Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Imagine by Ron Paul

Imagine By Ron Paul

Go To Original

Imagine for a moment that somewhere in the middle of Texas there was a large foreign military base, say Chinese or Russian. Imagine that thousands of armed foreign troops were constantly patrolling American streets in military vehicles. Imagine they were here under the auspices of “keeping us safe” or “promoting democracy” or “protecting their strategic interests.”

Imagine that they operated outside of US law, and that the Constitution did not apply to them. Imagine that every now and then they made mistakes or acted on bad information and accidentally killed or terrorized innocent Americans, including women and children, most of the time with little to no repercussions or consequences. Imagine that they set up check points on our soil and routinely searched and ransacked entire neighborhoods of homes. Imagine if Americans were fearful of these foreign troops, and overwhelmingly thought America would be better off without their presence.

Imagine if some Americans were so angry about them being in Texas that they actually joined together to fight them off, in defense of our soil and sovereignty, because leadership in government refused or were unable to do so. Imagine that those Americans were labeled terrorists or insurgents for their defensive actions, and routinely killed, or captured and tortured by the foreign troops on our land. Imagine that the occupiers’ attitude was that if they just killed enough Americans, the resistance would stop, but instead, for every American killed, ten more would take up arms against them, resulting in perpetual bloodshed. Imagine if most of the citizens of the foreign land also wanted these troops to return home. Imagine if they elected a leader who promised to bring them home and put an end to this horror.

Imagine if that leader changed his mind once he took office.

The reality is that our military presence on foreign soil is as offensive to the people that live there as armed Chinese troops would be if they were stationed in Texas. We would not stand for it here, but we have had a globe straddling empire and a very intrusive foreign policy for decades that incites a lot of hatred and resentment towards us.

According to our own CIA, our meddling in the Middle East was the prime motivation for the horrific attacks on 9/11. But instead of re-evaluating our foreign policy, we have simply escalated it. We had a right to go after those responsible for 9/11, to be sure, but why do so many Americans feel as if we have a right to a military presence in some 160 countries when we wouldn’t stand for even one foreign base on our soil, for any reason? These are not embassies, mind you, these are military installations. The new administration is not materially changing anything about this. Shuffling troops around and playing with semantics does not accomplish the goals of the American people, who simply want our men and women to come home. 50,000 troops left behind in Iraq is not conducive to peace any more than 50,000 Russian soldiers would be in the United States.

Shutting down military bases and ceasing to deal with other nations with threats and violence is not isolationism. It is the opposite. Opening ourselves up to friendship, honest trade and diplomacy is the foreign policy of peace and prosperity. It is the only foreign policy that will not bankrupt us in short order, as our current actions most definitely will. I share the disappointment of the American people in the foreign policy rhetoric coming from the administration. The sad thing is, our foreign policy WILL change eventually, as Rome’s did, when all budgetary and monetary tricks to fund it are exhausted.

1 in 50 children in US is homeless

Ranks of homeless kids climb

Go To Original

In and out of classrooms, sleeping in shelters, shielded by parents, homeless children can seem invisible to society at large.

A national study released Monday finds that one in 50 children in America is homeless. They're sharing housing because of economic hardship, living in motels, cars, abandoned buildings, parks, camping grounds or shelters, or waiting for foster care placement.

"That is something that I don't think most people intuitively believe to be true," said Ellen Bassuk, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and president of the National Center on Family Homelessness.

The national center last did such a report 10 years ago, and numbers of children without a permanent place to sleep are growing.

In Sacramento County, where debates over homeless issues have hit a pinnacle in recent months, school districts counted more than 6,000 children without stable housing during the last school year, a number that has been rising steadily since 2002.

The national center's study, "America's Youngest Outcasts," shows that California had 292,624 homeless children, the 10th largest population in the nation, during the time of its count, the 2005- 2006 school year. The group counted 1.5 million homeless kids across the country, about 200,000 more than the figure it reported a decade before.

Bassuk said family and child homelessness is a "relatively new problem," largely the result of more families splintering and becoming impoverished. "Many more of these families are headed by females, and are going to be more subject to market forces," she said. "They tend to be a lot poorer." She also cited a lack of affordable housing and a dearth of social programs geared toward families and children.

As the economy has wilted and foreclosures have soared since 2006, homeless numbers have almost certainly increased, researchers say.

In Sacramento County school districts, 6,165 youngsters, including those too young to attend classes, were without homes during the 2007-2008 school year, said Hilary Krogh, coordinator of the county Office of Education's Project TEACH program for homeless children.

The number has increased every year since 2002-2003, when area districts counted 3,773 homeless infants through high schoolers, Krogh said. She works with homeless liaisons within each school district to identify homeless children and help them get services.

Sacramento's rising numbers are mirrored throughout the state, Krogh said. The Folsom Cordova Unified School District counted 682 homeless youths within its boundaries last school year, a startling 31 percent increase over the previous year, said district liaison Charlene Hunt.

"We are not unique," said Hunt. "Our numbers are going up, and 2009 is going to be a particularly challenging year for everyone."

The National Center on Family Homelessness ranked all 50 states on their rates of homeless children, the health of the children and their educational achievements. It ranked California 40th overall, reflecting such factors as policy and planning efforts to deal with the issue as well as numbers of homeless children. Texas, ranked 50th, got the worst overall report card, while Connecticut got the best.

Joan Burke at Loaves & Fishes services for the homeless in Sacramento sees the plight of wayward children every day.

"These children really are, in many ways, the hidden homeless," Burke said. "They are doubling up with family members, staying with friends, living in hotels. It's very difficult to get an accurate count of them."

Twenty or more children attend school each day at Mustard Seed on the Loaves campus on North C Street.

Homelessness is "very, very difficult on children," said Burke. "They have lost their whole known world. They no longer have their neighborhood friends. They may have left a pet behind. Their parents are very stressed. They're in a new school. It's overwhelming for them."

School director Angela Hassell said children who find themselves homeless "don't trust easily," and often have trouble focusing on school work because they are consumed with the trials of daily living.

The national report makes a raft of recommendations for federal and state policy planners to deal with the issue. Among other things, it calls for programs that would give needy people better access to affordable housing, increases in nutrition programs for homeless youngsters, expanded health services for needy families, and improved access to early childhood education for homeless youngsters.

"The very first thing we need to do is make sure that people realize that we do have a problem, and focus more planning efforts on families and kids," said Bassuk.

Sacramento city and county leaders are working with churches, advocacy groups and others to improve services for homeless people, officials said.

They are discussing a legal tent city where the homeless could live without fear of being arrested and would have access to basic services such as garbage pickup and running water. Mayor Kevin Johnson, among other leaders, has expressed strong interest in the idea.

Oprah Winfrey's television show recently featured a sprawling tent city near the Blue Diamond almond processing plant in a show on the "new faces" of homelessness.

City Councilman Rob Fong, meanwhile, has launched a "Faith and Homeless Families Initiative," a pilot program in which local churches agree to "adopt" homeless families and provide rental assistance, financial management tools and mentoring. The program will serve families that, in better economic times, were employed and had permanent housing.

Also, the city and county are set to get nearly $5 million in federal stimulus funding for a variety of programs that serve the homeless.

"Maybe this report, along with a new president and a new mayor who seem willing to tackle tough issues, is reason for hope," said Burke of Loaves & Fishes. "Maybe people will start to realize that this is a problem all around the country, including right here in Sacramento."

Second Coming of Known Unknowns

Tim Geithner, CNBC, and the Second Coming of Known Unknowns

Go To Original

A formerly famous and now mostly forgotten poet of nonsense verse once said: "There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns....there are also unknown unknowns."

That was, of course, Donald Rumsfeld, but it doesn't sound too different from your average briefing/Congressional testimony/interview by Timothy Geithner. Besides being awash in toxic paper, credit default swaps, and collateralized debt obligations, we seem to be drowning in unknowns. Only, I get the sense that there are fewer unknowns than we're being told.

While we're rewarding the risk-taking shareholders of various zombie banks -- not to mention the mysterious, unconfirmed counterparties to AIG's serial recklessness -- how about rewarding the taxpayers, if not with an actual return on our bailout investment then at least with information about what exactly is being done with our money? It's time to call in all the unknowns.

Instead, we're greeted with a wall of manufactured complexity by the people whose job it is to make known unknowns into known knowns. There is nothing complex about the way CEOs like John Thain, Ed Liddy, Lloyd Blankfein, John Mack, Vikram Pandit, and Ken Lewis turned bailout billions into Wall Street bonus money -- and no justification for keeping taxpayers in the dark about the giveaways (Vanity Fair's Michael Shnayerson breaks down the jaw-dropping and blood-boiling numbers).

Which brings us to the holy temple of unknown unknowns -- CNBC. The financial channel's Erin Burnett (Street Signs, Squawk on the Street) was on Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday night, suddenly seeing all kinds of complexity, nuance, and ambiguity in what can be known and not known about the economic crisis. Does the government know more than they're telling us, asked Bill.

"I don't think they know," said Burnett. "I don't think anybody knows."

And: "I don't even know that the CEOs themselves know."

And: "Tim Geithner may know more than most, but no, he doesn't know."

And as for whether the financial geniuses at CNBC should have known something:

"It's easy to say [there's] a bubble, but you don't know when it's gonna burst. And I think that the question of timing and magnitude, nobody got. That wasn't just a CNBC pundit thing, that was any expert out there." I guess she missed experts like Roubini and Taleb.

And I certainly don't remember that kind of circumspection in the run up to the meltdown. For a look at what the CNBC sages thought they knew, and how wrong they were, there is, of course, Jon Stewart's already legendary evisceration.

As Stewart shows, the essential truth of what went on is really quite simple. Using complexity as a cover for accountability has a long historical track record of ending in disaster.

"The most dangerous thing in any economic crisis is denial," writes MIT professor Simon Johnson, a former official at the IMF, where he specialized in dealing with banking crises around the world. He's become one of the leaders of the camp arguing that the administration needs to admit the scope of the banking problem and deal with it sooner (wildly expensive) rather than later (insanely and unsustainably expensive). While "the degree of denial in the United States has fallen dramatically," Johnson writes, "there is one major aspect of denial still remaining: the scale and nature of our banking difficulties."

(Johnson, by the way, is doing his part to get rid of unknowns at his blog Baseline Scenario, which includes a terrific primer on the financial crisis.)

Johnson's insights mirror those of Paul Krugman, who writes that "officials still aren't willing to face the facts. They don't want to face up to the dire state of major financial institutions because it's very hard to rescue an essentially insolvent bank without, at least temporarily, taking it over." Not coming clean and doing what needs to be done, adds Krugman, "could result in an economy that sputters along, not for months or years, but for a decade or more."

Speaking of nationalization, CNBC's Burnett told Maher, "Nobody wants it on the left, nobody wants it on the right" -- even as calls for it continue to come from both the left and the right, demonstrating once again how obsolete that way of looking at the world is becoming. America's Business Channel, indeed.

The list of knowable knowns that we still don't know about includes the final destination of the taxpayer money the government keeps funneling to AIG. The Wall Street Journal reports that around $50 billion of the $173 billion in bailout funds given to the insurance behemoth has gone to pay off financial institutions that had insured their wildly irresponsible credit default swaps with AIG.

So who, exactly, has our money -- and why don't we know? AIG CEO Ed Liddy prefers not to say. Same with the Fed, which refused a congressional request for the names of AIG's derivative counterparties. According to unnamed sources, the list includes Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch/Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, and Deutsche Bank.

It's worth noting that, thanks to the industry-written 2005 Bankruptcy Bill, derivatives claims are not stayed in bankruptcy -- so the financial institutions that gambled and lost would nevertheless be the first ones paid off. Isn't gaming the system fun?

The stimulus package -- and the media's coverage of it -- has also been a hotbed of known unknowns. Or, if you prefer, unreported knowns.

According to a Media Matters study of 59 network news broadcasts about the stimulus in the three weeks prior to the vote, only three mentioned concerns that the package was inadequate -- even though many economists believed it was not big enough to do the job. Another known known treated like an unknown when we most needed to know. And now, of course, we're already getting reports that the bill was, indeed, too small.

I'm not saying that everything about this crisis is knowable -- far from it. But there are a number of very simple truths that are being hidden behind a smokescreen of complexity and unknowability.

It doesn't take a Ph.D. in economics to know that you can't have CEOs whose companies have received billions in bailout funds going to court and threatening to sue employees to keep the public from knowing which executives pocketed millions in bonuses -- and you can't have them pretending that no bailout money was used to pay said bonuses.

You can't have insolvent banks pretending that the problem is one of liquidity, and then using taxpayer money to protect their balance sheets instead of lending money to credit-worthy businesses and consumers.

And, ultimately, you can't allow the same people who were part of the problem to be part of the solution. There is absolutely no way on earth that the same flawed thinking that got us into this mess will ever get us out of it. We need to clean house, taking the steering wheel away from the executives and the compliant boards that steered us over the economic cliff. They didn't get it then; they still don't get it now (see handing out bonuses, hosting spa retreats, redecorating, and throwing lavish parties while America teeters on the verge of economic collapse).

That is something we all know that we know -- even Tim Geithner and the experts at CNBC.

US and Chinese Navies Face Off in South China Sea

US and Chinese navies face off in South China Sea

• Pentagon claims ship was surrounded in international waters
• Chinese sailors strip to underwear as US vessel sprays hoses in defence

Go To Original

China and America have been drawn into a rare confrontation on the high seas, it emerged today, when the Pentagon accused Chinese ships of manoeuvring dangerously close to a US navy vessel.

The US intends to protest to the Chinese military attache in Washington after Sunday's incident, which followed several days of what US defence officials called "increasingly aggressive" acts by Chinese ships.

At one point, the Pentagon said, the US vessel Impeccable sprayed one ship with water from fire hoses to force it away. The Chinese came within eight metres of the American ship, the Pentagon said, calling the manoeuvre "an apparent co-ordinated effort to harass the US ocean surveillance ship while it was conducting routine operations in international waters".

The vessels were in the South China Sea, about 75 miles south of Hainan Island. No one at the Chinese foreign ministry was available for comment tonight.

Earlier, the official newspaper China Daily carried remarks from the navy's deputy chief of staff, who said the force's growth did not pose a threat to others.

In an interview at the weekend, Major General Zhang Deshun told the newspaper: "Even when the navy has its aircraft carriers one day, our national defence strategy will remain purely defensive.

"The Chinese navy pursues peace and safeguards the security of the country."

The Pentagon spoke of its ship being surrounded. "The Chinese vessels surrounded USNS Impeccable, two of them closing to within 50ft [16 metres], waving Chinese flags and telling Impeccable to leave the area," a statement said.

"Because the vessels' intentions were not known, Impeccable sprayed its fire hoses at one of the vessels in order to protect itself," it said. "The Chinese crew members disrobed to their underwear and continued closing to within 25ft."

The Chinese navy has drawn increasing scrutiny since it joined the international fleet battling Somalian pirates in the Gulf of Aden – its first overseas mission since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949.

Zhang added: "Some foreign media saw it as an opportunity to hype so-called 'China threat'. In fact, China is doing exactly what other countries are doing sending ships there: to protect [their] national interests."

He said China's plans to build aircraft carriers, which have also drawn attention, were "strategically very common" for a big country with a long coastline.

Obama And US Commander Discuss Military Intervention In Mexico

Obama and US commander discuss military intervention in Mexico

By Bill Van Auken

Go To Original

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen briefed President Barack Obama over the weekend on the so-called drug war in Mexico and the prospect of increased US military involvement in the conflict south of the border.

Mullen had just returned from a six-day tour of Latin America, which took him on his last and most important stop to Mexico City. There he held meetings with Mexico's secretary of national defense and other top military officials and discussed proposals for rushing increased US aid to Mexico under the auspices of Plan Merida, a three-year, $1.4 billion package designed to provide equipment, training and other assistance to the Mexican armed forces.

In a telephone press conference conducted as he returned from Mexico, Mullen said that the Pentagon was prepared to help the Mexican military employ the same tactics that US forces have applied in counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US military, he said, was "sharing a lot of lessons we have learned, how we've developed similar capabilities over the last three or four years in our counterinsurgency efforts as we have fought terrorist networks." He added, "There are an awful lot of similarities."

With US backing, Mexican President Felipe Calderon has increasingly militarized the country, deploying tens of thousands of troops in areas ranging from Matamoros and Reynosa in the east to Tijuana, Guerrero, Michoacán and Sinaloa in the west.

On the eve of Mullen's visit, the Mexican military poured some 5,000 additional troops into Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, redoubling patrols by combat-equipped units and effectively sealing the city off with roadblocks. Some 2,500 troops had already been deployed in the city last spring.

He said that in his meetings with Mexican military officials he had discussed US aid focusing on "intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance," or ISR in US military parlance.

He indicated that intelligence-sharing had already been implemented, but that "there are additional assets that could be brought to bear across the full ISR spectrum."

In the first instance, this could mean the deployment of US manned surveillance aircraft as well as unmanned drones over Mexican territory. It could likewise suggest the deployment of Special Forces units or military "contractors."

Mullen refused to answer when questioned whether unmanned drones had already been deployed over Ciudad Juarez and other Mexican cities.

According to an unnamed US military official cited by the Associated Press, the meeting between Mullen and Obama on Saturday focused on how to increase US military aid.

"Clearly one of the things the president was interested in was the US military capability that may or may not apply to our cooperation with the Mexicans," the official said. "He was very interested in what kind of military capabilities may be applied."

In a March 1 television interview, Defense Secretary Robert Gates sounded a similar note, praising Calderon for having "taken on the battle" against drug trafficking by deploying the army and claiming that the "old biases against cooperation" between Mexico and the Pentagon were "being set aside." As a result, Gates added, Washington was prepared to provide the Mexican military "with training, with resources, with reconnaissance and surveillance kinds of capabilities."

The indications of more direct US military involvement follow a growing chorus of official as well as media reports portraying Mexico as a potential "failed state" and a mounting threat to US national security.

In its annual report assessing global security threats, the Pentagon's Joint Forces Command lumped Mexico together with Pakistan as countries that "bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse." The document added a warning: "Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response, based on the serious implications for homeland security as well."

This was followed by a report released at the US Military Academy in January by retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who was director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Bill Clinton. Mexico, he wrote, is "fighting for survival against narco-terrorism" and required greater US intervention.

"The proposed US Government spending in support of the government of Mexico is a drop in the bucket compared to what we have spent in Iraq and Afghanistan." McCaffrey continued. "Yet the stakes in Mexico are enormous. We cannot afford to have a narco-state as a neighbor."

In the media there has been a steady drumbeat of reports warning that the drug violence, which has claimed over 1,000 lives in Mexico so far this year, will inevitably spill across the border into US cities.

Obama's US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano echoed these warnings in an interview with PBS television last week. While acknowledging that there was no indication that such violence had crossed the border, she continued, "But let's be very, very clear. This is a very serious battle. It could spill over into the United States. If it does, we have contingency plans to deal with it."

What is deliberately obscured in all of these responses to the situation in Mexico, is that the decision of Calderon to pursue a militarized response to the longstanding and essentially socioeconomic problem of drug-trafficking, has everything to do with immense social tensions building up in the country as well as the political crisis of his own presidency, which a substantial portion of the population still sees as illegitimate following the disputed 2006 election.

These tensions have been immensely exacerbated by the onset of the world financial crisis, which has wiped out more than half a million jobs in Mexico since November—while driving large sections of manufacturing, and in particular the country's extensive auto assembly and parts production sector—into depression conditions. Last week, Volkswagen announced another 1,050 layoffs at its assembly plant in Puebla.

Meanwhile Ciudad Juarez, where the Mexican army is carrying out its current occupation, is also one of the main centers of the maquiladora industry, the assembly plants that exploit cheap Mexican labor in the production of consumer goods bound for the other side of the border. Layoffs have swept through many plants in the city, leaving large sections of the population desperate for work.

The official unemployment rate rose to 5 percent in January, from 4.32 percent the month before. This figure grossly underestimates the real situation, however, as it excludes the so-called informal sector, which accounts for 40 percent of the economy, and counts as employed anyone who works as little as an hour a week.

Last month, Mexico's telecom mogul Carlos Slim, counted as the second richest man in the world, warned that "unemployment will rise as we have never seen in our personal lives [and] companies small, medium and large will go bankrupt."

Meanwhile, the number of remittances sent by Mexican citizens working in the US fell by 20 percent between January 2008 and January 2009. This money sent home for the most part by poorly paid undocumented workers constitutes the second largest source of foreign exchange for the Mexican economy after oil exports. There is also a growing fear that many of the Mexican immigrants in the US, unable to find work, will begin returning home to find even worse prospects.

It is in this explosive context that Calderon's deployment of the military serves as a means of social control and repression.

The sending out of the army has resulted in a growing number of denunciations of severe human rights violations, with the military charged with crimes ranging from massacres to extra-judicial executions, torture, rapes and illegal detention. The government's own National Commission on Human Rights has reported receiving a total of 1,602 such complaints between January 2007 and December 2008.

One representative case took place in Ciudad Juarez in January with the military's abduction of Jaime Irigoyen. A 19-year-old law student at the Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez and a varsity pitcher for the university's baseball team, he was dragged from his bed by uniformed soldiers as his family screamed in protest.

Later, as relatives protested outside the local military base, Irigoyen's blindfolded and gagged body was discovered dumped in the street. It is suspected that the abduction and execution was a case of mistaken identity, based on faulty intelligence obtained by means of torturing other suspects. Nonetheless, the military subsequently laid siege to the funeral home where Irigoyen's wake was held, searching the cars of mourners, blocking surrounding streets and arresting several of those in attendance.

It is under conditions of this type of ongoing military violence that the Obama administration and the Pentagon are now proposing to apply the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, while providing the hardware and advisors to prosecute a civil war against a restive working class south of the US border.

Obama: Military Aggression And Attacks On Democratic Rights To Continue

Obama’s New York Times interview: Military aggression and attacks on democratic rights to continue

By Barry Grey

Go To Original

In an extensive interview conducted last Friday with the New York Times and published on Sunday, President Barack Obama outlined policies on national security and foreign affairs that underscore the essential continuity between his administration and that of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

The interview made clear that the new administration has embraced the basic political and ideological framework of the Bush administration to justify military aggression and illegality internationally and attacks on democratic rights within the United States—the so-called "global war on terror."

In its report on the interview, the Times itself took note of the continuity between the policies of the two administrations, writing: "The president spoke at length about the struggle with terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere, staking out positions that at times seemed more comparable to those of his predecessor than many of Mr. Obama's more liberal supporters would like. He did not rule out the option of snatching terrorism suspects out of hostile countries."

Further on, the newspaper commented, "Mr. Obama signaled that those on the left seeking a wholesale reversal of Mr. Bush's detainee policy might be disappointed."

In the course of the interview, Obama took pains to rebut suggestions that his policies were in some way "socialistic," going so far as to call back the interviewer later in the day to reaffirm his commitment to "free market principles." (See "A specter haunts the ruling elite")

Asked whether the US was presently winning the war in Afghanistan, Obama said "No," and proceeded to outline his policy of expanding the Afghan war and extending it into Pakistan. He said: "At the heart of a new Afghanistan policy is going to be a smarter Pakistan policy. As long as you've got safe havens in these border regions that the Pakistani government can't control or reach, in effective ways, we're going to continue to see vulnerability on the Afghan side of the border."

Last month Obama announced the deployment of an additional 17,000 US troops to Afghanistan, the first installment of a military escalation that is expected to double the US troop presence in the country to 60,000 in the coming months. At the same time, the Obama administration has stepped up missile attacks across the border in Pakistan, and has gone beyond such attacks by the Bush administration by targeting for the first time anti-government Pakistani Islamist forces that are not involved in cross-border raids on US and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

In response to a question from the Times, Obama suggested that US would be open to negotiating with certain anti-US Islamist and Taliban factions in Afghanistan in an attempt to break them away from more hard-line Taliban forces. He justified this option by referring to the "success" of a similar tactic employed in Iraq by then-US commander in Iraq and current chief of the US Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus.

Petraeus, as part of the Bush administration's military "surge" in Iraq, combined the bribing of some Sunni tribal leaders with intensified military violence against so-called "incorrigible" elements and devastating attacks on civilian populations in hostile regions. The aim was to isolate and destroy the most implacable opponents of the American occupation and the US puppet regime in Baghdad.

In an effort to deflect a suggestion by the Times interviewer that he was "more liberal than you suggested on the campaign," Obama cited his own policy in Iraq. "I think it would be hard to argue, Jeff," he said. "We have delivered on every promise that we've made so far. We said that we would end the war in Iraq and we've put forward a responsible plan."

"Responsible" is a code word for delaying any significant draw-down of US troops until the end of the year, in line with the demands of the military, and abandoning his campaign pledge to withdraw one combat brigade a month and all "combat" forces within 16 months. In the plan for Iraq that Obama announced last month, a residual force of up to 50,000 so-called "non-combat" troops will remain in Iraq at least until the end of 2011.

At another point, to counter any suggestion that he was a "socialist," Obama touted his commitment to slash spending and impose fiscal austerity, making clear, however, that the military budget would not be targeted. "We've essentially said that, number one, we're going to reduce non-defense discretionary spending to the lowest levels in decades," he said.

On the illegal and anti-democratic methods employed by the US in pursuit of the "war on terror"—the kidnapping of alleged terrorists and their transfer for interrogation (torture) to third countries (rendition), the indefinite detention without charges or trial of so-called "enemy combatants," warrantless domestic spying—Obama indicated that the substance of the Bush administration's policies would be continued.

Asked about striking a "balance" between national security and civil liberties, Obama gave his stamp of approval to the role of top Bush intelligence officials who oversaw massive domestic spying, rendition, secret CIA torture centers and illegal detentions, including of legal residents and US citizens. He suggested that while in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 there may have been abuses, by the time he took office these excesses had been corrected.

He said: "I think the CIA, for example... took steps to correct certain policies and procedures after those first couple of years. I think that (former CIA director) Admiral Hayden and Mike McConnell at DNI (director of national intelligence) were capable public servants who really had America's security interests in mind when they acted, and I think they were mindful of American values and ideals..."

The Times interviewer cited public statements by Obama's CIA director, Leon Panetta, that the Obama administration would continue the practice of rendition. Asked why the new administration would continue the policy, Obama suggested it was justified in relation to "dangerous" Al Qaeda operatives who surfaced in countries with which the US had no extradition treaty and which would be loathe to prosecute.

Declaring that his administration was conducting a review of rendition policy to somehow make it compatible with international law, and reiterating his verbal renunciation of torture, he said, "... we ultimately provide anybody that we're detaining an opportunity through habeas corpus to answer to charges."

The Times reported that Obama aides subsequently told the newspaper that "Mr. Obama did not mean to suggest that everybody held by American forces would be granted habeas corpus or the right to challenge their detention. In a court filing last month, the Obama administration agreed with the Bush administration position that 600 prisoners in a cavernous prison on the American air base at Bagram in Afghanistan have no right to seek their release in court.

"Instead, aides said Mr. Obama's comment referred only to a Supreme Court decision last year finding that prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have the right to go to federal court to challenge their continued detention."

Obama's interview with the Times is the latest demonstration of the fraudulent character of his campaign rhetoric of "change" and his anti-war posturing, and underscores the impossibility of effecting any real change in government policy under a political system dominated by two parties of American imperialism.

Civil Unrest in America?

Civil Unrest in America?

by José Miguel Alonso Trabanco

Go To Original

Eurasia is currently experiencing serious problems derived from financial and economic difficulties such as unemployment, GDP negative growth, currency depreciation, overall economic slowdown and so on. Several members of both the European Union and NATO (Poland, Hungary, Iceland come to mind) are already dealing with a considerable deal of domestic discontent. Some States from the Former Soviet Union (notably Ukraine, Belarus and the Central Asian Republics) and even Russia itself are facing similar problems. Even Chinese government officials acknowledge protests in the Chinese mainland, as pointed out by Professor Michael Klare, which means that East Asia is by no means an exception. As we shall see, financial and economic conditions are equally grave in the American hemisphere, if not more so.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor and early supporter of Barack Obama's presidential campaign, has warned that civil unrest on American soil is a possibility that should not be dismissed. Brzezinski explains that "[the United States is] going to have millions and millions of unemployed, people really facing dire straits. And we’re going to be having that for some period of time before things hopefully improve. And at the same time there is public awareness of this extraordinary wealth that was transferred to a few individuals at levels without historical precedent in America..." Brzezinski concludes with this noteworthy remark "...hell, there could be even riots".

The aforementioned means that the upper echelons of the American political elite have realized that the current financial and economic turmoil is much worse than what many experts had foreseen, and that things could really spiral out of control if the present situation deteriorates even further. Indeed, optimistic signs are nowhere to be found. Quite the contrary.

The full magnitude of the financial tsunami is clearly reflected in a piece written by Barry Ritholtz, who states that the bailout plan promoted by former US Secretary of the Treasury Henry "Hank" Paulson amounts to a sum of money that is superior to the Louisiana Purchase, the New Deal, the Marshall Plan, the Apollo Lunar Project, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the invasion of Iraq and other large government expenditures - combined (!). This illustrates that America's top policymakers (both Democratic and Republican) hold serious concerns about the health of the American financial system and the American economy.

Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy (the largest in American history) was merely the tip of the iceberg and economic and financial conditions have dramatically worsened ever since. On January 22 2009, the Christian Science Monitor published that the four largest U.S. banks "have lost half of their value since January 2." Moreover, in the period from summer 2008 to March 2009, the Dow Jones Industrial Average index has decreased more than 50%. Furthermore, during February 2009 alone, more than 651 000 jobs were lost in the US, whose unemployment rate has now reached 8.1 %, the highest in 26 years. Also, some US car manufacturers (such as Ford, General Motors and Chrysler), once the pride of America's industry, are practically on life support.

Steve Lohr, from the New York Times, writes that "Some of the large banks in the United States, according to economists and other finance experts, are like dead men walking." Indeed, there were only two investment banks left: Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs and their condition is not exactly solid because they have managed to survive by becoming ordinary commercial banks. The Guardian reproduces an assessment by Bill Isaac, an experienced financial expert; he claims that the transformation of both Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs is "a shame because this country [the US] was built, in part, on risk-taking by Goldman and Morgan and by a whole bunch of firms before them." Karl West, from the Daily Mail mentions that financial specialists warn that mammoth bank Citigroup "could collapse".

All of the above indicates that the much-feared financial meltdown is no longer a distant and remote possibility because in fact it is already taking place. However, this chaos might trigger some very serious and preoccupying consequences. In order to have a clear understanding of these implications, it is vital to take into account some reports that were not given the proper amount of attention they deserved when they were first published.

Professor Michel Chossudovsky observed that the US Army 3rd Infantry's 1st Brigade Combat Team returned from Iraq some months ago. That information is extremely disturbing because such military unit "may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control", according to official sources. Now, what scenario could possibly require the operational deployment of said units on American soil? Professor Chossudovsky puts forward an intriguing hypothesis that must be borne in mind. He argues that "Civil unrest resulting from from the financial meltdown is a distinct possibility, given the broad impacts of financial collapse on lifelong savings, pension funds, homeownership, etc".

Shortly afterwards, the Centre for Research on Globalization website posted an article written by Wayne Madsen. Mr. Madsen claims that a highly confidential official report has been circulating among senior members of the US Congress and their top advisors. The report has been allegedly nicknamed as the "C & R document· The author stipulates that those letters stand for none other than "conflict" and "revolution" because those scenarios are supposedly regarded by America's policymakers as plausible consequences triggered by a financial meltdown. According to Mr. Madsen, the content of the document reveals that severe financial chaos could spark a major war if Washington refuses to honor its foreign debt and/or massive riots in US cities if the American population does not accept a considerable tax increase.

For decades, overall political stability in the US was taken for granted. However, as it has been pointed out, even senior American statesmen are taking into consideration that financial volatility could fuel a wave of discontent which could easily reach troubling proportions. It seems that America itself is not immune from "regime-threatening instability" as the Pentagon and the American intelligence community terms it. It is likely that American government officials have not dismissed the worst-case scenario. Indeed it looks like they have been preparing accordingly.

Therefore, as has been scrutinized here, once one proceeds to connect the dots a very dark picture begins to emerge, to say the least. An all-encompassing cloud of uncertainty prevents us from formulating an accurate forecast regarding what developments will occur and how they will unfold during the next few months, let alone years. The only thing that can be taken for granted and that one can be sure of is that the unthinkable has now become thinkable.

Modern Slavery in America

Modern Slavery in America

by Stephen Lendman

Go To Original

Called human trafficking or forced labor, modern slavery thrives in America, largely below the radar. A 2004 UC Berkeley study cites it mainly in five sectors:

-- prostitution and sex services - 46%;

-- domestic service - 27%;

-- agriculture - 10%;

-- sweatshops or factories - 5%;

-- restaurant and hotel work - 4%; with the remainder coming from:

-- sexual exploitation of children, entertainment, and mail-order brides.

It persists for lack of regulation, work condition monitoring, and a growing demand for cheap labor enabling unscrupulous employers and criminal networks to exploit powerless workers for profit.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) defines forced labor as:

"....all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which said person has not offered himself voluntarily."

Forced child labor is:

"(a) all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labor, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;"

"(b) the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;"

"(c) the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties;" and

"(d) work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children."

The Free the Slaves.net's definition is being "forced to work without pay under threat of violence and unable to walk away." It reports:

-- an estimated 27 million people are enslaved globally, more than at any other time previously;

-- thousands annually trafficked in America in over 90 cities; around 17,000 by some estimates and up to 50,000 according to the CIA, either from abroad or affecting US citizens or residents as forced labor or sexual servitude;

-- the global market value is over $9.5 billion annually, according to Mark Taylor, senior coordinator for the State Department's Office to Monitor;

-- victims are often women and children;

-- the majority are in India and African countries;

-- slavery is illegal but happens "everywhere;"

-- slaves work in agriculture, homes, mines, restaurants, brothels, or wherever traffickers can employ them; they're cheap, plentiful, disposable, and replaceable;

-- "$90 is the average cost of a human slave around the world" compared to the 1850 $40,000 equivalent in today's dollars;

-- common terminology includes debt bondage, bonded labor, attached labor, restavec (or de facto bondage for Haitian children sent to households of strangers), forced labor, indentured servitude, and human trafficking;

-- explosive population growth, mostly to urban centers without safety net or job security protections, facilitates the practice; and

-- government corruption, lack of monitoring, and indifference does as well.

American Anti-Trafficking Efforts

US laws prohibit all forms of human trafficking through statutes created or strengthened by the 2000 Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA) with imprisonment for up to 20 years or longer as well as other penalties.

In April 2003, the Protect Act was passed (Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today Act). The law protects children and severely punishes offenders when enforced. It's to prosecute American citizens and legal permanent residents who travel abroad for purposes of sexually trafficking minors without having to prove prior intent to commit the crime.

The 2000 law (reauthorized in 2005) provides tools to combat trafficking offenders worldwide. It also establishes the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP Office) and the President's Interagency Task Force to help coordinate anti-trafficking efforts. The State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) also is for victim protection. In addition, various other US agencies are involved, including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through its Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking public awareness campaign and by identifying victims.

The Department of Justice handles prosecutions, and along with DHS and the State Department, addresses various trafficking issues through the interagency Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center. Still, enforcement is often is lax or absent, at both federal and state levels, because offenders are powerful and those harmed are the "wretched of the earth," mostly poor blacks, Latinos and Asians. As a result, the practice is rampant and growing. Below are examples of its forms.

Farmworker Slavery

In a March 2004 report, Oxfam America highlighted the growing problem in a report titled "Like Machines in the Fields: Workers without Rights in American Agriculture." It's a shocking account of how "Behind the shiny, happy images promoted by the fast-food industry with its never-ending commercials, there is another reality:"

-- nearly two million overworked farmworkers living in "sub-poverty misery, without benefits, without the right to overtime," a living wage, or other job protections, including for children;

-- in Florida, it's not uncommon to find instances of workers chained to poles, locked in trucks, physically beaten, and cheated out of pay; it's pervasive enough for a federal prosecutor to have called the state "ground zero for modern-day slavery" in a New Yorker magazine article;

-- John Bowe, author of "Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy," calls Florida agriculture "an unsavory world" where workers like Adan Ortiz fear talking about their bosses because he has nightmares that they might "come after me with machetes and stuff;"

-- basic US labor laws exclude farmworkers, including the right to organize; laws like the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRB) and 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); also OSHA protections are lacking; the 1983 Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (AWPA or MSPA) provided modest but inadequate relief and none at all when it isn't enforced; Oxfam reported that, except in California to a modest degree, "state laws perpetuate inequality," especially in Florida and North Carolina;

-- overall, enforcement at both federal and state levels is lax and has weakened in recent years; most notable are the lack of investigations, prosecutions, and resources allocated for either; in the case of undocumented workers, nothing in the law protects them;

-- many serve as forced labor against their will in a modern-day version of slavery: terrorized by violent employers, watched by armed guards under conditions of near-incarceration, living overcrowded in "severely inadequate" barracks or trailers, often plagued with rust, mildew, filth, broken appliances, sagging or leaky roofs, non-working showers, and multiple occupants being over-charged up to $200 a week by unscrupulous employers; yet workers put up with it because in the words of one: "If we don't work, we don't eat;"

-- the commercial power of giant buyers and retailers like Wal-Mart (selling 19% of US groceries) and Yum Brands (the world's largest fast-food company) squeeze growers and suppliers for the lowest prices;

-- increased competition from imports have had a similar effect, especially in winter months;

-- yet while wages and prices to producers are squeezed, profits are passed up the distribution chain to corporate giants at the top.

Farmworkers have been punished as a result and are perhaps the poorest and most abused laborers in America. Around half of them earn less than $7500 annually. Lucky ones earn up to $10,000, in either case it's far below the federal poverty threshold, and their wages have been stagnant since the 1970s.

Doing some of the worst and most dangerous jobs in America (from exposure to toxic chemicals and workplace accidents), poverty has forced them into sub-standing housing, temporary jobs, increased migrancy, and family separation.

Besides sub-poverty wages, around 95% get no Social Security, disability, or medical insurance benefits (let alone vacations or pensions) for themselves or their families. Women farmworkers face other abuses like male dominance, sexual harassment, or worse, while at the same time remain primary family caregivers.

Crop and livestock agricultural jobs exist throughout the country, but over half are concentrated in California, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and Washington. Most farmworkers are young (between 18 - 44 or younger), male (about 80%), and Latino. They have little education, and many are recent undocumented immigrants (mostly from Mexico) forced north because of destructive trade laws like NAFTA.

Organizing efforts have won important victories but not enough to increase workers' bargaining power under a fundamentally unfair system. So while achievements of organizations like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida (with over 2000 members) are impressive, they're no match against agribusiness giants or Wal-Mart.

Nor can they ameliorate conditions in one of the country's most hazardous occupations. Farmworker disability rates are three times than for the greater population. Around 300,000 laborers suffer pesticide poisoning annually, and many others endure accidents, musculoskeletal, and other type injuries (some chronic).

A 1990 North Carolina study found only 4% of workers had access to drinking water, hand-washing, and toilet facilities, a particularly dangerous situation for children and pregnant women.

Oxfam calls farmworker conditions today the equivalent of a "19th century plantation-style" model relying on field hands, rudimentary equipment, long hours, little pay, no benefits, under a basically "inhumane, anachronistic (system crying) out for reform." But how when all levels of government turn a blind eye to the worst of abuses, and for the undocumented blame them for their own plight.

Domestic Servitude in America

Each year, many thousands, mostly women, arrive in America with temporary visas to work as live-in domestic workers - for the wealthy, foreign diplomats, or other domestic or foreign officials. They come to escape poverty or to earn money to send home to families. Often they're exploited or victimized by unscrupulous traffickers who hold them in forced servitude, work them up to 19 hours a day, keep them practically incarcerated, pay them $100 or less a month, and often subject them to sexual abuse.

Undocumented workers have no protection, but even legal entrants have few. Because visas are employment-based, they're obliged to one employer no matter how abusive, and if leave they lose their immigration status and are deported. As a result, few do or file complaints. Some who do are rarely protected because government agencies are lax in their monitoring and enforcement.

Live-in domestic workers are also excluded from labor law protections with regard to overtime pay and right to organize, strike, and bargain collectively. In addition, they're unprotected by OSHA and against sexual harassment under Title VII workplace safeguards as it applies only to employers with 15 or more workers. In cases of foreign employers, they enjoy diplomatic immunity, even from criminal, civil, or administrative prosecutions.

As a result, special visa domestics endure human rights violations. Employers are immunized while workers are powerless to stop abuses like:

-- assault and battery, including physical beatings and threats of serious harm;

-- limited freedom of movement, including arbitrary and enforced loss of liberty by use of locks, bars, confiscation of passports and travel documents, chains, and threats of retaliation against other family members;

-- health and safety issues, including unhealthy sleeping situations in basements, utility rooms, or other unsatisfactory places; unsafe working conditions endangering health; denial of food or proper nutrition; and refusal to provide medical care and having to work when ill;

-- wage and amount of work concerns - US labor laws afford no protections so long hours, little rest, and low pay are common;

-- privacy invasions - the UN General Assembly's December 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) provides that "(n)o one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence;" it applies to everyone, even live-in domestics on visas; nonetheless violations of ICCPR are common and migrants get no redress;

-- psychological abuse - often highlighting employer superiority and worker inferiority to enforce control and render employees powerless; other abuses include insults, food restrictions, denying proper clothing, and various other demeaning practices; and

-- servitude, forced labor, and trafficking - ICCPR and other international laws and instruments prohibit it, yet don't effectively define "servitude" as distinguished from slavery; as a result, abusive labor relationships are inevitable; trafficking is specifically prohibited under the UN's Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the (UN-adopted 2000) Convention against Transnational Organized Crime; nonetheless, the practice is rampant and growing; in the case of migrant domestic workers, abuse is widespread and greatly underreported.

Sex Slavery in America

It's the largest category of forced labor in America and with good reason:

-- it's tied to organized crime and highly profitable;

-- the demand for sex services, including from children, is high and growing; and

-- the lack of safe and legal migration facilitates it.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) states that the average entry prostitution age is between 12 - 14. Shared Hope International documents modern-day sex trafficking and examines conditions under which it exists. It confirms that most victims are underage girls. A congressional finding estimated that between 100,000 - 300,000 children are at risk at any time. A DOJ assessment was that pimps control at least 75% of exploited minors by targeting vulnerable children using violence and psychological intimidation to hold them.

The Internet is a frequent recruitment tool. Other vulnerable victims are shelter and street youths, including runaways. An estimated 2.8 million children live on city streets, a third of whom are lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. Familial prostitution is also common and involves the selling of a family member for drugs, shelter, and/or money.

The market includes prostitution, including with children, pornography, striptease, erotic dancing, and peep shows, often controlled by organized crime. The combination of legal and illegal sex generally is part of a larger portfolio of products and services that include drugs and drugs trafficking.

Sex traffickers usually recruit victims of their own nationality or ethnicity, and migrant smuggling facilitates it. In addition, state and federal laws too often conflict enough to withhold victim status from the abused, impede prosecutions, and result in too lenient sentences when they occur. Also, rarely are prostitution purchasers (including from children) arrested or prosecuted, and overall, law enforcement agencies face legal and systemic challenges that interfere with their ability or inclination to go after buyers. Society provides few protections for victims, including custodial shelters for young children, and as a result, sex services in America thrive.

Sweatshops and Factories

According to the Union of Needle Trades and Industrial Textile Employees, 75% of New York garment factories are sweatshops. The US Department of Labor says over 50% of all US-based ones are, the majority in the apparel centers of New York, California, Dallas, Miami, and Atlanta but others located offshore as well in American territories like Saipan, Guam and American Samoa where merchandise produced is labeled "Made in the USA."

Competing with low-wage offshore producers pressures US producers to cut labor costs to a minimum, even by breaking the law, sometimes egregiously through forced labor. Like agriculture and domestic service, the sector is especially vulnerable as it often operates within the informal economy where regulatory enforcement is lax or absent. As a result, worker exploitation persists. Wages are sub-poverty. Overtime compensation is the exception, and work environments generally are poor to hazardous. Workers who complain or try to organize usually are fired and replaced by more amenable ones.

Starvation wages, long hours, unsafe working conditions, and no protections are standard practice in an industry long known for its labor abuses.

In 1995, two major scandals made headlines, one at home, the other offshore. On August 2, police raided an El Monte, California apartment complex in which 72 undocumented Thai immigrants were kept in forced bondage behind razor wire and a chain link fence. They'd been there for up to 17 years sewing clothes for some of the nation's top manufacturers and retailers.

They were housed in crowded, squalid quarters. Armed guards imposed discipline, pressuring and intimidating them to work every day, around 84 hours a week for 70 cents an hour. Workers were forced to work, eat, sleep, and live in captivity. No unmonitored phone calls or uncensored letters were allowed, and everything bought came only from their captors at highly inflated prices. Seven operators were arrested and later convicted of conspiracy, kidnapping, involuntary servitude, smuggling, and harboring illegal immigrants.

Also in 1995, National Labor Committee investigators found teenage women, as young as 13, sewing clothing for Kathy Lee Gifford's Global Fashion plant in Honduras. Pay was from 9 - 16 cents an hour under oppressive working conditions. Forced overtime was imposed to meet deadlines. Only two daily bathroom visits were allowed. Supervisors and armed guards applied pressure and intimidation to work faster on machines that were rust laden and prone to accidents. Attempts by the women to demand their legal rights were thwarted. Merchandise produced was for major US retailers like Wal-Mart.

American restaurant and hotel workers also work under onerous conditions and are underpaid. In hotels, nearly all housekeepers are women who are required to clean 15 or more rooms a day. Often they must skip meals and rest periods, work off the clock to meet quotas, and have a 40% higher injury rate than service workers overall as a result. According to US Department of Labor figures, they earn an average $8.67 an hour or about $17, 340 annually provided they work full-time.

Immigrants, mainly women, are especially vulnerable in hotels and restaurants. A June 2005 ACLU press release highlighted one example among many pertaining to a law suit brought by two immigrant waitresses against a New Jersey Chinese restaurant charging sex discrimination and labor exploitation.

Filed in June 2003, Mei Ying Liu and Shu Fang Chen charged that from May 2000 - November 2001 they were completely controlled by their employers, forced to work an average 80 hours a week, paid no wages or overtime, had to pay a kickback from tips received, faced gender and ethnic discrimination, were housed in an overcrowded, vermin-filled apartment, and were threatened with death when stopped working at the restaurant.

Guest Worker Trafficking on US Military Bases

Besides Halliburton's exploited army of tens of thousands of foreign nationals in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the National Labor Committee (NLC) reported last July that "hundreds of thousands of foreign guest workers - among them 240,000 Bangladeshis - have been trafficked to Kuwait (under false promises of well-paid jobs, and) forced to work seven days a week (11 hours a day) at a US military base" under horrific conditions.

Stripped of their passports on arrival, they're housed in overcrowded, squalid dorms with eight workers sharing small 10 x 10 rooms, paid 14 - 36 cents an hour, beaten and threatened with arrest when they complained, forced to use most of their wages for high-priced food, and the case of "Mr. Sabur" is typical. Hired by the Kuwait Waste Collection and Recycling Company to work at the Pentagon's Camp Arifjan, his job was to clean the base - everything from offices and living spaces to tanks, rocket launchers and missiles.

He worked an 11-hour shift seven days a week and got a one-hour midnight break for supper. For this, he earned $34.72 a week, far less than he was promised, and he had to pay a Bangladesh employment agency 185,000 taka ($2697) for his three-year contracted job. His family sold everything possible for the money, still came up short, and had to borrow the rest from a neighbor.

On the job, the Kuwaiti company illegally withheld his first three months wages, forcing him to borrow money to survive. When he asked to be paid, he was beaten, and after an 80,000 worker strike, he was arrested, incarcerated for five days, beaten in prison, then deported to Bangladesh still wearing his torn, blood-stained clothing.

He was owed but never paid thousands of promised dollars in back wages, and he's typical. NLC estimates that all 240,000 Bangladeshis have been cheated out of $1.2 billion, and the Pentagon is complicit in the crime. These same abuses are common on US bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, and likely other offshore locations as well. In the words of one Sri Lankan laborer for a Halliburton subcontractor in Iraq: "They promised us the moon and stars," but instead gave us dirty work, low pay, long hours, bad food, and for the first three months held us in windowless warehouses near Baghdad's airport with no money, and for some of them afterwards in tents even worse than the warehouses.

A Final Comment

This is the plight of America's vulnerable and those we exploit abroad, whether in restaurants, hotels, agriculture, domestic work, the sex trade, or on US offshore military bases, and seldom do courts provide justice. It's America's dark side along with an appalling record of crimes and abuses, including imperial wars, torture, and looting the national wealth for criminal bankers and the rich at the expense of growing millions in need left wanting at the most perilous economic time in our history. America's long and disturbing legacy, not at all one to be proud of.

Southern Oligarchy and the Labor Unions

Southern Oligarchy and the Labor Unions

By Joseph B. Atkins

Go To Original

Cheap labor. Even more than race, it’s the thread that connects all of Southern history—from the ante-bellum South of John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis to Tennessee’s Bob Corker, Alabama’s Richard Shelby and the other anti-union Southerners in today’s U.S. Senate.

It’s at the epicenter of a sad class divide between a desperate, poorly educated workforce and a demagogic oligarchy, and it has been a demarcation line stronger than the Mason-Dixon in separating the region from the rest of the nation.

The recent spectacle of Corker, Shelby and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky leading the GOP attack on the proposed $14 billion loan to the domestic auto industry—with 11 other Southern senators marching dutifully behind—made it crystal clear. The heart of Southern conservatism is the preservation of a status quo that serves elite interests.

Expect these same senators and their colleagues in the US House to wage a similar war in the coming months against the proposed Employee Free Choice Act authorizing so-called “card check” union elections nationwide.

“Dinosaurs,” Shelby of Alabama called General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler as he maneuvered to bolster the nonunion Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and other foreign-owned plants in his home state by sabotaging as many as three million jobs nationwide.

Corker, a multi-millionaire who won his seat in a mud-slinging, race-tinged election in 2006, was fairly transparent in his goal to expunge what he considers the real evil in the Big Three and US industry in general: unions. When the concession-weary United Auto Workers balked at GOP demands for a near-immediate reduction in worker wages and benefits, Corker urged President Bush to force-feed wage cuts to UAW workers in any White House-sponsored bailout.

If Shelby, Corker, and McConnell figured they were helping the Japanese, German and Korean-owned plants in their home states, they were seriously misguided. The failure of the domestic auto industry would inflict a deep wound on the same supplier-dealer network that the foreign plants use. The already existing woes of the foreign-owned industry were clearly demonstrated in December when Toyota announced its decision to put on indefinite hold the opening of its $1.3 billion plant near Blue Springs in northeast Mississippi.

The Southern Republicans are full of contradictions. Downright hypocrisy might be a better description. Shelby staunchly opposes universal health care—a major factor in the Big Three’s financial troubles since they operate company plans—yet the foreign automakers he defends benefit greatly from the government-run health care programs in their countries.

These same senators gave their blessing to hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to the foreign automakers to open plants in their states, yet they were willing to let the US auto industry fall into bankruptcy.

In their zeal to destroy unions and their hard-fought wage-and-benefits packages, the Southern senators could not care less that workers in their home states are among the lowest paid in the nation. Ever wonder why the South remains the nation’s poorest region despite generations of seniority-laden senators and representatives in Congress?

Why weren’t these same senators protesting the high salaries in the financial sector when the Congress approved the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street? Why pick on blue-collar workers at the Big Three who last year agreed to huge concessions expected to save the companies an estimated $4 billion a year by 2010? These concessions have already helped lower union wages to non-union levels at some auto plants.

The idea of working people joining together to have a united voice across the table from management scares most Southern politicians to death. After all, they go to the same country clubs as management. When Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker warned of Democratic opponent Ronnie Musgrove’s ties to the “Big Labor Bosses” in this year’s US Senate race, he was protecting the “Big Corporate Bosses” who are his benefactors.

The South today may be more racially enlightened than ever in its history. However, it is still a society in which the ruling class—the chambers of commerce that have taken over from yesterday’s plantation owners and textile barons—uses politics to maintain control over a vast, jobs-hungry workforce. After the oligarchy lost its war for slavery—the cheapest labor of all—it secured the next best thing in Jim Crow and the indentured servitude known as sharecropping and tenant farming. It still sees cheap, pliable, docile labor as the linchpin of the Southern economy.

In 1948, when the so-called “Dixiecrats” rebelled against the national Democratic Party, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina declared war on “the radicals, subversives, and the Reds” who want to upset the Southern way of life.

Seven years later, Mississippi’s political godfather, the late US Sen. James O. Eastland, told other prominent Southern pols during a meeting at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis that the South will “fight the CIO” (Congress of Industrial Organizations) and unionism with just as much vehemence and determination as it fights racial integration.

Eastland, Thurmond and their friends lost the integration battle. Their successors are still fighting the other enemy.

Corporations Step Up Drive Against Bill to Ease Unionization

Corporations Step Up Drive Against Bill to Ease Unionization

Go To Original

President Barack Obama's public backing this past week of a bill that would make union organizing easier is driving companies to step up opposition.

Mr. Obama embraced the Employee Free Choice Act, a top legislative priority for unions, in a video address to the AFL-CIO winter meeting on Tuesday in Miami. It was one of his most vocal statements in support of the bill, which would let workers opt for unionization simply by signing cards, rather than through secret-ballot elections. An election gives an employer the opportunity to campaign against a union.

Many companies have said the bill, likely to be introduced in coming weeks by congressional Democrats, would add to their costs while hurting their ability to boost productivity and keep their work forces flexible enough to respond to changing markets. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said it will spend at least $10 million this year fighting it.

The bill would "effectively eliminate freedom of choice and the right to a secret-ballot election," said Daphne Moore, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. "We believe every associate or employee should have the right to make a private and informed decision regarding union representation."

It would be a "job killer," said Harry Kazazian, chief executive of Exxel Outdoors, a Haleyville, Ala., maker of sleeping bags and tents. He said he shut a unionized plant in Mexico in 2000 despite low labor costs, because union rules hampered productivity, and moved the work to a nonunion plant in Alabama. Mr. Kazazian, who also has a nonunion plant in China, said the bill "would be like putting the brakes" on his plans and profit.

Another opponent, Joni Paladino, president of MIF Inc., a trucking company in Brockway, Pa., said her 10 drivers earn between $11 and $16 an hour, without health-care or retirement benefits. The "most irritating" part of the bill, she said, is a provision that would have government arbitrators set contract terms if a newly formed union and a company can't agree within 120 days. "Somebody else is going to tell me how profitable or unprofitable I'm going to be," she said. "It ticks me off."

The bill creates a special dilemma for executives who supported Mr. Obama's candidacy, particularly in the technology industry. Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association in Arlington, Va., said more than 60% of the group's members supported Mr. Obama in an October poll. But its 2,000 member companies are "universally" against the bill, he said, and some have said they would move factories overseas if it were to pass.

"It would have a devastating impact on technology companies," said Loyd Ivey, chief executive of Mitek USA, a Rockford, Ill., maker of speakers and amplifiers.

Tech giants including Microsoft Corp., Apple Inc. and Google Inc., said they haven't taken a position on the bill and declined to comment further. Mr. Shapiro said many companies fear becoming a target of unions if they speak out against the measure. Unions are expected to focus on the tech sector, where they see strong potential to increase membership.

Labor officials counter the criticism by saying unions can contribute to productivity, safety and training. "The lie is that it's bad for business to have collective bargaining," said Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, who is leading the AFL-CIO's efforts on the measure. At the AFL-CIO meeting this past week, unions pledged to spend $2.50 a member, or roughly $25 million, to support the bill this year.

Stewart Acuff, national organizing director for the AFL-CIO, acknowledged that most companies are opposed to the bill, but said the labor federation continues to sign on corporate supporters. A small number of employers that already have unionized work forces are backing the measure or agreeing not to oppose it -- largely at the request of unions.

Ed Smith, CEO of Hartman-Walsh Paining Co., a St. Louis industrial-coatings company, backs the bill, as does the Finishing Contractors Association, which has 1,500 unionized painting, drywall and other contractors. About 150 of Mr. Smith's employees belong to the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. If the bill helps the union organize more companies, it would help the contractors association "by leveling the playing field," he said.

World Bank predicts first decline in global output since WWII

World Bank predicts first decline in global output since WWII

By Jerry White

Go To Original

In a report issued Sunday, the World Bank said the global economy would shrink this year for the first time since World War II. The international institution said global gross domestic product was in line to fall five percentage points below what it considered the natural growth rate of the world economy, with industrial production falling by as much as 15 percent lower than levels in 2008.

The report painted a far more dire picture than the International Monetary Fund (IMF) did just ten weeks ago, when it estimated the world economy would see a small overall increase of half a percent in 2009. The bank did not give a specific target for global GDP contraction.

The World Bank said growth prospects for so-called emerging market and developing countries had been revised sharply downward along with the advanced countries, where declines in GDP this year are expected to range from around 6 percent in the US and Europe to nearly 13 percent in Japan.

The crisis in the poorer countries is largely due to a virtual collapse in world trade, driven by weakened demand for exports from the industrialized nations and the drying up of credit to finance trade. They have also been hit by falling commodity prices (non-energy commodities fell 38 percent in the second half of last year) and a staggering decline in foreign direct investment.

In a separate report released Monday, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said that the value of global financial assets, including stocks, bonds and currencies, fell by more than $50 trillion in 2008, equivalent to a year of world GDP. Asia, excluding Japan lost about $9.6 trillion, while the Latin American region saw the value of financial assets drop by about $2.1 trillion.

"This crisis is the first truly universal one in the history of humanity," former IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus said at an ADB forum in Manila Monday. "No country escapes from it. It has not yet bottomed out."

The World Bank said global trade would experience its largest decline in 80 years and the first contraction since 1982. Of the 51 economies reporting fourth quarter data for 2008, 36 showed double-digit declines in nominal exports relative to a year ago. Many European countries, including the United Kingdom and Spain, as well as developing countries such as Indonesia, Philippines and Turkey, registered a drop in exports of 20 percent or more.

The report highlighted the devastating impact of the crisis on Asia, Latin America and Africa, as well as Central and Eastern Europe. Of the 116 developing countries, the World Bank said, 94 had experienced a slowdown in economic growth. The most affected were export-driven countries, heavily dependent on foreign investment, where millions of construction, mining and manufacturing jobs have been wiped out.

The number of people in poverty in these countries was expected to grow by 46 million people in 2009, chiefly because of mass unemployment. The report cited an International Labour Organization forecast that global job losses could hit 51 million, and up to 30 million workers could become unemployed.

In China, some 20 million have already lost their jobs. Cambodia has lost 30,000 jobs in the garment industry, its only significant export industry. More than half a million jobs were lost in the last three months of 2008 in India, including in gems and jewelry, autos and textiles.

In addition, remittance flows—the income immigrant workers send home to their families—were expected to drop sharply in 2009, as migrants lost their jobs and many returned to their countries of origin. This was expected to deprive developing countries of a crucial source of income, estimated to be worth $305 billion in 2008.

Foreign direct investment was also grinding to a halt in economies where growth is dependent on providing a high return to investors with low taxes, little regulation and low cost labor. In addition, lending to Africa all but dried up in 2008, with no international bond issues by African countries, compared with $6.5 billion in 2007.

Because of this, the institution said, developing nations would face a shortfall of between $270 billion and $700 billion to pay for imports and debt servicing, while only one-quarter had internal resources to try to blunt the impact of the crisis, through job-creation or safety net programs.

In a press release, World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick appealed to officials attending this weekend's Group of 20 meeting of finance ministers, saying urgent measures were needed to prevent the danger of "social and political unrest." "This global crisis needs a global solution," Zoellick said.

The World Bank is asking the G20 countries to put 0.7 percent of the money from their stimulus packages to set up a global Vulnerability Fund. The proposal, however, is little more than a band-aid, aimed at increasing funding for micro-credit programs to encourage entrepreneurship among impoverished townspeople and villagers and funding minimal infrastructure projects.

The key to stabilizing the situation, however, the World Bank said, would be to renew growth in world trade. However, rather than an internationally coordinated response, the World Bank complained, governments were promoting the interests of nationally based corporations at the expense of their economic competitors.

"[O]ne of the greatest threats to increased trade flows," the report said, was "protectionism and beggar-thy-neighbor policies, which need to be resolutely resisted." It went on to criticize trade restrictions implemented by G20 countries over the last year, the spike in "anti-dumping" actions, the tightening of licensing and product standards against imports and the measures in the various stimulus packages aimed at strengthening domestic industries and banks.

The US has come under increasing international criticism for opposing the imposition of international regulations on its banks and hedge funds. At the same time the US is absorbing the bulk of the world's available credit to pay for the trillions the government has handed to the Wall Street banks and the cost of the stimulus package.

The New York Times noted Monday, "As the world is seized with anxiety in the face of a spreading financial crisis, the one place having a considerably easier time attracting money is, perversely enough, the same place that started much of the trouble: the United States."

US investors are pulling out of foreign markets and buying government bonds. At the same time, foreign holdings of Treasury Bills rose by $456 billion in 2008, according to Federal Reserve data. Meanwhile, private investment in the emerging countries plunged from $928 billion in 2007 to $466 billion last year and is likely to fall to $165 billion this year, according to the Institute of International Finance.

This outcome is not simply a product of the neutral operations of the market but a deliberate policy being pursued by the Obama administration aimed at financing its bank rescue plans through the sale of government debt, capitalizing on the privileged position of the US dollar on world currency markets. By doing this the US hopes to shift the crisis onto the backs of its economic rivals and the poorest countries, which are being hammered by declining currencies and plunging commodity prices.

While focusing on the impact of the crisis on the so-called developing world, the World Bank described a simultaneous breakdown of the world capitalist system virtually without historical parallel. Suggested, but left unsaid, was that the social and political consequences of the present crisis would be no less explosive than the period of economic turmoil, revolutions and imperialist conflicts that produced the Second World War, the last time the world economy as a whole contracted.