Friday, June 20, 2008

The Media's Pro-Business Bias

The Media's Pro-Business Bias

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Today, the Center for American Progress hosted a panel discussion to mark the release of a new report analyzing how the media covers the economy. The report, "Journalists Give Workers Business," finds that "the media ignores ordinary workers and instead covers economic issues from the perspective of business." The analysis by David Madland, Director of CAP's American Worker Project, looked at newspaper and television coverage of unemployment, minimum wage, trade, and credit card debt issues in 2007 and concluded that "the perspective of workers is largely missing from media coverage, while the views of business are frequently presented." A front page story in Wednesday's Washington Post, for instance, asked why Americans are "gloomier than the economy" but avoided talking to a single worker. The article failed to mention that incomes for most workers have declined since 2001, that health care and retirement benefits have become scarcer and more expensive, and that inequality has risen to unprecedented levels. As the report argues, this type of the coverage is the norm, not the exception. All too often the traditional media prefers "elite sources, such as government or business representatives, over ordinary citizens."

WORKERS SHUT OUT OF THE DEBATE: While conservative media critics often claim that the mainstream media has a strong liberal bias, the report suggests that the bias of elite business sources overwhelms any partisan divide. After studying economy-related articles from the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, and monitoring the economic news reports on ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, CNN, FOX News, and CNBC throughout 2007, the study concludes that "representatives of business were quoted or cited nearly two-and-a-half times as frequently as were workers or their union representatives." Specifically, "in coverage of both the minimum wage and trade, the views of businesses were sourced more than one-and-a-half times as frequently as those of workers." In stories about employment, "businesses were quoted or cited over six times as frequently as were workers," according to the report. In fact, only in coverage of credit card debt "was coverage more balanced, presenting the perspectives of ordinary citizens in the proportion as those of business," suggesting that the media "can find out how complex economic issues will impact ordinary people and present the news from their perspective."

WHY BIAS MATTERS: The report notes, "our belief in democratic debate demands informed citizens and requires that different points of view are allowed to be heard." An April 7, 2007 article in the New York Times, however, undermined this ideal. In fact, the story, which discussed "whether the job market is strong," sourced economists representing business and advocacy groups, but did not offer the worker's perspective. This type of coverage "is repeated again and again," artificially narrowing the spectrum of debate and misinforming policy makers and the general public of alternate viewpoints. Moreover, the media "has the ability to help determine which issues people think are important" and "can even influence how people vote." Madland notes, for example, that "studies have found that as Fox News expanded into new towns, these areas were increasingly likely to vote for Republican candidates," while viewers of ABC News were "influenced to vote for Ronald Reagan over Walter Mondale because Peter Jennings used more positive facial cues when talking about the president than he did about the challenger."

Madland argues that "the most common explanation for the kind of bias is that journalists have a preference for elite sources" because it is "easier for a reporter to talk to a professional, such as a business spokesperson, than to find a good quote from a worker or ordinary citizen." To that end, a June 26, 2007 article in the Wall Street Journal about the need for the nation's largest financial service companies to "defuse protectionist sentiment in the United States and promote free-trade agreements" mentions that such agreements would meet "stiff resistance from organized labor," but it does not ask labor to explain its opposition. In addition, the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) notes that "mergers in the news industry have accelerated" the growth of large news conglomerates, further limiting the spectrum of viewpoints that have access to mass media and undermining journalistic standards. Whatever the source of the bias, Madland's study suggests that the media are capable of providing much more balanced coverage of economic issues.

Kucinich threatens 60 impeachment articles if Judiciary doesn’t act

Kucinich threatens 60 impeachment articles if Judiciary doesn’t act

By Nick Juliano

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Rep. Dennis Kucinich warned the House Judiciary Committee that it would be wise not to ignore the 35 articles of impeachment against President Bush last week. If the committee does not act within a month, he plans to introduce even more articles.

The Ohio Democrat and former presidential candidate tells the Washington Post’s Sleuth blog that he’s not giving up his fight to kick Bush out of the White House.

Kucinich tells us he’s giving the House Judiciary Committee 30 days to act on his resolution proposing 35 articles of impeachment against President Bush or else he’ll raise even more hell on the House floor. Thirty-five articles was just the tip of the iceberg. If Judiciary does nothing, he’ll go back to the House floor next month armed with nearly twice as many articles.

“The minute the leadership said ‘this is dead on arrival’ I said that I hope they believe in life after death; because I’m coming back with it,” Kucinich vowed in an interview with the Sleuth this week. “It’s not gonna die. Because I’ll come back with more articles. Not 35, but perhaps 60 articles.”

Elected on a platform of holding the president accountable, the newly Democratic Congress has nonetheless been unwilling to even consider impeachment. A Kucinich-sponsored measure to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney was referred to the Judiciary Committee last November; the Committee has done nothing with it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has declared impeachment “off the table,” and Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers has been unwilling to cross her. House Democrats simply do not believe they have enough votes to actually impeach Bush or Cheney, and they are unwilling to dwell on the issue with just a few months left in the current administrations’ term.

Kucinich told the Sleuth that he plans to sit down with Conyers this week to try to convince the chairman to consider at least one article of impeachment, which accused Bush for waging a war “based on lies.”

For Kucinich, impeachment is more than simply a political windmill at which to tilt, he says. It’s about preserving the sanctity of the republic’s founding document.

“What we’re witnessing here,” he says, “is the not-so-slow-moving destruction of our Constitution.”

Social crisis in Detroit: An investigative report

Social crisis in Detroit: An investigative report

By Lawrence Porter and Naomi Spencer

Part 1: The spiraling cost of food

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Over the past month, the World Socialist Web Site has conducted an investigation into the impact of rising food and gasoline prices on working class families in the Detroit metropolitan area.

Detroit, historically known as the auto capital of the world, has been transformed into the biggest poor city in America, according to the US Census Bureau, with an official poverty rate of 31.4 percent. Detroit has earned this designation several times over the past 30 years as the auto industry destroyed tens of thousands of decent paying jobs.

This once booming city of 2 million has lost more than half of its population, now standing at 900,000, with the exodus accelerating yearly. In some areas only the poorest people remain and the tax and employment bases have collapsed. As a result of the decline, Detroit has the highest high school dropout rate of any big city in the country—over 50 percent. It also has one of the highest unemployment rates in the US and is listed among the top 10 cities in home foreclosures. The city also has recently been determined to have the highest rate of families needing food assistance.

Historical comparisons, while never adequate, can often help to provide a point of reference for the transformation that has taken place over years or decades. During the postwar period of the late 1940s and early 1950s, Detroit was the auto capital of the world. At that time, 80 percent of the world's cars were built in the US, with a large percentage of them produced in Detroit.

During the 1950s, due to the relatively higher living standard of autoworkers, Detroit and the state of Michigan boasted one of the highest single-home ownership rates in the US. Today, 5 percent of all homes in Detroit are in some form of foreclosure, a rate five times the national average. According to some estimates, in the last year foreclosure auctions accounted for some 30 percent of home sales in counties surrounding Detroit.

It was also during the postwar period that the United Auto Workers (UAW) set the trend for wage gains and benefits for US workers through bitterly fought strikes against the Big Three auto companies. In contrast, in 2007, the UAW negotiated contracts with General Motors, Ford and Chrysler that cut the wages of new hires to half of previous levels, down to $14 an hour with limited benefits. While the workers lost wages, the union won control over the multibillion-dollar retirement health care program known as VEBA (Voluntary Employees' Beneficiary Association).

The recently concluded strike of auto workers against American Axle Manufacturing has resulted in cutting wages for existing workers from $28 an hour to as low as $10 an hour, a rate below the official poverty level for a family of four and amounting to insufficient income to support a mortgage.

Just as in the immediate post-WWII period the relatively high living standards of auto workers set the standard for American society at large, so today every concession and claw-back granted to the auto bosses by the UAW sets the stage for lowered wages and layoffs throughout the US economy.

The situation confronting Detroit is a particularly sharp expression of a growing trend in Michigan, the Midwest, and across the country. Detroit, like many industrial cities, has been severely hit by the loss of manufacturing jobs—in this case in auto and supporting industries—that has left whole communities devastated. The Detroit metropolitan area alone has lost 150,000 jobs since 2000, affecting both the inner city and the surrounding suburban area.

The protracted deterioration of living standards for the majority of the city's working class population has accelerated sharply as a result of the spiraling of food and energy prices, a worldwide phenomenon that has provoked mass demonstrations, rioting and the fall of governments in other countries.

During the weeks in which we gathered the information and interviews for this report, the cost of gasoline shot up from $3.65 to $4.09 a gallon.

Food price increases have been almost as dramatic. In the past year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price of bread increased by 16.3 percent, eggs by 34.8 percent, milk by 23.1 percent and flour by 37 percent.

Signs of distress are readily apparent. On May 11, the Detroit Free Press published an article noting the increase in food aid throughout the state. The article featured an unemployed auto parts designer who lived in one of the more affluent Detroit suburbs, Grosse Pointe Woods. The article reports that according to the Michigan Department of Human Services a record number of Michigan residents—1.26 million adults and children in 590,600 households—are using government-issued food stamps. Three out of ten recipients in the state live in Wayne County, where Detroit is located, and the overwhelming majority are residents of the city itself.

According to the Free Press, Michigan has seen a 53 percent increase in food stamp need since 2003, with one in five children living in a household qualifying for food stamps.

Underscoring the fact that the development is far from a localized problem, however, Michigan was third in the line of increased need, with Massachusetts experiencing a 77 percent increase and Iowa a 63 percent increase. Nationwide, a staggering 27.7 million people received food stamps in the month of January 2008, with food and fuel prices jumping substantially since the beginning of the year.

The impact of food inflation in Detroit

Over the past month, the WSWS has conducted interviews with local residents, food bank suppliers and charity workers on the impact of recent food and fuel price increases on working class families in Detroit.

Jada Browning, 29, recently lost her job as a waitress after the restaurant where she worked closed down. She spoke to the WSWS of the difficulties she faced in providing for her three children, aged two, four and twelve. "Some weeks we have less meals, no one can have seconds if they are still hungry," she said. "You have to ration portions out better. It's ridiculous."

Asked if her family's situation had worsened in relation to the inflation of the last year, Jada said, "Yes, the last year or year and a half." Even at the discount grocery store where she did her shopping, she told us, "You used to be able to get things for a dollar or a dollar-fifty. Now it is two-fifty. A gallon of milk is almost four dollars. It's insane."

Ola Horne, a retiree living on a fixed income, noted the growing hardships in Detroit. "Times are bad. People are losing their homes. You can't keep up with this economy. Utilities are up. People's salaries are being decreased—the cost of living is increasing.

"I'm a 67-year-old senior, and it's impossible," she said. "There are no dreams. Your dream is you wake up tomorrow and your house is still on the block, or your utilities haven't been shut off, or you can buy $5 worth of gas, which used to get you five gallons. Now you can't get one gallon."

"If I was employable, that would be one thing," Ola said, "but who's going to hire?"

Dwayne Wells, president of Gleaners Food Bank, the largest food bank distributor in the Detroit metropolitan area, told the WSWS that in the last year alone the agency distributed over 25 million pounds of food to 420 partner agencies, such as the Salvation Army, the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, and others.


Wells said the 40 tons of food distributed daily last year was still not sufficient to meet the growing need for food. In particular, he said, agencies were straining to meet the needs of "first time people coming to them looking for assistance. More working poor, more seniors who are having trouble making ends meet—and therefore are not able to meet the food needs for themselves or their families."

Low-income working families and those living on fixed incomes are especially vulnerable to inflation, Wells noted. "If you factor in increases in utility costs, transportation costs and medical costs, there is typically for those folks not enough money by the end of the month to help them purchase food and other things that they need. And that's where Gleaners and their partners come in."

Gleaners recently issued an urgent appeal for funds after seeing their donations go down as the food need rises. Wells said the individual donations and the corporate donations have dropped because of the "tough times" presently being experienced in Detroit and Michigan. "Overall you could say the entire economy in the US is suffering, but Michigan is one of the places where the need is heightened."

Wells felt strongly that the economic problems witnessed in Detroit were not race-based. "They cross all the demographics of age, race and culture ... inner-city, suburban, rural. It is widespread."

Wells also noted that the problems confronting the working poor were not short-term or simply a matter of individual hardships, personal "hard times." "In the past," he said, "people with families would come for the first two or three months [after losing a job], they would find employment and get through the temporary crisis they might have been having, then they would stop coming."

"Now those people are not cutting off after three months," he said. "They are continuing to have to rely, so they are coming every 30 days now or taking a longer period of time to right themselves. It is becoming less of an emergency food system and becoming more of a regular 'gap' filler."

Part 2: The impact of gas prices

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Like the situation nationwide, the rising cost of gasoline is compounding the difficulties already confronting working people in Detroit. Living expenses are spiraling upward, the job market is contracting, and sources of credit and emergency aid are in increasingly short supply.

With poverty and unemployment rates that are some of the highest in the US, thousands of Detroit families already stretched to their financial limit must now chose between purchasing gas or food, or paying utility bills.

As of this writing, gasoline averaged $4.08 a gallon nationally, according to the Automobile Association of America (AAA). However, new records are broken every week. As a signal of what is in store for the rest of the county, gas prices have already surpassed $5.00 a gallon in parts of California.

Because of the climb in gas prices, the sales of pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs)—one of the staples of the US auto industry and the source of their profits over the last 15 years—have dropped substantially. In May, Ford’s sales of trucks and SUVs fell 26 percent compared with a year earlier, while GM’s sales in the category fell 37 percent and Chrysler’s were down 22 percent.

With the drop in sales, GM has announced plans to cut truck capacity by 700,000 annually, shutting four North American factories and eliminating 10,000 more jobs. In the Detroit area, this means the elimination of several thousand more jobs, stretching from locations such as the GM Pontiac Truck and Bus plant to parts makers such as American Axle & Manufacturing’s Detroit Gear & Axle plant. (See “The political lessons of the American Axle strike”

In the Detroit metropolitan area, gas prices have jumped up by more than a dollar per gallon in the past 12 months. Many workers already distressed by rising food costs and wage cuts are angry about the hardships they face, with most placing the blame directly on the policies of the Bush administration.

Jada Browning, an out-of-work waitress and mother of three, told the WSWS, “It’s crazy. You either walk or put money in your car so that you can get a job.” She said that food prices were so high, utility bills just had to wait, and gas was too expensive for her to purchase a full tank for her van. “I haven’t been able to fill it up in so long I couldn’t tell you anymore,” she said. “You know, I’m scrounging for $20-$30, and that is just enough to pick my son up from school and go put in a couple of [job] applications. It is just hard.”

Substantial sections of Detroit’s population do not even have vehicles and must find other means of transportation. In fact, according to the US Census Bureau, 21.9 percent of households—more than one in five—do not possess a car. This places an enormous constraint on quality of life for residents who must travel across the sprawling metro area for work, food, school, and other basic obligations.

Detroit is the most expensive city to own and operate a car, according to Runzheimer International, a management-consulting company based in Wisconsin that specializes in employee reimbursement costs. Detroiters pay an average $5,894 for auto insurance alone each year. In all, operating expenses such as gas, tires, oil, maintenance and ownership costs such as insurance total $11,844 for city residents. Having a car is a major expense that is out of the question for many.

Lon Rubenstein, 46 and disabled, was interviewed at a Save-a-Lot market, where he had ridden his bicycle. “These prices are ridiculous,” he said. “I live on $600 a month. I have to use a bicycle to get around. I just can’t afford gas to put in my car. So, it is either eat or pedal a bike.”

Lon said he barely gets by; putting money away for a rainy day or retirement, he said, is out of the question.

More people taking public transportation

Nationally, there has been a vast increase in the number of people taking public transportation, with some areas witnessing standing-room-only crowds on light rails and buses.

The two Detroit-area bus transportation systems have also seen sharp increases in ridership during the recent period. The suburban bus system SMART (Suburban Mobility for Regional Transportation) has experienced a 6.5 percent increase and currently transports 44,000 passengers a day. The Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) has also seen a 7 percent increase in daily passengers and now carries 140,000 passengers a day compared to 130,000 a year ago.

According to SMART’s general manager, Hayes W. Jones, mass public transportation is seeing the highest number of passengers in 50 years. “For many families, having one car—let alone two cars—is a luxury in this economy,” said Jones. “The price of gas is a huge deficit for most families.”

James Canning, a spokesman for Detroit’s Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, told the WSWS, “I attribute part of it [increase in passengers] to gas prices.” He added, “Part of it is also because Mayor Kilpatrick did a lot to improve services by bringing in 200 new buses.”

Public transportation in the Detroit metropolitan area is pathetically underfunded and inadequate. To answer his critics, Canning has pointed to plans by the city government to initiate a new light rail system to provide better transportation within two major routes of the city.

While there is little likelihood the funding for such a system will be developed, what is never mentioned is the deliberate policy by General Motors to shut down the former public rail system to force workers to purchase cars for transportation.

A federal court ruled in 1949 that GM, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California and others conspired to supplant electric rail lines with gasoline and diesel buses as a way to force the public to buy cars. The court found that GM had worked to replace more than 100 transit systems in 45 cities including Detroit and Los Angeles with bus lines that were deliberately inadequate. The policy has persisted to this day, with the public paying for an inefficient, expensive and environmentally destructive policy aimed at boosting the auto industry’s profits.

The WSWS interviewed several workers in downtown Detroit who decided to ride the bus because the cost of driving their cars was too high.

Mary Witherow, a bank worker, told us, “As of May I decided to take the bus.... They cut our overtime, so I couldn’t afford to get to work.”

“Where I work, the parking structure has gone up $100 a month since November,” said Witherow. “So, between that and the cost of gas, I just couldn’t afford to drive.”

When she was asked if there were many more people in the same situation, she responded, “Yes, a lot. Five other people taking the bus with me in the morning said they started recently for the same reason. I started taking it because I knew that it would only get worse.”

William, a medical driver living in Clinton Township, a suburb northeast of Detroit, said he also began taking the bus because of the high gas prices. “Wages are the same, gas prices are going up, everything is going up, so it is cheaper for me to take the bus than to use my car.” The bus ride from Clinton Township to downtown Detroit is an hour’s ride each way. Driving was almost the same. “I had to cut back,” William explained.

Expressing a widely felt sentiment in the working class about the Bush administration, William said, “The present administration, under George Bush, the government just doesn’t care about poor people.” The Democrats, William added, were not doing anything either.

Part 3: Collapse of an American city

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Detroit, Michigan, is in a state of massive social dislocation. Once the manufacturing center of the Midwest and the world’s car producer, the city has seen its population and jobs hemorrhage over the past several decades.

In recent years, impoverishment has spread and deepened as auto industry jobs have been eliminated by the tens of thousands and wages and benefits cut. Between 2000 and 2007, the state of Michigan lost 431,000 jobs, nearly a tenth of its employment. More than a quarter of those jobs were cut in the auto industry, concentrated in the Detroit Metro area. Remaining workers have been subjected to job insecurity and ruthless attack on their wages.

The decimation of auto industry compensation—the standard-setter for pay scale and benefits in many other sectors of industry, as well as the driver of the economy in the region—combined with cuts to public assistance programs have truly devastated working class living standards.

As the cost of living spirals, thousands of families now face a tremendous financial conundrum.

Poverty is pervasive in Detroit. In 2006, according to the federal Census Bureau, median household income in the city was $29,500. This figure is nearly $20,000 less than the median household income nationwide. Per capita income for the city was only $14,700 in 2006.

Such a low income cannot support a mortgage, a family’s basic food and transportation needs, childcare costs and other expenses. As a result, thousands of families turn to emergency government assistance and charity.

Statewide, more than 1.25 million people now receive federal food assistance through the Food Stamp program—a record number and yet still far from the number of people who qualify for aid.

According to Jane Zehnder-Merrell, the director of the Kids Count program for the Michigan League of Human Services, one in eight residents—and one in every five children—in Michigan are eligible. Between 2000 and 2005, participation in the program among families with children “has essentially doubled,” Zehnder-Merrell told the World Socialist Web Site. Most of those depending on the program are working families.

“In 2005, 45 percent of children in Detroit were in need of food assistance,” Zehnder-Merrell told the WSWS. She added, “This was before the bottom dropped out and all the gas prices started going up.” The rate of need in 2006 was estimated at 54 percent—a 9 percent increase in a single year. And in the last year, the need for food assistance has undoubtedly continued to grow.

In response to the rapid rise in need, rather than providing additional funds, Zehnder-Merrell said the Michigan state legislature was attempting to “break the food stamp payment in half so that grocery stores can maintain a more level inventory.”

“Grocers in metro Detroit are complaining they get a big influx of people wanting to buy food when the food stamps come out” at the beginning of each month, she explained. Because the payments do not stretch to cover the entire month’s expenses, she said, “gradually it would dwindle until no one was buying food anymore.” Families without the money to cover the rest have little option but to seek out help from strained emergency food banks.

Brother Jerry Smith, head of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit, told the WSWS that a growing number of people turning to the Catholic charity for help were seeking food to take home to prepare. “In a lot of cases,” Smith said, “these are working people who just can’t make it from month to month. Or some of them are families receiving food stamps, or government assistance and they just can’t make it. So we allow those people to come and receive food once a month.” Overall, in the past year, Smith said, food distribution at the soup kitchen rose 10 percent.

Smith noted that a revealing indicator of hardship was the sharp increase in the charity’s used clothing distribution. “It used to be that our warehouse had tons of clothing waiting to be sorted and distributed,” he said. “Currently, we have very little clothing. We have never been this low. And again we think it is perhaps due to two different things. One, it could be that there are more people seeking that clothing. And the other part, I think, is people are holding on to that clothing longer. They are not donating it to us. They are patching their clothing or wearing it longer than they used to. So we are not getting the types of donations we used to get.”

Jay Willis, a healthcare provider by profession, is an administrator at Agape Fellowship, a non-profit food distribution agency that feeds and clothes 100 to 300 individuals weekly.

“We have been doing this for over seven years now,” he told the WSWS. “Within the last two years, we have seen an increase of 75 percent more than what we normally have done. And the group is diverse. We have individuals that have never been displaced. We have individuals that have been middle class and were not accustomed for seeking for the services that we provide.”

“Many families have never been in the situation that they now face. Families with double incomes; families where both the husband and wife lost jobs. It is a disheartening situation.

“What is most alarming is that it is a group of people who have never before been in this situation,” Willis said. “You have people with degrees, who have matriculated through academia to get their education and now are in a situation they have never been in before.”

Social conditions in Detroit sketch a portrait of American capitalism. The location of the headquarters of some of the largest automotive and financial corporations in the world, whose fortunes were built by generations of workers, CNN Money magazine recently called the Detroit metropolitan area one of the “best neighborhoods to retire”—for the wealthy, that is.

Simultaneously, it has earned the distinction of Forbes magazine as “America’s most miserable city” for having the highest rates of violent crime and poverty and the second highest unemployment rate of any major US city in 2008. At the same time that entire neighborhoods fall into disrepair and abandonment, high-rise casinos and luxury hotels are erected to the applause of the city’s wealthy elite and corrupt political establishment.

Like much of the Midwest, Detroit did not ride the crest of home valuation during the recent housing boom. Nevertheless, the city leads the country in home foreclosures with a rate that is eight times the national average. Indeed, as an analysis by the Detroit News found last fall, “a cash-drunk mortgage industry with virtually no government oversight has turned Metro Detroit into a foreclosure factory, where foreclosure notices were served on 260 homes a day in August—the equivalent of wiping out two subdivisions every 24 hours.”

After introductory rates on many loans made during the housing boom began resetting to higher interest rate levels, more than 70,000 homes in the city, “equal to every residence in Southfield and Livonia [Michigan],” entered into some phase of foreclosure, according to the paper. The prevalence of defaults and missed payments is revealing. Even during the housing boom and supposed economic recovery period, a great many families were living on the very edge of financial ruin.

After the wave of foreclosures hit Detroit, whole neighborhoods saw home values plummet. The Detroit News pointed out that more than a million homes in the metropolitan area—two in three households—were damaged by nearby foreclosures, losing assets upwards of $1.6 billion. Homes in Wayne County lost one third of their value between 2004 and late 2007, according to the paper.

The spread of poverty has also compounded the crisis in the education system. Schools throughout Detroit have been closed or severely underfunded and left to fall apart. Teachers are poorly paid, overburdened, and provided inadequate supplies. By one recent estimate based on Department of Education figures, fewer than one in four Detroit public high school students graduate—more than 75 percent of kids drop out.

Many families have no choice but to relocate or send their children to “schools of choice” in far-away districts in the suburbs, further exacerbating the funding problems for inner-city schools and depleting the tax base. Tom Watkins, Michigan’s former state superintendent of schools, told the Detroit Free Press June 1 that the crisis represented an “educational genocide.”

The confluence of foreclosures, ongoing job cuts, and inflation has only hastened the collapse of supporting commerce in the city. Restaurants and businesses have been shuttered and shopping plazas are left abandoned, further exacerbating urban blight and making it more difficult for residents to do the simplest things in the city.

The dearth of retail outlets in Detroit presents acute health problems for poor residents, according to a new study by Mari Gallagher, commissioned by LaSalle Bank. Called “Examining the impact of ‘Food Deserts’ on public health in Detroit,” the study notes that fast food and so-called “fringe food outlets” such as gas stations and liquor stores are ubiquitous throughout the city, yet there is not a single outlet of a major supermarket chain remaining within Detroit’s borders.

Roughly 550,000 Detroit residents live in areas in which they are at least twice as far from a mainstream grocer as from a fringe food location, the study found. Within Detroit, the majority of retailers that accept food stamps are gas stations, liquor stores, convenience stores, dollar marts, and other locations where little to no fresh or healthy food is sold. Instead, most of the retailers where food stamps are accepted specialize in the sale of alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets, and “a comparatively small selection of prepackaged and canned food products high in salt, fat, and sugar.”

The results are predictable. Among the poorest layer of the population, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases whose prevention is highly contingent upon nutrition verge on epidemic proportions. After a lifetime of punishing industrial labor, left without health benefits, regular access to medical care, or even proximity to emergency clinics, many residents are at risk of dying prematurely.

Other city residents forced to live in grinding poverty have fallen into drug addiction, homelessness, or the burgeoning prison system.

According to the Pew Center on the States, the state’s current prison budget now significantly exceeds spending on education. In fact, the state Department of Corrections absorbs some $2 billion a year in funds—amounting to a fifth of Michigan’s total budget. A report released June 11 by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan noted that the state held 50,000 prisoners, and nearly one third of state-employed workers were prison employees.


Social crisis in Detroit: "Some weeks we have less meals"

Social crisis in Detroit: "I'm 67, and it's impossible"

Social crisis in Detroit: Food banks struggle to meet need

More talk of war as Iran delays response to demand it end uranium enrichment

More talk of war as Iran delays response to demand it end uranium enrichment

By James Cogan

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The Iranian government is seeking to delay its response to the latest demands that it suspend its uranium enrichment operations in the face of threats of new European Union economic sanctions and more talk of unilateral US or Israeli air strikes.

European Union Foreign Secretary Javier Solana delivered a “Proposal to Iran” on behalf of the US, Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and the European Union last Saturday. The proposal demanded that Iran “suspend its [uranium] enrichment and reprocessing activities” and submit to inspections of its nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In return, the major powers offered to assist Iran develop a nuclear power industry—supplied with fuel from outside the country—along with “steps towards the normalisation of trade and economic relations”.

Iran has always stated that its Natanz plant has no purpose other than generating low-enrichment fuel for nuclear power plants. No evidence to the contrary exists. The US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) issued last December assessed that Iran had not had a nuclear weapons programs since 2003 and, even if it did, it would not be able to manufacture a weapon until at least 2015. The latest IAEA report in May presented no evidence that Iran had pursued nuclear weapons since 2004.

Last Saturday’s demand is based on the Bush administration’s accusation that the Iranian government is lying. The major powers stated they “recognise Iran’s right to nuclear energy for exclusively peaceful purposes in conformity with its NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) obligations”. Yet they have again demanded that Iran cease processing the fuel needed for nuclear power reactors—which it is entitled to do under the NPT—until “international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program is restored”.

The European powers, Russia and China are playing a similar role as they did in response to Iraq’s denials of the US accusations it possessed “weapons of mass destruction”. Instead of the US being obliged to produce evidence to support its claims of secret weapons programs, the burden of proof has been placed on Iran. Tehran has been told that the only way Iran can demonstrate its peaceful intentions is to close down its nuclear industry and submit to a regime in which it will be dependent on other powers to provide nuclear fuel.

That the proposal should have been entitled an “Ultimatum to Iran” was spelt out by US President George Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Monday. Brown declared that if Iran did not accept the demand, the EU states would join the US in imposing even harsher economic sanctions, directly targeting the operations of Iran’s major state bank, Bank Melli, as well as its oil and gas industry. Bush reiterated that “Iranians must understand all options are on the table, however,” effectively threatening Iran with US military strikes.

Moreover, Iran is being ordered to accept IAEA and UN weapons inspectors roaming the country at will, supposedly looking for alleged hidden facilities. It is well established that many of the so-called “inspectors” that Iraq allowed in during the 1990s were in fact CIA agents, who collated targeting information that was later used during the 1998 US air bombardment and the 2003 invasion. Under conditions where the Bush administration has also hinted at military action against Iran over unsubstantiated allegations that Tehran is supporting anti-US militias inside Iraq, the Iranians have legitimate concerns about submitting to an inspection regime.

Officials have indicated that Tehran is inclined to reject the terms. A government spokesman, Glolam Hossein Elham, stated just hours after Solana’s arrival in Iran that “the precondition of a halt and suspension of nuclear activities cannot be brought up”. The country’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, stated in a speech on Wednesday that the demand that Iran end its pursuit of nuclear energy was “illegitimate and illegal” under the NPT.

Officially, however, no rejection of the document has been issued. A top Iranian leader, Ali Larijani, instead stated that Iran would “carefully study” the proposal. The government also denied a report in an Iranian newspaper that it had withdrawn $75 billion from European banks in anticipation of EU sanctions. The European Union has not yet taken any steps toward freezing Iranian assets—contrary to Gordon Brown’s premature declaration on Monday that the EU would announce such a measure at an EU foreign ministers’ meeting the same day.

Iran’s maneuvering for time stems from the recognition in Tehran that any negative response could be seized upon to justify a unilateral strike by Israel against the Natanz enrichment plant and other nuclear facilities, followed by a massive, combined US and Israeli response to any real or invented Iranian retaliation.

Earlier this month, Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz made explicit the widely-held position in Israeli ruling class circles. He declared sanctions were “ineffective” and that “attacking Iran, in order to stop its nuclear plans, will be unavoidable”. On the weekend, Mofaz’s statements were echoed by former Israeli Labor Party Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh, who told Israeli Radio, “the Jews stand alone against evil in the end” and war with Iran would take place “in the coming years”.

A feature in Spiegel Online on Monday reported: “There is a consensus within the Israeli government that an air strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities has become unavoidable. ‘Most members of the Israeli cabinet no longer believe that sanctions will convince President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to change course’, says Minister of Immigration Absorption Yaakov Edri.”

Bruce Riedel, a Middle East expert, told the journal: “There is some risk that Israel thinks it has limited time to act and it has a green light from American politicians”—above all in the Bush White House.

New accusations of Iranian weapons program

Ominously, new allegations have surfaced to fuel the anti-Iranian campaign in the US and Israel by calling into question the NIE assessment that Iran was years away from being able to field nuclear weapons.

Until now, the only “evidence” that Iran was on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons had consisted of plans for a nuclear warhead, supposedly found on a stolen laptop supplied to the CIA by an informant inside Iran. The Iranian government dismissed the plans as forgeries.

The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal—all major propagators of the Iraq “weapons of mass destruction” lies—published claims on Sunday and Monday by David Albright, from the US Institute for Science and International Security, that sophisticated Pakistani designs for nuclear weapons may have been sold to Iran by nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

The designs were allegedly discovered among computer files seized from three Swiss citizens who had been detained over their association with Khan. The three men, under detention in Switzerland, reportedly agreed in 2003 to cooperate with the CIA to provide information on Khan’s sales to Libya. Albright claims that they did not inform US intelligence about their possession of more advanced weapons designs.

Albright’s report, published on Monday, stated: “... The designs in Switzerland included one for smaller, more sophisticated nuclear weapons than those found in Libya. These would have been ideal for two of Khan’s other major customers, Iran and North Korea. They both faced struggles in building a nuclear warhead small enough to fit atop their ballistic missiles, and these designs were for a warhead that would fit. These designs would also simplify the task of building a nuclear weapon for anyone who obtained them.”

Swiss officials reportedly had difficulty decrypting and deciphering the files. For unexplained reasons, Albright claims they did not request assistance from the IAEA until 2006. The US government requested and received copies. The Swiss government then allegedly destroyed the originals.

The main purpose of Albright’s report appears to be to create a pretext to demand that the newly-elected Pakistani government allow Khan to be interrogated over whether he sold the designs to Iran. The Wall Street Journal commented: “Iran’s possible possession of the Khan network’s weapons designs particularly worries US and Western counter-proliferation experts.”

Khan responded to Albright’s allegations in statements to Agence France Presse this week. He declared: “This is all a lie. There is no truth in this. We never prepared [weapons blueprints]. We are not the designer. We are not the proliferators.”

The scientist was pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf in 2004 but placed under house arrest after he admitted to selling nuclear technology. He retracted his admission after the defeat of Musharraf’s supporters in the February elections, declaring that he had only confessed due to force and intimidation.

An attack on Iran, regardless of how it were justified, would be a crime of immense dimensions. Behind all the manufactured hysteria over nuclear weapons programs lies the determination of the US ruling elite and their Israeli proxies to ensure that no state or combination of states threatens their dominance in the Middle East and, therefore, over the world’s main source of oil. The Iranian regime’s efforts over a number of years to cultivate political and economic relations with the EU, Russia and China are viewed in Washington as a direct threat.

More than two years ago, writing in the New Yorker magazine, journalist Seymour Hersh exposed detailed plans for massive US air strikes on Iran, involving the possible use of nuclear weapons against fortified underground bunkers. Hersh’s sources revealed that the list of targets ran into the “hundreds” and included not only military facilities and government buildings, but power plants, bridges, electricity grids and other civilian infrastructure.

There is no question that a deranged right-wing constituency exists within Israel for utilising its nuclear arsenal to slaughter millions of Iranians and reduce the country to rubble. In April, Israeli National Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said a war with Iran would result in “the destruction of the Iranian nation”. Der Spiegel cited this week the recent remarks of Israeli historian Benny Morris, who declared: “If the issue is whether Israel or Iran should perish, then Iran should perish”.

Bush calls for more handouts to energy companies

Bush calls for more handouts to energy companies

By Andre Damon

Go To Original

US President George W. Bush called on Congress Wednesday to repeal the ban on offshore oil drilling, ostensibly as a means of “taking pressure off gas prices” and strengthening “national security.” Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain announced his support for the plan Tuesday, and Bush made his speech in support of McCain’s position. Both had previously supported the ban.

In his speech, Bush also reiterated his proposal to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling and called for a loosening of government oversight of refineries.

The proposal to open the Outer Continental Shelf—an area of the ocean floor lying from three to 200 miles off the coast of the US—was the most substantive of the measures enumerated in Bush’s speech. There are currently two bans on such activity—a law enacted by Congress in 1982 and an executive order signed by the first President Bush in 1990 and renewed by Clinton in 1998. In his speech, Bush vowed that he would repeal the executive order as soon as the congressional ban is lifted.

A number of state governors—most notably California Governor Schwarzenegger—came out against the proposal, arguing that drilling in these areas would lead to increased water pollution and the destruction of beaches.

The argument that these measures would reduce gas prices—whether in the short or long term—is thoroughly specious. A 2007 study by the US Energy Information Administration concluded that opening coastal drilling “would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030.” Moreover, the study found that by the time production is at its peak, “any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant.”

Another report released last month by the Department of Energy concluded that opening up Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge would not bring oil on the market for another 10 years and even then would not reduce the price of oil by more than 75 cents a barrel. Last week oil hit a record high of $140 per barrel.

Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, told the Los Angeles Times, “What [Bush] failed to mention was data released recently by his own Department of Energy that shows, unequivocally, that drilling in the arctic refuge will have no effect on today’s high gas prices.” She continued: “At peak production, two decades from now, the amount of oil speculated to be available in the refuge would lower gas prices by less than 4 cents a gallon.”

The EIA survey noted that even if approved immediately, coastline oil production could not begin before 2017, and that total domestic crude oil production would only increase by 1.6 percent within the next two decades. Moreover, the report notes that, “because oil prices are determined on the international market... any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant.”

The US currently produces some 6 million barrels of oil per day, and consumes 21 million, leaving some 15 million barrels to be imported.

Both Bush and Republican presidential candidate McCain had until recently supported the ban on offshore oil drilling, but rising prices have increased the potential profitability of these areas for oil companies, whose lobbyists have in turn begun to pressure allied politicians to open coastlines for drilling.

Bush’s latest proposal serves a number of purposes. First, it is an attempt to use popular furor over high oil prices to shove cash and perks into the pockets of the oil conglomerates. Secondly, it is a cheap attempt at taking an “active” posture on fuel prices in the upcoming presidential elections. The Democrats have made no meaningful proposals to mitigate the disastrous impact of high fuel prices on the population, and the Republicans are making good use of this.

In Wednesday’s speech, Bush said, “I know the Democratic leaders have opposed some of these policies in the past. Now that their opposition has helped drive gas prices to record levels, I ask them to reconsider their positions. If congressional leaders leave for the 4th of July recess without taking action, they will need to explain why $4-a-gallon gasoline is not enough incentive for them to act. And Americans will rightly ask how high oil—how high gas prices have to rise before the Democratic-controlled Congress will do something about it.”

Congressional Democrats criticized the proposal. Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader, called the move “a cynical campaign ploy that will do nothing to lower energy prices and represents another big giveaway to companies already making billions in profits.” Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House Speaker, observed, “The president’s proposal sounds like another page from the administration’s energy policy that was literally written by the oil industry: give away more public resources to the very same oil companies that are sitting on 68 million acres of federal lands they’ve already leased.”

These statements are not incorrect, as far as they go. But as always with the Democrats, rhetorical denunciations of the Bush Administration’s excesses are not accompanied by any serious alternatives. Bush justified his proposal on the basis of a policy that is part of the Democratic stock-in-trade: “energy independence.” In his speech, Bush noted, “much of the oil consumed in America comes from abroad—that’s what’s changed dramatically over the last couple of decades. Some of that energy comes from unstable regions and unfriendly regimes. This makes us more vulnerable to supply shocks and price spikes beyond our contro—and that puts both our economy and our security at risk.”

This is a page ripped straight from the Democrats’ book. Obama had little of substance to say about the proposal, claiming only that “[McCain’s] decision to completely change his position and tell a group of Houston oil executives exactly what they wanted to hear today was the same Washington politics that has prevented us from achieving energy independence for decades.” The debate is over of how best to guarantee energy supplies for American capitalism, and has absolutely nothing to with the conditions facing masses of people.

In recent years the Democratic Party has tried to imbue the phrase “energy independence” with some sort of oppositional tinge, seeking to draw an equals sign between the “energy insecurity” of US imperialism and the “insecurity” that working people feel over the skyrocketing price of fuel.

Beneath all the posturing, the Democrats’ calls for “energy independence” are basically similar to their previous denunciations of inadequate armaments for US troops and their calls to increase the size of the military. These are right wing policies veiled in demagogy and put forward by the supposed “opposition” party.

For both parties, the energy question is one of imperialist strategy. Ramping up national production will have very little effect on national prices within a world market. But in case world distribution is disrupted by a major conflict, domestic oil supplies—whether in the form of ethanol or crude oil—become extremely important. In a speech given before a pro-ethanol coalition in 2006, Obama said, “[There is] a realization of American weakness shared by the rest of the world. It’s a realization that for all of our military might and economic dominance, the Achilles heel of the most powerful country on Earth is the oil we cannot live without.”

He continued: “It would be nice if we could produce our way out of this problem, but it’s just not possible. We only have 3 percent of the world’s oil reserves. We could start drilling in ANWR [Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] today, and at its peak, which would be more than a decade from now, it would give us enough oil to take care of our transportation needs for about a month.”

The solution, according to the Obama of 2006, was ethanol, to which he and a slew of other Democrats have introduced subsidies. As a result of the switch from food to fuel production—funded by taxpayer handouts of 50 cents per gallon—corn prices have shot up dramatically, translating into vastly higher prices of staple foods ranging from breakfast cereals to meat and poultry. Despite Democratic Party posturing, corn ethanol has no environmental or energy benefit over oil.

There are a number of other factors playing a role in the energy debate. Involved in the debate over ethanol production versus increased oil extraction are definite material interests, with Democrats tending to have close ties to agribusiness and Republicans to the oil industry. Obama, a senator from the coal-producing state of Illinois, has also supported coal liquefaction schemes that are neither cleaner nor more efficient than oil.

But these schemes have nothing in common with the real concerns of the US population. Ethanol production has doubled since 2001, sparking record prices for agribusiness, but having no meaningful impact on gasoline prices. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have any genuine solution to upsurge in fuel prices, and their proposals amount to little more than posturing.

Big oil cashes in on Iraq slaughter

Big oil cashes in on Iraq slaughter

By Bill Van Auken

Go To Original

Four major US, British and French oil companies are getting their hands on the petroleum reserves of Iraq for the first time in 36 years, based on no-bid contracts, the New York Times reported Thursday.

These deals reached with the US-backed regime in Baghdad have placed the five-year-old US war of aggression in the clearest possible perspective.

For the thousands of American families who have seen their sons and daughters killed in the Iraq war or return maimed or psychologically damaged, the knowledge that their sacrifices have opened up potentially huge new profit streams for Exxon-Mobil, Shell, British Petroleum and Total will provide cold comfort.

For the over one million Iraqis killed and the millions more turned into refugees or made homeless in their own land, an overriding justification for their suffering has now been laid bare. It was to further enrich the already obscenely wealthy corporate executives and major shareholders of Big Oil.

As the New York Times reported Thursday: “The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations.”

The Times acknowledged that “The no-bid contracts are unusual for the industry, and the offers prevailed over others by more than 40 companies, including companies in Russia, China and India.”

No-bid deals in the oil sector are not only “unusual,” under conditions in which oil demand is at an all-time high crude is selling for nearly $140 a barrel and energy-producing countries around the world—Russia, Kazakhstan, Venezuela, Bolivia and others—are exerting a tighter national grip over their reserves. Such contracts cannot be explained outside of their being negotiated at the point of a gun.

The deals have been structured as “service agreements” in order to circumvent restrictions that would have ensued under Iraq’s draft oil law, which the Iraqi parliament has proven unable to pass because of both nationalist opposition to foreign exploitation of the country’s reserves and disputes between the federal government and Iraqi regional entities over control of the oil fields.

In reality, however, the two-year deals provide for payment to foreign companies in oil, opening up the possibility of substantial profits. Moreover, as one oil expert commented, they provide the “foothold” for the four major Western companies, paving the way to far more intensive exploitation.

A total of 46 companies, including Lukoil of Russia, China National, India’s major oil company and others had memorandums of understanding with the Iraqi Oil Ministry, according to the Times.

Yet none of them were allowed to bid for contracts. Instead, the deals are being handed over without any competition to Exxon-Mobil, Shell, Total and British Petroleum.

The Times comments, “While the current contracts are unrelated to the companies’ previous work in Iraq, in a twist of corporate history for some of the world’s largest companies, all four oil majors that had lost their concessions in Iraq are now back.”

In a similar vein, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News: “The United States government has stayed out of the matter of awarding the Iraqi oil contracts. It’s a private sector matter.” However Rice, a former director of Chevron, which is participating in one of the contracts in a consortium with Total, acknowledged that with the new deals “it’s starting to get interesting in Iraq.”

This is all nonsense and lies. The new contracts have everything to do with the role played by these companies decades ago and their determination to wrest back the control they exercised before Iraq nationalized its oil industry and ejected the US and British oil giants in 1972, a move that ushered in a wave of nationalizations throughout the oil-producing countries.

Before then, the Iraq Petroleum Company was dominated by the US and British companies, which controlled three-quarters of the country’s oil production.

Moreover, the US government has worked over decades to re-impose American domination over Iraq, which has the second largest proven oil reserves—115 billion barrels—and the largest unexplored reserves of any country in the world.

The disingenuous explanation given by the US-dominated Iraqi regime—and echoed by the Times—for the supposedly serendipitous return to dominance of the very companies that controlled the country’s oil production 36 years ago is that “they had been advising the ministry without charge.”

Yet, as the Times article notes, Russia’s Lukoil, which had been training Iraqi oil engineers free of charge, is being thrown out of an oilfield where it held a previously signed contract, in order to make way for Chevron and Total.

The reality is that these contracts are the direct product of armed aggression. In the wake of the invasion, US troops seized control of the oilfields and secured the Oil Ministry in Baghdad, even as it left every other governmental and cultural institution to the mercy of the looters. It then selected Phillip Carroll, the former president of Shell Oil, to head up an “advisory board” to assume control over the ministry.

As the Times delicately notes: “It is not clear what role the United States played in awarding the contracts; there are still American advisers to Iraq’s Oil Ministry.”

The drive by the US government and the oil monopolies to regain their control over Iraq’s oil wealth began well before the Bush administration launched its unprovoked war in March 2003 and constitutes a bipartisan policy that has been pursued by Democratic and Republican administrations alike.

In the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the conditions emerged for US imperialism to pursue this strategic aim with continuously escalating violence and aggression.

After Iraq’s infrastructure was shattered in the Persian Gulf War of 1991, the Clinton administration campaigned for punishing United Nations sanctions that choked off essential food and medical supplies and resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of additional lives.

The critical strategic aim of these sanctions was to block the resumption of oil production and prevent the realization of contracts signed between the government of Saddam Hussein and foreign rivals of the big US and British companies, particularly Russian and Chinese producers as well as France’s Total.

This was combined with stepped-up military attacks, as the Clinton administration hammered Iraq with cruise missiles in a series of strikes dubbed Operation Phoenix Scorpion, Operation Desert Thunder and Operation Desert Fox, all preludes to the ultimate invasion.

At the same time, Clinton signed into law the “Iraq Liberation Act of 1998,” leveling the charges of “weapons of mass destruction” that would be used to justify war less than three years later and declaring that US policy was “to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.”

With the installation of the Bush administration, preparations for the armed takeover of Iraq began in earnest. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act from a national energy task force chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney in early 2001 included a map of Iraq’s oilfields and a list of “foreign suitors for Iraqi oilfield contracts.”

The imposition of the contracts for the four big oil firms has confirmed what the Iraq war was about from its conception—well before the September 11, 2001 attacks. The false claims about “weapons of mass destruction” and the invention of ties between Baghdad and Al Qaeda were pretexts for a war aimed at re-establishing semi-colonial control over Iraq and its oil wealth, thereby furthering the US drive for global hegemony.

What is involved is a conspiracy by the government and powerful corporations to foist a war of aggression onto the American people.

Far from provoking outrage or the calls for investigations, however, news of the oil contracts has been met with a deafening silence from the mass media and the political establishment alike. The same television news outlets that trumpeted the Bush administration’s lies about WMD and terrorism passed over the oil deals without a mention.

There is ample evidence that furthering the interests of the oil conglomerates and American imperialism as a whole by continuing the war and occupation in Iraq remains a consensus policy supported by Democrats and Republicans alike.

On the same day that news of the oil contracts broke, the Democratic leadership of the House moved to approve another $165 billion Iraq war funding package, bringing the total amount legislated by Congress to continue a war that is opposed by the overwhelming majority of the American people to over $600 billion.

The 2008 presidential election contest has been presented by the media and the two presidential candidates—Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain—as a choice between a US withdrawal from Iraq or continuing the war until victory.

Yet, the ongoing negotiations over a “Status of Force Agreement,” or SOFA, providing for the long-term presence of US occupation troops in the country has pointed to an underlying agreement on Washington’s future course.

Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, in Washington for the talks on the SOFA, held discussions this week with both McCain and Obama on future US policy in the country.

The Washington Post quoted Zebari Wednesday as saying that Obama had assured him that a Democratic administration would “not take any irresponsible, reckless, sudden decisions or actions.” Obama explained, he said, that he “wants redeployment,” but that he “is not interested to pull all troops out. He wants a residual force” in Iraq to carry out anti-terrorist operations, protect US facilities and train Iraqi security forces.

According to the Post the Iraqi foreign minister concluded that “there was ‘not too much difference’ between Obama’s position and that of the presumptive Republican nominee...”

In other words, both candidates are determined to continue shedding blood—Iraqi and US alike—to advance the cause of securing Iraq’s oil reserves for Exxon-Mobil and the other energy corporations and to create a base of operations for new and even bloodier wars of aggression in the region, including against Iran.

Bear Stearns executives arrested

Bear Stearns executives arrested

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Two former hedge fund managers from the Bear Stearns investment bank have been charged with fraud over two funds which collapsed last year causing losses of about $1.8bn.

Matthew Tannin and Ralph Cioffi, who were taken into police custody on Thursday, are accused of misleading investors over the state of the funds.

Tannin and Cioffi are the first executives to face criminal in the wake of the market instability following the subprime mortgage crisis.

The disintegration of the two Bear Stearns funds they oversaw helped fuel the crisis by stoking investment fears over the high-risk loans to people with poor credit histories.

According to the indictment by a New York federal grand jury, the two lied about the funds' prospects prior to collapse. One of the managers is also alleged to have carried out insider trading.

The indictment said that Cioffi transferred $2m of his $6m investment in one of the funds to another Bear Stearns fund with a higher return and failed to inform investors he had done so, despite being asked.


"Hedge fund managers remain subject to the same prohibitions against fraud as other market participants," Linda Chatman Thomsen, director of the Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement division, said.

When they choose to make public statements, they must not speak falsely or omit material information."

However, Susan Brune, Tannin's attorney, said that her client was being made a "scapegoat" for the market crisis and that "he looks forward to his acquittal".

Edward Little, Cioffi's attorney, in a statement said: "The subprime crisis took everyone by surprise, including the [US Federal Reserve] and Treasury, and dozens of the largest financial institutions have lost over $300bn to date on the same investments.

"Because [Cioffi's] funds were the first to lose might make him an easy target but doesn't mean he did anything wrong."

Wahid Farij, an expert on financial markets, told Al Jazeera the moves were significant as it showed there was accountability.

"What's critical when the economy is bad is the restoration of public trust, especially when Bear Stearns executives are charged with withholding information from the public."

Mortgage fraud

Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Investigation also announced on Thursday that more than 400 people have been charged since March in a crackdown on mortgage fraud contributing to a US housing crisis.

"Operation Malicious Mortgage and the Bear Stearns case demonstrate that the Department of Justice is determined to detect and to punish mortgage fraud and to help restore stability and confidence in our housing and credit markets," Mark Filip, deputy attorney general, said.

The Operation Malicious Mortgage task force is investigating a variety of tactics including lending fraud, foreclosure rescue scams and mortgage-related bankruptcy schemes.

SuperCorridor Defeat? Don't Bet On It

SuperCorridor Defeat? Don't Bet On It

By Stephen Lendman

Go To Original

The title refers to the I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) portion of the North American SuperCorridor Coalition (NASCO) project. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) announced that, for now at least, it nixed this part of the $184 billion scheme calling for:

-- a 4000 mile toll road network of transportation corridors;

-- 10 lanes or 1200 feet wide;

-- two or more trans-Texas corridors being considered; one paralleling I-35 from Laredo through San Antonio, Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth to Gainesville; the other an extension following US 59 from Texarkana through Houston to Laredo or the Rio Grande Valley;

-- others would parallel I-45 from Dallas/FortWorth to Houston and I-10 from El Paso to Orange;

-- they'll accommodate car and truck traffic;

-- rail lines;

-- pipelines and utilities; and

-- communication systems.

It's planned across Texas from Mexico to Oklahoma, would have annexed huge private land tracts, and may later on take much of it anyway. Enough to threaten organizations like the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), Texas Farm Bureau and other rural interests. Their member property rights are at stake, so they fought it, and for now, prevailed - at least partly, but the matter is far from settled.

On June 10, Executive Director Amadeo Saenz announced that TxDOT "narrowed the (TTC I-69) study area (to) existing highway (routes) whenever possible," and "any area (outside) an existing (one) will not be considered" except for necessary portions. NASCO's Texas highway remains viable. It's just a little less "Super" and for now will use mostly existing state highways and connect them to northern links.

The larger project is far more ambitious. It's to develop an international, integrated, secure superhighway running the length and breath of the continent for profit. It's to militarize and annex it as part of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) scheme - aka "Deep Integration" North American Union. If completed, it will extend nearly everywhere - North, South, East and West along four main cross-border regions:

-- an Atlantic Corridor, including: the Canada-US East Coast; the Champlain-Hudson Corridor; the Appalachian region; and the Gulf of Mexico;

-- a Central Eastern Corridor; an urban one through large cities and industrial areas; another through the Great Plains to the Canadian Prairies;

-- a Central Western Corridor, including the largest Mexican maquiladora concentration; and

-- a Pacific Corridor linking Fairbanks, Alaska to San Diego into Tijuana, Ciudad Obrego and Mazatlan, Mexico.

From north to south, it will extend from Fairbanks to Winnipeg, Manitoba; Edmonton, Alberta; and Windsor, Ontario, Canada through Kansas City, San Antonio and Laredo, Texas into Neuvo Laredo, Monterrey, Guadalajara, and the ports of Manzanillo, Colima and Lazaro Cardenas, Mexico. Other links will connect Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto, Canada to New York, Chicago, Indianapolis, Denver, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Memphis, Dallas, Houston with still more routes to follow - East to West, North to South across Canada, the US and Mexico.

Canada's plan is called CISCOR - the Canadian Intelligent SuperCorridor running west from Vancouver and Prince Rupert to Montreal and Halifax. Its web site explains it as follows: "The Saskatchen-based CISCOR Smart Inland Port Network will serve as the central logistics and coordination hub, creating a Canadian east-west land bridge (connecting) three major North American north-south corridors; North Americas SuperCorridor (NASCO), Canada America Mexico Corridor (CANAMEX) and River of Trade Corridor Coalition (ROTCC).

ROTCC was created in 2004 to facilitate trade across 3300 miles from Laredo, Texas to Detroit and into Canada. Another route along I-45 extends from Houston and the I-10 corridor and rail route from Los Angeles and Long Beach to Dallas/Fort Worth.

Overall, it will be a comprehensive energy and commerce-related transportation artery for trade and strategic resources with DHS and NORTHCOM in charge. They'll monitor and militarize it through a network of high-tech sensors and trackers to secure the continent for profit at the expense of the greater public good the way these schemes always work.

Part of the plan involves a proposed arrangement between NASCO and a company called Savi Networks - a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Hutchison Ports Holdings, a Chinese ports management firm. If instituted, it will generate huge revenues by paying NASCO 25 cents for each of the millions of "revenue-generating intermodal ocean cargo container(s)" using the supercorridor as well as along other north-south routes being planned. The idea is to install an RFID chip network and put them in containers as well for tracking. They'll monitor them from port of entry to final destination and make shippers pay tolls in addition to transportation costs. They'll, in turn, pass on costs to buyers.

Lockheed Martin runs a Global Transport Network (GTN) Command and Control Center for the military that provides electronic tracking. On its web site, Savi Networks says it "was formed to improve the efficiency and security of global trade (through its) SaviTrack system." It "utilizes a reliable network of wireless Automated Identification and Data Collection (AIDC) equipment and (Enterprise Resource Planning - ERP) software to provide shippers, logistics service providers, and terminal operators with precise and actionable information."

For now, the Texas artery will be less ambitious but still part of the grander scheme. For its part, I-69/TTC remains a government-private partnership whereby new roads will charge tolls for maximum revenue generation and make the public to pay the tab for their use.

Besides the scaled back I-69/TTC, another planned project is just as worrisome. It's called the TTC-35 600 mile corridor extension along I-35 from Oklahoma through Dallas/Forth Worth to Laredo to Mexico and possibly the Gulf Coast. A two-tiered environmental study for it began in spring 2004 and remains ongoing.

Tier One engendered sweeping opposition but not enough to stop it. Public hearings were held for input on potential corridor locations and promoted what's called the Preferred Corridor Alternative. Federal Highway Administration approval comes next, after which a Tier Two phase would identify proposed highway alignments and other modes and potential access points. Hearings would follow for further public input and be as likely to generate hostility as did the I-69/TTC project. It slowed SuperCorridor momentum, but in Texas and across the country it's very much alive and ongoing.

Powerful forces back it in spite of considerable opposition in states across the country. In support are organizations like:

-- the Council on Foreign Relation and its influential members; it backed business having "unlimited (cross-border) access in its 2005 report titled "Building a North American Community; its Task Force "applauds the announced 'Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP)' of North America" - aka North American Union and its SuperCorridor project; it also sees a step beyond with "a more ambitious vision of a new community by 2010 (giving) specific recommendations on how to achieve it."

-- the International Mobility & Trade Corridor Project (IMTC); it bills itself as a US - Canadian government and business coalition "promot(ing) improvements to mobility and security for the four border crossings between Whatcom County, Washington and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia" - combined called the Cascade Gateway;

-- the CANAMEX Corridor Coalition for a superhighway linking Mexico City to Edmonton, Alberta; it supports the "seamless and efficient transportation of goods, services, people and information between Canada, Mexico and the US;"

-- the Central North American Trade Corridor Association (CHATCA); it's for a Central North American Trade Corridor fully integrated in the global economy and refers to "5 T's" as "essential:" tourism, technology, trade, transportation and training;

-- the Ports to Plains Trade (PTP) Corridor; it supports a multimodal one from Mexico through the four PTP states of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Oklahoma up to Canada and the Pacific Northwest;

-- the Champlain-Hudson Trade Corridor and Gateway Coalition representing trade from Quebec City and Montreal to New York; and

-- the I-95 Corridor Coalition alliance of transportation agencies, toll authorities, and related organizations (including law enforcement) from Canada to Florida in support of transportation managements and operational common interest issues favoring business.

Nothing so far is finalized, but SuperCorrider momentum remains viable. It's slowed in Texas, but very much alive and viable.

In contrast, opposition groups are numerous, vocal, but yet to achieve enough critical mass to matter. They include groups like the "People's Summit" that protested in New Orleans last April against the recent three-presidential secret summit to plot strategy. Also, the conservative Coalition to Block the North American Union condemns a "stealth plan" to erase national borders, merge three nations into one, end the sovereignty of each, build a SuperCorridor, put Washington and the military in charge, allow unlimited immigration, and replace the dollar with the "amero."

Still another is a group of citizen-activist Oklahomans and the organization they formed: Oklahomans for Sovereignty and Free Enterprise. Like similar Texas and other state groups, it's against the SuperCorridor and its proposed I-35 route through their state. It's a conservative group believing that "a capitalist economy can regulate itself in a freely competitive market...with a minimum of governmental intervention and regulation." It opposes government using the law to facilitate a "corporate takeover" of society and fund it with public tax dollars. On board as well is an Oklahoma state senator who says "the NAFTA Superhighway stops here."

He'll need other lawmakers with him and on April 29 failed. Despite vocal opposition, the Oklahoma state legislature authorized the creation of "Smart (inland) Ports" and SuperCorridor system despite earlier having passed a resolution urging Congress "to withdraw from the (SPP - North American Union)" and all activities related to it. Besides Oklahoma, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) lists 21 other states that have passed public-private partnership enabling legislation considered essential for private investment to go forward.

At the federal level, there's also congressional opposition (but not enough to matter) in spite of Rep. Virgil Goode and six co-sponsors introducing House Concurrent Resolution 40 in January 2007. It expressed "the sense of (some but not enough in) Congress that the United States should not engage in (building a NAFTA) Superhighway System or enter into a North American Union with Mexico and Canada."

State legislatures as well are against it (in contrast to others in support) - thus far a dozen or more passing resolutions in 2008 and another 20 in 2007. Well and good but remember Adlai Stevenson's response to an enthusiastic supporter during his first presidential campaign. He thanked the woman and replied: "That's not enough madam. I need a majority."

It's no different for the SuperCorridor and North American Union. They're progressing secretly in spite of activist opposition and a largely unaware public. A recent poll sheds light. It was conducted by the American Policy Center that calls itself "a privately funded, nonprofit, 501 c (4), tax-exempt grassroots action and education foundation dedicated to the promotion of free enterprise and limited government...."

It revealed no widespread public SPP opposition because most people (58% living along the proposed Texas to Minnesota route) don't know about it or enough to matter. However, 95% of respondents with awareness opposed it but unfortunately in answer to biased questions. Their wording apparently conveyed the idea of "private corporations (having) power to enforce trade policy that may adversely affect our national sovereignty and independence."

Market researchers know that questions must be neutral and unbiased to produce reliable results. For example, respondents should have been asked: From what you know about SPP, do you favor or oppose it? A follow-up should then ask "why" to get unguided replies. Other biased questions were also asked and elicited strong opposition to an "amero," NAFTA courts superseding state and federal ones, the Bush administration being allowed to proceed without congressional approval, the US being "harmonized" or merged with Mexico and Canada, and more.

Most important is that public knowledge is sparse. What is known is incomplete, at times inaccurate, and either way plans (so far) are proceeding with or without congressional or public approval.

It means a corporate coup d'etat is advancing, aided and abetted by three governments. They plan to unite and become one, militarize the continent for enforcement, lay ribbons of concrete and rail lines across it, and hand it over to business for profit. That's where things now stand. Imagine where they'll end if a way isn't found to stop them.