Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Obama exploits Fort Hood massacre to promote US wars

Obama exploits Fort Hood massacre to promote US wars

Go To Original

President Barack Obama used his speech at Tuesday’s service for the 13 men and women killed last week at Fort Hood, Texas to promote the two ongoing US wars and his own plan to escalate the intervention in Afghanistan.

The president delivered his remarks as his administration is finalizing plans to send tens of thousands more US troops to Afghanistan.

Obama spoke before thousands of Army troops as well as relatives of the 12 soldiers and one civilian who were killed last Thursday in a shooting spree allegedly carried out by US Army Major Nidal Hasan.

Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, is accused of opening fire with a handgun inside the post’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center, where troops are processed for deployment to the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones.

“These are trying times for our country,” Obama said. “In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the same extremists who killed nearly 3,000 Americans continue to endanger America, our allies, and innocent Afghans and Pakistanis. In Iraq, we are working to bring a war to a successful end, as there are still those who would deny the Iraqi people the future that Americans and Iraqis have sacrificed so much for.”

He argued that “the stories of those at Fort Hood reaffirm the core values that we are fighting for,” while praising US troops for having “served tour after tour of duty in distant, different and difficult places… serving together to protect our people, while giving others half a world away the chance to lead a better life.”

Obama’s speech earned him immediate praise from the media. The New York Times speculated as to whether his “soaring rhetoric” would boost his approval ratings.

The content of his eulogy, however, was based on lies that have served as the cornerstone of US foreign policy for the past eight years.

Obama contended that the US is fighting against “the same extremists who killed nearly 3,000 Americans” on September 11, and that US troops are in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide the “opportunity of self-government to peoples that have suffered tyranny and war.” These are the essential claims made by the Bush administration to justify the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the international belligerence and lawlessness that have characterized the “global war on terrorism.”

The US deployment of 68,000 troops in Afghanistan and 120,000 in Iraq is aimed neither at pursuing those responsible for 9/11 nor at bringing democracy to the peoples of those two countries. These are the propaganda claims made by the Bush administration to promote the wars in the first place, and they have been picked up by Obama in order to continue and escalate them.

The US wars and military occupations in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia were planned and prepared well before the events of September 11, 2001. They were begun under Bush and are being continued under Obama to pursue US interests in two of the most strategically vital regions of the globe, which together contain the bulk of the world’s known energy resources.

The brutal colonial character of these wars and the impact they have had upon the troops sent to fight them in—to use Obama’s words—“tour after tour of duty” are ultimately the cause of last week’s killing spree at Fort Hood.

Obama’s attempt to cast these wars of aggression as a crusade for freedom was aimed not merely at comforting the grieving loved ones of those cut down by gunfire last Thursday. Rather, it is part of a conscious attempt to overcome the antiwar sentiment of the American people in preparation for a major escalation of the war in Afghanistan.

Citing administration sources, CBS News reported Monday night that the Obama White House has already decided to grant “most if not all” of the 40,000 additional troops requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the senior US commander in Afghanistan. This would bring the total US occupation force to more than 100,000.

According to the CBS report, the first additional combat troops would arrive in Afghanistan by early next year, but, because of troop shortages, it would take until the end of 2010 to deploy all of them. Unlike the Iraq “surge,” the network said, “the buildup would be expected to last about four years.” This estimate is based on the highly optimistic assumption that the US will prove successful in building up a far larger and more reliable Afghan army and police force within that time frame.

While the White House denied that Obama has settled on any plan, the CBS report is only one of several in recent days citing administration officials as saying that somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 more troops are to be sent to the war.

Obama returned to Washington Tuesday night and is to hold a final meeting with his war council before embarking on a nine-day trip to Asia. Upon his return, he is expected to announce his decision to escalate the Afghanistan intervention.

It is this decision that underlies the administration’s compulsion to falsify the nature of the wars and to misrepresent the character of the killings at Fort Hood.

According to multiple accounts, the alleged gunman, Nidal Hasan, had deeply opposed the wars and had become increasingly frantic over the Army’s orders for his deployment to Afghanistan.

Both sentiments had been fueled by his six years at the Army’s Walter Reed Medical Center, where he counseled physically maimed and mentally shattered soldiers, spending day after day listening to what they had done and seen in combat and dealing with their trauma.

These feelings were also no doubt intensified by the pervasive anti-Muslim attitudes within the military. These prejudices, though officially discouraged by the military command, are the inevitable product of the universal tendency to vilify and dehumanize those whom soldiers are sent to kill, and the unchecked influence of Christian fundamentalism in the military, which has led many to see the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of a holy war. Hasan had complained repeatedly to relatives and friends of suffering harassment for being a Muslim.

These pressures, intersecting with evident emotional and mental instability, led to an eruption of violence of the kind that has become an all-too familiar feature of American society.

Within the military itself, the toll taken by repeated deployments has produced an epidemic of violence to which Fort Hood is no stranger.

According to the New York Times, since the Afghanistan and Iraq wars began, reported incidents of domestic violence in Killeen, Texas, where Fort Hood is located, have soared by 75 percent, and violent crime has increased by 22 percent, even as it has fallen in similarly sized towns elsewhere in the US. Meanwhile, 76 individuals assigned to Fort Hood have committed suicide since 2003.

Increasingly, however, leading political figures and much of the media have promoted the theory that such social and psychological pressures are beside the point, and that the massacre at Fort Hood was an act of terrorism.

The supposed evidence to substantiate this claim is all based upon Hasan’s religion and his opposition to the war.

Among the facts cited is that Hasan attended a mosque in Virginia in 2001 when two of the 9/11 hijackers were also there. The mosque, however, is one of the largest in the US, frequented by thousands of people.

Also cited is Hasan’s emails to a US-born imam at the mosque, Anwar al Awlaki, who moved to Yemen and voiced support for resistance to US policy in the Middle East. Federal investigators have reported that they investigated the emails and concluded that they had nothing to do with terrorism and dealt with religious and cultural questions consistent with Hasan’s research.

Finally, there is the report that Hasan shouted the words “Allahu Ahkbar” (Arabic for “God is Great”) during his alleged attack.

The Wall Street Journal published an editorial Tuesday asserting, “The Fort Hood massacre makes clear, again, that Islamic terror is unavoidably a domestic US problem as well.”

The newspaper went on to suggest that the incident demonstrated the need for stepped up domestic spying. “Before the Democrats came to power in the 2008 elections, one issue they pushed hardest through the policy debate was their opposition to domestic electronic surveillance in pursuit of Islamic terror activities,” the editorial stated. It added: “… we would hope that the response of our lawmakers would be more than a shrug that these 13 dead are simply the price we have to pay for living in ‘our system.’”

Also arguing that the massacre was a terrorist act is Senator Joseph Lieberman, the so-called independent Democrat from Connecticut who chairs the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee. Lieberman called for an investigation into the Fort Hood shootings, voicing his concern that the Army major was “a self-radicalized, home-grown terrorist.” He argued that “if that is true, the murder of these 13 people was a terrorist act and, in fact, it was the most destructive terrorist act to be committed on American soil since 9/11.”

US Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey voiced concern about this approach Sunday, warning that “speculation could potentially heighten a backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers.” With the military facing a desperate shortage of interpreters in Afghanistan, the general’s concern is that the witch-hunting of Muslims will drive the few that they have to leave the Army.

Such considerations seem to carry little weight, however. From Lieberman and the Republican right to the Obama administration and the Democrats, official Washington appears intent on exploiting this bloody episode to intimidate antiwar sentiment and justify the escalation of war abroad and renewed attacks on democratic rights at home.

The plunder of Iraq's oil

The plunder of Iraq’s oil

Go To original

The awarding of development rights over the huge West Qurna oilfield in southern Iraq to Exxon-Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell last Thursday once again underscores the criminal character of the continuing US-led occupation. As the direct result of the Iraq war, major American and other transnational energy conglomerates are now gaining control over some the largest oilfields in the world.

West Qurna has proven reserves of 8.7 billion barrels of oil. Iraq’s total reserves are currently put at 115 billion barrels, though dozens of potential fields have not been explored adequately. Before the US invasion in 2003, rights over West Qurna had been awarded by the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein to the Russian oil firm, Lukoil. The pro-US puppet regime in Baghdad has torn up all pre-war contracts.

Exxon-Mobil is the first US-based oil giant to benefit. Under the terms of a 20-year contract, Exxon-Mobil and Shell plan to boost daily production at West Qurna from less than 300,000 barrels to 2.3 million barrels per day over the next six years. As well as the Iraqi government compensating the companies for the cost of upgrading the field—which may run as high as $50 billion—they will be paid $1.90 for each barrel extracted, or some $1.5 billion per year. Exxon-Mobil holds an 80 percent stake and Shell the remaining 20 percent.

The contract is only the second signed by the Baghdad regime with foreign energy companies. Last Tuesday, the Iraqi government concluded a deal with British Petroleum (BP) and China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), giving them development rights to the massive Rumaila field and its reserves of 17 billion barrels. BP holds a 38 percent stake and CNPC, a 37 percent share. The plan is to boost production from around 1 million barrels per day to 2.85 million barrels, generating profits of over $2 billion per year.

The only disappointment for the transnationals is that the contracts are not based on the Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) model, which gives access to as much as 40 percent of an oilfield’s total revenue. Even the venal elements that make up the Iraqi government rejected handing over the country’s largest oil fields on such terms. Instead, the deals are classified as “service” agreements. This has enabled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, to ignore parliament and the lack of a hydrocarbons law to govern the energy industry.

Further deals are in the process of being finalised. A consortium made up of the Italian company Eni, US-based Occidental and South Korea’s Kogas has signed a tentative agreement for the Zubair oilfield with reserves of 4 billion barrels. Eni, Japanese giant Nippon Oil and Spanish firm Repsol are bidding for a field in Nasiriyah which has similar-sized reserves. In northern Iraq, Royal Dutch Shell is negotiating a contract to develop untapped areas of the major Kirkuk oilfield, which is thought to have as much as 10 billion barrels in reserves despite being in production since 1934.

After initially demanding better terms, the energy companies are agreeing to deals to upgrade existing fields in the hope that they will better positioned when more lucrative contracts, on the PSA model, over 67 untapped fields are auctioned later this year or next year. While it has taken far longer than anticipated, the major energy conglomerates now calculate that Iraq is now sufficiently stable to begin pouring in money to vastly expand the country’s oil production. The first step has been taken in opening up the Iraqi oil industry, which was nationalised in 1975, to foreign investors.

Highlighting the neo-colonial nature of this operation, two former top American officials under the Bush administration are now facilitating corporate deals in Iraq. Jay Garner, the first head of the US occupation administration in Iraq following the invasion, is an advisor to the Canadian energy company Vast Exploration, which has a 37 percent stake in an oilfield in the Kurdish north. Zalmay Khalilzad, former ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the UN, has established his own corporate consultancy firm in the Kurdish city of Irbil.

The US invasion and occupation of Iraq was always a war over energy resources. Over one million Iraqis have been slaughtered, millions more people maimed and traumatised, cities and infrastructure destroyed and tens of thousands of American soldiers killed or wounded to achieve American domination of Iraq’s vast oil reserves as part of its broader ambitions in the Middle East and Central Asia.

The US failed to achieve its wider regional objectives after the first Gulf War in 1990-91. The Hussein regime remained in place and despite continued UN sanctions was signing contracts with companies such as French oil giant Total and Lukoil. From the late 1990s on, Russia and the European powers were pressing for the lifting of sanctions to allow these companies to reap the benefits. War became the only means of preventing US corporate interests from being cut out.

American energy conglomerates were not passive bystanders. High-level representatives of Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, BP America and Shell took part in talks in early 2001 with the Bush administration’s “Energy Task Force” headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. One document prepared for the discussions included a detailed map of Iraq’s oil fields, terminals and pipelines and a list of the non-US foreign companies that were preparing to move in. A May 2001 report by the task force bluntly stated the US aim: “The Gulf will be the primary focus of US international energy policy.”

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were seized upon to provide a pretext for war. The lies over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were entwined with further lies about an Iraqi link to Al Qaeda. In the lead-up to the invasion, oil industry executives repeatedly met with Bush administration officials. As the Wall Street Journal commented on January 16, 2003: “US oil companies are starting to prepare for the day when they may get a chance to work in one of the world’s most oil-rich countries.”

Having drowned the Iraqi people in blood, the American financial and corporate oligarchy now believes that day has finally arrived. While US corporations are not the sole beneficiaries of the contracts, there is no question who has the final say over Iraq’s oil. With huge military bases in the country and a Baghdad regime tied to Washington, the US is positioned to dictate terms to its European and Asian rivals and, amid rising great powers tensions, to wield the threat of cutting off oil supplies—a longstanding tenet of American strategic policy.

10 Suicides a Month at Ft. Hood -- War Stress Is Taking Soldiers to the Brink

10 Suicides a Month at Ft. Hood -- War Stress Is Taking Soldiers to the Brink

Go To Original

Editor's Note: This Tuesday, President Obama attended a memorial service for the shootings at Ft. Hood last Friday. He called the attack "incomprehensible," when in fact it's quite easy to comprehend. Obama would do well to consider that the war policies he's continuing, extending the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, are the underlying cause of acts of madness and desperation by soldiers at Ft. Hood. As Dahr Jamail illustrates in the article below, this one military post alone is averaging 10 suicides a month so far this year.

PHOENIX, Arizona - While investigators probe for a motive behind the mass shooting at the Fort Hood military base in Texas last Thursday, in which an army psychiatrist killed 13 people, military personnel at the base are in shock as the incident "brings the war home".

"We're all in shock," said Specialist Michael Kern, an active-duty veteran of the Iraq war, told Inter Press Service (IPS) by telephone. Kern, who is based at Fort Hood, served in Iraq from March 2007 to March 2008. "Every single person that I've talked to is in shock," Kern added.

"I'm surprised this hits so close to home, but at the same time, I knew something like this was going to happen given what else is happening - the war is coming home, and something needs to be done. Innocent civilians are being wounded and killed here at home by soldiers, and this is completely unacceptable," he said.

The gunman, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, entered a Soldier Readiness Center (SRC), where troops get medical evaluations and complete paperwork just prior to being deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, and opened fire with two non-military issued handguns.

Hasan killed 13 people, 12 of them soldiers, and wounded over 30 others, before being shot four times by a civilian police officer. Hasan is now in stable condition in a local hospital, where he is in the custody of military authorities.

Colonel John Rossi, a spokesman at Fort Hood, told reporters that Hasan was "stable and in one of our civilian hospitals". Rossi added, "He's on a ventilator."

Hasan, 39, joined the army just out of high school. He had counseled wounded war veterans at Walter Reed Hospital, and was transferred to Fort Hood in April. He had recently received orders to deploy to Afghanistan.

His cousin, Nader Hasan, has said in media interviews that Hasan was very reluctant to be deployed overseas and had agitated not to be sent. "We've known over the last five years that was probably his worst nightmare," he said.

Responding to the allegations in the media that the attack was based on his Muslim faith, Kern told IPS that he did not know of anyone on the base who felt this was the case.

"We all wear the same uniform here, it's all green. I've seen the news, but most folks here assume it's just a soldier that snapped," Kern explained. "I have not talked to anyone who thinks what he did has anything to do with him being a Muslim. There are thousands of Muslims serving with dignity in the US military, in all four branches."

Fort Hood, located in central Texas, is one of the largest US military bases in the world. It contains up to 50,000 soldiers, and is one of the most heavily deployed to both occupations.

Tragically, Fort Hood has also born much of the brunt from its heavy involvement in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Fort Hood soldiers have accounted for more suicides than any other army post since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. This year alone, the base is averaging over 10 suicides each month - at least 75 have been recorded through July of this year alone.

In a strikingly similar incident on May 11, 2009, a US soldier gunned down five fellow soldiers at a stress-counseling center at a US base in Baghdad.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at a news conference at the Pentagon at the time that the shootings had occurred in a place where "individuals were seeking help".

Mullen added, "It does speak to me, though, about the need for us to redouble our efforts, the concern in terms of dealing with the stress ... It also speaks to the issue of multiple deployments."

Commenting on the incident in nearly parallel terms, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that the Pentagon needs to redouble its efforts to relieve stress caused by repeated deployments in war zones that is further exacerbated by limited time at home in between deployments.

The condition described by Mullen and Gates is what veteran health experts often refer to as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

While soldiers returning home are routinely involved in shootings, suicide and other forms of self-destructive violent behaviors as a direct result of their experiences in Iraq, we have yet to see an event of this magnitude on a base in the US.

To many, the shocking story of a soldier killing five of his comrades did not come as a surprise considering that the military has, for years now, been sending troops with untreated PTSD back into the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to an Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center analysis, reported in the Denver Post in August 2008, more than "43,000 service members - two-thirds of them in the army or army reserve - were classified as non-deployable for medical reasons three months before they deployed" to Iraq.

In April 2008, the Rand Corporation released a stunning report revealing that, "Nearly 20% of military service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan - 300,000 in all -- report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, yet only slightly more than half have sought treatment."

President Barack Obama, speaking during an event at the Department of the Interior in Washington, said that the mass shooting at Fort Hood was a "horrific outburst of violence". He added: "It is horrifying that they [US soldiers] should come under fire at an army base on American soil."

Victor Agosto, an Iraq war veteran who was discharged from the military after publicly refusing to deploy to Afghanistan, has had first-hand experience with the SRC at Fort Hood, where he too was based.

"I knew there would be a confrontation when I was there, because the only reason to do that process is to deploy," Agosto, speaking to IPS near Fort Hood, explained.

Agosto was court-martialed for refusing an order to go to the SRC to prepare to deploy to Afghanistan.

"I was court-martialed for refusing the order to SRC in that very same building. I didn't enter the building, but I didn't go in because I was refusing the process," Agosto continued. "It's a pretty important place in my life, so it's interesting to me that this happened there."

US appellate court blocks lawsuit against extraordinary rendition and torture

US appellate court blocks lawsuit against extraordinary rendition and torture

Go To Original

For the second time in two years a federal appellate court has denied Canadian citizen Maher Arar the right to sue former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other US government officials for money damages based on his “extraordinary rendition” to Syria, where he was imprisoned without due process and tortured for almost a year.

On November 2, a divided panel of eleven judges from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which reviews decisions from United States district courts in New York, Connecticut and Vermont, voted 7-4 that neither the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) nor the Constitution itself provides a remedy for someone illegally seized by US authorities while traveling through the United States and sent halfway around the world specifically to be tortured into a confession. (The ruling in Arar v. Ashcroft, including its four separate dissenting opinions, totals 184 pages and can be read here).

Last year a three-judge Second Circuit panel reached the same conclusion by a 2-1 vote, affirming the district court’s initial dismissal of Arar’s lawsuit in 2006. The recent decision came about because a majority of the Second Circuit’s judges voted to rehear the case “en banc.” This means all the judges on the bench, rather than just a panel, hear the case.

The US government’s violations of Arar’s human rights are clearly documented in the three-volume findings of the Canadian Government’s Commission of Inquiry, released on September 18, 2006. (See “Bush administration denies responsibility for torture of Canadian”). Canada subsequently issued a formal apology for its role and paid Arar $10.5 million in compensation.

Arar emigrated from Syria to Canada at age 17 and lived with his wife and children in Ottawa, where he was employed by a Massachusetts-based software company. On September 26, 2002, Arar, then age 32, landed at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. While passing through immigration after disembarking a flight from Zurich to board a connecting flight to Montreal, a US official—acting on a supposed tip—accused him of “being a member of a known terrorist organization,” a charge which Arar vehemently denied at the time and which has never been supported by any evidence.

Arar’s arrest was followed by two days of interrogation, during which he was chained and shackled, verbally abused and denied food. Next Arar was transferred to a federal jail—the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn—where he was strip-searched and placed in solitary confinement for three more days. His repeated requests for a telephone call and legal representation were ignored.

After five days in custody, the US Immigration and Naturalization Service filed deportation proceedings against Arar, even though he had said from the beginning that he simply wanted to leave the United States and continue on his journey home to Ottawa.

After the deportation case was filed, Arar was finally allowed to call a family member, who immediately contacted the Canadian consulate and arranged legal representation. Arar met with his lawyer once, on October 5.

The next day, US officials resumed interrogations behind the back of his lawyer, who was repeatedly lied to about her client’s circumstances. At 3:00 a.m. on October 8, Arar was awakened, taken from the jail and put on a small jet bound for Amman, Jordan, without any hearing on his deportation. The next day Jordanian authorities handed him over to Syria, which had refused to receive Arar directly from the US.

There, as described in the lead dissenting opinion, Arar “was placed in a ‘grave’ cell measuring six feet long, seven feet high, and three feet wide…. The cell was damp and cold, contained very little light, and was infested with rats, which would enter the cell through a small aperture in the ceiling. Cats would urinate on Arar through the aperture, and sanitary facilities were nonexistent. Arar was allowed to bathe himself in cold water once per week. He was prohibited from exercising and was provided barely edible food. Arar lost forty pounds.

“During his first twelve days in Syrian detention, Arar was interrogated for 18 hours per day and was physically and psychologically tortured. He was beaten on his palms, hips, and lower back with a two-inch-thick electric cable. His captors also used their fists to beat him on his stomach, his face, and the back of his neck. He was subjected to excruciating pain and pleaded with his captors to stop, but they would not. He was placed in a room where he could hear the screams of other detainees being tortured and was told that he, too, would be placed in a spine-breaking ‘chair,’ hung upside down in a ‘tire’ for beatings, and subjected to electric shocks.

“To lessen his exposure to the torture, Arar falsely confessed, among other things, to having trained with terrorists in Afghanistan, even though he had never been to Afghanistan and had never been involved in terrorist activity.”

After holding him in custody for almost a full year with no charges, on October 5, 2003, Syria released Arar to Canadian officials in Damascus. He was flown to Ottawa the following day and reunited with his family.

Writing for the seven-judge majority, Dennis Jacobs, a 1992 appointee of the first president George Bush, claimed that the TVPA did not apply because it covered only the actions of foreign governments, rejecting Arar’s contention that the torturers were obviously acting in concert with and on behalf of the defendant US officials. As the dissenters explained, “the interrogations in the United States and Syria contained identical questions, including a specific question about his relationship with a particular individual wanted for terrorism. In return, Arar alleges, the Syrian officials supplied US officials with all information extracted from Arar.”

The argument that the TVPA would not apply under such circumstances is tantamount to a sheriff in the Jim Crow South claiming to not be responsible for the murder of a prisoner because all he did was open the jail doors for the lynch mob.

Next, Jacobs wrote that the law did not allow Arar to sue directly under the Constitution—what the law refers to as a Bivens claim—because “the judicial review of extraordinary rendition would offend the separation of powers and inhibit this country’s foreign policy.”

Dissenting Judge Barrington D. Parker, Jr.—an appointee of the younger Bush—slammed this aspect of the ruling as an explicit abdication of the judiciary’s role to check executive branch abuses by enforcing constitutional due process guarantees. “This view of the separation of powers, which confines the courts to the sidelines, is, in my view, deeply mistaken; it diminishes and distorts the role of the judiciary especially during times of turmoil.”

Another dissenter, Clinton-appointee Guido Calabresi, was unusually emphatic. “I believe that when the history of this distinguished court is written, today’s majority decision will be viewed with dismay,” he said at the beginning of his dissenting opinion.

Arar responded to the ruling with a statement issued through his attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City: “After seven years of pain and hard struggle it was my hope that the court system would listen to my plea and act as an independent body from the executive branch. Unfortunately, this recent decision and decisions taken on other similar cases, prove that the court system in the United States has become more or less a tool that the executive branch can easily manipulate through unfounded allegations and fear mongering. If anything, this decision is a loss to all Americans and to the rule of law,” Arar wrote.

Added Georgetown law professor, David Cole, who argued the case, “This decision says that US officials can intentionally send a man to be tortured abroad, bar him from any access to the courts while doing so, and then avoid any legal accountability thereafter. It effectively places executive officials above the law, even when accused of a conscious conspiracy to torture. If the rule of law means anything, it must mean that courts can hear the claim of an innocent man subjected to torture that violates our most basic constitutional commitments.”

Sonia Sotomayor participated in the hearing on December 9, 2008, but was appointed to the Supreme Court before the opinion filed, and therefore had no role in the final decision. It seems likely that the Second Circuit delayed its ruling so that her vote in the case—whichever way it would have gone—would not be the subject of debate at her confirmation hearings.

In another case arising from the US government’s “extraordinary rendition” program, the Ninth Circuit—which covers the western United States—has granted a request by the Obama administration for en banc review in Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., vacating last April’s ruling by a three-judge panel that five men can sue a Boeing subsidiary for allegedly flying them to secret prisons around the world. (See “Appeals court rejects Obama state secrets claim in rendition case”)

A decision in that case, where the Obama Attorney General Eric Holder has mimicked Bush administration arguments that allowing the case to proceed would disclose “state secrets” about CIA torture programs, is expected next year.

Chemicals in Our Food, and Bodies

Chemicals in Our Food, and Bodies

Go To Original

Your body is probably home to a chemical called bisphenol A, or BPA. It’s a synthetic estrogen that United States factories now use in everything from plastics to epoxies — to the tune of six pounds per American per year. That’s a lot of estrogen.

More than 92 percent of Americans have BPA in their urine, and scientists have linked it — though not conclusively — to everything from breast cancer to obesity, from attention deficit disorder to genital abnormalities in boys and girls alike.

Now it turns out it’s in our food.

Consumer Reports magazine tested an array of brand-name canned foods for a report in its December issue and found BPA in almost all of them. The magazine says that relatively high levels turned up, for example, in Progresso vegetable soup, Campbell’s condensed chicken noodle soup, and Del Monte Blue Lake cut green beans.

The magazine also says it found BPA in the canned liquid version of Similac Advance infant formula (but not in the powdered version) and in canned Nestlé Juicy Juice (but not in the juice boxes). The BPA in the food probably came from an interior coating used in many cans.

Should we be alarmed?

The chemical industry doesn’t think so. Steven Hentges of the American Chemistry Council dismissed the testing, noting that Americans absorb quantities of BPA at levels that government regulators have found to be safe. Mr. Hentges also pointed to a new study indicating that BPA exposure did not cause abnormalities in the reproductive health of rats.

But more than 200 other studies have shown links between low doses of BPA and adverse health effects, according to the Breast Cancer Fund, which is trying to ban the chemical from food and beverage containers.

“The vast majority of independent scientists — those not working for industry — are concerned about early-life low-dose exposures to BPA,” said Janet Gray, a Vassar College professor who is science adviser to the Breast Cancer Fund.

Published journal articles have found that BPA given to pregnant rats or mice can cause malformed genitals in their offspring, as well as reduced sperm count among males. For example, a European journal found that male mice exposed to BPA were less likely to make females pregnant, and the Journal of Occupational Health found that male rats administered BPA had less sperm production and lower testicular weight.

This year, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that pregnant mice exposed to BPA had babies with abnormalities in the cervix, uterus and vagina. Reproductive Toxicology found that even low-level exposure to BPA led to the mouse equivalent of early puberty for females. And an array of animal studies link prenatal BPA exposure to breast cancer and prostate cancer.

While most of the studies are on animals, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported last year that humans with higher levels of BPA in their blood have “an increased prevalence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and liver-enzyme abnormalities.” Another published study found that women with higher levels of BPA in their blood had more miscarriages.

Scholars have noted some increasing reports of boys born with malformed genitals, girls who begin puberty at age 6 or 8 or even earlier, breast cancer in women and men alike, and declining sperm counts among men. The Endocrine Society, an association of endocrinologists, warned this year that these kinds of abnormalities may be a consequence of the rise of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and it specifically called on regulators to re-evaluate BPA.

Last year, Canada became the first country to conclude that BPA can be hazardous to humans, and Massachusetts issued a public health advisory in August warning against any exposure to BPA by pregnant or breast-feeding women or by children under the age of 2.

The Food and Drug Administration, which in the past has relied largely on industry studies — and has generally been asleep at the wheel — is studying the issue again. Bills are also pending in Congress to ban BPA from food and beverage containers.

“When you have 92 percent of the American population exposed to a chemical, this is not one where you want to be wrong,” said Dr. Ted Schettler of the Science and Environmental Health Network. “Are we going to quibble over individual rodent studies, or are we going to act?”

While the evidence isn’t conclusive, it justifies precautions. In my family, we’re cutting down on the use of those plastic containers that contain BPA to store or microwave food, and I’m drinking water out of a metal bottle now. In my reporting around the world, I’ve come to terms with the threats from warlords, bandits and tarantulas. But endocrine disrupting chemicals — they give me the willies.

U.S. Joblessness May Reach 13 Percent, Rosenberg Says

U.S. Joblessness May Reach 13 Percent, Rosenberg Says


Go To Original

The U.S. unemployment rate may rise to a post-World War II high of 13 percent in the aftermath of the recession, said David Rosenberg, chief economist at Gluskin Sheff & Associates Inc. in Toronto.

“This is going to be the mother of all jobless recoveries,” Rosenberg, one of the first to forecast the recession in his former position as chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch & Co. in New York, said today in an interview on Bloomberg Radio. “At the beginning of the year, who was calling for unemployment to go up to 10 percent?”

Rosenberg said the recession, the deepest since the Great Depression, “is truly secular in nature” and said the economy is “in a post-bubble credit collapse.”

A 13 percent unemployment rate would be the highest since monthly records began in January 1948, according to Labor Department data. The previous postwar high was 10.8 percent in December 1982. Yearly records, which began in 1929, show joblessness climbed to almost 25 percent in 1933 during the Great Depression.

The rate exceeded 10 percent last month for the first time in more than a quarter century. The Labor Department reported Nov. 6 that unemployment increased to 10.2 percent in October, the highest since 1983, and payrolls dropped by 190,000 workers.

Under-Employment Rate

Additionally, the so-called under-employment rate, which includes part-time workers who’d prefer a full-time position, and people who want work and have given up looking, reached 17.5 percent last month, the highest level since records began in 1994.

Companies aren’t “cash constrained to hire workers,” and instead are being “cautious about economic bellwethers,” Rosenberg said. “It just comes down to the economic outlook,” he said.

The economy has lost 7.3 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007.

Commenting on the third quarter’s surge in worker productivity, Rosenberg said “we are producing more with fewer average hours worked -- how sustained is that is anyone’s guess.”

Productivity, a measure of worker output per hour, increased at a 9.5 percent annual rate from July to September as labor costs registered a record decline, the Labor Department reported Nov. 5.

Japan Comparison

The economy in the U.S. could rival Japan’s so-called “lost decade” of the 1990s, Rosenberg said. “This has some prints of Japan in many respects,” where growth stagnated for years and prices fell in the aftermath of speculation in real estate and equities, he said.

In the U.S., “20 percent of private credit is coming out of the system -- and on a semi-permanent basis,” as reflected in the record eight consecutive monthly declines in consumer credit through September, Rosenberg said.

Credit card, auto and other installment debt declined $14.8 billion, or 7.2 percent at an annual rate, to $2.46 trillion, according to Federal Reserve data released Nov. 6. The consecutive declines were the most since records began in 1943.

More Training

Government stimulus plans, such as the “cash-for- clunkers” auto rebates and tax credits for home buying, are “short-term policies that promote excess spending,” Rosenberg said. Growth in the third quarter would have been “barely above zero” without the government stimulus, he said. Spending on education and job training would be a wiser investment, Rosenberg said.

Moreover, the Treasury is “on an unsustainable fiscal path irrespective of where the economy is going,” Rosenberg said. The government reported a record budget deficit of $1.42 trillion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

In the third quarter, gross domestic product expanded at a 3.5 percent annual rate after a yearlong contraction, Commerce Department figures showed Oct. 29. Household purchases increased 3.4 percent, the most in two years.

Report: $30B in Bonuses Doled on Wall St.

Report: $30B in Bonuses Doled on Wall St.

Go To Original

Just a year after receiving a record-setting amount of government aid to rescue their failing companies, three of Wall Street's giants will pay the government's generosity forward, in the form of nearly $30 billion worth of executive bonuses, according a report in Bloomberg.

Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase, which have all exited the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, are set to dole out $29.7 billion in bonus money.

According to Bloomberg, "The money, split among 119,000 employees, equals $250,400 each, almost five times the $50,303 median household income in the U.S. last year."

As one analyst tartly tells Bloomberg:

"Wall Street is beginning to resemble Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in the film 'Gone With the Wind': 'Quite frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.' It doesn’t seem as if even political threat, disastrous PR, envy, rising unemployment rates and home repossessions is enough to get any of these people to refuse the bonuses they have 'earned.'"

Click here to read the full report by Bloomberg.

In June, the government allowed 10 major banks, including Goldman, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan, to remove themselves from its relief program and repay their shares of TARP money plus millions of dollars in fees.

When Goldman posted a $2.72 billion second-quarter profit, the bank released that it had repaid the government's $10 billion investment in TARP money.

Morgan Stanley, however, lost more than $1.2 billion in the second quarter, yet the bank still managed to pay back the $10 billion it had received from the government.

JPMorgan reported a net income of $2.72 billion during the second quarter and released that it had repaid in full the $25 billion in loans it received from TARP

Speculative recovery sows seeds of an even greater economic crash

Speculative recovery sows seeds of an even greater economic crash

Go To Original

Last Wednesday the Federal Reserve Board’s policy-making Federal Open Market Committee announced it was holding its target federal funds interest rate to the current level of zero to 0.25 percent. While that decision had been widely anticipated, there was much speculation that the Fed would employ language in its announcement to indicate that it would soon begin to raise interest rates.

In the event, the Fed repeated its recent mantra of keeping interest rates “exceptionally low” for “an extended period of time.” A change in the formula from “an extended period of time” to “for some time” would have been seen as a signal that the Fed was preparing to shift from its policy of near-zero rates.

The Fed’s signal of no early end to its extraordinarily cheap credit policy sent stock markets surging. Since the Fed announcement last Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has surged hundreds of points, despite Friday’s dire Labor Department report of an official US jobless rate of 10.2 percent. On Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 205 points, closing at a 13-month high of 10,227.

This most recent surge in stock prices continued a trend that has emerged in recent weeks: stocks moved in close and inverse relation to the value of the dollar on world currency markets. Last Wednesday, the dollar fell the most in relation to the euro in two months. That trend continued Monday, with the dollar once again falling to $1.50 versus the euro.

Also in keeping with recent trends, oil, gold and other commodities surged as stocks rose and the dollar fell. The connection between soaring asset prices and a falling dollar points to the extraordinarily speculative and unstable character of what is being called a global recovery from the financial crisis and recession of 2008 and early 2009.

It is a recovery in corporate and bank profits and financial assets that is richly benefitting the most powerful financial interests in the US and around the world, even as joblessness and poverty soar and basic production remains mired in the deepest slump since the Great Depression. It is a “recovery” that is driven almost entirely by a surge in speculation in risky assets fuelled by the US government’s policy of virtually free credit for the major banks and a vast buildup of debt.

As CNBC commentator Charles Gasparino put it in a November 6 column in the Wall Street Journal, “Interest rates are close to zero; in effect the Federal Reserve is subsidizing the risk-taking and bond trading that has allowed Goldman Sachs to produce billions in profits and that infamous $16 billion bonus pool (analysts say it could grow as high as $20 billion). The Treasury has lent banks money, guaranteed Wall Street’s debt and declared every firm to be a commercial bank… They are all ‘too big to fail’ and so free to trade as they please—on the taxpayer dime.”

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Morgan Stanley has concluded that the amount of cash circulating in the global economy is at its highest level by far since the firm began tracking it 30 years ago. This vast wave of hot money can find no profitable outlet in production, so it is being pumped into stock markets and speculation on commodity prices and currencies. The result is a colossal global asset bubble that must sooner or later burst.

Here are some indications of the scale of this bubble:

“Since its March 9 low, the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index has gained more than 50 percent. An index of stocks for 22 “emerging market” countries (including Brazil, China and India) has doubled from its recent low. Oil, now around $80 a barrel, has increased 150 percent from its recent low of $31. Gold is near an all-time high, around $1,090 an ounce.” (Robert J. Samuelson in Monday’s Washington Post).

A central component of this policy is a tacit encouragement of the ongoing fall in the dollar. Ultimately, the decline in the dollar is dictated by the objective decline in the global position of American capitalism. The financial crash and ensuing global recession, which began in the US, have further eroded global confidence in the dollar as it has diminished the weight of US gross domestic product relative to global gross domestic product.

This is a profoundly destabilizing factor in the world economy, which renders any recovery fragile and ultimately unsustainable. Increasingly, the unique role of the US dollar as the world’s major reserve and trading currency is being called into question. This was highlighted last Tuesday when India’s central bank announced it had purchased 200 metric tons of gold on offer by the International Monetary Fund.

In making the announcement, India’s finance minister said that the US and European economies had “collapsed.” The Indian purchase came a few months after China, which holds an estimated $1.4 trillion in dollar assets, revealed that it had almost doubled its gold reserves in the past six years.

The buildup of gold reserves is part of a growing move by creditor nations away from the dollar. As BusinessWeek reported last month: “Instead of buying just dollars for their foreign exchange reserves, they’re diversifying into other currencies. The countries that reveal the composition of their reserve holdings put 63 percent of their new reserves into euros and yen in the second quarter, according to an analysis by Barclays Capital.”

The mid- to long-term implications of the erosion in the world position of the dollar are massive. A strong and stable dollar was the bedrock of the international capitalist monetary system that was established at the Bretton Woods conference at the end of World War II. The dollar has served for nearly seven decades as the world’s supreme trading and reserve currency. The unique and privileged position of the dollar—which brought with it immense advantages for US capital—was based on the unchallenged economic supremacy of the US at the end of the war. That, in turn, was founded on the global dominance of American industry.

The long-term decline of American capitalism, reflected most importantly in the decay of its industrial base, resulted in the massive global imbalances between debtor nations—first and foremost, the US—and creditor nations, such as China, Japan and Germany, which led to the implosion of the world economy a year ago. It is the transformation of the US from the industrial powerhouse of the world to the center of global financial speculation and parasitism that, in the final analysis, underlies the erosion in the international position of the dollar.

This underscores the reckless character of US monetary policy. The United States is flirting with the disaster of a precipitous fall in the dollar, which has already declined 15 percent since its recent high last March against the currencies of Washington’s major trading counterparts. A full-blown dollar crisis would wreak havoc on the US and world economy.

It would compel the US to sharply and precipitously raise interest rates, plunging the US economy into a depression and bankrupting major financial institutions. It would choke off the US market for export-oriented countries such as China, Japan and Germany and spark competitive currency devaluations and trade war measures.

Nevertheless, to gain a short-term trading advantage against its capitalist rivals and provide the liquidity to enable major US banks to reap bumper profits and award their executives and traders record bonuses, the US, through the Fed, has carried out the electronic equivalent of printing a trillion dollars and flooding the financial markets with cheap credit. It has done so knowing that the dollar will continue to fall, making US exports cheaper and foreign imports more expensive.

The short-term effect is an intensification of global monetary and trade tensions. Last Friday the US levied duties against Chinese steel pipe imports. This followed Washington’s imposition two months ago of tariffs against Chinese tire imports. China responded Friday by denouncing “abusive protectionism” and pledging to retaliate against US autos and other exports to the Chinese market.

The provocative character of the US move on Friday is underscored by the fact that it precedes by less than a week President Barack Obama’s trip to Asia.

Meanwhile, New York University economist Nouriel Roubini is sounding the alarm over an alternate scenario for the dollar that would likewise have disastrous economic consequences. Roubini, who came to prominence by predicting in 2006 the impending collapse of the housing bubble and financial meltdown, is warning of a short-term rally in the dollar that will result in a collapse of the global asset bubble.

In a November 1 Financial Times column entitled “Mother of All Carry Trades Faces an Inevitable Bust,” Roubini writes: “Since March there has been a massive rally in all sorts of risky assets—equities, oil, energy and commodity prices… and an even bigger rally in emerging market asset classes (their stocks, bonds and currencies).”

He contends that at the heart of this rally is “the weakness of the US dollar, driven by the mother of all carry trades.” The latter term refers to the speculative practice of borrowing cash in currencies with low interest rates and investing the cash in assets denominated in more expensive currencies.

The US dollar has supplanted the yen as the major funding currency in carry trades. Speculators are borrowing dollars in highly leveraged trades, betting that the dollar will decline further, and using their resulting profits to invest in risky assets around the world. As a result, speculators are effectively borrowing dollars not at the zero interest rate set by the Fed, but at very negative rates—as low as minus 10 or 20 percent on an annualized basis.

As a result, Roubini states, carry trade investors have been realizing total returns in the 50-70 percent range since March.

As the “reckless” US policy is forcing other countries to keep their interest rates artificially low, “the carry trade bubble will get worse… the perfectly correlated bubble across all global asset classes gets bigger by the day.”

One day the bubble will burst, as economic factors or an external event—such as a military attack on Iran—lead the dollar to “reverse and suddenly appreciate.” Roubini concludes: “But the longer and bigger the carry trades and the larger the asset bubble, the bigger will be the ensuing asset bubble crash. The Fed and other policymakers seem unaware of the monster bubble they are creating. The longer they remain blind, the harder the markets will fall.”

Roubini is not alone. Last week, both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank issued warnings of growing asset bubbles, fueled by hot money, in the Asian economies.

To the extent that the US and international bourgeoisie has a strategy to deal with the massive growth of debt that is funding the speculative “recovery,” it is to impose the full cost of the crisis on the working class. Last month, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) declared that spending on health, education and other social programs will have to be cut as countries deal with the high levels of debt incurred in the financial crisis and recession.

The OECD was seconded last week by the International Monetary Fund, which issued a statement calling for a decade of sweeping spending cuts and tax increases across the industrialized world. The IMF specifically urged a sharp reduction in the growth of spending for health care and pensions.

For its part, the Obama administration is committed to the same policy, pledging to reduce government and business costs for health care as a prelude to a regime of fiscal austerity. Its goal is to reduce the consumption of the working class, using mass unemployment to drive down wages, boost labor productivity, and turn the US into a cheap labor center for exports to the world market.

Ten Years Ago: "Manufacturing Dissent" in Seattle

Ten Years Ago: "Manufacturing Dissent" in Seattle

Seattle and Beyond: Disarming the New World Order

Go To Original

Author's Note

This article published under the title Seattle and Beyond: Disarming the New World Order was written ten years ago in relation to the Seattle Millenium Summit, which served to instate the World Trade Organization (WTO) as a global policy watch-dog, derogating the sovereign rights of national governments to decide on their economic and social policies.

In a bitter irony, a handful of civil society organizations, which had formally opposed the WTO, unwittingly contributed to legitimizing the WTO's global trading architecture. Instead of challenging the very existence of the WTO as an an intergovernmental body, they established a dialogue with the WTO and Western governments. Funded by private foundations, these civil society organizations positioned themselves as lobby groups on behalf of the people's movement. They ultimately contributed to weakening the anti-globalization movement by accepting the legitimacy of what was essentially an illegal organisation.

The same procedure of donor funded counter-summits or people's summits was subsequently embodied in the World Social Forum. What we are dealing with is a process of "manufactured dissent".

The people's movement had been hijacked. "In Seattle, the big divide [was] between those who are genuinely opposed to the New World Order and those "partner" civil society organisations which have all the appearances of being "progressive" but which in fact are creatures of the system. Often funded by their respective governments, they form part of a politically correct "Opposition" which acts as "a spokesperson for civil society". But who do they represent? Many of the "partner NGOs" and lobby groups which frequently mingle with bureaucrats and politicians, have few contacts with grass-roots social movements and people's organisations. In the meantime, they serve to deflect the articulation of "real" social movements against the New World Order."


Michel Chossudovsky, 9 November 2009


In preparing the Seattle Millennium meetings, Washington in consultation with Brussels and the WTO in Geneva, is set on weakening and dividing social movements and citizens' groups which have converged on Seattle from all over the World. Meanwhile, local organisers are busy --together with the FBI and the Seattle Police Department (SPD)-- in carefully planning "security arrangements" for the official venue. An extensive police apparatus has been set motion. Special Forces from the FBI, the CIA and other federal agencies will be on the scene. "Trouble-makers" are to be held at bay, well equipped riot police are on hand including Gang Squads and SWAT teams of the Tactical Operations Divisions which constitute the "more militarized components" of the police force.

1 Everything has been put in place to keep the Citizens' Summit physically removed from the Ministerial Conference. As in previous counter-summits (Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, Copenhagen, Beijing, etc.), the intent is to ensure that the numerous protest meetings, teach-ins and mass rallies do not obstruct or in any way threaten the legitimacy of the official venue. In Seattle, the holding of parallel sessions by NGOs requires formal "accreditation" with the Seattle Host Committee chaired by Microsoft's Bill Gates and Philip Condit of The Boeing Company.

Several months ahead of time, the WTO and Western governments had called for a "dialogue" with selected civil society organisations in setting the agenda for the Millennium Round. "Partner NGOs", namely those "we can trust" were provided with funds to travel and organize their respective "teach-ins" in Seattle. Already last year, the WTO had announced a plan for "an on-going collaboration with partner NGOs" while emphasising that the WTO "recognizes the role NGOs can play to increase the awareness of the public in respect of WTO activities".

2 Similarly, the European Commission had underscored its "commitment to transparency and openness in trade policy-making".

3 Carefully screened "partner NGOs" were invited to participate in a number of preparatory "issue-specific" events. The European Commission held several rounds of consultations with selected consumer, labour, environmental and development organisations with a view to "to improve the transparency of WTO meetings" including public access to WTO documents and the creation of an WTO "information ombudsman".

4 In the words of (former) European Trade Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan: "A Millennium round of trade talks should not just benefit business. We can and should ensure that Consumers and the environment also gain. The Commission has today opened a dialogue with a wide cross-section of NGOs as it believes transparency and openness are essential if a new round is to reap its full benefits. NGOs are crucial partners in preparing for the negotiations that lie ahead."

5 THE COUNTER SUMMIT

Controlled and financed by official donors and research foundations, the hidden agenda is to install a "politically correct" Citizens' Summit, namely to ensure that the various teach-ins and public rallies in the streets of Seattle conform to the dominant "counter discourse". The latter consists in pressing for the inclusion of token environmental, labour and human rights clauses, "poverty alleviation" schemes as well as "institutional reforms" without defying the central role of trade liberalisation.

The partner non-governmental organisations have, in this regard, already committed themselves not to question "the legality" or legitimacy of the WTO as an institution. Accredited NGO participants have been invited to mingle in a friendly environment with ambassadors, trade ministers and Wall Street tycoons at several of the official events including the numerous cocktail parties and receptions. In turn, an (official) "WTO Sponsored NGO Symposium" is to be held for chosen NGO participants one day before the launching of the Ministerial Conference, with carefully worded opening statements by WTO Director General Mike Moore and US Trade Secretary Charlene Barshevsky.

In other words, the ploy in Seattle (supported by a lavish public relations campaign) is to carefully diffuse an international mass movement directed against the WTO and the powerful business syndicates which lie discretely in the background. "Criticism yes, that's democratic", but the "free market" system must prevail, the legitimacy of the institutions --including their Geneva and Washington based bureaucracies-- must not be challenged... In return, the official conference will accept to embody on behalf of the "accredited" labour and civil society organisations, various token environmental and other concessions in their main resolutions with a view to providing a much needed "human face" to the WTO.

The Millennium Round meetings also purport to replicate the habitual parallel "People's Summit" which now constitutes an integral component of successive World venues. Repeated almost annually since the 1992 Rio Environment Conference, the People's Summit while providing a forum for critical debate, has over the years largely become "a ritual of dissent" which largely leaves the official Summit unscathed.

The parallel P7 ("People's P7 Summit") at the G7 meetings in Cologne in June 1999, for instance, was put together in consultation with the host organisers of the official Summit, generously funded by the Heinrich Boell Foundation which is an arm of the German Green Party controlled by Foreign Minister Joschka Fisher. The structure of the Cologne P7 was geared towards deflecting debate on controversial issues including the "humanitarian bombings" of Yugoslavia... Meanwhile, more than 20,000 people from all parts of Europe had gathered in the streets of Cologne under the umbrella of the Jubilee Campaign. Their petition to unconditionally erase Third World debt had been signed by more than 17 million people. World leaders respectfully paid tribute to the Jubilee initiative, responding with empty rhetorical commitments on debt reduction for the World's poorest countries. The substantive proposal of the Campaign had been casually dismissed.

In Seattle, many of the accredited NGOs representing specific interests (eg. environmental, labour, human rights, women's organisations, etc) will be putting forth separate demands. There is evidence that several of the key NGOs have been infiltrated by Western intelligence agencies. The Counter-Summit is to be fragmented into a "mosaic" of secluded events focussing on separate and distinct policy issues. The hidden agenda is to enable each of these separate venues "to do their own thing" in a semblance of "people's participation": the goal of the Seattle organisers is to mask the truth, prevent the development of a mass movement, suppress real democracy and uphold the authority of the institutions of the New World Order.

In turn, the AFL-CIO joined by trade union bosses from around the World, has called upon the WTO to "enforce minimum labour standards... in the global market". Caving in to Washington's demands, Labour's buzz-word is to "make the global economy work for working families".6 A carefully drafted petition urges the Ministerial Conference to adopt "trade and investment rules [which] protect workers' rights and the environment".7 The overall legitimacy of the WTO and of US trade policy is not in question. In turn, the AFL-CIO has been put in charge of the organisation of a mass rally which usefully serves the purpose of deflecting the international protest movement on the streets of Seattle...

In Seattle, the big divide will be between those who are genuinely opposed to the New World Order and those "partner" civil society organisations which have all the appearances of being "progressive" but which in fact are creatures of the system. Often funded by their respective governments, they form part of a politically correct "Opposition" which acts as "a spokesperson for civil society". But who do they represent? Many of the "partner NGOs" and lobby groups which frequently mingle with bureaucrats and politicians, have few contacts with grass-roots social movements and people's organisations. In the meantime, they serve to deflect the articulation of "real" social movements against the New World Order.

This does not mean that "dialogue" with the WTO and the governments should be ruled out as a means of negotiation. On the contrary, "lobbying" must be applied vigorously in close liaison with constituent social movements. The underlying results and information of these negotiations, however, must be channelled with a view to reinforcing rather than weakening grass roots actions. In other words, we should not allow "lobbying" to be conducted in an isolated and secretive fashion by organisations which are "hand picked" by the governments and the WTO.

A MORATORIUM ON LIBERALISATION NEGOTIATIONS

More than 1200 groups and organisations from more than 85 countries have called for a "Moratorium" on further liberalisation under WTO auspices including the holding of an "Audit" to be undertaken on the impacts of globalisation. Their consensus statement ("Statement From Members of International Civil Society Opposing A Millennium Round"): "oppose[s] any further liberalisation negotiations, especially those which will bring new areas under the WTO regime, such as investment, competition policy and government procurement. We commit ourselves to campaign to reject any such proposals. We also oppose the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. We call for a moratorium on any new issues or further negotiations that expand the scope and power of the WTO. During this moratorium there should be a comprehensive and in-depth review and assessment of the existing agreements. Effective steps should then be taken to change the agreements. Such a review should address the WTO's impact on marginalised communities, development, democracy, environment, health, human rights, labour rights and the rights of women and children. The review must be conducted with civil society's full participation. The Statement constitutes an important step in challenging the official Agenda. It is based on a carefully worded consensus of a large number of individual organisations.

ILLEGALITY OF THE WTO

Yet this important Statement in demanding a "Moratorium" on further liberalisation negotiations, fails to question the legitimacy of the WTO as an institution. And indeed this issue should have been included explicitly in the Statement.

The Marrakesh Agreement of 1994 constitutes a blatant violation of fundamental social, economic and cultural rights. The stakes in Seattle are fundamental and cannot be addressed with a compromise Statement which tacitly accepts the legitimacy of the WTO as an institution. The WTO was put in place following the signing of a "technical agreement" negotiated behind closed doors by bureaucrats. Even the heads of country level delegations to Marrakesh in 1994 were not informed regarding the statutes of the World Trade Organisation which were drafted in separate closed sessions by technocrats.

"The Final Act Embodying the Results of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations", was signed by ministers in Marrakesh on 15 April 1994. The Final Act is a "technical agreement" which instates the WTO as a World body. "The WTO framework ensures a "single undertaking approach" to the results of the Uruguay Round - thus, membership in the WTO entails accepting all the results of the Round without exception."

Following the Marrakesh meeting, the 550 page Agreement (plus its numerous appendices) was either rubber-stamped in a hurry or never formally ratified by national parliaments. The articles of agreement of the WTO resulting from this "technical agreement" were casually entrenched in international law. In other words, the 1994 Marrakesh Agreement which instates the WTO as a multilateral body, bypasses the democratic process in each of the member countries. It blatantly derogates national laws and constitutions while providing extensive powers to global banks and multinational corporations. These powers have in fact become entrenched in the articles of agreement of the WTO.

In other words, the process of actual creation of the WTO following the Final Act of Uruguay Round is blatantly "illegal". Namely a "totalitarian" intergovernmental body has been casually installed in Geneva, empowered under international law with the mandate to "police" country level economic and social policies, derogating the sovereign rights of national governments. Similarly, the WTO almost neutralises "with the stroke of the pen" the authority and activities of several agencies of the United Nations including the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Moreover, the articles of WTO are no only in contradiction with pre-existing national and international laws, they are also in at variance with "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights". Acceptance of the WTO as a legitimate organisation is tantamount to an "indefinite moratorium" or repeal of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Moreover, apart from the blatant violation of international law, WTO rules provide legitimacy to trade practices which border on criminality, including "intellectual piracy" by MNCs, the derogation of plant breeders rights, not to mention genetic manipulation by the biotechnology giants, the patenting of life forms including plants, animals, micro-organisms, genetic material and human life forms under the TRIPs agreement.

In the sphere of financial services, the provisions of the GATS provide legitimacy to large scale financial and speculative manipulations directed against developing countries which are often conducive to the demise of country-level monetary policy.

And the WTO Dispute Settlement Procedures upholds the legitimacy of these various manipulative procedures...

THE BALANCE SHEET OF ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL DESTRUCTION

Amply documented, humanity is undergoing in the post-Cold War era an economic and social crisis of unprecedented scale leading to the rapid impoverishment of large sectors of the World population. National economies are collapsing, unemployment is rampant; Wall Street banks are "taking over countries" one after the other; regional wars have erupted along strategic gas-oil pipelines and often behind the various "insurgencies" are powerful corporate interests which coincidentally are also lobbying for trade reform... In most countries the standard of living has collapsed...

This Worldwide crisis of the late twentieth century is more devastating than the Great Depression of the 1930s. It has far-reaching geo-political implications; economic dislocation has also been accompanied by the outbreak of regional conflicts, the fracturing of national societies and in some cases the destruction of entire countries. This crisis is by no means limited to the developing countries. In Europe and North America the Welfare State is being dismantled, schools and hospitals are being closed down creating conditions for the outright privatisation of social services. By far this is the most serious economic crisis in modern history.

In a large number of developing countries, the services economy and banking are already in the hands of foreign capital, peasant economies have been devastated as a result of the dumping of EU and US grain surpluses. Genetically modified seeds produced among others by Cargill and Montsanto (together with carefully engineered farm inputs produced by these same agribusiness conglomerates) have been forced upon farmers throughout the World often leading to mass poverty and the fracture of rural economies, not to mention the contamination of the food chain derogating the rights of consumers Worldwide.

In turn, international agribusiness is intent upon driving the family farm into bankruptcy. This process is by no means limited to developing countries: up to 30 percent of grain farmers in Western Canada are on the verge of bankruptcy specifically as a result of the enforcement of WTO provisions concerning farm subsidies by the Canadian government. And if this is happening in Western Canada which constitutes one of the World's most resourceful "bread baskets", what will be the fate of farmers in other regions of World?

CHINA'S ACCESSION TO THE WTO

The terms of China's accession to the WTO agreed upon in bilateral negotiations with the United States barely a few weeks before the Ministerial Conference in Seattle, spells havoc in a country of more than one billion population. It will devastate China's agriculture; it will trigger a deadly wave of bankruptcies of State enterprises leading to mass unemployment. The provision of "national treatment" to Western banks could potentially precipitate the fracture of the entire structure of Chinese State banking...

The Chinese authorities fully aware of the ramifications, have attempted in a publicity stunt to convince Chinese public opinion that "the benefits from the agreement would justify the job losses and bankruptcies it will cause".8 In the words of China's chief WTO negotiator Mr. Long Yongtu "a nation cannot develop and become strong without a sense of urgency and a sense of crisis."9

ANALYSING AND EVALUATING THE NEW WORLD ORDER

In the face of global economic and social devastation, is an (official) "Audit" really required as put forth in the "Statement From Members of International Civil Society" to ascertain what is happening? Some of the NGO critics --including the trade unions-- involved in the dialogue with the WTO argue that there are both "positive" and "negative" impacts of trade liberalisation. This position is ambiguous: the devastating impacts of "globalisation" are already known and documented, the NGO community has already produced a wealth of critical analysis and research. Moreover, the audit proposal accepts the legitimacy of the WTO, it presupposes that there are mistakes and "lets talk and put this system on hold" for a few years "while we re-evaluate".

Do we need an Audit to ascertain "whether or not" the World is in crisis? And by whom will this Audit be performed and for whom? The key "partner NGOs" have already positioned themselves to undertake the relevant commissioned background studies. Many of the organisations which signed and endorsed the "Statement" were unaware that the Audit with part of the "Dialogue" with the WTO and Western governments. And these research contracts performed "sector by sector" in a "politically correct" fashion according to pre-established guidelines set by the funding agencies will take several years to complete.

The conduct of an Audit has already been accepted by the European Union in its consultations with the NGOs. Former European Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan, on behalf of the European Union had in fact proposed in 1998, "the commissioning of a study on the impact of the new Round on sustainable development" (European Commission, op. cit). In other words, the Audit is also part of the official agenda of the Seattle Round. In the meantime, while the Audit is being conducted, economic, social and environmental destruction will continue unabated.

THE MILLENIUM ROUND IS ALREADY "DE FACTO"

What happens to the World system does not depend solely on the results of the Millenium Round. We must understand that in many developing countries, many of the clauses of the Millenium Round are already a "fait accompli". The are part of the "conditionalities contained in ad hoc loan agreements with the IMF and the World Bank. Under the structural adjustment programme as well as in the context of the IMF sponsored "bailout agreements" (eg. Indonesia, Thailand, Korea, Brazil), developing countries have already committed themselves to many of the propositions contained in the Millenium Round.

Moreover, the hands of Third World delegates to Seattle are tied, the vote of most of the trade ministers from developing countries at the Seattle Ministerial Conference is controlled by Western creditors. It is unlikely that much opposition will be voiced from the official delegations from developing countries.

Many developing countries have accepted in the context of agreements signed with the Bretton Woods instititions to liberalise trade, deregulate capital movements, privatise State public utilities, dismantle social programmes and provide "national treatment" to foreign investors in a large number of economic activities including services, banking, procurement, etc. These provisions are often coupled with a "bankruptcy programme" under the supervision of the World Bank with a view to "triggering" the liquidation of competing national enterprises. An "enabling free market environment" is implanted (without recourse to WTO clauses pertaining to "effective access to markets"), national producers are brutally displaced and destroyed, countries are casually recolonised...

Wall Street bankers and the heads of the World's largest business conglomerates are indelibly behind this process. They interface regularly with IMF, World Bank and WTO officials in closed sessions as well as in numerous international venues. Moreover, participating in these meetings and consultations are the representatives of powerful global business lobbies including the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), The Trans Atlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) (which brings together in its annual venues the leaders of the largest Western business conglomerates with politicians and WTO officials), the United States Council for International Business (USCIB), the Davos World Economic Forum, the Institute of International Finance representing the World's largest banks and financial institutions, etc. Other "semi-secret" organisations --which play an important role in shaping the institutions of the New World Order-- include the Trilateral Commission, the Bildebergers and the Council on Foreign Relations.

FINANCIAL DEREGULATION

To top it off, "perfect timing": the deregulation of the US banking system was approved by the US Senate barely six weeks before the Millennium Round meetings in Seattle. The new legislation favours an unprecedented concentration of global financial power. In the wake of lengthy negotiations which concluded in the early hours of October 22nd, all regulatory restraints on Wall Street's powerful banking conglomerates were revoked "with a stroke of the pen". Under the new rules ratified by the US Senate and approved by President Clinton, commercial banks, brokerage firms, hedge funds, institutional investors, pension funds and insurance companies can freely invest in each others businesses as well as fully integrate their financial operations. The legislation has repealed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, a pillar of President Roosevelt's "New Deal" which was put in place in response to the climate of corruption, financial manipulation and "insider trading" which led to more than 5,000 bank failures in the years following the 1929 Wall Street crash.10

In other words, a handful of financial conglomerates will gain effective control over the entire US financial services industry. Coincidentally these same Wall Street financial giants are also the main beneficiaries of financial services' deregulation under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) which provides "national treatment" to Wall Street's giants in banking, insurance, brokerage services, actuarial services, etc. The GATS is almost "tailor-made" to meet the standards set under the new US financial services legislation. The financial giants oversee the real economy Worldwide, they are creditors and shareholders of high tech manufacturing, the defence industry, major oil and mining consortia, etc. Moreover, as underwriters of the public debt, they also have a stranglehold on national governments and politicians. Ultimately, they also call the shots on trade reform in Seattle.

Moreover, the clauses of the defunct MAI which was to provide "national treatment" to foreign banks and MNCs (leading to the dislocation of municipalities and local governments) is also in the process of becoming a "fait accompli". The financial conglomerates are now fully integrated with the insurance companies. In turn, the latter oversee and control the multinational health care providers which are actively lobbying in Seattle for the deregulation of public health care under the GATS. The institutions of the Welfare State are to be scrapped. The struggles of the entire post-war period are to be erased.

The Worldwide scramble to appropriate wealth through "financial manipulation" is the driving force behind this restructuring of the global financial architecture of which the new US banking legislation and the "Seattle Round" are an integral part. In concert with the WTO, the US legislation favours the elimination of remaining barriers to the free movement of finance capital. In practice it empowers Wall Street's key players including Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, J. P, Morgan, Deutsche Bank-Bankers Trust, etc. to develop a hegemonic position in global banking overshadowing and ultimately destabilising financial systems in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe... and this process is ongoing irrespective of the actual outcome of the Millenium Round.

THE SPECULATIVE ONSLAUGHT

In turn, financial deregulation in the US allows speculative trade to prosper Worldwide in a totally permissive environment. In turn, the Millenium Round by calling for the deregulation of capital movements will provide greater legitimacy to speculative trade thereby empowering Wall Street to extend its global financial domain.

Institutional control over the channels of speculative trade provides the US and EU financial giants with the tools to manipulate currency and stock markets and impair the role of central banks. The ultimate objective is to take control over the reigns of monetary policy and oversee financial markets all over the World. In the 1997 Asian crisis alone, more than 100 billion dollars were confiscated in a matter of months from the vaults of Asia's central banks; similar speculative assaults were carried out in Russia in 1998 and in Brazil in 1999. Derivative and option trade including the "short selling" of national currencies were behind these assaults leading to massive debt default and financial collapse. Well documented, the IMF played a key role in facilitating the speculative onslaught on behalf of Western and Japanese financial institutions.

In a cruel irony, the use of these deadly speculative instruments was formally legitimised in the Fifth Protocol of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) in the immediate wake of the Asian crisis. Totally disregarding the impending dangers, the GATS protocol negotiations coincided chronologically (October 1997) with the climactic meltdown of stock markets all over the World.

WAR AND GLOBALISATION

And War is also part of the Millennium Round. What happens to countries which refuse to deregulate trade and foreign investment and provide "national treatment" to Western banks and MNCs? The Western military-intelligence apparatus and its various bureaucracies routinely interface with the financial establishment. The IMF, the World Bank and the WTO --which "police" country level economic reforms-- also collaborate with NATO in its various "peacekeeping" endeavours, not to mention the financing of "post-conflict" reconstruction under the auspices of the Bretton Woods institutions...

At the dawn of the Third Millennium, War and the "Free Market" go hand in hand. War does not require a multilateral investment treaty (ie. an MAI) entrenched in international law: "War is the MAI of last resort." War physically destroys what has not been dismantled through deregulation, privatisation and the imposition of "free market" reforms. Outright colonisation through war and the installation of Western protectorates is tantamount to providing "national treatment" to Western banks and MNCs in all sectors of activity. "Missile diplomacy" replicates and emulates the "gunboat diplomacy" used to enforce "free trade" in the 19th Century. The US Cushing Mission to China in 1844 (in the wake of the Opium Wars) had forewarned the Chinese imperial government "that refusal to grant American demands might be regarded as an invitation to war."11 The "Seattle Round" purports to "peacefully" recolonise countries through the manipulation of market forces, --ie. through the "invisible hand". It nonetheless constitutes a form of warfare.

More generally, the dangers of war must be understood. War and globalisation are not separate issues. The citizens' campaign against the WTO must be integrated with the anti-war movement against the bombing of sovereign countries by the US and its European allies.

DISARMING THE NEW WORLD ORDER

The WTO created from a "technical agreement" (Final Act of the Uruguay Round) provides entrenched "legal" rights to banks and global corporations. In turn the 1994 Marrakesh Agreement sets up procedures --including manipulative Dispute Settlements-- which are now conveniently embodied in international law but which blatantly violate the rights of citizens all over the World.

Under WTO rules, the banks and MNCs can legitimately manipulate market forces to their advantage leading to the outright recolonisation of national economies. In other words, the WTO articles provide legitimacy to global banks and MNCs in their quest to destabilise institutions, drive national producers into bankruptcy and ultimately take control of entire countries.

Moreover, the Agreement formally instates a "triangular division of authority" between the WTO, and its sister organisations the IMF and the World Bank in a system of "global surveillance" of developing countries' economic and social policies. This means that enforcement of IMF-World Bank policy prescriptions will no longer hinge upon ad hoc country-level loan agreements (which are not "legally binding" documents). All the main clauses of the IMF's deadly "economic medicine" will eventually become permanently entrenched under the Seattle Millenium Round. Countries will not only be "bonded" by external debt, they will be permanently "enslaved" by an international body controlled by the World's largest business syndicates. These WTO articles will set the foundations for "policing" countries (and enforcing "conditionalities") according to international law.

In other words, we must act in relation to the original "iniquity" and "illegality" of the Final Act of the Uruguay Round which creates the WTO as a "totalitarian" organisation. There can be no other alternative but to reject the WTO as an international institution, to imprint the WTO as an illegal organisation. In other words, the entire process must be rejected outright.

And this means that citizens' movements around the World must pressure their governments to withdraw without delay and cancel their membership with the WTO. Legal proceedings must also be initiated in national courts against the governments of member countries, underscoring the blatant violation of domestic laws and national constitutions.

In other words, the citizens' platform in Seattle and around the World must be geared towards disarming this economic system and dismantling its institutions. We cannot postpone our struggle and "wait a few years" in the context of an "Audit" and meanwhile the World is consumed and destroyed. We must act now. We must question the legitimacy of a system which ultimately destroys people's lives.

We must challenge politicians and international officials, we must unmask their insidious links to powerful financial interests and eventually we must overhaul and transform State institutions removing them from the clutch of the finacial establishment. In turn, we must "democratise" the economic system and its management structure, challenge the blatant concentration of ownership and private wealth, disarm financial markets, freeze speculative trade, arrest the laundering of dirty money, dismantle the system of offshore banking, redistribute income and wealth, restore the rights of direct producers, rebuild the Welfare State.

Concurrently, we must also build the conditions for a lasting World peace. The military-industrial and security apparatus which sustains these financial interests must eventually be dismantled, which also means that we must abolish NATO and phase out the arms industry.

We must combat the "media lies" and "global falsehoods" which uphold the WTO and the powerful business interests which it supports. We must combat the "false consensus" of Washington and Wall Street which ordains the "free market system " as the only possible choice on the fated road to a "global prosperity". This consensus is now shared by all political parties including Social Democrats.

To achieve these objectives we must restore a meaningful freedom of the press. The global media giants fabricate the news and overtly distorts the course of World events. In turn, we must break the "false consciousness" which pervades our societies, prevents critical debate and masks the truth. Ultimately , it precludes a collective understanding of the workings of an economic system which destroys people's lives. The only promise of the "free market" is a World of landless farmers, shuttered factories, jobless workers and gutted social programmes with "bitter economic medicine" under the WTO and the IMF constituting the only prescription. We must restore the truth, we must reinstate sovereignty to our countries and to the people of our countries.

The struggle must be broad-based and democratic encompassing all sectors of society at all levels, in all countries, uniting in a major thrust workers, farmers, independent producers, small businesses, professionals, artists, civil servants, members of the clergy, students and intellectuals. People must be united across sectors, "single issue" groups must join hands in a common and collective understanding on how this economic system destroys and impoverishes.

The "globalisation" of this struggle is fundamental, requiring a degree of solidarity and internationalism unprecedented in World history. The global economic system feeds on social divisiveness between and within countries.

Beyond Seattle, unity of purpose and Worldwide coordination among diverse groups and social movements is crucial. A major thrust is required which brings together social movements in all major regions of the world in a common pursuit and commitment to the elimination of poverty and a lasting World peace.

NOTES

1. The latter frequently position snipers at key positions. See Paul Richmond, "An Assessment of the Police, What to expect during the Seattle Ministerial Conference",http://forward.to/walkout, September 1999.

2. WTO Press Release, Ruggiero Announces Enhanced WTO Plan for Cooperation With NGOs, 17 July 1998.

3. European Commission Press Release, "Commission and NGOs hold dialogue on the Millennium Round", Brussels, 17 November 1998.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. See AFL-CIO, Make the Global economy Work for Working familiies, http://www.wslc.org/wto/index.htm October 1999.

7. Ibid.

8. Financial Times, London, 17 November 1999).

9. Quoted in Financial Times, op cit.

10. See Martin McLaughlin, "Clinton Republicans agree to Deregulation of US Banking System", World Socialist website, 1 November 1999.

11. Quoted in Michel Chossudovsky, Towards Capitalist Restoration, Chinese socialism after Mao, Macmillan, London, 1986, p. 134).