Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Many SOA Grads Become Latin Death Squad Killers

An Odd Coincidence: Many SOA Grads Become Latin Death Squad Killers

by Sherwood Ross

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If the Pentagon’s instructors haven’t been teaching assassination at the School of the Americas(SOA) in Fort Benning, Ga., is it just coincidental that so many of its star pupils graduate to become mass murderers?

Take the strange case of Francisco del Cid Diaz, an SOA-educated second lieutenant in the El Salvadoran army who ordered his unit to drag 16 people out of the Los Hojas cooperative of the Associacion Nacional de Indigenas, beat them, shoot them, and dump their bodies into the Cuyuapa River.

Not content with his SOA undergraduate work, Diaz re-enrolled after the massacre and was accepted again in 2003. By then the Pentagon had renamed SOA The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, (WHINSEC) as Latins joked SOA stood for “School of Assassins.” Perhaps the most infamous Salvadoran SOA grad was Major Roberto D’Aubuisson, who ordered the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and who operated a death squad that used blowtorches on his victims.

D’Aubuisson might not have learned to use this device at SOA, of course, as he also attended the CIA-run International Police Academy in Washington, one of the classier D.C. "finishing" schools.

It might just be that some weird metaphysical force beyond human understanding has been attracting thousands of criminally insane military officers like Diaz from all over Latin America to Ft. Benning — and that they were psychiatric basket cases before they got there. That’s unlikely, of course, as a WHINSEC official claims “only personnel of unquestionable character” are admitted to study.

Yet, it’s odd that case after case — hundreds of them, really — keep popping up in which SOA/WHINSEC alumni after leaving Georgia have gone stark raving berserk once they got home, overthrowing governments and filling elected officials full of holes. Didn’t Georgia’s “old sweet song” mellow them even a teensy-weensy bit?

Two of SOA’s more notorious alumni, Generals Roberto Viola and Leopoldo Galtieri, both of whom trained at SOA in 1981, went on to become dictators during the “Dirty War”, in which 30,000 Argentines were put to death. The generals were assisted by five other SOA grads and when civilian rule was restored Viola was sentenced to 17 years for his crimes. Who’s to say, though, that he learned his grisly trade from the Pentagon? He could have gotten his ideas just as well from studying Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” right?



Then there’s Bolivia. In 1980, SOA alumni General Garcia Meza Tejada assaulted the National Palace and forced the president to resign. His top aide, Luis Arce Gomez was also an SOA alum as were seven other coup criminals. In Brazil, the human rights group Torture Never Again linked 20 SOA graduates and two SOA instructors to crimes including false imprisonment, and torture methods such as electric shock, suffocation and other methods too nauseating to iterate.

In Colombia, half of some 250 officers cited for human rights violations in 1993 took advanced education at SOA. After his involvement in the 1988 Uraba massacre of 20 banana workers, the massacre of 19 business executives, and the assassination of a city mayor, General Faouk Yanine Diaz was a guest speaker at SOA in 1990, apparently so good he was brought back for an encore next year.

Another SOA grad, General Jorge Plazas Acevedo, was tried for the 1998 kidnapping and murder of Jewish business leader Benjamin Khoudari, and Col. Jesus Maria Clavijo, another SOA grad, stands accused of 160 murders during 1995-98. Yet another SOA grad, General Montoya Uribe, ran a “scorched earth” campaign in Putumayo.

It is well known that after the CIA overthrow in 1954 of Guatamala’s president Jacobo Arbenz, more than 200,000 civilians were killed. Not as well known is that SOA graduates there created vigilante squads responsible for starring roles in the slaughter. One SOA grad, General Efrain Rios Montt, who seized power in a coup, wiped out more than 400 Mayan villages, killing thousands and forcing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Involved also were SOA grads General Angel Rodriguez, defense minister, and Colonel German Barahoma, National Police director.

In Peru, six officers educated at SOA were among those that burst into the men’s dorm at La Cantuta and dragged off six students and a professor that were “disappeared.” One of the SOA goons, Vladimiro Torres, went on to run the notorious “Colina” death squad and became head of the National Intelligence Service(SIN). His boss, Alberto Fujimori, of course, has just been convicted of humanitarian rights abuses, including massacre.

The above treatise is a short list of the achievements of SOA/WHINSEC which, for my nickel, President Obama could shut down tomorrow on suspicion that it has been teaching militarists how to turn their homelands into living hells.

Perhaps it seems also ironic that the U.S. military, which advertises its bravery in TV commercials, should be instructing officers in how to assassinate unarmed archbishops and priests whose principal “crime” has been advocating for Latin America’s poor — the banana pickers, copper miners, and tillers of the soil, etc.

Information for this article was taken from legal documents submitted to a Federal judge by Louis Wolf, a resident of Washington, D.C., currently under six months’ house arrest for his disrespectful, non-violent trespass at Ft. Benning, Ga., last November. Sentenced to prison at the same time by Federal Judge G. Mallon Faircloth of the U.S. District Court of Columbus, Ga., were Father Luis Barrios, of N. Bergen, N.J., an Associate Priest at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Manhattan; Theresa Cusimano, J.D.; seminary student Kristin Holm, of the Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago; Sister Diane Therese Pinchot of the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland; and Viet Nam veteran Al Simmons, a retired pre-school teacher of Richmond, Va.

It’s a curious society that imprisons pacifists for trespass on military property where murder and torture allegedly are being taught to thousands of future Latin killers. Of course, the Pentagon may be teaching no such thing at Ft. Benning: the outcomes could all be one big coincidence, no es verdad?

Hungry and Without Options in New York

Hungry and Without Options in New York

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In recent weeks, President Obama has gotten great press for winning speeches and handshakes globally, as well as for setting a new tone for American policy abroad, while administration figures, including Secretary of the Treasury Geithner and the President himself, have begun talking up "glimmers of hope" on the economic horizon. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) was setting another tone entirely, however -- no smiles, no handshakes, no glimmers, lots of gloom.

It issued a sobering report last week indicating that the global financial sector has lost a staggering $4.1 trillion (yes, you read that right) in value in the last 20 months. The report also predicted a global "credit famine," and sharply lowered its previous predictions of global economic health. The IMF now expects the world economy to contract by 1.3% in 2009 (previously it had suggested a 0.5% growth rate). It also suggested that 30 of the world's 34 most advanced economies would actually shrink this year. It indicated as well that it believes the U.S. economy is set to contract by 2.8% and the European Union's by a startling 4%, far worse than expected.

Closer to home, U.S. job losses and cutbacks continue to pour in as "mass layoffs" rosejumped for the 12th straight week. There are now a total of 6.1 million applicants and the official U.S. unemployment rate, now at 8.5%, is expected to crest above 10% early next year, if not before. (The unofficial rate, including all those out of work or significantly underemployed, is far higher.) Similarly, rents and apartment occupancy nationwide dropped for the third straight quarter. to record levels and initial claims for unemployment insurance

These are, of course, global or national trends, and they're big, even abstract, numbers -- big enough perhaps to start turning all the references to "global recession" into "global depression." But out on the street, as Nick Turse found out recently, the fallout from all of this is anything but abstract. As part of his ongoing Tough Times series for TomDispatch, he set out searching for signs of hunger in New York City, and found them quickly indeed. (By the way, a paperback of his superb book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, has just been published.) Tom

A Tsunami of Hunger

Is New York City About to Be Overwhelmed?
By Nick Turse

A crisis is brewing and Carlos Rodriguez sees it in ever longer lines. "More work boots with plaster or paint on them," he says. "Guys clearly coming in from the work site."

A spokesperson for the Food Bank for New York City, Rodriguez has experienced tough times before, but not like this. "It takes a lot of pride for a New York construction worker to stand on the soup kitchen line. That's something I never saw, even during 9/11, during that recession."

Here, on a quiet, tree-lined section of 116th Street in Manhattan, it's possible to see the financial crisis that has the planet in its grip up close and personal. The new working poor, as well as more families with young children, are threatening to overwhelm New York City's last hunger safety net.

And the hungry lining up on this street today may be only a harbinger of things to come. Behind them, in an increasingly hard-pressed city, a potential tsunami of need threatens to swamp the entire system. The one million-plus needy New Yorkers of today could, according to those experienced in feeding the poor, explode into tomorrow's three million hungry mouths with nowhere else to turn.

Three million -- and right in the heart of the country's financial capital.

If this potential nightmare comes to be, it will be played out, in part, behind the nondescript storefront of the Food Bank's Community Kitchen and Food Pantry of West Harlem and the more than 1,000 allied food pantries, soup kitchens, senior centers, low-income daycare centers, shelters and other partner programs spread across the city's five boroughs.

In Harlem, in the late afternoon, the needy begin to congregate beneath a green awning that reads "Food Change": hungry New Yorkers without other options, men and women, young and old, black, white, Asian, and Hispanic -- a full spectrum of need.

On a recent afternoon, I saw it first hand. By 3 pm, they were beginning to patiently gather. By 4 pm, the line already stretched half a block and was just starting to wrap around the corner of 116th Street onto Frederick Douglass Boulevard. By 5 pm, the tables in the Community Kitchen were already full, yet the queue out on the street was still sizeable. "It's pretty typical," Rodriguez told me. "This is very representative of what we're seeing and hearing throughout our network."

Two Million New Mouths to Feed

In 2007, even before the current financial meltdown hit, approximately 1.3 million New Yorkers depended on soup kitchens and food pantries. A poll by the Food Bank in late 2008, however, revealed something far more startling: one in four New Yorkers said they lacked savings to fall back on and, if they lost their jobs, would be in immediate need of food assistance. This is an especially worrisome figure as the rate of job loss in the city has been quickening over the last year, with an ever-weakening construction industry taking an especially hard hit, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While hard numbers aren't yet available, the Food Bank has already seen double-digit increases in need since it took that poll -- high double digits at some food pantries and soup kitchens.

"That means two million people on the fringe of our network may need to access our services at one point or another," says Rodriguez. "We're barely meeting demand for who we're serving now. What do we do if those two million don't get back on their feet on time, exhaust their savings and any alternatives, and then have to start accessing emergency food? It's a major concern."

Rodriguez outlines this nightmarish scenario in remarkably calm and measured tones, perhaps in part because, today, there's little time or room for panic in the frenzied world of the Food Bank's Vice President of Agency Relations and Programs.

The Harlem Community Kitchen, which relies heavily on volunteers to augment its workers, was distinctly understaffed on the day of my visit. Back-to-back-to-back deliveries had left its dining room, where hundreds of people would soon be fed, packed with cardboard boxes full of food.

Mid-interview, I took a break and pitched in, helping to stack cartons of slightly bruised and aging peppers, apples, and salad greens, along with bread, canned vegetables, toilet paper, and 50-pound bags of onions, on hand trucks and carts that were whisked off, unloaded, and quickly brought back for more. Room had to be made, with no time to spare, for the tables and chairs that would accommodate the people waiting outside, some already asking, even pleading, for the kitchen to begin serving dinner.

An Airplane Hanger Filled With Food

Most of the Community Kitchen's provisions come from a cavernous 90,000-square-foot space located in the Hunts Point Cooperative Market -- a 60-acre food distribution center in the South Bronx.

Think of an airplane hanger filled with food.

In 1997, the New York Times reported the unnerving news that a city-wide rise in hunger had driven the amount of food the warehouse distributed from 2.5 million pounds a month early in the year to over 4 million pounds that October. Now, that massive number looks positively puny. "I distributed 7.2 million pounds last month," Brad Sobel, the director of warehouse operations, tells me.

On the day I dropped in at the Bronx site, so did a special donation of 576,000 eggs -- two tractor-trailers full -- that were offloaded into the warehouse's huge refrigerated room with remarkable speed.

576,000 eggs.

And yet within two weeks, according to Sobel, those eggs would be a distant memory -- every last one distributed to the Community Kitchen and the other 1,000-plus food assistance programs the warehouse does its best to keep supplied in hungry times.

The need is never-ending, the turnover of food almost impossible for an outsider to grasp, and all of it happens in the vast space that lies behind plastic curtains separating the loading dock from a supermarket the likes of which you've never seen before. Instead of shoppers with carts, there are men on self-propelled riding pallet trucks and sit-down forklifts zipping about. On the floor are wooden pallets of produce. Plastic bags of potatoes, piled up to five-and-a-half-feet high. Fifty-pound bags of onions stacked on pallet after pallet. (I counted at least 11 of them.)

All around are huge metal shelves filled with pallets of plastic-wrapped cans, plastic tubs, jars, and boxes of food, some donated by food companies, some provided via federal government dollars through the Emergency Food Assistance Program, and some purchased wholesale by the warehouse. Cases of Princella canned sweet potatoes and Hormel cubed beef. Boxes of Parmalat milk. Cases of Peter Pan peanut butter. Cartons of Ralston Bran Flakes and Tasteeos cereal. An endless aisle of metal cans of Popeye-brand spinach, stacked and shrink-wrapped. Innumerable brown cardboard boxes filled with the maple-flavored oatmeal, Maypo.

"Donations are up," says Sobel, echoing voices from food banks across the country that have seen a similar rise in food donations as the economy has worsened. But need is also on the rise -- and at a staggering pace.

Over the din of the warehouse -- the horns, warning signals, and whirring motors of the flitting forklifts -- there is the omnipresent steady hum of the cooling unit that keeps the refrigerated room at a constant 32 degrees, the deeper drone of the much colder freezer room's massive air conditioner, and the thumps and thuds of pallets of peanut butter and enriched long-grain rice being moved into place. Warehouse Manager Paul Rodriguez (no relation to Carlos) takes a moment from his mad day to explain how he and about 40 other workers offload trucks, sort and store the food, take orders from food assistance programs and the agencies they serve, fill the orders as needed -- with the help of volunteers who donate their time to pack boxes -- and ship them out to feed the needy across the five boroughs. "It's very rewarding," he says. "I love what I do."

Rodriguez explains that they try to send the bulk of the fresh produce they receive to sites like the Community Kitchen in Harlem and other soup kitchens, where meals are served for the hungry, as opposed to food pantries where the needy shop for staples. "We'll send them onions, romaine lettuce, a variety of produce. We don't want to just send onions just because we've got 20,000 onions. We'll make sure we send a mixed pallet of produce with, say, six different types of produce -- bananas, apples, cabbage, and other fruits and vegetables."

A former serviceman who still retains his straight-backed military bearing and runs a tight ship in the warehouse, Rodriguez remembers a childhood in which his family sometimes faced food insecurity. "We're in the business of feeding the hungry," he explains, "feeding a lot of families. The way the economy is, it's unfortunate. More and more people are losing their jobs, and more and more people are struggling to make ends meet."

White-Collar Hunger

Even some of those managing to hang onto their jobs are having trouble feeding themselves. Evidence of it is crystal clear in Harlem where white-collar workers, sometimes still clad in dressy clothes, are beginning to join construction workers as the new faces on the soup kitchen line

Some need the food just to get through their job searches. Jesse Taylor, the Community Kitchen's senior director, recalls a recent morning when a man appeared at the front door. "He was dressed really well. A shirt with a collar," Taylor recalled. The man asked, "Do you have anything for me to eat?" but was told the Kitchen wouldn't be open for dinner until four in the afternoon.

As Taylor remembers it, "He said, 'I've only been in town for a couple weeks. I'm from California. I'm living in a shelter right now. I'm homeless and trying to find work. I'd like to come back at four, but I don't know where I'll be. I hope to have a job by then. Can you give me anything? Anything at all?'"

"We made him up a quick sandwich," Taylor adds.

And that early morning job-hunter isn't atypical these days. Taylor points to "a huge increase in the number of children and seniors in the soup kitchen line, as well as quite a few people in business attire. They usually come in one time in their dress clothes." The next day, they're back dressed to better blend in with the others in line who are homeless or, as Taylor puts it, "carrying their whole world on their back."

That night, I saw no dressy clothes in the line for dinner, but I certainly noticed men in work boots and teenagers as well. Behind the small glass counter in the cozy, cream-colored dining room, nine young volunteers -- mostly women -- in hairnets and latex gloves moved briskly to keep the assembly line of food going. They were lining up trays with servings of either ham or meatloaf next to mashed potatoes, cabbage stew, an apple, a piece of bread or a roll, a slice of cake, and a cup of purple fruit juice.

This scene is repeated Monday through Friday (with breakfasts on Tuesday and Thursday mornings), and this night the crowd was eager, moving through the room and then eating with purpose. As the first batch of folks filtered out, those waiting moved forward to take a tray as the volunteers filled plate after plate. The day I was there, staff kept up with demand, but will they be able to keep up if the economic crisis grinds on?

"What Can We Do?"

The line for the soup kitchen is only one of two queues that form in front of the Harlem site. Four days a week, a second line heads in the other direction, toward Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, leading to the food pantry that adjoins the Community Kitchen. On this day, the pantry opened at 1 pm and, three hours later, the line was still there, mostly women, leaning on their own folding metal shopping carts in which they would haul their groceries home.

Via a short stairwell, a few shoppers at a time are allowed into a surprisingly small but well-stocked, supermarket-style room with a checker-board linoleum floor. There, they find metal shelves filled with pasta, hot and cold cereals, canned vegetables and fish or meat (including tuna, salmon and mackerel, chicken chunks, and beef with gravy), as well as fresh vegetables, a freezer of frozen meat, and a refrigerator full of skim milk and ricotta cheese.

After showing proof of New York residency (a piece of current mail will do) and family size (a report card, for example, for each child), one member of a household can shop at the pantry once a month. "In effect, we're a bridge to help folks get through, especially since food stamp benefits generally run out after the second week of the month," says Taylor.

Some of the same items I had seen up at the Bronx warehouse (Maypo and the Princella sweet potatoes, for instance) appeared to be in heavy supply as an older African-American woman and a fragile-looking young Hispanic mother with a shy child filled their miniature metal shopping carts.

The food never stays on the shelves for long. "We're seeing 100-150 families a day. They can easily wipe out everything you see on the shelves here," says Taylor.

Keeping those shelves full isn't easy. Despite Sobel's somewhat rosy assessment, Carlos Rodriguez notes that, even before the recent economic meltdown, a Food Bank survey showed demand increasing 24% and donations, at least by comparison with need, beginning to slide. In the time since, the deleterious effects of the economic meltdown have been abetted by the problems of a globalized food market and the effects of climate change, both creating ripples from Asia to Harlem.

"Over the last year," says Rodriguez, "we had some droughts in different parts of the world that drove up food prices... The price of rice was ridiculous over the last summer, so there was shortage of rice and other grains."

At the same time, increased efficiency by food manufacturers, whose overproduction has always been an important source of food bank and pantry donations, is having a grave impact. Increasingly, they are often making no more than they can sell. Even when they still do overproduce, Rodriguez notes, "we're in a global market environment, so they're finding alternative places to sell their surplus. What does that translate into? Less donations for food banks."

As has been true for food banks all over the country, the global economic crisis has spurred a rise -- whether temporary or not no one knows -- in food donations, which has helped offset some of the pressures the Food Bank for New York City is now experiencing. If, however, charitable foundations continue to buckle under the stresses of the deepening depression and philanthropic foundations cut back on their grants even as businesses shrink their charitable giving, that tsunami of hunger Carlos Rodriguez fears may be heading for New York.

"It's a very difficult time," says Bronx Warehouse Manager Paul Rodriguez. "We do whatever we need to do to make sure people have a little something warm in their bellies. That's what we're in the business of doing. We try to make it happen. But we can't make it happen if we don't have food on the shelves."

As the last safety net for the needy, the Food Bank for New York City is just about all that stands between millions of vulnerable New Yorkers and abject hunger. As of now, the lines on 116th Street keep getting longer, while more construction boots and kids' shoes shuffle into the Community Kitchen each weeknight. If demand spikes by two million or even a significant fraction of that, the result could be a catastrophe. "If we have an empty warehouse," Paul Rodriguez asks, "what can we do?"


Further evidence of huge Iraqi death toll

Further evidence of huge Iraqi death toll

By James Cogan

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On April 23, the Associated Press (AP) published a secret tally compiled by the Iraqi Health Ministry that recorded 87,215 violent deaths in the country between early 2005 and February 28, 2009. Violent deaths were defined by the AP’s source in the Iraqi government as those caused by “shootings, bombings, mortar attacks and beheadings” and which had been officially registered.

The tally excluded “missing persons” who were presumed to be dead. It did not include the deaths during the three-week US invasion of 2003, during which as many as 30,000 Iraqi troops were killed. It also excludes deaths during the first 20 months of occupation. Thus, it does not count the thousands of fighters and civilians killed in the US military operations, particularly in 2004, to suppress Iraqi resistance in cities such as Baghdad, Fallujah, Ramadi, Mosul, Najaf, Karbala and Basra.

Most importantly, the tally leaves out “indirect factors such as damage to infrastructure, health care and stress that caused thousands more to die”. In other words, it does not count the victims of US occupation who died because they could not get food, clean water, sanitation, electricity or medical treatment.

The death toll of 87,215 in the report is therefore only a small proportion of the true number of fatalities since March 2003. How many deaths occurred between March 2003 and early 2005? How many resistance fighters and civilians were buried without notifying the official death registrar? How many bodies were so mutilated that they were never documented or still lie beneath tonnes of rubble? How many of the estimated four million refugees and internally displaced have died? How many have lost their lives from the so-called “indirect”, “non-violent” causes?

The Iraq Body Count project, which meticulously documents the civilian deaths that are reported in the media, also fails to answer these questions. It does not count combatants’ deaths, those who die from “non-violent” causes or the many unpublicised fatalities. Its current estimate of reported civilian deaths stands at between 91,580 and 99,985. (See: http://www.iraqbodycount.org/)

The most authoritative method of judging the impact of the US occupation on the Iraqi people is through a comprehensive household “cluster sample” survey—interviewing a statistically significant sample of households throughout Iraq in order to make an overall estimate.

The most recent surveys in 2006 were undertaken under extremely difficult conditions. Researchers were prevented from entering the most war-ravaged areas due to the scale of the ongoing violence.

The first survey, by the Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, extrapolated from interviews with 2,000 households, estimated that between 393,000 and 943,000 “excess deaths” had occurred from March 2003 to June 2006, with the median figure being 655,000.

Excess deaths referred to the number that would not have occurred if the mortality rate had remained at the pre-2003 levels. Peered-reviewed and published by the Lancet medical journal, the study concluded that American military operations and other violence had caused the bulk of the extra fatalities.

Shortly after the Johns Hopkins study, the Iraqi Health Ministry and the World Health Organisation (WHO) conducted their own cluster sample survey, this time of 9,345 households. It produced an estimate of 151,000 violent deaths up to September 2006.

There was a clear discrepancy between the two surveys as to the number of excess deaths that could be attributed to violent causes. Both surveys, however, found a staggering increase in the overall mortality rate in Iraq. The Health Ministry/WHO study recorded a 60 percent rise in non-violent deaths compared to prior to the war.

Dr Les Roberts, one of the Johns Hopkins researchers, pointed out that the overall mortality rates were comparable, but there was a difference in the estimates of violent deaths. Possible reasons for the discrepancy were explained in a WSWS article. (See: “New study estimates more than 150,000 violent deaths in Iraq over three years”)

More than 30 months has elapsed since the period assessed by the two studies. Even by the official casualty figures, some of the worst killings took place in late 2006 through to the end of 2007. This period witnessed ongoing Shiite-Sunni sectarian violence and escalated US operations in residential areas associated with the “surge” policy. The violence disrupted emergency food distributions, prevented basic infrastructure repair and triggered a flood of desperate refugees out of affected cities and towns, particularly Baghdad.

Based on the results of previous studies, a new, well-resourced cluster sample survey—including interviews in previously inaccessible areas and among the refugee population—would in all likelihood arrive at the conclusion that the illegal US invasion and occupation of Iraq has cost well over one million Iraqi lives during the past six years.

On May 24, 2007, the WSWS editorial board published a statement entitled “US officials guilty of ‘sociocide’ in Iraq must be held accountable”. It indicted the senior personnel of the Bush White House and American corporate establishment as “guilty of preparing, encouraging or carrying out war crimes” and called for them to be held to account.

The statement concluded: “As we have explained before, this is not a matter of vengeance, but the political education of the population as a whole. The process by which these bloody crimes against foreign peoples are set in motion, as well as their true geopolitical driving forces, needs to be exposed in full view of masses of people. Only when the population understands the character of such wars, sees through the lies of the establishment and takes political matters into its own hands will the mad war drive of American imperialism be halted.”

With the Obama administration continuing the war in Iraq and escalating US military violence in Afghanistan, this assessment is just as applicable to the new occupant of the White House and the administration members and corporate backers who surround him.

Europe faces ever deepening recession

Europe faces ever deepening recession

By Chris Marsden

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Particularly revealing in the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook issued last week is its estimation of the precarious state of the European economies.

The IMF described the United States as lying at the centre of the global economic crisis, but also predicted a worsening recession in Europe. It estimates that the euro zone’s economy will contract by 4.2 percent this year, significantly worse than its January forecast of a 2 percent decline.

The EU states have incurred massive debts due to bank bailouts and stimulus packages, with a combined 2.3 trillion euros in financial guarantees, 300 billion euros in recapitalisation programmes and an additional 400 billion euros in various rescue and restructuring schemes.

The statistics agency Eurostat notes that Europe is in the midst of a deep economic recession, with industrial orders falling by 34.5 percent year-on-year. The euro zone’s external current account deficit reached 57.3 billion euros in the final quarter of 2008, almost three times the figure for the same period in 2007. It is not just exports that are declining as a result of the global slump. Direct investment abroad by the EU amounted to just 23.9 billion euros for the last three months of 2008, compared to 171.9 billion in the fourth quarter of 2007. Foreign investors also disinvested in the EU.

The cost of bailouts and declining tax revenues due to the slump has led to a spiraling of government deficits, which collectively have hit 2.3 percent of GDP for the 27-nation EU. The government debt to GDP ratio increased from 66 percent at the end of 2007 to 69.3 percent in the euro zone and from 58.7 percent to 61.5 percent in the EU.

Europe’s GDP is expected to fall by 1.2 percent, with the economy predicted to shrink by two percent, according to a report by the European Economic Advisory Group.

Unemployment is set to rise by an average rate of eight percent.

The IMF has said that the euro zone will face a worse recession than the United States, complaining that the European Central Bank was too slow to react to the impending recession and that Europe’s financial policies were not being implemented in a “sufficiently comprehensive and coordinated” fashion.

There is particular concern over the state of Europe’s banking system. While US banks have covered about half of their write-downs, Europe’s banks have taken only a fifth so far. In a bleak warning, the IMF noted that total write-downs would wipe out the world’s bank equity.

The Financial Times reported that Independent Credit View, the Swiss-based risk adviser, has warned of a “second wave” of debt stress hitting Europe under conditions in which its banks have much less in terms of reserve cushions than US banks.

Peter Jeggli, Credit View’s founder, states, “The biggest risk is in Europe... The Americans are ahead of the curve. European banks are exposed to US commercial real estate and to problems in Eastern Europe and Spain, where the situation is turning dramatic. We think the Spanish savings banks are basically bust and will need a government bail-out.”

The Financial Times comments, “Europe’s banks are exposed to a hydra-headed set of bubbles. They not only face heavy losses from US property, they also face collapsing credit booms in their own backyard and fallout from high levels of corporate debt in the eurozone. It takes longer for damage to surface with Europe’s traditional bank loans, which buckle later in the cycle as defaults rise. The ferocity of Europe’s recession leaves no doubt that losses will be huge this time.”

European banking is particularly exposed due to the collapse of the Eastern European economies.

Several countries have already gone cap-in-hand to the IMF, including Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Latvia and the Ukraine. In addition, the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank and the European Investment Bank have advanced a 24.5 billion euro support package for Eastern Europe’s banks.

Even so, there is every possibility of a collapse of one or more of the eastern European economies, which would have a domino effect that may lead to the collapse of neighbouring states and west European banks.

According to figures compiled by Handelsblad, Italy’s national debt is already well in excess of its GDP, Greece is approaching this figure and Belgium, France, Germany, Portugal and Austria all top 60 percent of GDP.

Germany

Numerous reports identify Germany as particularly vulnerable to the global recession due to its reliance on exports, which make up 40 percent of its GDP, and its exposure to east European debt.

The IMF has predicted that Germany’s economy will contract by 5.6 percent this year, while a group of German financial institutions predicts a 6 percent decline.

Germany may face an “especially persistent” recession and see a 23 percent decline in exports this year, pushing unemployment to close to 11 percent. Germany’s budget deficit will swell to 132.5 billion euros, or 5.5 percent of GDP in 2010, from 3.7 percent this year, the German institutes state.

Germany accounted for nearly a quarter of European bank write-downs last year. Its investments in eastern Europe ($450 billion, or four percent of German banking assets) raise further dangers. And not just for Germany.

Germany remains the engine of Europe’s economy. An ever worsening recession there will pull the rest of the continent in its wake.

Britain

The parlous state of the UK economy is the second major cause for concern, due primarily to the role of London as a finance centre.

The IMF has predicted that Britain’s GDP will contract by 4.1 percent this year, much greater than admitted by the government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and that Britain will suffer an ongoing recession.

In last week’s budget, Chancellor Alistair Darling predicted a 3.5 percent fall this year and a return to growth by 2010.

Commenting on the disparity, IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn said, “Part of the recovery relies on confidence and it is absolutely normal that governments all over the world will try to rebuild confidence in looking at the upper part of the range rather than the lower bound.”

“I would certainly have more pessimistic forecasts than most governments. Last year we were proven right,” he added.

The April 25 Wall Street Journal was deeply skeptical regarding Britain’s prospects, noting that “The UK, with a capital city that serves as one of the world’s premier financial hubs, has depended on financial services for one in five jobs and more than a quarter of its tax revenues... the plunge in first-quarter gross domestic product—[1.9%] the biggest since the 2.4% drop posted in the third quarter of 1979—presents a challenge for the UK government, which is taking on debt at a rate not seen since World War II, as it spends money to cushion the downturn and salvage its banking system. Over the next three years the government’s net borrowing requirement will be £488 billion ($718 billion).”

The IMF predicts that government debt in Britain will reach more than 80 percent of GDP.

Some measure of the extent of the slump is provided by the rise in unemployment to over two million, with predictions that it will top three million by 2010. In addition the latest British Chambers of Commerce monthly business survey found that 70 percent of companies plan to freeze or cut wages this year and half are thinking of making staff redundant in the next six months.

The IMF has warned that Britain’s housing market has still further to fall. With house prices having declined by 20 percent, the IMF stated that, as with Spain and Ireland, there was “a considerable distance left to run”.

David Cameron, leader of the opposition Conservatives, who are predicted to win next year’s general election, has spoken of creating a new “age of austerity”, vowing even deeper cuts than those pledged by the Labour government.

Spain

Spain is amongst the western European nations worst hit by the recession.

The IMF has predicted a prolonged slump in Spain’s economy as a result of the collapse in its housing market. It expects the economy to contract by 3 percent in 2009, as against government predictions of 1.6 percent. This month, unemployment topped four million, having doubled in the past year. Now standing at 17.4 percent, it is widely expected to top 20 percent fairly shortly.

The Socialist Party government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has responded with a 70 billion euro fiscal stimulus programme and has pledged more to come. But The IMF has issued a strong warning that a worsening budget deficit expected to rise to 8 percent of GDP raises dangers of economic collapse.

France

In France, the Sarkozy government has estimated that the economy will shrink by 2.5 percent this year. Prime Minister Francois Fillon said, “What is certain is that 2009 will be a year of severe recession.”

This estimate is contradicted by the OECD, which predicts a contraction of 3.3 percent. France’s budget deficit stands at six percent.

Last month, unemployment rose by between 60,000 and 70,000, following 79,900 job losses in February. The unemployment rate presently stands at 8.2 percent, but is expected to top 10 percent by the end of the year. Unemployment is already a massive 21.2 percent and rising amongst those in France who are under 25.

Wall Street pay back to pre-crash levels

Wall Street pay back to pre-crash levels

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The New York Times reported Sunday that compensation at six of the largest US banks is on track to return to the record levels that preceded last year’s financial crash.

The article, based on an analysis of first quarter financial reports, reveals that Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, JPMorgan Investment Bank and Bank of America set aside in total more than $36 billion in the first three months of 2009 to pay their employees.

“If that pace continues all year,” the Times writes, “the money set aside for compensation suggests that workers at many banks will see their pay—much of it in bonuses—recover from the lows of last year.” The vast bulk of these payouts will go to the highest-paid traders and executives.

All of these banks have received billions of dollars in cash infusions under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that was passed by Congress last October and continued under the Obama administration. In addition, they have received trillions of dollars in low-cost government loans, guarantees on their bond issuances as well as their “toxic” home loans and other bad debts, and further subsidies paid for either directly or indirectly by taxpayers.

The Times notes that Goldman Sachs set aside the biggest compensation windfall, $4.7 billion for the quarter. “If that level continues,” the newspaper writes, “it would add up to average pay of $569,220 per worker—almost as much as they paid in 2007, a record year.”

JPMorgan Chase’s investment unit is on track to award its employees an average of $509,524 over the year, more than $150,000 higher than in 2006.

The banks justify these huge amounts on the grounds that they reported substantial profits for the first quarter of this year. These profits were largely the result of the taxpayer subsidies granted by the government combined with deceptive accounting gimmicks. The banks are, moreover, concealing the bulk of the bad debts they continue to hold, estimated by economists at more than $2 trillion, refusing to sell them at market prices or write them down. They are confident, with good reason, that the government will eventually take them off their hands at vastly inflated prices.

One of the six banks, Morgan Stanley, reported a first quarter loss of $578 million, but still set aside $2.08 billion for compensation, an amount equal to 68 percent of its revenue.

Since the Obama administration refuses to place any requirements on how the banks spend their bailout money, or even report how it is being used, the bankers are free to do what they wish with their government handouts. Recent reports have made clear that they are not using it to increase lending to other businesses or consumers—the ostensible purpose of the bailout—but rather are hoarding the funds to shore up their balance sheets and award themselves millions in pay and bonuses. Meanwhile, they have begun to ramp up home foreclosures and sharply increase interest and fees on credit cards.

Obama has consistently opposed any meaningful limits on compensation at financial firms receiving bailout funds. During the 2007 election campaign he joined with Bush in pushing for congressional passage of the $700 billion TARP bill, echoing the Republican administration’s arguments against serious pay limits. As president elect, he focused his attention on lobbying Congress for passage of the second $350 billion installment of TARP funds, again opposing the introduction of limits on executive compensation.

When public anger erupted in January over reports that Wall Street bankers had awarded themselves more than $18 billion in year-end bonuses, Obama feigned outrage. But the following month, when a provision was inserted by Congress into his $787 billion stimulus package retroactively limiting some executive bonuses at 13 firms receiving TARP funds to one-third of total compensation, his top economic advisers pledged to find ways for the banks to evade the restrictions.

In March, when the issue of executive bonuses erupted again in connection with $165 million in bonuses awarded by the bailed out insurance giant American International Group (AIG), Obama worked to scuttle congressional bills that would have imposed surtaxes on such awards. It later emerged that the Obama administration had intervened in the final drafting of the stimulus bill to have a provision inserted protecting bonuses at firms such as AIG that had signed bonus agreements prior to the passage of the stimulus package.

The lead in inserting this provision was taken by Obama’s treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner. On Monday, the New York Times carried a lengthy profile of Geithner documenting in detail his close ties to Wall Street’s top bankers and financiers.

The article notes that during his five-year tenure as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Geithner established his credentials as personal associate and regulatory protector of Wall Street interests. He opposed any restrictions on the reckless but highly profitable speculative policies that prevailed during the financial boom, including a vast expansion of unregulated derivative markets and subprime lending.

The Times suggests that even among such Wall Street boosters as Bush’s treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Geithner stood out. It recounts a meeting held last June at which Geithner proposed that Congress be asked to give the president the power to guarantee all of the debt in the banking system. This was considered at the time too brazen a windfall for the banks to pass political muster.

But, as the article points out, this is essentially what has transpired in the intervening ten months.

The article underscores the significance of Obama’s decision to appoint Geithner to head the Treasury Department and oversee the ongoing bailout of the banks. It was a signal to the financial aristocracy that the new administration would concentrate its efforts on protecting the interests of Wall Street.

As treasury secretary, Geithner has repeatedly avowed the administration’s opposition to any meaningful restrictions on the banks and insisted that the financial industry remain in private hands. Just last week, testifying before the congressional oversight committee on TARP, Geithner said he was concerned at the “potential damage you do to franchise value and expectations across the financial system if you have this expectation of creeping long-term government involvement, government ownership.”

As the resurgence of bankers’ pay makes clear, this is a formula for using public funds to create conditions for the banks to make more money than ever and resume the semi-criminal policies that precipitated the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The resources of the country have been placed at the disposal of a miniscule section of the population, with no strings attached, while next to nothing is done to protect tens of millions of workers who are being driven into unemployment, poverty and homelessness. The multi-millionaires on Wall Street have been given a blank check to recoup their losses even as the Obama administration imposes mass layoffs and poverty wages on auto workers and demands that the American people accept a permanent reduction in their living standards.

The bankers act with impunity in the face of public anger over their avarice and the looting of the public treasury on their behalf, secure in the knowledge that they have, in the Obama administration, a pliant tool of their interests.

Pentagon Prepared for Flu Outbreak

Pentagon Prepared for Flu Outbreak

In a worst-case scenario that the current flu crises threatens military operations, the Defense Department has already stockpiled enough vaccines to meet demand across the services, a Pentagon spokeswoman told Military.com April 27.

President Barack Obama has called the worldwide spread of swine flu infection a cause for concern but not a cause for alarm.

But the Department of Health and Human Services, which has taken point on the crisis, declared "a public health emergency in the United States" over the flu that has killed about 140 people in Mexico with 1,600 known cases.

But Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano said the Health and Human Services declaration "sounds more severe than really it is."

The emergency statement, she said, "is standard operating procedure" to free up federal, state, and local agencies and their resources for prevention and mitigation.

It also permits the government to use medication and diagnostic tests that government might not otherwise be able to use -- particularly on very young children -- and it releases funds for the acquisition of additional antivirals, she said during an April 26 White House press conference.

The World Health Organization today said there are 40 confirmed cases in the U.S., twice the number previously reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the Associated Press has reported. But none of the cases in the U.S. has been fatal, the AP quoted the organization as saying.

At the Pentagon, a spokeswoman said the Defense Department has stored plenty of the anti-virus at strategic locations around the world should an epidemic threaten the U.S. military. Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said the military has reserved 7 million treatment courses of the Tamiflu vaccine and 260,000 treatment courses of Relenza.

That is enough, she said, to meet the demands of service members and their dependents, should the need arise.

It was only in January -- well before the Mexico outbreak -- that the commander of the Pacific Fleet noted his troops’ preparations for a pandemic or epidemic of infectious flu.

"The U.S. Pacific Fleet is part of a broader joint and combined effort to be prepared to deal with a pandemic flu outbreak," Adm. Robert F. Willard said on Jan. 28. "Our medical researchers continue to study the prevention of this and the response strategies associated with this."

"The Bureau of Medicine has been very helpful in this regard and, in the meantime, we in the Pacific Fleet will be on guard and prepared to help should a pandemic influenza ever occur," Willard said.


US military 'posturing itself' to respond to flu outbreak

Military officials monitor swine flu

by Donna Miles

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Defense Department officials are monitoring the swine flu situation closely, with their primary focus on protecting the military population, a senior Pentagon official said April 27.

As officials with the Department of Health and Human Services lead the U.S. effort, the military is posturing itself to respond if required, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

"We certainly have a number of contingency plans for dealing with health incidences like this, because our primary goal is preservation of the fighting force," he said. "So we obviously have plans and take measures to ensure that we can preserve the fighting strength of the military in the event that there should be a greater crisis with respect to a health situation like this."

Two prescription anti-viral drugs, relenza and tamiflu, already are standard stock at U.S. military treatment facilities, and larger quantities are stockpiled at several sites in the United States and overseas, Mr. Whitman said.

President Barack Obama told the National Academy of Sciences the emerging incidence of swine flu in the United States "is obviously a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert, but it's not a cause for alarm."

Representatives at the Centers for Disease Control have confirmed 40 cases of swine flu virus infection in the United States in California, Kansas, Ohio and Texas as well as New York City. None have involved members of the military or their families.
Greater cases of infections have been reported internationally, particularly in Mexico.

Obama said HHS officials have declared a public health emergency only "as a precautionary tool to ensure that we have the resources we need at our disposal to respond quickly and effectively." Officials with HHS, the CDC and the Department of Homeland Security will provide the American people regular updates about steps being taken and precautions that may be required, he said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry distributed CDC guidelines for preventing the spread of swine flu to the federal work force. Mr. Berry also distributed guidance for federal agencies to protect their work forces and the public and to ensure continuity of operations in the event that they must institute their already-prepared pandemic influenza preparedness plans.

CDC specialists recommend the following actions people can take to stay healthy:

-- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

-- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners also are effective.

-- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.

CDC experts also recommend avoiding close contact with sick people, particularly if they are coughing or sneezing, and to stay home if you're sick to avoid infecting others.

Hospitals Cutting Services, Staff Amid Recession

Hospitals cutting services, staff amid recession

By LINDA A. JOHNSON

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Ailing from the recession, many U.S. hospitals have had to begin making painful cuts to patient services and laying off staff, as previous cost-cutting hasn't been enough, an industry survey found.

In previous recessions the health care industry has held up well, but this time hospitals and other health care businesses are hurting. Besieged by financial pressures including more needy and uninsured people, hospitals now are making tough decisions that affect their patients and communities.

The American Hospital Association found 22 percent of hospitals that responded to its March survey have reduced services since the economic crisis began in September. Those services range from outpatient clinics and behavioral health programs to patient education and home health care after discharge.

University Medical Center of Southern Nevada had to close its mammography center and started phasing out outpatient cancer treatment in November, said spokesman Rick Plummer. The decision was made right after Nevada's legislature, squeezed because high unemployment and foreclosure rates have slashed tax revenue, cut about $30 million from the Las Vegas safety-net hospital's charity care and Medicaid funding.

"It's a domino effect," Plummer said. "We had to make some difficult choices."

He said there women can get mammograms at plenty of other places, but it's tougher for patients getting chemotherapy and other lengthy cancer treatments.

"Very few other community providers stepped up to the plate," Plummer said, so some patients without health insurance but not poor enough for Medicaid have had trouble getting care. Some have had to make long drives for treatment or even move.

Meanwhile, nine of 10 hospitals said they cut expenses in the first quarter, with eight in 10 cutting administrative spending. Other strategies include eliminating jobs, selling assets, reducing overtime, cutting staff hours, freezing salaries, cutting benefits and reducing supply costs. In addition, some hospitals are considering mergers to reduce costs.

Just under half the hospitals have cut staff, and the number resorting to mass layoffs — 50 or more employees at once — is up.

And while total employment at hospitals grew somewhat in 2008, even as millions of jobs were lost in other industries, hospital employment grew by only 0.1 percent each in January and February and was flat in March. That's according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For the first quarter of this year, 43 percent of hospitals said they expected to lose money, up from 26 percent in the first three months of last year. About one in three hospitals saw a drop in the ratio of income to what they must pay creditors. Declines in such measures of financial health can lead creditors to demand immediate repayment of loans.

Meanwhile, many hospitals are seeing increased interest expenses, insurers taking longer to pay their bills, more difficulty or inability to borrow money and other problems. That's led more than three-fourths of hospitals to delay, stop or scale back building projects or upgrades to medical or information technology.

The survey was sent to all 4,946 community hospitals in the country, and 1,078, or 22 percent, responded. Data was collected from March 5 through March 27. The hospital association said the respondents generally represented all types of hospitals, such as urban, suburban and rural.

Union Activist Appointed to Labor Department

Union activist appointed to Labor Department

By SAM HANANEL

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President Barack Obama has appointed a key union activist as senior adviser to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, another sign of the influence that organized labor wields in the Obama administration.

Mary Beth Maxwell spent the past five years as executive director of American Rights at Work, a nonprofit group pushing for passage of a bill to make it easier to form unions.

At the Labor Department, Maxwell will serve as a liaison to the White House Task Force on Middle Class Working Families, a group charged with raising the living standards of middle-class families by improving labor standards, boosting workplace safety and protecting retirement security.

Democratic leaders in Congress hope to bring some version of the Employee Free Choice Act to a vote this summer. Democrats are trying to rally enough votes to overcome an expected GOP filibuster.

Former Democratic Rep. David Bonior, chairman of the board at American Rights and Work, suggested Maxwell's new post would bolster union efforts to pass the labor reform legislation, also known as "card check."

"Her knowledge and experience will aid the administration and the Labor Department in supporting this and other policies to benefit working families throughout the country," Bonior said.

Business groups strongly oppose the card check bill, which would remove the right of employers to demand a secret ballot election before workers could form unions. J. Justin Wilson, managing director of the anti-union group Center for Union Facts said Maxwell's appointment shows "the outsized influence labor leaders hold over President Obama and the Department of Labor."

Solis also was a board member of American Rights at Work, a position she left after being confirmed to the president's cabinet.

Iraq swimming in blood once again

And So It Goes ...

by: Dahr Jamail

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Last week found Iraq swimming in blood once again. Attacks last Thursday brought the worst violence Iraq has seen in over a year, with at least 96 Iraqis killed and 157 wounded in two massive suicide bombings. Over 35 bombings have rocked Baghdad this month alone. There appears to be no end in sight for the escalating violence. For an Obama administration that plans to keep at least 50,000 US troops in Iraq indefinitely, look no further for a justification in doing so.

On Friday, further slaughter assaulted Iraq, with 93 killed and another 163 wounded as the attacks continued unabated. Saturday was a light day, with "only" 15 Iraqis killed and 22 wounded, while Iraqi security forces reportedly defused 20 bombs and two booby-trapped cars in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, violence most likely related to the growing battle between government forces and the Sahwa, who are stepping up attacks against government and US forces, continues. In the last three days, clashes erupted at a police checkpoint in Fallujah, three men were killed while planting an improvised explosive device (IED) in Khanaqin, three Sahwa fighters were arrested north of Babel while planting an IED, an IED targeting Sahwa members in Udhaim killed three members and wounded three others, gunmen killed a member of the Sahwa in Mussayab, a car bomb was defused in Fallujah and two Sahwa members were wounded in a blast in Iskandariya. And, by the way, at least five US soldiers have been killed in the last five days.

Sunday found another 12 Iraqis killed and five wounded. A US military raid of a home in Kut brought the deaths of a man and his sister-in-law, who just happened to be the wife of a local clan leader; additionally, four Iraqis, one of them, a police officer, were arrested. Protests erupted as angry Iraqis denounced the raid. During a funeral procession in Kut where the cloth-draped coffins of the dead were carried, protesters called the Americans "criminal occupiers" and demanded the release of the seized men. "We condemn this horrific incident," said Latif al-Tarfa, governor of Wasit province, "It violates the agreements between US forces and the Iraqi government. Innocent people were killed and the city is now very tense. They were poor people. They do not cause any political or security problems."

US forces denied killing the man and claimed the death of the woman was "accidental." They also claimed they had full permission from Iraqi authorities. Contradicting this US military propaganda, Maliki viewed the US military raid as a crime that violated a bilateral security pact, and wants US forces to hand those responsible to the courts, an Iraqi official in the office of Maj. Gen. Qassim Moussawi, the Baghdad security spokesman, told reporters. "The general commander (Maliki) is affirming that the killing of two citizens and detaining others in Kut is considered a violation of the security pact. He asks the commander of the multinational forces to release the detainees and hand over those responsible for this crime to the courts."

Make no mistake about it - there is a war on. The floodgates of hell have once again been opened, largely as the result of US unwillingness to pressure the Maliki government to back off its ongoing attacks against the US-created Sahwa, which have led to the Sahwa walking off their security posts in many areas, which has been a green light for al-Qaeda to resume its operations in Iraq. In addition, many of the Sahwa forces, weary of not being paid promised wages from the government, as well as broken promises by the occupiers of their country, have resumed attacks against US forces. Again, there doesn't appear to be anything in the short term to indicate these trends will stop.

General Patraeus, as part of his ongoing efforts to take responsibility for the hell he helped create in Iraq, laughably blamed the recent attacks in Baghdad on "Tunisians."

Conveniently, during her recent visit to Baghdad, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while perched in the surreal Green Zone which is floating atop a sea of Iraqi blood, had the gall to claim "that Iraq is going in the right direction" and that the recent violence does "not reflect any diversion from the security progress that has been made" in Iraq. The primary reason for her unannounced visit was to reassure Prime Minister Maliki that if the violence continues to worsen, the Obama administration would back off its so-called withdrawal plan. Let us not forget the context of this visit - in addition to the hellish week Iraq has just experienced, overall violence there has been on the rise for the last two months.

Along with leaving up to 50,000 US troops in Iraq indefinitely, the plan to remove many of the other troops by August 2010 is slipping into the background as the justifications for remaining in Iraq are now being placed in the foreground. Iraq is Obama's occupation now, and circumstances there are ripping away the mask of any promised "change."


LA settles May Day clash lawsuits

LA settles May Day clash lawsuits

Cynthia de Castro

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In a press conference in LA, Multi-ethnic Immigrant Workers Organizing Network and Pilipino Workers Center announced that a $13M settlement has been won in their lawsuit against the Los Angeles City government for the inhumane police actions of the LAPD against the MIWON march and rally on international workers day two years ago. All of the peaceful demonstrators that suffered from the wrongful police actions on May 1st 2007 at the MIWON march and rally will be eligible to receive compensation for the violation. Filipino participants of the said rally are enjoined to contact PWC to fi ll out claim forms to avail of the settlement.

The march had a multi-ethnic mix of participants, including a signifi cant contingent from the Filipino-American community. When the police began to disperse the crowd, the Filipinos there were also forced to fl ee, which violated their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech.

"We never heard a warning. Suddenly the police were firing tear gas and rubber-bullets into the crowd. One of the Filipina caregivers, Normita, was going to speak on the stage to advocate for genuine legalization for all immigrants, when we had to start running. We had to duck into a doorway because we were completely out of breath. It was terrible," stated Strela Cervas, active volunteer of Pilipino Workers Center.

Aquilina Soriano-Versoza, executive director of the Pilipino Workers Center, said that the settlement won is a victory for the community. PWC recognizes that what happened on May 1st 2007 was not a "melee," but in fact wrongful actions committed by the police against a peaceful demonstration. "No amount of money can erase the trauma experienced by the demonstrators, but the settlement sends a strong message that the community does have a right to voice its opinions and messages without threat of violence," said Versoza.

At the press conferenceheld last April 21, 2009, representatives from the Pilipino Workers Center (PWC), Association of Filipino Workers (AFW), Multi-ethnic Immigrant Workers Organizing Network (MIWON), Justice for Filipino American Veterans (JFAV), Echo Park Community Coalition (EPCC), Alliance Philippines (AJLPP), Gabnet of the Mariposa Alliance, Kabataan Makabayan (KMB) and Filipino Americans for Immigration Reform gathered to announce that money is available for those who participated in the May 1st 2007 demonstration. Anyone who needs instructions for filing a claim should contact 1.800.430.8895 or the Pilipino Workers Center at (213) 250-4353.

They also announced the actions that would be taken this year on May 1st. This year, the march is calling for Humane Immigration Reform, including an end to the raids, the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act and an economy that works for all. The Filipino contingent will gather at the Pilipino Workers Center at 12:30pm at 153 Glendale Blvd., 2nd Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90026. The main march will begin at 1:30 pm in Echo Park at the corner of Echo Park and Park Ave. The marchers will march down Sunset, past the detention center and the Federal Building to end on Main street at La Placita. They will then launch a collective action where they will assemble a 2,000 person postcard that will give an aerial message to the public and to President Obama. All are invited to join or to witness this historic event.