on March 31, a federal agent and an assistant United States attorney were with Mr. Burkle's security detail to monitor the recording. The recordings were turned over to the federal authorities.
In their meetings, Mr. Stern described three levels of "protection" he could offer Mr. Burkle, according to those with knowledge of what is captured on the tapes.
When Mr. Burkle pressed Mr. Stern to explain how this would work, Mr. Stern at first cited a few examples involving Mr. Johnson, saying that his boss had a "script deal" with Mr. Weinstein - something the movie executive denied yesterday. "The New York Post and Page Six have always been above board with our company," said a Weinstein company spokesman.
Mr. Stern also said that Mr. Johnson's fiancée, Ms. von Richthofen, had been employed by Mr. Perelman, the financier. Last year, Ms. Richthofen was hired as an administrative assistant to Christine Taylor, the senior vice president of corporate communications of McAndrews and Forbes, Mr. Perelman's Manhattan-based holding company. Ms. Taylor said she knew Ms. Richthofen and had not been pressured to hire her. Ms. Richthofen, who resigned from the company a month ago, was paid no differently than anyone else would be in the position, she said. Mr. Perelman could not be reached for comment yesterday.
When Mr. Burkle asked Mr. Stern in the tapes if he should hire Ms. Richthofen, Mr. Stern steered the discussion of payments back to himself, according to one person involved in the investigation.
Mr. Johnson referred calls to Mr. Rubenstein.
The accusations against Mr. Stern were striking for the boldness of his alleged behavior and the amount of money he is accused of requesting. But gossip columns have always occupied a murky corner in the realm of journalistic standards, which traditionally preclude writers and editors from accepting gifts from those they cover.
Mr. Stern also cited the example of Joe Francis, the creator of the "Girls Gone Wild" video series, who Mr. Stern said had offered to fly much of the staff of Page Six to a place Mr. Francis owns in Mexico on his private jet for Mr. Johnson's bachelor party. According to Mr. Rubenstein, Mr. Francis was a friend of Mr. Johnson's. In March, an item appeared in The Post saying that Mr. Francis could be the next Hugh Hefner. Mr. Francis could not be reached yesterday.
Mr. Johnson also accepted a free trip to the Academy Awards last month, courtesy of ABC and Mercedes-Benz, including first-class airfare and a three-night stay at the Four Seasons Hotel. Mercedes-Benz also provided a car and driver for Mr. Johnson throughout the weekend, a spokesman for Mercedes-Benz, Geoff Day, confirmed.
Mr. Stern, 35, began working full time for The Post in 1997. In 2003, Bonnie Fuller hired him to be the executive editor of Star, a position he left within a year. He returned to The Post as a contributor. In addition he wrote for other publications, including two articles for The Times.
In the March 31 meeting, Mr. Burkle mainly haggled with Mr. Stern over how his payments should be made: in cash, as Mr. Stern wanted, or by wire transfer, as the authorities had pressed Mr. Burkle to insist, according to a person involved in the investigation.
In that meeting, the person involved in the investigation said, Mr. Stern spoke of Page Six's power.
"We know how to destroy people," Mr. Stern said, according to a person reading a transcript of the meeting. "It's what we do. We do it without creating liability. That's our specialty."
Comment on this Article
Dollars and Cents
Gas Prices Jump Nearly 17 Cents in U.S.
Sun Apr 9, 10:52 PM ET
CAMARILLO, Calif. - Retail gas prices across the country soared an average of nearly 17 cents in the past two weeks, according to a survey released Sunday.
The weighted average for all three grades increased to $2.69 a gallon by Friday, said Trilby Lundberg, who publishes the semimonthly Lundberg Survey of 7,000 gas stations in the country.
Self-serve regular averaged $2.67 a gallon. Mid-grade cost $2.76 a gallon while premium hit $2.86 a gallon.
Among the stations surveyed, the lowest average price in the country for regular unleaded was in Salt Lake City at $2.28 a gallon. The most expensive was in Honolulu, where drivers paid $2.88 a gallon.
Comment on this Article
Summer fuel shortages, spikes possible: Bodman
By Nick Carey
Fri Apr 7, 5:35 PM ET
BATAVIA, Illinois - U.S. consumers may face gasoline shortages or price hikes at the pump this summer due to fuel additive changes at refineries and a likely strong hurricane season, the U.S. Energy Secretary said on Friday.
"We face a combination of factors that could mean some localized shortages," Samuel Bodman said in an interview with Reuters, adding that the markets should sort themselves out quickly.
Bodman spoke with Reuters during a visit to Fermilab, the largest U.S. laboratory for studying particle physics, which is located in Batavia, Illinois.
Bodman said with U.S. refineries running at 86 percent capacity following the battering they received from hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year, high crude oil prices and an annual U.S. shift to summer gasoline, the switch by refineries to ethanol as a fuel additive from MTBE could result in shortages in some areas this summer.
Most U.S. refiners will stop using methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, before the peak U.S. summer driving season kicks off.
MTBE has been found to pollute water supplies and many refiners are gearing up to shift to ethanol as an additive to produce cleaner-burning fuel.
Most U.S. ethanol is produced in the Midwest from locally grown corn, and Bodman said shortages were most likely in areas furthest from supplies.
"We expect there will be sufficient ethanol," Bodman reiterated. "But it is reasonable to expect that some areas could experience fits and starts, but that shouldn't last too long."
Bodman said the U.S. government is preparing for what meteorologists are warning could be another heavy hurricane season this summer after Katrina and Rita hit the southern U.S. coast last year, flooded New Orleans and disabled a large chunk of the oil production and refining capacity along the Gulf of Mexico.
The government's plans include laying in additional gasoline supplies for cities that may face evacuation, plus preparing back-up power generators for those cities.
"If we suffer major blows similar to the ones we had last year, we will face similar problems," Bodman said.
"But this year we will be ready to respond better than we did last year," he added.
Bodman also said that a proposal from six U.S. senators to sue the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries for price fixing was "not realistic."
"Many oil producing countries do not operate in a manner consistent with U.S. federal law, but they are not based here," Bodman said.
He said he is working on getting countries that have benefited from high oil prices to invest in expanding production capacity to keep prices down, a strategy he said is working.
The "Petroleum Industry Antitrust Act of 2006" received the backing of six senators on Thursday including Republican Arlen Specter, who is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Wisconsin Democrat Herb Kohl.
It would allow the U.S. attorney general to sue oil producing cartels for limiting production or setting prices -- a provision seen as targeting OPEC, which pumps about a third of the world's crude oil.
"It is much better to have an effective working relationship with these countries and you cannot do that if you are suing them," Bodman said. "Suing someone is a matter of last resort and it is not wise to sue someone if they are holding the ultimate tickets."
Comment on this Article
Six months to housing hell
For the past decade, homeowners in the United States have been living in "Housing Heaven". In this heavenly place, profits are always made; prices only go up; interest rates only go down; developers keep building, marketing, and selling megabuck, luxurious spa-like residences, that are all sold pre-construction; property speculators always make money, and pyramid their purchases into owning many properties to flip for a quick profit; and, second-homes are not an expensive luxury, but a wise investment for retirement. [...]
Consumer debt is up to $2 trillion (not including $440 billion of revolving home equity loans and $600 billion of second mortgages). Not only do consumers owe a whopping $9 trillion in mortgage debt, but home equity extraction has reached $600 billion annually. Homeowners have basically received, and spent, in excess of $2 trillion that they never earned. (Just take a look at the increase in total mortgage debt in the Federal Reserve's Flow of Funds Data since 2000).
Below are some of the reasons why many property owners are about to descend into "Housing Hell":
- When housing prices are flat or falling, there is no Angel, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny or Santa Claus you can call, to refill the ATM machine when it runs out of cash;
- Home equity can suddenly shift from a market reality to a purely existential concept. The homeowner is now engaged in an "Existential Equity Extraction" or "EEE". An example of this in today's world is when a home, with equity taken out, is routinely appraised for a mortgage refinancing at 5 to 10 percent higher than it would be appraised for an actual sale;
- Home prices are under horrible pressure. There are probably a few million property owners, including speculators, flippers, and second-home buyers, who are in way over their heads. We've all heard stories about second-home buyers who really couldn't afford the luxury and high expense of a second-home priced at $200,000, yet they purchased one for $250,000 and rationalized its affordability because "the value would only go up to $300,000 or more". Besides, they naively believed "it could always be sold quickly in a bidding war for a profit". In resort areas - given the number of days people actually use their second home - staying at the Ritz for $500 a night could be a much better deal. Do the math; it's not pretty.
- Demand for over-priced housing is slowing and new buyers are taking their time, being picky, and even renting. Homeownership, as a percentage of the population, is already at a record-high. This level was achieved by using every trick in the mortgage lending book, regardless of income or down payment. Virtually every borrower was approved for a loan of some kind. Fifty percent of mortgages written over the last two years have been adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) and many buyers qualified for a mortgage because of the low teaser rates. In addition, sub-prime mortgage lending has reached $700 billion, or 12 percent of total mortgages. As interest rates adjust up, housing prices are forced down.
Given these statistics, it should be no surprise that the affordability index for the first time buyer is at a 20-year low, or that the University of Michigan's Home Buying Index is approaching an all-time low. In the housing crash of 1991, that index low was set once the housing price crash was well underway and more than a year old!
- Speculative buyers have stopped buying and many potential buyers are canceling orders and leaving deposits on the table.
- In many states, property insurance is up 25 to 30 percent, right up there with soaring heating and air-conditioning costs.
Comment on this Article
Increasingly Vicious Laws Push Out Homeless
Apr. 5 2006
by Catherine Komp
Communities nationwide appear intent on testing the lengths they can go to suppress or expel their homeless populations -- anything to avoid having to see, let alone help, the least fortunate.
Richmond, Va.; - In the face of rising homelessness, cities across the country are increasingly trying to push desperate people out of sight and out of mind. In addition to anti-panhandling, anti-camping and anti-loitering ordinances, some are targeting the few remaining public spaces where homeless people can go during the day - including parks and libraries.
Your privacy is strictly respected.
On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon in Richmond's Monroe Park, about 50 people gathered with plates of seasoned tofu and zucchini, squash and potatoes, fruit salad, sweets and coffee. The meal was organized by the local chapter of Food Not Bombs, a global network of anti-war, anti-poverty volunteers that provide free, vegetarian meals in hundreds of city parks.
"We like the park because it's a public space, it's a place where everybody can come," said volunteer Maria Medas.
But volunteers say the group's weekly food distribution efforts and similar programs face a looming threat of being pushed out of the park, long an anchor of nourishment and community for the city's homeless.
Next to the Food Not Bombs tables, several homeless people help Sam Bowser distribute the Sunday meal provided by the local chapter of HOPE Ministries Worldwide. "I've been serving homeless people for 20 years," Bowser said, "and the questions always asked is, 'Do the people need it?' Yes they do. I find the people depend on me to be here and anyone else who comes out here to feed the homeless people."
Whether it's public parks or private shelters, homeless people have fewer and fewer places to go.
But compassionate work by the likes of Medas and Bowser has met resistance from a group of neighborhood residents who argue the park is "languishing under an identity crisis." Pressure has also come from nearby Virginia Commonwealth University, where officials have also used their clout to pressure the city to privatize the park. The University has developed its own strategic plan to "address [the] need for more green space" for its students.
Medas said there has been an increased police presence at Food Not Bombs meals, and the group recently received a parking ticket for unloading in a spot it has used for years without any problems.
Donna Mills, a homeless woman helping Bowser serve HOPE Ministries' Sunday meal, sees the treatment of the community's poor as part of a long history of economic injustice. "[They] always run folks off of everything they want; they've been doing that ever since the beginning of time," Mills told TNS. "There's enough for everybody, but you just got one or two group of people [that] just want the whole dang gone thing - don't want to share nothing; want to keep you down and keep their self up; keep their self separated."
Battle in Downtown America
Whether it's public parks or private shelters, homeless people have fewer and fewer places to go. According to a survey of 24 cities by the US Conference of Mayors, requests for emergency shelter assistance in 2005 increased by 6 percent. The survey also found the number of homeless families seeking shelter increased by about 5 percent, with about one in three reporting unmet needs due to a lack of existing shelter resources.
Stoops believes the increase in the homeless population is feeding the rise in city ordinances and polices that target those populations.
Without enough temporary shelter for the needy, homelessness becomes more visible, leading to what homeless-rights advocate Michael Stoops described to The NewStandard as "a big battle in downtown American between the interests of low-income people and the interests of the business community."
Richmond's libraries have also become a front in that battle. In February, the city enacted new codes of conduct allowing library staff to banish people who bring in more than two book bags, bags over 18 inches in length, plastic bags, bed rolls or luggage. People whose "personal hygiene is offensive so as to constitute a nuisance to other persons" or who change their clothes in the bathroom can also be removed from the library. The revised codes further state that failure to comply with the library's rules may result in arrest.
In explaining the city's new policies at a recent press conference, Richmond Mayor Douglas L. Wilder said, "The purpose of the libraries is to satisfy the needs of society that wants to enrich its cultural involvement relative to reading, writing, to youngsters, for older [people], for anyone else that wants to come there to learn."
The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) has been tracking anti-homeless initiatives for more than a decade, and has published several comprehensive reports on criminalization of the homeless. Using information, surveys, and interviews from 224 cities, the 2005 report designates the top 20 "meanest" cities for the homeless.
Since the last survey in 2002, the NCH found a 12 percent increase in laws prohibiting begging; an 18 percent increase in aggressive panhandling laws; and a 14 percent increase in laws prohibiting sitting and lying in public places.
Stoops believes the increase in the homeless population is feeding the rise in city ordinances and polices that target those populations.
"I think some Americans are tired of the issue, and they simply want the homeless to go away," said Stoops, acting executive director of NCH. "Business people put pressure on the mayor and the police and that's why we see sweeps and the passage and enforcement of what we call 'anti-homeless' laws."
A Punitive Response
A number of cities, including Richmond, Houston and San Francisco have decided that the homeless use of libraries has become such a problem that it merits stronger regulations for behavior and enforcement.
Public library access has become such an issue that the American Library Association (ALA) has created a subcommittee on library services to poor and homeless people. ALA president Lesley Burger said that libraries, like any public institution, have certain rules for conduct, for example prohibiting food and beverages, cell phones and profane language.
But on the issue of targeting the homeless, Burger said, "I think we need to be very cautious about mass stereotypes or using stereotypes to paint a broad brush about a whole group of people who may be innocent." Moreover, she said, libraries can serve as a valuable source of information on jobs and social programs for people trying to get back on their feet.
Mayor Wilder has also suggested rerouting bus routes off of the main downtown thoroughfare that passes by an upscale hotel, the Library of Virginia, the new courthouse, and VCU's medical school. "We can't have all those people lying around outside the Library of Virginia, that beautiful building that I insisted be on Broad Street when I was governor," Wilder told the Richmond Times Dispatch.
Darrick, an artist and homeless Richmonder who preferred not to give his last name, said he experienced first-hand the city's crackdown on homelessness when police hassled him for lying in the park and working on a drawing. The officer, he said, accused him of "camping out."
"He said, 'You got that bag, doesn't that have your clothes and stuff in it?' I said, 'No, it has my art supplies in it,'" Darrick told TNS. "They harass you."
Both Darrick and NCH President Stoops emphasize that one of the key problems for homeless people is that there is nowhere to go during the day. But instead of funding accessible "day centers" - facilities with indoor seating, showers, laundry, and referral services -- many places try to sweep the homeless to less visible areas. In Richmond, city officials are trying to move homeless services away from downtown to a blighted industrial area near the parole office and city jail.
In San Francisco, complaints about homeless people congregating in front of the library compelled the city to implement the "Homeward Bound" program, which has given nearly 1,000 homeless people one-way bus tickets out of town.
And in Atlanta - the fourth "meanest" city in the NCH's study - local lawmakers banned panhandling in the downtown area and at bus stations, the airport and sports arenas. The ordinance also prohibits people from "requesting a donation of money" in business-district areas.
"It sounds like a Jim Crow law," said Stoops.
Anti-poverty and free-expression advocates raise constitutional concerns surrounding restrictions on begging and inhabiting public spaces. The NCH points out that courts have struck down laws that criminalize necessary activities for homeless people, like sleeping in public, citing the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
Beyond laws and ordinances, some city governments and businesses have used physical barriers to restrict not just the homeless, but people in general from taking up public space. Physical implements like seat-less bus stops, metal spikes on ledges, and metal barriers over subway grates have all cropped up to make urban spaces less accommodating.
President Bush's $2.77 trillion 2007 budget proposal includes numerous cuts to programs for poor and homeless populations, including the Community Development and Social Services Block Grant programs, which fund low-income housing, childcare and child-welfare programs.
While the NCH notes that the budget proposal does boost funding for Homeless Assistance Grants and Housing for People with AIDS, the organization says it does so at the expense of other housing initiatives that could prevent or alleviate homelessness. Congress could vote on budget resolutions this week, before the Easter recess.
For the programs and communities that do receive federal funding for homeless and poverty programs, the NCH advocates requiring cities to opt for more supportive initiatives over criminalization of the homeless. The group states that any federal funding for homelessness and poverty should be "conditioned on local government agreement not to punish homeless persons for conduct related to their status."
"I think the American people have grown accustomed to seeing people living on our city sidewalks and streets," said Stoops. "And that's why we don't give it a second thought or stop or even say 'hello' when we see people in the streets. We just walk on by."
Comment on this Article
Pentagon tells Congress of weapons cost overruns
By Jim Wolf
Fri Apr 7, 8:05 PM ET
WASHINGTON - Two multibillion-dollar Northrop Grumman Corp. projects -- the Global Hawk surveillance drone and a weather satellite system -- are running more than 25 percent over budget, the U.S. Defense Department told Congress on Friday in a filing that could lead to program cancellations.
Another Northrop project, a mini-submarine designed to deliver elite Navy Sea-Air-Land special forces, is being terminated. It too was running more than 25 percent over budget as of December 31, 2005, the Pentagon reported.
The department said Lockheed Martin Corp.'s multiple launch rocket system, being co-developed with Britain, Italy, France and Germany, was more than 15 percent over budget. That is below the 25 percent threshold risking cancellation but enough to require Congress be advised.
The notifications were required under a newly tightened, 24-year-old law known as Nunn-McCurdy.
The filing, known as Selected Acquisition Reports and due to Congress 60 days after President Bush's fiscal 2007 budget proposal, covered 89 major arms programs.
Programs running 25 percent or more over budget risk termination unless certified by the secretary of defense as vital to national security and meeting three other conditions.
Those additional conditions are that no alternatives exist, that costs are under control and that the management structure is adequate to keep costs under control.
The Pentagon has 60 days -- until June 5 -- to certify conditions have been met for Global Hawk and the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) or terminate them.
Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle. It entered limited production in March 2001. The program, valued at more than $6 billion, was restructured twice in 2002.
The $8 billion NPOESS system is designed to increase the accuracy of weather forecasts so that five- to seven-day forecasts are as reliable as those now looking three days out.
Under the Nunn-McCurdy rule changes enacted in January, the Pentagon also said 25 other programs were more than 50 percent over their original "baseline." In the case of the oldest program, Boeing Co.'s C-17 cargo plane, this harked backed to 1981.
Eleven other programs were reported for unit-cost breaches of more than 30 percent but less than 50 percent of their original "baseline" estimate.
The Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group that represents many U.S. military contractors, said on Thursday that these baseline "breaches" reflected the stepped-up reporting requirements, not programs gone awry.
Comment on this Article
US Armys Cash Priority
by William S. Lind
UPI Outside View Commentator
Apr 10, 2006
Washington - The U.S. Army has made it official. What those who work in Washington have long known -- that the Pentagon is about money, not war -- is now Army policy. According to the March 10 draft of the Army Campaign Plan, "The Army's center of gravity is the resource process." Yep, it sure is, as the cost of the Future Contract System readily attests.
Still, the Army deserves some sort of award for its truth in advertising. How about a medal showing a hand with a West Point ring on it reaching for someone else's wallet?
Of course, money has always been important in war. For centuries, a king who wanted to go to war had first to trot down to his Schatzkammer, or treasury, and see how many thaler he had piled up. If the cupboard was bare, he wasn't going anywhere.
But saying, as the U.S. Army has, that its center of gravity is the resource process is going a great deal further. The great 19th century German military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz defines a center of gravity as "the hub of all power and movement, on which all depends." If that were true of money, then the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would not be happening. The U.S. Army's resources, not to mention those of the rest of the Defense Department, are so vastly greater than those of our Fourth Generation opponents that they would not be able to stand against us for an hour.
The Military Reform Movement of the 1970s and '80s put it differently. It said that for winning in war, people are most important, ideas come second and hardware is only third. How does the Army affect its people, ideas and hardware by making resources its center of gravity? In each case, negatively.
Within the officer corps, the focus on acquiring and justifying resources corrupts, not in the sense of people taking money under the table but in the more profound sense of corruption of institutional purpose.
Officers whose focus and expertise is combat are shunted aside while those who are most adept at the resources game are promoted. Worse, a swarm of vultures is drawn by the resources, in the form of a secondary army of contractors. Because their goal is not truth but the next contract, intellectual corruption is added to corruption of purpose. At its higher levels, the whole system becomes Soviet, Gosplan in or out of uniform. The outside world, the battlefield, is an irrelevant and unwelcome distraction.
Ideas are similarly corrupted. In general, poverty begets ideas, while an excess of resources brings intellectual laziness. The illusion that the organization can simply buy its way out of problems spreads. The ideas that are valued are those that justify still more resources, while ideas that promise battlefield results with small resources are dismissed or seen as threats.
Again, the FCS is a wonderful example. From a military standpoint it is a joke, a semi-portable Maginot Line doomed to collapse of its own complexity. But in terms of justifying resources, it is a tremendous success because for the first time the Army has a program that costs even more than Navy or Air Force programs.
That leads to hardware, where complexity becomes the rule because simplicity does not cost enough. The more complex a system, the less it is able to deal with threats not envisioned by its designers.
Thus we see what Iraq has illustrated time and again, expensive, complex systems nullified by imaginative, simple countermeasures based on people and ideas. Worse, because hardware best justifies more resources, hardware becomes the Army's top priority with both people and ideas left far behind. In the end, the Army loses to opponents who have kept their priorities straight.
The Army should not be blamed for coming out of the closet and stating up front that resources are its center of gravity. The scandal is that for all the American armed services, the resource process is the center of gravity and has been for a long time -- the most recent to make it so was the Marine Corps, in the mid-1990s. To return to Clausewitz's definition, one might say that when a military defines resources as its center of gravity, it creates a hub of all weakness and stasis, on which all fatally depends.
Comment on this Article
Asian medical tourism to become multi-billion-dollar industry: report
Fri Apr 7, 1:18 PM ET
SINGAPORE - Asia's medical tourism industry is expected to generate over 4.4 billion dollars a year by 2012, with India, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea the top destinations, a leading travel firm said.
Low-cost, high-quality healthcare in Asia is already attracting more than 1.6 million tourists each year, mostly from within the region, according to a report issued by Singapore-based air ticketing firm Abacus International.
"Asia is a preferred healthcare destination and is set to grow further, fuelled by the relatively low-priced healthcare services available," Abacus president Don Birch said.
According to the report, medical tourism -- which refers to trips combining treatment and check-ups with leisure -- is growing by 20 to 30 percent each year with the industry now worth around half a billion dollars a year in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and India.
"Asia is an ideal growth environment ... with competitively-priced quality healthcare service in major tourist cities," Birch said.
Thailand welcomes more than one million medical tourists each year because of the variety of procedures available, Abacus said.
Bumrungrad International Hospital for example offers a full spectrum of surgical services performed by certified doctors all under one roof.
Singapore, on the other hand, is known for delivering cutting-edge medical treatment and attracts medical tourists with its competitively priced services.
For example, hip-replacement surgery costs two-thirds less in Singapore than in the United States, the report said.
The city-state attracts 370,000 medical tourists each year and is targeting one million medical visitors and 1.6 billion dollars in revenue by 2012.
India, whose medical tourism business is growing at 30 percent per year, currently draws about 150,000 visitors each year. It is forecast to generate at least 2.2 billion dollars by 2012.
"India (is) providing first-class service at a third-world price", the report said. It cited the low death rate for coronary bypass operations as evidence of quality healthcare.
Malaysia, which drew 100,000 patients in the first half of 2005, expects its medical tourism receipts to reach 590 million dollars in five years' time.
Although most of these tourists are from Asia, Birch said that some come from the United States and Europe as well.
"The long haul market is important and growing (but) much of the business is intra-Asia," Birch said.
The key sources of patients are Indonesia, Malaysia, the Middle East and China, he added.
Comment on this Article
Zionist Israel - Part 1
Israeli army kills Palestinian gunman
Sun Apr 9, 11:23 AM ET
BETHLEHEM, West Bank - A Palestinian gunman has been shot dead during an Israeli army raid in a village near the southern West Bank town of Bethlehem, Palestinian sources and the Israeli army said.
Palestinian security forces identified the gunman as 33-year-old Jaber al-Ashrat but it was not immediately clear what faction he belonged to.
The Israeli army confirmed it had shot dead the man who was wanted by Israel.
According to an army spokesman Sunday, the gunman "came out of his house and opened fire on the troops who entered the village of Bet Tamir to arrest him."
The latest death brings the overall number of people killed since the Palestinian intifada erupted in September 2000 to 5,015, according to an AFP count. The vast majority of them are Palestinian.
Comment on this Article
Israeli Attack in Gaza Strip Kills 4 Militants and a Child
By GREG MYRE
April 8, 2006
JERUSALEM, April 7 - An Israeli airstrike Friday on a car carrying Palestinian militants in the southern Gaza Strip killed six people and wounded about a dozen, Palestinian security officials and medical workers said.
Palestinian rescue workers examined the wreckage of a car Friday after it had been hit in an Israeli airstrike, killing six and wounding a dozen.
The dead included four militants from the Popular Resistance Committees, who were in the car, and a child, according to Reuters, which cited Palestinian witnesses and the medical workers. The identity of the sixth person was not known.
The Israeli military said the car carrying the militants had been the target of the attack after it left a training camp near Rafah, which is just inside Gaza's southern border with Egypt. The military said it had identified militants handling weapons in the camp.
One of those killed was identified as Iyad Abu al-Aynin, regarded as a leading bomb maker for the Popular Resistance Committees. This group includes militants from various armed factions, and has been responsible for much of the persistent rocket fire from Gaza directed at towns in southern Israel.
The crude rockets are inaccurate and rarely cause casualties, but Israel says it will not tolerate attacks directed at its civilians. The Israeli military has intensified airstrikes and artillery fire in recent days against northern Gaza, from which the Palestinian rockets are launched.
Many of those wounded Friday were believed to be civilians, though no figure was immediately available.
Reuters reported that the child who was killed in the attack was one of Mr. Aynin's children and said he had taken them to the base to observe training exercises.
Initial reports said the body was that of his 7-year-old daughter, but Reuters said medics reported that later the family identified the body as the 5-year-old son and said it was not clear if the daughter was among the wounded.
Comment: Note the scurrilous attempt by Reuters to justify the murder of a child:
"Reuters reported that the child who was killed in the attack was one of Mr. Aynin's children and said he had taken them to the base to observe training exercises."
From which we are supposed to think, "oh! this child too was a "terrorist" so deserved to be blown to pieces by Israeli rockets donated by America.
Comment on this Article
Army uses two Palestinians as human shields in Bethlehem invasion
George Rishmawi-IMEMC & PNN
Thursday, 06 April 2006
Israeli soldiers used two Palestinians from the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem as human shield as they invaded the camp on Thursday before noon.
Troops took over a building in the camp and turned it into a military post few meters away from the construction site of the annexation wall.
The two were identified as Mustafa Malash and Mustafa Abu Srour. They both work for the public service committee in the camp.
As youth started to throw rocks at the army, troops forced the two youth to stand in front of them as they were approaching the stone-throwing kids.
They also fired several rounds and tear gas bombs and rubber-coated-metal bullets at the kids.
Local sources reported that some women and children were treated from gas inhalation.
The invasion lasted for two hours before they set the two youth free, no arrests were reported.
Palestinian legal sources said this incident is evidence that Israeli army is still using Palestinian civilians as human shields despite of Israeli high court ruling to stop.
Senior Israeli military officers including Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz have previously affirmed that they are committed to the court ruling to stop using Palestinian civilians as human shields.
Comment: Consider the inherant evil in the act of and IDF soldier taking a young Palestinian boy and using him as a shield as the IDF illegally invades Palestinian territory with the intent of murdering Palestinians.
Comment on this Article
1,000 Israeli Military Shells Fired at Gaza Within Week
Massive fire: The IDF's artillery battery stationed opposite the northern Gaza Strip completed the firing of 1,000 shells at Qassam launching sites in the northern Strip.
The massive fire began last Thursday and continued almost nonstop during the week, as part of the army's comprehensive operation against the Qassam rocket threat.
On Friday, the IDF stationed another artillery battery opposite the southern Strip, not far from Kerem Shalom. After the army completes its operational deployment, it will also start launching shells at Qassam groups' operation areas near and south of the city of Khan Younis.
Another Qassam rocket was fired from the northern Gaza Strip Friday evening, landing near Kibbutz Or Haner in the Sderot area. The rocket fell in an open area, and there were no reports of injuries or damage.
Palestinian sources in the Gaza Strip reported that three Palestinians were wounded a short while later by IDF shell fire toward the town of Beit Hanoun, where the Qassam rocket was launched from.
Comment: Note that the "rockets" fired at Israel are very few and far between and usually miss their target AND fail to detonate. Compare this with the deadly accuracy of Israeli missiles? Fair? Of course it is not, but then again there is nothing fair or just about the state of Israel. It appears that Israel's sole reason to exist is to trample on the rights and the lives of innocent Palestinians, and ultimately extinguish (exterminate) them completely.
Comment on this Article
Eleven Children Held Captive by Israeli Army
April 8th, 2006
ISM Media Alerts
Eleven children have been held captive by the Israeli army since 5am yesterday morning. They are being held in an apartment on the 8th floor of a building the army has turned into a sniper nest. A young boy, the only captive medical volunteers have been allowed to contact, reported that the families are hungry and without food. The army is preventing any food from being brought into the building.
The army forced Amjad Aodah's family from their apartment on a lower floor of the building and are holding them and the family of Abu Amare Al Hajd Hamd hostage. The fourteen people, aged between three and seventy, are in a single room on the 8th floor. Internationals and medics have attempted to gain access, but have repeatedly been denied.
Comment on this Article
Egypt criticizes Israeli bombing in Gaza
April 9, 2006
CAIRO - Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Sunday recent Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip were excessive and disproportionate, and would lead to further violence.
The Israeli army fired artillery shells into the northern Gaza Strip on Sunday, killing a civilian and wounding 15 civilians and policemen, Palestinian security sources said.
Israeli army officials have said the strikes were on locations on the outskirts of Beit Hanoun, a town in the northern Gaza Strip, used by militants to fire rockets into
Israeli air strikes and artillery barrages have killed 15 Palestinians, mainly militants since Friday.
"Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit expressed his disapproval of Israel's continued bombing of the Gaza Strip," reported Egypt's official MENA new agency.
"This bombing, which Israel has justified by the firing of Qassam rockets by some Palestinian elements, is an excessive and disproportionate use of force," it quoted him as saying.
MENA added: "The foreign minister indicated that the escalating Israeli military campaign ... will not lead to the realization of Israeli security but will result in increased violence."
Egypt, a key regional U.S. ally, was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel and maintains contacts with Palestinian and Israel officials in the hope of reviving stalled peace talks.
A Palestinian minister visiting Cairo on Sunday asked the Arab League to urge Arab states to pay financial aid pledged to the cash-strapped Hamas-led Palestinian government, MENA reported.
Telecoms Minister Jamal al-Khudary asked Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa to urge Arab states to honor a commitment made at a recent Arab summit in Khartoum to give the Palestinians some $50 million a month.
The United States and the European Commission, who want Hamas to renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist and commit to peace talks, have suspended aid to the Palestinian Authority.
Comment on this Article
Zionist Israel - Part 2
Does Israel Conduct Covert Action in America?
by Michael Scheuer
April 8, 2006
You bet it does
Covert action is much talked about and little understood. At its most basic level, covert action is a set of intelligence operations undertaken by a specific state's intelligence agencies to advance its national interests. They are executed in a manner that limits the visibility of that state's hand in whatever is done. Ideally, covert actions cannot be traced back to their sponsor. Most people take the term covert action to mean violent actions of one kind or another: kidnapping, assassination, support for insurgents, etc. While violence can certainly be part of a covert-action campaign, the more insidious - and often more effective - arm of covert action is called "political action," whereby one state seeks to influence the public opinion of another by speaking through the mouths of that country's citizens. And let me stress, there is nothing wrong or immoral about covert political action. America used political action worldwide in the Cold War; Britain used it in the United States to accelerate neutral America's entry into both world wars; the Saudis pay untold amounts to retired senior U.S. officials to speak admiringly of the anti-American desert tyranny; and Israel uses it today against America to ensure unlimited and unquestioning U.S. support. It is a legitimate foreign affairs tool, and the leaders of any nation who choose not to engage in such activity are certifiably negligent fools.
For years - even decades - U.S. citizens have been the subject of a political action campaign designed and executed by Israel. Currently, Israel's campaign is part steady-as-she-goes and part improvisation to neutralize an unexpected and - for Israel - worrying development. So far, Israel's covert political action is succeeding hands down. Americans are gradually being indoctrinated to believe Islamists are today's Nazis and that there is no "Israeli lobby" in America. Simply put, Israel is conducting a brilliant covert political action campaign in the United States, a campaign any intelligence service in the world would rightly be proud of.
Part one of Israeli's political action consists simply of using that old standby debate-suppressor, the four-letter word "Nazi." Newspapers in Israel, of course, have long used the word to describe Israel's Muslim enemies. Recently, for example, the Jerusalem Post ran an article in which al-Qaeda is described as "yet another Nazi knockoff." This sort of language is the stuff of Israeli journalism, and not of much concern to Americans. If the Israeli press wants to teach their readers to underestimate the Islamist threat, so be it.
But now the word "Nazi" is being gradually fed to Americans as a scientific definition of our Islamist enemies. Headlines such as "Hamas Uber Alles," "Hitler's Heirs in Damascus," and "The Nazi Correction to Islamic Terror" are increasingly common in U.S. media publications found in the news files Googled daily by Americans. U.S. politicians, too, are eager to jump on the call-them-Nazis bandwagon, with Secretary Rumsfeld recently saying that leaving Iraq early would be like returning postwar Germany to the Nazis, and Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) comparing the attack on the Shia shrine in Samarra to the burning of the Reichstag by the Nazis.
The goal of using the Nazi analogy is to suppress any realistic debate about the pluses and minuses of the U.S.-Israel relationship, and to make sure any American raising questions about U.S. support for Israel is seen as siding with the "Islamofascists," the heirs of Nazism. Any person who knows the least bit about Islam - and the Israelis know a great deal - knows it is not Nazism, yet the Internet is rife with such titles as "A Manifesto Against Islamofascism" and "Islamofascism's Creeping Coup in Turkey." The best capsule description of the threat posed by Islamofascists is provided by Frank Gaffney in a recent issue of The Intelligencer, the journal of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. Listen to Mr. Gaffney, and you will almost hear Muslim jackboots striking the pavement.
"We are engaged in nothing less than a War for the Free World. This is a fight to the death with Islamofascists, Muslim extremists driven by a totalitarian political ideology that, like Nazism and Communism before it, is determined to destroy freedom and the people who love it."
The drive to make Islamofascist the term of choice in describing America's Muslim enemies is meant to still U.S. debate about Israel and, indeed, to limit questions about any aspect of U.S. foreign policy toward the Islamic world. After all, why would anyone in their right mind care what people think, unless they are blindly and unthinkingly opposed to Islamofascism?
The second part of any nation's covert political action plan is to be ready to exploit or redress unexpected developments within the target society. Last month, Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt provided such an environment when they published a lengthy study showing the strong influence the Israeli lobby has on the crafting and application of U.S. foreign policy toward the Islamic world. If American society had its head screwed on right, the collective response of the citizenry would have been, "DUH!" - signifying that the near-determinative nature of Israeli influence is so clear that no academic analysis of that fact is necessary.
Instead, the reaction from American elites has been that of Captain Renault in Casablanca - they are shocked, shocked, that anyone could even think that there is such a thing as an Israeli lobby. The elites demand that Americans believe there are no such things as Israel-suborned American-citizen spies stealing U.S. national security secrets, pro-Israel U.S. media publications routinely savaging any American questioning the perfect and eternal mesh of U.S. and Israeli interests, and U.S. politicians from Pelosi to McCain to DeLay to Rice groveling at AIPAC's annual conference, each willing to compromise U.S. security if they can garner pro-Israel votes and pockets stuffed with cash from pro-Israel contributions.
In the specific case of the Mearsheimer-Walt paper, prominent pro-Israel Americans have been quick off the mark to limit the damage caused to Israel's interests caused by the paper's candor and truthfulness. From Marvin Kalb to David Gergen to Max Boot to Alan Dershowitz, these folks have brazenly defied reality by insisting there is no "Israeli Lobby" and that Mearsheimer and Walt are dead wrong, poor scholars, paranoid conspiracy peddlers, or reborn Elders of Zion. Eliot Cohen's essay in the Washington Post epitomizes the Israel-Firsters' goal of defaming Mearsheimer and Walt to convince the citizenry that they are crazy and ranting anti-Semites.
The attacks on Walt and Mearsheimer are the stuff that the dreams of political action planners are made of: The apparently spontaneous response by target-country citizens voicing all-out support for the covert-action-sponsoring country. Such a response deep-sixes any chance for a substantive debate on the issue at hand, and submerges it in a blizzard of hate speech directed at the authors from prominent Israel-Firsters, those paragons of virtue who are the chief proponents of First-Amendment-destroying laws against hate speech.
So at day's end, one can only say: Astoundingly well done, Israel, good for you! The impact of your covert political action activities in America are all that you could have hoped for: Truth is negated, dissent is suppressed, and opponents are intimidated and defamed, and all this is done by prominent U.S. citizens. The only competitor you have is the Saudi lobby, an organization just as damaging as yours to genuine U.S. national interests, a reality you and we would see if the bloodied but hopefully unbowed Mearsheimer-Walt team decides to analyze the corrupt and corrupting Saudi lobby.
Finally, I forgot to mention at the start that covert political action campaigns are almost always directed by one nation against another nation that it considers an enemy or whose leaders it judges to be gullible, venal, none too bright, unreliable, or all four. That surely gives one pause for thought, but it truly is the way the world works.
Comment on this Article
Abbas: 'Convergence' will lead to war
Apr. 7, 2006
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said Friday in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian that Olmert's "convergence plan" will only bring more war to the region.
Abbas added that Olmert's plan will only endanger the chances of reaching a long term agreement, since it bypasses negotiations with the Palestinians.
His statement followed a decision by the the United States to cancel or suspend up to $411 million in Palestinian aid rather than risk that the money might go to the Palestinian Authority's new Hamas leadership.
At the same time, the United States said it would redirect some of that money to humanitarian projects for impoverished Palestinians. Humanitarian aid will rise by 57 percent to $287 million over several years, the department said.
Another $13 million will go for new safeguarding procedures, including a special inspector-general, to ensure that even humanitarian aid funneled through the UN Relief Works Agency and approved charities does not end up in Hamas' hands, the department said.
The money being cut or suspended includes funds for public works construction, training public officials and revitalizing the economy. Of the $411 million, $165 million is under review by US officials.
The United States began a review of its aid package to the Palestinians shortly after the Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January, and already has eliminated direct aid to the Palestinian Authority.
"It is our desire to help provide for the basic humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement read to reporters by department spokesman Sean McCormack. But, she added, "The new Palestinian government must take responsibility for the consequences of its policies."
The United States has long channeled most of its assistance to the Palestinians through indirect means, to humanitarian efforts such as food, maternal and child health programs and education, and for projects that only indirectly benefited the Palestinian government. These include such projects as roads, water works and training programs for judges, electoral workers and others.
The United States will redirect about $100 million from canceled projects to humanitarian assistance, the official said. Some of the remaining pot of approximately $140 million will be eaten up in the process of ending or disengaging from those projects, but it is not clear where all the money will go.
The official said the State Department would consult with Congress on the next move. Congress has already approved all the spending under review, and has not yet considered how to apportion new money now that Hamas is in place.
The West has been threatening to cut nearly $1 billion in annual aid to the Palestinians since the election, which turned out the Fatah Party that Washington had hoped could gradually move toward peace with Israel. Hamas has refused to renounce violence or recognize Israel's right to exist.
Without money from the Arab world, Europe and the United States, a Hamas-led government would be nearly broke.
President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have said Washington would not give aid to a Hamas-led government unless it changed its policies.
Also Friday, the European Union's executive office cut off direct aid payments to the Hamas-led Palestinian government.
The decision - condemned by Hamas officials, but welcomed by the Israeli government as a sign of a growing international consensus - effectively stops the next installment of some $36.9 million in projects aimed at funding hospitals, utilities and education run by the United Nations, Red Cross and other groups.
As with the United States, the vast majority of the EU's aid package does not go to the Palestinian Authority government. However, the decision has symbolic value and will add to the pressure on the Hamas leadership.
The funds are considered vital to keep the Palestinian economy afloat - and the impact could be even stronger if EU foreign ministers decide at a meeting Monday to also freeze their governments' bilateral aid to the Palestinians. Britain and the Netherlands have already taken such a step.
EU aid to the Palestinians totals more than $600 million per year and the bloc is the Palestinians' largest donor. The frozen EU funds amount to half of that annual figure, with the rest coming from the bilateral agreements to be scrutinized at Monday's EU meeting.
Hamas condemned the move, which came at a time of intense maneuvering among Palestinian leaders to find a way out of the new government's isolation.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said the EU move to freeze funds "will increase the suffering" of Palestinians.
Comment: What's teh big mystery? Israel WANTS a reason to engage in full-scale war with the Palestinian people and always has done!
Comment on this Article
Israel to formally cut all contacts with Hamas gov't
www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-09 00:02:05
JERUSALEM, April 9 (Xinhua) -- Israeli security cabinet said on Sunday that it had recommended formally cutting all contacts with the new Palestinian government led by the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas).
"Israel will sever all contacts with the Hamas-led Palestinian government, which is a hostile entity," said a statement released by Israeli Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office after the security cabinet meeting.
The statement also said that the Israeli government would work to "prevent the consolidation of power on the part of the Hamas government", but added that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would not be "disqualified."
Israel would coordinate ways which would bypass the Hamas government to provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people, said the statement, adding that it was recommended that the crossings into Gaza be kept open to enable the passage of humanitarian assistance.
In addition, the security cabinet, grouping top Israeli officials, also suggested during the meeting convened by Olmert that Israeli authorities boycott foreign diplomats who meet Hamas officials while on visits to the region.
Israel had boycotted foreign diplomats who met with late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in a bid to isolate him.
The security cabinet also proposed to continue the freeze of the monthly transfer of about 50 million U.S. dollars of tax revenues Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians to the Hamas-led government.
The Jewish state halted the money transfer after Hamas defeated Abbas long dominant Fatah movement in the January Palestinian legislative elections.
The recommendations are expected to be presented to the full cabinet next Sunday for approval.
The statement came after the Hamas cabinet took office on March 29.
Israel has repeatedly said that it will not deal with the Hamas government unless the radical group renounces violence, recognizes Israel's right to exist and accepts previous Palestinian-Israeli deals.
Olmert, whose centrist Kadima party came first in the March 28 general elections, has been tasked with forming a new Israeli government.
Comment on this Article
Israel to boycott diplomats who meet Hamas officials
Sun Apr 9
Israel's Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has announced that his government would boycott foreign diplomats who meet with members of the new Hamas-led Palestinian government.
The decision was made during a special meeting held by Olmert to discuss Israel's policies in the wake of the accession last month of the government led by the radical Islamist movement.
"Foreign visitors who meet with Hamas officials will not be authorised to meet Israeli officials," Olmert said in a statement released after the meeting Sunday.
The boycott is similar to that instituted by Israel towards foreign officials who chose to meet with the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat before his death in November 2004.
Foreign ministers who met Arafat were only able to meet with Israeli officials after they returned to the region at later dates.
Although the move is designed to dissuade anyone holding talks with the Hamas-led government, the statement said officials who meet the moderate Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas would not be shunned.
Israel regards Hamas as a terrorist organisation and has vowed to have no contacts with the new government unless the movement renounces the use of violence and recognises the Jewish state's right to exist.
The acting prime minister, set to head the next Israeli government after winning last month's general election, also reiterated that Israel would not hold contacts with the Palestinian government led by Hamas, branding it a "a hostile authority."
Hamas has carried out dozens of anti-Israeli suicide attacks since the launch of a the Palestinian uprising in September 2000, although none in the last year.
Comment on this Article
Israel allows Palestinian Christians to Easter services
Sun Apr 9, 9:24 AM ET
JERUSALEM - The Israeli army has said that it would give permission to 34,000 Palestinian Christians to travel from the
West Bank in order to attend festivities over the upcoming Easter weekend.
The main services will be held in Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, considered Jesus Christ's burial place.
In addition, around 500 Christian Palestinians will be allowed to travel from the West Bank to spend time with their families in the Gaza Strip while a similar number would be authorised to make the journey in the opposition direction.
The statement also said Sunday that members of Israel's Christian population would be allowed to travel to the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Jericho to attend ceremonies.
Comment on this Article
Israeli Slaughter Of Palestinians at Deir Yassin 1948
Early in the morning of April 9, 1948, commandos of the Irgun (headed by Menachem Begin) and the Stern Gang attacked Deir Yassin, a village with about 750 Palestinian residents. The village lay outside of the area to be assigned by the United Nations to the Jewish State; it had a peaceful reputation. But it was located on high ground in the corridor between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Deir Yassin was slated for occupation under Plan Dalet and the mainstream Jewish defense force, the Haganah, authorized the irregular terrorist forces of the Irgun and the Stern Gang to perform the takeover.
In all over 100 men, women, and children were systematically murdered. Fifty-three orphaned children were literally dumped along the wall of the Old City, where they were found by Miss Hind Husseini and brought behind the American Colony Hotel to her home, which was to become the Dar El-Tifl El-Arabi orphanage.
Part of the struggle for self-determination by Palestinians has been to tell the truth about Palestinians as victims of Zionism. For too long their history has been denied, and this denial has only served to further oppress and deliberately dehumanize Palestinians in Israel, inside the occupied territories, and outside in their diaspora.
Some progress has been made. Westerners now realize that Palestinians, as a people, do exist. And they have come to acknowledge that during the creation of the state of Israel, thousands of Palestinians were killed and over 700,000 were driven or frightened from their homes and lands on which they had lived for centuries.
Comment on this Article
Around the World
Italy's Prodi set to win election: exit polls
Mon Apr 10, 2006
ROME - Center-left leader Romano Prodi looks set to beat Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Italy's general election, winning a majority in both houses of parliament, according to exit polls released on Monday.
A poll by the Nexus research institute predicted that Prodi's alliance would win between 50 and 54 percent of the vote in both the lower house of parliament and the upper house (Senate).
Berlusconi's center-right bloc was shown winning 45 to 49 percent of the vote in both houses according to the poll, broadcast by state television RAI.
A separate poll by Piepoli, shown on Sky Italia television, showed former European Commission President Prodi winning 52 percent of the vote in the lower house, to give it 340 seats, and around 167 seats of the 315 seats up for grabs in the Senate.
A more detailed Nexus exit poll is due out at 3.45 p.m. (1345 GMT). Exit polls in Italy have called past elections incorrectly, most famously in 1996 when they failed to predict that Prodi had beaten Berlusconi.
Comment on this Article
Spain to bring charges in Madrid bombings
By Joe Ortiz
Sun Apr 9, 6:57 AM ET
MADRID - A Spanish judge is expected to charge about 30 people with involvement in the 2004 Madrid train bombings on Monday, completing a two-year investigation into attacks which left 191 people dead.
Judge Juan del Olmo will take steps toward a trial that probably won't start before early next year, judicial sources said.
Some 116 people have been named as suspects in the March 2004 attacks, in which bombs packed in sports bags exploded on four crowded commuter trains. Twenty-five people are already behind bars.
Del Olmo's report, which runs to more than 1,000 pages, will detail charges against the suspects.
The case is unprecedented in Spain in terms of bloodshed and complexity, and the trial could last 10 months because so many defendants and lawyers are involved, a lawyer said.
No venue for the trial has been named, but accommodation will be needed for hundreds of people including the accused, lawyers, court officials, police, journalists and members of public.
Before the case gets to trial it must pass through an initial preparatory period, but the High Court judge's report will be the main basis for the proceedings, legal experts say.
The March 11 bombs injured more than 2,000 people and traumatised Spain, already worn down by years of bombings and shootings by Basque guerrilla group ETA, which last month declared a permanent ceasefire.
Prosecutors say the 10 train bombs were activated by mobile phones that were traced to a shop in central Madrid, run by one of two main suspects.
Seven suspected bombers blew themselves up three weeks after the attack when police surrounded their apartment building in southern Madrid. Another fled Spain and died fighting in
While Madrid got back to its feet quickly after the bombings, politicians have continued to trade accusations about who knew what and when, and how that information was used.
The blasts hit Madrid just three days before a general election that unexpectedly removed the right-wing party of Jose Maria Aznar, a close ally of U.S. President
Aznar's Popular Party (PP) had taken a hard line against ETA during its administration and quickly painted the Basque separatists as the main suspects for the attacks, despite evidence pointing to Al Qaeda-linked cells and therefore a possible link to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, which Aznar had backed.
When Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero took over as prime minister he recalled Spanish troops from Iraq as he had promised to do in his election campaign.
Documents declassified last year showed that four months before the bombs, the National Intelligence Center sent a report to the Interior Ministry warning of a possible Islamist attack.
Comment on this Article
French PM regrets dropping of CPE law
www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-10 18:56:16
PARIS, April 10 (Xinhua) -- French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, sponsor of the controversial First Employment Contract (CPE) job law, stated in a televised broadcast that he regretted the law could not be applied.
"The necessary conditions of confidence and calm are not there, either among young people, or companies, to allow the application of the First Job Contract," Villepin said after meetings with Chirac.
President Jacques Chirac announced earlier Monday that the highly controversial Article 8 of the equal opportunities law would be replaced with measures to help disadvantaged young people find work.
Villepin said the contract would be replaced by proposals aimed at helping disadvantaged young job-seekers and he said he would open a discussion "without preconditions" with social partners on how to provide for youth unemployment.
A poll by the French left-wing Liberation newspaper showed that Villepin's popularity, which stood at 49 percent early January, had fallen to 25 percent this weekend.
French trade unions and the government opposition hailed the decision as a success for the social movement. Trade unions and student groups, which had threatened more protests unless the measure was withdrawn, were to meet later Monday to decide on their next action.
The CPE law allowed employers to fire, without cause, newly hired workers under the age of 26 within two years.
Opponents said the law would erode hard-won labour rights and make it more difficult for youths to find long-term jobs, and also criticized the maneuver as "surrealistic" and "undemocratic."
The proposed law provoked massive protests, at times violent, in which more than 3,600 people were arrested.
Details of the amended measures were expected later in the day and new legislation could be presented to parliament as early as this week.
Comment on this Article
Socialists' Royal biggest winner of CPE tussle
PARIS, April 9, 2006 (AFP)
As the French government grapples with the fiasco of a botched youth job reform, the Socialist Ségolène Royal is staking an ever stronger claim to carry the left-wing banner in next year's presidential election.
Smiling out from the cover of four French magazines this week, interviewed on the main evening news, the elegant 52-year-old is suddenly everywhere and the so-called 'Ségolène factor' an established feature of the political scene.
"Is she ready?" asked the VSD weekly, while Paris Match, under the headline 'Segolene awaits her hour', devoted an eight-page spread to her "march" to become France's first woman president.
Royal, the president of the western Poitou-Charentes region and the partner of Socialist Party leader François Hollande, has all but eclipsed her left-wing rivals in the popularity ratings since the start of this year.
Polls suggests she is the only candidate on the left capable of challenging the centre-right favourite in next year's election, ruling UMP party chief and interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy.
For her supporters, the former minister and mother of four children brings the promise of renewal, as a fresh face on a political scene dominated by grey-haired men and seen as increasingly cut off from voters.
Unlike other Socialist figures, Royal has not been seen locking arms with protestors during the upheaval over the government's First Employment Contract (CPE), which makes it easier to fire under 26-year-olds.
But she took a controversial public stance against the contract - saying her region would hold back grants from companies that used the measure, which she says gives off the wrong "signal" to France's youth.
"It strengthens the idea of France's decline," she argued in Paris Match, "to tell the younger generation: 'You can be sacked easily just because you are young'."
Though in many ways a traditional Socialist, Royal has stirred passions by speaking of her admiration for Tony Blair, and dismissed as "ideologically simplistic" the contempt in which he is held by much of the French left.
"There are good things to take from all sides, from all European countries which have the same problems as us and which are trying to drive down unemployment," she told Paris Match.
"The French are waiting for something that their politicians are unable to provide," she said.
But she is careful to reject the notion of labour 'flexibility' - reviled by many in France - speaking of 'agility' instead, and points to Denmark as a successful example of a fluid job market combined with strong social protection.
With Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin badly weakened by the job reform crisis, many commentators are predicting a Sarkozy-Royal run-off in next year's election.
"I will be ready if the time comes," Royal told Paris Match.
Short of a manifesto, she has set up a website called 'Desires for the Future', with a political discussion forum whose contents will be published in book form in the autumn.
But even with the polls on her side, Royal faces a major challenge to bring round the powers-that-be inside her own camp, with an internal vote to select a candidate due in November or December.
Jockeying for position with party heavyweights including former ministers Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Laurent Fabius and Jacques Lang - Royal has faced months of sniping from the party ranks.
Initially the target of misogynist remarks, her rivals continue to criticise her for having no structured project, and some accuse her of exploiting the party machinery to further her ambitions.
"Some liken her to Uma Thurman in 'Kill Bill', cutting up her opponents with a media sabre. Others see her as a kind of Mother Theresa who attracts irrational devotion," wrote the Nouvel Observateur.
Party members "will not choose the cover of Paris Match", Socialist deputy Jean Glavany snapped this week, warning that the PS candidate would be chosen based on "content" and "ideas".
For political scientist Dominique Reynie, Royal "embodies a need for renewal on the left. She is not a flash in the pan, but mind you her real test is only just beginning."
Comment on this Article
Nazis planned Holocaust for Palestine: historians
By Thomas Krumenacker
Fri Apr 7, 9:47 AM ET
BERLIN - Nazi Germany planned to expand the extermination of Jews beyond the borders of Europe and into British-controlled Palestine during World War Two, two German historians say.
In 1942, the Nazis created a special "Einsatzgruppe," a mobile SS death squad, which was to carry out the mass slaughter of Jews in Palestine similar to the way they operated in eastern Europe, the historians argue in a new study.
The director of the Nazi research center in Ludwigsburg, Klaus-Michael Mallman, and Berlin historian Martin Cueppers say an Einsatzgruppe was all set to go to Palestine and begin killing the roughly half a million Jews that had fled Europe to escape Nazi death camps like Auschwitz and Birkenau.
In the study, published last month, they say "Einsatzgruppe Egypt" was standing by in Athens and was ready to disembark for Palestine in the summer of 1942, attached to the "Afrika Korps" led by the famed desert commander General Erwin Rommel.
The Middle East death squad, similar to those operating throughout eastern Europe during the war, was to be led by SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Walther Rauff, the historians say.
"The central plan for the group was the realization of the Holocaust in Palestine," the authors wrote in their study that appears in a book entitled "Germans, Jews, Genocide: The Holocaust as History and the Present."
But since Germany never conquered British-controlled Palestine, plans for bringing the Holocaust to what is now
Israel and the Palestinian territories never came to fruition.
Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis in Europe. According to their own records, the Einsatzgruppen killed over one million people, most of them civilians.
In the battle of El Alamein, Egypt, British General Bernard Montgomery turned the tide of the war in north Africa by routing Rommel's "Afrika Korps" and ending his African campaign.
As they did in eastern Europe, the plan was for the 24 members involved in the death squad to enlist Palestinian collaborators so that the "mass murder would continue under German leadership without interruption."
Fortunately for the Jews in Palestine, "Einsatzgruppe Egypt" never made it out of Greece.
"The history of the Middle East would have been completely different and a Jewish state could never have been established if the Germans and Arabs had joined forces," the historians conclude.
Regarding the question why this is emerging 61 years after the end of World War Two, Mallmann and Cueppers said they simply unearthed something other historians had not found yet.
Comment on this Article
19 dead in stampede at Pakistan stampede
Sun Apr 9, 9:51 AM ET
KARACHI At least 19 women and children were killed in a stampede after a religious gathering in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi on Sunday, witnesses said.
A Reuters correspondent counted the bodies of 14 women and five children in Karachi's Liaquat National Hospital.
"A girl was coming out of the mosque ... when she fell down, triggering a stampede," police official Zahid Hussain said.
Comment on this Article
'Many killed' in India fair blaze
Monday, 10 April 2006
At least 35 people have been killed in a fire at a trade fair in the northern Indian city of Meerut, police say.
A police spokesman state told the BBC the fire had been caused by a short circuit. At least 20 fire tenders have been called in to tackle the blaze.
"We have recovered 35 bodies so far," the spokesman, Govind Singh, said.
Reports say several hundred people are trapped inside a huge tent at the fair. The injured, many of them seriously hurt, are being taken to hospitals.
Local journalists say there were more than 2,000 people at the consumer electronics fair in Meerut, about 80km (50 miles) north-east of the capital, when the fire broke out around 1800 Indian time (1230 GMT).
The fair was being held in three long, air-conditioned tents with just one exit each, and plastic roofs supported by iron rods.
TV footage showed smoke billowing out of the tent and flames spiralling into the air as a large number of charred bodies and seriously injured people were carried from the blaze.
"Dead bodies are strewn around, most of them are charred beyond recognition. The bodies were dumped into truck, jeeps and ambulances and taken away from public glare," Prakash Arya, an eyewitness, told the Associated Press news agency.
A BBC correspondent says hundreds of people have rushed to the spot to search for their relatives and friends who went to the fair.
Paramilitary forces have also been deployed.
Comment on this Article
Documents were faked in Rome over Iraq-Niger uranium claims: newspaper
Sun Apr 9, 4:26 PM ET
LONDON - Two employees of the Niger embassy in Rome allegedly forged documents that were later used to justify the US-led invasion of Iraq, a British newspaper claimed.
Citing unnamed sources at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the Sunday Times said the embassy officials faked papers to show that former Iraqi president
Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium ore from the west African nation.
The documents, which emerged in 2002, were denounced as forgeries by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
But in the run-up to military action in March 2003, both the White House and Britain used claims that Saddam had bought or was seeking to buy significant amounts of uranium for weapons from a west African nation.
According to the newspaper, the papers were forged for money by the Niger consul and his assistant at the embassy in Rome as western intelligence agencies sought evidence about reports that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium ore.
They were said to have copied a real contract to make it look as if Niger would supply Iraq with 500 tonnes of ore, or "yellowcake", it added.
The documents passed into the hands of the French secret service by way of a former Italian agent.
The ex-agent passed the documents on to an Italian journalist in late 2002. The journalist then took them to the US embassy, whose officials in turn informed Washington, the newspaper said.
Former US ambassador Joseph Wilson travelled to Niger and found the claims about Iraq obtaining uranium to be without substance. He publicly attacked the White House's assertions on the matter in a critical newspaper commentary in mid-2003.
But that led to government officials briefing journalists that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative. Naming an undercover agent is illegal in the United States.
Last week, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a former aide to US Vice-President Dick Cheney, told an inquiry into the leak that it was Cheney who ordered the briefings and that
President George W. Bush had authorised them.
Comment on this Article
Did Plame out White House plans for finding WMD in Iraq?
Did the White House plan to 'find' WMD in Iraq until Brewster-Jennings intercepted their shipment?
Was that why Plame was in their crosshairs long before Wilson's editorial?
Buried in a TPM Nov 18 blog about what the WH was really thinking when it invaded Iraq, Joshua Micah Marshall writes,
"This even leads to a sort of inverted conspiracy theorizing when people ask, 'If he knew there was no WMD, why didn't they at least try to plant some to avoid the catastrophic embarrassment which ensued after the war?' ....
"The real answer, I think, is as banal as it is devastating: I don't think they ever gave it much thought -- not in the sense of trying to get to the heart of the matter."
This WH may be diabolical, but it's not stupid.
Apparently, they gave it a lot of thought if the following is true.
As Wayne Madsen reports (Nov. 11):
"According to U.S. intelligence sources, the White House exposure of Valerie Plame and her Brewster Jennings & Associates was intended to retaliate against the CIA's work in limiting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
"WMR has reported in the past on this aspect of the scandal.
"In addition to identifying the involvement of individuals in the White House who were close to key players in nuclear proliferation, the CIA Counter-Proliferation Division prevented the shipment of binary VX nerve gas from Turkey into Iraq in November 2002.
"The Brewster Jennings network in Turkey was able to intercept this shipment which was intended to be hidden in Iraq and later used as evidence that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction.
"U.S. intelligence sources revealed that this was a major reason the Bush White House targeted Plame and her network."
Comment on this Article
GOP senator urges Bush, Cheney to explain CIA leak
By Nedra Pickler, Associated Press
April 10, 2006
WASHINGTON -- President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney should speak publicly about their involvement in the CIA leak case so people can understand what happened, a leading Republican senator said yesterday.
"We ought to get to the bottom of it, so it can be evaluated, again, by the American people," said Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In a federal court filing last week, the prosecutor in the case said Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, testified before a grand jury that he was authorized by Bush, through Cheney, to leak information from a classified document that detailed intelligence agencies' conclusions about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
"I think that it is necessary for the president and vice president to tell the American people exactly what happened," Specter said on ''Fox News Sunday."
"I do say that there's been enough of a showing here with what's been filed of record in court that the president of the United States owes a specific explanation to the American people . . . about exactly what he did," Specter said.
Libby faces trial, possibly in January, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to the grand jury and investigators about what he told reporters about CIA officer Valerie Plame.
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald did not say in the filing that Cheney authorized Libby to leak Plame's identity, and Bush is not accused of doing anything illegal.
"The president may be entirely in the clear, and it may turn out that he had the authority to make the disclosures which were made," Specter said.
But, he added, "it was not the right way to go about it because we ought not to have leaks in government."
The investigation is looking into whether Plame's identify was disclosed to discredit her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, an Iraq war critic.
Wilson had accused the administration of twisting prewar intelligence to exaggerate the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction
Comment: We don't need the President to explain to anyone what actually happened with the "leak", we all know what happened. Bush and Co. have always embraced a policy of attacking and silencing anyone that had the nerve to expose them for the liars that they are. What the world needs is for the American judicial system to work in a just way. If it did, then Bush and his entire cabinet would be in prison. Given, however, that the American judicial system is simply another part of the Bush administration, we can expect to see Bush and his handlers continue to get away with murder - literally.
Comment on this Article
Specter Calls for Bush to Speak on Leak
By NEDRA PICKLER
Mon Apr 10, 2:50 AM ET
WASHINGTON - President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney should speak publicly about their involvement in the CIA leak case so people can understand what happened, a leading Republican senator said Sunday.
"We ought to get to the bottom of it so it can be evaluated, again, by the American people," said Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record) of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In a federal court filing last week, the prosecutor in the case said Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, testified before a grand jury that he was authorized by Bush, through Cheney, to leak information from a classified document that detailed intelligence agencies' conclusions about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
A lawyer knowledgeable about the case said Saturday that Bush declassified sensitive intelligence in 2003 and authorized its public disclosure to rebut Iraq war critics, but he did not specifically direct that Libby be the one to disseminate the information.
"I think that it is necessary for the president and vice president to tell the American people exactly what happened," Specter told "Fox News Sunday."
"I do say that there's been enough of a showing here with what's been filed of record in court that the president of the United States owes a specific explanation to the American people ... about exactly what he did," Specter said.
Libby faces trial, likely in January, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to the grand jury and investigators about what he told reporters about CIA officer Valerie Plame.
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald did not say in the filing that Cheney authorized Libby to leak Plame's identity, and Bush is not accused of doing anything illegal.
"The president may be entirely in the clear, and it may turn out that he had the authority to make the disclosures which were made," Specter said. But, he added, "it was not the right way to go about it because we ought not to have leaks in government."
The investigation is looking into whether Plame's identify was disclosed to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, an Iraq war critic. Wilson had accused the administration of twisting prewar intelligence to exaggerate the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who ran against Bush for president in 2004, said it was wrong for Bush to declassify information selectively "in order to buttress phony arguments to go to war " and to attack people politically.
"This was not a declassification in order to really educate America. This was a declassification in order to mislead America," Kerry said on "Meet the Press" on NBC. "I think it's a disgrace."
Wilson said Sunday that Bush and Cheney should release transcripts of their interviews with Fitzgerald.
"It seems to me that first and foremost, the White House needs to come clean on this matter," Wilson said on ABC's "This Week." "My own view of this is that the White House owes the American people and particularly our service people who have been sent into war, an apology for having misrepresented the facts."
The lawyer knowledgeable about the case said Bush instructed Cheney to "get it out" and left the details about disseminating the intelligence to him. The lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case for the White House, said Cheney chose Libby and communicated the president's wishes to his then-top aide.
"I don't think there's any evidence that the president told the vice president to go leak information to the press," said Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz.
Kyl said on CNN's "Late Edition" that a better way for the administration to have tried to counter Wilson's claims in a New York Times op-ed would have been to "have all of the press be given" the declassified intelligence material.
It is not known when the conversation between Bush and Cheney took place. The White House has declined to provide the date when the president used his authority to declassify the portions of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate.
"There has to be a detailed explanation as to precisely what Vice President Cheney did, what the president said to him and an explanation by the president as to what he said," Specter said.
Comment on this Article
Ben Affleck: Bush 'Can Be Hung' for 'Probably' Leaking Plame's Name
Posted by Brent Baker
April 8, 2006
Reminiscent of Al Franken on the Late Show last October, on Friday's Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO, actor Ben Affleck charged that President Bush "probably also leaked" Valerie Plame's name and so "if he did, you can be hung for that! That's treason!" In full rant, an apoplectic Affleck asserted: "You could be killed. That's not a joking around Tom DeLay 'I'll do a year, I bribed the state officials with corporate money.' That's like they shoot you in the battlefield for doing that."
Affleck appeared on Maher's panel with Senator Joe Biden and Bill Sammon of the Washington Examiner. A couple of minutes later, after Sammon suggested Tom DeLay's resignation means the loss of a "poster boy for the left" so they can't use him anymore to raise funds, Affleck besmirched DeLay as a "criminal" while simultaneously demonstrating his political naivete. Though the Texas redistricting orchestrated by DeLay made his district less Republican, Affleck contended: "Tom DeLay personally gerrymandered that district so severely that it looks like a map of Italy....There won't be a Democrat elected in that seat for a thousand years. You can't say he's the poster boy for the left. He happens to be an incredibly powerful Republican who is a criminal and now you blame Democrats for pointing it out!"
Video clip of Affleck talking about hanging and shooting Bush for treason (35 seconds). Real (1.1 MB) or Windows Media (1.25 MB), plus MP3 audio (200 KB).
A September 30, 2005 Washington Post story noted: "As part of a Texas redistricting that DeLay engineered and that led to Republicans gaining five seats in that state, DeLay's district lost some GOP voters."
(On Franken, an October 22 NewsBusters item, with video, recounted: "And so basically, what it looks like is going to happen is that Libby and Karl Rove are going to be executed" because "outing a CIA agent is treason," left-wing author and radio talk show host Al Franken asserted, to audience laughter, on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman. Franken qualified his hard-edged satire: "Yeah. And I don't know how I feel about it because I'm basically against the death penalty, but they are going to be executed it looks like." Franken later suggested that President Bush is at risk of receiving the same punishment, since Karl Rove likely told him what he did, but he added a caveat: "I think, by the way, that we should never ever, ever, ever execute a sitting President.")
Brief transcripts of the two portions of the April 7 Real Time with Bill Maher quoted above:
Bill Sammon, Washington Examiner: "A lot of critics are conflating the two and are saying that because Bush disclosed this piece of information, they're implying that Bush leaked the name."
And moments later:
Ben Affleck: "He probably also leaked the name. There's just no proof of that."
Sammon: "Even the prosecutor, even Fitzgerald is saying Bush didn't leak the name. So let's be clear, Bush didn't leak Valerie Plame's name -- not that we know of."
Affleck: "Because if he did, you can be hung for that! That's treason!"
Bill Maher: "That is treason."
Affleck: "You could be killed. That's not a joking around Tom DeLay 'I'll do a year, I bribed the state officials with corporate money.' That's like they shoot you in the battlefield for doing that. Don't you think we should find out who leaked that name?"
Maher proposed that Tom DeLay is "the poster boy for the kind of getting paid off, sludge fund, influence-peddling [said "petting"], crony capitalism that has turned America into something less than a first-rate power."
Sammon: "...You're right that he is the poster boy for the left. He's the guy the left loves to hate and his departure means you can't use his name to raise funds anymore. His departure means his seat will probably go to a Republican this time. His departure mean-"
Maher: "A Democrat, you mean?"
Sammon: "No, if he'd of stayed in the race he probably would have lost. By getting out, he actually makes it more likely for that to go to a Republican. "
Affleck: "Tom DeLay personally gerrymandered that district so severely that it looks like a map of Italy, you know what I mean?. There won't be a Democrat elected in that seat for a thousand years. You can't say he's the poster boy for the left. He happens to be an incredibly powerful Republican who is a criminal and now you blame Democrats for pointing it out!" (Loud applause)
Comment on this Article
White House refuses to discuss Bush's role in Iraq war leaks
WASHINGTON - The White House declined to say whether President George W. Bush authorised the release of a CIA document in a bid to legitimise the Iraq war, as a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney has charged.
"There is an ongoing legal proceeding and our policy is then that we are not going to comment on it while it's ongoing and that remains our policy," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
"You will recall if you go back to that time period that you're referencing that we did declassify information in the national intelligence assessment to provide that information to the public.
"We want to make sure that there is due process, that there is a fair trial and that we don't do anything to jeopardise an ongoing legal proceeding," the spokesman added.
Indicted former top White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby revealed in court papers, made public Thursday, that Bush had authorised intelligence leaks ahead of the war in Iraq.
A federal prosecutor is investigating the leaking of the identity of a CIA agent, Valerie Plame, in 2003 after her diplomat husband criticised the Bush administration's rationale for the war.
Libby, who is currently facing charges of obstruction and lying in the investigation, is suspected of having revealed Plame's job as an undercover CIA agent to a reporter - a federal crime in the United States.
Comment on this Article
Thompson's Dog Won't Hunt
By Sheila Samples
When I first read the March 31 Capitol Hill Blue headline, "9/11 conspiracy theories don't pass the smell test," I thought editor Doug Thompson was pulling an April Fool's joke on us a day early. Buoyed by Thompson's well-deserved reputation for being out there first with "damn the torpedoes -- full speed ahead" -- truth no matter where it takes him, I read avidly to the end of the rant, poised to burst into laughter at his "Gotcha!" punch line. It wasn't there.
"I know my government," Thompson ended lamely, "They're just not good enough to pull off something like this."
That's it, then? Thompson's reason for ridiculing those who question 9/11 is, "it's improbable such a ragtag group" is capable of attacking a vulnerable nation and killing thousands of its people? Man -- in the wake of all that has happened since 9/11, that dog won't hunt.
If Thompson is serious when he says "the many theories surrounding 9/11 come mostly from conspiracy buffs" -- or when he says those whose judgment he trusts "support the facts that Al Qaeda planned and executed the attacks," then his credibility is destroyed on this subject and on all other subjects as well. If he's serious, there's no reason to revisit Capitol Hill Blue or Thompson ever again.
But I'm not convinced Thompson is serious. He's too good at what he does. Like he says -- often -- he's been in journalism "for more than 40 years." He's a hard-hitting reporter whose cognitive and investigative skills are legend; whose "unnamed sources" walk shoulder-to-shoulder throughout the administration; frolic through the halls of Congress. Thompson doesn't just report the news, he breaks it, busts it wide open and takes no prisoners. It is inconceivable that Thompson would back off a story of this magnitude, given his penchant for holding the administration's cloven hooves to the fire, especially those of George Bush and Dick Cheney.
Thompson is the man who wrote on March 20 that "the most dangerous man in the world is not sitting in a jail cell somewhere in Iraq...He is not hiding out in a cave somewhere in Afghanistan...The most dangerous man in the world may well be working out of an oval-shaped office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC."
He is the one who unearthed a GOP memo less than a year ago suggesting that a "new attack by terrorists on US soil" could reverse the sagging fortunes of Bush as well as the GOP and would "restore his image as a leader of the American people." This strategy, the memo says, would "'validate" the President's war on terror and allow Bush to "unite the country in a time of national shock and sorrow," and would reverse the President's fortunes and "keep the party from losing control of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections."
And, as recently as April 4, Thompson wrote, "America is a bully, an international thug that uses fear, lies and deceit to advance the personal agendas of its leaders. Bullies do not deserve respect. Bullies do not deserve the benefit of the doubt. Bullies are beneath contempt." Thompson continued, "Unfortunately, as long as Americans tolerate the despotic rule of George W. Bush, we share responsibility for the shame our leadership has brought upon a once-great nation called the United States of America."
Why, then, would Thompson say that he "cannot -- and will not" believe any explanation of what happened on 9/11 other than what the most dangerous man in the world tells him -- a despotic leader who's entertaining the "strategery" of murdering even more Americans for no other reason than to advance his political agenda, and who is a vicious liar who doesn't want the US Constitution thrown in his face because "it's nothing but a goddamned piece of paper?
Does Thompson's dog look to you like it's hunting?
It's futile to try to reach a mind so firmly closed. However, Thompson's reasons are more than passing strange. For example, the only investigation that apparently passed his "smell test" was conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) because he says "an engineer he'd known for 25 years" ran a computer simulation of the building collapses for him.
According to Kevin Ryan, formerly of Underwriters Laboratories (UL) which certified the steel used in the WTC buildings, "NIST put together a black box computer model that would spit out the right answers." Ryan said when the parameters did not generate the results they were seeking, they changed the parameters. The final model, according to Ryan, "produced video graphics that would enable anyone to see the buildings collapse without having to follow a train of logic to get there." NIST offered no proof for the dynamics of the amazing free-fall collapse of the only three buildings to do so in history as a result of fire, other than "...once the upper building section began to move downwards...global collapse ensued."
Thompson says he was at the Pentagon on 9/11 where he interviewed "dozens" of witnesses who saw the plane hit. He smelled the burning jet fuel. He says he's flown Boeing 757, 767, and 777 flight simulators, and he can safely assure us "the maneuvers made by the hijackers on September 11 were relatively simple course corrections that are not that difficult in planes equipped with modern navigational computers." Well, I've never flown a simulator, but I once knew a guy who practiced his riding skills on a mechanical bull, but when he hit the rodeo circuit, he got his ass stomped in two seconds flat.
According to a site dedicated solely to Pentagon research, Hani Hanjour, the pilot of Flight 77, was refused the rental of a Cessna 172 just weeks prior to 9/11 because of his sadly lacking maneuvering skills. But after reading a 757 manual on the way to the airport, Hanjour was able to cruise over the unsecured White House, enter Reagan International airspace while performing a 270-degree turn with a 7,000-foot drop in altitude in 2.5 minutes with military precision -- then hit five 25-foot, 293-pound steel lamp poles, a fence, a 39,500-pound generator trailer, two cable spools, two single-wide mobile home construction trailers and a tree -- before slamming into the only wedge in the Pentagon under construction, leaving only a couple pieces of debris small enough to hold in your hands. He left "no tail, no wings, no engines, no horizontal stablizer, no passenger seats, no luggage and no aircraft cargo," and left the lawn in front of the Pentagon untouched.
But it's Thompson's vicious "kill the messenger" ad hominem attack on actor Charlie Sheen for questioning the official scenario that is the most bewildering. Thompson wants to know -- Is Sheen the best we wild-eyed conspiracy nut jobs can do? Is Sheen our new poster child? Thompson sneered at conspiracy freaks for "pinning their credibility on a known drug user, admitted purchaser of the services of prostitutes and an intellectually-challenged misfit who couldn't even graduate from high school..."
Somebody should remind Thompson that Sheen, however randy and hot-headed he may be, is also a concerned American citizen, and he has a dog in this hunt. Sheen has an inherent right -- a duty -- to question his government. He wants to know, as we all do, how 19 amateurs armed with box cutters could take over four commercial airliners and fly around over New York City and Washington DC until they finally hit three of their targets.
Sheen wants to know how the official story of fuel running down elevator shafts could cause the inferno it would take to bring down the world's two tallest and most solidly built buildings. He wants to know about the early eyewitness accounts from the media and bystanders about "huge explosions" in the bowels of the WTC -- and why WTC landlord Larry Silverstein openly admitted the decision to "pull" building 7 before it toppled in 6.6 seconds into its own footprints.
But Thompson will not be moved. He said, "I have yet to get a report from a structural engineer or demolitions expert that support the theories of internal explosions and too many witnesses saw the planes. If an engineer or expert with credentials that could be verified came forward I might be willing to take another look at this but in the absence of such, I'll go with the conclusions of experts I trust."
If Thompson has viewed "Loose Change, 2nd Edition" or perused Brigham Young University Physics Professor Stephen E. Jones' critical paper, "Why Indeed Did the WTC Buildings Collapse"; if he has visited the many 9/11 research sites, and is still determined to cling to administration experts he trusts, so be it.
The hunt for the 9/11 truth will go on -- whether Thompson's dog is in it or not.
Sheila Samples is an Oklahoma writer and a former civilian US Army Public Information Officer. She is a regular contributor for a variety of Internet sites. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2005 Sheila Samples
Comment on this Article
April 07, 2006
The irony is so thick you can cut it with a knife. Just a few months ago defenders of the Bush administration were lambasting Justice Department prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald for engaging in a fishing expedition that might hurt President George W. Bush. The pundits considered Fitzgerald's indictment for perjury of former vice-presidential aide I. Lewis ("Scooter") Libby to be politically motivated and wrong.
To recap, Libby's alleged perjury occurred during his testimony to a grand jury investigating the blown cover of CIA clandestine officer Valerie Plame Wilson, bound up in a White House bid to neutralize criticism of the Iraq war. The Plame affair started as an effort to discredit Ambassador Joseph Wilson, whom the CIA had sent to Niger to look into charges that Iraq was buying uranium ore there. Wilson found nothing to substantiate the claim and subsequently became a critic of Bush's resort to war. His wife was outed in an attempt to undermine Wilson's charges.
Continued legal filings in the case now reveal Prosecutor Fitzgerald as a guardian of White House secrets and Scooter Libby plus his defense team as assiduously implicating President Bush. For those who questioned George Bush's modus operandi in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq and afterwards these are perhaps not unexpected developments. But the gradual emergence of the contents of the Libby grand jury testimony is important not only because it contradicts the president's public denials of the leaks, but also for potentially placing the president at the center of a smear campaign.
Prosecutor Fitzgerald's April 5 response to the Libby team's latest motion to compel discovery of a vast array of documents discloses that Vice President Dick Cheney told Libby that President Bush had "specifically" authorized officials in the summer of 2003 to reveal certain contents of the secret U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. There will be an argument over whether Bush or Cheney actually had that authority (which is vested in the Director of Central Intelligence by a law on the books since 1949) but that is not the concern here. Rather, the disclosure of this deliberate Bush leak-given to Judith Miller of The New York Times and others-provides new evidence that the White House regarded the top secret NIE not as an intelligence appreciation but as fodder for political warfare. In fact on July 12 Cheney ordered Libby to speak to the press about the NIE.
The new evidence also says something about Bush secrecy. This administration has moved on many levels to restrict public-and even official-access to information. Cutting off flows of data formerly routinely provided to Congress or the public, defenestrating access to the records of former presidents mandated by the Presidential Records Act, curbing the Freedom of Information Act, refusing to describe to Congress its domestic communications interception program and most recently reclassifying documents in the public domain for years. Suddenly we see President Bush, without a care, releasing secret records he felt would bolster his case.
Moreover, the way in which this was done should send shudders down the spine: according to the Fitzgerald filing, Scooter Libby told the grand jury that "he understood that even in the days following his conversation with Ms. Miller, other key officials-including Cabinet level officials-were not made aware of the earlier declassification even as those officials were pressed to carry out a declassification of the NIE, the report about Wilson's trip and another classified document dated January 24, 2003," evidently a reference to the materials assembled by CIA officer Robert Walpole regarding Iraq's weapons programs and used for Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's speech to the United Nations Security Council a couple of weeks later. If Libby's testimony is accurate, documents were to be simultaneously deemed secret and declassified, depending upon White House whim, convenience, or legal liability.
This is the same administration that is seeking to prosecute those who leaked information considered less favorable to its cause, such as the fact of the National Security Agency's dubious domestic spying program or the existence of the CIA's secret prison network. Under the interpretation of the Espionage Act the Bush Justice Department is using to prosecute two former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, even reporters who gain access to such information, media that inform the public of it, or persons who merely possess the information are currently at risk, although the statute appears to criminalize only the act of leaking. Indeed, the law makes it necessary for the NIE data not to be classified in order for Libby to legally leak it. There may be an argument here that under the Bush interpretation of the statute the act of declassification to abet a leak could amount to a criminal conspiracy, in this case by President George Bush himself.
Those who contend that there was no Bush effort to make political use of intelligence in the months leading up to the war will now have an even harder time of it. At various points during those months there were similarly orchestrated leaks-of claims about aluminum tubes supposedly being used in an Iraqi nuclear weapons program and of alleged ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda to name just two. And there were carefully prepared occasions where Bush officials took advantage of those leaks to advance the cause of war. The events of July 2003 demonstrate that this was a standard administration tactic, not an aberration. Given the circumstances, the need for a "Phase II" investigation of the political use of intelligence for the Iraq war becomes inescapable.
The most important aspect of the new evidence is that it locates the center of the effort to discredit Ambassador Wilson, and of the actions taken to further that aim, squarely within the Oval Office. If that project rose to the level of a criminal conspiracy, or if anything done to further that goal was in fact illegal, it is George W. Bush who must be called to account. That is a very troubling development indeed. The censure motion introduced by Wisconsin Senator Russell Feingold may turn out to be merely the opening salvo in a very intense political battle.
John Prados is a senior fellow of the National Security Archive in Washington, D.C., and author of Hoodwinked: The Documents that Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War (The New Press).
Comment on this Article
By William Rivers Pitt
Friday 07 April 2006
Is there not some chosen curse,
Some hidden thunder in the stores of heaven,
Red with uncommon wrath, to blast the man
Who owes his greatness to his country's ruin? - Joseph Addison
"I don't know of anybody in my administration
who leaked classified information," said George W. Bush on September 30,
2003. "If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it,
and we'll take the appropriate action."
"If someone leaked classified information," said
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan on October 7, 2003, "the President
wants to know. If someone in this administration leaked classified information,
they will no longer be a part of this administration, because that's not the
way this White House operates, that's not the way this President expects people
in his administration to conduct their business."
"I'd like to know if somebody in my White House
did leak sensitive information," said Bush on October 28, 2003. On this
same day, Bush said, "I have no idea whether we'll find out who the leaker
is, partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very
good job of protecting the leakers."
On Thursday, we found out who the leaker is.
TruthOut investigative reporter Jason Leopold wrote
first of two reports that, "Attorneys and current and former White
House officials close to the investigation into the leak of covert CIA operative
Valerie Plame Wilson said Thursday that President Bush gave Vice President
Dick Cheney the authorization in mid-June 2003 to disclose a portion of the
highly sensitive National Intelligence Estimate to Washington Post reporter
Bob Woodward and former New York Times reporter Judith Miller."
In the second
of Leopold's reports, he writes, "Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald
stated in a court filing late Wednesday in the CIA leak case that his investigators
have obtained evidence during the course of the two-year-old probe that proves
several White House officials conspired to discredit former Ambassador Joseph
Wilson, a critic of the administration's pre-war Iraq intelligence.
This is the first time the special counsel has acknowledged that White House officials
are alleged to have engaged in a coordinated effort to undercut the former
ambassador's credibility by disseminating classified intelligence information
that would have contradicted Wilson's public statements."
So there it is. We have Bush authorizing the disclosure
of classified information, and we have that disclosure taking place for no
other reason than to discredit an administration critic. Bush is often fond
of defending his wildly inappropriate and often illegal activities by claiming
that he has every right to do whatever he wants because America is "at
Never mind that no war has actually been declared.
If we take his premise that we are in fact at war, than the disclosure of classified
information for political gain must be defined simply and directly.
It is treason.
Representative Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the
House Intelligence Committee, made the following statement on Thursday. "Leaking
classified information to the press when you want to get your side out or silence
your critics is not appropriate. The reason we classify things is to protect
our sources - those who risk their lives to give us secrets. Who knows how
many sources were burned by giving Libby this 'license to leak?' If I had leaked
the information, I'd be in jail. Why should the President be above the law?"
"The President has the legal authority to declassify
information," continued Harman, "but there are normal channels for
doing so. Telling an aide to leak classified information to the New York Times
is not a normal channel. A normal declassification procedure would involve
going back to the originating agency, such as the CIA, and then putting out
a public, declassified version of the document. I am stunned that the President
won't tell the full the Intelligence Committee about the NSA program because
he's allegedly concerned about leaks, when it turns out that he is the Leaker-in-Chief."
We can even take this a step further. The name of
covert CIA operative Valerie Plame was all over the classified National Intelligence
Estimate Bush ordered to be leaked. The pertinent text of the 1947 National
Security Act reads as follows:
SEC. 601. (50 U.S.C. 421) (a) Whoever, having or having had authorized
access to classified information that identifies a covert agent, intentionally
discloses any information identifying such covert agent to any individual not
authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the information
disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the United States is taking
affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent's intelligence relationship
to the United States, shall be fined under title 18, United States Code, or
imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.
(b) Whoever, as a result of having authorized access to classified information,
learns the identity of a covert agent and intentionally discloses any information
identifying such covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified
information, knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert
agent and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal
such covert agent's intelligence relationship to the United States, shall be
fined under title 18, United States Code, or imprisoned not more than five
years, or both.
(c) Whoever, in the course of a pattern of activities intended to identify
and expose covert agents and with reason to believe that such activities would
impair or impede the foreign intelligence activities of the United States,
discloses any information that identifies an individual as a covert agent to
any individual not authorized to receive classified information, knowing that
the information disclosed so identifies such individual and that the United
States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such individual's classified
intelligence relationship to the United States, shall be fined under title
18, United States Code, or imprisoned not more than three years or both.
George W. Bush and his people lied with their bare
faces hanging out about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
They lied about connections between al Qaeda and the
Iraqi government, lied about Iraqi connections to September 11, and further
lied about the threat to America posed by Iraq.
They made a decision to invade that had nothing to
do with those weapons, and even conspired with their British counterparts to
goad Hussein into a war regardless of whether the weapons were there or not.
They used September 11 against the American people
to frighten them into a fearfully subservient acceptance of the invasion.
They bypassed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Act in order to spy illegally on thousands of American citizens.
They leaked classified intelligence information in
order to destroy a political foe, and in the process annihilated an intelligence
network run by Valerie Plame. That network, it should be noted, was dedicated
to tracking any person, nation or group that would deliver weapons of mass
destruction to terrorists.
Every time they broke the law, their cronies in Congress
manipulated those laws to make the actions taken legal.
Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians are dead. Tens
of thousands more have been maimed. Millions live with the wretched deprivations
caused by this war. The new Shia-dominated government wants no part of American
involvement in this, and their so-called armed forces are in truth death squads
masquerading as police and soldiers.
2,345 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq,
with 17 of those deaths coming in the first six days of April alone. Tens of
thousands more have been grievously wounded; nearly two thirds of all injuries
suffered by American soldiers in Iraq are brain injuries, and amount to permanent
We will be generations digging out from under the
vomitous refuse left behind by this administration. From this day forward,
any politician who claims that censure is not appropriate and impeachment is
a waste of time should have their head examined by a whole team of medical
experts. Bush and his people have committed treason, and did so for the lowest
of reasons: personal gain and political protection.
"The dead cannot cry out for justice," said
Lois McMaster Bujold. "It is a duty of the living to do so for them." So
very many have died at the hands of this administration, its lies, and its
crimes. If there is to be no reckoning for this, even after all this time,
there will never again be a person in America who can speak of justice
while keeping a straight face.
Comment on this Article
US propaganda magnifies Zarqawi threat: report
Mon Apr 10, 2006
Officers familiar with the propaganda program were cited as saying that one goal was to drive a wedge into the insurgency by emphasizing Zarqawi's terrorist acts and foreign origin.
"Villainize Zarqawi/leverage xenophobia response," a U.S. military briefing document from 2004 stated, the Post reported.
WASHINGTON - The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to overstate the threat to stability posed by the al Qaeda leader in Iraq, The Washington Post reported on Monday.
Some senior military intelligence officers believe the importance of the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi may have been exaggerated, the newspaper reported, citing military documents and officers familiar with the program.
According to the article, Col. Derek Harvey, who served as a military intelligence officer in Iraq, told a U.S. Army meeting last summer: "Our own focus on Zarqawi has enlarged his caricature, if you will -- made him more important than he really is, in some ways."
"The long-term threat is not Zarqawi or religious extremists, but these former regime types and their friends," Harvey said in a transcript of the meeting at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the Post reported.
Harvey said at the meeting that, while Zarqawi and other foreign insurgents in Iraq have carried out deadly bombing attacks, they remain "a very small part of the actual numbers," according to the newspaper.
Largely aimed at Iraqis, the Zarqawi campaign began two years ago and was believed to be ongoing, the Post said. It has included leaflets, radio and television broadcasts and at least one leak to an American journalist, the newspaper said.
Another military officer familiar with the program told the newspaper that the material was all in Arabic. But the officer said the Zarqawi campaign "probably raised his profile in the American press's view," the report said.
Zarqawi has a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head.
Officers familiar with the propaganda program were cited as saying that one goal was to drive a wedge into the insurgency by emphasizing Zarqawi's terrorist acts and foreign origin.
"Villainize Zarqawi/leverage xenophobia response," a U.S. military briefing document from 2004 stated, the Post reported.
Comment on this Article
Flashback: How US fuelled myth of Zarqawi the mastermind
By Adrian Blomfield outside Fallujah
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist leader believed to be responsible for the abduction of Kenneth Bigley, is 'more myth than man', according to American military intelligence agents in Iraq.
Several sources said the importance of Zarqawi, blamed for many of the most spectacular acts of violence in Iraq, has been exaggerated by flawed intelligence and the Bush administration's desire to find "a villain" for the post-invasion mayhem.
Zarqawi fuels his ambition with the release of a video of the beheading of Nick Berg
US military intelligence agents in Iraq have revealed a series of botched and often tawdry dealings with unreliable sources who, in the words of one source, "told us what we wanted to hear".
"We were basically paying up to $10,000 a time to opportunists, criminals and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just about every attack in Iraq," the agent said.
"Back home this stuff was gratefully received and formed the basis of policy decisions. We needed a villain, someone identifiable for the public to latch on to, and we got one."
The sprawling US intelligence community is in a state of open political warfare amid conflicting pressures from election-year politics, military combat and intelligence analysis. The Bush administration has seized on Zarqawi as the principal leader of the insurgency, mastermind of the country's worst suicide bombings and the man behind the abduction of foreign hostages. He is held up as the most tangible link to Osama bin Laden and proof of the claim that the former Iraqi regime had links to al-Qa'eda.
However, fresh intelligence emerging from around Fallujah, the rebel-held city that is at the heart of the insurgency, suggests that, despite a high degree of fragmentation, the insurgency is led and dominated not by Arab foreigners but by members of Iraq's Sunni minority.
Human intelligence about Zaqawi is minimal
Pentagon estimates have put the number of foreign fighters in the region of 5,000. However, one agent said: "The overwhelming sense from the information we are now getting is that the number of foreign fighters does not exceed several hundred and is perhaps as low as 200. From the information we have gathered we have to conclude that Zarqawi is more myth than man. He isn't in the calibre of what many politicians want to believe he is.
"At some stage, and perhaps even now, he was almost certainly behind some of the kidnappings. But if there is a main leader of the insurgency he would be an Iraqi. The insurgency, though, is not nearly so centralised to talk of a structured leadership."
Military intelligence officials complain that their reports to Washington, are largely being ignored. They accuse the Pentagon of over-reliance on electronic surveillance and aerial and satellite reconnaissance carried out for the CIA.
In recent weeks American military command in Iraq has claimed a series of precision air strikes on targets in Fallujah identified by the CIA as housing known associates of Zarqawi.
It has denied that there were any civilian casualties, despite television footage showing dead and wounded women and children being pulled from the rubble of flattened homes.
Some US military spies maintain that this is evidence of continued dependency on technology over old-fashioned human intelligence.
Both President George W Bush and Tony Blair have, to varying degrees, conceded that intelligence on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction programme was misleading. But both continue to maintain that the continued violence since Saddam was ousted is because Iraq is now the front line in the war on terrorism.
Yet it now seems that the intelligence on which such claims are based is haphazard, scanty and contradictory.
No concrete proof of the link between Zarqawi and bin Laden was offered until US officials this year trumpeted the discovery of a computer disk, allegedly intercepted by Kurdish peshmerga guerrillas. Among its files was an apparent draft of a letter from Zarqawi to bin Laden.
"We will be your readied soldiers, working under your banner, complying with your orders and indeed swearing fealty to you publicly and in the news media," the letter read.
That seemed proof enough for the US government. "Zarqawi is the best evidence of the connection to al-Qa'eda affiliates and al-Qa'eda," Mr Bush said in June.
But senior diplomats in Baghdad claim that the letter was almost certainly a hoax. They say the two men may have met in Afghanistan but it appeared they never got on and there has been a rift for several years.
One diplomat claimed that there was evidence to suggest that Zarqawi's aides may have passed on information to the Americans that led to the arrest of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, one of the main planners of the September 11 attacks.
The diplomats describe Zarqawi as deeply ambitious. His actions are aimed as much at boosting his position in the Islamic terrorist fraternity as striking at America. He achieved that in April when a grisly and apparently authentic video showing the beheading of the contractor Nick Berg. The footage was released under the title "Sheikh Abu Musab Zarqawi executes an American with his own hands and promises Bush more".
A diplomat commented: "That catapaulted Zarqawi to exactly where he wanted to be - giving Osama a run for his money as US public enemy number one. But, the video apart, intelligence on the Jordanian is thin.
Intelligence reports are contradictory even on whether he is missing a leg.
Initial claims of a Long John Silver character with an artificial leg were disputed by more recent alleged sightings of the 38-year-old apparently fully limbed and looking rather sprightly.
Comment on this Article
Flashback: Iraq militants claim al-Zarqawi is dead
March 4, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A Jordanian extremist suspected of bloody suicide attacks in Iraq was killed some time ago in U.S. bombing and a letter outlining plans for fomenting sectarian war is a forgery, a statement allegedly from an insurgent group west of the capital said.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in the Sulaimaniyah mountains of northern Iraq "during the American bombing there," according to a statement circulated in Fallujah this week and signed by the "Leadership of the Allahu Akbar Mujahedeen."
The statement did not say when al-Zarqawi was supposedly killed, but U.S. jets bombed strongholds of the extremist Ansar al-Islam in the north last April as Saddam Hussein's regime was collapsing.
It said al-Zarqawi was unable to escape the bombing because of his artificial leg.
Before the Iraq conflict began last March, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said al-Zarqawi received hospital treatment in Baghdad after fleeing Afghanistan. U.S. intelligence sources said he apparently was fitted with an artificial leg.
The statement said the "fabricated al-Zarqawi memo" has been used by the U.S.-run coalition "to back up their theory of a civil war" in Iraq.
In February, the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq made public an intercepted letter it said was written by al-Zarqawi to al-Qaida leaders, detailing a strategy of spectacular attacks to derail the planned June 30 handover of power to the Iraqis. U.S. officials say al-Zarqawi may have been involved in some of the series of suicide bombings this year in Iraq.
"The truth is, al-Qaida is not present in Iraq," the Mujahedeen statement said. Though many Arabs entered the country to fight U.S. troops, only a small number remain, the group said.
Comment on this Article
U-S ambassador warns of threat of sectarian war to entire Middle East
BAGHDAD - The US ambassador to Iraq says a conflict that could affect the entire Middle East might emerge if efforts to build an Iraqi government don't succeed.
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad tells the BBC that the political contacts between Iraq's groups are improving, but the country faces the possibility of sectarian civil war if the government formation doesn't work.
He says that the role of armed militias is in part to blame for the intensifying "polarization along sectarian lines."
Khalilzad says the best way to prevent a conflict is to form a government that includes representatives of all groups - an effort that has stalled because of opposition to Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
Khalilzad says the international community must do everything possible "to make this country work."
Comment: Finally, someone "in authority" comes out and publicly recognises what we have been saying for years. However, it should be noted that, contrary to what the good ambassador says, it is NOT the armed militias that are in any way to blame for the intensifying "polarization along sectarian lines". The responsiblity for that lies with the people who have been carrying out Shrine and Mosque bombings and indiscriminate so-called "suicide car bombings" against the Iraqi people. Who might those people be?
See here for the answer.
Comment on this Article
Saudis plan to fence off Iraq border
By Michael Theodoulou
The Sunday Times
April 10, 2006
SAUDI ARABIA has invited bids for the construction of a security fence along the entire length of its 900km (560mile) desert border with Iraq in a multimillion-pound project that will attract interest from British defence companies.
The barrier is part of a package to secure the Kingdom's 6,500km of borders in an attempt to improve internal security and bolster its defences against external threats.
Saudi Arabia is concerned that the chaos in Iraq could cause an overspill of sectarian violence and terrorism. The kingdom claims to be winning the battle against al-Qaeda's Saudi wing but wants to protect itself against Saudi insurgents returning from Iraq.
"There's no suggestion that the border isn't secure at the moment, so it could be a bit of an expensive white elephant," a European diplomat in Riyadh said. Saudi militants join ing the insurgency use other routes, such as Syria.
Riyadh is worried by the rise to power in Iraq of the Shia majority, with its close links with Iran, which Saudi Arabia mistrusts. It is concerned that its Shia minority, which is concentrated in the oil-producing eastern province, may become radicalised.
Comment on this Article
Iraqi Troops Start Rolling Out in Ramadi
By TODD PITMAN
Mon Apr 10, 3:49 AM ET
RAMADI, Iraq - The troops didn't go far, the mission didn't last long and the neighborhood wasn't the most dangerous in town. But when Iraqi army troops moved out on a recent patrol in central Ramadi, they took a crucial step forward, rolling out in their own armored Humvees for the first time.
Until now, this unit has mostly patrolled their small, relatively quiet slice of downtown on foot, leaving the worst parts of the turbulent city center to better-equipped U.S. troops.
American commanders want Iraqi units to operate independently in the more dangerous downtown areas of Ramadi, about 75 miles west of Baghdad. But they lack equipment - especially proper transport. Though they have their own trucks, they rely heavily on U.S. forces to move around.
In recent weeks, that's begun to change.
The Iraqi Defense Ministry has begun distributing armored Humvees to Iraqi units that look nearly identical to their tan-colored U.S. counterparts. The Iraqi vehicles are equipped with bulletproof glass and radios, painted outside with the Iraqi flag and chocolate chip camouflage markings.
"This is a huge step," said Marine 2nd Lt. Ryan Hub, who accompanied Iraqi troops on a foot patrol Friday while the Humvees provided back-up.
Tracing a finger along a satellite map of central Ramadi, Hub circled a roughly one-square-mile area near the Marine base which the Iraqis patrol. He then pointed to other Marine-controlled zones he hoped Iraqis troops would soon patrol in Humvees.
"It means we can extend their battle space," said the 25-year-old from Sumter, S.C.
On Tuesday, the Humvees proved useful as Iraqi forces evacuated a soldier shot in the leg, said Lt. Col. Steve Neary, who commands the Marine's 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment. Previously, such tasks would have been carried out by the U.S. military.
On Friday, an Iraqi 2nd lieutenant named Ahmed was in the first Humvee of a four-vehicle convoy leaving a U.S. Marine base. Marine commanders asked that his full name not be used for fear he could be targeted by insurgents.
Taking a drag off a cigarette a few blocks on, Ahmed was startled to see two of his own vehicles - they had taken a wrong turn - coming in the opposite direction. "Follow me!" he yelled into the radio. "Follow me!"
Soon, all four Humvees were circling the block in unison, passing rusted-out cars, blown-out apartment blocks and children raising their fists in the air to show support.
Unlike other joint missions, only the Iraqis were radioing their minute-by-minute progress back to base.
Ahmed's role was to provide back-up support for the foot patrol, which swept the apartment complex with several Marines in tow. Ahmed said if need be, his Humvees could evacuate casualties, or open fire with heavy machine guns.
Such support has traditionally been the job of the U.S. military. Marines weren't taking chances Friday, though, and had a separate supporting patrol that halted traffic so the Iraqi convoy could move unhindered.
The Iraqis didn't go far. The base's barbed-wire-topped wall was often visible as the Humvees repeatedly circled past it. Following the Marines' advice, the Iraqi gunners kept their heads down in their turrets to avoid snipers. Less than two hours later, Ahmed was back on base.
"It's baby steps," said Marine Capt. Carlos Barela, commander of Lima Company. "They're nervous, but that's good. If they weren't, they'd be careless."
It was a quiet first trip out, though it might not have been. Insurgents, apparently, had been watching. A Marine in a watchtower spotted a man planting a roadside bomb one street over from where the Iraqi Humvees had been circling.
Ahmed praised the newly arrived vehicles, but expressed a deep concern for lack of other equipment. Although his men had uniforms, kneepads, and aging Kalashnikov rifles, they have no mortars, sniper rifles or rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Capt. Jabar, an Iraqi commander who directed Ahmed's movements from base, agreed.
"The insurgents are better armed than us," Jabar said. "The Humvees will help. And we can still fight them, but we depend on the Americans for everything" - medics, logistics, firepower, air support.
Jabar said his 90-man company had only two sets of night-vision goggles. Another Iraqi commander, who made similar complaints about equipment at an army recruiting drive in Ramadi last week, said his unit had to share armored vests to go on patrols.
Barela said American commanders were aware of the complaints - and Iraqi soldiers' concerns over pay - but ultimately, those were issues for the Iraqi Defense Ministry to overcome.
"We could solve all their problems for them, but if we do it all, that's going to make them dependent," said Barela, 35, of Albuquerque, N.M. "We're standing up a military from scratch. There's going to be growing pains."
A lot more training will be needed before Iraqi forces can stand on their own. In central Ramadi, for example, only Marines are going out on night patrols.
The U.S. command in Baghdad says the Iraqi army numbers about 111,000 troops, and is expected to reach full strength of 130,000 next year.
But they are struggling to retain those who've already joined up. Some quit because of the hazards of duty, others because of low pay.
Iraqi troops deployed here get one week of vacation after every three-week stint. "Every month, two, three, five members of each company don't come back," Jabar said. "At this rate, our companies will be reduced to single platoons."
Comment on this Article
Iraqi official: 'It's civil war'
Sat Apr 8 2006
A senior official in the Iraqi government has for the first time admitted the country is in a state of civil war.
Deputy interior minister Hussein Ali Kamal said Iraq had been in "undeclared" civil war for the past year.
He told reporters: "Actually Iraq has been in an undeclared civil war for the past 12 months.
"On a daily basis Shias, Sunnis, Kurds and Christians are being killed and the only undeclared thing is that a civil war has not been officially announced by the parties involved. Civil war is happening but not on a wide scale."
Mr Kamal's admission mirrors the words of former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi who last month said Iraq was in civil war. Mr Allawi warned that the violence was reaching the point of no return and Europe and the USA would not be spared the consequences.
But British ministers have repeatedly denied civil war is either imminent or inevitable. Criticising anti-war protesters, Defence Secretary John Reid recently suggested those who argued that Iraq was on the brink of civil war were siding with the terrorists.
Comment: The time is not yet right to declare civil war in Iraq, even though agents of the American, British and Israeli governments have been actively attempting to "create" civil war in Iraq. Only when the international spotlight has moved from Iraq, probably when an attack on Iran ensues, will Iraq's civil war status be revealed, with the blame being put on "Islamic terrorists" or some other ridiculous assertion. From there, the process of breaking Iraq up into managable (by the US, Britain and Israel) statlets will begin.
Comment on this Article
The rise and rise of Sudoku
10 April 2006
As The Independent launches its second Soduko Championship, Adrian Turpin celebrates the phenomenal puzzle that has transformed the way we live
The year 2005 was not a good one for anyone who believed the Sudoku craze, like the First World War, would all be over by Christmas. National passion for the Japanese puzzle - which involves trying to arrange the numbers one to nine across a nine-by-nine grid so that no two numbers appear in the same row, column or designated three-by-three square box - has shown no sign of stopping since The Independent organised the first British Sudoku championship last year.
Sudoku widows remain condemned to silence at the breakfast table. Fearful employers watch their productivity graphs taper downwards like Davina McCall's chat show ratings. Then there are the commuters, such as Tony Flanaghan from Salisbury, who pleaded with The Independent: "Sir" I have a train journey of one and a half hours. Before you started to include Sudoku I could read a newspaper for an hour and sleep the last half-hour. You introduced Sudoku - I would read for an hour, do the puzzle in 10 minutes, sleep for 20 minutes. This week you put in three Sudokus; I didn't get any sleep. Today, there were four Sudokus - I am in danger of falling asleep in the office. When is this proliferation going to stop?"
He shouldn't hold his breath. The classic Sudoku grid contains a possible 5,472,730,538 unique combinations of numbers which, even allowing for repeats, makes it unlikely that setters are going to run out of new material soon. And that is to ignore the variations - circular and "jigsaw" varieties and puzzles based on letters, such as The Independent on Sunday's Godoku.
Mr Flanaghan may lose the little sleep still left to him when he learns that sales of pencils in Britain are reported to have risen 700 per cent on the back of the Sudoku boom. Or that, in November, British Airways issued a memo to its 13,000 cabin staff, forbidding them from attempting the puzzles during take-off and landing (a directive that, you pray, wasn't aimed at pilots). Or that the craze - until recently the preserve of Japan and Britain - has been embraced by the US in the past 12 months to the extent that no US newspaper is complete without a piece about how it is sweeping the nation.
He is also unlikely to find comfort in Channel Four's claim that Sudoku is the seventh most popular search term on the internet. And we should all probably be nervous that one particularly fiendish toymaker has just launched Rubik's Sudoku, an attempt to merge the obsessive power of cube and grid. This may require a government health warning.
In July, the world's largest Sudoku grid - 275ft by 275ft - was carved into a chalk hill near Chipping Sodbury. Sensibly, it was beside a section of the M4 with a 40mph limit. Less sensibly, it allowed 1,905 possible solutions rather than the single one Sudoku demands, rendering it almost meaningless as a puzzle.
Archaeologists may one day mull this work of public art, just as our culture mulls the white horse at Uffington or the priapic giant at Cerne Abbas. What, they will ask, was important enough for a long-dead culture to commemorate in this way? Being archaeologists, they will probably scratch their heads privately before declaring with complete confidence it is an expression of something sacred. Fortunately, no one will know it was commissioned to promote a Sudoku special on Sky TV.
That Sudoku is sustaining its popularity has a lot to do with its simplicity and democratic appeal. If football is the people's game, then Sudoku can claim to be the people's pastime. All you need is the puzzle and a pencil: no batteries, no board, no paraphernalia. Instructions are few and, unlike cryptic crosswords, a working knowledge of classical civilisation and an intimate acquaintance with the backwaters of the dictionary is not required. Indeed, to do Sudoku, you don't even need to be able to count above nine - although this fact appears to have escaped the Training and Development Agency for Schools when, last month, it took Carol Vorderman and a giant Sudoku grid to London's Liverpool Street station to recruit more maths teachers.
Yet, as football shows, being democratic doesn't preclude a pastime from having stars. It has taken just 18 months for the puzzle to transform itself from foreign curiosity to part of the British cultural landscape, but during that time we have seen the rise of an elite: what one might call the Sudokurati. They may not be household names such as Messrs Beckham, Zidane or Ronaldhino but for the fans who visit Sudoku websites the Sudokurati's skills are no less silky, and the trivia about their lives just as fascinating. Curiously, even the most logical of puzzlers have a desire to find faces behind the numbers.
Sudoku's undisputed high priest is Wayne Gould, a retired Hong Kong judge who has done more to popularise the puzzle in the West than anyone on the planet - which makes a change from judges asking: "What is this Sudoku?"
On a trip to Tokyo in 1997, the New Zealander (described by one interviewer as "a supremely happy nerd") came across a Sudoku book in a shop. The puzzle, first published as "Number Game" in New York in 1979, had been imported to Japan and renamed Sudoku ("single number") in 1984. But Mr Gould knew nothing of this. Not speaking Japanese, he thought it was some kind of crossword.
As a lifelong puzzle addict, he was intrigued, buying the book to take with him on a flight to Naples, where he was going to meet his wife Gaye, a professor of linguistics. When he arrived in Italy, she became the West's first Sudoku widow.
It probably helps that the couple choose to live on opposite sides of the world - Wayne on Lantau island in Hong Kong and Gaye in New Hampshire. Is he obsessed? "Mmm ... aah, well, I suppose that would be a fair comment, compared to most people I suppose," he has said.
For six years, Mr Gould worked on a computer programme to write the puzzles. His first published Sudoku grid appeared in September 2004 in New Hampshire's Conway Daily Sun. But it was only after he gave it for free to UK newspapers - reasoning he'd make money from people downloading his computer program at $14.95 (£8.60) a pop - that the game took off.
But being "Mr Sudoku" does not mean Mr Gould is among the quickest solvers: he says he takes an impressive 20 minutes for the hardest puzzles and four minutes for the easy, but that Gaye - his tester - is quicker.
For Sudoku's speed kings (and queen), look no further than the first Sudoku world championship, held in the Italian city of Lucca last month. Two of the top-placed solvers are familiar names in the introverted world of puzzling. The fourth-placed contestant, Tetsuya Nishio, looks like a mild-mannered chap but has a reputation as one of Sudoku's hard men, which he has put to use training many of Japan's masters. To him, "logic is a knife that kills" and he is best known for inventing the appallingly frustrating Sudoku variation Samunamupure ("sum number place"), or Killer Sudoku.
Unfortunately, he seemed to have left his logical knife in its sheath during a final round during in which he let the title slip away. Pipping him to third spot was a Google programmer, Wei-Hwa Huang (a former world puzzle champion), who was so confident he had won in the final round that he was doing high fives with his friends - until it was pointed out he had mistakenly placed identical numbers in the same row. It's comforting to know it happens at the top, too.
Second spot went to a Harvard chemistry postgraduate, Thomas Snyder, 26 , who told reporters he spent 70 hours a week in the lab and most of the rest puzzling. (No, he doesn't have a girlfriend.) Mr Snyder appears to be heir apparent as Sudoku's godfather, although his clean-cut looks and slicked-back hair do not appear to have endeared him to everyone. In Sudoku terms, he's a sort of Sampras to the Japanese man's McEnroe.
But the world championship's surprise package was the winner - the pony-tailed Czech Jana Tylova, the only woman in the top 18. An economics graduate from the Czech Agricultural University in Prague, the accountant, 31, had already participated in the world championships for the Japanese game Go.
This time, she left nothing to chance: her husband, an IT manager, is her coach, leading her through four hours of practice a day. Such dedication may not leave her time to get out. Invited to kiss one of the judges as she received her prize, she did her best to stick her tongue down his throat.
It may come as relief to readers contemplating entering The Independent's Sudoko championship this year that becoming one of the Sudokurati doesn't have to involve dispensing with social skills.
Ed Billig, 23, the winner of last year's competition, seems a perfectly normal, wryly humorous chap, who manages to keep his Sudoku habit down to a relatively modest four puzzles a day in the office (he transcribes police interviews) and a couple on the bus to and from work. "I think I'm managing to keep it under control," he says.
Mr Billig is happy in the role of gentleman amateur, politely scoffing at the idea of hiring a trainer. He has other interests - he hardly had time to savour his triumph because he had to go to a rehearsal with his band.
His only regret at winning was being bumped off an appearance on Radio Five Live by the death of Edward Heath. But that was assuaged by an invitation to compete in Hong Kong against the local champion and 1,000 schoolchildren. For this he won the title "King of Sudoku" and "a trophy that looks a bit like the FA Cup". Who could want more?
The bad news for everyone else is that he's keen to defend his British title this year. "Any chance of a bye, do you think?" he asks. Sorry, but you're going to have to slug it out like everyone else. Just make sure you bring your logical knife.
COULD YOU BE BRITAIN'S SUDOKU CHAMPION?
Today, The Independent launches it's second Sudoku Championship of Great Britain. Participation is open to all, and the event will enable enthusiasts to pit their skills against each other - and against the clock - in a prestigious national competition, with the opportunity to win the coveted title Sudoku Grand Master of Great Britain.
Every day for the next fortnight, The Independent will publish a series of numbered championship Sudoku puzzles. To enter the Sudoku Championship of Great Britain, players must complete nine differently numbered puzzles and submit them to The Independent's Sudoku Championship committee.
Once their entries are verified, competitors will be invited to participate in a series of regional heats in cities around Britain, in which they will be asked to complete Sudoku puzzles against the clock. The fastest 100 competitors will be asked to attend the grand final in London, at which the winner will be crowned Britain's Sudoku Grand Master. He or she will be presented with a specially commissioned trophy and a cash prize of £1,000. The next championship Sudoku puzzle will be published in The Independent tomorrow, so don't miss it.
TERMS AND CONDITIONS
1. To enter, readers must complete nine of the 14 differently numbered Sudoku Championship puzzles that will be featured in the Mon-Sun editions of The Independent, between Monday 10 April & Sunday 23 April. 2. The completed puzzles must be sent to The Independent Sudoku Grand Master Championship, PO BOX 55705, Independent House, London, E14 1AQ. 3. Entries must be received by Friday 28 April 2006. They are invalid if they arrive any later than the first post on the specified closing date. Photocopied puzzles will not be accepted. 4. Proof of postage will not constitute proof of delivery and no responsibility will be accepted for any failure of receipt of entries. 5. Entrants who complete their nine puzzles correctly will be invited to attend a regional final at a time, date and location in the UK to be specified by The Independent, terms and conditions for which will be supplied. 6. The 100 fastest people to successfully complete the challenge in the regional finals will be invited to the grand final which will be held at a time, date and location in London to be notified. 7. Each entrant is responsible for making their own arrangements and for paying for all necessary travel and accommodation. No alternative arrangements will be made if any entrant invited to compete at a regional or the grand final invited is unable for any reason whatsoever to attend. 8. All entrants must residents of the UK. 9. Entrants who are under 18 must specify their date of birth on their entry and, if invited to attend a regional or the grand final, must be accompanied by a parent or guardian who are solely responsible for their safety and welfare at all times. Entrants under 18 must be able to prove their parent/guardian's consent to their entry and to their participation in any publicity as may be decided upon by The Independent. 10. Standard Independent News and Media competition rules apply (www.independent.co.uk/legal) 11. The judges' decision is final, including the right to exclude any entrant whose conduct, in the judges' sole and unfettered judgement, is undesirable. 12. No correspondence will be entered into.
Comment on this Article
Bigs bunny: monster rabbit devours English veggie plots
Fri Apr 7, 11:21 AM ET
LONDON (AFP) - In a tale reminiscent of the last Wallace and Gromit movie, furious villagers in northeast England have hired armed guards to protect their beloved communal vegetable gardens from a suspected monster rabbit.
Leeks, Japanese onions, parsnips and spring carrots have all been ripped up and devoured by the mystery were-rabbit -- prompting the 12 allotment holders in Felton, north of Newcastle, to hire two marksmen with air rifles and orders to shoot to kill.
"It is a massive thing. It is a monster. The first time I saw it, I said: 'What the hell is that?'" the Northumberland Gazette newspaper quoted local resident Jeff Smith, 63, as saying on its website (www.northumberlandtoday.co.uk).
He claims to have seen the black and brown rabbit -- with one ear bigger than the other -- about two months ago, and at least three fellow allotment holders say they have seen it as well.
"I have seen it and it is bigger than a normal rabbit. It's eating all our crops and we grow the best stuff here," said retired miner George Brown, 76, quoted by the domestic Press Association news agency.
Smith could not be reached for comment Friday, but his mother told AFP that the hare-raising story is true -- and no less an authority than the British Rabbit Council said it was credible.
"Certain breeds do grow very big, like the Continental Giant" which can be 66 centimetres (26 inches) in length or more, a spokesman for the Nottinghamshire-based council, which represent rabbit breeders, told AFP.
In the last hit movie featuring Wallace and his dog Gromit, the two cartoon characters battled a monster rabbit that was cutting a swathe of destruction through locals' prize vegetable plots.
Comment on this Article
Psychic helps probe plot to kill Australian PM
A Scottish psychic was called in to help an Australian police officer investigate a plot to assassinate the Australian prime minister, John Howard, it emerged yesterday.
But the decision by a senior officer to involve clairvoyant Elizabeth Walker in the case has led to his suspension, amid claims that in doing so he disclosed classified information about Mr Howard and the death threats.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has a strict code of conduct regarding confidentiality and national security, which the officer may have breached in turning to the small-town psychic.
As a storm of publicity broke yesterday, Scottish-born psychic Ms Walker, who knows the police officer socially, said: "It was private. It should not have been made public the way it has been and made a mockery of."
In a statement, a federal police spokesman said: "I can confirm we are currently investigating the matter. A member of the AFP has been suspended. The AFP takes seriously all allegations of misconduct by officers and does not condone the use of psychics in security matters."
At her home in the town of Cooma in New South Wales, Ms Walker read a statement saying: "I can confirm I am currently assisting the Australian Federal Police with an investigation.
"As this matter involves an individual, the individual's privacy needs to be considered."
But when she was first confronted by an Australian newspaper, Ms Walker was a little less considered in her remarks.
She said: "It's an extremely sensitive situation. How did you find out about this? If this gets out, the lad will lose his job."
"I can't comment because in my profession client confidentiality is paramount.
I've done lots of people. I've done political people, famous people, but I don't talk about who's been in."
The AFP hierarchy was alerted in December to the security breach. The officer was not part of the prime minister's personal security entourage, but knew about the death threat, and that it was being treated seriously.
Knowing some investigations had hit a dead end, he took matters into his own hands and turned to Ms Walker.
It is unclear how he was exposed, but his actions sparked an internal inquiry that resulted in Ms Walker, who reads "auras" and "past-life energies", being questioned.
The Australian Labour Party spokesman for homeland security, Arch Bevis, said he would be greatly concerned if the AFP was using clairvoyants to hunt criminals and terrorists. "I think, perhaps, this fellow has watched a few too many of the US detective shows," he said.
The AFP had doubled security staff between 2002 and 2005, Mr Bevis said, but added that apart from the comical aspect, the incident raised the serious issue of adequate training.
A spokesman for Mr Howard said: "We don't run the AFP, and if there is a matter regarding discipline or an individual officer, it really is something for them to deal with."
A national security and terrorism expert, Clive Williams, who is a former Defence Intelligence Organisation attache to Washington, said the use of a clairvoyant for such a task was "highly unusual". He said: "This sort of thing is really at the fringes of credibility."
Comment: The paranoia that comes with being corrupted by power?
Comment on this Article
Ark's Quantum Quirks
Signs of the Times
April 10, 2006
Comment on this Article
Remember, we need your help to collect information on what is going on in your part of the world!
Send your article suggestions to: sott(at)signs-of-the-times.org