Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Schools put on notice they may be turned into shot clinics

Sebelius says kids may get swine flu shots first

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Schoolchildren could be first in line for swine flu vaccine this fall — and schools are being put on notice that they might even be turned into shot clinics. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday she is urging school superintendents around the country to spend the summer preparing for that possibility, if the government goes ahead with mass vaccinations.

"If you think about vaccinating kids, schools are the logical place," Sebelius told The Associated Press.

No decision has been made yet on whether and how to vaccinate millions of Americans against the new flu strain that the World Health Organization last week formally dubbed a pandemic, meaning it now is circulating the globe unchecked. But the U.S. is pouring money into development of a vaccine in anticipation of giving at least some people the shots.

While swine flu doesn't yet seem any more lethal than the regular flu that each winter kills 36,000 people in the U.S. alone, scientists fear it may morph into a more dangerous type. Even in its current form, the WHO says about half of the more than 160 people worldwide killed by swine flu so far were previously young and healthy.

If that trend continues, "the target may be school-age children as a first priority" for vaccination, Sebelius said Tuesday. "That's being watched carefully."

Schools do occasionally team up with local health officials for special flu vaccination clinics but it's not common. More than 140 schools around the country scheduled flu vaccination days last fall, some providing free vaccine. Some vaccinated only students bearing parent consent forms; others opened their doors to entire families.

In a wide-ranging interview, Sebelius said it could take several years to meet President Barack Obama's top healthcare priority — covering the uninsured — even if Congress manages to pass legislation this fall.

"Will something probably be phased in? You bet," Sebelius told The AP. It could take until 2011 or 2012 to set up new programs, time that would help spread out a cost that by some estimates would be $1 trillion over 10 years.

Among the aims of the administration's planned overhaul is to help eliminate health disparities between minority groups and whites, "which frankly is unconscionable," Sebelius said.

Hispanics and blacks are more likely to lack health insurance, and also have higher rates of a host of illnesses. But Sebelius said some of the most severe disparities are found with American Indians, and pledged a multiyear effort to reverse "a historic failure of the government." The U.S. is obligated to provide free health care on reservations, but the troubled Indian Health Service has only about half the money it needs.

More immediately, Sebelius faces the looming question of whether to push forward with swine flu vaccinations this fall, on top of the regular winter flu vaccine that will be distributed as usual. A key challenge would be making people understand who needs which, or both, vaccines, decisions that will be made in part based on how swine flu behaves in the Southern Hemisphere this summer, where flu season is just beginning.

Sebelius soon will call together the nation's governors to be sure "these months between now and the fall aren't used as vacation months" but in getting ready.

"We can always sort of back off" if the new flu fades away, she said, "but we can't wait til October hits and say, 'Oh my heavens, what are we going to do?'"

Companies are on track to provide pilot doses for testing later this summer, Sebelius said. Those government-led studies will check if the vaccine seems to work, if one dose or two will be needed, and most important if it's safe. The last mass vaccination against a different swine flu, in the U.S. in 1976, was marred by reports of a paralyzing side effect — for a feared outbreak that never happened.

So the Food and Drug Administration will closely track vaccine safety, Sebelius said.

The secretary said: "The worst of all worlds is to have the vaccine cause more damage than the flu potential."

Congress to Transfer Billions in Tax Dollars to the Insurance Industry

Congress to Transfer Hundreds of Billions in Tax Dollars to the Insurance Industry

Single-payer witnesses show the common-sense path, but Congress is listening to industry donors.

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Yesterday, as Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) left the health-care hearing room, he leaned over to me and said:

"I used to sell insurance. The basic rule is the larger the pool the less expensive the health care. Today we have 1,300 separate pools - separate health care plans - and that is why health care is so expensive; 700 pools would be more efficient and less expensive and one pool would be the least expensive. That's why single payer is the answer."

Nothing like common sense.

But, common sense was not on display in the Senate yesterday. Instead, the Senate is seeking a path to the goal of universal coverage by protecting the least-efficient model - the for-profit insurance industry that through waste, fraud, abuse and bureaucracy eats up 31 percent of the cost of health care.

Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) who chaired the hearing, standing in for the ailing Ted Kennedy, has received $2.1 million from the insurance industry throughout his career, another $547,000 from the pharmaceutical industry and $467,000 from health care professionals. Dodd opened the hearing stating the stark facts:

Americans spend more than $2 trillion on health care every year - more than 18 percent of our GDP. By 2040, 34 cents of every dollar we spend could be on health care. That is not simply unacceptable - it's unsustainable. Premiums and out-of-pocket costs for individuals and families alike continue to skyrocket.

It was evident throughout the day that money was on the minds of the senators. But, they could not look into the face of the obviously most efficient path, single payer. Instead, they were going through contortions to protect their benefactors in the insurance industry.

The senators and witnesses showed there is a lot of division over financing health care and no easy solution - so long as the first goal is to protect the insurance industry. Business groups wanted to tax employee benefits, not take away the business tax credit for companies that provide health care. These are the only two big pots of money the Senate sees. There was also talk about making Americans healthier to save money, certainly a good goal. But, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), probably correctly if rudely, mocked witnesses who said health care could be paid for by doing away with inefficiencies and wellness programs. McCain favors taxing health care benefits.

Of course, both the business tax credit and not taxing health benefits are two reasons the health insurance industry is able to acquire massive wealth. These are annual, indirect taxpayer giveaways to the insurance industry that demonstrate how government is already paying for health care. Taxpayers are just doing so in the most inefficient way. Rather than actually using tax dollars to pay for health care, they are used to pay for insurance and all the profits and waste that goes with it.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), the sponsor of S.703, the single-payer bill in the Senate, finally got his chance to speak and railed against the waste of the health insurance model, criticized their massive profits and emphasized that health care was a human right. He pointed his question to the lone witness advocating for single payer of the dozen testifying, Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program.

Flowers, who had been arrested just six weeks ago for protesting the exclusion of single payer from discussions in the Senate Finance Committee, went into a long list of reasons why the multi-payer system is so expensive - inefficiencies built into the system, insurance companies making massive profits while people died from lack of health care access, hospitals needing massive billing departments creating bigger administrative staff than nursing staff, doctors spending 20 percent of their overhead on dealing with the insurance industry, fee-for-service payments that lead to unecessary treatments and expensive, often-unneeded tests, malpractice litigation because patients do not have access to health care, to bad health care outcomes ...

Flowers was still going strong and the list was incomplete, when Sanders cut her off, saying he only had a few minutes for questioning.

Sitting next to Flowers was the CEO of Aetna Insurance, Ronald Williams. The senators fawned over him - except for Sanders, who pointed out Medicare was more popular than Aetna. Williams makes anywhere from $13 million annually in salary and stock (according to Insurance Industry News) to $30.86 million annually (according to Forbes). Insurance Industry News reports that if Aetna grows by 15 percent by 2010, Williams gets an additional $4.3 million. Is he not the perfect example of what is wrong with health care in America? Profits are the top priority of corporate interests, and usually short-term profits. Should the insurance industry be striving to grow so rapidly when it already gobbles up too many health care dollars?

The Senate also struggled with how to make sure everyone is covered with health insurance. Again, the divisions were obvious. Business groups said there should not be an employer mandate, but rather an individual mandate. Unions said there should be an employer mandate, not an individual mandate. Big businesses said there should be no subsidy for small businesses that would be unfair to big businesses. Republicans scoffed at the idea of expanding Medicaid to more of the working poor - too expensive and unaffordable, they pointed out. The public insurance option was described as unfair to the insurance industry and too expensive to implement. The Democrats squirmed uncomfortably at choices that they know will upset some powerful interest group.

What a mess! The effort to protect the insurance industry at all costs is making real health care reform impossible. Maybe, because the Democrats want to do something, anything, so badly they will find a way to pass something, but if they do it will not work, it will be very costly and the group that will benefit most clearly will be the health insurance industry - which will reap hundreds of billions in corporate welfare every year from the deform of health care in America. Of course, incumbents who support it will benefit with campaign donations from the industry. Pay to play politics on display in America.

Margaret Flowers, MD, was the first witness to testify at the Senate hearing on June 12. Her comments focused on health care as a human right. She pointed out how FDR was the first to try to put in place a Social Security system that included a single-payer health care system. And, how years of trying the "uniquely American approach" of the market solution - for-profit health care - had failed the country and put health care on a path to government deficit with health care costs already a cause in two-thirds of bankruptcies. She urged the Senate not to tinker with a broken system, but instead to take a new path and adopt a national health plan with single payer as the financing system.

Sadly, there were four doctors on the panel and only one, Flowers, who spoke of health care as a human right. Perhaps the AMA was the most despicable. Not only did it oppose single payer - something supported by 60 percent of doctors, according to a survey of the AMA data base - but it even opposed the weak public insurance option. The AMA spokesperson said they would only support market approaches. No wonder the AMA is shrinking rapidly. While not long ago it represented 70 percent of American doctors; it is now down to only 30 percent. At this hearing, the AMA's callous disregard of the needs of patients and its disregard of the opinions of doctors showed why the AMA is a shell of an organization.

Senator Sanders pointed out the historic breakthrough of having the first witness for single payer being allowed to testify as part of the health care reform discussion. The audience began to applaud and Sanders warned, "Be careful, you might get arrested."

The day before this hearing, a House subcommittee held a session on single-payer health care. One witness, Dr. Walter Tsou, a University of Pennsylvania professor, former health commissioner and an adviser to Physicians for a National Health Program responded to the claim that single payer was too radical, saying, "Our most famous radical document begins with the words, 'We the People.' Not 'We the Insurers,'" he said. "It is time for our own generation's revolution."

And, it will take the people speaking out and getting active to make real health care reform possible. If you don't want to see another massive transfer of wealth to the insurance industry while Americans continue to lack health care, you need to take action. Tell your representatives that you want a national health plan funded by a single-payer system. The insurers are working hard; the American people have to work harder. The time is now.

War Resisters Held in Legal Limbo

War Resisters Held in Legal Limbo

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At Fort Bragg, North Carolina, AWOL soldiers find themselves detained for months under difficult conditions in an extended legal limbo they cannot escape.

Dustin Stevens is one of about 50 soldiers being held at Fort Bragg awaiting likely AWOL and desertion charges that seem like they will never arrive, he says.

A former soldier who refused to continue military service seven years ago because he did not want to fight a war, Stevens says that he and his colleagues are being held in legal limbo - a no man's land of poor living standards and arbitrary punishments - while awaiting charges and possible court-martial. Stevens has been in a holdover unit for five months without charges, and he says that others have been held for up to a year in conditions he describes as harrowing.

The unit is overcrowded and filthy, he says, with four people to a room. The command verbally abuses the soldiers, with one commanding officer proclaiming, "We should just shoot you all," according to Stevens. Troops are not receiving the medical and mental health care they need. "People around me are literally going crazy. I hear people threaten suicide on a daily basis," says Stevens. "They won't give us leave passes unless it's a dire emergency, so we're just sitting here, day by day."

The command offered the soldiers a free pass if they agreed to deploy to Afghanistan, according to Stevens. About ten people took up the offer, he says. Those who decline must find a way to endure.

At least 50 AWOL troops are being held right now in the holdover unit at the 82nd Replacement Company, constituting about three-quarters of its population, with the rest medical holdovers, says Stevens, who is corroborated by his civilian lawyer, James Branum. A holdover unit is a special unit for people who are on a legal hold of some kind, whether it is because they are seeking medical discharge, switching assignments or, as in Stevens's case, waiting for charges.

Branum says that at this particular holdover unit, AWOL soldiers are being held for long stretches of time before receiving charges. "People are in this unit for months and months. They take forever to do anything," says Branum. "You are going to be there six months if you're lucky, 12 if you're not."

Maj. Virginia McCabe, 82nd Airborne Division spokesperson, confirmed that AWOL soldiers are in the Holdover unit at the 82nd Replacement Company at Fort Bragg, but could not say how many are there, how long they are being held, or what their conditions are like. She acknowledged that soldiers are confined to the unit if they are deemed a flight risk, but could not provide details on how that is determined. "Each AWOL soldier has his or her own special circumstances," she says. "They stay in a holding platoon until a legal decision is made. Or they might say they made a mistake and are ready to serve."

Kathy Gilbert, head of the Military Law Task Force of the National Lawyers Guild, says that holdover units can be very unpleasant. "In reality, a lot of times these units are run by senior enlisted personnel who are obnoxious and give people a hard time," she says.

Gilbert also says that legal hold makes it structurally difficult to make complaints. "People on restriction would have to request to see a commanding officer, the person officially in charge of restriction, if they wanted to make a complaint. There is not an official way to do that," says Gilbert. "Most people who are on restriction don't even know whose authority places them on restriction and don't know that senior enlisted personnel don't have the authority they often claim to have. Command doesn't have an open door policy or encourage people to speak up."

In a military where desertion is still technically punishable by death, Stevens says he has found military "justice" to be cruel and arbitrary.

In May 2002, after five months in the Army, Stevens refused to stand in formation at his Airborne graduation and declared that he no longer wanted to serve. Stevens had joined the army to escape a broken home, thinking he had few other options. Yet, since day one, he had been having panic and anxiety attacks, finding himself morally opposed to his service, and to the prospect of deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan sometime in the future. "I knew in my heart and in my mind, I couldn't kill anybody and couldn't be a part of an organization that did so," he says. Upon his refusal, Stevens's command told him to simply go home and wait for his discharge papers, he says. The papers never showed up, but he didn't think anything of it, he says.

Seven years later, during a routine traffic stop, Stevens was told that there was a warrant for his arrest and he was whisked off to military custody, torn away from his girlfriend and his job. "This whole time, I've been living my life. I've been working, paying taxes, had a car and apartment," he says. Since January 15, 2009, he has been in a holdover unit, biding his time while he awaits charges that might be months away. These months of detention will not count toward his sentence.

Stevens says that the people being held in the 82nd Holdover Unit went AWOL for various reasons, some because they were opposed to the war, some because the Army wouldn't let them leave to tend to family problems, and some because of medical problems.

"It is horrible here. We are treated like animals," he says. "We're all just lost, wanting to go home. Some of us are going crazy, some were already crazy, some are sick," he says. "I'm bouncing on a pin needle. I read all of the time, I talk to people all of the time to try to stay out of this place in my mind. It's really hard."

"AWOL troops being held in a replacement unit is totally absurd and unusual and is an example of how the command has plenty of ways to punish people and enforce discipline, bypassing the formal justice system. Smoking people, giving them unofficial duties, mistreatment, and in this case, making an example out of people and segregating them, are all informal mechanisms of punishment commonly used in the military." says Carl Davison, Iraq war resister and member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. "People who follow their consciences deserve our support, and there needs to be a highly vocal community out there to let them know they are not alone."

"Every single person here should not be here. There are people here who should be in mental hospitals, who are just sitting here. This place is hell, it really is," says Stevens. "And in my mind, I didn't even do anything wrong."

NATO's War Plans For The High North

NATO's War Plans For The High North

Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea

by Rick Rozoff

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Since the beginning of the year the United States and NATO have repeatedly indicated in both word and deed their intention to lay claim to and extend their military presence in what they refer to as the High North: The Arctic Circle and the waters connecting with it, the Barents and the Norwegian Seas, as well as the Baltic.

Washington issued National Security Presidential Directive 66 on January 12, 2009 which includes the bellicose claim that "The United States has broad and fundamental national security interests in the Arctic region [which] include such matters as missile defense and early warning; deployment of sea and air systems for strategic sealift, strategic deterrence, maritime presence, and maritime security operations." [1] Later in the same month the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] held a two-day Seminar on Security Prospects in the High North in the capital of Iceland attended by the bloc's secretary general and its top military commanders.

This coordinated initiative has been covered in a previous article in this series [2] and plans by the West to encroach on Arctic territory and confront Russia in the western region of the ocean have been addressed in another. [3]

Over the past month efforts by NATO member states, individually and collectively, to increase their military presence and warfighting ability in the High North have accelerated dramatically.

Sweden: NATO's Testing Ground And Battleground

The alarming and aggressive campaign is exemplified by the ongoing 10-day Loyal Arrow 2009 NATO military exercises being conducted in Sweden, described by a major American daily newspaper as "A NATO rapid-reaction force...on a war footing in Swedish Lapland" which consists of "Ten countries, 2,000 troops, a strike aircraft carrier, and 50 fighter jets - including the US Air Force's F-15 Eagle...participating in war games near contested Arctic territories."

The same source reflects that "Choosing this place for war games reflects the growing strategic importance of the Arctic, which is estimated to contain a quarter of the Earth's oil and gas...." [4]

A NATO website offers these details:

"Ten NATO and non-NATO nations will participate in the live flying exercise LAW 09 in Sweden from 8 to 18 June 2009. Some 50 fast jets, which will be based at Norrbotten Wing, Sweden will participate in the exercise. The aim of the exercise is to train units and selected parts of the NATO Response Force Joint Force Air Component Headquarters in the coordination and conduct of air operations. Additionally, NATO Airborne Warning and Control (AWACS) aircraft, as well as other transport aircraft and helicopters, will support the exercise. Some of the participating units will be flying in from bases in Norway and Finland.

"The exercise is based upon a fictitious scenario. Within this scenario, elements of the NATO Response Force (NRF)...will be deployed to a theatre of operations. The NRF was created to provide the Alliance with an effective tool to face the new security threats of the 21st century. It is a rapidly deployable, multinational and joint force with modern equipment able to carry out the full range of Alliance missions whenever and wherever needed, as tasked by the North Atlantic Council.

"About 800-900 troops from Germany, Finland, the United Kingdom, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Turkey and the United States as well as NATO’s airborne early warning component will participate." [5]

US Air Force personnel flew in from the US-used base in Mildenhall, England and "Air and ground crews from United States Air Forces in Europe joined military units from about 10 other nations June 8...." [6]

The war games are based in the Bothnian Bay in the Northern Baltic Sea and are the largest display of air power in the area's history.

On the first day of the exercises, June 8, it was reported that "The NATO-led air force drill Loyal Arrow started in Northern Sweden today. The British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious [with 1,000 soldiers] reached the Bothnia Bay. 50 airplanes and 2,000 persons, aircraft carrier personnel included, from ten countries will take part in what will be the biggest air force drill ever in the Finnish-Swedish Bothnia Bay." [7]

Sweden's Lulea airbase and Norway's at Bodo and Finland's at Oulu are being employed for the NATO war games.

Loyal Arrow is centered on a "fictitious scenario" in which "the NATO Response Force (NRF) [is] deployed to a theatre of operations, Lapistan.

"Lapistan is a fictitious undemocratic, unstable country that is ruled by a military clique which hosts terrorist training camps. The exercise's scenario is centered over a conflict over oil and natural gas with Bothnia, a fictitious neighboring NATO country, with some presence of nearby neutral fictitious countries Nordistan and Suomia, who refer to Norway and Finland, respectively." [8]

As the war games were getting underway Stefan Lindgren, vice chairman of Afghan Solidarity in Sweden, filed a complaint with the official ombudsman for discrimination matters and stated that the NATO exercise was both a defamation of the Sami people and also Muslims in Sweden. The "istan" ending reveals a mental connection with NATO's war in Afghanistan.

The indigenous people of the region, the Sami, protested against the racist term "Laps" - forbidden in Sweden - and also against the description of the exercise. [9]

A mainstream newspaper elaborated on the controversy in reporting that "The main indigenous people of Northern Sweden, the Sami, are discontented with the fact that the 'enemy nation' in the exercise's scenario is called 'Lapistan' and have joined the protesters against NATO in the demonstrations. The name is invented by NATO and resembles the derogatory term for Sami people, 'Lapps'". [10]

The American Christian Science Monitor followed up on the story on June 11 with the following quotes:

"'These exercises increase the risk of a conflict,' says Anna Ek, head of Sweden's Peace and Arbitration Society. 'They send out offensive and aggressive signals. Should we really be planning for a conflict with Russia while there is still a window of opportunity for cooperation in the Arctic?'

"'Neither the Parliament nor the defense committee were informed about the size of this exercise,' says Peter Radberg, a Green Party member of Parliament. 'It looks like a serious attempt to market NATO in Sweden....It risks causing a military escalation in a region where we should be disarming.'" [11]

As the first excerpt reveals, not only were the security, livestock and the very status of the Sami people of northern Sweden endangered, but Loyal Arrow 2009, in conjunction with other military exercises and initiatives to be examined later, is directly targeted against Russia, NATO's only challenger in its drive into and for domination over the Arctic.

The NATO Out of Sweden group organized activities in Lulea (the site of the Swedish airbase used in the drills) and demonstrated against NATO's use of Norrbotten County as a training ground and firing range for prospective actions at home and abroad.

The organization's Anna-Karin Gudmundson said, "This [exercise] can be perceived as very provocative. The Barents region with its proximity to the Arctic makes it a sensitive area. With all the talk about melting ice and the fight over natural resources this can look like a demonstration of power from NATO's side." [12]

Ofog, another Swedish peace group, announced on June 8 that it was deploying activists to a bombing range near the Vidsel Air Base in Norrbotten to "stop the preparation of war crimes" and to "prevent NATO from bombing the area further." [13]

The group issued a press release that said "Just like NATO we will be in the air, on the land and in the sea. We will do everything in our power to show NATO that their business is hideous and deadly.

"NATO is not a defensive alliance. It is the world's largest nuclear weapons club and war machine." [14]

On the second day of the exercises, June 10th, five members of Ofog were arrested after penetrating the bombing range.

Six more members were arrested as the NATO bombing continued and one of the Ofog activists at the range, Miriam Cordts, said: "NATO is the world's biggest war machine and nuclear weapons club. This aerial exercise in northern Sweden is their largest this year and is designed to make the NATO Response Force even more able to attack wherever they want. 90% of those who are killed in NATO's wars are civilians. It is our responsibility as human beings to do all we can to stop this exercise.” [15]

The Ofog activists' intention was to bring a halt to the bombing with their presence, but the NATO exercise continued.

A spokesman for the group commented, "We know that NATO bombs civilians, but this is the first time they have threatened to bomb civilians in Sweden” [16]

Sweden, though not yet a full member of NATO, is hosting the exercises through obligations to the Alliance's Partnership for Peace program and in doing so advancing ever closer to complete NATO integration despite opposition by the majority of Swedes.

Sweden In NATO: Neutrality Is Past Tense

The groundwork for Sweden's incorporation into NATO has been methodically planned for years.

In mid-May Member of Parliament and Liberal Party foreign policy spokesperson Birgitta Ohlsson stated that "For me, and for the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet), it is more evident than ever before that Sweden should be a member of NATO. Political parties can't just follow public opinion, they have to influence it too - and isolationism is very passe." [17]

Shortly thereafter the nation's defense minister, Sten Tolgfors, announced the "biggest restructuring of Sweden's armed forces in modern times" and that "Sweden will, for the first time in many decades, have one defense organization."

What he meant was defined more clearly when he added, "Today, we have a force with one organization for national use, based on a conscript system, and another for international use, based on standing units.

"We will reform our defense based on the lessons we learned from our lead-nation position with the Nordic Battle Group. We will have a battle-group-based defense in the future.

"We have built the Nordic Battle Group together. We are together with Finland in Afghanistan."

That Afghanistan wasn't the only rationale behind Sweden's increased militarization and integration into NATO structures was revealed when Tolgfors, while speaking of the Loyal Arrow exercises in June, said, "Russia has certainly raised its tone of voice over the last couple of years...." [18]

Two days later he visited NATO Headquarters in Brussels where he met with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and "briefed the Secretary General on the upcoming transformation of Sweden's defence capabilities, which should make Swedish forces more efficient, more deployable and more capable of conducting international operations." [19]

Four days before NATO launched the Loyal Arrow war games, Sweden's ambassador to France, Gunnar Lund, "speaking on behalf of Sweden's foreign minister Carl Bildt," promoted the use of a five-nation Nordic contingent of the European Union's battle groups (to function under NATO's lead through the Berlin Plus and related agreements) in saying "On the military side, I would like to draw your attention to the use of battle groups - a potentially very useful tool to the support of international peace and security."

The Swedish government regretted that the EU hadn't earlier employed the Nordic battle group - with forces from Sweden, Finland, Norway, Ireland and Estonia - and "did not give the green light to sending it to Chad and the Central African Republic last year." [20]

(Sweden, Finland and Ireland are three-fifths of Europe's remaining - nominal - neutral nations, the other two being Switzerland and Austria. All five have now deployed military contingents of varying sizes to serve under NATO in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. In Switzerland a peace group, Switzerland without an Army, "accus[ing] the government of trying to move neutral Switzerland to the NATO military alliance," recently turned in over 100,000 signatures - the amount required to introduce legislation in the parliament - to the federal government against a proposed purchase of new fighter jets, to insure NATO interoperability.)

1,300 Kilometer Border With Russia: NATO Integrates Finland

Last month a meeting of the Nordic Defence Ministerial [the defense chiefs of Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Iceland; there is also a joint Nordic-Baltic Defence Ministerial) occurred in Finland where the defense ministries of the five nations "discussed security developments in Northern Europe and exchanged views on the ongoing national defence transformation processes" and "evaluated common challenges in Africa and Afghanistan."

"The ministers discussed developments in the High North and possibilities for Nordic cooperation there.

"Similarly, they analyzed possibilities for enhanced Nordic cooperation in the Baltic Sea." [21]

This came shortly after "Former Norwegian foreign minister Thorvald Stoltenberg...concluded in a report on Nordic defence cooperation that the five Nordic countries should strengthen security cooperation in the Arctic...." [22]

Less than a week later US Air Force pilots were in Finland to train their counterparts in air refueling procedures of the sort used for long-distance missions and warfare.

According to the operations officer of the Finnish Air Force's 21st Fighter Squadron, "a captain who asked to remain anonymous due to government policy," the week-long exercises with Navy F-18 Hornets and an Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker, "help[ed] the squadron, and the service as a whole, meet a government requirement to be able to deploy outside Finland to support NATO forces. Although Finland is not a member of NATO, it is a part of the organization's Partnership of Peace program, which USAFE [U.S. Air Forces in Europe] also supports.

"This opens our eyes to a much wider operating area."

The report from which the above comes informed readers that "It's the first time U.S. Air Forces in Europe has deployed a tanker team to Finland for an air-to-air refueling operation." [23]

On May 25 of this year the Finnish foreign trade and development minister, Paavo Vayrynen of the Centre Party, said his party's partner in the ruling coalition, the conservative National Coalition Party, "had mounted a sustained campaign to mould public opinion behind NATO membership." [24]

Similar initiatives, concerted and surreptitious, to drag nations into NATO against the will of a clear majority of their populations are underway in Sweden and Cyrpus, inter alia.

From June 1-4 NATO's Allied Command Transformation (ACT), based in Norfolk, Virginia, and the Finnish Defence Forces conducted a NPETN [NATO & Partners' Education and Training Portal] in Helsinki.

A Turkish air force colonel assigned to NPETN described the program as "basically a human network that provides a venue to the members
including the NATO Defense College, Joint Warfare Centre, Joint Force Training Centre, NATO School, NATO Communications and Information Systems School, NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre, NATO Centres of Excellence, and NATO and Partner Nation's military education and training centres." [25]

The three-day conference wasn't a bilateral affair between NATO's headquarters in the United States and Finland, however, as it took in nations from no fewer than five continents.

"For the first time in conference history, a representative from Australia, a NATO Contact Country, will attend the discussions."

The same Turkish NATO representative quoted earlier said, "The conference gives us the opportunity to reach our goals because we will have more input from our Partner Nations, representatives from NATO, Partnership for Peace (PfP), Mediterranean Dialogue (MD), and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI), Contact Countries (CC)." [26]

With NATO's 28 full members, 25 Partnership for Peace candidates, seven members of the Mediterranean Dialogue, six of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative [the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council) and several Contact Countries like Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, etc., the number adds up to nearly a third of the 192 nations in the world.

On the day after the NATO conference in Finland's capital ended, the nation's police arrested six peace activists for painting NATO symbols in - blood - red on the walls of the Finnish Defence Command headquarters in Helsinki.

The group, Muurinmurtajat, released a statement saying "it wanted to draw attention to how the practical work of bringing Finland militarily closer to NATO is being done at the Defence Command." [27]

Five days later the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency (NC3A) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Finland on defense technology.

"Finland is a long-standing participant in the NATO Partnership for Peace programme with a strong track record of contributing to NATO missions and exercises.

"Sweden was the first partner country to sign a similar agreement with NC3A in 2007." [28] On the same day the Finnish armed forces began "their largest military exercise in decades."

Maanvyory 2009 (Landslide 2009) includes "18,000 service men, including 7,000 reservists from all three branches of the service." [29]

Norway: NATO Moves Its Military Into The Arctic

On June 2nd it was announced that Norway will move its Operational Command Headquarters from the south of the nation at Stavanger north to Reitan outside Bodo, "thus making Norway the first country to move its military command leadership to the Arctic."

"The move is in line with the Government's increased focus on the northern regions. With the new location above the Arctic Circle, Norway's supreme operational command will gain first hand contact with all questions concerning the High North." [30]

During a meeting of NATO parliamentarians in Oslo from May 22-26 NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer held meetings with Prime Minister Stoltenberg, Foreign Minister Store and Defence Minister Strom-Erichsen and had an audience with King Harald V. "Discussions focused on NATO's post-summit agenda, including the upcoming update of the Alliance Strategic Concept, relations with Russia and new security challenges facing Allies." [31]

At the same meeting of NATO parliamentarians Norwegian cabinet members told the participants that "NATO should increase its role in the High North," with State Secretary for Defence Espen Barth Eide insisting "that the High North should be addressed by the next reorganisation of the NATO command structure...." [32]

Norwegian Ambassador to NATO, Kim Traavik, escorted the ambassadors of five fellow NATO countries on a "study trip" to the north of the country after the parliamentarian meeting ended to inspect the site of the intended future conflict.

A week before, Norwegian Minister of Defence Anne-Grete Strom- Erichsen "outlined the importance of shaping a common position in defence and security matters concerning the High North. The Minister particularly called for 'strengthening the relevance of NATO.' Considering Russia's recent push in its military and economic spheres in the Arctic Sea, Strom-Erichsen sees a worrying potential for a possible destabilisation in the region." [33]

The defense chief in her own words:

"The Alliance is at the core of the security and defence strategies of all but one Arctic Ocean state. It therefore cannot avoid defining its role in the area. The challenge will be to devise policies that address fundamental Western security interests...." [34]

At the current time NATO's Allied Command Transformation is conducting a CWID [Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration] in Lillehammer, Norway from June 1-26 "with particular emphasis on those that would be deployed with NATO-led operations such as Article 5 Response, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Active Endeavour, Kosovo Force or within a NATO Response Force (NRF)...." [35]

An Article 5 response means activating NATO's collective military assistance provision as has been done with the nearly eight-year-old Afghan war.

On June 6th it was reported that Norway had established an historical record in arms exports and that "Most of the export of Norwegian defence material goes to NATO member nations and to Sweden and Finland." [36]

Further Encroachment On Russia: NATO In The Baltic Sea

It was reported late last month that NATO would continue its rotational air patrols over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania until at least 2020. [37] As has been mentioned by Russian officials, the NATO warplanes involved are a five-minute flight from Russia's second largest city of St. Petersburg.

The Baltic Eagle NATO Response Force (NRF-14) multinational exercise is being conducted from June 2-18 in the Adazi Military Area in Latvia to prepare the Baltic Battalion of Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian armed forces "to test the combat readiness level of the unit."

"According to the exercise scenario, the troops will deploy into the region of a military conflict and will conduct a wide scale of operations....A significant number of modern weaponry and equipment, including third generation Spike anti-tank guided missiles, modern heavy SISU 8x8 multi purpose transporters, SISU armored personnel carriers, personal assault rifles G36, and others, will be used in the exercise...."

The Baltic Battalion is a component of the NATO Response Force which in turn "is a highly ready and technologically advanced force of the Alliance made up of land, air, sea and special forces components that can deploy quickly wherever needed. It is self-sustainable and capable of performing missions worldwide across the whole spectrum of operations." [38]

During the same period the US Navy is has been leading the annual Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) exercises in the region.

"Maritime forces from 12 countries will participate in the largest multinational naval exercise this year in the Baltic Sea June 8-19.

"The Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) exercise is an annual event aimed at improving interoperability and cooperation among regional allies" and this years includes naval forces from the US, Britain, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland and Sweden." [39]

Present are US Rear Adm. John N. Christenson, commander of the Carrier Strike Group 12, and Swedish Rear Adm. Anders Grenstad, commander of the Maritime Component Command and "the Swedish equivalent of the U.S. Navy's chief of naval operations." [40]

Five days before BALTOPS 2009 began, the USS Mount Whitney - the flagship of the US Navy's Sixth Fleet and the command and control ship for the Commander Joint Command Lisbon and the Commander Striking Force NATO, deployed against Russia in the Black Sea after last August's Caucasus war - arrived off the coast of Lithuania and hosted American expatriate and current Lithuanian president Valdas Adamkus.

The latter used the occasion to affirm that "On behalf of the entire nation, the Mount Whitney's presence is significant to the entire country. It shows respect, provides additional strength and belief to fight for their commitment, but most importantly, the solidarity of the NATO community."

The US commander responded with, "I would like to publicly thank Lithuania for their [sic] support in Kosovo, Iraq, and especially Afghanistan." [41]

German Navy, Air Force Return To Neighborhood Of Leningrad

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung toured the Baltics last week and met with his Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian counterparts to "discuss...pressing issues within NATO and the European Union" and to "strengthen the well-functioning security relations with the three Baltic states." [42]

German warplanes are to take over the NATO Baltic patrol later this year, which is sure to conjure up memories among those in St. Petersburg old enough to have survived the 900-day siege of the city when it was Leningrad.

As is the arrival of the German navy recently. "A German auxiliary repair ship, one of 10 German units, provides support to more than 40 allied ships participating in [the] Baltic Operations exercise 2009 here...." [43]

NATO's Main Base On The Baltic: Poland

In mid-May a senior Polish defense official stated that "Poland expects a U.S. Patriot battery to be deployed on its soil in 2009 regardless of whether President Barack Obama opts to press ahead with missile defence plans in Europe" and urged NATO "not to neglect potential security threats closer to home in Europe and...expressed [the Polish government's] willingness to host alliance infrastructure." [44]

Washington was quick to oblige: "The U.S. Department of State has confirmed that the Patriot missile battery will be deployed in Poland regardless of what happens with plans for the missile shield system." [45]

Three days later the Financial Times reported that in relation to the Pentagon stationing Patriot missiles in Poland "talks were on track for the completion of final agreements in July, followed by a deployment of 100-110 US soldiers and 196 missiles by the year-end."

Polish Deputy Defense Minister Stanislaw Komorowski was quoted as saying, "This will be the first time US soldiers are stationed on Polish soil, other than those who come under NATO control, on exercises for example....This will be symbolic for Poland." [46]

In early June Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk affirmed "that Poland had not changed its mind about the U. S. anti-missile shield," [47] specifically the stationing of 10 American ground-based interceptor missiles in Redzikowo, northern Poland, site of a former Nazi German Luftwaffe airbase, another historical parallel that should make any informed and sensible Russian nervous.

Late last week Polish government spokesman Pawel Gras said that "the bilateral agreement on the deployment of a U.S.-sponsored anti-missile shield in Poland provided for the delivery of a combat-ready battery" and that planned US Patriot missiles would be "armed and stationed permanently." [48]

On the same day Poland's Defense Minister Bogdan Klich "announced that NATO will locate the Joint Battle Command Centre in Bydgoszcz, northern Poland, following a decision by defense ministers at a NATO meeting in Brussels." [49] The Joint Battle Command Centre will be added to the NATO Joint Forces Training Centre already in Bydgoszcz.

The meeting of NATO defense chiefs was held in Brussels on June 11 and included the defense ministers of all 28 NATO and 22 partner states; the heads of fifty national militaries discussed the war in Afghanistan, the occupation of the Serbian province of Kosovo, naval operations off the coast of Somalia and the Georgian-Russian conflict in the South Caucasus.

The defense chiefs of half a hundred nations not only discussed military operations in three continents but in addition "members of the Nuclear Planning Group held consultations on key current issues related to the Alliance’s nuclear policy." [50]

The central component of NATO's 21st Century new Strategic Concept currently being crafted is a continuation and intensification of the bloc's drive east and Poland is marked for a large share of its military deployments and infrastructure.

Poland's Defense Minister Klich "highlight[ed] the fact that NATO has decided to heavily invest in Poland by modernizing military infrastructure including air and sea bases."

The sea bases will be on the Baltic and the air bases within easy striking distance of Russia and its two largest cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Klich offered details on the plans decided upon by NATO last Thursday in revealing that "The Alliance has made the decision to open a new NATO cell, a new joint regiment within NATO. According to the decision, commanders from three regiments will be located in Bydgoszcz."

"In Bydgoszcz, we will have the permanent commanders of the battalion and other components: one of the six joint mobile modules, a security component and logistics and support operators." [51] The unit stationed in Poland will be composed of approximately 200 NATO soldiers.

Several days earlier Klich invited the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and Russia's neighbor Ukraine to join a collective international expeditionary brigade, for alleged peacekeeping operations.

"The Polish defense minister...said that the talks dealt with Ukraine's cooperation with NATO and the European Union, as well as the countries' role in military operations, including Ukrainian servicemen's participation in operations in Afghanistan....The parties also discussed assistance to Ukraine in its efforts to join NATO....

"Ukrainian and Polish defense ministers Yuriy Yekhanurov and Bogdan Klich have invited the Baltic states to join the initiative on the formation of a joint peacekeeping brigade." [52]

The First American War Against Russia In The Arctic: Lessons Learned And Not Learned

From May 11-21 NATO held the twice-annual Joint Warrior war games - Europe's largest military exercise - off the coast of Scotland in the North Sea, which connects with the Norwegian Sea bordering the Arctic Ocean.

"More than 20 warships, 75 aircraft and hundreds of personnel were tested in various scenarios" including one in which "a task group of 33 ships and French marines were sent into the fictitious Northern Dispute Zone to tackle the 'Dragonians' who had been harassing the 'Caledonians and Avalonians.

"Soldiers, sailors and air crews from Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and the US were also involved." [53]

According to the same source the autumn Joint Warrior exercises will be extended from two to three weeks this year.

Regarding American participation in last month's drills, "USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51), USS Porter (DDG 78), USS Philippine Sea (CG 58), USNS Kanawha (T-AO 193), and COMDESRON 24 took part in the scenario-driven engagement, along with vessels from nine other members of the North American Treaty Organization (NATO). [The Joint warrior] exercise [is] expected to increase fleet efficiency and battle readiness for U.S. and allied navies alike." [54]

On the other end of the Arctic, from June 15-26 the US will conduct operation Northern Edge 2009 in Alaska which will include "More than 200 aircraft, including B-52s, F-16s and Blackhawk helicopters....In addition, the USS John C. Stennis and its carrier strike group will be operating out of the Gulf of Alaska during the exercises. The nuclear-powered supercarrier has an air wing of more than 70 aircraft and a crew of 5,000 sailors." [55]

In a feature from a newspaper in the state of Michigan on May 28th, a review of a documentary film included this commentary on a US military unit deployed to Russia's Arctic region in the ending days of World War I:

"[The] Polar Bear Expedition saw some 5,500 soldiers sent to Archangel, Russia, near the Arctic Circle, in September 1918, just two months before the armistice would end the war. The expedition took shape after the 1917 Russian Revolution, when Russia signed a separate peace with Germany and pulled out of the war.

"At the urging of Winston Churchill - then in the British war office - President Woodrow Wilson...agreed to furnish troops to support the anti-Communist White Russian army. The Americans and some Canadians, who thought they were headed to France, were placed under British command."

US Senator Carl Levin was present for the screening of the documentary and told the audience, "There are lessons to be learned in history; there are lessons here....The lesson is we must be clear in our mission." [56]

There are lessons indeed. US troops fought on Russian soil and ended up on the losing side. This is not the lesson that Levin and the political and military leadership of NATO countries as a whole have learned and so risk repeating them on a far grander and more dangerous scale.


1) National Security Presidential Directive 66
2) NATO's, Pentagon's New Strategic Battleground: The Arctic
3) Canada: Battle Line In East-West Conflict Over The Arctic
4) Christian Science Monitor, June 11, 2009
5) Allied Air Component Command HQ Ramstein, April 9, 2009
6) U.S. Air Forces in Europe, June 8, 2009
7) Barents Observer, June 8, 2009
8) "Lapistan" inte bra sager Nato, Norrbottens-Kuriren via Wikipedia
9) Aftonbladet, June 5 by way of Stefan Lindgren
10) Barents Observer, June 8, 2009
11) Christian Science Monitor, June 11, 2009
12) Sveriges Radio via Barents Observer, June 8, 2009
13) The Local, June 10, 2009
14) The Local, June 8, 2009
15) From Agneta Norberg
16) Ibid
17) The Local, May 12, 2009
18) Defense News, May 17, 2009
19) NATO International, May 19, 2009
20) Agence France-Presse, June 3, 2009
21) Defense Professionals, May 13, 2009
22) Barents Observer, May 12, 2009
23) U.S. Air Forces in Europe, May 18, 2009
24) NewsRoom Finland, May 25, 2009
25) NATO International, Allied Command Transformation, May 29, 2009
26) Ibid
27) Helsinki Times, June 4, 2009
28) NATO International, June 9, 2009
29) Finnish Broadcasting Company, June 9, 2009
30) Barents Observer, June 2, 2009
31) NATO International, May 26, 2009
32) Jane's Defence Weekly, June 1, 2009
33) Norwegian Ministry of Defence, May 14, 2009
34) Ibid
35) NATO International, Allied Command Transformation, May 18, 2009
36) Norway Post, June 6, 2009
37) Defense News, May 28, 2009
38) Lithuania Ministry of National Defence, May 28, 2009
39) U.S. Naval Forces Europe, Navy NewsStand, June 6, 2009
40) Ibid
41) United States European Command, June 3, 2009
42) United Press International, June 9, 2009
43) U.S. Naval Forces Europe, June 11, 2009
44) Reuters, May 18, 2009
45) Warsaw Voice, June 3, 2009
46) Financial Times, May 21, 2009
47) Trend News Agency, June 3, 2009
48) Xinhua News Agency, June 12, 2009
49) Polish Radio, June 12, 2009
50) NATO International, June 11, 2009
51) Polish Radio, June 12, 2009
52) Interfax-Ukraine, May 29, 2009
53) BBC News, May 22, 2009
54) United States Navy, Navy Newsstand, May 22, 2009
55) Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, June 12, 2009
56) Hometown Life, May 28, 2009

Govt. Backs Rotten Home Loan Biz

Home Loan Scamming Is Still Going Strong -- and Now You're Paying for It

By Yasha Levine

Go To Original

Everything the real estate industry tells you is a hustle. No industry is more geared toward pumping up the positive and burying anything remotely negative, leaving you -- and truth -- out in the cold.

The crash has not made real estate agents any more honest, but at least the gap between the industry's crazed optimism and stark reality has grown so obvious that even the real estate industry can't hide it anymore.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in Victorville, Calif., an exurb of Los Angeles situated in the high desert where housing bubbled up higher than just about anywhere at the peak of the subprime-lending craze and is still in free fall today.

These days, there are a lot of lies and broken dreams buried in the gravelly sand on which Victorville was built. During the last real estate boom, this barren wasteland was the mecca of low-income homeownership, proof that the American Dream was within reach of all.

Tract-home developers stripped away the rocks and tumbleweeds and Joshua trees, replacing them with mazes of curvy streets and cul de sacs with soothing names like Cottontail Drive, Steeplechase Road and Ladybird Lane, lining them with the cheapest McMansions in California. Things exploded out of control this past decade, with the population doubling to 100,000 in just eight years.

But that whole way of life is over now. Unemployment in Victorville is way above the national average, and violent crime has shot up. Homes prices have plunged to 1989 levels and many stand empty. Banks don't even bother to putting them on the market.

Yet, last week, the press started hyping up the supposed real estate sales-driven economic turnaround that was about to sweep the country. "Honk if You Think It's Over," read a June 7 New York Times headline. "The panic in the Manhattan real estate market of the winter of 2009 lifted in the last few weeks, brokers say, as more and more buyers and sellers have found the courage and the comfort level to sign on the dotted line."

The Washington Post went even further: "Economists, senior government officials and ordinary consumers are all showing greater confidence in the outlook for the economy. ... There are unquestionable signs of economic progress." ABC News went with a rhetorical structure: "Has the Recession Finally Ended? Strong Home Sales Are Just One Indicator That the Economy May Be on the Mend."

From where I sit, this reads like pure fiction. It runs contrary to virtually every economic piece of data available: rising unemployment, growing credit card debt, a massive shadow inventory of foreclosed homes and a wave of defaulting ARM and commercial loans that's just around the corner.

But there is something else, too. And it is as deadly to our vampiric debtor economy as a stake through the heart: the FHA loan. By guaranteeing certain mortgages, the Federal Housing Administration has been helping middle- and low-income Americans purchase their first homes ever since the 1930s.

But this modest leg-up program has been been hijacked and transformed into the new subprime-loan market operated by lenders who are as corrupt, predatory and shortsighted as the original, and maybe even more so. Because this time taxpayers have been put on the hook for the risk well in advance. Real-estate insiders have been sounding the alarm about this new shadow subprime mortgage market -- which is now almost $600 billion strong -- for months now. But instead of listening, Congress has been trying to expand the FHA loan program.

Not surprisingly, it seems that risk-free loans are the only way they banks can be persuaded to start lending again. But I wanted to find out firsthand how much of an impact these loans were having on the housing market. So last weekend, I shaved, put on a clean shirt and headed out for a day of shopping in Victorville.

Around here, it is much easier to shop for a brand new home than to find someone who will show you one of the many foreclosed ones. You don't need to make an appointment with a real estate agent, hunt down open houses on a Sunday afternoon or attend auctions. All you have to do is take a drive any day of the week during normal business hours and look out for the huge signs plastered around town. They are not easy to miss.

It took me five minutes to spot a new development on the very edge of Victorville's sprawl. The sign was dark green and advertised a development called "Braeburn at West Creek," with luxurious and spacious homes offered for around $200,000. The development had a quiet, upper-class suburb feel to it: new cars, landscaped lawns, no traffic and wide streets. Passing a group of kids playing basketball in the middle of one of the streets, I pulled up in front of the Braeburn sales office, built into the garage of a model two-story McMansion painted a trendy brown.

It was 3 p.m. on Saturday, prime house-hunting time. With all this buying activity the industry was reporting, I half-expected to run into other bargain shoppers like myself. But I was the only customer in the real estate office.

"Hello! Have you come to see the houses?" a chipper female voice yelped from a distant corner of the office. "Give me a second, I'll be right out." I couldn't get a visual on her. It was huge, this garage -- er, office -- big enough to hold three cars, easily the size of a decent apartment. Schematic drawings hung on the walls showing all the wonderful house configurations you could order.

That was when the voice appeared in human form: a blond middle-aged woman emerged from a corner office with a bundle of keys. Braeburn had three floor plans to choose from, she quickly started explaining. But I could only look at two of them. The third was still under construction. But if I wanted to, I could drive around and look at it: "It is quite far along in the building process."

The homes were all quite similar: all three had two floors, four to five bedrooms and range of 2,454 to 2,765 square feet. All of them had what's called a "great room," something you see in new home developments that combines the kitchen, living and dining rooms into one great open space.

"We have sold 105 homes so far, and I have about 30 homes left," the agent said, whipping out a photocopy list of Braeburn's homes, complete with lot numbers. "Right now we are headed into this cul de sac. This is our last cul de sac." The rest of the homes would be built on mere streets. She circled homes numbered 85 through 98 surrounding a dead end street called Window Rock Court.

"This is a nice neighborhood. I have a few foreclosures in here, but if you drive the neighborhood and ask the people, they'll tell you how they like it here. And how they are real comfortable. I got some correctional officers here, LAPD, teachers from the school."

Jesus, I thought. What a neighborhood. Prison guards, cops and their school-teacher wives. All die-hard small-government Republicans, no doubt. And all in government employ. The last gainfully employed people in this country, and they're always talking shit about their employer, Big Government.

"But go look at the houses for yourself first. We can talk about it when you go back."

The model homes were fully furnished, and looked like they came out of a Martha Stewart magazine with a theme of "the antique and modern in harmony." I had to hand it to them, it worked. It felt like home, as long as you didn't look out of the master bedroom window. The mini-highway and a barren desert wasteland dotted with high-voltage power lines squashed that comfort feeling.

These houses were clearly a step up from the entry-level McMansion I lived in just a few blocks away. But were they worth the extra $100,000 that you could be saving if you tried to get one of few foreclosed properties that are on the market? The sales lady assured me they were, and besides I'd never get a house for that price in Victorville.

"I have a lot of people coming in here that have been bidding on foreclosures until they are sick of it. They bid and they bid and they bid, and 20 other people are bidding, too. You throw a number out, and you never get anywhere. So they say 'I want my tax credit. I want my new home. I'm gonna pick my own carpet. I know it's under 10-year structural warranty and two-year cosmetic warranty.' "

Are the news reports about the increase in home sales true, I asked. She nodded. "I've been here for three years. Last year was really slow going, but this year has been really good. I've had four sales last month, three sales the month before that. First-time home buyers, that's what I'm getting. People are like ‘prices are down, the rates are low ... time for me to get a house.' So why not? People are not afraid of getting into homeownership. So that's a good sign, right?"

Of course, I nodded. Great for the economy. Great for Victorville. But the longer we talked, the more obvious it was FHA loans were at the core of a real estate scam of frightening proportions that was reinflating the real estate bubble with taxpayers' money, all in the name of economic recovery.

"Oh yes, we work with a lender. All you have to do is come in and let me worry about the paperwork. Right now you'll probably be able to get a 5 percent interest loan, which is good. And credit history is not much of a problem. We are doing just FHA loans, so we don't even go by a FICO score. If you haven't been late in the last 12 months on anything, you are eligible. People get in here with credit scores of 580s and 600s, but they've been on their job for 15 years, and they got a good history. The FHAs, that's what's helping out the first-time home buyers."

The FHA was helping the developers out, too. Even with boosts like the new accounting rules that allow banks to keep existing homes off the market (which boosts banks' assets and inflates home values by limiting supply) and taxpayer-funded cash perks for purchases of newly constructed homes, it could only work with zero-risk loans. No bank would consider giving a loan on obviously overpriced homes these days, especially with people with borderline bad credit. But thanks to the FHA, lenders literally cannot lose on these high-risk customers. So they are happy to hand out loans to all comers. In fact, places like Braeburn only sell to people who qualify for an FHA-backed mortgage: first-time home buyers. Fact is, FHA loans were the only reason places like Braeburn were still open for business. And that may not be such good thing.

FHA loans have been around since the Great Depression, helping working-class Americans buy their first homes by providing government insurance that guarantees certain types of loans at no risk to the lender. Until recently, they have been largely a force for good. During the civil rights movement, for example, FHA loans were retooled to help African Americans purchase homes. But like most public programs designed to help the American people, the FHA has been hijacked by big business -- in this case, the banking and real estate industries.

It was really a coup de etat for everyone involved. When the subprime market collapsed, President George W. Bush pushed Congress to heavily expand the the FHA loan program, increasing its budget, lowering entry requirements for both lenders and debtors. Eventually, our elected officials even took care of the bothersome 3.5 percent down payment requirement for the loan with all sorts of free cash.

Right now, the FHA is in essence giving out no-money-down loans to anyone who doesn't already own a house, regardless of credit history. In California, first-time homebuyers purchasing a freshly built home receive instant cash in the form of a tax credit: $8,000 from the feds (soon to be increased to $16,000) and $10,000 from the state. Local governments are also throwing in some goodies.

"I have some some money from the school facility fees that I can get. Like you need 3.5 percent down, but I can get you about $4,000 of that from down-payment sources. That just came back. It was gone but it's back," said the sales lady at Braeburn, lowering her voice just a bit that made it seem this was some sort of racket. "And we pay the $10,000 closing costs for you, as well. It's a win-win situation."

Win-win, indeed. If you bought Braeburn's largest home at base price, you'd pay nothing up front and have more than $5,000 left over for some new furniture, a 40-inch LCD TV and a weekend trip to Disneyland.

Homeowners have never been offered a better deal, but many won't hold on to their purchases for very long. It is common real estate industry knowledge that the less a buyer puts on a down payment, the more likely that buyer is to default. But no one seems to care, not the banks and not our government. In fact, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, hardworking bank-shilling Democrat, has been pushing to increase access to FHA by making them available anyone, and not just first-time homeowners. He also wants to push the new-home federal tax credit to $15,000.

Under the guise of helping economic recovery, the bill is really a multidimentional wealth transfer, funding bank profits with taxpayer money while cutting taxes (tax credit is just another way of reducing tax revenue). This plan has received wide support.

The whole racket is so crude and so obviously doomed to end in disaster that papers like the Wall Street Journal, normally a champion of Thatcherite houseowning, have tried to blow the whistle:

The Next Housing Bust

Everyone knows how loose mortgage underwriting led to the go-go days of multitrillion-dollar subprime lending. What isn't well known is that a parallel subprime market has emerged over the past year -- all made possible by the Federal Housing Administration. This also won't end happily for taxpayers or the housing market.

Last year, banks issued $180 billion of new mortgages insured by the FHA, which means they carry a 100 percent taxpayer guarantee. Many of these have the same characteristics as subprime loans: low down payment requirements, high-risk borrowers, and in many cases, shady mortgage originators. FHA now insures nearly 1 of every 3 new mortgages, up from 2 percent in 2006.

The financial results so far are not as dire as those created by the subprime frenzy of 2004-2007, but taxpayer losses are mounting on its $562 billion portfolio. According to Mortgage Bankers Association data, more than 1 in 8 FHA loans is now delinquent -- nearly triple the rate on conventional, non-subprime loan portfolios. Another 7.5 percent of recent FHA loans are in "serious delinquency," which means at least three months overdue.

The FHA is almost certainly going to need a taxpayer bailout in the months ahead. The only debate is how much it will cost. By law, FHA must carry a 2 percent reserve (or a 50-to-1 leverage rate), and it is now 3 percent and falling. Some experts see bailout costs from $50 billion to $100 billion or more, depending on how long the recession lasts.

Private profits, public risk. It is a lurid example of the New Capitalism at work, exposing the cannibalistic nature of our society. Even the institutions created to serve the interests of the public have been perverted into instruments of theft.

Business Week, another conservative financial outlet, was actually warning about the FHA scam back in 2008:

For generations, these loans, backed by the Federal Housing Administration, have offered working-class families a legitimate means to purchase their own homes. But now there's a severe danger that aggressive lenders and brokers schooled in the rash ways of the subprime industry will overwhelm the FHA with loans for people unlikely to make their payments. Exacerbating matters, FHA officials seem oblivious to what's happening -- or incapable of stopping it. They're giving mortgage firms licenses to dole out 100 percent-insured loans despite lender records blotted by state sanctions, bankruptcy filings, civil lawsuits and even criminal convictions.

More Bad Debt

As a result, the nation could soon suffer a fresh wave of defaults and foreclosures, with Washington obliged to respond with yet another gargantuan bailout. Inside Mortgage Finance, a research and newsletter firm in Bethesda, Md., estimates that over the next five years, fresh loans backed by the FHA that go sour will cost taxpayers $100 billion or more. That's on top of the $700 billion financial-system rescue Congress has already approved. Gary E. Lacefield, a former federal mortgage investigator who now runs Risk Mitigation Group, a consultancy in Arlington, Texas, predicts: "Within the next 12 to 18 months, there is going to be FHA-insurance Armageddon."

Yet the FHA scam goes on, despite these warnings, for the simple reason that it's the only thing driving an otherwise moribund real estate market. Without these FHA loans, the whole thing would collapse, sooner rather than later. The Business Week piece was published seven months ago. That leaves five months, more or less, before the Armageddon it predicts.

But for now, this racket -- and the couple of trillion dollars pumped into the financial sector -- are showing borderline modest results. On average, pending home sales rose by 6.7 percent in April. That's its highest level since September and the sharpest increase in seven years.

In Victorville, new housing developments are being kept inflated at slightly below 2004 price levels. There has been a slight increase in demand for new homes, too, causing some builders to start raising prices.

A KB Homes development not far from where I live has sold all its lots, raised prices by about 1 percent and even started a new development -- smaller, and with less flash, more in sync with the depressed market -- that will start selling homes sometime this fall. Even Home Depot said its earnings for the month of May were better than expected.

But if you walk just one block over from the booming Braeburn community, a whole row of homes stands empty. It is a grim reminder of the massive shadow inventory of foreclosed homes no one wants to think about. New-home values are being inflated, but existing homes are becoming increasingly worthless. In bubble cities all across California, real estate has fallen below 1989 levels.

Median Home Prices Drop Below 1989 Levels in Some Parts of Southland

Properties in several areas are selling for less than they did 20 years ago, and that's not including inflation. Some first-time buyers are nabbing houses for less than what their parents paid.

By Peter Y. Hong

June 10, 2009

In parts of Southern California, the housing crash has upended a basic tenet of the American dream: that home values always increase over the long term.

Properties in several areas are selling for less than they did 20 years ago, and that's not even counting the effects of inflation.

The government is knowingly flooding the market with homes at inflated prices, setting young families up for default and massively increasing taxpayers' exposure to more toxic debt ... and for what?

It's all about taking care of the banking and finance industry.

Bush was responsible for widening the scope of FHA loans with his "HOPE for Homeowners" program, pledging to make $300 billion available for FHA-backed refinancing that would've helped 400,000 families avoid foreclosure. But the program seemed to be more about coming up with a legitimate reason for getting as many lenders approved to take part in the racket as quickly as possible than actually helping people refinance their homes.

Six months after HOPE was signed into law, only one homeowner had successfully refinanced with the program. At the same time, the number of FHA-approved lenders doubled from around 16,000 to 36,000. It was perfect timing, as many of them were subprime lenders looking for a new gig.

Here's Business Week again:

FHA "faces a tsunami" in the form of ex-subprime lenders who favor aggressive sales tactics and sometimes engage in outright fraud, says Kenneth M. Donohue Sr., the inspector general for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. "I am very concerned that the same players who brought us problems in the subprime area are now reconstituting themselves and bringing loans into the FHA portfolio," he adds.

FHA staffing has remained roughly level over the past five years, at just under 1,000 employees, even as that tsunami has been building, Donohue points out. The FHA unit that approves new lenders, recertifies existing ones and oversees quality assurance has only five slots; two of those were vacant this fall, according to HUD's Web site. Former housing officials say lender evaluations sometimes amount to little more than a brief phone call, which helps explain why questionable ex-subprime operations can reinvent themselves and gain approval.

So here we are. Subprime 2.0. Just like the last subprime bubble, it might help the economy in the short term; real-estate industry profits will soar, developers will keep the construction business running, banks will look more solvent and inspire confidence in the economy, which will help keep the bubble inflated. But it won't last.

The second contraction will come, and when it does, it'll be bigger and badder than ever. And the government bailout will come straight out of our pensions and health care.

Blood at the Blockade: Peru's Indigenous Uprising

Blood at the Blockade: Peru's Indigenous Uprising

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Beginning with a series of protests last year, Peru's Amazonian indigenous groups are now leading a full-fledged rebellion against the pro-business policies of President Alan García. The government has responded with brutal violence to the protests, which are demanding that a series of decrees to promote extractive industries in the jungle be overturned among other things. Amazonian groups, who are being joined by an ever-widening swath of society, are now calling for García's resignation.

On June 6, near a stretch of highway known as the Devil's Curve in the northern Peruvian Amazon, police began firing live rounds into a multitude of indigenous protestors – many wearing feathered crowns and carrying spears. In the nearby towns of Bagua Grande, Bagua Chica, and Utcubamba, shots also came from police snipers on rooftops, and from a helicopter that hovered above the mass of people. Both natives and mestizos took to the streets protesting the bloody repression.

From his office in Bagua, a representative of Save the Children, the child anti-poverty organization, reported that children as young as four-years-old were wounded by the indiscriminate police shooting. President Alan García had hinted the government would respond forcefully to "restore order" in the insurgent Amazonian provinces, where he had declared a state of siege on May 9 suspending most constitutional liberties. The repression was swift and fierce.

By the end of the day, a number of buildings belonging to the government and to García's APRA party had been destroyed. Nine policemen and at least 40 protestors were killed (estimates vary). Overwhelmed by the number of wounded, small local hospitals were forced to shutter their doors. A Church official denounced that many of the civilian wounded and killed at the Devil’s Curve were forcefully taken to the military barracks of El Milagro. From Bagua, a local journalist told a radio station that policemen had dumped bagged bodies into the Utcubamba River.

Indigenous leaders have accused García of "genocide" and have called for an international campaign of solidarity with their struggle. Indigenous unrest in the Peruvian Amazon began late last year. After an ebb of a few months, the uprising regained force again on April 9. Since then, Amazonian indigenous groups have sustained intensifying protests, including shutdowns of oil and gas pumping stations as well as blockades of road and river traffic.

The Devil's Curve massacre is not the only instance of repression. García recently sent in the Navy to violently break through indigenous blockades on the Napo River, also in northern Peru. But few expected such a violent reaction from the government. García says the response was appropriate and blamed the indigenous for thinking they could decide what happens in their territories: "These people don't have crowns. They aren't first-class citizens who can say… 'You [the government] don't have the right to be here.' No way." The president called the protestors "pseudo-indigenous."

Indigenous representative Alberto Pizango called Devil's Curve the "worst slaughter of our people in 20 years." And added, "Our protest has been peaceful. We're 5,000 natives [in the blockade] that just want respect for our territory and the environment."

Protestors' top demand is the repeal of a series of decrees, known collectively as the "Law of the Jungle," signed by García last year. The President decreed the legislative package using extraordinary powers granted to him by Peru’s Congress to enact legislation required by the 2006 U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement. Indigenous groups are also demanding the creation of a permanent commission with indigenous representation to discuss solutions to their territorial, developmental, health and educational problems.

One of the most controversial aspects of the decrees is that they allow private interests to buy up indigenous lands and resources. Following a colonial logic of "progress," García's decrees foster the commodification of indigenous territories, ecological reserves, communal and public lands, water, and biogenetic resources to the benefit of powerful transnational interests. What's more, the “Law of the Jungle” implicitly conceives of indigenous Amazonia as an open, empty, bountiful, and underdeveloped frontier and its inhabitants as obstacles to neoliberal modernization and investment schemes.

History of Plunder and Resistance

Neoliberal elites are apparently oblivious to indigenous historical agency and political activism in Peru, where there is a long-standing trajectory of Amazonian insurgency. Since the eighteenth century, indigenous groups in the rainforest have successfully rolled back the incursions of colonial missionaries, rubber barons, gold miners, lumber contractors, Sendero Luminoso guerrillas and others whose expansion represented a direct and serious threat to their cultural autonomy and territorial integrity.

García and his predecessors have tried to give transnational companies – logging, oil, mining, and pharmaceutical etc. – unfettered access to the Amazon's riches. The potential plunder not only poses a threat to the very existence of indigenous peoples, but also presents a serious danger to the region’s diverse and fragile ecosystems.

Protests have occurred in the past, but this time is different: The scope of the ongoing mobilizations, which cover almost the totality of Peru’s Amazonian territories, is historically unprecedented, as is the government's violent reaction. Coordinating the mobilization effort is the Inter-Ethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Amazon (Aidesep), an umbrella group of indigenous organizations. Established almost three decades ago through the incorporation of more than 80 federations and regional organizations, Aidesep’s reach and strength rests on its 1,350 affiliated communities representing 65 different Amazonian peoples.

Under mounting pressure from the protests, the government finally agreed to a closed-door meeting held the morning of May 27 in Lima with indigenous representatives. (Aidesep had demanded such a meeting for years.) Prime Minister Yehude Simon – himself a former leftist and political prisoner – and Aidesep representative Alberto Pizango held a brief press conference after the sitdown announcing the start of formal negotiations.

Following weeks of a racist and dirty government campaign against indigenous leaders, a subdued Simon acknowledged both the García administration’s “bad communications” and – more importantly – “the lack of a state policy towards Amazon communities for over a century.” He also emphasized government willingness to revise and modify Garcia’s decrees.

Meanwhile, a defiant Pizango maintained that Aidesep's campaign of civil disobedience would only be lifted with the total repeal of García's “Law of the Jungle.” Pizango also announced a platform of issues that indigenous representatives planned to bring to the table, including points on indigenous territorial rights, self-determination, health and education, development, and cultural integrity.

Failed Talks, Failed Government

The last time the government agreed to negotiations in August 2008 – again, under pressure from an indigenous uprising – the talks collapsed due to government unwillingness to engage indigenous representatives in a respectful and honest manner. Aidesep withdrew from the talks when the government tried to undermine the group's position by inviting (unannounced) groups of indigenous leaders and academics aligned both with the government's discredited Development Institute for Andean, Indigenous, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian Peoples (INDEPA) and the Confederation of Amazonian Nationalities (CONAPA), which groups together a small number of opportunistic Indigenous leaders.

Using INDEPA and CONAPA, the government has initiated "cooperation agreements" between friendly indigenous communities and foreign oil and gas companies. Outraged by their presence at the negotiating table Aidesep denounced the move as a “smoke screen” covering up the government’s spurious collusion with the gas and oil industries.

Meanwhile, Aidesep kept open negotiations with members of Congress, where its demands received support from the left-of-center opposition and even some members of García's ruling party. With the start of formal negotiations (Mesa de Diálogo), Aidesep honored the compromise and halted protests on August 20, ending the 11-day uprising. With growing popular sympathy with indigenous demands and support from the political opposition in late September, congress passed a law that canceled two of the most odious presidential decrees that sought to diminish indigenous territorial rights and political autonomy.

Aidesep's direct action campaign marked the emergence of Amazonian indigenous peoples as an influential and autonomous force in Peru's current political landscape. The mobilization also sparked a public realization that the defense of Amazonian resources is an issue of national importance and not only a regional or indigenous problem. The indigenous uprising has also increased public awareness of the predatory nature of free trade, the prevalence of public good over private interests, and the meaning and importance of citizen participation in the formulation of a sustainable and democratic future. All of this constitutes a healthy questioning of the toxic neoliberal paradigm based on the commodification of life and resources as the only possible alternative to "progress" and "modernization."

In October 2008, video recordings surfaced of conversations between high-ranking officials from the García administration and a lobbyist for transnational gas and oil companies. The recordings show the men negotiating the fraudulent concession of oil rights in natural reserves and indigenous territories. The video not only starkly revealed the real intentions behind the “Law of the Jungle” and Peru's handful of recently negotiated free trade agreements, but also further boosted Aidesep's legitimacy and the moral authority of its struggle. The scandal also helped catalyze the current Amazonian insurgency, coalescing an emerging popular and autonomous anti-systemic bloc and further diminished García's popularity, which has been abysmally low. (Approval ratings have hovered at 30 percent in the city of Lima and are even lower in rural areas, especially the Amazon.)

Amazon 'Insurgency' Declared

By late March, triggered by renewed incursions into their territories, abusive labor conditions in the gas and oil industry, high levels of contamination and government reluctance to address their demands, indigenous peoples in various Amazonian localities staged a number of marches, demonstrations, blockades, and hunger strikes. Incensed by the government’s repressive response to their demands and its threat to declare a state of emergency in the most combative Amazonian provinces, Aidesep renewed mobilizations, blocking ground and river traffic, and occupying hydrocarbon installations.

In an April 9 declaration, Aidesep demanded that Congress rescind the “Law of the Jungle,” establish a genuine Mesa de Diálogo, and promote the creation of new branches of government charged with implementing “intercultural” solutions to indigenous health and education problems. The document also calls for the recognition of indigenous collective property rights, guarantees for special territorial reserves of communities in voluntary isolation, and the suspension of land concessions to oil, gas, mining, lumber, and tourism industries. Indigenous organizations are also demanding a new constitution that incorporates the United Nation's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the International Labor Organization's Convention 169, both of which guarantee indigenous rights to territorial and cultural autonomy. Finally, the April declaration also calls for the suspension of the government's free trade agreements with the United States, the European Union, Chile, and China, all of which endanger indigenous territorial rights and Amazonian biodiversity.

As indigenous groups escalated their direct action campaign, the government declared a state of siege on May 9 in four of the most militant provinces of Amazonia. Despite the crackdown, Aidesep has gained sympathy and solidarity from broad sectors of Peruvian society. Unions, popular organizations, and highland peasant and indigenous groups have staged "civic strikes" and other protest actions. Elected municipal and regional authorities across the country have also expressed their support. While Catholic bishops across the Amazon region have called on the faithful to support indigenous demands, stating the "rich cultural and biological diversity" of the region represents a “source of life and hope for humanity."

On May 27, Peru was rocked by a national day of protest called by the country's largest trade union federation and other social movement umbrella groups. Thousands took to the street protesting García’s neoliberal policies and to express their solidarity with Aidesep's struggle. In Lima a massive march arrived to the steps of Congress, demanding that the Law of the Jungle be declared unconstitutional. Meanwhile, the just-concluded Fourth Continental Indigenous People's Summit of Abya-Yala, which was held in southern Peru, called for an international day of action in solidarity with the Amazonian uprising. The Communitarian Front in Defense of Life and Sovereignty established by Aidesep together with labor, Andean indigenous, campesino and popular organizations have called for a day of protest and mobilization on June 11.

The Law of the Jungle

A report from the government's Ombudsman Office not only declared the unconstitutionality of García's decrees, but also noted the legitimacy of indigenous people's campaign of civil disobedience. In Congress, the Constitutional Committee declared two of the presidential decrees unconstitutional. But under pressure from the executive, García's APRA party, with support from followers of jailed former President Fujimori and other right-wing political parties, has blocked discussion of the Constitutional Committee’s resolution.

At the beginning of June, the situation deteriorated. Aidesep walked away from the incipient talks with the government, citing the executive's refusal to acknowledge broadening public rejection of the decrees. The government responded with increased repression that culminated – so far – with the Devil's Curve massacre. García also lashed out against Radio de la Selva, an Amazonian radio station that has been critical of the government. The attorney general is considering charging the station with inciting public unrest. When the military violently broke up the river blockade on the Napo River, spontaneous protests erupted against the Navy.

The declaration of martial law in the provinces of Bagua and Utcubamba, where the bloodiest repression took place, and the trumped-up charges of rioting have forced many of Aidesep leaders underground. But the repression drove many non-indigenous sectors into the fold of the Aidesep-led resistance. A newspaper report interviewed a teacher who described how many non-indigenous locals joined the June 6 protests after the Army blocked villagers from attending to the wounded and bringing water to the natives at Devil's Curve. The indiscriminate shootings only fueled further hostility toward the government. The growing unrest among a broad range of popular forces has coalesced into the Communitarian Front in Defense of Life and Sovereignty, formed on June 4. Among other actions, the new coalition has called for a national general strike if the Law of the Jungle is not repealed by June 11.

Catholic clergy have rejected the repression and reiterated their support for indigenous demands. In a joint-letter the Ombudsman's Office and high-ranking clergy called on the government to privilege peace and negotiation over repression and violence in resolving the conflict. In a previous statement the priests expressed their discontent with the "attitude taken by the government, foreign and national businessmen and a large sector of the media" against "the just demands of Amazonian indigenous peoples." (These conservative sectors have ridiculously dismissed the protests as the work of presidents Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales.)

La Lucha Sigue

The outcome of this current crisis is highly uncertain. Indigenous are calling for García to resign, while a chorus of groups (newspapers, unions, opposition figures) are at least demanding that García sack cabinet members, particularly Prime Minister Simon and the Minister of the Interior. The police union issued a statement lamenting the death of both the officers and their "Indian brothers," while placing the blame for these deaths squarely on García.

One thing, however, is certain: The recent repression laid bare García's naked slavishness to foreign capital investment and his double-talk of feigning negotiation and dialogue, while implementing an evidently well-planned counter-insurgency operation. Much of the national media has obediently obliged with a fear-mongering campaign. Under the government's current plan, oil and gas concession blocs alone would cover 72 percent of Peru's Amazon, according to a recent study by Duke University.

Will energy, agribusiness, lumber, and mining corporations gain exclusive benefit to one of the largest repositories of fresh water, biodiversity, and other resources? Will the indigenous succeed in protecting their lands – a final frontier – from the rule of global capital? The answers to these questions will depend on many things, including indigenous people's ability to sustain protests and their growing allegiances with other sectors as well as the government's willingness to use brute force.

Indigenous peoples in Peru have reconfigured – perhaps irreversibly – popular anti-systemic forces in the country from their weakness and dispersion of recent years. In the immediate future, however, the next weeks will be crucial for determining the outcome of the crisis. International solidarity with the Aidesep struggle will be central in deterring the predatory advance of the government and capital. The defense of Amazonia, as Peruvian clergy pointed out, “is not of the exclusive concern of Peruvian citizens but of all humanity."