Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Victor Agosto refuses orders to deploy to Afghanistan

"There's No Way I'm Going to Deploy to Afghanistan"

Dahr Jamail

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"It’s a matter of what I’m willing to live with," Specialist Victor Agosto of the U.S. Army, who is refusing orders to deploy to Afghanistan, explained to IPS. "I’m not willing to participate in this occupation, knowing it is completely wrong."

Agosto, who returned from a 13-month deployment to Iraq in November 2007, is based at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas.

While in Iraq, Agosto never left his base, located in northern Iraq.

"I never had any traumatic experiences, never fired my weapon," Agosto told IPS in a phone interview. "I mostly worked in information technology, working on computers and keeping the network functioning well. But it was in Iraq that I turned against the occupations. Through my reading, and watching what was going on, I started to feel very guilty."

Agosto added, "What I did there, I know I contributed to death and human suffering. It’s hard to quantify how much I caused, but I know I contributed to it."

Having served three years and nine months in the U.S. Army, Agosto was to complete his contract and be discharged on Aug. 3. But due to his excellent record of service and accrued leave, he was to be released the end of June. Nevertheless, due to the stop-loss programme, the Army decided to deploy him to Afghanistan anyway.

Stop-loss is a programme the military uses to keep soldiers enlisted beyond the terms of their contracts. Since Sep. 11, 2001, more than 140,000 troops have had tours extended by stop-loss.

A copy of his Counseling Form from the Army, dated May 1, reads, "You will deploy in support of OEF [Operation Enduring Freedom] on or about [XXXXX] with 57th ESB. This is a direct order from your Company Commander CPT Michael J. Pederson."

Agosto posted copies of the Counseling Statements issued by the Army on his Facebook page. Counseling Statements outline actions taken by the Army to discipline Agosto for his refusal to obey a direct order from his company commander.

On one of them, dated May 1, Agosto’s written statement appears: "There is no way I will deploy to Afghanistan. The occupation is immoral and unjust. It does not make the American people any safer. It has the opposite effect."

In another, dated May 18, he wrote: "I will not obey any orders I deem to be immoral or illegal."

On that day, Agosto was ordered to get his medical records in preparation to deploy to Afghanistan. He refused to do so. The Army threatened to take punitive measures, but Agosto wrote on the Counseling Statement, "I am not going to Afghanistan. I will not take part in SRP [Sealift Readiness Programme]."

If Agosto continues to refuse orders, he almost assuredly will face court martial, and likely jail time.

When IPS asked Agosto if he is willing to take whatever consequences the Army is prepared to mete out, he replied, "Yes. I’m fully prepared for this. I have concluded that the wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan] are not going to be ended by politicians or people at the top. They are not responsive to the people, they are responsive to corporate America."

Agosto added, "The only way to make them responsive to the needs of the people is if soldiers won’t fight their wars, and if soldiers won’t fight their wars, the wars won’t happen. I hope I’m setting an example for other soldiers."

Agosto has overtly refused to follow any order that has anything to do with his taking an action that would support the occupation of Afghanistan. For a time, according to Agosto, he was given simple orders to clean the motor pool, or pull weeds.

"They switched that recently," he told IPS, "I’ve continued to be fairly defiant, so on Tuesday I have to meet with Trial Defense Services, which then begins the process of getting an Article 15, which is movement towards being court-martialed, if these reprimands continue."

"If I take the Article 15, I’ll take a reduction in rank and pay. I don’t’ know what is going to happen. I agreed to sweep the motor pool and pull weeds, but nothing else that I feel directly supports the war. I’m not going to follow orders I’m not comfortable with."

Agosto’s case is not unique. The group Courage to Resist, based in Oakland, California, actively engages in assisting soldiers who refuse to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan.

"Although the efforts of Courage to Resist are primarily focused on supporting public GI resisters, the organization also strives to provide political, emotional, and material support to all military objectors critical of our government's current policies of empire," reads a portion of the group's mission statement.

IPS spoke with Adam Szyper-Seibert, an office manager and counselor with Courage to Resist.

"Currently we are actively supporting over 50 military resisters like Victor Agosto," Szyper-Seibert told IPS, "They are all over the world, including André Shepherd in Germany, and several people in Canada. We are getting five to six calls a week just about the IRR [Individual Ready Reserve] recall alone."

U.S. Army Specialist André Shepherd, who went AWOL after serving in Iraq, has applied for asylum in Germany after refusing military service because he is morally opposed to the occupation of Iraq.

The IRR is composed of former military personnel who still have time remaining on their enlistment agreements but have returned to civilian life. They are eligible to be called up in "states of emergency." The Army is currently undertaking the largest IRR recall since 2004, despite the recent inauguration of a so-called anti-war president.

Szyper-Seibert said that the number of soldiers contacting Courage to Resist has been increasing dramatically in the last year, and particularly in recent months.

"The number of soldiers contacting us is increasing," he explained, "With five to six IRR’s contacting us a week, plus others going absent without leave [AWOL], the numbers are all climbing, as compared to a year ago. Since May 2008, we’ve had a 200 percent jump in how many soldiers are contacting us."

According to Courage to Resist, there have been at least 15,000 IRR call-ups since Sep. 11, 2001, for deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sgt. Travis Bishop, who served 14 months in Baghdad and is also stationed at Fort Hood, recently went AWOL when his unit deployed to Afghanistan.

Like Agosto, Bishop feels it is immoral for him to deploy to support an occupation he morally opposes.

"I love my country, but I believe that this particular war is unjust, unconstitutional and a total abuse of our nation’s power and influence," Bishop’s blog reads, "And so, in the next few days, I will be speaking with my lawyer, and taking actions that will more than likely result in my discharge from the military, and possible jail time... and I am prepared to live with that."

The reason he made this decision is addressed in his blog.

"My father said, ‘Do only what you can live with, because every morning you have to look at your face in the mirror when you shave. Ten years from now, you’ll still be shaving the same face.’ If I had deployed to Afghanistan, I don’t think I would have been able to look into another mirror again."

Six Ways the Financial Bailout Scams Taxpayers

Six Ways the Financial Bailout Scams Taxpayers

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Here's a snapshot in words of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner when he was still president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank from a recent portrait in the New York Times:

"He ate lunch with senior executives from Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley at the Four Seasons restaurant or in their corporate dining rooms. He attended casual dinners at the homes of executives like Jamie Dimon, a member of the New York Fed board and the chief of JPMorgan Chase. Mr. Geithner was particularly close to executives of Citigroup, the largest bank under his supervision. Robert E. Rubin, a senior Citi executive and a former Treasury secretary, was Mr. Geithner's mentor from his years in the Clinton administration, and the two kept in close touch in New York."

Small world, don't you think? This catches something of the lifestyle of Wall Street's rich and financially powerful as well as those who "regulate" them. It's no longer news that the revolving door from Wall Street to Washington and back now spins endlessly. Hence, the increasingly popular moniker "Government Sachs."

"Crony capitalism" was once a term applied to the powerful oligarchs of "emerging economies" or -- a term not heard so much these days -- banana republics. Now, however, as economist Simon Johnson has written, the U.S. is beginning to look startlingly more like one of those "emerging economies" in meltdown. And overseeing the response to the crisis are, of course, representatives of the same crony capitalists and oligarchs who helped create it.

Not surprisingly, the "solution" to the crash of '08 crafted by former Goldman Sachs chairman Henry Paulson, Jr. -- Rubin held the same job before going to Treasury in the Clinton years -- and former New York Fed chief Tim Geithner (who made Mark Patterson, a former Sachs lobbyist, his chief of staff and kept on Sachs alum Neel Kashkari to lead the bailout effort) is clearly meant to staunch the wounds of their world, not ours. TomDispatch regular Andy Kroll, who's read all the latest economic reports so you wouldn't have to, suggests below just what an instrument of Wall Street their rolling bailout program has really been. Tom

The Greatest Swindle Ever Sold

How the Financial Bailout Scams Taxpayers, Subsidizes Wall Street, and Props Up Our Broken Financial System
By Andy Kroll

On October 3rd, as the spreading economic meltdown threatened to topple financial behemoths like American International Group (AIG) and Bank of America and plunged global markets into freefall, the U.S. government responded with the largest bailout in American history. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, better known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), authorized the use of $700 billion to stabilize the nation's failing financial systems and restore the flow of credit in the economy.

The legislation's guidelines for crafting the rescue plan were clear: the TARP should protect home values and consumer savings, help citizens keep their homes, and create jobs. Above all, with the government poised to invest hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in various financial institutions, the legislation urged the bailout's architects to maximize returns to the American people.

That $700 billion bailout has since grown into a more than $12 trillion commitment by the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve. About $1.1 trillion of that is taxpayer money -- the TARP money and an additional $400 billion rescue of mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The TARP now includes 12 separate programs, and recipients range from megabanks like Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase to automakers Chrysler and General Motors.

Seven months in, the bailout's impact is unclear. The Treasury Department has used the recent "stress test" results it applied to 19 of the nation's largest banks to suggest that the worst might be over; yet the International Monetary Fund as well as economists like New York University professor and economist Nouriel Roubini and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman predict greater losses in U.S. markets, rising unemployment, and generally tougher economic times ahead.

What cannot be disputed, however, is the financial bailout's biggest loser: the American taxpayer. The U.S. government, led by the Treasury Department, has done little, if anything, to maximize returns on its trillion-dollar, taxpayer-funded investment. So far, the bailout has favored rescued financial institutions by subsidizing their losses to the tune of $356 billion, shying away from much-needed management changes and -- with the exception of the automakers -- letting companies take taxpayer money without a coherent plan for how they might return to viability.

The bailout's perks have been no less favorable for private investors who are now picking over the economy's still-smoking rubble at the taxpayers' expense. The newer bailout programs rolled out by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner give private equity firms, hedge funds, and other private investors significant leverage to buy "toxic" or distressed assets, while leaving taxpayers stuck with the lion's share of the risk and potential losses.

Given the lack of transparency and accountability, don't expect taxpayers to be able to object too much. After all, remarkably little is known about how TARP recipients have used the government aid received. Nonetheless, recent government reports, Congressional testimony, and commentaries offer those patient enough to pore over hundreds of pages of material glimpses of just how Wall Street friendly the bailout actually is. Here, then, based on the most definitive data and analyses available, are six of the most blatant and alarming ways taxpayers have been scammed by the government's $1.1-trillion, publicly-funded bailout.

1. By overpaying for its TARP investments, the Treasury Department provided bailout recipients with generous subsidies at the taxpayer's expense.

When the Treasury Department ditched its initial plan to buy up "toxic" assets and instead invest directly in financial institutions, then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Jr. assured Americans that they'd get a fair deal. "This is an investment, not an expenditure, and there is no reason to expect this program will cost taxpayers anything," he said in October 2008.

Yet the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP), a five-person group tasked with ensuring that the Treasury Department acts in the public's best interest, concluded in its monthly report for February that the department had significantly overpaid by tens of billions of dollars for its investments. For the 10 largest TARP investments made in 2008, totaling $184.2 billion, Treasury received on average only $66 worth of assets for every $100 invested. Based on that shortfall, the panel calculated that Treasury had received only $176 billion in assets for its $254 billion investment, leaving a $78 billion hole in taxpayer pockets.

Not all investors subsidized the struggling banks so heavily while investing in them. The COP report notes that private investors received much closer to fair market value in investments made at the time of the early TARP transactions. When, for instance, Berkshire Hathaway invested $5 billion in Goldman Sachs in September, the Omaha-based company received securities worth $110 for each $100 invested. And when Mitsubishi invested in Morgan Stanley that same month, it received securities worth $91 for every $100 invested.

As of May 15th, according to the Ethisphere TARP Index, which tracks the government's bailout investments, its various investments had depreciated in value by almost $147.7 billion. In other words, TARP's losses come out to almost $1,300 per American taxpaying household.

2. As the government has no real oversight over bailout funds, taxpayers remain in the dark about how their money has been used and if it has made any difference.

While the Treasury Department can make TARP recipients report on just how they spend their government bailout funds, it has chosen not to do so. As a result, it's unclear whether institutions receiving such funds are using that money to increase lending -- which would, in turn, boost the economy -- or merely to fill in holes in their balance sheets.

Neil M. Barofsky, the special inspector general for TARP, summed the situation up this way in his office's April quarterly report to Congress: "The American people have a right to know how their tax dollars are being used, particularly as billions of dollars are going to institutions for which banking is certainly not part of the institution's core business and may be little more than a way to gain access to the low-cost capital provided under TARP."

This lack of transparency makes the bailout process highly susceptible to fraud and corruption. Barofsky's report stated that 20 separate criminal investigations were already underway involving corporate fraud, insider trading, and public corruption. He also told the Financial Times that his office was investigating whether banks manipulated their books to secure bailout funds. "I hope we don't find a single bank that's cooked its books to try to get money, but I don't think that's going to be the case."

Economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, suggested to TomDispatch in an interview that the opaque and complicated nature of the bailout may not be entirely unintentional, given the difficulties it raises for anyone wanting to follow the trail of taxpayer dollars from the government to the banks. "[Government officials] see this all as a Three Card Monte, moving everything around really quickly so the public won't understand that this really is an elaborate way to subsidize the banks," Baker says, adding that the public "won't realize we gave money away to some of the richest people."

3. The bailout's newer programs heavily favor the private sector, giving investors an opportunity to earn lucrative profits and leaving taxpayers with most of the risk.

Under Treasury Secretary Geithner, the Treasury Department has greatly expanded the financial bailout to troubling new programs like the Public-Private Investment Program (PPIP) and the Term Asset-Backed-Securities Loan Facility (TALF). The PPIP, for example, encourages private investors to buy "toxic" or risky assets on the books of struggling banks. Doing so, we're told, will get banks lending again because the burdensome assets won't weigh them down. Unfortunately, the incentives the Treasury Department is offering to get private investors to participate are so generous that the government -- and, by extension, American taxpayers -- are left with all the downside.

Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-prize winning economist, described the PPIP program in a New York Times op-ed this way:

"Consider an asset that has a 50-50 chance of being worth either zero or $200 in a year's time. The average 'value' of the asset is $100. Ignoring interest, this is what the asset would sell for in a competitive market. It is what the asset is 'worth.' Under the plan by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the government would provide about 92 percent of the money to buy the asset but would stand to receive only 50 percent of any gains, and would absorb almost all of the losses. Some partnership!

"Assume that one of the public-private partnerships the Treasury has promised to create is willing to pay $150 for the asset. That's 50 percent more than its true value, and the bank is more than happy to sell. So the private partner puts up $12, and the government supplies the rest -- $12 in 'equity' plus $126 in the form of a guaranteed loan.

"If, in a year's time, it turns out that the true value of the asset is zero, the private partner loses the $12, and the government loses $138. If the true value is $200, the government and the private partner split the $74 that's left over after paying back the $126 loan. In that rosy scenario, the private partner more than triples his $12 investment. But the taxpayer, having risked $138, gains a mere $37."

Worse still, the PPIP can be easily manipulated for private gain. As economist Jeffrey Sachs has described it, a bank with worthless toxic assets on its books could actually set up its own public-private fund to bid on those assets. Since no true bidder would pay for a worthless asset, the bank's public-private fund would win the bid, essentially using government money for the purchase. All the public-private fund would then have to do is quietly declare bankruptcy and disappear, leaving the bank to make off with the government money it received. With the PPIP deals set to begin in the coming months, time will tell whether private investors actually take advantage of the program's flaws in this fashion.

The Treasury Department's TALF program offers equally enticing possibilities for potential bailout profiteers, providing investors with a chance to double, triple, or even quadruple their investments. And like the PPIP, if the deal goes bad, taxpayers absorb most of the losses. "It beats any financing that the private sector could ever come up with," a Wall Street trader commented in a recent Fortune magazine story. "I almost want to say it is irresponsible."

4. The government has no coherent plan for returning failing financial institutions to profitability and maximizing returns on taxpayers' investments.

Compare the treatment of the auto industry and the financial sector, and a troubling double standard emerges: As a condition for taking bailout aid, the government required Chrysler and General Motors to present detailed plans on how the companies would return to profitability. Yet the Treasury Department attached minimal conditions to the billions injected into the largest bailed-out financial institutions. Moreover, neither Geithner nor Lawrence Summers, one of President Barack Obama's top economic advisors, nor the president himself has articulated any substantive plan or vision for how the bailout will help these institutions recover and, hopefully, maximize taxpayers' investment returns.

The Congressional Oversight Panel highlighted the absence of such a comprehensive plan in its January report. Three months into the bailout, the Treasury Department "has not yet explained its strategy," the report stated. "Treasury has identified its goals and announced its programs, but it has not yet explained how the programs chosen constitute a coherent plan to achieve those goals."

Today, the department's endgame for the bailout still remains vague. Thomas Hoenig, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, wrote in the Financial Times in May that the government's response to the financial meltdown has been "ad hoc, resulting in inequitable outcomes among firms, creditors, and investors." Rather than perpetually prop up banks with endless taxpayer funds, Hoenig suggests that the government should allow banks to fail. Only then, he believes, can crippled financial institutions and systems be fixed. "Because we still have far to go in this crisis, there remains time to define a clear process for resolving large institutional failure. Without one, the consequences will involve a series of short-term events and far more uncertainty for the global economy in the long run."

The healthier and more profitable bailout recipients are once financial markets rebound, the more taxpayers will earn on their investments. Without a plan, however, banks may limp back to viability while taxpayers lose their investments or even absorb further losses.

5. The bailout's focus on Wall Street mega-banks ignores smaller banks serving millions of American taxpayers that face an equally uncertain future.

The government may not have a long-term strategy for its trillion-dollar bailout, but its guiding principle, however misguided, is clear: What's good for Wall Street will be best for the rest of the country.

On the day the mega-bank stress tests were officially released, another set of stress-test results came out to much less fanfare. In its quarterly report on the health of individual banks and the banking industry as a whole, Institutional Risk Analytics (IRA), a respected financial services organization, found that the stress levels among more than 7,500 FDIC-reporting banks nationwide had risen dramatically. For 1,575 of the banks, net incomes had turned negative due to decreased lending and less risk-taking.

The conclusion IRA drew was telling: "Our overall observation is that U.S. policy makers may very well have been distracted by focusing on 19 large stress test banks designed to save Wall Street and the world's central bank bondholders, this while a trend is emerging of a going concern viability crash taking shape under the radar." The report concluded with a question: "Has the time come to shift the policy focus away from the things that we love, namely big zombie banks, to tackle things that are truly hurting us?"

6. The bailout encourages the very behaviors that created the economic crisis in the first place instead of overhauling our broken financial system and helping the individuals most affected by the crisis.

As Joseph Stiglitz explained in the New York Times, one major cause of the economic crisis was bank overleveraging. "[U]sing relatively little capital of their own," he wrote, "[banks] borrowed heavily to buy extremely risky real estate assets. In the process, they used overly complex instruments like collateralized debt obligations." Financial institutions engaged in overleveraging in pursuit of the lucrative profits such deals promised -- even if those profits came with staggering levels of risk.

Sound familiar? It should, because in the PPIP and TALF bailout programs the Treasury Department has essentially replicated the very overleveraged, risky, complex system that got us into this mess in the first place: in other words, the government hopes to repair our financial system by using the flawed practices that caused this crisis.

Then there are the institutions deemed "too big to fail." These financial giants -- among them AIG, Citigroup, and Bank of America -- have been kept afloat by billions of dollars in bottomless bailout aid. Yet reinforcing the notion that any institution is "too big to fail" is dangerous to the economy. When a company like AIG grows so large that it becomes "too big to fail," the risk it carries is systemic, meaning failure could drag down the entire economy. The government should force "too big to fail" institutions to slim down to a safer, more modest size; instead, the Treasury Department continues to subsidize these financial giants, reinforcing their place in our economy.

Of even greater concern is the message the bailout sends to banks and lenders -- namely, that the risky investments that crippled the economy are fair game in the future. After all, if banks fail and teeter at the edge of collapse, the government promises to be there with a taxpayer-funded, potentially profitable safety net.

The handling of the bailout makes at least one thing clear, however: It's not your health that the government is focused on, it's theirs -- the very banks and lenders whose convoluted financial systems provided the underpinnings for staggering salaries and bonuses while bringing our economy to the brink of another Great Depression.

Andy Kroll is a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His writing has appeared at TheNation.com, Alternet, CNN.com, CBSNews.com, and Truthout, among other places. He welcomes feedback, and can be reached at his website.

Intimidation Nation: How US Employers Fight Unions

Intimidation Nation: How US Employers Fight Unions

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Opinion polls say that the majority of US workers want to be in a labor union, according to Kate Bronfenbrenner, a professor and director of Labor Education Research, New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. So why are just 12.4 percent of American workers union members? In brief, they fear what their bosses will do to them. Such fear is real. Employers more than doubled their use of anti-union tactics against employees attempting to form unions between 1999 and 2003 versus Bronfenbrenner's three earlier research periods. Meticulously, she details this rising anti-labor trend in a new study, No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing, published by the Economic Policy Institute of Washington, DC, and released May 20.

The study analyzes a random sample of 1,004 National Labor Relations Board union election campaigns, and in-depth surveys with head union organizers in 562 of these campaigns. For workers, her findings are fearful. Sixty-three percent of employers use mandatory one-on-one, anti-union meetings with employees. Further, 57 percent of employers threatened to close the workplace, 47 percent of employers issued threats to slash benefits and wages, while 34 percent of employers fired workers during union organizing drives.

For workers who successfully formed a union through the NLRB election process, one year later less than half, 48 percent, gained a collective bargaining agreement. Two years later 63 percent of workers had a labor agreement in place, with the new agreement rate for them rising to 70 percent for the third year after an election. Rite Aid workers at its distribution center in Lancaster, north of Los Angeles in the Mojave Desert, know a thing or two about employer stalling after winning a NLRB-supervised election, which they did on March 21, 2008. Yet the 500 Rite Aid employees there are in their second year with no collective bargaining agreement in place.

Bronfenbrenner's study methodology combines Freedom of Information Act Request data from the NLRB for every unfair labor practice (ULP) document tied to union elections in the survey samples. She minces no words assessing how federal labor law protects American workers' legal rights to organize:

"Both the intensity and changing character of employer behavior, as well as the fundamental flaws in the NLRB process, have left us with a system where workers who want to organize cannot exercise that right without fear, threats, harassment, and/or retribution."

It is worth noting that unions that do file ULP documents face a lengthy process in fighting employers' anti-union tactics. Bronfenbrenner writes:

"Filing charges can hold up the election for many months if not a year or more. Thus, except in the case of the most egregious violations (e.g., serious harassment, threats of referral to ICE [US Immigration and Customs Enforcement], multiple discharges, or violence), unions typically wait until after the election to file charges."

Under the NLRB election process, 276,353 workers organized in 1970. By 1999, the year that Bronfenbrenner's new study begins, 106,699 workers won union representation through elections. In 2003, 71,427 workers organized. According to Bronfenbrenner's findings, the decline is due to employer behavior: threats, interrogation, promises, surveillance and retaliation for union activity.

How free is the freedom of speech for American workers? She writes:

"Under the free speech provisions of the NLRA [National Labor Relations Act of 1935], employers have control of the communication process. In today's organizing climate they take full advantage of that opportunity to communicate with their employees through a steady stream of letters, leaflets, emails, digital electronic media, individual one-on-one meetings with supervisors, and mandatory captive-audience meetings with top management during work time."

To this end, employers have developed a pre-emptive control system to neuter union campaigns. The emphasis is on "interrogation and surveillance to identify supporters." If that fails, according to Bronfenbrenner, "threats and harassment" follow "to try to dissuade workers from supporting the unions."

Labor unions attempting to organize union-free workplaces can file ULP charges against employers with the NLRB. Bronfenbrenner analyzed a total 926 ULPs in survey samples and 1,387 ULPs in NLRB elections. Her findings show consistency in reported employer behavior between the two categories. Employers' coercive statements and threats (i.e., job loss, wage and benefit cuts, sexual harassment) towards employees topped the list of ULP allegations, followed by allegations of worker firings. Bronfenbrenner's analysis of NLRB ULP documents shows that workers filed 23 percent of all ULPs before the filing of the NLRB election petition. Breaking that down by category, workers filed 29 percent of interrogation ULPs and 16 percent of surveillance ULP allegations prior to the election petition.

All is not doom and gloom for the American labor movement. An alternate model of union organizing exists in the US public sector. There, nearly 37 percent of workers are union members versus fewer than eight percent in the private sector, where most Americans labor. Why is the union election win-rate for public-sector employees (84 percent) nearly double that of their private-sector counterparts (45 percent)? Private employers, Bronfenbrenner found in her study, used nearly five times the number of anti-union tactics as public employers. According to her, "in 48 percent of the public-sector campaigns, the employer did not campaign at all - no letters, no leaflets, no meetings."

The Center for Union Facts declined a request to comment on Bronfenbrenner's study. However, on the group's web site, J. Justin Wilson posted a critique: "According to her own generous analysis of data from the National Labor Relations Board (1999 to 2003), only six percent of elections have an employee illegally fired."

The Center for Union Facts is "very consciously mixing apples and oranges," Bronfenbrenner said. "That [data of six percent] refers to the percent of elections where at least one allegation was filed and at least one allegation upheld." According to the survey responses, 34 percent of workers involved in union campaigns were fired.

"The reason they decided to distort the findings is that for years they have argued that my findings on discharges, wage cuts, etc. have no basis and are not upheld in the ULP data," she said. "Now I actually have hard ULP data to back me up and going to make them available in (Cornell's) Industrial and Labor Relations Catherwood library to anyone who wants to look at them, as soon as I get the money and staff to set up a system to protect the documents."

Bronfenbrenner's new study is not peer reviewed yet, as her past studies have been. However, she is planning to turn No Holds Barred into a journal article that will go through the peer review process. In the meantime, however, she "wanted to get the data out there."

Why? Consider the Employee Free Choice Act before Congress (H.R. 1409, S. 560) now, an amendment to the NLRA. EFCA would make it easier for employees to join unions by allowing a majority of them to check a union card or cast a secret-ballot vote. The election option would be the choice of employees, in contrast to the current NLRB practice. Further, EFCA would impose up fines of up to $20,000 per violation on employers who abuse employees' legal right to organize, and establish a 120-day, binding timeline for reaching a first-year contract.

American Rights at Work Education Fund provided financial help for Bronfenbrenner's study, along with six other foundations and 26 unions, she said. The Center for Union Facts ignored a request for its donors' names.

No Holds Barred - The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing
By Kate Bronfenbrenner 05-20-09

Union Intimidation Study Undermines Itself
By J. Justin Wilson 05-20-09

Pro-Israel forces attempt to silence professor

Pro-Israel forces attempt to silence University of California Santa Barbara professor

By Jack Cody

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On January 19 University of California Santa Barbara sociology Professor William Robinson sent an email to students on the roster of his Global Affairs course in which he compared the Israeli occupation of Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto. He was subsequently brought up on disciplinary charges by the Academic Senate of the university, as well as subjected to harassment and persecution by pro-Israeli elements.

The charges against Robinson pose a serious threat to academic freedom. They are an effort to intimidate critics of Israeli policy at a time when that regime’s actions have produced widespread revulsion. Ultimately, the aim of such witch-hunts is to silence those opposed to the policies of one of the US government’s key allies.

Robinson’s January 19 email began with a strong denunciation of the Israeli assault on Gaza. The professor, who is Jewish, wrote: “Gaza is Israel’s Warsaw—a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians, subjecting them to the slow death of malnutrition, disease and despair, nearly two years before their subjection to the quick death of Israeli bombs. We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide (Websters: ‘the systematic killing of, or a program of action intended to destroy, a whole national or ethnic group’), a process whose objective is not so much to physically eliminate each and every Palestinian than to eliminate the Palestinians as a people in any meaningful sense of the notion of people-hood.”

Robinson then displayed a graphic set of photographs that had been circulating the Internet through email forwards. At the time Robinson was unaware of the identity of the originator of the email, although he subsequently learned that it was a Jewish-American professor at another university. The series juxtaposed photographs of Nazi operations and atrocities with images of Israeli crimes in Gaza.

The photo series is arranged such that each image from one time period is displayed next to a corresponding image from the other. Pictures of the Warsaw Ghetto are on the left, Gaza on the right. The photographs are disturbing, as is the often-uncanny similarity apparent in the side-by-side images.

The full original course material can be viewed at the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB, a blog created in defense of Professor Robinson, and the principle of academic freedom by a group of UCSB students (http://sb4af.wordpress.com/).

On February 9 Robinson received a copy of a letter that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) sent, in addition to Robinson himself, to the president of the University of California system based in Oakland, the chancellor of UCSB, his dean and the chair of his department. The ADL, a prominent defender of Israeli policy, accuses Robinson of anti-Semitism and of abusing his access to university resources by using the student mailing list to disseminate personal views unrelated to course material.

On February 19 these same accusations appeared in two official grievances filed with the university by two of Robinson’s former students. The pair had withdrawn from the course, unbeknownst to Robinson, because they claimed the content of the email was intimidating and, according to one student, made her “nauseous.” The claims of misconduct put forth by the two students are nearly identical and are very similar to those cited in the ADL’s February 9 letter.

The accusations against Robinson are baseless and politically motivated. In an interview with the World Socialist Web Site, he discussed the issues involved.

“The essence of the charges,” Professor Robinson said, “is that the course material I submitted was anti-Semitic, and according to these letters [from the ADL and the two students], it was anti-Semitic because it was critical of the state of Israel. That is absurd, that the condemnation of the policies of the state of Israel is equivalent to anti-Semitism. One, anti-Semitism, is the discrimination against and oppression of a religious/ethnic group, and the other, criticism of Israel, is a condemnation of the policies of a nation-state.”

As to the charges that the material contained in the email was unrelated to the course, Robinson responded: “How in the world the invasion of Gaza in January is unrelated to a course on global affairs in the same month is absolutely beyond my comprehension!”

The UCSB catalogue describes the course as a “[s]urvey of the principal theories and debates in globalization studies, with a focus on economic, political and cultural transnational processes.” According to this description, the military occupation of one sovereign territory by another is clearly highly relevant to such a course.

“On March 9,” Robinson pointed out, “Abraham Foxman, the president of the ADL convenes a meeting on the campus of the University of California Santa Barbara with about ten faculty members and two deans. Some people at the meeting assume the purpose of the meeting was to search for a chair of the Jewish Studies program, but when the meeting starts, Foxman announces that the only thing on his agenda is the demand that I be prosecuted.

“On March 25 the university announces it is opening up a formal inquiry, a formal investigation of me and bringing me up on charges of possible violation of the faculty code of conduct. What is going on here is a tremendous assault on academic freedom; an assault in which the community has been complicit, and an assault which has been orchestrated from outside the university by the Israel lobby.

“What became clear is that the entire grievance process had been orchestrated from the outside by the Israel lobby. This is part of a more systematic campaign. The Israel lobby goes after anyone and everyone that criticizes the state of Israel.

“What is particularly egregious in this case,” says Robinson, “is that the University of California Santa Barbara is undermining academic freedom, bringing shame to the university. Some university officials have been complicit with this attack against me and this attack against academic freedom. We have documented a whole series of procedural irregularities.”

Professor Robinson has received strong support from students and professors on the campus, as well as concerned members of the local community. A group of students created the Committee To Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB and launched a Web site documenting up-to-date details of the Robinson case and mobilizing resources to counter the pro-Israeli forces. “Students on the campus, graduates and undergraduates, when they heard of this, became enraged,” says Robinson. “They feel that the integrity of their own education is under threat.”

A forum to discuss academic freedom originally scheduled to take place on the campus of UCSB on May 7 was put off until May 21 to make arrangements to accommodate a larger audience due to the amount of popular interest over the Robinson case within the Santa Barbara community.

Senate Approves $91 Billion Funding Bill for Iraq, Afghan Wars

Senate approves $91 billion for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

By Patrick Martin

Go To Original

By a margin of 86-3, the US Senate voted late last Thursday to approve a $91.3 billion supplemental funding bill to finance the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through September 30. The bill, which is expected to go to President Obama to sign within two weeks, brings the total expended on the two wars of aggression to more than $900 billion over eight years.

Democratic Senate candidates postured as opponents of the war in Iraq in both the 2006 and 2008 elections, and an antiwar appeal was critical to candidate Obama winning the Democratic presidential nomination and then the presidency last year. But the Senate Democrats provided near-unanimous support to the new war spending sought by the new Democrat in the White House.

Of the 59 members of the Democratic caucus in the Senate (including two independents), only two voted against the supplemental appropriations bill. Voting for more war funding were such liberals as John Kerry of Massachusetts, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Barbara Boxer of California. The Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Majority Whip Dick Durbin backed the legislation as well.

The senators appointed to take the seats of Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton all voted for the war funding.

The last hurdle before passage of the bill was the defeat of an amendment offered by ultra-right South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint opposing additional US funding for the International Monetary Fund. The vote was 64-30 against, on a largely party-line vote. In a demagogic attempt to blame an external scapegoat for the financial crisis caused by Wall Street, DeMint declared, “This is the worst time to ask struggling American families to bail out foreign countries.”

The IMF funding, using $5 billion in US Treasury funds to underwrite $108 billion in new lending authority, is the only major difference between the Senate bill and the version passed by House of Representatives on May 14. A House-Senate conference committee will begin meeting in early June to prepare the final bill for Obama’s signature.

Several leading House Democrats, most notably Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey of Wisconsin, have voiced opposition to the IMF funding on the grounds of economic nationalism. Two Senate liberals, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Bernard Sanders of Vermont, voted for the DeMint amendment on the same basis.

Several reactionary amendments were added to the supplemental legislation in the last few days. On Wednesday, the Senate adopted, by overwhelming 92-3 and 90-6 votes, amendments that would prohibit the spending of money to close the Guantanamo detention camp or to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the United States. (See “Senate Democrats Block Funding for Guantanamo Bay Closure”, 21 May 2009)

The Senate also approved, by voice vote, an amendment that would have the effect of shutting down a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking the release of military photos showing US torture of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama initially agreed to settle the suit by releasing the photos, then reversed himself last week under pressure from the Pentagon and particularly General Raymond Odierno, the commander of US forces in Iraq.

The ACLU has won a court order from the US Court of Appeals, and the White House has been considering whether to appeal that decision to the US Supreme Court or to retroactively classify the photographs as “top secret”, using such an administrative action to delay or block their release. The Senate provision, which is virtually certain to end up on Obama’s desk, would exempt the torture photos from the Freedom of Information Act entirely, thus removing the legal grounds for the ACLU suit.

In the brief discussion on the amendment, senators of both parties echoed the position of the military that release of the photos would inflame public opinion in Iraq and Afghanistan and thus endanger the troops. This argument is entirely specious, since the people of Iraq and Afghanistan have much better evidence of the brutality of American imperialism—their own eyes, and the experience of six and eight years respectively of murder, torture, arbitrary and lengthy imprisonment, all the panoply of colonial-style occupation.

The real aim in suppressing the torture photos is to avoid inflaming public opinion in the United States, and creating a groundswell of support for the trial and punishment of those government officials, in both the Bush and Obama administrations, who are responsible for the widespread abuse.

Another section of the massive bill declares, “None of the funds made available in this chapter may be made available for assistance to Hamas, or any entity effectively controlled by Hamas or any power-sharing government of which Hamas is a member.” Obama is given the power to authorize payment of US funds to a Palestinian government in which Hamas participates, providing he certifies to Congress that the Hamas officials in the government have accepted US dictates on recognition of Israel.

It is the core of the bill, the funding of the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, that is its most politically significant aspect. The bill declares: “Congress makes the following findings: (1) Over 40,000 American military personnel are currently serving in Afghanistan, with the bravery and professionalism consistent with the finest traditions of the United States Armed Forces, and are deserving of the strong support of all Americans.”

The Senate approved that language only days after the May 4 massacre of as many as 140 Afghan civilians, the bulk of them women and children, in the village of Bola Baluk in the western Farah province. Entire families were slaughtered when 2,000-pound bombs dropped by US jets leveled their homes.

The Senate bill is a blanket endorsement of the Obama administration’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, and its extension into Pakistan. It appropriates money for three separate Pentagon slush funds to aid the military forces of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan respectively, the first time that Pakistan has been included in the war zone on an equal footing. All US military aid funds outside the designated zone are routed through the State Department, not the Department of Defense.

Only hours after the passage of the bill, President Obama reiterated his commitment to expanding the US military and winning military victory in Afghanistan. In a speech to the commencement ceremony at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, he boasted of halting reductions in the Navy and building up the Marine Corps (the ground combat wing of the Navy).

In the key passage in the speech, he declared, “In short, we will maintain America’s military dominance and keep you the finest fighting force the world has ever seen.”

Obama praised the military as a model for the country, saying, “In a culture where so many chase the outward markers of success that can so often lead us astray—titles and status, materialism and money, fame and popularity—these Americans have embraced the virtues that we need most right now .... After an era when so many institutions and individuals acted with such greed and recklessness, it’s no wonder that our military remains the most trusted institution in our nation.”

In his first remarks on the subject, he paid tribute to the “extraordinary precision and professionalism” of the Navy SEALS who shot to death three teenage Somalis who had kidnapped the captain of a US cargo ship after a failing attempt to seize the ship last month.

Obama’s closing words were a chilling paean to military violence. He said, “these Americans did what they were trained to do. They remembered their skills. They did their duty. They performed their job. They stood their watch. They took their time and then they took their shot.”

Haiti’s hunger made in USA

Haiti’s hunger made in USA

The U.S. Coast Guard and a few individual boaters pulled 27 people out of the ocean off south Florida May 13. Ten of them were dead after fleeing mass hunger and misery in Haiti. The sailing vessel they were on had sunk around 2 a.m. and the survivors had to tread water for 10 hours until their rescue. (Boston Globe, May 14)

“The boat was obviously overloaded,’’ Coast Guard Captain James Fitton told the Boston Globe. “It’s a tragedy that someone would be so callous with human life.’’

But the real callous operator in this tragedy is the U.S. government.

There are 30,000 Haitians under deportation orders in the United States. As soon as the U.S. can sort out the details, it intends to send them back.

However, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano could use an execute order to grant them the immigration status called temporary protected status (TPS). A whole host of U.S. organizations, newspapers and local governments—such as the NAACP, the Washington Post, the New York City Council, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners—all support TPS. This status has in the past been granted to residents of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Somalia and Liberia, but never to Haitians.

Conditions in Haiti are so horrendous that they obviously justify TPS. More than 80 percent of Haitians live on less than $2 a day and 50 percent live on less than $1 a day. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network of the United Nations estimated the size of the “food-insecure population” in Haiti as 2.4 million in April. This is an improvement over February, but it still means one out of four Haitians never get enough to eat, are seriously hungry all the time. Children are stunted. Adults are prone to get sick and have trouble working.

The worldwide financial crisis is squeezing Haiti, which lives on remittances. The $1.65 billion received from Haitians abroad in 2008 was more than a quarter of the country’s annual income. But as Haitians living abroad lose income, what they can send home is going to shrink. Sending back home 30,000 Haitians now living in the U.S. will mean an additional big drop.

Haiti still hasn’t recovered from the four hurricanes—Ike, Hanna, Gustav and Faye—that hit in 2008, causing over $1 billion in damage and taking nearly 800 lives. Millions of tons of mud still clog the streets of Gonaïves in the north. Less than 2 percent of the terracing work designed to protect the city against mud slides from another hurricane has been done.

Thirty years ago Haiti supplied nearly all its own food, including rice and sugar. But in 1986, when it went to the International Monetary Fund for emergency money after the regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier collapsed under mass pressure and a U.S. plane flew him to the French Riviera, the IMF insisted Haiti open its markets to foreign rice.

IMF spokespeople piously and cynically explain that Haiti didn’t have to agree. It could have forgone the loans. The IMF fails to mention that this would have led to a complete collapse of the Haitian economy.

Since the late 1980s, through a cycle of coups, economic pressure and enticements, along with free food from time to time amply distributed by all sorts of NGOs, the market for food produced in Haiti has been destroyed.

Now, according to Avi Lewis, a producer for Al Jazeera’s “Inside the USA,” nearly all the food sold in Haiti is imported and Haiti is the third-largest market for U.S. rice. Rice is the most subsidized U.S. food. Beyond this, more than 50 percent of the cost of all the rice the U.S. donates to Haiti goes directly to U.S. producers, processors and transporters. By law, the U.S. is forbidden to buy food outside the country that it is “donating” for relief. So the cheaper solution—just buying the rice in Haiti, giving farmers there an income and saving transportation costs—was outlawed.

While hunger and misery, along with U.N. occupation forces, roam the streets of Haiti’s cities, the people have become more politically conscious. In recent partial Senate elections in which Fanmi Lavalas, the party of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was arbitrarily kept off the ballot, only 1 to 3 percent of the people voted. (Haiti-Liberté, April 22-28) The democratically elected Aristide, who had strong popular support, was kidnapped by the U.S. in 2004 and flown out of the country. He has been living in exile.

Berthony Dupont, director of Haïtí-Liberté, points out: “It is with much dynamism and courage that the people not only resisted the Duvaliers’ dictatorship but equally grew politically. Today they know their class enemies as a result of a profound maturing of people’s consciousness confronting the anti-people practices of the owning class and its international allies.”

U.S. military budget saps economy

U.S. military budget saps economy

Once again the military budget is rising, dashing hopes that the new administration would reverse the course of the Bush years. As many as 100,000 troops are being added to the military, with 22,000 slated to go to Afghanistan.

The annual budget of the Department of Defense will go from $487.7 billion to $527.7 billion this year. However, the cost of the Iraq/Afghanistan invasions and occupations, which is counted separately, will come to at least another $150 billion for the fiscal year.

To get a true measure of the cost of imperialist expansion and intervention, add in the debt payments for past military spending ($263 billion), nuclear weapons paid for through the Department of Energy ($22 billion), Homeland Security ($57 billion), military construction ($25 billion) and the CIA ($48 billion). It all adds up to more than $1 trillion. (Rolling Stone Magazine; Center for Defense Information)

The United States accounts for nearly half of the combined military budgets of the entire planet. The Pentagon budget comes to more than the gross domestic product of all 47 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. (World Bank)

On the same day that the military budget was released, a report came out entitled “Feeding America.” Based on 2005-2007 data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Agriculture Department, it found that in this country 3.5 million children under the age of 5 go hungry. That’s 17 percent of all children in the U.S. But the imperialist priority is to build billions of dollars worth of new weapons each year.

The Pentagon is wholly in the hands of the ruling class. Its function is to secure global markets, loot natural resources and subjugate the workers of each country for the capitalists. Its mission is to destroy any opposition to this from governments and popular rebellions, causing millions to die each year.

The militarists justify these monumental costs in the name of “national security.” But to have real security, all people need jobs, homes, health care, food, education and culture. All this is being sacrificed at the altar of the U.S. military-industrial-banking complex (MIBC). The significance of these mind-numbing figures lies not only in the Pentagon’s brutality and cost but its growing control over every aspect of society.

‘Generals over the White House’

In his book “Generals over the White House” (WW Publishers, 1980), Sam Marcy wrote that “The Military Industrial Complex is an historically inevitable outgrowth of the inherent tendencies in capitalist production in the epoch of imperialism. ... [With] the accelerating degeneration of monopoly capitalism into state monopoly capitalism ... the military in pursuit of its ends constantly needs greater and greater resources of an economic, industrial and technological character.”

Early capitalism, while brutal, expanded industry. Its profits grew with the exploitation of labor globally. Today, with global markets glutted, the capitalists cannot reinvest most of that profit into useful production. Instead, monopoly capitalism is addicted to three pillars of obscene profit: looting public treasuries through debt, military expenditures and a host of money speculation schemes like those that brought on the current bank crisis. None produce anything of value.

Capitalism, unlike socialism, is not a rational, planned system of production and mass distribution. Capitalism goes where the rate of profit is highest and damn the consequences. Any monopoly capitalist wanting to make huge profits must feed at the public military trough.

Weapons and military technology are not bought at a store. Governments buy them, with the people’s money. The MIBC simply robs the treasury with the agreement of the politicians it puts in office—agreement obtained either through threat or bribery. Each year the government borrows money to cover the cost. If it means cutting schools and hospitals, or letting New Orleans be buried in water, so be it.

Can Obama reverse this?

“The military wants to run the state,” wrote Marcy. “It grows out of the evolution of the fusion of the military with the industrial and banking complex. ... Politicians cannot resist.” When Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower left office in 1961 after two terms as president, he warned of the rise of the military-industrial complex, a term he coined. Almost 50 years later, the invasion of the military into all civilian matters has gone much further.

We’re familiar with the revolving door of retired military brass taking executive positions in military companies. The flip side of that is to bring corporate executives in to run the military. In the first Bush-Cheney administration, 32 executives or major shareholders of weapons contractors were appointed to top policy-making positions in the Pentagon, the National Security Council, the Department of Energy and the State Department. (World Policy Institute Special Report, October 2004) They are still there, with hundreds more infiltrating all the councils of the White House and Congress.

A comparison with the Carter administration can shed light on today’s reality. Jimmy Carter ran on a program of cutting the military budget and signing the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT). During his four years in office there was the largest increase in military expenditures thus far. He scrapped SALT. The Carter Doctrine defined the Persian Gulf as an American lake to be defended with “all the force necessary.” The country was in a recession.

Sam Marcy explained that, regardless of Carter’s personal intentions, he could not withstand the pressure and threats of the MIBC. Carter wound up appointing four right-wing Republicans to key posts. Admirals, generals and their close associates ran critical aspects of the government, both inside the White House and out.

A who’s who of President Barack Obama’s administration goes a long way in explaining the call for higher military spending, more troops and continued occupation regardless of Obama’s intentions. First and foremost, Bush Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was kept on the job. Commanding Gen. David Petraeus said, “If President Obama wants to make any dramatic changes in the Pentagon, he’s going to have to do them in the first year, and if he’s got the same secretary, how can Obama do it.” (New York Times, Jan. 21)

Gen. James Jones is Obama’s national security advisor and head of the National Security Council, where Gates and Petraeus also sit. Jones, whose office is practically next to Obama’s, is “a classic, pragmatic conservative,” wrote Robert Dreyfuss. “He’s a titan of the military-industrial complex. He is pro-nuclear. He likes oil drilling. He was on the boards of Boeing and Chevron.” (Rolling Stone Magazine, May 14) Jones opposed a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and was formerly a deputy to McCain.

Dreyfuss wrote that the National Security Council is changing, but not for the better. “They are giving a far wider range of agencies a seat on the NSC, including key officials involved in trade, energy, economic policy and technology.” The new mission is to take up all aspects of society, military and economic.

“When the president cannot attend, Gen. Jones runs top-level meetings. ... They’re making the decisions there at the White House on everything,” said Leslie Gelb, a former State and Pentagon official.

Military spending doesn’t help workers

Mass layoffs continue and home foreclosures are soaring. But Wall Street felt better when the military budget was announced. Raytheon CFO David Wajsgras said, “There was nervousness. We are encouraged, this budget did very well for the company. Stocks rose 7 percent.” (Wall Street Journal, April 23)

Good for the capitalists, bad for the workers. A trillion dollars a year for the military will not stimulate the economy and produce jobs, but it will further replace civilian production.

Marcy wrote, “Carter conveyed the impression that the defense budget would cushion a recession and curb unemployment. Wall Street was happy.” The Wall Street Journal wrote in January 1980 that it would mean more jobs and an end of recessionary expectations.

Why didn’t that happen, asks Marcy. “Military production, if it is relied on as a stimulant over a protracted period, like any other stimulant ultimately turns into its opposite and becomes a devastating depressant. Militarism is an intractable capitalist disease in which production is destined for a blind market for profit and not for human use.

“Military production in the epoch of imperialism is a special case of commodity production. Marx wrote in ‘Capital’ that ‘The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails presents itself as an immense accumulation of commodities.’

“The products of the MIC are by Marxist definition commodities. However, in addition to having an exchange value, commodities must also have a use value. The process of capitalist production and exchange in the final analysis means that the capitalist, in order to realize a profit, must produce a useful product. If not, it undermines the very process of capital reproduction. The sum total of the products that emanate from the MIC is devoid of usefulness to society.”

Marcy explained that “cranking up the war machine in the 1930s was a stimulus to the capitalist economy, but it was the U.S. appropriation of markets and raw materials from allies and foes that vastly enriched monopoly capitalism at home.” Since Korea “the U.S. imperialist establishment has flooded the U.S. as well as the rest of the world with small bits of paper of decreasing value: indebtedness incurred as a result of the military adventures for which there has been no material return or compensation for the vast expenditures entailed in producing the planes, guns, tanks, etc.”

The “new” bail-out-the-banks philosophy is that saving them and spending on the military will resuscitate the economy. But this warmed-over, trickle-down theory is self-serving and a lie. A funded public jobs program at a decent wage would do much more to stimulate the economy for the workers—but superprofits for a narrow group of monopolists trumps, because they run the government.

In 1967, during the Vietnam War, Sen. Allen J. Ellender of Louisiana said, “The truth of the matter is that in many important respects, the Congress and the nation are in the hands of the military. ... The administration and generals, Department of State seem to have the ways and means of getting just about what they want regardless of the monetary difficulties affecting the nation.”

Militarism may still keep the heart of monopoly capitalism pumping. But it is not as powerful as the global working class could be, fighting shoulder to shoulder to wrest back some of what we need and to liberate humanity once and for all.

Billionaire club in bid to curb overpopulation

Billionaire club in bid to curb overpopulation

America's richest people meet to discuss ways of tackling a 'disastrous' environmental, social and industrial threat

SOME of America’s leading billionaires have met secretly to consider how their wealth could be used to slow the growth of the world’s population and speed up improvements in health and education.

The philanthropists who attended a summit convened on the initiative of Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, discussed joining forces to overcome political and religious obstacles to change.

Described as the Good Club by one insider it included David Rockefeller Jr, the patriarch of America’s wealthiest dynasty, Warren Buffett and George Soros, the financiers, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, and the media moguls Ted Turner and Oprah Winfrey.

These members, along with Gates, have given away more than £45 billion since 1996 to causes ranging from health programmes in developing countries to ghetto schools nearer to home.

They gathered at the home of Sir Paul Nurse, a British Nobel prize biochemist and president of the private Rockefeller University, in Manhattan on May 5. The informal afternoon session was so discreet that some of the billionaires’ aides were told they were at “security briefings”.

Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, said the summit was unprecedented. “We only learnt about it afterwards, by accident. Normally these people are happy to talk good causes, but this is different – maybe because they don’t want to be seen as a global cabal,” he said.

Some details were emerging this weekend, however. The billionaires were each given 15 minutes to present their favourite cause. Over dinner they discussed how they might settle on an “umbrella cause” that could harness their interests.

The issues debated included reforming the supervision of overseas aid spending to setting up rural schools and water systems in developing countries. Taking their cue from Gates they agreed that overpopulation was a priority.

This could result in a challenge to some Third World politicians who believe contraception and female education weaken traditional values.

Gates, 53, who is giving away most of his fortune, argued that healthier families, freed from malaria and extreme poverty, would change their habits and have fewer children within half a generation.

At a conference in Long Beach, California, last February, he had made similar points. “Official projections say the world’s population will peak at 9.3 billion [up from 6.6 billion today] but with charitable initiatives, such as better reproductive healthcare, we think we can cap that at 8.3 billion,” Gates said then.

Patricia Stonesifer, former chief executive of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gives more than £2 billion a year to good causes, attended the Rockefeller summit. She said the billionaires met to “discuss how to increase giving” and they intended to “continue the dialogue” over the next few months.

Another guest said there was “nothing as crude as a vote” but a consensus emerged that they would back a strategy in which population growth would be tackled as a potentially disastrous environmental, social and industrial threat.

“This is something so nightmarish that everyone in this group agreed it needs big-brain answers,” said the guest. “They need to be independent of government agencies, which are unable to head off the disaster we all see looming.”

Why all the secrecy? “They wanted to speak rich to rich without worrying anything they said would end up in the newspapers, painting them as an alternative world government,” he said.

Harvard study backs bottle concern

Harvard study backs bottle concern

Says plastic used leaches bisphenol A

A Harvard study released yesterday supports what many public health specialists have long assumed: Hard plastic drinking bottles containing bisphenol A are leaching notable amounts of the controversial chemical into people's bodies.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who drank for a week from the clear plastic polycarbonate bottles increased concentrations of bisphenol A - or BPA - in their urine by 69 percent.

The study is the first to definitively show that drinking from BPA bottles increases the levels of the chemical in urine, researchers said. It was published on the website of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

BPA is used in hundreds of everyday products. It is used to make reusable, hard plastic bottles more durable and to help prevent corrosion in canned goods such as soup and infant formula.

"If you heat those bottles, as is the case with baby bottles, we would expect the levels to be considerably higher," said Karin B. Michels, senior author of the report and associate professor at the School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School. "This would be of concern since infants may be particularly susceptible to BPA's endocrine-disrupting potential," she said.

Canada banned the use of BPA in baby bottles in 2008, and Massachusetts health officials are now weighing whether to warn pregnant women and young children to avoid food, drinks, and other items containing the chemical.

Numerous animal studies in recent years suggest that low levels of BPA might cause developmental problems in fetuses and young children and other ill effects. The health effects on adults are not well understood although a recent large human study linked BPA concentrations in people's urine to an increased prevalence of diabetes, heart disease, and liver toxicity.

The Food and Drug Administration has said that products containing BPA are safe and that exposure levels, including those for infants and children, are below those that would affect health. But the FDA's own scientific advisory board criticized agency officials for relying on industry-funded studies to declare the chemical safe.

Michael L. Herndon, an FDA spokesman, said in e-mail to the Globe yesterday that newly appointed chief scientist Jesse Goodman will "provide new leadership and take a fresh look at this important issue from a scientific and policy position, incorporating emerging science and appropriate input from both inside and outside the agency."

Yesterday, an official with the American Chemistry Council discounted any suggestion that the Harvard study underscores a health risk.

In an e-mail, Steven G. Hentges said the study shows that exposure to bisphenol A from use of the bottles is "extremely low" and below the mean BPA amounts reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the US population, "indicating that even exclusive use of polycarbonate bottles does not lead to unusually high levels of bisphenol A in the urine."

The Harvard study was sparked by a discussion in Michels's class after she warned students who regularly swigged water from hard plastic bottles that they might want to limit their BPA exposure. The students countered by asking how much BPA they were getting from the bottles - and soon, a study was born.

Led by Jenny Carwile, a Harvard School of Public Health doctoral student, 77 Harvard students in the study drank all cold beverages from stainless steel bottles for a week to wash BPA out of their bodies and minimize exposure. Most BPA is flushed from people's bodies within a matter of hours. During that week, the students gave urine samples.

Then the students were given two refillable polycarbonate bottles made with BPA to drink all cold beverages from for one week. Urine samples taken over that week showed the students' BPA levels spiked the second week to levels normally found in the general population. Because the students did nothing different in their schedules other than drink from the BPA bottles, the researchers determined their urine concentrations largely came from the bottles.

"While previous students have demonstrated that BPA is linked to adverse health effects, this study fills in a missing piece of the puzzle - whether or not polycarbonate plastic bottles are an important contributor to the amount of BPA in the body," said Carwile.

Obama orders Gates to update plan for Iran strike

Obama orders Gates to update plan for Iran strike

American defense secretary tells NBC television president has instructed him to refresh plans for military action against Tehran prepared during Bush era. 'Presidents always ask their military to have a range of contingency plans available to them,' he says

Yitzhak Benhorin

Go To Original

Technical or offensive move?

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Friday that President Barack Obama had asked him to update the plans for the use of military force against Iran which were prepared during former President George W. Bush's term.

In an interview to NBC television's Today show, the American defense secretary explained that "presidents always ask their military to have a range of contingency plans available to them. And all I would say is that, as a result of our dialogue with the president, we have refreshed our plans and all options are on the table."

Asked whether the military plan for a strike in Iran was not updated, Gates responded that every president wants to be sure that the military plans are up to date.

It should be noted that Gates himself has opposed a strike in Iran since his days in the Bush administration and continues to firmly object to military action against the Islamic republic under the Obama administration as well. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, also opposes such a move.

Mullen told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday that the consequences of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon would be "calamitous" and major powers must act together to prevent it.

"It then, in my view, generates neighbors who feel exposed, deficient and then develop or buy the capability themselves," he said, suggesting Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapon likely would trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. "The downside, potentially, is absolutely disastrous."

But he did not suggest the United States should take military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He echoed the Obama administration's policy that big powers should work together to persuade Iran not to pursue a nuclear bomb and halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons generally.

"Major leaders, internationally, have got to come together to arrest this growth or the long-term downside for the people in the world is really, really tragic and drastic," he said.

Neocon Calls for Military Strikes on Media

Neocon Group Calls for Military Strikes on Media

Posted By Jeremy Scahill

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In the era of embedded media, independent journalists have become the eyes and ears of the world. Without those un-embedded journalists willing to risk their lives to place themselves on the other side of the barrel of the tank or the gun or under the air strikes, history would be written almost entirely from the vantage point of powerful militaries, or – at the very least – it would be told from the perspective of the troops doing the shooting, rather than the civilians, who always pay the highest price.

In the case of the Iraq invasion and occupation, the journalists who have placed themselves in danger most often are local Iraqi journalists. Some 116 Iraqi journalists and media workers have been killed in the line of duty since March 2003. In all, 189 journalists have been killed in Iraq. At least 16 of these journalists were killed by the U.S. military, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The network that has most often found itself under U.S. attack is al-Jazeera. As I wrote a few years ago in The Nation:

"The United States bombed its offices in Afghanistan in 2001, shelled the Basra hotel where al-Jazeera journalists were the only guests in April 2003, killed Iraq correspondent Tareq Ayoub a few days later in Baghdad, and imprisoned several al-Jazeera reporters (including at Guantánamo), some of whom say they were tortured. In addition to the military attacks, the U.S.-backed Iraqi government banned the network from reporting in Iraq."

A new report for a leading neoconservative group that pushes a belligerent "Israel first" agenda of conquest in the Middle East suggests that in future wars the U.S. should make censorship of media official policy and advocates "military attacks on the partisan media" (via MuzzleWatch). The report for JINSA, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, was authored by retired U.S. Army Col. Ralph Peters. It appears in JINSA’s "flagship publication," The Journal of International Security Affairs. "Today, the United States and its allies will never face a lone enemy on the battlefield. There will always be a hostile third party in the fight," Peters writes, calling the media "the killers without guns."

"Of course, the media have shaped the outcome of conflicts for centuries, from the European wars of religion through Vietnam. More recently, though, the media have determined the outcomes of conflicts. While journalists and editors ultimately failed to defeat the U.S. government in Iraq, video cameras and biased reporting guaranteed that Hezbollah would survive the 2006 war with Israel and, as of this writing, they appear to have saved Hamas from destruction in Gaza. …

"Although it seems unthinkable now, future wars may require censorship, news blackouts, and, ultimately, military attacks on the partisan media. Perceiving themselves as superior beings, journalists have positioned themselves as protected-species combatants. But freedom of the press stops when its abuse kills our soldiers and strengthens our enemies. Such a view arouses disdain today, but a media establishment that has forgotten any sense of sober patriotism may find that it has become tomorrow’s conventional wisdom.

"The point of all this is simple: Win. In warfare, nothing else matters. If you cannot win clean, win dirty. But win. Our victories are ultimately in humanity’s interests, while our failures nourish monsters."

It is, of course, very appropriate that such a despicable battle cry for murdering media workers appears in a JINSA publication. The organization has long boasted an all-star cast of criminal "advisers," among them Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, James Woolsey, John Bolton, and Douglas Feith. JINSA, along with the Project for a New American Century, was one of the premiere groups in shaping U.S. policy during the Bush years and remains a formidable force with Obama in the White House.

Reading Peters’ sick and twisted essay reminded me of the report that emerged in late 2005 about an alleged Bush administration plot to bomb al-Jazeera’s international headquarters in Qatar, which I covered for The Nation:

"Britain’s Daily Mirror reported that during an April 2004 White House meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, George W. Bush floated the idea of bombing al-Jazeera’s international headquarters in Qatar. This allegation was based on leaked ‘Top Secret’ minutes of the Bush-Blair summit. British Attorney General Lord Goldsmith has activated the Official Secrets Act, threatening any publication that publishes any portion of the memo (he has already brought charges against a former Cabinet staffer and a former parliamentary aide). So while we don’t yet know the contents of the memo, we do know that at the time of Bush’s meeting with Blair, the administration was in the throes of a very public, high-level temper tantrum directed against al-Jazeera. The meeting took place on April 16, at the peak of the first U.S. siege of Fallujah, and al-Jazeera was one of the few news outlets broadcasting from inside the city. Its exclusive footage was being broadcast by every network from CNN to the BBC.

"The Fallujah offensive, one of the bloodiest assaults of the U.S. occupation, was a turning point. In two weeks that April, 30 Marines were killed as local guerrillas resisted U.S. attempts to capture the city. Some 600 Iraqis died, many of them women and children. Al-Jazeera broadcast from inside the besieged city, beaming images to the world. On live TV the network gave graphic documentary evidence disproving U.S. denials that it was killing civilians. It was a public relations disaster, and the United States responded by attacking the messenger.

"Just a few days before Bush allegedly proposed bombing the network, al-Jazeera’s correspondent in Fallujah, Ahmed Mansour, reported live on the air, ‘Last night we were targeted by some tanks, twice … but we escaped. The U.S. wants us out of Fallujah, but we will stay.’ On April 9 Washington demanded that al-Jazeera leave the city as a condition for a cease-fire. The network refused. Mansour wrote that the next day ‘American fighter jets fired around our new location, and they bombed the house where we had spent the night before, causing the death of the house owner Mr. Hussein Samir. Due to the serious threats we had to stop broadcasting for few days because every time we tried to broadcast the fighter jets spotted us we became under their fire.’

"On April 11 senior military spokesperson Mark Kimmitt declared, ‘The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda, and that is lies.’ On April 15 Donald Rumsfeld echoed those remarks in distinctly undiplomatic terms, calling al-Jazeera’s reporting ‘vicious, inaccurate, and inexcusable…. It’s disgraceful what that station is doing.’ It was the very next day, according to the Daily Mirror, that Bush told Blair of his plan. ‘He made clear he wanted to bomb al-Jazeera in Qatar and elsewhere,’ a source told the Mirror. ‘There’s no doubt what Bush wanted to do – and no doubt Blair didn’t want him to do it.’"

Lest people think that the views of people like Ralph Peters and the JINSA/PNAC neocons are relics of the past, remember that the Obama administration includes heavy hitters from this world among its ranks, as well as fierce neocon supporters. While they may no longer be literally calling the shots, as they did under Bush/Cheney, their disproportionate influence on U.S. policy endures.