Thursday, October 29, 2009


5,000 Protest Bank Power, Abuses, as 'Showdown' Culminates

5,000 Protest Bank Power, Abuses, as ‘Showdown’ Culminates

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UC Santa Cruz student Reymundo Sauceda joined comrades from the Student Labor Action Project to protest outside the American Bankers Association meeting in Chicago this week. (Photo by Peter Holderness for In These Times)

By David Moberg

CHICAGO–Angenita Tanner faces tough times. Her home-based child care business is threatened by potential Illinois state budget cuts to programs subsidizing care for children of low-income workers. Already her clients have found it hard to pay for her services, leading her to fall behind on her mortgage. But her bank refuses to re-negotiate the mortgage, even though losing her home would also end her business and income.

“America has bailed out the banks, but the banks aren’t bailing out the people,” she told a crowd of about 5,000 unionists and organized community activists on Tuesday as they protested outside the American Bankers Association conference on the third and final day of what was billed as the "Showdown in Chicago."

It was the common theme of the protest, the largest focused on the financial industry since the banking crisis pushed the whole economy into deep recession, echoed in marchers’ chants: “the banks got bailed out, we got sold out.”

The protest, which relied heavily on unions–especially the Service Employees (SEIU)–and Chicago community groups fighting foreclosure, delivered a strongly worded but programmatically diffuse message calling on banks to serve real needs of people, not the greedy speculative aims of their executives.

Against a backdrop of giant cut-out figures of leading “robber bankers,” SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger called for investigation of big bank CEOS, adding, “and, if necessary, we have to prosecute them for what they’ve done to our country.”

And AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said, “We are not going to let bankers rule our lives or our country.” Addressing the ABA members inside the hotel, he said:

You work for us-not the other way around. Your job is to be stewards of our savings-to put and keep working families in homes, to lend the money companies need to create jobs. And you have failed. You've turned the American economy into your own private casino, gambling away our financial future with our money, driving us to the brink of a second Great Depression, then sticking out your hand for taxpayers to bail you out.

And Bankers, let me tell you this: We didn't put you back in business so you can pay billions in bonuses to the suits; those bonuses have to go. And we didn't put you back in business so you could pile money and lobbyists into Capitol Hill to fight the financial reform we so desperately need-while we're losing jobs, losing our homes, losing our retirement savings, losing it all-because you treated the money we worked so hard to earn like Monopoly money.

Trumka called for establishing a consumer financial protection agency, reforming the Federal Reserve or creating a new agency to stop systemic risk, regulating shadow financial markets (like hedge funds, private equity funds and over-the-counter derivatives), and reforming corporate governance and executive pay).

Other speakers called for stopping foreclosures and breaking up big banks. They demanded more and lower-interest loans for public needs and job creation. And they told the ABA to stop lobbying against much-needed reforms.

There was broad agreement on anger at the banks for providing so little, if any, public benefit for the massive bail-out, and for so quickly returning to the greed and abuse that precipitated the crisis.

Stoking anger at the banks is not only justified, it is politically important and beneficial. But the variety of demands hint at the problem of organizing that anger. It’s often hard to educate people about important but complex initiatives–like reforming the Fed or regulating derivatives–or to link those reforms to their personal experiences.

Other reforms–like judicial modification of mortgages–make sense to people facing foreclosure, but may not move others to action. But it may still be possible to build an overarching movement around the idea that the banks should serve the real economy, not their own speculative greed, mobilizing constituencies on as many of the items on the broad agenda as possible.

After all, many Americans now share the sentiment of janitor Maria Guerra, now facing bank refusal to renegotiate a mortgage she co-signed with her brother-in-law, who has exhausted his unemployment benefits.

“Bankers are recovering,” Guerra told the crowd, “but what about everyone else?”

How Could It Be Against the Law to Spread Public Information?

How Could It Be Against the Law to Spread Public

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The hazmat team rushed into Elliot Madison's home in Queens, N.Y., and headed straight for the kombucha tea brewing in a corner, assuming that the outspoken anarchist was concocting a chemical weapon.

Now Madison, 41 -- who is under investigation by a federal grand jury for violations of a rarely used anti-riot statute -- has denounced the probe as politically motivated and in violation his constitutional rights.

Madison was arrested on Sept. 24 at a hotel outside Pittsburgh, accused under Pennsylvania law of aiding protesters at the G20 Summit by listening to a police scanner and then sending out Twitter feeds on the location of police, helping protesters to avoid arrest.

Madison denied any wrongdoing and said his use of Twitter is speech protected by the First Amendment. His lawyer said that Madison is being persecuted for his beliefs and activism.

"It's purely political," his lawyer, Martin R. Stolar, said. "The government is trying to say that anarchists are the equivalents of terrorists, just like it is trying to say that protesters are the equivalents of terrorists."

On Oct. 16, a federal grand jury in the Brooklyn Eastern District Court announced a separate investigation into Madison -- an outspoken proponent of anarchism and political dissent -- for violations of the Anti-Riot Act.

The act was first used to prosecute Abbie Hoffman and the Chicago Seven after protests at the Chicago Democratic National Convention in 1968 and has rarely been used since.

One of the lawyers who defended the Chicago Seven in court 40 years ago, Leonard I. Weinglass, said the government's attempt to silence social-media communication by demonstrators at the G20 protests was hypocritical.

"In Iran, demonstrators were lauded for using it," he said. "Now that it is being used here for identical purposes it is being criminalized."

The FBI and a joint terrorism task force searched Madison's Jackson Heights home on Oct. 3 for over 16 hours. Agents scoured the property and took dozens of items, including books on anarchism written by Madison, political posters, an antique gas mask, his marriage certificate and a Curious George plush doll.

Stolar has filed an injunction for the return of the property, saying that the warrant was too broad in scope and as such violates Madison's Fourth Amendment rights. The warrant authorized police to seize any evidence of violations of the Anti-Riot Act.

"A warrant is supposed to tell them what they're supposed to take," Madison said. "That is why our Founding Fathers put it in, because they didn't like that the English would use 'Crown warrants,' where they could go in and look for anything they wanted."

Madison said the officers who searched his home had no idea what they were looking for.

"They would point to something, like 'Do we take this Curious George plush toy?' and another would say, 'Yes take it,'" he said.

Stolar also questioned the constitutionality of the Anti-Riot Act itself, which was added into the Civil Rights Act of 1968 in response to the race riots of the mid-1960s and has only been used a few times in the early 1970s to prosecute political activists.

"It's a law that basically targets people who are involved in protests," he said. "Nobody even knows what the law means."

The law itself is vague. It prohibits traveling in "interstate or foreign commerce … with intent to incite a riot" or to "aid or abet any person in inciting or participating in or carrying on a riot."

Weinglass, who is also a lawyer for the Cuban Five and was once Mumia Abu Jamal's counsel, said that the act is essentially a prohibition on a "state of mind" and directed at those who protest the policies of government.

"It's a tool of social and political control," he said. "If you have no other way of prosecuting demonstrations and discourse that are otherwise protected by the First Amendment, then you reach for the Anti-Riot Act."

Madison defended his actions in Pittsburgh, saying the information he stands accused of distributing was both factual and already available to the public. He also said there were at least 23 other Twitter feeds active during the protests.

Madison is intelligent, soft-spoken and clearly offended by the government's attacks on him and his family. An outspoken anarchist, he does not hide his beliefs. But contrary to the public's stereotype of anarchists as violent malcontents, Madison appears more prone to rambling than to causing trouble.

He says he did not take information overheard from a police scanner on the location of police and post it to Twitter, but admits that someone who was actually at one of the protests could have submitted such a post from his or her cell phone.

But even if Madison had done what the police allege, his lawyer said, he would be protected by the First Amendment.

"Twitter is no different than speech, no different than picking up the phone," Stolar said. "It's protected speech, especially something that the police have put out on the public airwaves."

What he did is really no different from what journalists do, Madison said. There were CNN crews reporting on the protests and movements of police as well, he said, and so his arrest sets a dangerous precedent for reporters.

"It's terrible for the media," he said. "The police are claiming we did the same as what CNN did."

Madison said that the government is persecuting him not only because of his outspoken beliefs but because of its inability to shut down Twitter and text messaging during the G20 Summit protests.

"They didn't understand the power of social networking," Madison said. "They thought that by arresting us the Twitter feeds would stop, but none of them did."

He had hoped the Obama administration would be more tolerant of dissent, especially after supporting protest movements in other countries, Madison said.

"But you can't stop people from communicating," he said. "And that's what really drives repressive governments really mad, so they strike back."

Madison will be in court in Pennsylvania on Nov. 17 for a preliminary hearing on charges of hindering prosecution, criminal use of a communication facility and possessing criminal instruments.

Eastern District Judge Dora Irizzarry will decide on Nov. 2 whether the property taken from Madison's house can be admissible as evidence before the federal grand jury.

The U.S. prosecutor in the case, Andrew Goldsmith, was not available for comment. Despite statements by prosecutors that police found books on poison and tire-spikes in his home, Madison said he does not think he will be indicted because he was doing nothing illegal.

"Since they didn't find anything in our house," Madison said, "I guess this will go on to the next house, and they'll fish for something there. That's how these things work."

What are US troops dying for in Afghanistan

What are US troops dying for in Afghanistan?

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At least 21 US soldiers and Marines have been killed in Afghanistan since last weekend, making October the bloodiest month for US forces since they invaded the country eight years ago. Still more have been wounded by roadside bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire.

Among those killed in the last several days was a 24-year-old California mother of two young daughters, Sgt. Eduviges Wolf, who died of wounds suffered when her vehicle was attacked with a rocket-propelled grenade in Kunar province.

Devin Michel, a 19-year-old Army private, little more than a year out of high school in Stockton, Illinois, was killed by a roadside bomb in Zhari province.

Gregory Fleury, a 23-year-old Marine corporal, lost his life in one of the three helicopter crashes on Sunday. The Anchorage Daily News quoted his grandfather as saying that, after serving two tours in Iraq, Fleury was set to end his active duty, but “the government extended his service” for deployment to Afghanistan. He had been scheduled to come home in early November.

The escalation of the war, which President Barack Obama is expected to announce soon, will only drive up casualties, as tens of thousands of additional soldiers and Marines are sent into Afghanistan to suppress popular resistance to foreign occupation.

What are these sacrifices for? Why are young American men and women being sent seven-and-a-half thousand miles from US shores to face horrible deaths and to carry out brutal repression against a population that does not want them there?

These questions are posed all the more sharply by the revelation that the US Central Intelligence Agency has kept President Hamid Karzai’s brother, a reputed kingpin in Afghanistan’s multibillion-dollar drug trade, on its payroll for the last eight years.

The CIA’s ties with Ahmed Wali Karzai raise “significant questions about America’s war strategy, which is currently under review at the White House,” the New York Times said Wednesday in reporting the connection.

This is putting it rather delicately. The ties between the Karzai brothers and the CIA are a further demonstration that “America’s war strategy” is a criminal enterprise pursued by criminal methods.

The newspaper describes a highly intimate relationship between the CIA and Ahmed Wali Karzai, who helped found a paramilitary outfit known as the Kandahar Strike Force that “operates at the CIA’s direction” in carrying out assassinations of suspected “insurgents.”

CIA special operations agents, meanwhile, utilize compounds provided by Karzai as bases for their own operations in the south of the country.

According to the Times, military officers and other American officials say that “Mr. Karzai’s suspected role in the drug trade, as well as what they describe as the mafia-like way that he lords over southern Afghanistan, makes him a malevolent force.” Nonetheless, he remains one of Washington’s key assets in the country.

Afghanistan currently supplies 90 percent of the world’s heroin. Since the US invasion of the country, opium production has increased by more than 300 percent.

CIA ties to drug trafficking are longstanding. Before 1979, there was no large-scale poppy cultivation or any production of heroin in Afghanistan and Pakistan. These countries became the center of world heroin production as a byproduct of the CIA’s fomenting of a war by Islamist mujahedin against the Soviet-backed government in Kabul. While the US poured in billions of dollars in money and arms to fuel this war, drugs provided a major supplementary funding source for the CIA-backed guerrillas.

In the 1980s war against Nicaragua, the shipment of cocaine into the US provided resources for the CIA-backed contras at a time when the US Congress had cut off funding. And in the Vietnam War, the CIA allied itself with heroin-trafficking warlords in Laos who exploited the US troops as a market.

In all of these wars, US intervention has produced death, destruction and social degradation, including the proliferation of drug production and consumption. An inevitable byproduct of the ongoing intervention in Afghanistan will be a steady rise in heroin addiction in the US and around the world.

Are US troops dying to keep in power a government dominated by drug-trafficking warlords? Will more be killed in the coming month to protect another fraudulent election aimed at lending a façade of legitimacy to this regime?

So it would seem. But the Karzais and their warlord allies are puppets of US policy, used by Washington as merely a means to an end.

The end itself is patently not the furthering of “democracy.” Nor are 100,000 US and NATO troops fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, where military officials admit there are no more than 100 Al Qaeda members.

The real objectives of this war were spelled out in fairly candid terms in an article published last year in the magazine of the US Army War College by Dr. Stephen Blank, the college’s professor of National Security Studies.

Entitled “The Strategic Importance of Central Asia: An American View,” the article wastes little time on the pretexts of combating Al Qaeda or building democracy in Afghanistan.

Blank argues that the US is pursuing an “open door” policy in Central Asia “for American firms seeking energy exploration, refining, and marketing.” US policy, he says, is aimed at “the prevention of a Russian energy monopoly” in Central Asia or the region’s domination by China. It also seeks to isolate Iran, another potential regional rival.

“Not surprisingly,” Blank continues “the leitmotif of US energy policy has been focused on fostering the development of multiple pipelines and links to foreign consumers and producers of energy” that bypass the control of these regional rivals. Among the most important of these, he writes, is the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) pipeline, which would pump oil and natural gas out of Central Asia across the territory now occupied by US troops.

It would appear from this paper that, while soldiers and Marines are told that they are fighting and dying for democracy or to end terrorism, at least the US Army’s rising senior officers are being given a more concrete objective.

The American military is fighting in Afghanistan as part of a 21st century version of the “Great Game,” in which US imperialism is seeking to dominate Central Asia and its energy resources at the expense of its strategic rivals.

There is no doubt that the Obama administration will continue to pursue these aims through an escalation of the Afghan war.

The costs of this war, now pegged at $3.6 billion a month, will rise even higher with the deployment of more troops, and will be paid by working people in the US through attacks on their living standards and basic social benefits. The death and maiming of American soldiers and Marines will escalate, along with the slaughter of both Afghan and Pakistani civilians.

The interests of the working class in the US and internationally stand opposed to those being pursued through the killing and dying in the so-called AfPak war. Working people must demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all American and foreign troops from the region and an end to the drive for imperialist domination in Central Asia.

Loosening of F.B.I. Rules Stirs Privacy Concerns

Loosening of F.B.I. Rules Stirs Privacy Concerns

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After a Somali-American teenager from Minneapolis committed a suicide bombing in Africa in October 2008, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began investigating whether a Somali Islamist group had recruited him on United States soil.

Instead of collecting information only on people about whom they had a tip or links to the teenager, agents fanned out to scrutinize Somali communities, including in Seattle and Columbus, Ohio. The operation unfolded as the Bush administration was relaxing some domestic intelligence-gathering rules.

The F.B.I.’s interpretation of those rules was recently made public when it released, in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit, its “Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide.”; The disclosure of the manual has opened the widest window yet onto how agents have been given greater power in the post-Sept. 11 era.

In seeking the revised rules, the bureau said it needed greater flexibility to hunt for would-be terrorists inside the United States. But the manual’s details have alarmed privacy advocates.

One section lays out a low threshold to start investigating a person or group as a potential security threat. Another allows agents to use ethnicity or religion as a factor — as long as it is not the only one — when selecting subjects for scrutiny.

“It raises fundamental questions about whether a domestic intelligence agency can protect civil liberties if they feel they have a right to collect broad personal information about people they don’t even suspect of wrongdoing,” said Mike German, a former F.B.I. agent who now works for the American Civil Liberties Union.

But Valerie Caproni, the F.B.I.’s general counsel, said the bureau has adequate safeguards to protect civil liberties as it looks for people who could pose a threat.

“Those who say the F.B.I. should not collect information on a person or group unless there is a specific reason to suspect that the target is up to no good seriously miss the mark,” Ms. Caproni said. “The F.B.I. has been told that we need to determine who poses a threat to the national security — not simply to investigate persons who have come onto our radar screen.”

The manual authorizes agents to open an “assessment” to “proactively” seek information about whether people or organizations are involved in national security threats.

Agents may begin such assessments against a target without a particular factual justification. The basis for such an inquiry “cannot be arbitrary or groundless speculation,” the manual says, but the standard is “difficult to define.”

Assessments permit agents to use potentially intrusive techniques, like sending confidential informants to infiltrate organizations and following and photographing targets in public.

F.B.I. agents previously had similar powers when looking for potential criminal activity. But until the recent changes, greater justification was required to use the powers in national security investigations because they receive less judicial oversight.

If agents turn up something specific to suggest wrongdoing, they can begin a “preliminary” or “full” investigation and use additional techniques, like wiretapping. But even if agents find nothing, the personal information they collect during assessments can be retained in F.B.I. databases, the manual says.

When selecting targets, agents are permitted to consider political speech or religion as one criterion. The manual tells agents not to engage in racial profiling, but it authorizes them to take into account “specific and relevant ethnic behavior” and to “identify locations of concentrated ethnic communities.”

Farhana Khera, president of Muslim Advocates, said the F.B.I. was harassing Muslim-Americans by singling them out for scrutiny. Her group was among those that sued the bureau to release the manual.

“We have seen even in recent months the revelation of the F.B.I. going into mosques — not where they have a specific reason to believe there is criminal activity, but as ‘agent provocateurs’ who are trying to incite young individuals to join a purported terror plot,” Ms. Khera said. “We think the F.B.I. should be focused on following actual leads rather than putting entire communities under the microscope.”

Ms. Caproni, the F.B.I. lawyer, denied that the bureau engages in racial profiling. She cited the search for signs of the Somali group, Al Shabaab, linked to the Minneapolis teenager to illustrate why the manual allows agents to consider ethnicity when deciding where to look. In that case, the bureau worried that other such teenagers might return from Somalia to carry out domestic operations.

Agents are trained to ignore ethnicity when looking for groups that have no ethnic tie, like environmental extremists, she said, but “if you are looking for Al Shabaab, you are looking for Somalis.”

Among the manual’s safeguards, agents must use the “least intrusive investigative method that effectively accomplishes the operational objective.” When infiltrating an organization, agents cannot sabotage its “legitimate social or political agenda,” nor lead it “into criminal activity that otherwise probably would not have occurred.”

Portions of the manual were redacted, including pages about “undisclosed participation” in an organization’s activities by agents or informants, “requesting information without revealing F.B.I. affiliation or the true purpose of a request,” and using “ethnic/racial demographics.”

The attorney general guidelines for F.B.I. operations date back to 1976, when a Congressional investigation by the so-called Church Committee uncovered decades of illegal domestic spying by the bureau on groups perceived to be subversive — including civil rights, women’s rights and antiwar groups — under the bureau’s longtime former director, J. Edgar Hoover, who died in 1972.

The Church Committee proposed that rules for the F.B.I.’s domestic security investigations be written into federal law. To forestall legislation, the attorney general in the Ford administration, Edward Levi, issued his own guidelines that established such limits internally.

Since then, administrations of both parties have repeatedly adjusted the guidelines.

In September 2008, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey signed the new F.B.I. guidelines that expanded changes begun under his predecessor, John Ashcroft, after the Sept. 11 attacks. The guidelines went into effect and the F.B.I. completed the manual putting them into place last December.

There are no signs that the current attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., plans to roll back the changes. A spokeswoman said Mr. Holder was monitoring them “to see how well they work” and would make refinements if necessary.

The F.B.I., however, is revising the manual. Ms. Caproni said she was taking part in weekly high-level meetings to evaluate suggestions from agents and expected about 20 changes.

Many proposals have been requests for greater flexibility. For example, some agents said requirements that they record in F.B.I. computers every assessment, no matter how minor, were too time consuming. But Ms. Caproni said the rule aided oversight and would not be changed.

She also said that the F.B.I. takes seriously its duty to protect freedom while preventing terrorist attacks. “I don’t like to think of us as a spy agency because that makes me really nervous,” she said. “We don’t want to live in an environment where people in the United States think the government is spying on them. That’s an oppressive environment to live in and we don’t want to live that way.”

What the public should understand, she continued, is that the F.B.I. is seeking to become a more intelligence-driven agency that can figure out how best to deploy its agents to get ahead of potential threats.

“And to do that,” she said, “you need information.”

AFRICOM and America's Global Military Agenda

AFRICOM and America's Global Military Agenda: Taking The Helm Of The Entire World

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“The developments come as the White House seeks grounds to establish a major military presence in Africa...[A]nalysts caution that similar pretexts were used to justify the US invasion of Afghanistan, the missile attacks in Pakistan, and its waning military operations in Iraq, where the civilian population continues to bear the brunt of the US intervention.”

“AFRICOM facilitates the United States advancing on the African continent, taking control of the Eurasian continent and proceeding to take the helm of the entire globe.”

October 1st marked the one-year anniversary of the activation of the first U.S. overseas military command in a quarter of a century, Africa Command (AFRICOM).

AFRICOM was established as a temporary command under the wing of U.S. European Command (EUCOM) a year earlier and launched as an independent entity on October 1, 2008.

Its creation signalled several important milestones in plans by the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies to expand into all corners of the earth and to achieve military, political and economic hegemony in the Southern as well as the Northern Hemisphere.

AFRICOM is the first American regional military command established outside of North America in the post-Cold War era. (The Pentagon set up Northern Command, NORTHCOM, in 2002 after the September 11, 2001 attacks to take in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.)

Its area of responsibility includes more nations – 53 – than any other U.S. military command. By way of comparison, EUCOM includes 51 nations, among which are 19 new nations emerging from the breakup of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and the reunification of Germany.

The Pacific Command (PACOM) incorporates 36 countries in its theater of operations, down four since the creation of AFRICOM.

Central Command (CENTCOM) currently includes 20 nations in what is referred to as the Broader Middle East.

Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) covers 32 states, 19 in Central and South America and 13 in the Caribbean, of which 14 are U.S. and European territories.

AFRICOM is also the only new U.S. regional military command absorbing nations formerly in other commands; in fact in all other commands outside the Western Hemisphere.

EUCOM ceded 42 nations (including Western Sahara, a member of the African Union whose recognition has been virulently opposed by the West since Morocco invaded it in 1975) to AFRICOM.

The Horn of Africa region (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan) was transferred from CENTCOM to AFRICOM, with the former picking up Lebanon and Syria from EUCOM in return. Egypt is the sole African nation still in CENTCOM. The Pentagon’s Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, which includes Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, the Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Yemen, the last on the Arabian Peninsula, was also transferred from CENTCOM to AFRICOM. The U.S. has an estimated 2,000 troops stationed in Djibouti at Camp Lemonier which hosts the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa.

PACOM lost the Indian Ocean island nations of the Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and the Seychelles to Africa Command.

Africa is, lastly, the first new continent targeted by the Pentagon for a comprehensive military structure, as the U.S. created comparable commands in Asia, Europe and Latin America after World War II and during the Cold War and had fought wars in all three areas by 1918. With the exception of the bombing of Libya in 1986 and military operations in Somalia in the early 1990s and by proxy since 2006, Africa has to date escaped direct American military intervention. And until the acquisition of Camp Lemonier in Djibouti in early 2001, before September 11, there was no permanent U.S. military installation on the continent.

The beginning of AFRICOM’s second year has witnessed major military exercises on the western and eastern ends of the continent.

On September 29 AFRICOM led the militaries of 30 African nations in the ten-day Africa Endeavor 2009 maneuvers in Gabon off the coast of the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea. “The U.S. military has begun an exercise in the African nation of Gabon... to improve command and control between forces for possible peacekeeping or anti-terrorism missions.

“Africom... is sponsoring the exercise and much of the instruction is done by U.S. military personnel based in Europe and the United States.” [1]

Coordinated with the command out of which AFRICOM arose, “The AFRICOM exercise comes on the heels of a similar U.S. European Command-sponsored operation – Combined Endeavor – that tested the communication compatibility of the U.S. and its European allies.” [2]

The Gabon-based exercise reprised the previous year’s Africa Endeavor which was run by European Command before AFRICOM’s formal activation and which included “21 African nations, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Sweden and the United States.

“Nations and organizations who participated... were Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sweden, Uganda, the United States and Zambia.” [3]

The Pentagon participated with personnel from “U.S. Marine Forces Europe (MARFOREUR); U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Public Affairs; First Combat Communications Squadron, Ramstein Air Force Base; 8th Communications Battalion, Camp Lejeune; Marine Headquarters History, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa; U.S. European Command (EUCOM); U.S. African Command (AFRICOM); and the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC).” [4]

This year’s maneuvers effected the formal transfer of Africa from European Command to the new Africa Command.

From October 16-25 the U.S. is heading a multinational military exercise, Natural Fire 10, in Uganda in which “More than 1,000 American and East African troops are... deployed... as the United States carries out its biggest military exercise in Africa this year.” [5]

Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are to provide troops to join 450 U.S. military personnel in drills which “involve live fire in the field as well as convoy operations, crowd control and vehicle checkpoints...” [6]

An African newspaper account of the exercises suggests ulterior motives: “[T]he decision to site the exercise in northern Uganda raises questions about whether it may presage a renewed US-supported assault against the Lord’s Resistance Army,” which has waged an armed rebellion against the Ugandan government since 1987.

The same source continued with these observations:

“The exercise in northern Uganda is scheduled to begin one week after the conclusion of another US-led military exercise in Gabon.

“Nearly 30 African nations – including Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda – took part in that communications-focused initiative led by the US Africa Command... Together, these exercises are cited by Africom’s critics as further indications of what they describe as the growing militarisation of the US presence in Africa.

“Situating the exercise in Uganda reflects the close military relationship that the United States has developed with that East African country...

“Worries persist in Africa that the Pentagon intends to station large numbers of US troops on the continent, despite denials by Africom’s leaders that such a move is being planned.

“The United States already maintains about 2,000 troops at a base in Djibouti. This Joint Task Force/Horn of Africa detachment is the source of some of the US soldiers, sailors and Marines who will participate in Natural Fire 10.” [7]

Two days after the above was published a Ugandan newspaper announced that “Hundreds of Rwandan and Burundi troops have arrived in the country for joint military training exercises geared towards the formation of the first Joint East African Military Force.

“The training, which will also have troops from Kenya and Tanzania with experts from the US, will be conducted in Kitgum... Last week, the UPDF [Uganda Peoples Defence Force] said it supports the formation of a joint regional army, believing this will handle conflicts in the region.

“The proposal was mooted during a meeting of delegates from the five member countries in Kampala early this month.” [8]

The Pentagon is setting up a new African regional military force.

On October 20 a Rwandan news source revealed that “The visiting US commander of US Army Africa, Maj. Gen. William B. Garrett III, has stressed that the US army is interested in strengthening its cooperation with the Rwandan Defence Force (RDF).”

Garrett was quoted as saying “We are hoping to improve the relationship between Rwandan Defence Forces and the US army – this involves increase in interaction between our forces... Likewise, we hope that the Rwandan Defence Forces can also participate in our exercises. So we are hoping to increase the level of cooperation between the US and the Rwandan Defense forces.” [9]

The U.S. and its allies previously deployed Rwandan troops they trained and armed to Darfur and Somalia.

In northwest Africa, on October 20 the U.S. ambassador to Mali presented the latest tranche of “more than $5 million in new vehicles and other equipment” to the armed forces of his host country. [10]

Two years earlier the Pentagon led a multinational military exercise, Operation Flintlock 2007, in the capital of Mali with troops from thirteen African and European nations.

In the prototype exercise, Flintlock 2005, the U.S. deployed over 1,000 Special Operations troops, Green Berets, for joint military maneuvers with counterparts from Senegal, Niger, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Algeria and Tunisia.

Flintlock 2005 was employed to launch Washington’s Trans Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative with Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal. An American news report of the exercise bore the title “U.S. Said Eying Sahara For New War Front.” [11]

An official with the U.S. Special Operations Command Europe said at the time, “This is just the start of decades worth of work in Africa,” [12] a sentiment echoed by an American armed forces publication which wrote “If military planners have their way, U.S. troops are going to be deploying to Africa for years or maybe decades.” [13]

Within days of the completion of the 2007 exercise in Mali a U.S. military cargo plane, “flying food to Malian troops fighting rebels in the far north of the country,” was hit by gunfire. The plane had remained in the nation after Flintlock 2007.

“Malian troops had become surrounded at their base in the Tin-Zaouatene region near the Algerian border by armed fighters and couldn’t get supplies... [T]he Mali government asked the U.S. forces to perform the airdrops...” [14]

The fighters in question were ethnic Tuaregs.

Tuaregs in Mali and Niger, “whose armies have received U.S. counter-insurgency training,” have “taken up arms... driven by resentment over unresolved grievances and against what they see as interference in their territories by government armies and foreign companies.” [15]

What is in fact the reason for the heightened American military role in Mali and Niger rather than the Pentagon’s by now standard claim – alleged al-Qaeda threats – was mentioned in a Reuters dispatch of last year.

“The stakes are rising. We’ve got companies, beyond gold exploration [Mali is Africa's third largest gold producer], wanting to explore for oil in northern Mali.

“There has been significant interest by investors wanting to explore for oil in Timbuktu (and other northern towns)... If oil is eventually discovered, that could of course play a role.” [16]

The report from which the above is quoted also said: “Tuareg tribesmen in neighbouring Niger... launched a fresh rebellion early last year, demanding greater autonomy and a bigger slice of revenues from French-operated uranium mines in their traditional fiefdom around the northern town of Agadez.” [17]

Last year the Red Cross reported that 1,000 Tuareg civilians fled into neighboring Burkina Faso to escape a U.S.-supported Malian government offensive.

AFRICOM’s mission in the region, as with much of the rest of Africa, is to wage counterinsurgency campaigns to secure vital resources including gold, precious stones, oil, natural gas and uranium.

The infamous Niger “yellow cake” forgeries played a decisive role in U.S. propaganda leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Off the eastern coast of Africa “The US has supplied the Seychelles with drone spy planes... Seychelles officials say the planes will be used for surveillance, but did not say how many aircraft the US would be handing over... The move comes a day after the US gave equipment to Mali to fight insurgents.” [18]

A Middle Eastern website put together several components of AFRICOM’s plans in rendering this analysis:

“The United States is taking its military venture in Africa to new levels amid suspicions that Washington could be advancing yet another hidden agenda. American operatives are expected to fly pilotless surveillance aircraft over [Seychelles] territory from US ships off its coast... Washington has also started to equip Mali with USD 4.5 million worth of military vehicles and communications equipment, in what is reported to be an increasing US involvement in Africa.

“The developments come as the White House seeks grounds to establish a major military presence in Africa... [A]nalysts caution that similar pretexts were used to justify the US invasion of Afghanistan, the missile attacks in Pakistan, and its waning military operations in Iraq, where the civilian population continues to bear the brunt of the US intervention.” [19]

The same news site reported two days earlier that a U.S. spy drone had been shot down over the southern Somali port of Kismayu. “Kismayu residents routinely report suspected US drones flying over the port. The drones are believed to be launched from warships in the Indian Ocean.” [20]

It was also reported in a feature titled “US to make Blackwater-style entry into Somalia” that “The grounds have reportedly been established for armed American presence on Somali soil with a US security firm [Michigan-based CSS Global Inc.] winning a contract in the war-ravaged country.” [21]

The development was characterised as follows: “Washington has been [increasingly] deputizing the companies, which are notorious for misusing their State Department-issued gun licenses as excuses for trigger-ready atrocities. The move has been denounced as an effort at putting a non-military face on the US pursuits in the respective countries.” [22]

Though not part of AFRICOM’s area of responsibility, the African nation of Egypt recently hosted the latest Bright Star war games.

The Pentagon’s website described aspects of this year’s Bright Star, “U.S. Central Command’s longest-running exercise”:

“U.S. Marines and sailors were part of a four-nation coalition that stormed the beaches... during a major amphibious assault demonstration Oct. 12.

“The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Navy’s Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, as well as the Egyptian army and navy and Pakistani and Kuwaiti marines, took part in the assault as part of Exercise Bright Star 2009, which began Oct. 10 and ends Oct. 20.

“As part of the simulation, Egyptian special operations forces conducted beach reconnaissance prior to the assault. U.S. Marines followed with four AV-88 Harriers. Then amphibious assault vehicles, Humvees and landing craft came ashore... Troops from the various nations, along with 30 vehicles including aircraft, landing craft, amphibious assault vehicles and amphibious tracked vehicles, participated. [23]

Another American source added: “The coalition of military forces participating in the exercises also includes France, Greece, Italy, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

“During the past week, Fort Bragg soldiers made parachute jumps with Egyptian, German, Kuwaiti and Pakistani soldiers.” [24]

AFRICOM was nurtured by U.S. European Command since then U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2002 proposed the creation of a NATO Rapid Response Force (NRF), which was approved by NATO defense chiefs in Brussels in June 2003 and was inaugurated in October 2003. In 2006 Rumsfeld followed up on that initiative by forming a planning team to establish a new Unified Command for the African continent.

The top military commander of EUCOM is simultaneously NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and the two generals holding those joint positions during preparations for forming and activating AFRICOM were Marine General James Jones (2003-2006) and Army General Bantz John Craddock (2006-June, 2009). The first is now National Security Adviser to the U.S. president.

“[T]he newly formed NRF [NATO Rapid Response Force] carried out its first exercise code named STEADFAST JAGUAR in Cape Verde... in West Africa from 14-28 June 2006.” [25]

“The islanders of Cape Verde are slowly getting used to German armored vehicles and Spanish helicopters descending on their sun-drenched beaches as U.S. fighter F-16 jets roar overhead.

“7,800 troops involved in the maneuvers, the alliance’s first major presence on African soil.” [26]

Reuters reported at the time that “The NATO Steadfast Jaguar exercises are the final test of a 25,000-strong rapid-reaction force due to be ready from October to dive into troublespots around the world and deal with everything from natural disasters to terrorist attacks.”

And it quoted U.S. Lieutenant-Colonel Matt Chestnutt, “whose unit of F-16 fighters was deployed in the 1991 Gulf War and later conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo,” as saying “Africa was a great choice. It is possible the NATO Response Force could come here one day.” [27]

Agence France-Presse was no less effusive in its account of the unprecedented war games, dubbing its report “Military Brass Hail ‘the New NATO’ at Cape Verde War”: “Troops, fighter planes and warships descended on the West African archipelago of Cape Verde as NATO continued major war games this week to test its global rapid-response force.

“Leading politicians and military top brass from the western alliance’s member countries hailed the maneuvers — NATO’s first on African soil — underway on the archipelago’s northern island of Sao Vicente.” [28]

Two months before NATO held a warm-up naval exercise, Brilliant Mariner 2006, ranging from the Netherlands to Norway and consisting of “sixty four ships from eighteen countries... conducting joint warfare inter-operability training in a multi-threat environment,” which was “the final preparation phase before the land, air and maritime components of the NATO Response Force come together in June for the capability demonstration exercise Steadfast Jaguar 2006 in Cape Verde, off the west coast of Africa.” [29]

A month before the NATO global strike force pilot exercise in Cape Verde, Portuguese Foreign Minister Diogo Freitas do Amaral said “the West African archipelago is interested in joining both NATO and the European Union. [30]

The test run for the NATO Rapid Response Force was also conducted off the African mainland. In 2005 the Alliance held the 16-nation Noble Javelin 2005 air force, army and naval exercises in Spain’s Canary Islands off the coasts of Morocco and Western Sahara.

U.S. warships returned to Cape Verde the following year and an American commander said of the event that “These are the types of efforts that are contributing to the CNO’s [Chief of Naval Operations] ‘1000-ship Navy’ initiative.” [31] On Washington’s 1,000-ship Navy, see Proliferation Security Initiative And U.S. 1,000-Ship Navy: Control Of World’s Oceans, Prelude To War. [32]

Also in 2007 it was reported that the “USS Fort McHenry will begin a roughly six-month deployment to Western Africa as the Navy tries a new concept it has dubbed the Global Fleet Station program.” [33]

The Global Fleet Station (GFS) program was elaborated in 2007 in a U.S. combined maritime services release, “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.”

In June of that year Admiral Harry Ulrich, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, spoke at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, D.C. and said “The Global Fleet Station concept is ‘closely aligned’ with the task to be provided by the still-developing U.S. Africa Command.” [34]

Africa, then, is a testing ground for NATO’s Rapid Response Force and the U.S.’s 1,000-ship Navy and Global Fleet Station projects.

Later in 2007, even before AFRICOM was formally announced, Defense News reported that the Pentagon had already decided to divide the continent into five regions: North, south, central, east and west.

“One team will have responsibility for a northern strip from Mauritania to Libya; another will operate in a block of east African nations – Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, Madagascar and Tanzania; and a third will carry out activities in a large southern block that includes South Africa, Zimbabwe and Angola... A fourth team would concentrate on a group of central African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and Congo [Brazzaville]; the fifth regional team would focus on a western block that would cover Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Niger and Western Sahara...” [35]

Before the official inauguration of AFRICOM, analysts around the world sounded the alarm that beneath the innocuous-sounding claims by Washington that it was solely interested in becoming a “security partner” to African nations lurked something more geostrategically significant. And more sinister.

The following are from Nigerian, Algerian and Chinese sources, respectively.

“From the current data on production capacities and proven oil reserves, only two regions appear to exist where, in addition to the Middle East, oil production will grow and where a strategy of diversification may easily work: The Caspian Sea and the Gulf of Guinea.

“The Caspian Sea came into the limelight after the demise of the Soviet Union, and the US has since entered the region and built up a strong military presence on both sides of the lake.

“Some of the problems linked to Caspian oil give the Gulf of Guinea a competitive edge.

“Much of its oil is conveniently located off shore.

“[T]he region enjoys several advantages, including its strategic location just opposite the refineries of the US east coast. It is ahead of all other regions in proven deep water oil reserves, which will lead to significant savings in security provisions. And it requires a drilling technology easily available from the Gulf of Mexico.” [36]

“A major focus of AFRICOM will be the Gulf of Guinea, with its enormous oil reserves in Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Angola and the Congo Republic... The U.S. is already pouring $500 million into its Trans-Sahel Counterterrorism Initiative that embraces Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria in North Africa, and nations boarding the Sahara including Mauritania, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Chad and Senegal.” [37]

“By building a dozen forefront bases or establishments in Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and other African nations, the U.S. will gradually establish a network of military bases to cover the entire continent and make essential preparations for docking an aircraft carrier fleet in the region.

“The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with the U.S. at the head... carried out a large-scale military exercise in Cape Verde, a western African island nation, with the sole purpose for control of the sea and air corridor of crude oil extracting zones and to monitor the situation with oil pipelines operating there.

“[The US} is also seeking to set up small military facilities in Senegal, Ghana and Mali, so as to facilitate its interference in the oil-rich African nations... [T]he African Command represents a vital, crucial link for the US adjustment of its global military deployment.

“At present, it moves the gravity of its forces in Europe eastward and opens new bases in East Europe.

“Africa is flanked by Eurasia, with its northern part located at the juncture of the Asian, European and African continents. The present US global military redeployment centers mainly on an ‘arc of instability’ from the Caucasus, Central and Southern Asia down to the Korean Peninsula...

“AFRICOM facilitates the United States advancing on the African continent, taking control of the Eurasian continent and proceeding to take the helm of the entire globe.” [38]

The third set of observations is from a director of the Chinese Army’s Academy of Military Sciences. That is, from an authority expected to be familiar with world geopolitical dynamics and trends.

He situates America’s military drive into Africa, all of Africa, within an integrated global context, as does the Nigerian commentary that preceded his analysis once removed.

The campaign to subjugate an entire continent with its more than one billion inhabitants to Western military and economic demands is an integral and milestone component of broader designs around the world. Starting with the Balkans and Eastern Europe as a whole after the breakup of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union in 1991, the U.S. and its NATO allies have relentlessly pursued plans to penetrate and dominate the former Eastern bloc, former Soviet space, the Broader Middle East, the Arctic Circle and Greater Antarctica and to reclaim and solidify control of Latin America and Oceania.

AFRICOM and complementary NATO initiatives are an exponential advancement of the campaign by the West to reassert and expand global supremacy by targeting a continent at the crossroads of north and south, west and east, and the industrial and the developing worlds. As an earlier citation mentioned, it is also the meeting place of three continents and the Middle East with coasts on two of the world’s oceans and three of its seas.


1) Associated Press, September 30, 2009
2) Stars and Stripes, October 4, 2009
3) United States European Command, July 29, 2008
4) United States European Command, July 16, 2008
5) The East African, October 12, 2009
6) Ibid
7) Ibid
8) The Monitor, October 14, 2009
9) The New Times, October 20, 2009
10) Associated Press, October 21, 2009
11) United Press International, December 28, 2005
12) Stars And Stripes, May 15, 2005
13) Stars And Stripes, July 17, 2005
14) Stars and Stripes, September 18, 2007
15) Reuters, May 23, 2008
16) Reuters, June 6, 2008
17) Ibid
18) BBC News, October 21, 2009
19) Press TV, October 21, 2009
20) Press TV, October 19, 2009
21) Press TV, October 16, 2009
22) Ibid
23) U.S. Department of Defense, American Forces Press Service, October 14, 2009
24) Fayetteville Observer, October 4, 2009
25) Leadership (Nigeria), November 22, 2007
26) Reuters, June 29, 2006
27) Ibid
28) Agence France-Presse, June 23, 2006
29) NATO, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, April 5, 2006
30) Reuters, May 19, 2006
31) Navy NewsStand, April 11, 2007
32) Stop NATO, January 29, 2009
33) Stars and Stripes, June 14, 2007
34) Ibid
35) Defense News, September 20, 2007
36) Abba Mahmood, Country, Gulf of Guinea And Africom Leadership, November 22, 2007
37) U.S. embassies turned into command posts in North Africa Ech Chorouk, October 17, 2007
38) Lin Zhiyuan, deputy office director of the People’s Liberation Army Academy of Military Sciences, U.S. moves to step up military
infiltration in Africa
People’s Daily, February 26, 2007

Did Hank Paulson Break the Law?

Did Hank Paulson Break the Law?

Bush's Treasury secretary held a secret meeting with Goldman Sachs. Two watchdog groups say he could be in big trouble.

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Did Henry Paulson, George W. Bush's Treasury secretary, break the law?

According to a new book on the financial meltdown by New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin, in June 2008, Paulson, who was the chairman of Goldman Sachs before joining the Bush administration, held a secret meeting in Moscow with the board of directors of his former employer. The problem for Paulson—then and possibly now—was that after he had been nominated in 2006 to the Treasury post he had signed an ethics letter vowing to stay clear of potential conflicts of interest with Goldman Sachs and promising not to take any action that might affect the firm's ability to cover his multimillion-dollar pension.

As Sorkin recounts the episode, Paulson and the Goldman Sachs board happened to be in Moscow at the same time. Learning of this coincidence, Paulson asked his chief of staff, Jim Wilkinson, to set up a meeting. Wilkinson was not happy about this. "For fuck's sake!" he thought, according to Sorkin. Paulson told him that the meeting could be considered a social gathering, but as Wilkinson worked out the details with the Goldman Sachs crowd, he asked that the session remain confidential. And the event was not placed on Paulson's official calendar.

When Paulson and the firm's execs got together at the Moscow Marriott Grand Hotel, the Treasury secretary gave the Goldman Sachs crew his read on what was happening with the economy and his department's effort to prepare for handling failed banks. He also previewed for them an important speech he would soon deliver. That is, he privately shared his views on matters of direct interest to his old firm. And as Sorkin points out, Paulson had at this point never provided such a briefing to any other company (except for once "briefly dropping by" a cocktail party for the board of BlackRock).

In September 2008, as the economy imploded, Paulson obtained an ethics waiver that would permit him to deal with Goldman Sachs. But at the time of the Moscow meeting, he was still covered by his original ethics agreement. And two government watchdog groups now say that Paulson seems to have broken ethics laws when he hobnobbed with his former firm's top brass. Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, tells Mother Jones:

Henry Paulson’s meeting with the board of directors of his former employer, Goldman Sachs, appears to be a serious violation of ethics laws. Given that the meeting took place in the summer of 2008—months before he received an ethics waiver allowing him to participate in matters that would affect his Goldman pension—it was completely inappropriate for Paulson to discuss internal matters at the Treasury Department, and to preview an important speech he was about to deliver. This could potentially be a criminal or civil matter.

Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, says Congress should investigate Paulson's actions.

It's hard to imagine why he thought such a meeting would be okay. It seems he was having a conversation in violation of the [ethics] ban. It wasn't purely social—purely social is when you don't discuss business. You talk about movies, books, your kids, but not what the Treasury Secretary is going to talk about next week. That's basically inside information that the Goldman board received.

It certainly merits further inquiry with people who were there about what exactly Paulson said to them and whether they acted on that information. It seems like Congress might want to ask some questions of Goldman.

Whether or not this meeting actually violated the law, it was untoward enough to cause Paulson's chief of staff to fret and for Paulson to keep the gathering hidden. In retrospect, it was quite a lapse in judgment for a fellow who soon would be asking the American taxpayers for a $700 billion blank check—part of which would go to help the mega-investment bank he once ran.

Paulson's PR rep did not return a call and email seeking comment.

US companies, governments continue to slash jobs and pay

US companies, governments continue to slash jobs and pay

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The US economy continues to shed jobs, wreaking havoc on countless lives, even as government officials prepare to announce the official end of the recession that began in December 2007. Some 7.2 million jobs have been destroyed since the recession began, millions of which are not coming back. Since Barack Obama took office in January, 3.4 million workers have lost employment.

At present some 30 million Americans are officially unemployed, underemployed, or have given up looking for work, and the Obama administration has no plans to address this crisis, except to “let the market take its course.”

Every day, the media carries reports of new layoffs, job furloughs, and pay cuts. Companies and every level of government are inflicting the burden of the global economic crisis on the working population, with no relief in sight. “There is no money” for health care, jobs programs, or social spending in general, the public is told, even as stocks have surged some 50 percent since their lows in March 2009, and “some large banks and Wall Street firms have roared back to profitability” (Associated Press, October 27, 2009).

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported October 22 that employers took 2,561 mass layoff actions (at least 50 workers each) in September, resulting in 248,000 job cuts, only fractionally down from the month before. Manufacturing jobs accounted for 33 percent of the mass layoff events. Within manufacturing, the number of initial jobless claimants was greatest in machinery (12,389) and transportation equipment (7,331).

Heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, which has cut 18,700 jobs, or 16 percent of its workforce since late 2008, began informing 2,500 of its furloughed workers they were permanently out of jobs. It plans to recall 550 of the laid-off employees. The company recently reported third-quarter earnings of $404 million, or 64 cents a share, down 53 percent from a year earlier, as revenue dropped 44 percent.

A company spokesperson asserted that the job destruction was “dictated by demand.” Caterpillar’s Bridget Young told the Decatur (Illinois) Herald & Review, “The world economy is still facing significant challenges, and there’s still a great deal of uncertainly in the timing and strength of recovery. And in addition, we’re not close to the record breaking demand we experienced from 2004 to 2008.”

International Paper recently announced it was cutting 1,600 jobs, or 3 percent of its employees. The company plans to close plants in Louisiana, Oregon and Virginia, as well as an already idled mill in Oklahoma.

The closure of the paper mill near Franklin, Virginia, will mean the elimination of 1,100 jobs alone. US Senator Mark Warner (Democrat) met with officials Sunday, promising to lobby International Paper: “I don’t want to create any false hope, but we should have some effort to say, ‘Is there any way we could encourage the company to reconsider this decision?’ “ Company spokesman Desmond Stills promptly replied in an e-mail to the media, “The decision is to permanently close the Franklin mill.”

Pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Comcast and Lockheed Martin all announced job cuts. Hunter Industries, which specializes in irrigation systems, notified the North Carolina Department of Commerce last week that it would close down its Cary facility, laying off 76 workers.

FairPoint Communications, northern New England’s largest telecommunications company, filed for bankruptcy October 26, with layoffs likely to follow. FairPoint already has a pay freeze in effect, and has been demanding concessions from unionized employees.

Forbes, the magazine that once used ‘capitalist tool’ as a motto,” noted the New York Times Monday, “is now seeing the downside of capitalism. The magazine plans to lay off several staff members this afternoon, responding to the miserable advertising climate for business magazines.…

“The layoffs come after other cuts at Forbes, including the dismissal of 100 of about 1,000 employees in the last year or so, requiring employees to take five days of unpaid leave and ceasing matching contributions to its 401(k) program.”

Fortune magazine recently announced that it was reducing its frequency from 25 to 18 issues a year—layoffs are anticipated. Business Week, sold to Bloomberg earlier this year, is in trouble, and Portfolio, Condé Nast’s entry into the field of business magazines, folded in April.

The list of state and local governments carrying out severe budget and job cuts in the US is too long for inclusion in a single article. A few of the most prominent announcements, each of which will increase social misery:

Gov. Chet Culver of Iowa, a Democrat, revealed October 21 that slashing 10 percent from most state government agencies would result in nearly 800 layoffs. Culver has ordered a half-billion dollar cut in state spending in response to a dramatic decline in tax revenues.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell, another Democrat, has announced hundreds of layoffs of state employees, due to cuts in spending. The job losses are expected to come right before Thanksgiving, just in time for the holidays. The state has laid off 300 workers since July.

The state of Massachusetts has laid off 726 workers over the past year, according to the Associated Press, in response to dropping revenues. With the state facing a $600 million deficit, Gov. Deval Patrick (Democrat) is seeking concessions from state employees, while threatening as many as 2,000 job cuts.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne has warned of “massive layoffs” of teachers next year due to that state’s budget crisis. The situation is “much grimmer” than most Arizona residents realize, Horne told the state Board of Education. “I think the public will be very, very upset about that,” he said, referring to the possibility of more teacher layoffs, according to AP.

The Health and Hospitals System Board in Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago, announced last week the elimination of 700 vacant and 335 support staff and non-clinical positions in the county’s health and hospitals system. Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, in a comment aimed at assuaging public anger, said the move “threatened core services for the uninsured, underinsured and unemployed workers and their families across Cook County.”

In Florida, Miami-Dade County commissioners are debating broad job and pay cuts for county employees. The board voted for some $200 million in employee pay cuts last September to help close a $444 million budget gap. Facing opposition from workers, the board has been unable to come up with a concrete plan for implementing the cuts. According to Mayor Carlos Alvarez, each week the board delays mandating pay reductions, the county falls another $4 million in debt.

Washington, D.C., public school authorities recently laid off 400 school personnel, including 250 teachers. The layoffs have led to several protest rallies and lawsuits. The city’s mayor, Adrian Fenty, announced that he would not attend a City Council hearing devoted to the issue.

According to Kathy Taylor, the mayor of Tulsa, Oklahoma, with new cost-saving measures, including the laying off of 37 more city employees, “We are no longer cutting into bone, we are cutting into marrow.” The city is eliminating or freezing many unfilled positions, Taylor said, as well as selling 225 underutilized vehicles from the city fleet and shutting off some lights on city-controlled expressways.

The city of Kalamazoo, Michigan, issued layoff notices to 17 employees last week, the first such notices since 2004. City Manager Kenneth Collard declared the financial situation was “as bad as it gets.”

Using the threat of joblessness as a bludgeon, employers are driving down wages across the US. A piece by Diane Stafford of McClatchy Newspapers posted October 27 points out that “Compensation so far in 2009 has been cut by the largest amount in nearly two decades, with a government index of real average weekly earnings down 1.9 percent since its high point last December. And the average workweek—now down to 33 hours—is the shortest on modern record.”

Stafford notes that 17 percent of employers have imposed unpaid furloughs in 2009 and since the start of the current recession, “total weekly pay for private production and non-supervisory workers has declined on a month-to-month basis in 16 out of 21 months. Total pay for that sector—which accounts for about 8 in 10 members of the work force—fell for an unbroken 10-month stretch, beginning in August 2008.

“In 1981-1982, the most recent recession in which the job market tanked as badly as this one, the same index fell for only two consecutive months.”

Nearly 70 percent of US technology companies, according to AON Consulting, “have implemented salary freezes, 62 percent have had layoffs, 30 percent mandated time off, and 17 percent suspended 401(k) matches.”

America's crumbling infrastructure

America’s crumbling infrastructure

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A January study by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), “The 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure,” depicts the advanced decay of roads, bridges, water, and sewerage in the US. The report makes all the more glaring the Obama administration’s steadfast refusal to undertake a major public works program that could put the nation’s unemployed to work.

The study was originally scheduled to be released in March, but ASCE released it early in an attempt to influence the debate over the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The $787 billion “stimulus package” ultimately allocated only $71.76 billion directly to construction projects, and most of this money has yet to be spent.

The report card gave an abysmal overall score of “D” for the state of American infrastructure, stating that the investment need in infrastructure over the next 5 years is $2.2 trillion, about 30 times what the Obama administration’s stimulus package has invested. The report estimates $903 billion will be provided in this period from government spending at all levels, making the funding shortfall for infrastructure needs over the next five years $1.176 trillion.

Since the report was released in January, economic conditions have likely eroded a substantial portion of estimated government spending on infrastructure. Tax revenues for states, localities, and the federal government have plummeted as millions lose jobs and businesses cut back. States across the country face unprecedented budget shortfalls, which has led to draconian cuts. Various states and cities have closed parks, reduced road maintenance, stalled long term road and rail projects, and put off critical water and sewerage investments.

Many of the states facing the worst economic conditions also have the most decrepit infrastructure. An astonishing 66 percent of California’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and 68 percent of its urban interstates are congested. Of the state’s bridges, 30 percent are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. According to the report card, “California spends $2 billion less each year on highway maintenance and rehabilitation than is needed.”

The nation’s infrastructure has worsened since 2005, the report concludes. “US surface transportation and aviation systems declined over the past four years, with aviation and transit dropping from a D+ to D, and roads dropping from a D to a nearly failing D-,” it says. “Showing no significant improvement since the last report, the nation’s bridges, public parks and recreation, and rail remained at a grade of C, while dams, hazardous waste, and schools remained at a grade of D, and drinking water and waste water remained at a grade of D-. Just one category—energy—improved since 2005, raised its grade from D to D+.”

For the first time the ASCE report has included levees in its findings, giving them a grade of D-. It states that of the estimated 100,000 miles of levees across the country, many are more than 50 years old, and “the reliability of many of these levees is unknown.” Four years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, a pitiful $1.13 billion in government spending is destined for levees over the next five years, compared to $50 billion dollars in need.

Dams, which provide critical energy and water resources, have been rapidly deteriorating. In 2001, the number of deficient dams was 1,384; by 2007, the number had nearly tripled to 4,095. The number of “high hazard” deficient dams has increased from 488 in 2001 to 1,826 in 2007. “Many state dam safety programs do not have sufficient resources, funding, or staff to conduct dam safety inspections, to take appropriate enforcement actions, or to ensure proper construction by reviewing plans and performing construction inspections,” the report notes.

The report finds that many drinking water systems—pipes, purification plants, and resources—are approaching or beyond service life, unreliable, and insufficient for growing needs. Thousands of ancient water mains and pipes will rupture over the next few months as cold weather stresses their aged cast iron to the breaking point. The report notes that leaking pipes “lose an estimated 7 billion gallons of clean drinking water a day.” At least $11 billion annually is needed to address these problems.

Waste water received a grade of D- for persistent problems of aging equipment and lack of investment. Clogged, broken, or insufficient drainage leads to 850 billion gallons of sewer overflow discharge per year, and as much as 10 billion gallons of raw sewage is released per year from sanitary sewer overflows, according to an EPA report from 2004.

It is ironic that much of the infrastructure falling apart in 2009 was put in place during the nation’s last great economic crisis, the Great Depression of the 1930s. Then, the Democratic president, Franklin Roosevelt, put in place significant public works programs associated with names like the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Works Progress Administration. The aim was to forestall revolutionary change by putting millions to work.

While the social need for infrastructure is just as great as it was in the 1930s, the Obama administration insists that for the jobless crisis only “market solutions” can be considered.

Israel, the United States and international law

Israel, the United States and international law

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Israel has responded to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s endorsement of the Goldstone report accusing it of war crimes during its assault on Gaza in 2008-2009 by denouncing the UN and seeking to overturn existing international law.

The explicit aim of Tel Aviv is to give the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) carte blanche to do as it likes in the name of “combating terrorism.”

The report by South African Judge Richard Goldstone said the war on Gaza was “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever-increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”

Goldstone said that the UN Security Council should refer the case to the International Criminal Court if Israel failed to carry out an independent investigation into the military’s conduct. Those countries that were signatories to the 1949 Geneva Conventions had a duty to use their powers of “universal jurisdiction” to search for and prosecute those responsible for war crimes, he added.

President Shimon Peres and Premier Binyamin Netanyahu rejected the UN Human Rights Council’s vote outright, denounced the report as biased, and refused to comply with its recommendations. Ehud Barak, defence minister and architect of the assault on Gaza, refused to even permit a cabinet discussion about setting up an inquiry. The government wanted to give the Israeli military “the full backing to have the freedom of action,” he said.

Netanyahu insisted that no Israeli official would stand trial for war crimes and promised that the resolution would be vetoed at the Security Council—that is, by Washington. He instructed his government to draw up plans for a “worldwide campaign” to lobby for changes in the international laws of war “in the interest of anyone fighting terrorism” and to ensure that countries remove or water down their universal jurisdiction legislation.

Israel enjoys the unconditional support of the Obama administration, which called the Goldstone report unbalanced and lobbied to secure rejection. Since the report was endorsed, Washington has repeatedly reiterated its support for Israel and publicly criticised the UN.

This reached its high point last week, when President Barak Obama sent Peres a fawning greetings video for the 2009 Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, which was attended on his behalf by Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN.

Speaking at the conference, Rice spelt out explicitly Washington’s attitude towards the UN, an institution that she branded as “evidently imperfect.” She made clear that the UN’s authority is to be invoked only as and when it suits US interests, and dismissed when it does not.

“There is no substitute for the legitimacy the UN can impart or the forum it can provide to mobilise the widest possible coalitions to tackle global challenges, from nonproliferation to global health,” she said.

“But the United Nations is an institution comprised of nations,” she continued. “It rises or falls according to the will of its members. And the UN must do more, much more, to live up to the brave ideals of its founding—and its member states must once and for all replace anti-Israel vitriol with a recognition of Israel’s legitimacy and right to exist in peace and security.”

For Obama, like President Bush before him, the UN is a useful tool only when it supports and legitimises Washington’s geopolitical interests, as when UN resolutions provided a pretext for waging an illegal war of aggression against Iraq.

Thus, when a UN body attempts to call Israel to order, its action is denounced by Rice as “basically unacceptable.” This is in stark contrast with Washington’s attitude towards Iran.

The US is even now seeking to invoke the UN’s authority, in the form of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Security Council, to threaten Iran and press ahead with its ambitions for economic and strategic dominance in the energy-rich regions of the Middle East and Central Asia.

When it comes to Tehran, which is not accused of war crimes but of seeking to develop a nuclear programme in accordance with the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—a programme that the IAEA says has to date revealed no clear evidence of having nuclear weapons aims—Obama declares baldly, “The Iranian government must now demonstrate through deeds its peaceful intentions or be held accountable to international standards and international law.”

The policy of Washington, along with London, Berlin and Paris, is determined solely by imperialist ambitions to control the world’s resources and markets, for which the UN functions merely as a cover and negotiating chamber. The present regime in Iran is seen as an obstacle to these aims.

Israel has long served as the custodian of US interests in the region and is today a likely conduit for launching a military attack on Tehran and its nuclear facilities, should Washington decide on such a course.

As well as seeking to protect a strategic ally, the US and Europe are determined to avoid setting a dangerous precedent that could lead to prosecutions of their own war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Netanyahu knows this very well. As he warned the major powers in response to Goldstone’s report: “It’s not just our problem. If they accused IDF officers, IDF commanders, IDF soldiers, IDF pilots and even leaders, they will accuse you too. What, NATO isn’t fighting in various places? What, Russia isn’t fighting in various places?”

Such shared political concerns explain why Israel has been given free rein by Washington to defy the UN, while Iran is proclaimed a global pariah. That is why Obama declared Israel and the US to be “democracies” that “can shape their own destinies,” even as Netanyahu seeks to legitimise war crimes, while Iran is subject to sanctions and threats.

And it is why British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote to Netanyahu declaring their recognition of Israel’s “right to self-defence” following the adoption of Goldstone’s report, while Brown demands the drawing of “a line in the sand” when it comes to Iran’s “breach of international commitments.”

Monsanto’s Mutated World and the FDA’s Human Experiment

Monsanto’s Mutated World and the FDA’s Human Experiment

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America’s sugar crop is under GMO assault and the FDA has begun a new era of human experimentation. America is in dire need of a new super hero – and he has arrived. It is Larry Leptin, defending your right to be healthy.

See Larry Leptin’s first episode: Halloween fun as he takes on the GMO mutated sugar beets.

Monsanto’s Toxic and Mutated World – Is Sugar Safe to Eat?

It should come as no surprise when a Monsanto product poisons the earth and our food. Our planet has never recovered from the forty-year Monsanto-led PCB contamination that was banned in the U.S. in 1977. To this day environmental PCBs continue to degrade into highly toxic furans and dioxins, wreaking all manner of human health problem. The new case in point involves several aspects: 1) the bizarre alteration of the nature of food itself by splicing viral, bacterial, and other life forms into the DNA of food (GMO seeds and crops), and 2) the massive increase in the use of glyphosate pesticide (Round Up), which is polluting the water, soil, and food across the globe. Both issues are extremely problematic to human health.

On September 21, 2009 a stunning shot was fired across the bow of Monsanto and its new legion of Frankenfood sugar beet growers. Judge Jeffrey S. White of Federal District Court in San Francisco said the Agriculture Department should have done an environmental impact statement as required by law. He said it should have assessed the consequences from the likely spread of the genetically engineered trait to other sugar beets or to the related crops of Swiss chard and red table beets. He said that the potential elimination of farmer’s choice to grow non-genetically engineered crops, or a consumer’s choice to eat non-genetically engineered food constituted a significant effect on the environment that necessitated an environmental impact statement. The case is ongoing, with the next phase scheduled for October 30.

Meanwhile, Monsanto is attempting damage control during the second growing season of this genetic monstrosity masquerading as food. The judge hasn’t banned the current year’s crop or the sale of Halloween candy which is now full of GMO sugar. Of course, GMO sugar, like other GMO “foods,” doesn’t need to be labeled as such (because nobody in their right mind would buy it if it were). Half the refined sugar in the U.S. is from beets – and insiders say the industry has quickly converted to the GMO Frankenfood beets, estimating up to 95% of farmers are now using them.

Beet sugar is often mixed with cane sugar, meaning that unless a product lists the ingredient as cane sugar or organic cane sugar then it now likely contains GMO mutant beet-derived sugar.

Only the biotech industry and its financially-associated friends believe GMO Frankenfoods are safe to eat. The despicable management at the FDA approved them, while squashing and hiding from public view the numerous safety objections of their scientific staff. Common sense will tell virtually anyone that having foreign organism DNA spliced into the essence of food is an atrocity.

Earlier this year the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) called on physicians to educate their patients, the medical community, and the public to avoid genetically modified foods and provide educational materials concerning GM foods and health risks. They called for a moratorium on GM foods, long-term independent studies, and labeling. AAEM’s position paper stated, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system…There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation.”

All of these Round Up ready Frankenfood crops are leading to unprecedented use of Round Up (glyphosate). In 1994 glyphosate pesticide use was 7.9 million pounds. By 2005, with the widespread use of Round Up, that number jumped to 119.1 million pounds. This is breeding super weeds that require ever increasing amounts of Round Up, not to mention other new “super toxic” pesticides just to keep up with the war on weeds. The environmental impact of glyphosate overuse has been reviewed in an article published by Organic Consumers Association.

In August of 2009 French researchers reviewed the evidence showing how glyphosates disrupt human reproductive hormones (androgens and estrogens). Their data indicates that glyphosate-based herbicides residues in food, feed, and the environment should be considered and classified as carcinogens and reproductive toxins – not unlike the PCBs of years gone by. Once again Monsanto sits in the middle of the controversy with human health hanging in the balance.

Does anyone trust Monsanto?

Avoid GMO food like the plague. Don’t buy any product made with GMO food or any product made by a company that uses any GMO food. Demand that GMO food be labeled so that consumers have a clear choice. And look out for sugar, the latest food to undergo Frankenfood mutation.

The FDA’s Peramivir H1N1 Swine Flu Experiment

The FDA has now opened the door for widespread human experimentation during this year’s flu season, allowing an antiviral drug called Peramivir to be used even though it has not passed traditional standards of safety testing. Ever since the FDA crafted its Critical Path agenda it has been looking for excuses to expose vulnerable Americans to toxic drugs under the false pretense of the greater good for all. The H1N1 Swine Flu fear-mongering is providing the cover that the FDA needs to unleash an experiment. The new Obama FDA administration has accepted the baton pass from the recently departed Bush FDA management team (von Eschenbach, et al.).

Hypocrisy at the FDA runs deep in their culture. The organization fails to warn the public of the known immunosuppressive effects of commonly used drugs such as antacids and statins – drugs that have been shown to increase the risk for infection. At the same time, the FDA has branded all nutrition as fraud. What right does the FDA have to brand nutrition as fraud? Nutrition has been battling influenza since humans have been around. Without nutrition humans would have never survived any flu pandemic. Nutrition is harmless to human health and invaluable to survival. In the FDA’s mind it is illegal. Rather, human experimentation is now deemed legal by the FDA. It’s all about protecting and expanding the profits of Big Pharma and Big Biotech.

Like Tamiflu and Relenza, Peramivir is a neuraminidase inhibitor. Neuraminidase (the N part of H1N1) is a viral protein that must be active in order for new viruses to emerge from a virally infected cell. If it can be blocked, then viral spreading can be reduced.

Tamiflu and Relenza only bind to neuraminidase for a brief period of time, limiting their biological activity against a virus. In contrast, Peramivir binds very tightly to neuraminidase and is longer lasting – meaning it is a much more potent drug. The FDA has approved it for use in advanced Swine Flu cases that are not responding to Tamiflu or Relenza.

On the one hand, this sounds like a reasonable approach to helping people with extreme Swine Flu. What is likely to happen in actual practice is another matter entirely. Doctors will hear on the grapevine how well Peramivir seems to work and it will be used on more and more patients. And what’s wrong with that?

It is a human experiment. Human experiments are against the Nuremberg code, which has been agreed to by the world following the atrocities of Nazi Germany. Human experiments run counter to the basic decency and morality of any culture – except the culture of the FDA and its profit-driven pharmaceutical allies.

The problem with neuraminidase blocking is that there are four known human genes that utilize neuraminidase for normal and healthy cell function (NEU1, NEU2, NEU3, NEU4). The next problem is that these genes are not passive and secondary in cellular function. They regulate carbohydrate-related communication taking place on human cell membranes (glyconutrition and glycobiology). In other words, they are instrumentally involved in how cells talk to each other, as well as in many processes of a cell’s internal communication. Any neuraminidase blocking drug runs the risk of interfering with general communication needed for healthy cell function.

The adverse side effects of Tamiflu are in many cases rather extreme and include panic attacks, delusions, delirium, convulsions, depression, loss of consciousness, and even suicide. Oxford researchers have publicly warned that Tamiflu is not for children. Tamiflu is a relatively weak binder of neuraminidase.

What is going to happen when a strong binder of neuraminidase, Peramivir, latches on to the human cellular communication system based on neuraminidase genes? The FDA has no idea, but their unelected bureaucratic management team has decided in their infinite wisdom that the benefits outweigh the risks, even though they have no way of knowing. The era of sanctioned human experimentation is upon us.

What if there was a substance that blocked neuraminidase regarding viral activity and left human neuraminidase alone? Wow, what a breakthrough that would be. Welcome to the world of nutrition. The real fraud can be found in the management team of the FDA.