Thursday, June 12, 2008

Obama must learn from Kucinich's election theft impeachment

Obama must learn from Kucinich's election theft impeachment

by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman

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Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has introduced 35 articles of impeachment against George W. Bush. Two of the articles deal with the fact that Bush was never elected, and in fact stole the election of 2004 in Ohio. They should serve as a cautionary notice to the Obama campaign that this year's election could also be stolen.

Kucinich's courage in introducing these articles is underscored by the fact that the Congress should have removed Bush from office years ago. From lying to the world to perpetrate the war in Iraq, to violating the Constitution on scores of basic civil rights and liberties issues, to fostering a regime based on unprecedented corruption and robbery, George W. Bush would be known as the worst president in the history of the United States if in fact he had been elected president.

But these articles of impeachment contain charges that come directly from the independent reportage on the stolen 2004 election that appeared first at www.freepress.org and in other non-corporate and internet-based media throughout the United States. Ironically, though these facts have finally penetrated to a proposed Congressional indictment of the nation's chief executive, they have yet to be reported in the "mainstream" corporate-owned media.

Kucinich's Article 28 charges Bush with "tampering with free and fair elections," along with "corruption of the administration of justice." Article 29 charges him and his staff and political cronies and underlings with "conspiracy to violate the Civil Rights Act of 1965" (co-author Bob Fitrakis, attorney-at-law, helped draft these Articles 28 and 29 based in part on information that was first posted at www.freepress.org).

Many of the specific charges leveled in the bill of impeachment can be traced directly to conflict of interest charged raised in Ohio by grassroots election protection activists before, during and after the 2004 voting. Bush deserves impeachment, Kucinich writes, for "willfully allowing his agent, Ohio Secretary of State John Kenneth Blackwell, the Co-Chair of the Bush-Cheney Re-election Campaign, to ensure that uncounted and provisional ballots in Ohio's 2004 presidential election would be disproportionately concentrated in urban African-American districts."

The impeachment document also notes that "in Ohio's Lucas County, which includes Toledo, 3,122 or 41.13% of the provisional ballots went uncounted under the direction of George W. Bush's agent, the Secretary of State of Ohio, John Kenneth Blackwell, Co-Chair of the Committee to Re-Elect Bush/Cheney in Ohio....In Ohio's Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, 8,559 or 32.82% of the provisional ballots went uncounted....In Ohio's Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati, 3,529 or 24.23% of the provisional ballots went uncounted."

In our numerous conversations with Rep. Kucinich since the Ohio-centered theft of the 2004 election, he has made it clear that he fully understands the depth of planning and coordination that went into the hijacking of the presidency. Based on sophisticated coordination between Blackwell and White House consiglieri Karl Rove, the GOP launched a high-tech blitzkrieg on the electoral process. Their tactics ranged from removing more than 300,000 registered Ohio citizens from the voter rolls, to short-changing inner city precincts of needed voting machines, to rigging electronic vote counts, to calling a phony Homeland Security alert to several score other tactics, many of which continue to surface.

The tragedy of this impeachment is that it did not occur in 2004, when the independent media filled with the first revelations of what really happened in Ohio. Two new election protection documentaries, David Earnhardt's UNCOUNTED and a new release coming from Emmy-award winner Dorothy Fadiman, make the experience even more indelible.

The Bush catastrophe is now winding down, having exceeded all expectations in its destruction of the fabric of American law, economy and ecology. But if Barack Obama allows history to repeat itself yet again in 2008, this nation will plunge even deeper into the depths. The only way to avoid that is to proceed with this impeachment in all its potential force. At very least, this Congress must thoroughly expose and act on what was done to our sacred democratic process in 2004. As we have since learned, the world cannot afford to have this happen again.

Full text of the resolution can be found at: Articles of Impeachment

Logjam of War Contractor Fraud Suits

Logjam of War Contractor Fraud Suits

Matt Renner

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A backlog of whistleblower lawsuits against military contractors has been swelling and festering since the early days of the so-called war on terror.

According to critics, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has blocked the progress of these lawsuits to spare the Bush administration a major political black eye should the truth about ongoing war profiteering be revealed, a charge the DOJ denies.

Under the False Claims Act, a civil war era law, when an employee of a company thinks they have evidence that their company is defrauding the US government, the individual can file a lawsuit on behalf of the government against the contractor by filing a special lawsuit called a qui tam - a Latin abbreviation for "he who sues in this matter for the king as for himself."

The exact number of qui tam cases stuck in legal limbo is unknown because the cases are kept under strict seal. But sources who have been following the issue closely estimate that there are between 50 and 70 Iraq contracting fraud cases under seal. Under normal circumstances, when the DOJ receives a qui tam case, it conducts an investigation into the whistleblower's claims. If there is sufficient evidence of significant fraud, the DOJ joins with the whistleblower to sue the company in question and recover the government's money. The whistleblower can receive up to 30 percent of money recovered as a reward for their service to the taxpayer.

Not a single qui tam case against war contractors has been joined by the Bush administration DOJ despite the possibility of recovering billions of dollars for the US taxpayer and reining in war profiteers, who continue to cheat and defraud the government and the US troops mired in battle.

"The money that's gone into waste, fraud and abuse under these contracts is just so outrageous, it's egregious," Congressman Henry Waxman (D- California) told the BBC, adding, "It may well turn out to be the largest war profiteering in history."

As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Waxman and his team of investigators have been tracking mismanagement, waste and fraud in Iraq war contracting. His investigations have created a rough sketch of where US and Iraqi money has been stolen and wasted. The qui tam cases may provide the missing link: the voices of individual employees who can give first hand accounts of the profiteering.

According to qui tam investigator Dina Rasor, co-author of "Betraying Our Troops: The Destructive Result of Privatizing War," the wave of qui tam cases is coming, but will probably have to wait until the next administration.

"The investigations by Waxman and the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction have left breadcrumbs leading everywhere. Either qui tams have not been filed, which is not the case, or they have not yet come out," Rasor told Truthout.

Rasor's book documents numerous examples of fraud and negligence on the part of military contractors in the Iraq war theater. Rasor works directly with Iraq contracting fraud whistleblowers, but is prevented from discussing any aspect of the cases she is involved with because they remain under seal.

Critics charge that the DOJ is misusing its power to keep the qui tam cases sealed in order to prevent a massive and unprecedented level of war profiteering from becoming public.

The DOJ strongly rejects this claim. "There are cases being investigated. I have never heard of anything being blocked for political reasons. The people who are the day in and day out attorneys in the civil division are career employees and they do their job," Charles Miller, spokesman for the DOJ civil division told Truthout, adding, "I expect that the cases will move when the investigations are complete ... It has nothing to do with the administration."

A unique factor in qui tam suits is that even if the cases are unsuccessful or companies settle the lawsuits to avoid trial, the facts of the case are eventually made public. Therefore, the historical record on the most privatized military operation in US history has only begun to be written.

These qui tam cases must eventually be dealt with because the statute of limitations - the amount of time whistleblowers have to file their case - does not run out once the case has been filed. Whistleblowers have up to six years (if acting without DOJ backing) to file a qui tam case. This means that cases involving Iraq reconstruction fraud will continue to pile up for years after the last contractors leave the country.

A Delicate Political Dance

Whistleblowers and the lawyers who represent them in these qui tam cases are in a tough spot. On the one hand, they have a financial stake in the successful prosecution of the suit they file. In most cases, they need the US government to join with them to investigate the alleged fraud and to bring the case to court. Federal judges who hear these cases are unlikely to take the lawsuits seriously if the government - the party with the most money at stake - is not on board.

On the other hand, these lawyers and whistleblowers are the only people who know the severity and scope of the fraud cases they file. They are the only people outside the DOJ who can attest to the potential cover-up by the Bush administration.

This relationship between the whistleblower and the government has seemingly kept most lawyers involved with qui tam cases from speaking out against the DOJ blackout of Iraq contracting fraud suits for fear that doing so would endanger their cases.

However, an independently wealthy maverick lawyer from central Florida has taken the DOJ to task publicly. Alan Grayson, of Grayson and Kubli PC, a law group specializing in qui tam suits, has struck out on his own, to pursue contractor fraud cases without the help of the DOJ. Along the way, he has also become an outspoken critic of the DOJ who, in his view, is perpetrating a massive cover-up at the behest of the Bush administration and their allies in the military contracting industry.

"The war has been going on now for five years. [The DOJ] is not litigating a single case of contractor fraud against any contractor in Iraq. They have swept the whole thing under the rug," Grayson told Truthout, adding, "They're either stupid or they're liars and I tend to think it is the latter. We have an administration that is only good at managing news and nothing else."

Under normal circumstances, the DOJ decides to join or reject a qui tam case within 60 days. The vast majority of the pending Iraq fraud cases have remained under seal, with the DOJ refusing to join or reject the cases. In keeping the cases in limbo, the DOJ keeps the allegations and evidence away from public scrutiny.

A Lack of Resources?

Don Warren, of the Warren Benson law group, specializes in qui tam cases. He has knowledge of ongoing Iraq reconstruction fraud cases, but could not give details or quantify the total amount of money at stake in his cases.

Warren does not believe there is an overt conspiracy at work to keep the DOJ from joining whistleblowers in Iraq fraud cases. Instead, he sees the lack of fraud cases as more of an issue of underfunding and understaffing at the DOJ civil division.

"The resources have been dried up under this administration. The white collar civil fraud prosecutors are way understaffed, underpaid, and overworked. This administration has sucked dry the resources for the civil fraud prosecutors in DOJ," Warren said, adding, "The investigators sometimes don't have the budget to pay to make copies of documents, take depositions, travel to interview witnesses."

"The administration is protecting its donor base - big pharmaceutical companies, big defense contractors, and they don't care about the little guy, the tax payer," Warren said when asked why he thought the Bush administration would deliberately underfund white collar crime investigations.

"It doesn't make sense. Thirteen dollars is returned to the US treasury for every dollar spent on these prosecutions. It is the only government program that pays for itself 13 times over," he said.

"If I asked anyone in the department, they'd say they need more resources. Whether that is true or not I can't say for sure," DOJ spokesman Charles Miller said in response to questions about underfunding.

'Special Weapons' Have a Fallout on Babies

'Special Weapons' Have a Fallout on Babies

Ali al-Fadhily and Dahr Jamail

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Babies born in Fallujah are showing illnesses and deformities on a scale never seen before, doctors and residents say.

The new cases, and the number of deaths among children, have risen after "special weaponry" was used in the two massive bombing campaigns in Fallujah in 2004.

After denying it at first, the Pentagon admitted in November 2005 that white phosphorous, a restricted incendiary weapon, was used a year earlier in Fallujah.

In addition, depleted uranium (DU) munitions, which contain low-level radioactive waste, were used heavily in Fallujah. The Pentagon admits to having used 1,200 tonnes of DU in Iraq thus far.

Many doctors believe DU to be the cause of a severe increase in the incidence of cancer in Iraq, as well as among U.S. veterans who served in the 1991 Gulf War and through the current occupation.

"We saw all the colours of the rainbow coming out of the exploding American shells and missiles," Ali Sarhan, a 50-year-old teacher who lived through the two U.S. sieges of 2004 told IPS. "I saw bodies that turned into bones and coal right after they were exposed to bombs that we learned later to be phosphorus.

"The most worrying is that many of our women have suffered loss of their babies, and some had babies born with deformations."

"I had two children who had brain damage from birth," 28-year-old Hayfa' Shukur told IPS. "My husband has been detained by the Americans since November 2004 and so I had to take the children around by myself to hospitals and private clinics. They died. I spent all our savings and borrowed a considerable amount of money."

Shukur said doctors told her that it was use of the restricted weapons that caused her children's brain damage and subsequent deaths, "but none of them had the courage to give me a written report."

"Many babies were born with major congenital malformations," a paediatric doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. "These infants include many with heart defects, cleft lip or palate, Down's syndrome, and limb defects."

The doctor added, "I can say all kinds of problems related to toxic pollution took place in Fallujah after the November 2004 massacre."

Many doctors speak of similar cases and a similar pattern. The indications remain anecdotal, in the absence of either a study, or any available official records.

The Fallujah General Hospital administration was unwilling to give any statistics on deformed babies, but one doctor volunteered to speak on condition of anonymity -- for fear of reprisals if seen to be critical of the administration.

"Maternal exposure to toxins and radioactive material can lead to miscarriage and frequent abortions, still birth, and congenital malformation," the doctor told IPS. There have been many such cases, and the government "did not move to contain the damage, or present any assistance to the hospital whatsoever.

"These cases need intensive international efforts that provide the highest and most recent technologies that we will not have here in a hundred years," he added.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed concern Mar. 31 about the lack of medical supplies in hospitals in Baghdad and Basra.

"Hospitals have used up stocks of vital medical items, and require further supplies to cope with the influx of wounded patients. Access to water remains a matter of concern in certain areas," the ICRC said in a statement.

A senior Iraqi health ministry official was quoted as saying Feb. 26 that the health sector is under "great pressure", with scores of doctors killed, an exodus of medical personnel, poor medical infrastructure, and shortage of medicines.

"We are experiencing a big shortage of everything," said the official, "We don't have enough specialist doctors and medicines, and most of the medical equipment is outdated.

"We used to get many spinal and head injures, but were unable to do anything as we didn't have enough specialists and medicines," he added. "Intravenous fluid, which is a simple thing, is not available all the time." He said no new hospitals had been built since 1986.

Iraqi Health Minister Salih al-Hassnawi highlighted the shortage of medicines at a press conference in Arbil in the Kurdistan region in the north Feb. 22. "The Iraqi Health Ministry is suffering from an acute shortage of medicines...We have decided to import medicines immediately to meet the needs."

He said the 2008 health budget meant that total expenditure on medicines, medical equipment and ambulances would amount to an average of 22 dollars per citizen.

But this is too late for the unknown number of babies and their families who bore the consequences of the earlier devastation. And it is too little to cover the special needs of babies who survived with deformations.

New bank losses shake financial markets

New bank losses shake financial markets

By Andre Damon

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Lehman Brothers announced a projected $2.8 billion second-quarter loss on Monday, its first since going public in 1994. The Wall Street firm concurrently announced its intentions to raise $6 billion of capital and reduce its reliance on borrowed funds.

Both Moody’s and Fitch Ratings downgraded Lehman’s creditworthiness in response to the announcements. The investment bank’s stock has fallen sharply since last Friday.

The losses at Lehman’s were coupled with Monday’s announcement by Standard & Poor’s that it had cut the AAA credit ratings of bond insurers MBIA and Ambac Financial Group, effectively lowering the credit ratings of some $100 billion in debt. Analysts, meanwhile, announced that they expect Washington Mutual, the United States’ largest savings and loan association, to suffer mortgage losses of some $21 billion over the next three years. The firm’s stock has tumbled by 34 percent over the past two weeks.

Erin Callan, Lehman Brothers’ chief financial officer, played down the current risks to the bank’s balance sheet, but said that the capital-raising was engineered to “end the chatter about Lehman Brothers.” The “chatter” is persistent speculation that the firm is teetering on the brink of insolvency.

At the time of the March 14 bailout of Bear Stearns by the Federal Reserve Board, it was widely believed in US financial markets that Lehman Brothers would soon follow Bear Stearns into bankruptcy. The Fed’s decision to extend direct loans to investment banks—something unprecedented since the Depression of the 1930s—was in part prompted by fears that a Lehman failure would trigger a wave of Wall Street collapses and a general financial meltdown.

Lehman, the smallest and most vulnerable of the major US investment banks, was among the major beneficiaries of the new Fed policy, and used the loans to temporarily stabilize its positions.

Lehman Brothers is attempting to trim its leverage—the ratio of its assets to borrowings—from 32 to one to 25 to one. The firm had previously been able to provide high returns to its shareholders by using the easy credit conditions that then prevailed to make very large investments with borrowed money.

This approach has become unviable as credit has dried up, leaving Lehman with what appears to be a crisis of both short-term and long-term profitability. Within financial circles there is talk that a further deterioration of credit conditions could result in more bank failures along the line of Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers is generally considered to be the most endangered.

Of the big Wall Street investment banks, Lehman remains the most closely tied to mortgage-backed securities and speculation in leveraged corporate buy-outs—two markets that have imploded since last summer. The firm’s announcement served as a rude awakening to markets that the banking crisis is by no means over, and that more Federal Reserve bailouts may be in the offing.

The Federal Reserve has made clear its intention to prevent the failure of major Wall Street firms, ultimately with public funds. There are those within the financial establishment who see large-scale bailouts as detrimental to financial stability in the long run.

A criticism along these lines was put forward June 5 by Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, who observed: “The danger is that the effect of recent credit extension on the incentives of financial market participants might induce greater risk-taking, which in turn could give rise to more frequent crises, in which case it might be difficult to resist further expanding the scope of central bank lending.”

Lacker’s public dissent, coming on the same day as a major speech by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, is highly unusual, and underscores the internal tensions and divisions fueled by the ongoing financial crisis.

The cheap and abundant credit injected into the financial system by the Fed’s policies has contributed to an inflationary upsurge in the United States and internationally and accelerated the fall of the dollar relative to the euro, the yen and other major currencies. This depreciation has in turn fueled the eruption of oil prices and rampant speculation in commodities prices.

In a speech delivered June 3, Bernanke said that the Federal Reserve would take measures to fight inflation and prop up the dollar. This led to a temporary strengthening of the US currency, but by Friday markets panicked in response to the release of higher-than-expected US unemployment figures. Investors dumped dollars and poured into commodities futures, driving the price of oil up $10 in a single day.

Bernanke again attempted to take an anti-inflationary stand on Monday evening, telling a conference in Massachusetts that the Fed will “strongly resist an erosion of longer-term inflation expectations, as an unanchoring of those expectations would be destabilizing for growth as well as for inflation.”

Asian markets tumbled at the announcement on Tuesday, with China’s stock index falling 8 percent. China’s currency is unofficially pegged to the dollar, and is especially responsive to US policy. The country is also experiencing significantly higher inflation, which has reached an annual rate of 8 percent and has resulted in negative real interest rates.

The European Central Bank (ECB) showed no signs that it would cooperate with the Fed’s new exchange rate policy. Last week, ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet indicated that the central bank would raise its interest rate by 0.25 percent, undercutting a short-lived rally of the US dollar on currency markets.

The conflict between the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank is in many ways unprecedented. As Wolfgang Münchau of the Financial Times noted, “In the past, European central bankers tended to follow the US Federal Reserve, often with delay, never perfectly, but generally in the same direction.”

A major and common aim of both the Fed and the ECB is to soften the labor market through job-cutting, in order to prevent the development of a wages movement by workers seeking to offset soaring fuel and food costs. The US unemployment rate has increased for five straight months, culminating in last week’s announcement that the official jobless rate jumped from 5 to 5.5 percent during the month of May.

Long-term layoffs have increased significantly over recent months, spearheaded by job cut announcements at major airlines, which have eliminated 22,000 jobs this year alone. The trend is by all indications accelerating, as indicated by recent figures showing that planned layoffs increased by 15 percent in May over April.

Bush in Germany beats drum for war against Iran

Bush in Germany beats drum for war against Iran

By Stefan Steinberg

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In his last visit to Germany as president of the United States, George W. Bush used a joint press conference Wednesday with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Christian Democratic Union) to reiterate his threat of war against Iran.

“As I said before, all options remained on the table” with regard to Iran, the American president told the assembled media. In other words, Washington maintains its “option” of launching an unprovoked military strike against Iran to prevent any further development of its uranium enrichment program.

Asked directly by one journalist if he would rule out military action against Iran Bush repeated that “all options were on the table.” Pressed again by reporters on the issue, Bush spoke vaguely about the positive role of sanctions and the need for international collaboration, but refrained from withdrawing his threat of military action.

At the Wednesday press conference both Bush and Merkel gave a show of harmony making utterly vague and remarks about the intention of both countries to tackle such issues as world trade and climate change. But as was the case with his first European stop in Slovenia Bush used his visit to Germany to emphasise the alleged threat of Iranian nuclear weapons, urging European leaders to support tougher sanctions, up to, and including military action against Tehran.

Bush’s comments come at a time when the European Union is actively seeking a diplomatic solution to the Iran crisis. The European Foreign High Representative for Foreign and Security policy, Javier Solana is due to travel to Tehran this weekend to offer the government there a package of trade and economic incentives in return for an agreement to halt Iran’s enrichment activities.

Sweeping aside the label of “lame duck president” universally used to describe him in Germany, Bush stated ominously that his administration would conduct a “sprint to the finish.”

In a mealy-mouthed response to the US president, Merkel declared that Germany continued to support a strictly diplomatic solution of the conflict with Iran. Like other European leaders Bush has met during his tour, Merkel refused to make any open criticism of the US administration’s belligerent Iran policy. She declared that she enjoyed working with the US president on the basis of “calling a spade and spade” and then in a gushing tribute even went so far as to declare: “This cooperation is fun, I must say, and as the President said, it is going to be a sprint to his last day in office.”

Bush’s campaign for a military option against Iran eerily recalls the campaign conducted by his administration in 2002 for war against Iraq. At the time, most European leaders refused to challenge the propaganda campaign based on lies and deception organised by the White House to justify the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. By refusing to publicly air their objections, they share responsibility for the resulting carnage in Iraq.

Today the White House is propagating a similar campaign to justify a criminal military strike against Iran, and once again European leaders refuse to utter a public word of criticism.

Although well-informed of the dangers of a confrontation with Iran—at the end of May former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer published an article predicting an Israeli Attack on Iran backed by the US in the coming months—European heads of state fear that any public discussion of the dangers of a US-sponsored assault on Iran could provoke a enormous wave of public indignation and opposition.

In fact, the only figure in German politics to openly challenge Merkel on the issue of Iran was the leader of the right-wing Free Democratic Party Guido Westerwelle who remarked that it was “regrettable and false” that Merkel did not challenge Bush over his call for a military option.

Knowing that he was in the company of a consistent supporter of his government—Merkel had expressed her own support for the invasion of Iraq war in an article in the Washington Post in 2003—Bush went on to use his press conference in Germany to justify his prosecution of the war against Iraq.

Repeating comments he made in an interview published Wednesday by the British daily newspaper the Times, Bush declared that while he regretted some of the language he used to justify the war, he stood fully behind the invasion and occupation. Once again this justification of an illegal war based on lies was left completely unchallenged by the German chancellor.

Well aware of the unpopularity of the American president, the German chancellery did its best to ensure that Bush last official visit would take place far from the public eye. Nevertheless, presence in Germany has not gone without comment. Reactions from both the German media and public to his stopover have been overwhelming negative.

State visits by previous American presidents to Germany had been inevitably accompanied by tickertape parades and major speeches held in front of the symbolic landmarks, such as Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. In previous decades, US presidents such as John F. Kennedy, and more recently even less popular presidents such as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, were assured a warm welcome from the German political elite during their trips to the republic. Enjoying a largely favourably coverage in the press, these American presidents were able to speak to large crowds of German citizens.

The contrast to this final state visit by George Bush could not be greater. The preparations for his short stay in Germany had more in common with the furtive movements of a thief in the night. For the length of his stay, Bush was kept at the Castle Meseberg, situated deep in the countryside of the state of Brandenburg. According to the SZ newspaper: “Meseberg has the big advantage that it is easy to insulate from the rest of the world, encircled by railings and full of police. It looks like a baroque castle but is in fact an attractive-looking, high-security wing...”

Press commentaries accompanying Bush’s visits were largely of the most unflattering variety. Typical is the commentary in the SZ on the day of his visit:

“For the great majority of Germans, Bush is the most disliked US president in two generations. His administration gave the American way of politics a bad reputation — and not only in Germany. Much of the gratefulness, respect and understanding which had developed in Germany for America during past decades have been eroded by Bush’s Guantánamo government. This does not apply to the elite, which continues to swear by the German-American relationship, which at one time represented the essence of the post-war identity of the German Republic. But it does apply to the average German, whom Bush will not set eyes on in the Meseberg Green Zone.”

The legacy of the Bush administration, according to the same commentary, is a mixture of “antipathy, derision, anger, scepticism with regard to US politics, even against America in general.” The commentary goes on to conclude that the negative consequences for America’s image in the world will not end with the Bush presidency - even if the new president is named Barack Obama.

One day earlier the same newspaper had commented on the reluctance of leading European politicians to be associated with Bush: “every European politician knew that the partner in Washington was quasi-radioactively contaminated. Whoever got involved with Bush would be abandoned by the voters.”

According to recent opinion polls over 80 percent of the population of Europe is opposed to the policies of the Bush administration.

Political leaders in Germany from across the political spectrum were also scathing in their criticisms of the Bush administration. According to the veteran Social Democratic Party politician Egon Bahr: “I do not know of any other president in American history who has done so much damage to his country”. The former German foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher (FDP), stated that Bush was largely responsible for the enormous loss of prestige suffered by the US worldwide.

Foreign policy expert Karl-Theodor von Guttenberg from the conservative Christian Social Union gave expression to the collective sigh of relief from European political and media circles that the presidency of Bush was coming to an end. “We are all looking forward to a new American president,” he declared.

While representatives from all of the major political parties were prepared to make withering criticisms of the American president none addressed the growing list of economic and social issues which are leading to a growing riff between the transatlantic partners.

In particular there appeared to be a tacit agreement that the global finance crisis which began with the US sub-prime mortgage crisis and has been dramatically exacerbated by the recent huge increase in oil prices be struck from the agenda of talks in Germany. Instead, as was the case in Slovenia, the US president was allowed to dominate the discussions in Germany with his renewed threats of hostility towards Iran.

Financial crisis fuels transatlantic tensions

Since becoming chancellor in 2005, Angela Merkel has proven to be a staunch ally of the Bush government. Nevertheless, irrespective of her intentions, the growing international financial and accompanying political crisis is straining transatlantic relations to breaking point.

Tensions between Europe and America surfaced earlier this year at the April NATO summit held in Romania. At the summit, the French and German governments worked together to block Bush’s attempt to further isolate Russia and strengthen “new Europe”, at the expense of “old Europe”, through the speedy inclusion of Georgia and the Ukraine into NATO’s ranks.

In addition to growing political tensions, which include the aggressive stance taken by the Bush administration towards Iran, differences between the US and Europe over key economic and financial questions are rapidly coming to the surface.

Prior to coming to Europe, both President Bush and the head of the US Federal Reserve Board, Ben Bernanke, sought to talk up the dollar and indirectly criticised the policy adopted by the European Central Bank and its president Jean-Claude Trichet to maintain interest rates at a relatively higher level than those set in the US.

An editorial in the Financial Times entitled “US sees shadow of the Bundesbank” points to the underlying conflict between the trans-Atlantic partners over this issue. The paper writes:

“In the late 1980s, the US (and most of Europe) was raging at Germany’s Bundesbank for keeping interest rates high, consumption down, and the dollar unstable. Twenty years on and US determination to support growth is once again in conflict with European determination to crush inflation. The battleground, then as now, will be the exchange rate.”

The huge slide in the value of the dollar against the euro in recent months has enormously increased the price of European exports into the US domestic market. At the same time, the comparative strength of the euro makes it an increasingly attractive haven for international investors and creditors - further threatening the role of the dollar as the world’s most favoured reserve currency.

For her part, the German chancellor has now responded in an interview with the same paper by stating that Germany and Europe as a whole would increasingly seek to liberate themselves from the domination of US regulation of financial markets and “translate its economic power into greater influence over the rules and standards governing the world’s financial markets.” The interview was published on the same day as Merkel made her show of solidarity with Bush at their joint press conference.

Merkel told the Financial Times: “Europe has developed a certain independence thanks to the euro. But of course, in terms of the rules, the transparency guidelines and the entire standardisation of financial markets, we still have a strongly Anglo-Saxon-dominated system ...The robust currency system of the euro has not yet secured sufficient influence over the rules governing financial markets.”

An international system of financial regulation, which reflects the economic power of the euro - this is the response by the German chancellor to the danger of German and European capitalist interests being sucked into the vortex of the developing recession, which has its eye in America. Merkel speaks for an entire layer of the European political elite which is prepared to accommodate the growing threat of a US military adventure against Iran, while vigorously pursuing a policy which allows the European bourgeoisie to increasingly de-couple its economic interests from a super-power which many fear is in freefall.

The international finance crisis and the drive for new forms of international financial regulation are items at the top of the agenda of the forthcoming summit of G8 countries. Despite the German chancellor’s acquiescence to the US bullying of Iran, further conflicts and divisions between the Atlantic partners are inescapable.

South Korean government unravels in the face of mass political protests

South Korean government unravels in the face of mass political protests

By James Cogan

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The conservative Grand National Party (GNP) administration of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is in disarray little more than three months after taking office. It faces popular repudiation of virtually its entire policy agenda, amid the largest anti-government demonstrations since the final days of the military dictatorship in 1987.

Well over a million Koreans took to the streets in Seoul and 80 other cities and towns on Tuesday evening. The main slogan of as many as 700,000 demonstrators in Seoul was “Out with President Lee”, making clear their rejection of his attempt to appease the opposition by having his entire cabinet offer to resign earlier in the day.

The initial trigger for the unrest was the government’s unexpected lifting in April of the ban imposed in 2003 on US beef imports due to mad cow infections. The announcement on beef imports was made as a concession to the Bush administration during Lee’s first state visit to Washington, where he was seeking to make progress on protracted 18-month negotiations toward a US-Korean free trade agreement that would enhance opportunities for Korean exporters. US negotiators have repeatedly linked a repeal of the beef ban to any trade deal. South Korea was previously the third-largest market for American beef.

To many Koreans, Lee’s decision was a subservient gesture to US corporate interests, made in anti-democratic contempt for public opinion and at the potential expense of their health and safety. Fear of mad cow infections from US beef was subsequently heightened by Korean nationalist groups, who generated a degree of hysteria over the issue with crude anti-Americanism. Accusations were made that the American beef industry intended to dump potentially infected beef in South Korea that it would not sell at home.

Small demonstrations against the decision steadily grew throughout May but rapidly became the focus for discontent over a number of political and social issues. Opposition to US beef imports is now only a component of a far broader movement against the Lee government. Demonstrators on Tuesday chanted against moves to privatise state-owned companies and ban labour strikes; the cost of education; rising fuel and food prices; an unpopular plan to build a canal across the country; and the GNP’s attempt to shift South Korea into alignment with the Bush administration’s bellicose stance toward the North Korean regime.

The date of Tuesday’s protests, June 10, is the anniversary of the historic 1987 demonstration that began the weeks of rallies, called the “Resistance of June”, that brought down the military dictatorship. Demonstrators openly compared Lee with US-backed South Korean dictators such as General Chun Doo-hwan and Park Chung-hee.

A 33-year-old computer specialist, Lee Hong-taek, told Washington Post correspondents: “It is too late to soothe the public with lip service and even fixing the beef issue is too late. The real question is his leadership style.” A 41-year-old office worker said to the Associated Press: “I came to the rally again because Lee has turned the clock back to 21 years ago.”

Kim Sook-yi, a housewife, commented to the New York Times: “What he [Lee] did was little different from an old Korean king offering tribute to a Chinese emperor. This time, we give a tribute to Washington? It’s humiliating, bad education for Korean children.”

Lee won the December 2007 election and took office in March. He is already polling just 17 percent in opinion polls—the lowest for any president in the first 100 days in office. The rapid collapse of support for his administration only underscores that the main factor in his victory was not support for his agenda, but disillusionment with the so-called “democrats” who had held the presidency since 1993.

Presidents Kim Young-sam (1993-98), Kim Dae-jung (1998-2003) and Roh Moon-hyan (2003-2008), were all figures in the pro-capitalist opposition to military rule during the 1970s and 1980s. Far from their ascent to office ushering in a period of radical social and political change, they worked to protect the interests of the corporate elite and suppress working class demands for reform. Since 1998, the consequences of the Asian financial crisis have been imposed on the backs of the Korean masses. Living standards have stagnated or fallen and social inequality widened. Adding to the alienation, Roh took the deeply unpopular step of committing thousands of Korean troops to the US occupation of Iraq in order to shore up the US-Korea alliance.

In last year’s election, millions of people abstained from voting out of disgust with having to choose between Roh and Lee—the candidate of the GNP, the party most associated with the old military dictatorship. The turnout was just 63 percent, compared with 80 percent in the 1997 election of Kim Dae-jung. Lee’s victory stemmed primarily from a populist campaign in which he claimed that his experience in business made him more capable of devising economic policies to improve the lot of ordinary people.

Instead, the first months of 2008 have seen conditions steadily worsen. Fuel prices have risen sharply, helping to push inflation to a seven-year high of 4.9 percent last month. Economic growth is slowing and is expected to be only 5 percent for the year. Unemployment is predicted to increase due to a contraction in the construction industry and layoffs by Korean manufacturing exporters affected by the slowdown in the US.

In this economic and social climate, the beef import issue is serving as a lightning rod for well over a decade of pent-up hostility toward the entire political establishment. While Lee’s popularity has plummeted, the party of the “democrats”, the United New Democratic Party, is also registering less than 20 percent support in polls.

Ongoing discontent

A series of demonstrations and strikes are scheduled over the coming days, deepening the crisis of the Lee government.

Large crowds are expected to turn out tomorrow for a vigil to mark the sixth anniversary of the June 13, 2002 killing of two Korean schoolgirls by a US military vehicle. Thousands of truck drivers are launching a general strike tomorrow over fuel prices. Workers have rejected as inadequate a government offer to compensate them for half the increases. The Korean export industry will be crippled by the action. Unions representing auto workers at Hyundai and Kia are holding meetings today and tomorrow on whether to launch strike action not only against the lifting of the beef import ban, but privatisation and the canal project.

On Saturday, a planned public funeral of Lee Byeong-ryeol is likely to draw large numbers of people into the streets. Lee, a 56-year-old worker, set himself on fire on May 25 during an anti-beef protest and died later of his injuries.

Lee Myung-bak has responded with an element of panic. In the past 24 hours, he has declared that he will make major changes to his cabinet and repudiated key polices of his administration. His spokesman, Choo Yoon-sun, told a press conference yesterday that Lee was delaying “public corporation privatisations and the pan-Korean waterway project” as they were “adding to the public’s concern, amid a flurry of conflicting views over the government’s controversial policy tasks”.

Choo announced that “the government and the GNP agreed to readjust policy priorities and to focus on bread-and-butter issues”. A range of subsidies, cheap loans and concessions were unveiled for truck drivers, small business and low-income earners. Lee is reportedly seeking to appoint Park Geun-hye as the new prime minister. She is the daughter of former military dictator Park Chung-hee and his rival for the GNP presidential nomination. Park enjoys a degree of support among sections of the middle class and alienated youth.

The broader alarm in ruling class circles over the eruption of discontent is expressed in yesterday’s editorials in the Korean press.

The Korea Herald declared the “nation is in crisis... comparable to that of the 1997 financial crisis”. Protestors, it wrote, “should go back to their homes, workers to their jobs, activists to their original fields of campaign and lawmakers to the National Assembly. They need to watch what the president and his administration do....”

The GNP-aligned Chosun Ilbo commented: “People elsewhere must have thought some kind of revolution was taking place in Korea.” While stating that the “government is chiefly to blame”, it declared “it is high time, however, that the people who took part in the candlelight vigils, too, took some time to think... Should we shake the government more and hurt government functions further, the citizens in general will pay...”

In more than a hint that the state should employ outright repression, Chosun Ilbo concluded: “The usual suspects who also led protests against the dispatch of our troops to Iraq, the construction of the Pyeongtaek US base and the Korea-US free trade agreement, have taken over. They use the housewives carrying candles and high school students holding non-violent pickets as foils.”

Why Oil Prices Are So High

Why Oil Prices Are So High

A Weak Dollar, Bad Fed Policies and Hedge Fund Speculators

How to explain the oil price? Why is it so high? Are we running out? Are supplies disrupted, or is the high price a reflection of oil company greed or OPEC greed. Are Chavez and the Saudis conspiring against us?

In my opinion, the two biggest factors in oil’s high price are the weakness in the US dollar’s exchange value and the liquidity that the Federal Reserve is pumping out.

The dollar is weak because of large trade and budget deficits, the closing of which is beyond American political will. As abuse wears out the US dollar’s reserve currency role, sellers demand more dollars as a hedge against its declining exchange value and ultimate loss of reserve currency status.

In an effort to forestall a serious recession and further crises in derivative instruments, the Federal Reserve is pouring out liquidity that is financing speculation in oil futures contracts. Hedge funds and investment banks are restoring their impaired capital structures with profits made by speculating in highly leveraged oil future contracts, just as real estate speculators flipping contracts pushed up home prices. The oil futures bubble, too, will pop, hopefully before new derivatives are created on the basis of high oil prices.

There are other factors affecting the price of oil. The prospect of an Israeli/US attack on Iran has increased current demand in order to build stocks against disruption. No one knows the consequence of such an ill-conceived act of aggression, and the uncertainty pushes up the price of oil as the entire Middle East could be engulfed in conflagration. However, storage facilities are limited, and the impact on price of larger inventories has a limit.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi recently stated, “There is no justification for the current rise in prices.” What the minister means is that there are no shortages or supply disruptions. He means no real reasons as distinct from speculative or psychological reasons.

The run up in oil price coincides with a period of heightened US and Israeli military aggression in the Middle East. However, the biggest jump has been in the last 18 months.

When Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, the average price of oil that year was about $27 per barrel, or about $31 in inflation adjusted 2007 dollars. The price rose another $10 in 2004 to an average annual price of $42 (in 2007 dollars), another $12 in 2005, $7 in 2006, and $4 in 2007 to $65. But in the last few months the price has more than doubled to about $135. It is difficult to explain a $70 jump in price in terms other than speculation.

Oil prices have been high in the past. Until 2008, the record monthly oil price was $104 in December 1979 (measured in December 2007 dollars). As recently as 1998 the real price of oil was lower than in 1946 when the nominal price of oil was $1.63 per barrel. During the Bush regime, the price of oil in 2007 dollars has risen from $27 to approximately $135.

Possibly, the rise in the oil price was held down, prior to the recent jump, by expectations that Democrats would eventually end the conflict and restrain Israel in the interest of Middle East peace and justice for the Palestinians.

Now that Obama has pledged allegiance to AIPAC and adopted Bush’s position toward Iran, the high oil price could be a forecast that US/Israeli policy is likely to result in substantial supply disruptions. Still, the recent Israeli statements that an attack on Iran was “inevitable” only jumped the oil price about $8.

Perhaps more difficult to understand than the high price of oil are the low US long-term interest rates. US interest rates are actually below the rate of inflation, to say nothing of the imperiled exchange value of the dollar. Economists who assume rational participants in rational markets cannot explain why lenders would indefinitely accept interest rates below the rate of inflation.

Of course, Americans don’t get real inflation numbers from their government and have not since the Consumer Price Index was rigged during the Clinton administration to hold down Social Security payments by denying retirees their full cost of living adjustments. According to statistician John Williams, using the pre-Clinton era measure of the CPI produces a current CPI of about 7.5%.

Understating inflation makes real GDP growth appear higher. If inflation were properly measured, the US has probably experienced no real GDP growth in the 21st century.

Williams reports that for decades political administrations have fiddled with the inflation and employment numbers to make themselves look slightly better. The cumulative effect has been to deprive these measurements of veracity. If I understand Williams, today both inflation and unemployment rates, as originally measured, are around 12 per cent.

By pumping out money in an effort to forestall recession and paper over balance sheet problems, the Federal Reserve is driving up commodity and food prices in general. Yet American real incomes are not growing. Even without jobs offshoring, US economic policy has put the bulk of the population on a path to lower living standards.

The crisis that looms for the US is the loss of world currency role. Once the dollar loses that role, the US government will not be able to finance its operations by borrowing abroad, and foreigners will cease to finance the massive US trade deficit. This crisis will eliminate the US as a world power.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com

French Government decides to censor the Internet

French Government decides to censor the Internet

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THE FRENCH GOVERNMENT has apparently decided that it doesn’t much like being democratic, and that it would rather like to censor the Internet instead.

Not content with simply limiting itself to blocking despicable child sex abuse, a move three major ISPs in the US also agreed to today, the French government feels it necessary to go a radical step further and decide for its citizens whether or not they can view content it considers inappropriately racist and or linked to terrorism.

In fact, worse still is that any site is now game for a French blockade, as Sarkozy’s government is inviting people to send in huge long lists of sites which offend their delicate sensibilities. The French government, which will purportedly be able to receive complaints from Internet users in real time, will be able to add sites to a so called “black list”, which it will then force national ISPs to block.

The move, announced by France’s Interior Minister, Michel Alliot-Marie, is France’s way of showing it is indeed taking a strong stand against cyber-criminality, but it seems that the line between ‘strong’ and ‘authoritarian’ is a little fuzzy on this one.

Alliot-Marie, only caring to justify the block on child sex abuse sites, noted “Other democracies have done it. France could wait no longer". She added that all of France’s Internet Service Providers had agreed to comply with the new regulations which go into effect as of September.

The minister vehemently denied that the French government was turning itself into "a Big Brother of the Internet" and promised that the "fundamental liberty that is Internet access" would continue to thrive. As long as people only see the sites the government allows them to see, of course.

California jury holds TASER International responsible for man’s death

California jury holds TASER International responsible for man’s death

By John Andrews

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On June 6, a federal jury in San Jose, California, found TASER International, Inc., responsible for the February 20, 2005 death of 40-year-old Robert C. Heston in nearby Salinas, the first trial to establish that the company’s weapon can kill a human being.

TASER is the leading manufacturer of electrical control devices (ECDs), sometimes referred to as “stun guns.” The device, shaped like a pistol, fires two darts attached to 21-foot wires. When both darts hit, an electrical circuit is completed and the weapon automatically discharges an excruciatingly painful five-second cycle, which contracts the skeletal muscles, causing the person to become rigid and collapse.

The trigger can subsequently be pulled over and over, delivering additional five-second cycles, and it can be held down, discharging a continuous flow of electricity until released. Each weapon has a computer chip, called the dataport, which records the number of trigger pulls.

In Heston’s case, the officers cycled three TASER devices 25 times over a 75-second period, stopping only when he became limp and turned blue.

There have been close to 400 reported deaths following ECD use since TASER International introduced its more powerful 26-watt models eight years ago. One particularly notable incident occurred on October 14, 2007, when Robert Dziekanski, a non-English speaking man from Poland, died minutes after being shocked by Royal Canadian Mounted Police at the Vancouver International Airport.

Because it was caught on videotape the incident has generated calls for banning the weapons in Canada. A commission of inquiry headed by Thomas R. Braidwood held a hearing in Vancouver, British Columbia, last month on dangers associated with ECD use.

The Heston family was represented by two Los Angeles lawyers, Peter Williamson and John Burton. Burton is a long-time member of the Socialist Equality Party and ran as its candidate for California governor against Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 2003 recall election, finishing 14th in a field of 135 candidates.

In an interview, Burton explained to the World Socialist Web Site that Heston had a history of methamphetamine abuse and that his parents, Robert H. and Betty Lou, called the Salinas police when he became delusional and agitated following use of the drugs. When the police officers arrived, Heston was imagining someone in the attic threatening his family with a gun and throwing furniture out the front door.

While assessing Heston with 85 percent of the fault for the incident, the jury awarded over $1 million in compensatory damages and additional $5.2 million in punitive damages based on the manufacturer’s failure to warn police agencies that repeated TASER shocks can cause cardiac arrest.

Burton explained that TASER International began experimenting on animals in the late 1990s to develop a weapon with more stopping power than the seven-watt systems introduced during the 1970s. “By taking the gunpowder out of the cartridge and using compressed nitrogen instead, TASER was able to escape regulation by the ATF—the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms—and sell its product directly to police agencies without any government review. There has never been an adequate independent review of TASER ECD safety,” Burton said.

One of TASER’s more important promoters was Bernard Kerik, the corrupt former New York Police Commissioner and Rudolph Giuliani protégé, who received over $6.2 million by exercising TASER stock options.

Burton said, “TASER claims to have data establishing that the electrical output of its devices is too low to stop the heart from beating, so-called electrocution. There was no data, however, on the effect of repeated shocks. Swine studies performed by the United States Air Force after the device had been on the market for several years established that repeated cycles cause dangerous increases in the amount of lactic acid discharged by muscles into the bloodstream, sufficient to induce cardiac arrest.”

According to Burton, the jury did not hold the officers responsible for Heston’s death because each testified that he followed TASER training regarding safety. Although TASER learned the results of the Air Force study months before the Heston incident, there was no meaningful warning issued to its customers.

In 2007, the Air Force study results were validated by research performed at the Cook County hospital trauma center in Chicago. Pigs shocked with two 40-second Taser discharges showed drastic increases in blood acid, and two pigs experienced cardiac arrest.

The proliferation of ECD use throughout the United States and Canada, without due regard for the safety of the devices, represents an attack on the democratic rights of the population. Contrary to police claims, the weapon is not used in lieu of deadly force. Instead, it is used, often inappropriately, to inflict pain as punishment, like when University of Florida journalism student Andrew Meyer was wrestled to the ground and shocked by campus police after questioning 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry at a September 17, 2007 forum.

During his 2007 campaign for president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to purchase thousands of TASER ECDs for use on demonstrating youths.

Amnesty International has called for a moratorium on TASER usage until more is learned about its lethality, and the United Nations has condemned the devices as a “a form of torture that can kill.”

House Democrats kill resolution to impeach Bush

House Democrats kill resolution to impeach Bush

By Patrick Martin

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In a display of parliamentary maneuvering that combined cynicism and cowardice, Democratic members of the US House of Representatives voted unanimously to kill an impeachment resolution against President Bush introduced by Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.

Kucinich himself participated fully in the farce. He introduced the resolution Monday and read out the 35 articles of impeachment for crimes ranging from the lying pretexts given to the American people for the war in Iraq to torture at the US detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and illegal domestic spying. Then he moved to send the resolution to the House Judiciary Committee, whose chairman John Conyers has long rejected any effort to hold Bush constitutionally accountable.

The 251-166 margin of the vote, held on a roll call Wednesday, saw all 227 Democrats—including Kucinich and his lone co-sponsor, Robert Wexler of Florida—joined by 24 Republicans move to dispose of the resolution. Voting against were 166 Republicans, who sought to force a debate on impeachment for the purpose of embarrassing the Democratic Party leadership.

After Kucinich introduced the measure Monday and spent more than four hours reading the entire text into the Congressional Record, House Republicans utilized a parliamentary provision to force the clerk of the House to read the text out loud all over again on Tuesday, consuming another four hours and keeping the House in session until after midnight. The purpose was to rub the Democrats’ noses in their own refusal to take action to back up their occasional bursts of anti-Bush demagogy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ruled out any impeachment of Bush as soon as the Democrats won control of Congress in November 2006. Impeachment resolutions against Cheney were introduced in May and November of 2007 and killed each time by the Democrats, in the same fashion as the Bush impeachment resolution Wednesday.

There is no question that, unlike Bill Clinton, who was impeached for lying about a private sexual encounter, George W. Bush is guilty of offenses that meet the “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard set by the US Constitution.

The adamant opposition to impeachment proceedings on the part of Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and the rest of the Democratic leadership does not stem from a belief that such proceedings would be unpopular. According to public opinion polls, a majority of the American people and an overwhelming majority of Democratic voters favor Bush’s impeachment and removal from office.

A public vote in the House of Representatives would, however, find a clear majority of the Democrats in Congress siding with Bush against the sentiments of their own constituents. The Democratic leadership seeks to block any vote to conceal as much as possible their role as the last line of defense for the Bush administration.

The Democratic leadership opposes impeachment not on legal, but on political and class grounds. They are well aware that the adoption of an impeachment resolution against Bush and Cheney, regardless of the outcome of a Senate trial, would deal a major blow against the White House as an institution and undermine the legitimacy of all Bush’s actions as “commander-in-chief,” especially in the war in Iraq.

It would also inevitably raise the question of who in Congress was complicit with Bush’s criminal conduct over the past seven years—tarring Democrats as well as Republicans, since a majority of Senate Democrats and a large number of House Democrats voted for the Iraq war resolution in 2002. Many other actions listed in Kucinich’s articles of impeachment were given near-unanimous support by the Democrats.

More fundamentally, the Democratic Party is a bourgeois party and it seeks to uphold the authority of the bourgeois state, the key political instrument for the defense of the financial aristocracy that controls American society and both the “major” political parties. The Democrats want to replace Bush as chief executive with one of their own, and their rejection of impeachment is one more effort to demonstrate to the ruling class that they will be more “responsible” in their conduct than their Republican opponents (who impeached Bill Clinton as he was ordering bombing raids against the Iraq of Saddam Hussein).

The contrast with the Clinton impeachment is worth exploring, because it demonstrates the spinelessness and hypocrisy of the Democratic Party.

The House Republicans voted to impeach Clinton in December 1998, one month after they had lost seats in a congressional election dominated by the furor over Clinton’s lying about his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Ignoring the clear message of the election, as well as opinion polls showing popular opposition to impeachment, the House Republicans utilized their narrow majority to put the president on trial before the Senate.

The Democrats regained control of the House in November 2006, in an election dominated by popular hostility to the war in Iraq and to the Bush presidency. Conyers and other Democrats had demanded impeachment hearings when they were in the minority and could not do anything about it. As soon as they became the majority, they abruptly dropped the issue and declared they would have nothing to do with it.

Kucinich plays the role of clown prince in these proceedings. He raised the issue of impeachment of Bush and Cheney both in the House and in the course of his abortive campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, serving as a “left” cover for a political party that opposes the war in Iraq only because it has been a failure, in terms of strengthening the position of US imperialism in the Middle East and giving the US control over vital oil supplies.

The Democratic caucus is less and less willing to indulge in such charades, however. Last November, when Kucinich brought a similar resolution to the floor against Cheney, he was able to enlist 22 co-sponsors, while 86 Democratic congressmen and congresswomen voted to have a debate on the resolution rather than refer it to committee. This time, Kucinich had only one supporter, Wexler, and both he and Kucinich himself joined in the unanimous Democratic vote to bury the measure.

The articles of impeachment introduced Monday are certainly valid from a legal and constitutional standpoint. Fifteen of the articles relate to the illegal war in Iraq: lying to the American people, waging war on the basis of those lies, drawing up secret plans to seize Iraq’s oil reserves, and so on. Five articles relate to the kidnapping, secret detention and torture of prisoners by the military and intelligence agencies. Others relate to domestic abuses of power, including illegal surveillance and wiretapping, the enactment of secret laws, and obstruction of investigations into the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

One article relates to ongoing White House plans to engineer a US war with Iran. Only last month, Conyers sent a letter to Bush warning him that “if you do not obtain the constitutionally required congressional authorization before launching preemptive military strikes against Iran or any other nation, impeachment proceedings should be pursued.”

The unanimous rejection of impeachment proceedings by the Democrats shows that this warning was an empty threat. In the event of a unilateral or joint US-Israeli military strike against Iran—which would be accompanied by a media barrage about alleged Iranian “weapons of mass destruction,” support for terrorism and “meddling” in Iraq—Congressional Democrats will roll over and play dead, just as they have endorsed or permitted every crime committed by the Bush administration over the past eight years.

Kucinich's Mammoth Case for Impeaching Bush

Kucinich's Mammoth Case for Impeaching Bush

By Marie Cocco

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WASHINGTON -- It is not politically correct to offer a good word about Dennis Kucinich, the elfish, left-leaning congressman from Ohio who regularly runs for president only to drop his quixotic campaigns for the White House so that he might continue representing his working-class district near Cleveland.

Kucinich can be an annoying gnat. He buzzes around the Democratic cloakroom with ideas his party leaders may well agree with in substance -- promoting a single-payer system such as Medicare to deliver universal health insurance, for instance -- but which they refuse to embrace because they believe them to be too politically risky.

Kucinich's latest gambit is his introduction of articles of impeachment against President George W. Bush -- 35 of them, to be exact -- laid out in a five-hour floor speech that was likely heard by no one save the C-SPAN technicians and perhaps a few hundred viewers at home. The charges have no chance of being taken seriously in Congress, where Democratic leaders will dispose of them quickly in a parliamentary move. There is no benefit in throwing the country onto the pyre of partisan flames with Bush set to go quietly away to Crawford, Texas, in just seven more months, they reason. And this is certainly sensible.

Nonetheless, you cannot find a more complete and compelling indictment of the Bush administration than Kucinich has presented in his articles. They range from the exceedingly obvious, such as those detailed in his Article III: "Misleading the American people and members of Congress to believe Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, so as to manufacture a false case for war," to the specious, presented in Article XII: "Initiating a war against Iraq for control of that nation's natural resources."

Kucinich gives us a bleak road map through seven years of deceptions and misjudgments, incompetence and malevolence. There are clear constitutional violations -- Article XVII, for example, spells out "Illegal detention: Detaining indefinitely and without charge persons both U.S. citizens and foreign captives." Then there are the torture and abuse of detainees, and the use of secret "black sites" abroad where no one really knows what happened to suspected terrorists once they were sent there.

Being neither a lawyer nor a constitutional scholar, it is impossible for me to tell if the founders had impeachment in mind for some of the malfeasance Kucinich details. In Article XVI, for example, he reviews the tawdry matter of Iraq contracting, an enterprise so sordid it is difficult to keep track of all the allegations and investigations that should have commanded more of our attention. The administration, Kucinich asserts, "recklessly wasted public funds on contracts awarded to close associates, including companies guilty of defrauding the government in the past, contracts awarded without competitive bidding, 'cost-plus' contracts designed to encourage cost overruns and contracts not requiring satisfactory completion of the work." If that weren't enough, those chosen to oversee the contracts in some cases "oversaw their business partners."

The pathologies that Kucinich recounts extend to the administration's persistent myth-making. There is the matter of misrepresenting the death of former football star Pat Tillman, in which a cover-up was launched to hide the truth that Tillman did not meet a heroic end but rather was killed by friendly fire. There is the Jessica Lynch fairy tale, in which the former Army private was said to have been brutalized and the subject of a dramatic rescue, a story that also was fabricated.

Besides Iraq, the war on terror and the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, Kucinich lays out many other stunning abuses: everything from the effort to keep a Medicare actuary from relaying to Congress accurate cost estimates about a new drug benefit, to the U.S. attorney scandal in which top prosecutors were pushed out of their jobs for their apparent refusal to bring political prosecutions that would please Republicans.

Kucinich does not rant. He relies almost exclusively on the government's own documentation of wrongdoing -- accounts from inspectors general, congressional testimony, and memos that surfaced or were subpoenaed. Some of Kucinich's charges truly outline high crimes; others merely display a blatant disregard for the public. And, politically speaking, they are at this point in time irrelevant.

But if you really want to know "what happened" in the Bush era, take a pass on buying former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's new book. Read Kucinich's articles of impeachment in the Congressional Record -- for free -- instead.

Oil Prices: A Case of Supply, Demand, and Speculation

Oil Prices: A Case of Supply, Demand, and Speculation

Looking for villains around the gas pump? Try looking behind the hedges to the shadowy investment world where the super-rich make bets with billions — and regular people always lose.

By Sam Pizzigati

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In the late 1990s, we had the stock market bubble. That popped. Then we had the housing market bubble. And that popped. Last week the market for crude oil bubbled to an all-time high, nearly $140 per barrel. We seem today to be forever blowing bubbles. Maybe we should stop and ask why.

After all, back in the middle of the 20th century, our economy didn’t careen from one bubble to another. Why now all the bubbles — and busts? Here’s why. We’ve become too unequal. We have too much wealth concentrated in too few pockets.

Grand concentrations of private wealth, history tells us, have a nasty little habit of nurturing wasteful and witless speculation. Wasteful and witless speculation, news reports last week revealed, just happens to be the economic joker in the deck that's turbocharging our current surge in crude oil prices.

The speculation now doing so much damage at America’s gas pumps comes mostly out of hedge funds, those shadowy mutual funds on steroids open only to the deepest of deep-pocket investors. This special status largely frees hedge funds from any federal financial oversight and regulation.

Hedge funds can essentially do whatever they choose. They typically make their money playing games with money. In the oil market, for instance, they have no interest in ever using the oil they sign “futures” contracts to buy. Instead, they buy and sell the futures contracts — with borrowed money.

That can be risky. But the rewards can be staggeringly huge. A sweet deal for sweet crude can stuff hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars, into hedge fund manager pockets.

Futures contracts have been around, of course, for years, and such contracts can serve a useful purpose. Airlines, for instance, can use futures “to lock in” the price they’ll have to pay for oil in the future. Manic trading in futures, by contrast, has no redeeming social value. Such trading, as billionaire investor George Soros told a June 3 U.S. Senate hearing, only serves to help inflate commodity price bubbles.

Government regulators of commodity markets used to recognize this reality. They placed rules on commodity markets that limited speculative trading. But those rules for energy-related markets, by the end of 2000, had almost all been deregulated away.

Since then, commodity trading volume has jumped six-fold. This speculative shot in the arm, Consumer Federation of America research director Mark Cooper believes, is adding at least $40 a barrel to the price of oil, about a third of the recent going price.

Congress has taken notice, and lawmakers have begun discussing reform fixes. But the hedge fund industry is trying to shift that attention, arguing that oil price hikes simply reflect the vagaries of global supply and demand. Any congressional probe into commodity speculation, billionaire hedge fund manager Boone Pickens noted earlier this month, would be a “waste of time.”

Many independent observers couldn't disagree more. Last week, in the Financial Times, widely respected London School of Economics analyst Meghnad Desai noted that nothing happening in the real-world market for oil — like growing demand from China — can explain the current oil market.

Oil prices, Desai adds, are now climbing at a rate that “would mean an unprecedented doubling in price every eight months.” Letting this situation continue will likely force the global economy “into a serious crisis.”

Can anything prevent that crisis?

“The best way to counter speculation,” says Desai, “is to make it less profitable” — and that could be done easily by charging speculators more to do trades on the oil commodity market than those traders who are actually involved in the “making or taking delivery of oil.”

But taking on the hedge funds and their aficionados so directly won’t be easy. In a deeply unequal society, the fabulously rich don’t just have wealth. They have power.