Wednesday, September 9, 2009

“Surveillance Society” Poses Threat to Privacy and Individual Liberties

“Surveillance Society” Poses Threat to Privacy and Individual Liberties

by Sherwood Ross

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New surveillance technologies increasingly threaten Americans’ civil liberties yet the public seems not to mind the ominous signs of an emerging police state, a law school professor warns.

“If we acquiesce in technology’s wonders being utilized to track our every movement, every action, every purchase, every message — because there is benefit to us, as there is, in each of these — who is to blame when the state goes knocking on the neighbor’s door?” asks Larry Starkey, an adjunct professor at the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover. “Who is to blame when the state comes knocking on our own doors?”

Technology, Starkey writes, “is giving the cops amazing reach.” The individual is monitored by security video cameras covering the street and inside office buildings and stores; by credit cards that “record considerably more than mere debt obligations” and that list the place and times of all purchases; and by purchases made on “special member cards” that track “every item you buy, establishing a data base in your name, and drawing regular conclusions about your eating, partying, reading, junk-binging, and self-medicating habits.” Also, Starkey says, “Your video store is doing the same. And so is your pay-per-view provider.”

The law professor goes on to say, “Your emails, of course, are monitored, and, depending on their content, read by a government employee without a warrant to do so, thanks to federal computer programs with such sci-fi names as ‘Echelon’ and ‘Carnivore.’” He notes that deleted emails “remain on your hard drive, your provider’s hard drive, and the hard drives of the NSA(National Security Agency).” Even the medications you take are “stored in your medical files, your pharmacist’s files and your insurance company’s files.”

“But this isn’t science fiction,” Starkey continues. “Your own computer keeps a lengthy record of which websites you have visited, including that merely curious half-minute or so you may have spent when the advertisement for ‘Free Hot College Cutie Pix, Click Here,’ popped up, unasked, on your computer’s screen. Likely as not, the site also recorded your visit while inserting a ‘cookie’ on your hard drive so it would recognize you on your next visit.”

Automatic toll booth stickers on car windshields provide a log for billing purposes but may also chart the distance traveled between two surveillance cameras and the driver’s speed between them, making it possible “to produce a continual record of where a car has been, and at what times, and where it is right now, in real time,” says Starkey.


“Technology, posing as a benefactor and nothing less, opens our lives to detailed past and present scrutiny far more effectively than thumb-screws ever did,” he asserts. What’s more, proposals are afoot over creating a DNA data base of all Americans and possibly “implanting small devices under the skin of pets and children…so they may be tracked electronically if petnapped or kidnapped,” and in some places this is being done, Starkey writes. More surveillance and heightened police powers are a toxic mix, he says, and fly in the face of American tradition:

“We are the descendants of a tradition bent on distrusting government in whatever it initiates, and we are disinheriting ourselves with expectations that the rule of law will always properly separate equality from equity, will always value conscience as highly as pious obedience, and with wisdom and proletarian virtue as its strengths, will never advance the majority at the expense of the minority.”
As for the nation’s Founders who worked so assiduously to protect the new nation’s civil liberties, Starkey writes, “Little did they know that pledging their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor would, in only two centuries, beget a progeny of sheep who, rather than personally confronting one another’s unappreciated personal behaviors, would willingly swap their privacy and their liberty to have government do it for them.”

“Too few in this society seem to even consider that there is an ominous linkage between expanded police power and technology,” the law school professor writes. “’My life’s an open book,’ too many smugly shrug, ‘I’ve nothing to hide.’ Which is nonsense, of course, if only because it is a statement accurate only to the current moment. None of us can guarantee we will not, someday, have something to hide. And that, of course, is the purpose of the Bill of Rights.”

“If we cannot recognize the dangers of police power united with technology’s intrusive capabilities, or do not care that they have mated, it must be that we expect of law some wisdom that will separate the liberties of the good person from those of the bad,” Starkey writes, noting that that is a false assumption. Starkey made his observations in “The Long Term View,” the magazine of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover.

The Real News About Jobs and Wages

The Real News About Jobs and Wages -- An Ode to Labor Day

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Why aren't we hearing more about the worst job and wage situation since the Great Depression?

The latest employment figures (released this morning) show job losses continuing to grow. According to the payroll survey, job losses are increasing more slowly than in previous months. According to the household survey, they're accelerating -- from 9.4 percent of the workforce in July to 9.7 percent in August. Bottom line: almost one out of six Americans who need a full-time job either can't find one or is working part-time. Meanwhile, wage growth among people who have jobs has just about stopped. The Economic Policy Institute reports that between 2006 and 2008, wages grew at an annualized rate of 4.0%; by contrast, over the past three months annual wage growth has plummeted to just 0.7%. At the same time, furloughs -- requiring workers to take unpaid vacations -- are on the rise: recent surveys show 17% of companies imposing them. More than 20% of companies have suspended their contributions to 401(k)s and similar pension plans.

So why isn't the media screaming? Partly because these job and wage losses are not, for the most part, falling on the segment of our population most visible to the media. They're falling overwhelmingly on the middle class and the poor. Unemployment among those who have been in the top 10 percent of earnings is closer to 5 percent, and their earnings continue to climb -- although, to be sure, much more slowly than before the meltdown. It's much the same with health-care and pension benefits. Among people under 65 who are in the bottom 20% of incomes, only 21.9% have employer-sponsored health insurance -- if they have a job at all. Half of all people nearing retirement age have a 401(k) balance of less than $40,000.

I keep hearing that the economic meltdown has taken a huge toll on the stock portfolios of the rich. That's true. But the rich haven't lost nearly as much of their assets, proportionately, as everyone else. According to a report from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch ("The Myth of the Overleveraged Consumer"), analyzing data from the Federal Reserve, the bottom 90 percent of Americans hold 50 percent of more of their assets in residential real estate, which has taken a far bigger beating than stocks and bonds. The top 10 percent of Americans have only a quarter of their assets in housing; most of their assets are in stocks and bonds. And although the stock market is still a bit tipsy, it has rallied considerably since it hit bottom earlier this year. Home values, on the other hand, are down by an average of a third across the country, and are still falling.

What does all this mean for the economy as a whole? It raises the fundamental question of where demand will come from to get us out of this hole. If so manyAmericans are losing their jobs and wages, you have to wonder who will be returning to the malls.

That same Bank of America Merrill Lynch report notes cheerfully that 42 percent of consumer spending before the meltdown came from the top-earning 10 percent of Americans (not too surprising given that the top 10 percent was raking in half of total earnings) and the top 10 percent continues to do relatively well. So, says Bank of America Merrill, we can rely on the spending of the top 10 percent to get the economy moving again. Indeed, they conclude, Congress and the White House should be careful not to raise taxes on the top 10 percent, lest the consuming ardor of these most privileged members of our society be dampened.

This logic is morally and economically indefensible. If we've learned anything from the Great Recession-Mini Depression of the last 18 months, it's that the skewing of income and wealth to the top has made our economy far less stable. When the majority of middle-class and poor Americans are either losing their jobs or feel threatened by job loss, and when those who still have jobs are experiencing flat or declining wages, there's simply no way to get the economy back on track. The track we were on -- featuring stagnant median wages, widening inequality, and job insecurity -- got us into this mess in the first place.

Secret US spontaneous human combustion beam tested

Secret US spontaneous human combustion beam tested

Silent deathray in first blast from the skies

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American death-tech goliath Boeing has announced a long-delayed in-flight firing for the smaller of its two aeroplane raygun-cannon prototypes, the Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL). The ATL blaster, mounted in a Hercules transport aircraft, apparently "defeated" an unoccupied stationary vehicle.

"This milestone demonstrates that directed energy weapon systems will transform the battlespace and save lives," said Boeing exec Greg Hyslop. "The ATL team has earned a distinguished place in the history of weapon system development."

"The bottom line is that ATL works, and works very well," added corporate raygun honcho Gary Fitzmire.

The ATL is much smaller than Boeing's headlining laser weapon, the jumbo-jet-mounted Airborne Laser (ABL), intended to blast enemy ICBMs as they soar upward from pad or silo. Rather the ATL is intended to pick off individual ground targets, somewhat in the fashion of existing Hercules-based side-firing AC-130 gunships. Indeed Boeing has referred to the ATL in the past as its "Laser Gunship".

ATL does resemble the ABL in some important respects, however. Like the bigger weapon, it is a chemically-fuelled laser rather than a solid-state electrically powered one, meaning that it can fire only a limited number of blasts before its sealed, six-ton laser module must be maintained and refuelled with hazardous toxic chemicals.

Just how many shots the ATL can fire before being rearmed is unclear, but hints dropped by Pentagon sources suggest it could be as few as six. This compares poorly with the firepower available aboard a normal AC-130, leading some analysts to wonder what the point of the ATL really is.

Boeing say that it will offer "ultra-precision" and "dramatically reduce collateral damage", though so far nothing of this sort has really been shown. A 40mm cannon aboard a normal AC-130 could "defeat" a stationary ground vehicle without damaging its surroundings: a .50-cal sniper rifle fired from a helicopter could do the same to a moving one.

It hasn't escaped notice, however, that neither of those things could strike silently - perhaps from so far off that the carrying aircraft wouldn't be noticed either - and without leaving any solid evidence of US military presence. Nor have observers failed to note that the US military agency in charge of ATL is the secretive Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

Boeing have evidently had some problems with the ATL - airborne test firings were expected last year, but this success didn't happen until last Sunday. However it would seem that the system may soon be as ready for frontline use as it will ever be, at least until electric lasers without fuel limitations are weaponised.

In years to come, the secret supertroopers of SOCOM may be able to cause a cell tower to stop working, a vehicle's fuel tank to suddenly explode, or a single person to inexplicably be incinerated - all completely silently and tracelessly, without anyone knowing they were ever there and not so much as a spent bullet left behind.

Maine governor proclaims civil emergency due to H1N1

Gov. Baldacci proclaims civil emergency due to H1N1

Schools and health care providers are protected against liability claims related to vaccine clinics

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Gov. John Baldacci on Tuesday declared a statewide civil emergency because of the H1N1 influenza virus, paving the way for mass immunization of Maine schoolchildren and other residents.

The emergency designation protects schools and health care providers against liability claims related to their participation in school-based vaccine clinics this fall for both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 flu. “Maine has been proactive in its response to this new flu,” Baldacci said in announcing the proclamation. “But as the school year begins, we must continue our vigilance, which will require a responsible and aggressive vaccination and public education campaign. It’s our goal that every person in the state has access to vaccines for the seasonal and H1N1 flu.”

In accordance with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, officials in Maine are encouraging public schools to offer on-site immunization clinics for all children, including infants over 6 months and preschoolers as well as children who are home-schooled. Participating schools will offer the seasonal influenza vaccine as soon as possible, and many also will offer the new H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available.

A list of participating schools is not yet available. Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday that many schools will partner with area health care providers such as hospitals, visiting nursing organizations, and health clinics for the actual administration of the injectable vaccines. But those providers may not have enough clinical staff to devote to giving the vaccines and will be looking to recruit recently retired nurses and other clinicians who are not their regular employees.

The emergency proclamation allows for those clinicians, once their credentials have been approved, to become temporary employees of the state, relieving provider agencies from the administrative burden and legal liabilities associated with hiring them directly.

Mills said a similar process was employed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita when Maine nurses and other providers worked with rescue and recovery teams on the Gulf Coast.

Schools are no more liable for injuries associated with the vaccine clinics than they would be for injuries incurred at a basketball game or other community event, Mills said. And while vaccine manufacturers are generally not liable for ill effects of the vaccines they produce, Mills said, the federal government does have a compensation fund for vaccine-related illnesses or injuries.

“The H1N1 vaccine is being manufactured using the identical process as the seasonal vaccine,” she added. “There is no reason to think it is any less safe than the seasonal vaccine.”

Hundreds of cases of H1N1 have been confirmed in Maine, with many times that number of cases presumed. The virus is linked to one death in Maine. Although symptoms in this country have been relatively mild in most cases, public health officials predict a surge in the number of cases and possibly in the severity of the symptoms beginning this fall.

Unlike the seasonal flu, H1N1 thus far has proved to be more dangerous to young people, including children, teens, pregnant women and young adults. School-age children, in particular, are seen as a primary source of transmission to other vulnerable populations. Public health officials advise these groups to be vaccinated against the seasonal flu to help maintain their general good health, and to get the H1N1 vaccine as soon as it becomes available.

France to use swine flu to gut laws: report

France to use swine flu to gut laws: report

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In case of a swine flu pandemic the French government has a plan to introduce emergency measures that would gut legal protections for citizens, the daily Liberation reported Tuesday.

According to documents provided to the daily by a judges' union, the plan would extend the period police can keep a suspect in detention without charge or a hearing before a judge to up to six months.

Suspects would also not be able to contact a lawyer until after spending 24 hours in custody.

Under the plan children could be tried in adult courts and more trials held behind closed doors.

The Syndicat de la Magistrature called the measures "revolting" and said they would amount to "liberticide," and called on Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie to abandon the plan.

The union was due to release on Tuesday the text of the government plan, which it said was provided to heads of courts in great secrecy in July, the newspaper reported.

Swine flu, or the A(H1N1) virus, the first pandemic to be declared by the World Health Organization in this century, has so far claimed 15 lives in France, out of at least 2,837 worldwide.

The French government has conducted extensive planning to prepare for an expected new wave of infections as the autumn flu season approaches in the northern hemisphere.

Did Lehman Brothers Fall or Was It Pushed?

"Wall Street's 9/11": Did Lehman Brothers Fall or Was It Pushed?

A year after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008, questions still swirl around its collapse. Lawrence MacDonald, whose book A Colossal Failure of Common Sense came out in July 2009, maintains that the bank was not in substantially worse shape than other major Wall Street banks. He says Lehman was just “put to sleep. They put the pillow over the face of Lehman Brothers and they put her to sleep.” The question is, why?

The Lehman bankruptcy is widely considered to be the watershed event that changed the rules of the game for those Wall Street banks considered “too big to fail.” The bankruptcy option was ruled out once and for all. The taxpayers would have to keep throwing money at the banks, no matter how corrupt, ill-managed or undeserving. As Dean Baker noted in April 2009:

“Geithner has supposedly ruled out the bankruptcy option because when he, along with Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke, tried letting Lehman Brothers go under last fall, it didn’t turn out very well. Of course, it is not necessary to go the route of an uncontrolled bankruptcy that Geithner and Co. pursued with Lehman. . . . [But] the Geithner crew insists that there are no alternatives to his plan; we have to just keep giving hundreds of billions of dollars to the banks . . . , further enriching the bankers who wrecked the economy.”

Although Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy on Monday, September 15, 2008, it was actually “bombed” on September 11, when the biggest one-day drop in its stock and highest trading volume occurred before bankruptcy. Lehman CEO Richard Fuld maintained that the 158 year old bank was brought down by unsubstantiated rumors and illegal naked short selling. Although short selling (selling shares you don’t own) is legal, the short seller is required to have shares lined up to borrow and replace to cover the sale. Failure to buy the shares back in the next three trading days is called a “fail to deliver.” Christopher Cox, who was chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2008, said in a July 2009 article that naked short selling “can allow manipulators to force prices down far lower than would be possible in legitimate short-selling conditions.” By September 11, 2008, according to the SEC, as many as 32.8 million Lehman shares had been sold and not delivered – a 57-fold increase over the peak of the prior year. For a very large company like Lehman, with plenty of “float” (available shares for trading), this unprecedented number was highly suspicious and warranted serious investigation. But the SEC, which was criticized for failing to follow up even on tips that Bernie Madoff’s business was a ponzi scheme, has yet to announce the results of any investigation.

More Questions

Other questions about the Lehman collapse are raised in David Wessel’s July 2009 book In Fed We Trust. Why was Bear Stearns saved from bankruptcy but Lehman Brothers was not? How could the decision makers not realize the dire consequences of letting Lehman go down?

One possible explanation is that they actually thought the bank would be bought out at the last minute, just as Bear Stearns was. In both cases, the parties worked feverishly over the weekend after the stock’s collapse to try to negotiate a deal. For Bear Stearns, the negotiations succeeded, with the help of the New York Federal Reserve, which provided the loan used by JPMorgan Chase to complete the deal. With Lehman, however, the interested buyer was British, and the help that was needed was from the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling. The weekend after the September 11 stock collapse, intense negotiations were pursued with Barclays Bank, which was prepared to underwrite Lehman’s debts; but it needed a waiver from British regulators of a rule requiring shareholder approval. Negotiations continued until the market was getting ready to open in Japan on Sunday, but UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling would not give the necessary waiver. He said something to the effect that he did not want to infect Britain with America’s cancer. The sentiment was understandable, but the question was, why did he wait until it was too late for the Treasury or the Federal Reserve to move in with other arrangements?

The issue takes on more significance in light of the fact that Chancellor Darling played a similar role in another 9-11 collapse the previous year. On September 11, 2007, frantic customers were lining up outside Northern Rock, the UK’s fifth largest mortgage lender, in the first British bank run in 141 years. The bank’s shares plunged 31% in a single day. Like the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the U.S., the bankruptcy of Northern Rock changed the rules of the game. Britain’s major banks too would now be saved at any cost, in order to avoid the loss of customer confidence, panic and bank runs that could precipitate a 1929-style market crash.

With Northern Rock, as with Lehman Brothers, Alistair Darling could have saved the day but backed down. Northern Rock had a willing buyer, Lloyds TSB; but the buyer needed a loan from the Bank of England, which the Bank’s Governor, Mervyn King, had denied. Darling was advised by his staff to overrule the Governor and grant the loan, but this would have cost political capital for UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who had been widely lauded for giving the Bank of England its independence in 1997.

Brown is criticized domestically for precipitating the financial crisis with errors made as Chancellor of the Exchequer before he became Prime Minister. Critics maintain the British Treasury has abdicated its responsibility as the financial overseer of the British economy to the Bank of England, which in many ways controls the government, because its advice is always followed regarding the British budget. The whole scenario suggests that the much-vaunted virtues of an independent central bank are overblown. Some economists, including Milton Friedman and Ben Bernanke, blame poor policymaking by an independent Federal Reserve for bringing on the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Shock Therapy?

According to Representative Paul Kanjorski, speaking on C-SPAN in January 2009, the collapse of Lehman Brothers precipitated a $550 billion run on the money market funds on Thursday, September 18. This was the dire news that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson presented to Congress behind closed doors, prompting Congressional approval of Paulson’s $700 billion bank bailout despite deep misgivings. It was the sort of “shock therapy” discussed by Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine, in which a major crisis prompts hasty emergency action involving the relinquishment of rights or funds that would otherwise be difficult to pry loose from the citizenry.

Like the “bombing” of Lehman stock on September 11, the $550 billion money market run was suspicious. The stock market had plunged when Lehman filed for bankruptcy on September 15, but it actually went up on September 16. Why did the money market wait until September 18 to collapse? A report by the Joint Economic Committee pointed to the fact that the $62 billion Reserve Primary Fund had “broken the buck” (fallen below a stable $1 per share) due to its Lehman investments; but that had occurred on September 15, and the fund had suspended redemptions for the following week. What dire reversal happened on September 17? According to the SEC, it was another record day for illegal naked short selling. Failed trades climbed to 49.7 million – 23% of Lehman trades.

The Larger Question Is Why?

All of this suggests that Lehman Brothers did not just fall over the brink but was pushed. Judge James Peck, who presided in the bankruptcy proceedings, said “Lehman Brothers became a victim, in effect the only true icon to fall in a tsunami that has befallen the credit markets.”

If Lehman was indeed sacrificed, who pushed it and to what end? Some critics point to Henry Paulson and his cronies at Goldman Sachs, Lehman’s arch rival. Goldman certainly came out on top after Lehman’s demise, but there are other possibilities as well, involving more global players. The month after Lehman collapsed, Gordon Brown and the EU leaders called for using the financial crisis as an opportunity to radically enhance the regulatory power of global institutions. Brown spoke of “a new global financial order,” echoing the “new world order” referred to by globalist banker David Rockefeller when he said in 1994:

“We are on the verge of a global transformation. All we need is the right major crisis and the nations will accept the new world order.”

Richard Haas, President of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in 2006:

“Globalisation . . . implies that sovereignty is not only becoming weaker in reality, but that it needs to become weaker.”

Sovereignty is one of these cherished rights that nations will give up only with “the right major crisis.” Gordon Brown put it like this:

“Sometimes it takes a crisis for people to agree that what is obvious and should have been done years ago, can no longer be postponed. . . . We must create a new international financial architecture for the global age.”

In April 2009, Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling hosted the G20 summit in London, which focused on the financial crisis. A global currency issue was approved, and an international Financial Stability Board was agreed to as global regulator, to be based in the controversial Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland. The international bankers who caused the financial crisis are indeed capitalizing on it, consolidating their power in “a new global financial order” that gives them top-down global control. Just some food for thought as September 11 rolls around again.

Ronald Reagan's Torture

Ronald Reagan's Torture

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The 2004 CIA Inspector General’s report, released last month, referenced as “background” to the Bush-era abuses the spy agency’s “intermittent involvement in the interrogation of individuals whose interests are opposed to those of the United States.” The report noted “a resurgence in interest” in teaching those techniques in the early 1980s “to foster foreign liaison relationships.”

The report said, “because of political sensitivities,” the CIA’s top brass in the 1980s “forbade Agency officers from using the word ‘interrogation” and substituted the phrase “human resources exploitation” [HRE] in training programs for allied intelligence agencies.

The euphemism aside, the reality of these interrogation techniques remained brutal, with the CIA Inspector General conducting a 1984 investigation of alleged “misconduct on the part of two Agency officers who were involved in interrogations and the death of one individual,” the report said (although the details were redacted in the version released last month).

In 1984, the CIA also was hit with a scandal over what became known as an “assassination manual” prepared by agency personnel for the Nicaraguan contras, a rebel group sponsored by the Reagan administration with the goal of ousting Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government.

Despite those two problems, the questionable training programs apparently continued for another two years. The 2004 IG report states that “in 1986, the Agency ended the HRE training program because of allegations of human rights abuses in Latin America.”

While the report’s references to this earlier era of torture are brief – and the abuses are little-remembered features of Ronald Reagan’s glorified presidency – there have been other glimpses into how Reagan unleashed this earlier “dark side” on the peasants, workers and students of Central America.

Project X

A sketchy history of the U.S. intelligence community’s participation in torture and other abuses surfaced in the mid-1990s with the release of a Pentagon report on what was known as “Project X,” a training program in harsh and anti-democratic practices which got its start in 1965 as the U.S. military build-up in Vietnam was underway.

The U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School at Fort Holabird, Maryland, began pulling together experiences from past counterinsurgency campaigns for the development of lesson plans which would "provide intelligence training to friendly foreign countries," according to a brief history of Project X, which was prepared in 1991.

Called "a guide for the conduct of clandestine operations," Project X "was first used by the U.S. Intelligence School on Okinawa to train Vietnamese and, presumably, other foreign nationals," the history stated.

Linda Matthews of the Pentagon's Counterintelligence Division recalled that in 1967-68, some of the Project X training material was prepared by officers connected to the so-called Phoenix program in Vietnam, an operation that involved targeting, interrogating and assassinating suspected Viet Cong.

"She suggested the possibility that some offending material from the Phoenix program may have found its way into the Project X materials at that time," according to the Pentagon report.

In the 1970s, the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School moved to Fort Huachuca in Arizona and began exporting Project X material to U.S. military assistance groups working with "friendly foreign countries." By the mid-1970s, the Project X material was going to military forces all over the world.

But Reagan’s election in 1980 – and his determination to crush leftist movements in Central America – expanded the role of Project X.

In 1982, the Pentagon's Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence ordered the Fort Huachuca center to supply lesson plans to the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, which human rights activists dubbed the School of the Assassins because it trained some of Latin America’s most notorious military officers.

"The working group decided to use Project X material because it had previously been cleared for foreign disclosure," the Pentagon history stated.

According to surviving documents released in the mid-1990s under a Freedom of Information Act request, the Project X lessons contained a full range of intelligence techniques. A 1972 listing of Project X lesson plans included electronic eavesdropping, interrogation, counterintelligence, break-ins and censorship.

Citizens of a country were put on "'black, gray or white lists' for the purpose of identifying and prioritizing adversary targets." The lessons suggested creation of inventories of families and their assets to keep tabs on the population.

The manuals suggested coercive methods for recruiting counterintelligence operatives, including arresting a target's parents or beating him until he agreed to infiltrate a guerrilla organization. To undermine guerrilla forces, the training manuals countenanced "executions" and operations "to eliminate a potential rival among the guerrillas."

Cheney Intercedes

The internal U.S. government review of Project X began in 1991 when the Pentagon discovered that the Spanish-language manuals were advising Latin American trainees on assassinations, torture and other "objectionable" counter-insurgency techniques.

By summer 1991, the investigation of Project X was raising concerns inside George H.W. Bush’s administration about an adverse public reaction to evidence that the U.S. government had long sanctioned – and even encouraged – brutal methods of repression.

But the PR problem was contained when the office of then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney ordered that all relevant Project X material be collected and brought to the Pentagon under a recommendation that most of it be destroyed.

The recommendation received approval from senior Pentagon officials, presumably with Cheney’s blessings. Some of the more innocuous Project X lesson plans – and the historical summary – were spared, but the Project X manuals that dealt with the sensitive human rights violations were destroyed in 1992, the Pentagon reported. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

Even after the Cold War ended, the United States refused to examine this ugly history in any systematic way. Though Democrat Bill Clinton was the first President elected after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he ignored calls for serious examinations of that historical era out of a desire to look forward, not backward.

However, public complaints about the mass slaughter of Guatemalan peasants by a Reagan-backed regime in the 1980s did prompt an examination by the President Intelligence Oversight Board, which issued a “Report on the Guatemala Review” in mid-1996.

The review found that CIA funding – ranging from $1 million to $3.5 million – was “vital” to the operations of the Guatemalan intelligence services including D-2 military intelligence and the “Archivos” unit, which was infamous for political torture and assassinations.

As the Oversight Board noted, the human rights records of the Guatemalan intelligence agencies “were generally known to have been reprehensible by all who were familiar with Guatemala.” The reported added:

“We learned that in the period since 1984, several CIA assets were credibly alleged to have ordered, planned, or participated in serious human rights violations such as assassination, extrajudicial execution, torture, or kidnapping while they were assets – and that the CIA was contemporaneously aware of many of the allegations.”

History of Slaughter

The Clinton administration also released documents in the late 1990s revealing the grim history of U.S. complicity in Guatemala’s dirty wars that claimed an estimated 200,000 lives from the 1960s through the 1980s.

According to those documents, the original Guatemalan death squads took shape in the mid-1960s under anti-terrorist training provided by a U.S. public safety adviser named John Longon. Longon’s operation within the Guatemalan presidential compound was the starting point for the “Archivos” intelligence unit.

Within weeks, the CIA was sending cables back to headquarters in Langley, Virginia, about the clandestine execution of several Guatemalan "communists and terrorists" on the night of March 6, 1966.

By the end of the year, the Guatemalan government was bold enough to request U.S. help in establishing special kidnapping squads, according to a cable from the U.S. Southern Command that was sent to Washington on Dec. 3, 1966.

By 1967, the Guatemalan counterinsurgency terror had gained a fierce momentum. On Oct. 23, 1967, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research noted the "accumulating evidence that the [Guatemalan] counterinsurgency machine is out of control."

The report noted that Guatemalan "counter-terror" units were carrying out abductions, bombings, torture and summary executions "of real and alleged communists."

The mounting death toll in Guatemala disturbed some American officials assigned to the country. The embassy's deputy chief of mission, Viron Vaky, expressed his concerns in a remarkably candid report that he submitted on March 29, 1968, after returning to Washington.

“The official squads are guilty of atrocities. Interrogations are brutal, torture is used and bodies are mutilated,” Vaky wrote. “In the minds of many in Latin America, and, tragically, especially in the sensitive, articulate youth, we are believed to have condoned these tactics, if not actually encouraged them. Therefore our image is being tarnished and the credibility of our claims to want a better and more just world are increasingly placed in doubt.”

Self-Deception

Vaky also noted the deceptions within the U.S. government that resulted from its complicity in state-sponsored terror.

“This leads to an aspect I personally find the most disturbing of all – that we have not been honest with ourselves,” Vaky said. “We have condoned counter-terror; we may even in effect have encouraged or blessed it. We have been so obsessed with the fear of insurgency that we have rationalized away our qualms and uneasiness.

“This is not only because we have concluded we cannot do anything about it, for we never really tried. Rather we suspected that maybe it is a good tactic, and that as long as Communists are being killed it is alright. Murder, torture and mutilation are alright if our side is doing it and the victims are Communists.

“After all hasn't man been a savage from the beginning of time so let us not be too queasy about terror. I have literally heard these arguments from our people.”

Though kept secret from the American public for three decades, the Vaky memo obliterated any claim that Washington simply didn't know the reality in Guatemala. Still, with Vaky's memo squirreled away in State Department files, the killing went on.

The repression was noted almost routinely in reports from the field. On Jan. 12, 1971, for instance, the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that Guatemalan forces had "quietly eliminated" hundreds of "terrorists and bandits" in the countryside. On Feb. 4, 1974, a State Department cable reported resumption of "death squad" activities.

On Dec. 17, 1974, a DIA biography of one U.S.-trained Guatemalan officer gave an insight into how U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine had imbued the Guatemalan strategies.

According to the biography, Lt. Col. Elias Osmundo Ramirez Cervantes, chief of security section for Guatemala's president, had trained at the U.S. Army School of Intelligence at Fort Holabird in Maryland. Back in Guatemala, Ramirez Cervantes was put in charge of plotting raids on suspected subversives as well as their interrogations.

The Reagan Bloodbath

As brutal as the Guatemalan security forces were in the 1960s and 1970s, the worst was yet to come. In the 1980s, the Guatemalan army escalated its slaughter of political dissidents and their suspected supporters to unprecedented levels.

Ronald Reagan's election in November 1980 set off celebrations in the well-to-do communities of Central America. After four years of President Jimmy Carter's human rights nagging, the region's hard-liners were thrilled that they had someone in the White House who understood their problems.

The oligarchs and the generals had good reason for optimism. For years, Reagan had been a staunch defender of right-wing regimes that engaged in bloody counterinsurgency against leftist enemies.

In the late 1970s, when Carter's human rights coordinator, Patricia Derian, criticized the Argentine military for its "dirty war" – tens of thousands of "disappearances," tortures and murders – then-political commentator Reagan joshed that she should “walk a mile in the moccasins” of the Argentine generals before criticizing them. [For details, see Martin Edwin Andersen's Dossier Secreto.]

After his election in 1980, Reagan pushed to overturn an arms embargo imposed on Guatemala by Carter. Yet as Reagan was moving to loosen up the military aid ban, the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies were confirming new Guatemalan government massacres.

In April 1981, a secret CIA cable described a massacre at Cocob, near Nebaj in the Ixil Indian territory. On April 17, 1981, government troops attacked the area believed to support leftist guerrillas, the cable said.

According to a CIA source, "the social population appeared to fully support the guerrillas" and "the soldiers were forced to fire at anything that moved." The CIA cable added that "the Guatemalan authorities admitted that 'many civilians' were killed in Cocob, many of whom undoubtedly were non-combatants."

Despite the CIA account and other similar reports, Reagan permitted Guatemala's army to buy $3.2 million in military trucks and jeeps in June 1981. To permit the sale, Reagan removed the vehicles from a list of military equipment that was covered by the human rights embargo.

No Regrets

Apparently confident of Reagan’s sympathies, the Guatemalan government continued its political repression without apology.

According to a State Department cable on Oct. 5, 1981, Guatemalan leaders met with Reagan's roving ambassador, retired Gen. Vernon Walters, and left no doubt about their plans. Guatemala's military leader, Gen. Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia, "made clear that his government will continue as before – that the repression will continue."

Human rights groups saw the same picture. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission released a report on Oct. 15, 1981, blaming the Guatemalan government for "thousands of illegal executions." [Washington Post, Oct. 16, 1981]

But the Reagan administration was set on whitewashing the ugly scene. A State Department "white paper," released in December 1981, blamed the violence on leftist "extremist groups" and their "terrorist methods," inspired and supported by Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

Yet, even as these rationalizations were pitched to the American people, U.S. intelligence agencies in Guatemala continued to learn of government-sponsored massacres.

One CIA report in February 1982 described an army sweep through the so-called Ixil Triangle in central El Quiche province.

“The commanding officers of the units involved have been instructed to destroy all towns and villages which are cooperating with the Guerrilla Army of the Poor [known as the EGP] and eliminate all sources of resistance," the report stated. "Since the operation began, several villages have been burned to the ground, and a large number of guerrillas and collaborators have been killed."

The CIA report explained the army's modus operandi: "When an army patrol meets resistance and takes fire from a town or village, it is assumed that the entire town is hostile and it is subsequently destroyed."

When the army encountered an empty village, it was "assumed to have been supporting the EGP, and it is destroyed. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of refugees in the hills with no homes to return to. …

“The well-documented belief by the army that the entire Ixil Indian population is pro-EGP has created a situation in which the army can be expected to give no quarter to combatants and non-combatants alike."

Rios Montt

In March 1982, Gen. Efrain Rios Montt seized power in a coup d’etat. An avowed fundamentalist Christian, he immediately impressed official Washington, where Reagan hailed Rios Montt as "a man of great personal integrity."

By July 1982, however, Rios Montt had begun a new scorched-earth campaign called his "rifles and beans" policy. The slogan meant that pacified Indians would get "beans," while all others could expect to be the target of army "rifles."

In October 1982, Rios Montt secretly gave carte blanche to the feared “Archivos” intelligence unit to expand “death squad” operations, internal U.S. government cables revealed.

Despite the widespread evidence of Guatemalan government atrocities cited in the internal U.S. government cables, political operatives for the Reagan administration sought to conceal the crimes. On Oct. 22, 1982, for instance, the U.S. Embassy claimed the Guatemalan government was the victim of a communist-inspired "disinformation campaign."

Reagan personally took that position in December 1982 when he met with Rios Montt and claimed that his regime was getting a "bum rap" on human rights.

On Jan. 7, 1983, Reagan lifted the ban on military aid to Guatemala and authorized the sale of $6 million in military hardware. Approval covered spare parts for UH-1H helicopters and A-37 aircraft used in counterinsurgency operations.

State Department spokesman John Hughes said the sales were justified because political violence in the cities had "declined dramatically" and that rural conditions had improved too.

In February 1983, however, a secret CIA cable noted a rise in "suspect right-wing violence" with kidnappings of students and teachers. Bodies of victims were appearing in ditches and gullies.

CIA sources traced these political murders to Rios Montt's order to the "Archivos" in October to "apprehend, hold, interrogate and dispose of suspected guerrillas as they saw fit."

Sugarcoating

Despite these grisly facts on the ground, the annual State Department human rights survey sugarcoated the facts for the American public and praised the supposedly improved human rights situation in Guatemala.

"The overall conduct of the armed forces had improved by late in the year" 1982, the report stated.

A different picture – far closer to the secret information held by the U.S. government – was coming from independent human rights investigators. On March 17, 1983, Americas Watch representatives condemned the Guatemalan army for human rights atrocities against the Indian population.

New York attorney Stephen L. Kass said these findings included proof that the government carried out "virtually indiscriminate murder of men, women and children of any farm regarded by the army as possibly supportive of guerrilla insurgents."

Rural women suspected of guerrilla sympathies were raped before execution, Kass said. Children were "thrown into burning homes. They are thrown in the air and speared with bayonets. We heard many, many stories of children being picked up by the ankles and swung against poles so their heads are destroyed." [AP, March 17, 1983]

Publicly, however, senior Reagan officials continued to put on a happy face.

On June 12, 1983, special envoy Richard B. Stone praised "positive changes" in Rios Montt's government. But Rios Montt’s vengeful Christian fundamentalism was hurtling out of control, even by Guatemalan standards. In August 1983, Gen. Oscar Mejia Victores seized power in another coup.

Despite the power shift, Guatemalan security forces continued to kill those who were deemed subversives or terrorists.

When three Guatemalans working for the U.S. Agency for International Development were slain in November 1983, U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin suspected that “Archivos” hit squads were sending a message to the United States to back off even the mild pressure for human rights improvements.

In late November 1983, in a brief show of displeasure, the administration postponed the sale of $2 million in helicopter spare parts. The next month, however, Reagan sent the spare parts anyway. In 1984, Reagan succeeded, too, in pressuring Congress to approve $300,000 in military training for the Guatemalan army.

By mid-1984, Chapin, who had grown bitter about the army’s stubborn brutality, was gone, replaced by a far-right political appointee named Alberto Piedra, who was all for increased military assistance to Guatemala.

In January 1985, Americas Watch issued a report observing that Reagan's State Department "is apparently more concerned with improving Guatemala's image than in improving its human rights."

Death Camp

Other examples of Guatemala’s “death squad” strategy came to light later. For example, a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency cable in 1994 reported that the Guatemalan military had used an air base in Retalhuleu during the mid-1980s as a center for coordinating the counterinsurgency campaign in southwest Guatemala – and for torturing and burying prisoners.

At the base, pits were filled with water to hold captured suspects. "Reportedly there were cages over the pits and the water level was such that the individuals held within them were forced to hold on to the bars in order to keep their heads above water and avoid drowning," the DIA report stated.

The Guatemalan military used the Pacific Ocean as another dumping spot for political victims, according to the DIA report.

Bodies of insurgents tortured to death and live prisoners marked for “disappearance” were loaded onto planes that flew out over the ocean where the soldiers would shove the victims into the water to drown, a tactic that had been a favorite disposal technique of the Argentine military in the 1970s.

The history of the Retalhuleu death camp was uncovered by accident in the early 1990s when a Guatemalan officer wanted to let soldiers cultivate their own vegetables on a corner of the base. But the officer was taken aside and told to drop the request "because the locations he had wanted to cultivate were burial sites that had been used by the D-2 [military intelligence] during the mid-eighties," the DIA report said.

Guatemala, of course, was not the only Central American country where Reagan and his administration supported brutal counterinsurgency operations and then sought to cover up the bloody facts.

Deception of the American public – a strategy that the administration internally called “perception management” – was as much a part of the Central American story as the Bush administration’s lies and distortions about weapons of mass destruction were to the lead-up to the war in Iraq.

Reagan's falsification of the historical record became a hallmark of the conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua as well as Guatemala. In one case, Reagan personally lashed out at a human rights investigator named Reed Brody, a New York lawyer who had collected affidavits from more than 100 witnesses to atrocities carried out by the U.S.-supported contras in Nicaragua.

Angered by the revelations about his contra "freedom-fighters," Reagan denounced Brody in a speech on April 15, 1985, calling him "one of dictator [Daniel] Ortega's supporters, a sympathizer who has openly embraced Sandinismo."

Privately, Reagan had a far more accurate understanding of the true nature of the contras. At one point in the contra war, Reagan turned to CIA official Duane Clarridge and demanded that the contras be used to destroy some Soviet-supplied helicopters that had arrived in Nicaragua.

Clarridge recalled that "President Reagan pulled me aside and asked, 'Dewey, can't you get those vandals of yours to do this job.'" [See Clarridge's A Spy for All Seasons.]

Genocide Alleged

On Feb. 25, 1999, a Guatemalan truth commission issued a report on the staggering human rights crimes that Reagan and his administration had aided, abetted and concealed.

The Historical Clarification Commission, an independent human rights body, estimated that the Guatemalan conflict claimed the lives of some 200,000 people with the most savage bloodletting occurring in the 1980s.

Based on a review of about 20 percent of the dead, the panel blamed the army for 93 percent of the killings and leftist guerrillas for three percent. Four percent were listed as unresolved.

The report documented that in the 1980s, the army committed 626 massacres against Mayan villages. "The massacres that eliminated entire Mayan villages … are neither perfidious allegations nor figments of the imagination, but an authentic chapter in Guatemala's history," the commission concluded.

The army "completely exterminated Mayan communities, destroyed their livestock and crops," the report said. In the northern highlands, the report termed the slaughter "genocide."

Besides carrying out murder and "disappearances," the army routinely engaged in torture and rape. "The rape of women, during torture or before being murdered, was a common practice" by the military and paramilitary forces, the report found.

The report added that the "government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some [of these] state operations." The report concluded that the U.S. government also gave money and training to a Guatemalan military that committed "acts of genocide" against the Mayans.

"Believing that the ends justified everything, the military and the state security forces blindly pursued the anticommunist struggle, without respect for any legal principles or the most elemental ethical and religious values, and in this way, completely lost any semblance of human morals," said the commission chairman, Christian Tomuschat, a German jurist.

"Within the framework of the counterinsurgency operations carried out between 1981 and 1983, in certain regions of the country agents of the Guatemalan state committed acts of genocide against groups of the Mayan people,” Tomuschat said.

Admitting a ‘Mistake’

During a visit to Central America, on March 10, 1999, President Bill Clinton apologized for the past U.S. support of right-wing regimes in Guatemala.

"For the United States, it is important that I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake," Clinton said.

Though Clinton did admit that U.S. policy in Guatemala was “wrong” -- and the evidence of a U.S.-backed “genocide” might have been considered startling -- the news was treated mostly as a one-day story in the U.S. press.

By the late 1990s, Ronald Reagan had been transformed into a national icon, with the Republican-controlled Congress attaching his name to public buildings around the country and to National Airport in Washington.

Democrats mostly approached this deification of Reagan as harmless, an easy concession to the Republicans in the name of bipartisanship. Some Democrats would even try to cite Reagan as supportive of some of their positions as a way to protect themselves from attacks launched by the increasingly powerful right-wing news media.

The Democratic goal of looking to the future, not the past, had negative consequences, however. With Reagan and his brutal policies put beyond serious criticism, the path was left open for President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to return to the “dark side” after the 9/11 attacks, authorizing torture and extra-judicial killings.

Now, President Obama is reprising toward Bush and Cheney the conflict-avoidance strategy that President Clinton took toward Reagan, looking forward as much as possible and backward as little as can be justified.

This year, the Democratic-controlled Congress passed -- and Obama signed at a special White House ceremony with Nancy Reagan -- a resolution to create a commission that will plan a centennial celebration in 2011 of Ronald Reagan’s birth.

UN Report calls for Global Currency to Replace $

United Nations' Conference Report calls for Global Currency to Replace U.S. Dollar

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Early this morning as Asia’s financial markets opened, gold futures opened and stayed above the $1,000 mark for the first time in 6 months.

I’ve been appearing in a good many TV and Internet financial news shows predicting gold would jump over $1,000 and perhaps as high as $1200 by years end. We are still in the early stages of an economic crisis that will eventually evolve into monetary collapse that will literally change the world we live in.

Today’s push above $1,000 comes on the same day that a UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) released a new report that asserts the system of currencies and capital rules which binds the world economy is not working properly, and was largely responsible for the financial and economic crises we’ve seen the past two years.

The report suggests that the U.S. Dollars role as world’s reserve currency be re-examined.

While it is true a number of countries, including China and Russia, have suggested the U.S. dollar be replaced as the world's reserve currency, this report by UNCTAD is the first time a major multinational institution made such a suggestion.

The UN conference report suggests a new Bretton Woods-style system of managed international exchange rates that would require central banks intervene and either support or push down their currencies depending on how the rest of the world economy is behaving.

The UN report suggests surplus nations such as China and Germany should stimulate their economies further in order to cut their own imbalances, rather than, as in the present system, deficit nations such as the UK and US continuing to take the main burden of readjustment.

"Replacing the dollar with an artificial currency would solve some of the problems related to the potential of countries running large deficits and would help stability," said Detlef Kotte, one of the report's authors. "But you will also need a system of managed exchange rates. Countries should keep real exchange rates [adjusted for inflation] stable. Central banks would have to intervene and if not they would have to be told to do so by a multilateral institution such as the International Monetary Fund."

Mass outrage stops Detroit bus cuts

Mass outrage stops Detroit bus cuts

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After mass outrage throughout Detroit, the corporate-backed administration of Mayor Dave Bing has suspended plans to make large-scale cuts in public transportation. Several thousand workers, youth, people with disabilities and seniors attended a series of eight public hearings held Aug. 24-27 on the proposed cuts in bus services. Two hearings, sponsored by the Detroit Department of Transportation, were held each day at various locations throughout the city.

The hearings were attended by angry workers who said they would lose their jobs if the transportation cuts were enacted. DDOT plans included proposals to extend wait times, the elimination of at least four routes, the discontinuation of service on certain routes between midnight and 5 a.m., and the suspension of all service on Saturday from 6 p.m. until 5 a.m. on Monday.

It is estimated that 40 percent of Detroit’s population depends upon buses to get back and forth to work, schools, markets, retail outlets, churches, mosques, medical clinics, hospitals, visits to family and friends, as well as social activities.

Over the last several weeks the Bing administration has said the city is facing a $300 million deficit. The administration’s program to address the shortfall is to lay off 1,000 city workers, trim benefits for public employees, slash services for residents, including the much-needed bus service, and at the same time escalate police operations aimed at unemployed workers and youth.

The Detroit Free Press reported on August 30 that “Detroit began its fiscal year [July 1] with less than $20 million in the bank—not even enough of a surplus to pay the roughly 13,000 employees who cost the city $50 million a month in salaries and benefits.” Bing, a former Detroit Pistons basketball star and later businessman who owns a steel corporation on the city’s east side, is allowing the bond rating agencies, banks and corporations to dictate the terms of how the deficit should be addressed.

Public transportation and city workers targeted

Rather than maintaining bus service, the banks and corporations are demanding that workers and riders bear the brunt of layoffs and cuts so that the financial sector can be paid extortionate interest rates on loans and municipal bonds.

A document issued by DDOT at the public hearings stressed that “The economic downturn faced by the nation is a contributing factor, but there are other factors that have affected the services that are provided to public transit users.” It then cited revenue shortfalls, the city budget deficit, a decrease in state transportation funding, no dedicated funding source for public transportation, the restrictions placed on federal transportation dollars and higher operating costs as key factors in the crisis facing Detroit.

Despite all the reasons given for cutting bus service, the thousands who rallied and testified at the public hearings were not accepting the city’s proposals as legitimate or warranted. People pointed to the fact that banks and corporations have been bailed out to the tune of trillions of dollars. They asked where the economic recovery funds were that were supposed to be sent to the state and the city by the Obama administration.

By the second day of the hearings, it became quite obvious there would be political repercussions if bus service were cut. Bing is running for reelection in November for a four-year term. His opponent, Tom Barrow, made appearances at the hearings and was cheered by the people there. Yet most workers realize that Barrow, who is also a businessman, does not offer a real alternative to the current crisis.

Where the money really goes

According to the corporate-owned media, the wages and benefits won by city workers and school employees as a result of years of protracted struggles are the underlying causes for the economic crisis facing Detroit. Such arguments could not be further from the truth. Detroit has suffered immensely as a result of the economic policies carried out by the ruling class and the U.S. government. Even the corporate media admit that the proposed cuts by the city administration would yield savings of less than $10 million.

Trillions of tax dollars and Federal Reserve credit lines have been extended to the banks, corporations and insurance companies since 2008. The ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombia, Somalia and other regions have cost the working class additional trillions in public money. But the media make no mention of these factors.

The corporate press, which are backing the Bing administration, are constantly holding the threat of bankruptcy and receivership over the workers. They are telling the unions every day that if they do not accept broad concessions and layoffs, the city will become insolvent.

In the Aug. 30 Detroit Free Press, this ruling-class media put forward its only “possible remedies” to the crisis. According to the newspaper, “Detroit’s financial options remain limited, experts say. Two options are bankruptcy with a receiver being in charge, and having the state appoint an emergency financial manager.”

The “emergency financial manager,” appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, would be tasked with solving the financial crisis. The appointee would be mandated to renegotiate union contracts. With state approval the manager could force the city into bankruptcy.

In bankruptcy, a judge typically appoints a receiver who acts under the guidelines of federal bankruptcy law. The receiver would be tasked with preserving private property during the bankruptcy period. Union contracts can be abrogated during bankruptcy in favor of the creditors and the city administration.

Even though the Bing administration was forced to back away from public transportation cuts, 205 workers received pink slips on Aug. 28. The administration refused to say in which departments the workers would be laid off.

The Detroit Board of Education, in an effort to avoid a strike, extended the existing contract until the end of October. At least 2,000 teachers and school employees have been threatened with layoffs.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for the city of Detroit is now officially 29.4 percent. But this number does not reflect the growing ranks of discouraged workers who see no prospects for finding employment in the city or underemployed workers who can only find part-time jobs.

Emergency measures needed

The Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs attended the public hearings on the proposed transportation cuts. Coalition members distributed thousands of flyers inviting the people to a mass organizing meeting on Sept. 12 at Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit. The meeting will declare an economic state of emergency and demand a halt to the use of working people as scapegoats in the current capitalist meltdown.

Members of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition are proposing further mass actions targeted at the financial district in downtown Detroit. The Coalition says the city should impose a moratorium on debt service payments to the banks until the financial crisis abates and allow city workers to maintain their jobs.

Hollow promises of economic recovery

Obama on Labor Day: Hollow promises of economic recovery

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Speaking to an AFL-CIO Labor Day picnic in Cincinnati, Ohio, President Barack Obama declared that “our recovery plan is working,” and that the US economy is “moving in the right direction,” despite the ongoing destruction of working class living standards and the steady rise in the unemployment rate, which hit 9.7 percent in August.

Obama’s 30-minute speech to an audience of some 10,000 workers and family members was a noxious mixture of flattery, complacency and demagogy. The flattery was directed to the union officials who surrounded him on the platform. Obama paid tribute to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka (who is to succeed Sweeney when he retires next week), portraying the bureaucrats as fighters for working people.

In reality, they have betrayed and suppressed countless struggles, while presiding over the collapse of the American labor movement in all but name. Union membership is down to only 7.6 percent of the private-sector workforce, or 12.4 percent including public sector workers. Wages and living standards for American workers are below the levels of 40 years ago, and there has not been a successful major strike in decades.

Obama cited historic gains like the 40-hour week, the minimum wage, pensions, Social Security and Medicare as byproducts of the struggles of the unions, declaring, “So, even if you’re not a union member, every American owes something to America’s labor movement.” For millions of workers, however, these benchmarks of social progress are a distant memory—and both the AFL-CIO and the Obama administration share responsibility for their destruction.

In the auto industry, to take only the most notorious recent example, the Obama administration enforced the destruction of jobs, wages, pensions and healthcare benefits as a condition of its bailout of GM and Chrysler, with the full collaboration of the United Auto Workers union.

In that context, the sole “news” of Obama’s speech, his announcement that he was appointing Wall Street investment adviser Ron Bloom to “lead efforts to rebuild American manufacturing,” takes on the most ominous significance.

Bloom and hedge fund speculator Steven Rattner were the two leading figures in the Obama auto task force which forced both GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy in order to make the auto workers pay for the crisis—along with thousands of auto dealers who are being forced to close their doors and lay off all their employees.

Bloom will now be tasked to bring the lessons of the auto restructuring into a broader assault on the wages, jobs and conditions of workers throughout US manufacturing, a sector of the economy that still employs some 16 million workers.

The appointment of Bloom as manufacturing “czar” reveals more about the economic policies of the Obama administration than the complacent nostrums that constituted the bulk of his Labor Day speech. Obama addressed his audience as though the destruction of jobs and living standards was something on the far horizon to be avoided, not the daily ongoing reality for millions of workers.

He claimed that his administration was ensuring that “the great American middle class remains a reality,” although record numbers of working people have lost their homes to foreclosure, been forced to file for bankruptcy and have abandoned hopes to send their children to college.

Against a background of a dozen American flags, one so large it stretched across the entire stage, Obama presented his domestic agenda entirely within a nationalistic framework. His economic policies were aimed at “ensuring American competitiveness in the 21st century,” he said; the purpose of his energy policies was to “reduce dependence on foreign oil”; his education policies were to insure that Americans were not “outcompeted by foreigners” with better training.

Both Democratic politicians and AFL-CIO officials invoke economic nationalism in order to line up the working class behind corporate America—subordinating workers to the financial aristocracy, which is the real boss of both the Democratic and Republican parties.

Obama’s grotesque distortions of the economic record were combined with occasional demagogy about corporate profits and Wall Street bubbles, particularly when he turned to the topic of healthcare. He sought to present all opposition to his healthcare restructuring plan as instigated by the insurance companies, who were “raking in profits” while premiums skyrocket and more and more working people are losing insurance.

The president did not bother to explain to his Labor Day audience why the insurance companies are actually supporting the administration’s plan. This is in large measure because they have been given explicit assurances by the White House that there will be no threat to their profits. Representatives of the insurance companies, the drug manufacturers and the big hospital chains are in daily consultation with the White House on the details of the plan.

Obama gave just enough lip service to the establishment of a “public option”—a government-run insurance plan to compete with the private insurers—to satisfy his audience. AFL-CIO president-in-waiting Trumka declared afterwards, “I take him at face value. He said he was going to fight for the public option. We’re excited about that, and we’re going to help him.”

But only a few hours before, on Sunday television interview programs, top White House aides made it clear that the public option will be readily sacrificed as part of any deal for final passage of a healthcare restructuring bill. The overriding purpose of such a measure will be to cut healthcare spending in order to drive down labor costs and increase the profits and competitiveness of American capitalism.

US leads world in weapons sales

US leads world in weapons sales

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The United States snatched the lion share of the global arms sales in 2008 which amounted to more than two-thirds of all foreign armaments deals, a government report says.

According to the report, Washington inked arms deals valued at $37.8 billion in 2008, or 68.4 percent of all business in the global weapons market, up significantly from American sales of $25.4 billion last year, New York Times reported.

The surge in US arms sales last year was particularly noticeable against worldwide trends, The Times said.

The value of global arms sales in 2008 was 55.2 billion dollars, a drop of 7.6 percent from 2007 and the lowest total for international weapons agreements since 2005, according to the report.

Italy came in second with $3.7 billion in global weapons sales. The third place went to the Russians who managed to sell $3.5 billion in arms in 2008, down from the $10.8 billion in 2007.

The report on global arms sales, submitted to the US Congress on Friday, is the most comprehensive survey provided by the Congressional Research Service, a division of the Library of Congress.

RB/MD

The Anti-Empire Report

The Anti-Empire Report

"And on the most exalted throne in the world sits nothing but a man's arse." Montaigne

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If there's anyone out there who is not already thoroughly cynical about those on the board of directors of the planet, the latest chapter in the saga of the bombing of PanAm 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland might just be enough to push them over the edge.

Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the only person ever convicted for the December 21, 1988 bombing, was released from his Scottish imprisonment August 21 supposedly because of his terminal cancer and sent home to Libya, where he received a hero's welcome. President Obama said that the jubilant welcome Megrahi received was "highly objectionable". His White House spokesman Robert Gibbs added that the welcoming scenes in Libya were "outrageous and disgusting". British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "angry and repulsed", while his foreign secretary, David Miliband, termed the celebratory images "deeply upsetting." Miliband warned: "How the Libyan government handles itself in the next few days will be very significant in the way the world views Libya's reentry into the civilized community of nations." 1

Ah yes, "the civilized community of nations", that place we so often hear about but so seldom get to actually see. American officials, British officials, and Scottish officials know that Megrahi is innocent. They know that Iran financed the PFLP-GC, a Palestinian group, to carry out the bombing with the cooperation of Syria, in retaliation for the American naval ship, the Vincennes, shooting down an Iranian passenger plane in July of the same year, which took the lives of more people than did the 103 bombing. And it should be pointed out that the Vincennes captain, plus the officer in command of air warfare, and the crew were all awarded medals or ribbons afterward. 2 No one in the US government or media found this objectionable or outrageous, or disgusting or repulsive. The United States has always insisted that the shooting down of the Iranian plane was an "accident". Why then give awards to those responsible?

Today's oh-so-civilized officials have known of Megrahi's innocence since 1989. The Scottish judges who found Megrahi guilty know he's innocent. They admit as much in their written final opinion. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigated Megrahi's trial, knows it. They stated in 2007 that they had uncovered six separate grounds for believing the conviction may have been a miscarriage of justice, clearing the way for him to file a new appeal of his case. 3 The evidence for all this is considerable. And most importantly, there is no evidence that Megrahi was involved in the act of terror.

The first step of the alleged crime, sine qua non — loading the bomb into a suitcase at the Malta airport — for this there was no witness, no video, no document, no fingerprints, nothing to tie Megrahi to the particular brown Samsonite suitcase, no past history of terrorism, no forensic evidence of any kind linking him to such an act.

And the court admitted it: "The absence of any explanation of the method by which the primary suitcase might have been placed on board KM180 [Air Malta to Frankfurt] is a major difficulty for the Crown case." 4

The scenario implicating Iran, Syria, and the PFLP-GC was the Original Official Version, endorsed by the US, UK, Scotland, even West Germany — guaranteed, sworn to, scout's honor, case closed — until the buildup to the Gulf War came along in 1990 and the support of Iran and Syria was needed for the broad Middle East coalition the United States was readying for the ouster of Iraq's troops from Kuwait. Washington was also anxious to achieve the release of American hostages held in Lebanon by groups close to Iran. Thus it was that the scurrying sound of backtracking could be heard in the corridors of the White House. Suddenly, in October 1990, there was a New Official Version: it was Libya — the Arab state least supportive of the US build-up to the Gulf War and the sanctions imposed against Iraq — that was behind the bombing after all, declared Washington.

The two Libyans were formally indicted in the US and Scotland on Nov. 14, 1991. Within the next 20 days, the remaining four American hostages were released in Lebanon along with the most prominent British hostage, Terry Waite. 5

In order to be returned to Libya, Megrahi had to cancel his appeal. It was the appeal, not his health, that concerned the Brits and the Americans. Dr. Jim Swire of Britain, whose daughter died over Lockerbie, is a member of UK Families Flight 103, which wants a public inquiry into the crash. "If he goes back to Libya," Swire says, "it will be a bitter pill to swallow, as an appeal would reveal the fallacies in the prosecution case. ... I've lost faith in the Scottish criminal justice system, but if the appeal is heard, there is not a snowball's chance in hell that the prosecution case will survive." 6

And a reversal of the verdict would mean that the civilized and venerable governments of the United States and the United Kingdom would stand exposed as having lived a monumental lie for almost 20 years and imprisoned a man they knew to be innocent for eight years.

The Sunday Times (London) recently reported: "American intelligence documents [of 1989, from the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)] blaming Iran for the Lockerbie bombing would have been produced in court if the Libyan convicted of Britain's worst terrorist attack had not dropped his appeal." Added the Times: "The DIA briefing discounted Libya's involvement in the bombing on the basis that there was 'no current credible intelligence' implicating her." 7

If the three governments involved really believed that Megrahi was guilty of murdering 270 of their people, it's highly unlikely that they would have released their grip on him. Or is even that too much civilized behavior to expect.

One final note: Many people are under the impression that Libyan Leader Moammar Qaddafi has admitted on more than one occasion to Libya's guilt in the PanAm 103 bombing. This is not so. Instead, he has stated that Libya would take "responsibility" for the crime. He has said this purely to get the heavy international sanctions against his country lifted. At various times, both he and his son have explicitly denied any Libyan role in the bombing.

Humankind shall never fly
All those angry people. Yelling at the president and members of Congress about how the proposed government health plan, and Obama himself, are "socialist". (See the poster of Obama as the Joker character from Batman with "Socialism" in large letters, as the only word.8) These good folks wanna get their health care through good ol' capitalism; better no health care at all than godless-atheist commie health care; better to see your child die than have her saved by a Marxist-Stalinist-collective doctor who works for the government. But these screaming, heckling Americans — like most of their countrymen — might be rather surprised to discover that they don't really believe what they think they believe. I wrote an essay several years ago, which is still perfectly applicable today, entitled "The United States invades, bombs, and kills for it, but do Americans really believe in free enterprise?"

A common refrain, explicit or implicit, amongst the recent health-care hecklers is that the government can't do anything better or cheaper than private corporations. Studies, however, have clearly indicated otherwise. In 2003, US federal agencies examined 17,595 federal jobs and found civil servants to be superior to contractors 89 percent of the time. The following year, a study to determine whether 12,573 federal jobs could be done more efficiently by private contractors found in-house workers winning 91 percent of the time, according to an Office of Management and Budget report. And in 2005, a study of tens of thousands of government positions concluded that federal workers had won the job competitions more than 80 percent of the time. All these studies, it should be kept in mind, took place under the administration of George W. Bush, who, upon taking office in 2001, declared it his top management priority that federal workers should compete with contractors for as many as 850,000 government jobs. 9 Thus, any pressure to influence the outcome of these studies would have been in the opposite direction — putting the outside contractors in the best light.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Boys of Capital have been chortling in their martinis about the death of socialism. The word has been banned from polite conversation. And they hope that no one will notice that every socialist experiment of any significance in the twentieth century — without exception — was either overthrown, invaded, corrupted, perverted, subverted, destabilized, or otherwise had life made impossible for it, by the United States and its allies. Not one socialist government or movement — from the Russian Revolution to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, from Communist China to the FMLN in El Salvador — not one was permitted to rise or fall solely on its own merits; not one was left secure enough to drop its guard against the all-powerful enemy abroad and freely and fully relax control at home.

It's as if the Wright brothers' first experiments with flying machines all failed because the automobile interests sabotaged each test flight. And then the good and god-fearing folk of the world looked upon these catastrophes, nodded their heads wisely, and intoned solemnly: Humankind shall never fly.

The continual selling of the Afghanistan war
"But we must never forget," said President Obama recently, "this is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people." 10

Obama was speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the ultra-nationalist group whose members would not question such sentiments. Neither would most Americans, including many of those who express opposition to the war when polled. It's simple — We're fighting terrorism in Afghanistan. We're fighting the same people who attacked New York and Washington. Never mind that out of the tens of thousands the United States and its NATO front have killed in Afghanistan not one has been identified as having had anything to do with the events of September 11, 2001. Never mind that the "plot to kill Americans" in 2001 was hatched in Germany and the United States at least as much as in Afghanistan. What is needed to plot to buy airline tickets and take flying lessons in the United States? A room with some chairs? What does "an even larger safe haven" mean? A larger room with more chairs? Perhaps a blackboard? Terrorists intent upon attacking the United States can meet almost anywhere, with Afghanistan probably being one of the worst places for them, given the American occupation.

As to "plotting to do so again" ... there's no reason to assume that the United States has any concrete information of this, anymore than did Bush or Cheney who tried to scare us in the same way for more than seven years to enable them to carry out their agenda.

There are many people in Afghanistan who deeply resent the US presence there and the drones that fly overhead and drop bombs on houses, wedding parties, and funerals. One doesn't have to be a member of al Qaeda to feel this way. There doesn't even have to be such a thing as a "member of al Qaeda". It tells us nothing that some of them can be called "al Qaeda". Almost every individual or group in that part of the world not in love with US foreign policy, which Washington wishes to stigmatize, is charged with being associated with, or being a member of, al Qaeda, as if there's a precise and meaningful distinction between people retaliating against American aggression while being a member of al Qaeda and people retaliating against American aggression while NOT being a member of al Qaeda; as if al Qaeda gives out membership cards to fit in your wallet, as if there are chapters of al Qaeda that put out a weekly newsletter and hold a potluck on the first Monday of each month.

In any event, as in Iraq, the American "war on terrorism" in Afghanistan regularly and routinely creates new anti-American terrorists. This is scarcely in dispute even at the Pentagon.

The only "necessity" that draws the United States to Afghanistan is the need for oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian Sea area, the establishment of military bases in this country that is surrounded by the oil-rich Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf regions, and making it easier to watch and pressure next-door Iran. What more could any respectable imperialist nation desire?

But the war against the Taliban can't be won. Except by killing everyone in Afghanistan. The United States should negotiate the pipelines with the Taliban, as the Clinton administration unsuccessfully tried to do, and then get out.

The revolution was televised
You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on, and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag [heroin] and skip out for beer during commercials.
Because the revolution will not be televised. ...

There will be no highlights on the eleven o'clock news
The revolution will not be right back after a message
The revolution will not go better with Coke
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath
The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised

These are some of the lines of Gil Scott-Heron's song that told people in the 1970s (which, I maintain, were just as '60ish as the fabled 1960s) that a revolution was coming, that they would no longer be able to live their normal daily life, that they should no longer want to live their normal daily life, that they would have to learn to be more serious about this thing they were always prattling about, this thing they called "revolution".

Fast Forward to 2009 ... Gil Scott-Heron, now a ripe old 60, was recently interviewed by the Washington Post:

WP: In the early 1970s, you came out with "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," about the erosion of democracy in America. You all but predicted that there would be a revolution in which a brainwashed nation would come to its senses. What do you think now? Did we have a revolution?

GS-H: Yes, the election of President Obama was the revolution. 11

Oh? So that's it? That's what we took clubs over our heads for? Tear gas, jail cells, and permanent police and FBI files? Published a million issues of the underground press? To get a president who doesn't have a revolutionary bone in his body? Not a muscle or nerve or tissue or organ that seriously questions cherished establishment beliefs concerning terrorism, permanent war, Israel, torture, marijuana, health care, and the primacy of profit over the environment and all else? Karl Marx is surely turning over in his London grave. If the modern counter-revolutionary United States had existed at the time of the American revolution, it would have crushed that revolution. And a colonial (white) Barack Obama would have worked diligently to achieve some sort of bi-partisan compromise with the King of England, telling him we need to look forward, not backward.

Yugoslavia
During 1998-1999, the United States used the Kosovo conflict to reaffirm its hegemonic role in Europe. US officials deliberately undercut a potential diplomatic solution to the Kosovo war; instead of using diplomacy to resolve the conflict, the United States sought a military solution in which NATO power could once again be demonstrated. The resulting air war, in 1999, succeeded in fully establishing the continued relevance of NATO, thus affirming US hegemony in Europe and undercutting European proclivities for foreign policy independence.
- David Gibbs, "First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia"

There's no issue of the recent past that has caused more friction internationally amongst those on the left than the question of what really took place in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. Gibbs' new book explores many of the myths surrounding this very complicated and controversial slice of history, particularly those dealing with the supposed humanitarian motivation behind the Western powers intervention and the many alleged Serbian atrocities.


Notes
1.Washington Post, August 22 and August 26, 2009 ?
2.Newsweek magazine, July 13, 1992 ?
3.Sunday Herald (Scotland), August 17, 2009 ?
4."Opinion of the Court", Par. 39, issued following the trial in the Hague in 2001 ?
5.Read many further details about the case at
http://killinghope.org/bblum6/panam.htm ?
6.The Independent (London daily), April 26, 2009 ?
7.Sunday Times (London), August 16, 2009 ?
8.Washington Post, August 6, 2009, p.C2 ?
9.Washington Post, June 8, 2005 and March 23, 2006 for this citation plus the three studies mentioned ?
10.Talk given at VFW convention in Phoenix, Arizona, August 17, 2009 ?
11.Washington Post, August 26, 2009 ?
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William Blum is the author of:

•Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2
•Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower
•West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir
•Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire