Thursday, April 10, 2008

Poor get poorer as recession threat looms: report

Poor get poorer as recession threat looms: report

By Lisa Lambert

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The gap between rich and poor in many states has broadened at a quickening pace since the last U.S. recession, which could make it difficult for low-income families to weather the current economic downturn, according to a report issued Wednesday.

Since the late 1990’s average incomes have declined 2.5 percent for families on the bottom fifth of the country’s economic ladder, while incomes have increased 9.1 percent for families on the top fifth, said the report from the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Economic Policy Institute.

The result is that the average incomes of the top five percent of families are 12 times the average incomes of the bottom 20 percent.

"The report’s bottom line is that since the late 1980’s income gaps widened in 37 states and have not narrowed in any states," said Jared Bernstein, one of the report’s authors. "In fact, we’ve found that the trend toward growing inequality has accelerated during this decade."

Meanwhile, the middle class has remained virtually stagnant, with average incomes growing by just 1.3 percent in nearly eight years, the report said.

The report drew from 20 years of U.S. Census Bureau data collected from 1987 through 2006 on post-federal tax changes in real incomes, and is one of the few to record income inequality on a state-by-state basis. It did not include capital gains and losses in its calculations.

The technology boom and economic expansion of the late 1990’s put many lower-income families in better positions at the start of the 2001 economic downturn than they are in now, when many economists say a downturn has begun, Bernstein said.

Elizabeth McNichol, another author of the report, said wages grew before the 2001 recession, but they did not increase much during the past several years of recovery. In a conference call with reporters, she pointed to Connecticut, which has had the greatest increase in income inequality since the 1980’s, according to the report.

In Connecticut, incomes of the wealthiest 20 percent are eight times those of the poorest 20 percent, according to the report. New York has the greatest disparity, with incomes of the top 20 percent 8.7 times the bottom ones, followed by Alabama, where the top are 8.5 times the bottom.

Only recently has Connecticut begun recovering from the downturn of six years ago, according to Douglas Hall, associate director of research for Connecticut Voices for Children, who participated in the call. By August 2007 the state gained enough jobs to make up for those lost in the last recession, he said, but now it is losing them again.

Even though the study did not include capital gains, Bernstein said the effects of booming wealth on Wall Street for most of this decade did contribute to the spread between incomes, showing up as higher salaries.

Some have criticized income inequality studies. Writing for the conservative Cato Institute last year, Alan Reynolds said tax law changes skew the numbers. For example, executives once took stock options that were taxed as capital gains but now take nonqualified stock options that are taxed as salaries.

Bernstein said that if the report had considered capital gains, the disparities would have likely been greater, as capital gains generally affect higher-income people.

Oil roars to record over $112 on U.S. inventory drop

Oil roars to record over $112 on U.S. inventory drop

By Matthew Robinson

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Oil surged to a record high over $112 a barrel on Wednesday after a government report showed a sharp drop in U.S. inventories ahead of the summer driving season.

U.S. crude settled up $2.37 at $110.87 a barrel after peaking at $112.21 and eclipsing the previous record of $111.80 hit March 17. London Brent settled $2.13 higher at $108.47 a barrel after hitting an all-time high of $109.50.

U.S. crude stockpiles fell 3.2 million barrels last week as imports declined, countering analyst expectations for a build, while gasoline and distillate inventories also tumbled, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported.

U.S. gasoline and heating oil futures as well as London gas oil also hit record highs after concern about diesel supplies amid strong European and Asian demand supported crude earlier this week.

"This is a perfect storm for the energy markets, with records hit all around," said Phil Flynn, analyst at Alaron Trading in Chicago.

"But distillates are taking the center stage here because of tightness of supply of diesel and with a cold winter and the recent refinery fire in Finland." he added.

Further strength came from weakness in the dollar, which fell against the euro and the yen on views the U.S. Federal Reserve could cut interest rates by a 50 basis points this month amid worries of a possibly severe U.S. economic downturn.

The weak dollar has helped boost prices for commodities denominated in the greenback by boosting non-U.S. spending power and by luring investors seeking an inflation hedge.

High oil prices and the weakening U.S. economy have stirred demand worries in the world’s largest energy consumer. The government on Tuesday forecast U.S. summer driving use would fall for the first time since 1991.

Despite calls from consuming nations for OPEC to raise oil production to help tamp record prices, cartel members insist markets remain well supplied.

U.S. Says It Will Increase Efforts Against ‘Tax Defiers’

U.S. Says It Will Increase Efforts Against ‘Tax Defiers’

NY Times

If you think paying taxes is unfair, illegal or unconstitutional, then watch out — the Justice Department is after you.

Just as the Internal Revenue Service is getting into its perennial tax-season tough talk, Justice Department officials weighed in Tuesday with a vow to ramp up efforts against “tax defiers.”

A tax defier is not a wealthy individual who buys a sophisticated tax shelter in a fraudulent effort to shield legitimate income from taxes. Nor is a defier a taxpayer who has a difference of opinion with the I.R.S. over deductions, or one who challenges specific tax policies enacted by Congress.

A tax defier, according to a Justice Department statement, is someone who “seeks to deny and defy the fundamental validity of the tax laws.”

“The tax defier is someone who rejects the legal foundation of the tax system, despite decades of legal precedent upholding the system’s constitutional and statutory validity, and who takes specific and concrete action to violate the law,” the department’s statement said.

Such people were once more commonly known as tax protesters. A spokesman for Justice said Tuesday that the department official who announced the new program, Nathan J. Hochman, the assistant attorney general for the tax division, “is calling them defiers because he feels ‘protesters’ implies constitutionally protected rights.”

Prominent among them is the actor Wesley Snipes, who was convicted in February by a federal jury on several tax-related charges but was acquitted of more serious tax charges. Mr. Snipes was found to have failed to file returns or pay taxes from 1999 through 2001, but was acquitted of charges that he failed to do the same from 2002 through 2004, after he said he learned that he was the target of a criminal tax investigation.

The name of the new program — the National Tax Defier Initiative, or TaxDef — was a source of some amusement Tuesday among tax policy specialists.

But one such specialist, the financial consultant J J MacNab, said TaxDef would make “what’s going on in a hodgepodge way into a national program.”

Since 2001, the Justice Department has won more than 300 civil injunctions against tax promoters and preparers; a third of which involved tax-defier activity. The efforts brought in $600 million in unpaid taxes, it said.

U.N. Official Calls for Study Of Neocons' Role in 9/11

U.N. Official Calls for Study Of Neocons' Role in 9/11

NY Sun

WASHINGTON — A new U.N. Human Rights Council official assigned to monitor Israel is calling for an official commission to study the role neoconservatives may have played in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

On March 26, Richard Falk, Milbank professor of international law emeritus at Princeton University, was named by unanimous vote to a newly created position to report on human rights in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. While Mr. Falk's specialty is human rights and international law, since the attacks in 2001, he has devoted some of his time to challenging what he calls the "9-11 official version."

On March 24 in an interview with a radio host and former University of Wisconsin instructor, Kevin Barrett, Mr. Falk said, "It is possibly true that especially the neoconservatives thought there was a situation in the country and in the world where something had to happen to wake up the American people. Whether they are innocent about the contention that they made that something happen or not, I don't think we can answer definitively at this point. All we can say is there is a lot of grounds for suspicion, there should be an official investigation of the sort the 9/11 commission did not engage in and that the failure to do these things is cheating the American people and in some sense the people of the world of a greater confidence in what really happened than they presently possess."

Mr. Barrett, who is the co-founder of the Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth, said in an interview yesterday of Mr. Falk, "I would put him on a list of scholars who are sympathetic to the 9/11 truth movement."

He added, "Unlike most public intellectuals today, he is both honest and very, very knowledgeable in that he understands the probable reality of 9/11. He understands that the evidence that it was a false flag operation is very strong."

The narrative that the attacks from 2001 were a "false flag" operation is a recurring theme in the literature challenging the consensus that 19 Al Qaeda hijackers flew commercial jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. False flag refers to espionage or covert actions taken by one government made to seem like the work of another. The false flag thesis has it that the Bush administration is somehow responsible for the September 11 attacks as a pretext for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mr. Falk yesterday did not return e-mails and phone calls asking for a comment. But in 2004 he wrote the foreword to the book "The New Pearl Harbor," by David Ray Griffin. Mr. Griffin has posited that such an inside job is the likely explanation for the attacks.

In the preface, Mr. Falk writes, "There have been questions raised here and there and allegations of official complicity made almost from the day of the attacks, especially in Europe, but no one until Griffin has had the patience, the fortitude, the courage, and the intelligence to put the pieces together in a single coherent account."

When asked for a comment about the appointment of Mr. Falk, a former American ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton said, "This is exactly why we voted against the new human rights council." A spokesman for the American embassy at the United Nations offered no comment yesterday when asked.

A spokeswoman at the United Nations, Nancy Groves, yesterday also declined to comment. "I would not make a comment on how the member states vote on appointments. It is their council, they make their decisions," she said.

Mr. Falk's selection to the post as rapporteur has already prompted the government of Israel formally to request that Mr. Falk not be sent to their country. The Israeli press has reported that he may even be barred from entering the country.

The deputy permanent representative of Israel to the United Nations in New York, Daniel Carmon said, "We are asking the U.N. not to send him. We cannot agree to Mr. Falk's entrance into Israel in his capacity as the rapporteur."

One reason the Israelis are concerned about his appointment is that Mr. Falk has compared Israel's treatment of Palestinian Arabs to the Nazi treatment of Jews in the holocaust. In an April 8 BBC interview, Mr. Falk said he stood by the Israel-Nazi comparison.

The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, issued a statement yesterday saying, "This was clearly a singularly inappropriate choice for this position. Falk's startling record of anti-Israel prejudice should have been enough to preclude him from a position where an unbiased observer is needed to report on the status of human rights in the territories."

In a February 16, 1979, op-ed for the New York Times, Mr. Falk praised Ayatollah Khomeini and bemoaned his ill treatment in the American press. He wrote, "The depiction of him as fanatical, reactionary and the bearer of crude prejudices seems certainly and happily false."Nearly nine months later, student followers of Khomeini invaded the American embassy in Tehran and held 52 diplomats hostage for the following 444 days.

Iraqi Detainees Languish Uncharged in Crowded Jails

Iraqi Detainees Languish Uncharged in Crowded Jails

By Steve Lannen

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Camp Constitution, Iraq - Barefoot in his yellow jumpsuit, the young detainee's eyes welled up as he described in a shaking voice how he landed in an Iraqi army detention facility on the outskirts of Baghdad.

He was visiting his mother in the hospital when Iraqi soldiers raided the hospital and detained him and several others, said Thamer Hamed, 22. They handcuffed and blindfolded him and took him to a holding cell at a former U.S. military base, ironically named Camp Constitution, that's been handed over to the Iraqi army. There, he was told that he was accused of murder. That was 45 days ago, and he still hadn't seen a judge, he said.

Asked to which religious sect he belongs, he smiled ruefully.

"Come on, I'm Sunni. Everyone here is Sunni."

Hamed is just one of thousands of detainees who are locked up in Iraqi-run detention centers.

Some undoubtedly are criminals, but some are innocent people who were caught in roundups after violent incidents or arrested by the largely Shiite-run Iraqi security forces because they're Sunnis, according to interviews with detainees and American military personnel on a rare visit with U.S. Army inspectors last month to an Iraqi army-run run jail.

There was little the U.S. military could do for Hamed, said Army Lt. Col. John Knox Mills , who was visiting as part of a routine inspection. But he promised to ask when a judge would visit the jail. Hamed thanked Mills but said he remained angry at the Iraqi security forces for his detention.

"I think I have something bad in me now that makes me hate everyone here," he said.

The jail at Camp Constitution is considered one of the better facilities that Mills' team from the Judge Advocate General corps inspects.

There was no door to the barn-shaped, concrete building, but a concentrated blast of body odor still assaulted the nostrils. Sparrows flitted about in the rafters, dodging dim fluorescent lights. Men, dressed mostly in yellow jumpsuits, sat cross-legged on thin mats in holding cells that were little more than large cages.

"You've got the most evil, dangerous people with those who have been brought in for nothing more than their faith," Mills said. "There has to be a fair process for figuring out which one is which. You want amnesty, but you don't want it for a mass murderer."

Mills' team is responsible for inspecting 11 Iraqi army and police detainee facilities in Baghdad , which hold about 1,200 detainees, a fraction of the estimated 20,000 in Iraqi custody. Another 23,000 are at two U.S. facilities in Baghdad and the southern port city of Basra.

Ever since U.S. military abuses were exposed at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, detainee mistreatment has been a sensitive subject in Iraq . After the Iraqi security forces began handling detainee facilities a few years ago, international human rights groups accused them of torturing detainees, although the groups have had a difficult time gaining access to the facilities to document their charges.

In late 2005, the U.S. military discovered a secret jail run by the Iraqi Interior Ministry in a southeast Baghdad neighborhood where more than 170 Iraqi detainees had been tortured and underfed.

Mills, who's been in Iraq since September, acknowledged the concerns about detainee abuse.

"We haven't witnessed it ourselves, but we have received reports" in the media and elsewhere, he said. He gave no details.

"You don't know" if someone is guilty of a crime or not, Mills said. "You have less confidence because of stories of corruption, ill-training, those sorts of things. You have less confidence in an arrest made by the Iraqis than one made by a trained law officer back home."

The detainee facilities that Mills and Capt. Richie Couch , both of the Kentucky Army National Guard's 138th Fires (field artillery) Brigade, monitor are similar to county jails.

They're usually the first stop after an arrest. A judge decides if there's enough evidence to hold a person for trial. If not, the person can be released. If there's enough evidence, he or she is sent to another detainee facility to await trial.

Mills and Couch look for signs of mistreatment and try to guarantee that a judge is hearing detainees' cases.

Mills walked among the cages and asked detainees through an interpreter about their situations. He asked if they're being given enough food and water. Yes, they said.

Mills walked over to a cell in a corner with juveniles in their mid-teens. They said they'd been treated well. A judge ordered their arrests based on intelligence information, a deputy warden said. Many young teens from poor families are paid by insurgents to watch army patrols or other targets.

The teens said they'd been there just a few days, but some men in other cells said they'd been held for several days without seeing a judge.

A Kentucky district judge in civilian life, Mills said some detainees have to wait two or three months before the equivalent of an arraignment and preliminary hearing.

The goal, he said, is a hearing within 24 hours, as in the United States .

"I don't want to say it's going at a glacial pace, but neither is it going by leaps and bounds," Mills said.

There aren't enough judges and investigators in the new Iraqi criminal justice system to keep up in a country dominated by terrorism and other horrific violations of law. Those who are there can become targets for insurgents and other criminals.

"They're starting from scratch," said Couch, an assistant state prosecutor in Kentucky .

Last year, as part of a huge security crackdown to secure Baghdad , detainee centers filled up.

In the nearly eight months he's been on the job, the massive overcrowding has decreased somewhat, Mills said. Still, there are problems associated with it, such as hygiene and health.

"If you've got 600 people in a facility built to hold 400 and there is no running water or air conditioning, you can see how that can be a problem," Mills said.

The conditions vary widely, he said.

A recent law passed by the Iraqi parliament requires the release of any detainee held longer than six months without a trial. That won't help many of the detainees held in the places he inspects, Mills said.

Many of the detainees they see are at the first step of the judicial process. They have to wait for a judge with broad enough powers to hear their cases and determine if there's enough evidence to hold them. If so, then they're sent to larger detainee facilities, where they may have to wait several months before trials.

According to Mills, the new law could have a trickle-down effect and help reduce the backlog of cases that keeps detainees waiting.

Top Bush Advisers Approved "Enhanced Interrogation"

Top Bush Advisers Approved "Enhanced Interrogation"

By Jan Crawford Greenburg, Howard L. Rosenberg and Ariane de Bogue

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Detailed discussions were held about techniques to use on al Qaeda suspects.

In dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House, the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, sources tell ABC News.

The so-called Principals who participated in the meetings also approved the use of "combined" interrogation techniques - using different techniques during interrogations, instead of using one method at a time - on terrorist suspects who proved difficult to break, sources said.

Highly placed sources said a handful of top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects - whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding.

The high-level discussions about these "enhanced interrogation techniques" were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed - down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.

The advisers were members of the National Security Council's Principals Committee, a select group of senior officials who met frequently to advise President Bush on issues of national security policy.

At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

As the national security adviser, Rice chaired the meetings, which took place in the White House Situation Room and were typically attended by most of the principals or their deputies.

Contacted by ABC News today, spokesmen for Tenet, Rumsfeld and Powell declined to comment about the interrogation program or their private discussions in Principals Meetings. Powell said through an assistant there were "hundreds of [Principals] meetings" on a wide variety of topics and that he was "not at liberty to discuss private meetings."

The White House also declined comment on behalf of Rice and Cheney. Ashcroft could not be reached for comment today.

Critics at home and abroad have harshly criticized the interrogation program, which pushed the limits of international law and, they say, condoned torture. Bush and his top aides have consistently defended the program. They say it is legal and did not constitute torture.

"I can say that questioning the detainees in this program has given us the information that has saved innocent lives by helping us stop new attacks here in the United States and across the world," Bush said in a speech in September 2006.

In interview with ABC's Charles Gibson last year, Tenet said: "It was authorized. It was legal, according to the Attorney General of the United States."

But this is the first time sources have disclosed that a handful of the most senior advisers in the White House explicitly approved the details of the program. According to multiple sources, it was members of the Principals Committee that not only discussed specific plans and specific interrogation methods, but approved them.

The discussions and meetings occurred in an atmosphere of great concern that another terror attack on the nation was imminent. Sources said the extraordinary involvement of the senior advisers in the grim details of exactly how individual interrogations would be conducted showed how seriously officials took the al Qaeda threat.

It started after the CIA captured top al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in spring 2002 in Faisalabad, Pakistan. When his safe house was raided by Pakistani security forces along with FBI and CIA agents, Zubaydah was shot three times during the gun battle.

At a time when virtually all counterterrorist professionals viewed another attack as imminent - and with information on al Qaeda scarce - the detention of Zubaydah was seen as a potentially critical breakthrough.

Zubaydah was taken to the local hospital, where CIA agent John Kiriakou, who helped coordinate Zubaydah's capture, was ordered to remain at the wounded captive's side at all times. "I ripped up a sheet and tied him to the bed," Kiriakou said.

But after Zubaydah recovered from his wounds at a secret CIA prison in Thailand, he was uncooperative.

"I told him I had heard he was being a jerk," Kiriakou recalled. "I said, 'These guys can make it easy on you or they can make it hard.' It was after that he became defiant."

The CIA wanted to use more aggressive - and physical - methods to get information.

The agency briefed high-level officials in the National Security Council's Principals Committee, led by then-National Security Advisor Rice and including then-Attorney General Ashcroft, which then signed off on the plan, sources said. It is unclear whether anyone on the committee objected to the CIA's plans for Zubaydah.

The CIA has confirmed Zubaydah was one of three al Qaeda suspects subjected to waterboarding.

After he was waterboarded, officials say Zubaydah gave up valuable information that led to the capture of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammad and fellow 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al-Shibh.

Mohammad was also subjected to waterboarding by the CIA. At a hearing before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay on March 10, 2007, KSM, as he is known, said he broke under the harsh interrogation.

COURT: Were any statements you made as the result of any of the treatment that you received during that time frame from 2003 to 2006? Did you make those statements because of the treatment you receive from these people?

KSM: Statement for whom?

COURT: To any of these interrogators.

KSM: CIA peoples. Yes. At the beginning, when they transferred me ...

Lawyers in the Justice Department had written a classified memo, which was extensively reviewed, that gave formal legal authority to government interrogators to use the "enhanced" questioning tactics on suspected terrorist prisoners. The August 2002 memo, signed by then head of the Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee, was referred to as the so-called "Golden Shield" for CIA agents, who worried they would be held liable if the harsh interrogations became public.

Old hands in the intelligence community remembered vividly how past covert operations, from the Vietnam War-era "Phoenix Program" of assassinations of Viet Cong to the Iran-Contra arms sales of the 1980s were painted as the work of a "rogue agency" out of control.

But even after the "Golden Shield" was in place, briefings and meetings in the White House to discuss individual interrogations continued, sources said. Tenet, seeking to protect his agents, regularly sought confirmation from the NSC principals that specific interrogation plans were legal.

According to a former CIA official involved in the process, CIA headquarters would receive cables from operatives in the field asking for authorization for specific techniques. Agents, worried about overstepping their boundaries, would await guidance in particularly complicated cases dealing with high-value detainees, two CIA sources said.

Highly placed sources said CIA directors Tenet and later Porter Goss along with agency lawyers briefed senior advisers, including Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and Powell, about detainees in CIA custody overseas.

"It kept coming up. CIA wanted us to sign off on each one every time," said one high-ranking official who asked not to be identified. "They'd say, 'We've got so and so. This is the plan.'"

Sources said that at each discussion, all the Principals present approved.

"These discussions weren't adding value," a source said. "Once you make a policy decision to go beyond what you used to do and conclude it's legal, (you should) just tell them to implement it."

Then-Attorney General Ashcroft was troubled by the discussions. He agreed with the general policy decision to allow aggressive tactics and had repeatedly advised that they were legal. But he argued that senior White House advisers should not be involved in the grim details of interrogations, sources said.

According to a top official, Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."

The Principals also approved interrogations that combined different methods, pushing the limits of international law and even the Justice Department's own legal approval in the 2002 memo, sources told ABC News.

At one meeting in the summer of 2003 - attended by Vice President Cheney, among others - Tenet made an elaborate presentation for approval to combine several different techniques during interrogations, instead of using one method at a time, according to a highly placed administration source.

A year later, amidst the outcry over unrelated abuses of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the controversial 2002 legal memo, which gave formal legal authorization for the CIA interrogation program of the top al Qaeda suspects, leaked to the press. A new senior official in the Justice Department, Jack Goldsmith, withdrew the legal memo - the Golden Shield - that authorized the program.

But the CIA had captured a new al Qaeda suspect in Asia. Sources said CIA officials that summer returned to the Principals Committee for approval to continue using certain "enhanced interrogation techniques."

Then-National Security Advisor Rice, sources said, was decisive. Despite growing policy concerns - shared by Powell - that the program was harming the image of the United States abroad, sources say she did not back down, telling the CIA: "This is your baby. Go do it."

Yoo's on First?

Yoo's on First?

Is it because John Yoo, the former Justice Department's hired hand, is such an easy target? Is it because of the cheeky, in-your-face way in which Yoo argues that the president has the authority to have your eyes poked out and your sons' testicles crushed, because we are "at war" and he is commander in chief?

Or is it because our press is STILL reluctant to go after Yoo's guys – first and foremost his ultimate client – President George W. Bush? Oh, but that would be hard, you say.


Available on the Web, in its original format, is a 7 Feb. 2002 action memorandum that the president signed to implement the dubious advice he was getting from Yoo and those at Justice who hired Yoo – and from the vice president's office which guided Yoo.

Yoo did their dirty work (and now he takes the rap).

Weren't Yoo's co-conspirators careful to keep their fingerprints off the more blatantly offensive memoranda? Sure they were.

But there was one problem. Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and then-CIA Director George Tenet could not get their people to torture folks without written, signed authorization by the president.

And we have a copy of that authorization? Yes, it's been available for years. You have to download it to believe it.

In his Feb. 7, 2002, memorandum, Bush wrote: "I determine that common Article 3 of Geneva does not apply to either al Qaeda or Taliban detainees." (Common Article 3 bans "torture [and] outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.")

Then, drawing on the lawyerly legerdemain, Bush did something really dumb. Using words drafted by Vice President Dick Cheney's lawyer, David Addington, for a memo dated Jan. 25, 2002, signed by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, the president ordered that detainees be treated, "humanely ... to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity."

Tacked onto the end of that sentence is a classic circumlocution: "in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva." But that is not what Geneva says, and there is no way to square that circle.

This is the giant loophole through which Rumsfeld and Tenet drove the Mack truck of torture ... yes, signed by the president. The rotten apples were – demonstrably – at the very top of the barrel.

Typical of the timid treatment accorded this issue is what initially seemed to be a straightforward article by Don Eggen in Sunday's Washington Post. It spotlighted scapegoat-of-the-hour Yoo, noting that he advised that in time of war the president's ultimate authority as commander in chief trumps laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes by military interrogators.

In focusing on Yoo's legal advice, however, Eggen joined his "mainstream" journalist colleagues in omitting the smoking gun – Bush's implementing memorandum of Feb. 7, 2002. That document already had cleared the way for waterboarding, stress positions, forced nudity and other abuse of detainees – as well as for further legal musings about the unlimited powers of a wartime president, like Yoo’s newly disclosed March 14, 2003, memo.

The omission was all the more conspicuous in that a listing of nine memoranda relevant to the story sits side by side with Eggen's article. Guess which memo did not make it onto that list?

Again, I urge you to download the president's Feb. 7 smoking gun from the Web and read it yourself. The Jan. 25, 2002, memo bearing Gonzales's signature is also available – in its original form.

Supreme Court Has a Problem

On June 29, 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled that Geneva DOES apply to al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees.

One senior Bush administration official is reported to have gone quite pale at the time, when Justice Anthony M. Kennedy raised the ante, warning that "violations of Common Article 3 are considered 'war crimes,' punishable as federal offenses."

That threw a real scare into Bush as well, who pressed Congress hard to give administration officials retroactive immunity from prosecution. That came just three months later when Congress passed the "Military Commissions Act."

Ironically, the fact that those violating Geneva have been granted immunity within the U.S. makes it easier for foreign courts to prosecute for torture.

Remember how former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had to sneak out of Paris last October? He was not about to wait until a Paris prosecutor decided how to handle a fresh criminal complaint against him.

That complaint cited the failure of U.S. authorities to investigate the role of Rumsfeld and other top officials in torture, despite a documented paper trail of official memos implicating them in direct as well as command responsibility.

The complaint argued that countries like France have a legal obligation to prosecute under the 1984 Convention Against Torture, approved by 145 nations, including the United States.

The Convention states that "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

It also provides for “universal jurisdiction,” meaning that every signing country has a duty to prosecute torturers who are found in their territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.

One of the Bush administration's favorite slogans is that evildoers must be "brought to justice." It will be interesting to watch how this all plays out in the months and years to come.

[For more on Yoo’s memos and Bush’s powers, see’s “All Power to the President” and “Yoo’s Memo Hints at Bush’s Secrets.”]

A 'Hollow Announcement'

A 'Hollow Announcement'

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While much attention was focused on the Iraq hearings with Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker yesterday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) also held an important, less-publicized hearing about the current strain on the military forces. "That marathon has become an enduring relay and our soldiers continue to run -- and at the double time," Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody said, referring in part to the consequences of the administration's decision last year to extend tours of duty in Iraq to 15 months to supply troops for the surge. In response to "intense pressure from service commanders," President Bush will announce this morning that he is cutting Army combat tours in Iraq from 15 months to 12 months. Despite previously stating he is "keenly aware" of the stress on the forces, Petraeus claimed yesterday that "after several years of a generalization of morale as going down, morale actually went up." This assessment, however, glosses over the harsh reality facing our troops.

BACK TO LAST WINTER: The administration's plan does not appear to go far enough, as it "will not apply to any soldiers now serving in Iraq, Afghanistan or other war zones" and therefore only affect troops sent to Iraq as of Aug. 1. This move means that those already deployed must complete 15-month tours. Bobby Muller of Veterans for America said that nearly "half of the Army's active-duty frontline units are currently deployed for 15 months, and that Bush's decision leaves them out." "In short, this is a hollow announcement; it has no immediate effect," he said. "[I]t only resets us to where we were last winter," added Skelton. "This pace will still wear our troops out." The administration's plan will also give troops equal rest time at home as deployed. But the White House had this option on the table in 2007, and has stubbornly opposed it. It went on a full-scale assault against Sen. Jim Webb's (D-VA) "dwell time" bill last year, pressuring Sen. John Warner (R-VA), who introduced a toothless "sense of the Senate" resolution to effectively kill Webb's "will of the Senate" legislation. In fact, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates even recommended that Bush veto Webb's "dwell time" proposal, should it ever pass Congress.

MILITARY UPRISING: Bush's decision to cut tour lengths comes after months and months of warnings from his top military advisers. "The current demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply," Army Chief of Staff George Casey said back in September. This week, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen noted he was "very public for many months that we need to get off 15 month deployments as fast as we can." In a recent meeting in the Pentagon, top military leaders "told President Bush they are worried about the Iraq war's mounting strain on troops and their families." While a step forward in the right direction, Bush's announcement today is more likely forced due to necessity, Ilan Goldenberg of the National Security Network observed. "The military is so strained, the president really didn't have a choice," he said. As Colin Powell presciently observed in July 2007, "[T]hey probably can't keep this up at this level past the middle of next year, I would guess. This is a tremendous burden on our troops."

STRAIN BY THE NUMBERS: As a result of the administration's delay in coming off "the longest Army combat tours since World War II," soldiers now are more strained than ever. "Among combat troops sent to Iraq for the third or fourth time, more than one in four show signs of anxiety, depression or acute stress," according to an Army survey of mental health. Twenty-seven percent of noncommissioned officers on their third or fourth tour exhibit post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. The study noted that "soldiers on multiple deployments report low morale, more mental health problems and more stress-related work problems." Today, one in five troops returns from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, there were 121 Army suicides in 2007, up more than 20 percent over 2006. An estimated 2,100 troops tried to commit suicide or injure themselves last year -- up from 350 in 2002. Family life is also affected by the war, as 20 percent of married troops in Iraq say they are planning a divorce.

Army Under Stress From Long Wars

Army Under Stress From Long Wars

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Washington - U.S. soldiers are committing suicide at record levels, young officers are abandoning their military careers, and the heavy use of forces in Iraq has made it harder for the military to fight conflicts that could arise elsewhere.

Unprecedented strains on the nation's all-volunteer military are threatening the health and readiness of the troops.

While the spotlight Wednesday was on congressional hearings with the U.S. ambassador and commanding general for Iraq, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody was in another hearing room explaining how troops and their families are being taxed by long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the prospect of future years of conflict in the global war on terror.

"That marathon has become an enduring relay and our soldiers continue to run - and at the double time," Cody said. "Does this exhaust the body and mind of those in the race, and those who are ever present on the sidelines, cheering their every step? Yes. Has it broken the will of the soldier? No."

And it's not just the people that are facing strains.

Military depots have been working in high gear to repair or rebuild hundreds of thousands of pieces of equipment - from radios to vehicles to weapons - that are being overused and worn out in harsh battlefield conditions. The Defense Department has asked for $46.5 billion in this year's war budget to repair and replace equipment damaged or destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Both the Army and Marine Corps have been forced to take equipment from non-deployed units and from pre-positioned stocks to meet needs of those in combat - meaning troops at home can't train on the equipment.

National Guard units have only an average of 61 percent of the equipment needed to be ready for disasters or attacks on the U.S., Missouri Democrat Ike Skelton lamented at Wednesday's hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

Cody and his Marine counterpart, Gen. Robert Magnus, told the committee they're not sure their forces could handle a new conflict if one came along.

The Pentagon and Congress have worked in recent years to increase funding, bolster support programs for families, improve care for soldiers and Marines and increase the size of both forces to reduce the strain. Cody said the U.S. must continue the investment, continue to support its armed forces and have an "open and honest discussion" about the size of military that is needed for today's demands.

An annual Pentagon report this year found there was a significant risk that the U.S. military could not quickly and fully respond to another outbreak elsewhere in the world. The classified risk assessment concluded that long battlefield tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with persistent terrorist activity and other threats, are to blame.

The review grades the armed services' ability to meet the demands of the nation's military strategy - which would include fighting the current wars as well any potential outbreaks in places such as North Korea, Iran, Lebanon or China.

Similarly, a 400-page January report by the independent Commission on the National Guard and Reserves found the force isn't ready for a catastrophic chemical, biological or nuclear attack on this country, and National Guard forces don't have the equipment or training they need for the job.

Strain on individuals has been repeatedly documented.

It contributes to the difficulty in getting other Americans to join the volunteer military. The Army struggles to find enough recruits each year and to keep career soldiers.

Thousands more troops each year struggle with mental health problems because of the combat they've seen. The lengthening of duty tours to 15 months from 12 a year ago also has been blamed for problems as has the fact that soldiers are being sent back for two, three or more times.

President Bush will announce on Thursday that the length of tours will go back to 12 months for Army units heading to war after Aug. 1, defense officials said Wednesday.

Some 27 percent of soldiers on their third or fourth combat tours suffered anxiety, depression, post-combat stress and other problems, according to an Army survey released last month. That compared with 12 percent among those on their first tour.

In Afghanistan a range of mental health problems increased, and 11.4 percent of those surveyed reported suffering from depression.

Medical professionals themselves are burning out and said in the survey that they need more help to treat the troops. The report also recommended longer home time between deployments and more focused suicide-prevention training. It said civilian psychologists and other behavioral health professionals should be sent to the warfront to augment the uniformed corps.

Though separate data reported on divorce rates appeared to be holding steady last year, soldiers say they are having more problem with their marriages due to the long and repeated separations.

As many as 121 troops committed suicide in 2007, an increase of some 20 percent over 2006, according to preliminary figures released in January.

If all are confirmed that would be more than double the 52 reported in 2001, before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompted the Bush administration to launch the war in Afghanistan.

Despite spreading recession, US CEOs rake in huge pay raises

Despite spreading recession, US CEOs rake in huge pay raises

By Alex Lantier

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Amid the onset of a recession sparked by the ongoing collapse of the mortgage bubble, and calls for massive wage and benefits concessions from workers, US corporate management is continuing to award itself immense salaries and golden parachutes.

On April 6 the New York Times reported on a survey by research firm Equilar of chief executive officer (CEO) pay at 200 companies with yearly revenues over $6.5 billion. Equilar found that average pay for CEOs with two years’ experience or more in 2007 was $11.2 million, up 5 percent from 2006. Including newly hired CEOs, average pay was $11.7 million. By comparison, US median household income in 2006 was $48,000.

CEOs in larger firms typically rake in far larger salaries, even when they have presided over financial catastrophes for their firms. Equilar’s report found that the CEOs of the 10 largest financial firms in the survey were collectively paid $320 million, while their firms reported mortgage-related losses of $55 billion and the market price of their stock fell by over $200 billion.

On March 19 Business Week reported on the compensation of top executives at Bear Stearns, the major Wall Street investment bank that failed in March due to a collapse in the value of its mortgage-backed securities. The Federal Reserve intervened to take Bear Stearns’ obligations onto its books, organizing a bailout with JPMorgan Chase. Tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs and, with the collapse in the value of Bear Stearns stock, their retirement.

From 2002 to 2006, Bear Stearns Chairman James Cayne, CEO Alan Schwartz, and former Co-President Warren Spector received total compensation—in salary, bonuses, restricted stock, and stock options—of $156 million, $141 million, and $168 million, respectively. Their bonuses between 2002 and 2005 ranged between $9 million and $12 million.

Business Week writes: “Then came the fattest year of all, 2006. Bear’s mortgage origination and other credit products grew at a 27 percent clip, and the company’s expansion into these areas really paid off, at least for those at the top of the pay pyramid.... Cash bonuses jumped to more than $16 million for Cayne, Schwartz, and Spector.” Less than 18 months later, the “credit products” underlying these bonuses were worthless.

Payoffs to CEOs when they accept or resign a position are often even larger. Citigroup, which wrote off over $20 billion in losses in 2007 and whose shares fell 47 percent, paid $216 million to hire its new CEO, Vikram Pandit. This included $165.2 million in connection with Citigroup’s $800 million acquisition of Pandit’s former firm (“alternative investment” specialists Old Lane Partners), $2.7 million salary for Pandit’s six months as head of Citigroup’s alternative investments division, and $48 million in stock options.

In recent months, the pay packages of a number of financial executives have gained public attention, especially in the light of the collapse of mortgage-backed “alternative” or “exotic” investments. Despite Citigroup’s disastrous performance, its former CEO Charles Prince retired in November 2007 with a $68 million retirement package. In October 2007, after investment bank Merrill Lynch had written down over $12 billion in bad mortgage debt, its CEO Stanley O’Neal left with a severance package of $161 million, on top of his $48 million salary.

Exorbitant CEO pay demands are prevalent throughout the entire economy, going far beyond financial firms. In January 2007 retailer Home Depot ousted its CEO, Bob Nardelli, for poor stock performance and an abrasive personality. Nardelli, who went on to become CEO of automaker Chrysler, took a $210 million severance package. When pharmaceutical firm Pfizer fired its CEO, Hank McKinnell, in July 2007—amid layoffs of thousands of workers and $4 billion in losses—McKinnell took a severance package of over $180 million.

Such stories demolish commonly repeated claims that CEOs’ exorbitant pay is justified by the value they add to their companies, or by the enormous cost of hiring an executive capable of expert stewardship of a major corporation.

Instead, top executives are each looting tens or hundreds of millions of dollars from their companies, as their irresponsible management—perhaps best symbolized by the failed gambling on large-scale issuing of subprime mortgages, which are by definition very risky investments—decimates their companies’ bottom line and stock value.

To the extent that companies cannot find replacements for such executives who do not demand similar compensation and behave in similar ways, this simply points to a broader social problem: all major decisions at large corporations are taken by representatives of an elite class whose immense wealth effectively shelters them from the consequences of their actions.

The cynicism and complacency of this layer were highlighted in an April 6 column in the New York Times by Ben Stein, titled “In the Boardroom, Every Back Gets Scratched.” In the essay, Stein noted that CEOs’ salaries are approved by corporate boards, which are periodically nominated by CEOs and approved by shareholders. This effectively gives CEOs huge power over board members who will set their salaries.

Stein gives a remarkable description of the life of the members of a corporate board—often members of top management at other corporations. He writes: “To be a member of the board of a large company is a little example of paradise. You get good pay for just sitting in a meeting and listening to summary presentations. You get insurance and a pension. You can go to luxurious resorts and play golf. What the heck are [airport] security lines? You fly in private jets. Sometimes you get stock options, and these can be meaningful. In other words, it’s nice to be the director of a public company. How do you keep your job? You are really nice to the person who put you in that job.”

Even having observed, however, that “the nation has become, to some at the top, far more of a looting opportunity than a family,” Stein cannot bring himself to condemn the situation. Instead, he blandly concludes: “Your basic human is not such a hot item—and the structure of the joint stock company does not bring out the best in us.”

Though Stein is unquestionably correct regarding the behavior of the CEOs of today’s joint stock companies, as to his toxic pessimism about humanity one can only reply: speak for yourself. To masses of people who work for or depend on the decisions of major corporations, the looting carried out by top executives is not the inevitable reflection of human nature, but a direct threat to their jobs and living standards. For them, the behavior of CEOs and boards at joint stock companies will reveal above all the destructiveness of placing private profit above the needs of society.

US airline chaos: thousands of flights canceled for inspections

US airline chaos: thousands of flights canceled for inspections

By Naomi Spencer

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Less than two weeks after grounding hundreds of its planes for unannounced inspections, top US air carrier American Airlines cancelled at least 1,500 flights Tuesday and Wednesday for reinspection of wiring in its aging fleet of MD-80s. The cancellations have interrupted travel for hundreds of thousands of people and seriously compounded the crisis in the commercial airlines industry.

In the past month, the industry has been wracked by scandals, mass flight cancellations, record fuel costs, and bankruptcies. These developments clearly reflect the economic crisis and collapse of infrastructure at large in the US and internationally, as well as the effects of decades of governmental deregulation and compromising of federal oversight systems.

In the past two weeks alone, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines abruptly grounded hundreds of planes and canceled flights for unscheduled inspections, and US Airways announced problems with some of its fleet after a wing part fell off one plane mid-flight.

The cancellations were in response to a directive from the Federal Aviation Administration requiring carriers to verify their compliance with airworthiness standards. This directive, along with several others the FAA issued in March, was part of an effort by the agency to appear more stringent in its safety enforcement after coming under congressional investigation for lax oversight.

Last week a number of FAA inspectors testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee on corruption and connivance between the agency and Southwest Airlines, which evaded years’ worth of critical inspections on dozens of planes without penalties. Agency whistle-blowers reported suppression of warnings, orders to destroy inspection documentation, harassment by FAA and Southwest officials, and threats of job loss and death for reporting violations.

Among those testifying April 3 was Bobby Boutris, a safety inspector at the FAA’s Irving, Texas field office, which oversaw Southwest. Boutris had discovered a multitude of violations of airworthiness directives at Southwest beginning in 2003. In 2007, both the company and the FAA stonewalled inspections of 46 Boeing 737 planes for signs of metal stress.

Boutris testified that his field office supervisor, Douglas Gawadzinski, along with higher-up agency officials, allowed Southwest to avoid penalties by later self-reporting the lack of inspections as though it were an error. Boutris was reassigned to different tasks after Southwest complained to FAA supervisors about him.

At least 6 of the 46 planes that had gone without metal stress inspections were subsequently found to have dangerous cracks in their fuselages. The planes operated at least 30 months past their inspection deadlines, transporting an estimated 145,000 passengers.

Boutris told the committee, “I have been asked by Southwest Airlines management to make a violation go away; in addition, I have been threatened by Southwest Airlines management that they could have me removed ... by picking up the phone.” He also testified that this wife received a death threat against him in the mail after investigations into Southwest’s safety violations became public.

Another FAA employee, Douglas Peters, likewise reported receiving a threat from a supervisor, who pointed at a family photograph as Peters was drawing up a report on Southwest’s violations. Peters testified that his supervisor held up the photo and said, “This is what’s important.” Peters testified that he was told, “You have a good job here and your wife has a good job [also at the FAA].... I’d hate to see you jeopardize your and her careers trying to take down a couple of losers.”

The whistle-blower testimony emphasized that the relations between the FAA and Southwest were not an exception, but indicative of the compromised state of the aviation safety system as a whole. In response, officials with the agency and within the industry have strenuously insisted that air travel has never been safer, even pointing at the belated inspections and mass flight cancellations as proof.

Southwest executives, including company chairman Herbert Kelleher and CEO Gary Kelly, who also testified April 3, asserted that “safety is the top priority” and portrayed the company’s avoidance of inspections as a “record-keeping error” and a “compliance irregularity.” They made clear that the company intended to appeal the $10.2 million fine that the FAA hastily levied against Southwest after the scandal was made public.

“We are currently experiencing the safest period in aviation history,” the FAA’s acting administrator, Robert Sturgill, similarly told the committee. “We have found ways to increase the accountability of all parties—the FAA included—and strengthen both the reporting role and the regulatory process.”

The “reporting role” to which Sturgill referred is the voluntary reporting system commercial airlines are ‘encouraged’ to use to register inspections with the federal agency. In most cases, FAA inspectors do not inspect the aircraft. Instead, company or third party mechanics are charged with noting irregularities during maintenance, and FAA employees then review the submitted paperwork. This arrangement reduces vital safety procedures to optional company expenditures.

Such is the result of decades of privatization and deliberate dismantling of regulatory powers, the dangerous consequences of which are still unfolding.

As part of the post-Depression reforms in the United States beginning in the 1930s, the airline industry was regulated—and to a large extent, managed in its practical, day-to-day performance—through pricing and route controls set by a federal Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). While far from eliminating the profit motive, reforms such as airline regulation prevented out-and-out gouging, provided workers with a decent standard of living, and preserved the structural integrity of the country’s infrastructure for several decades.

However, regulatory controls over certain sectors of the economy—including the airlines and other transportation systems, electricity, communications, and other basic utilities—were only possible during the period in which American capitalism saw expansion. Beginning in the economic crisis of the 1970s, regulatory controls were peeled away in favor of so-called “free market” reforms.

In 1977, the Democratic Carter administration appointed Alfred Kahn, a vocal advocate of deregulation, to head the CAB. The following year, the administration enacted the Airline Deregulation Act, legislation sponsored by Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy (Mass.) that called for the elimination of CAB authority over airline prices and routes.

The law had the result of driving up competition between airlines, which swiftly undertook an effort to break airline workers unions in order to slash wages, benefits, and jobs. Beginning with the mass firing of the PATCO air traffic controllers in 1981, the airline workforce and its living standards have been under continual assault. Bankruptcies and consolidations have had the effect of shedding tens of thousands of jobs, wiping out pension guarantees and drastically increasing workloads for employees over the past three decades.

At the same time, the quality and safety of air travel has plummeted. While airlines continue flying decades-old planes, flight schedules have increased substantially. Planes have been refitted to hold more passengers, fees have been added for checking more than one bag, and services such as in-flight food have been eliminated.

Flight quality declined particularly in 2007, according to the annual Airline Quality Rating survey. The report’s co-author, Brent Bowen, told the Associated Press April 7 that 2007 represented “the worst year ever for the US airlines.”

The survey registered a 60 percent increase in passenger complaints, most for canceled and diverted flights. The rate of on-time arrivals has dropped every year for the past five; last year, 29 percent of flights were late.

A fifth of the complaints involved lost or damaged luggage, and another 11 percent involved poor customer service. Bureau of Transportation Statistics data indicate that US airlines mishandled 4.4 million bags in 2007, up 8 percent from the year before.

The Airline Quality survey also revealed a significant rise in overbooking, with the rate of passengers being bumped from their flights rising by 13 percent.

The past year also saw an increase in unanticipated flight delays resulting in prolonged idling on airport tarmacs, with hundreds of planes taxied out and delayed for three or more hours every month, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

On March 25, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a New York state law that required airlines to provide food, water, and serviceable bathroom facilities to passengers held on planes for longer than three hours before take-off. The law was passed after thousands of travelers were held on planes for as long as 10 hours in sweltering cabins and denied food and water last year at New York’s Kennedy International Airport. The federal court ruled in favor of the Air Transport Association of America, the industry’s major trade group, but justified its decision on the grounds that the state law interfered with federal authority.

Air travel conditions are likely to worsen in the coming year as fuel prices rise. In the last week alone, three airlines—ATA, Aloha Airlines, and Skybus—cancelled flights, cut thousands of jobs, and ceased operating. Ticketholders stranded by the folded airlines were spurned by other carriers, including American Airlines. Airlines are no longer required to honor tickets of their competitors because of the expiration of a key government protection in 2006.

As the Wall Street Journal commented April 8, “Airlines have a new attitude toward customers of failed carriers: It’s your loss, not ours.” American Airlines spokesman Tim Wagner told the Journal, “We didn’t have a code-share relationship of any kind with these airlines, so anything we do to offer people a discount is basically out of the ‘goodness of our hearts.’ Any discount we give is revenue lost, and we won’t be getting anything out of their bankruptcies. So in a $100-a-barrel oil environment, anything that any airline does is generous.”

What is underscored by both the attitude of airline industry managers and by the crisis itself is the fundamental incompatibility of private ownership and rational organization. Exacerbating this incompatibility is another fundamental contradiction: the inherently international character of the airline industry, subjected to nationally fractured management by anarchistic and uncooperative corporate rivals.

The complexity of the international airline system is a feat of modern engineering and its operation requires the expertise of thousands of highly skilled workers. Yet under conditions in which society and the industry face rising economic crisis, the efficiency, safety, and quality of life for airline workers and passengers are all subordinated to profitability, with potentially disastrous results.

Like the economic crisis at large, the crisis of the airline industry requires a political solution, beginning with the building of an independent movement of the international working class. Along with other vital infrastructure, social and natural resources, proper management of the airline industry can only be realized through a reorganization of the entire economy on a socialist basis. Under the democratic control of workers, mass transit systems could be run as public utilities for the benefit of all, in cooperation and coordination with all other sectors of society internationally.

Olympic Torch Protests Overwhelm San Francisco

Olympic Torch Protests Overwhelm San Francisco

By Matt Renner

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San Francisco, California - A day-long mass gathering intended to protest the running of the 2008 Beijing Olympic torch ended anticlimactically when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to cancel the downtown closing ceremony and instead hold the ceremony at the airport.

Newsom told The Associated Press he decided to move the closing ceremony because of the protests.

Moving the ceremony away from the downtown area capped off a chaotic day and was seen as a victory by protesters who did not want the torch to pass through the city without resistance. Initially, the torch was supposed to travel along the waterfront and circle back to the downtown area for the closing ceremony. The route was altered because officials feared protesters might clash with police and disrupt the relay. The new route was kept secret until the runners were underway, leaving the protesters disorganized.

Deviating from their announced plans, San Francisco officials put the torch and all 80 torch bearers on buses and drove them up to Van Ness Avenue - about two miles away from the original route - where they proceeded to run through the city toward the Golden Gate Bridge with little interference.

Upon hearing reports the relay course had been changed, the most committed protesters sprinted uphill toward where they thought the torch was headed. A spectacle ensued with hundreds of confused protesters jogging through the streets of the business district, waving flags and asking each other if they knew where to go.

On Wednesday morning, human rights activists gathered outside of a well orchestrated official rally, complete with Chinese drums and colorfully costumed dancers. The tension was palpable, as police escorted people holding Tibetan flags out of the area. "Its not safe for you here," a smiling police officer told a young protester with Tibetan prayer flags wrapped around his body, while escorting him to the designated protest areas.

The ceremonial Olympic torch relay across the globe has drawn heated protests in recent days, with activists flooding relay routes throughout Europe, and attempting to extinguish the Olympic torch. Tibet freedom activists have capitalized on the world attention being paid to the Chinese government in advance of the Beijing Olympics by voicing their opposition to what they see as an occupation of Tibet by China and the human rights abuses China has perpetrated against the people of Tibet.

About half an hour before the torch was scheduled to be set aflame and carried along the San Francisco Bay waterfront, protesters began marching down The Embarcadero - a wide street that borders the eastern edge of the city - toward McCovey Cove where the lighting ceremony was underway.

A blue tour bus escorted by police motorcycles suddenly pulled away from the ceremony location. Apparently thinking the Olympic torch was aboard the bus, protesters began running toward the bus and crowding in front of it. The driver seemed to panic momentarily as protesters began banging on the windshield and shouting "free Tibet, free Tibet, free Tibet." After initially stopping to avoid running over the protesters, the driver began to accelerate, attempting to drive through the crowd at roughly five miles an hour.

Screams and shouts from the protesters and police in front of the bus eventually compelled the driver to stop after traveling about 100 feet. Protesters clung to the windows and windshield wipers of the bus, plastering it with Tibetan flag stickers. As police stepped in to try and disperse the crowd, a large metal object, thrown from a long distance, clanged off the windshield. A bottle was smashed against a side window. A police officer caught in the throng looked terrified as he was swallowed up among the rowdy protesters.

The situation was diffused when fellow protesters decided the bus was empty, a decoy used by police to try and draw the protest away from the ceremony. Police said the bus had just dropped people off at the torch lighting and was not intended to misdirect the crowd.

Early reports stated San Francisco officials decided to change the route of the torch relay in anticipation of violent demonstration. It is unclear whether the tour bus incident prompted the course change, but the incident made clear the level of anger and energy driving the protests.

The successful rope-a-dope maneuver left thousands of protesters and casual observers milling around the waterfront area, unsure if they were going to catch a glimpse of the Olympic torch on its only stop in North America.

Left stranded away from the action, the two protest factions turned on one another.

"The Tibetan protesters are rioters. China is making good progress," Steve Hu, a Chinese immigrant and vocal counterprotester said. Many counterprotesters waving Chinese flags marched through the streets, exchanging insults and fiery rhetoric with those advocating for an independent Tibet. Interactions between the two groups varied. The most common encounters were limited to basic insults and impolite hand gestures.

In more heated confrontations, people yelled at one another, their faces just inches apart. On multiple occasions, the warring groups actually clashed in what can only be described as flag on flag sword fights.

The emotional battles remained peaceful, with calmer individuals stepping in when violence appeared imminent. The majority of protesters on both sides recognized both had the right to demonstrate and to express their deeply held political positions.

"Everyone has a right to protests," Justin Zhang, a Chinese immigrant who was waving the Chinese flag said. "I'm disappointed because I didn't get to see the torch."

Tsering Choedon, an Indian immigrant who was protesting in favor of Tibetan independence, said she was thankful the city of San Francisco could hold such an event where both sides could be heard. "I want the Chinese government to let the reporters into China and Tibet so that the world can know the truth," Choedon said from her seated position on the crowded sidewalk. The small woman held a Tibetan flag and wore a mask over her mouth to represent the silencing of Tibetan voices in China.

While protesters advocating for the freedom of Tibet tend to receive the majority of attention, various other groups were quite prominent.

Muhammad Suleiman, a Sudanese immigrant and a protester with the Save Darfur coalition, said his presence at the protest was intended to "send a message to China that genocide and the Olympic games cannot coexist." Suleiman accused China of supplying weapons to the government of Sudan who, in turn, use them to commit atrocities against their own population. "I want the Chinese government to know that they have a moral obligation to stop this," Suleiman said.