Sunday, January 17, 2010

Washington Moves to Control Iran’s Revolution

Washington Moves to Control Iran’s Revolution

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It seems that President Obama has finally woken up. He now realizes that the U.S. friendly “color revolution” in Iran that he hoped for — and planned for — has gotten out of control. To the Democrat’s terrible regret, a real revolution is under way.

An extremely revealing article in the Wall Street Journal entitled "US Shifts Focus to Support Iran’s Opposition," explains the U.S. government’s unpleasant wake-up call. The article is essentially a debate among state officials and other “experts” as to the Iranian movement’s strength, and whether or not it can be channeled to meet the needs of the U.S. government and the U.S. corporate interests it represents. The article states:

“...a number of Iran scholars in the U.S. said they have been contacted by senior administration officials eager to understand if the Iranian unrest suggested a greater threat to Tehran's government than originally understood.”

And:

“American diplomats, meanwhile, have begun drawing comparisons in public between Iran's current political turmoil and the events that led up to the 1979 overthrow of Shah Reza Pahlavi.”

The article also stated that “There's realization now that this unrest really matters." (January 10, 2010).

To the Democrats, this presents an urgent foreign policy re-shuffling: the U.S.-friendly leaders of Iran’s opposition movement — represented by their leader Moussavi — need to be strengthened, since their political approach is significantly more conservative than the still-radicalizing demands of Iran’s revolution, which already amounts to no less than a deep structural change in Iran's political and economic life. The "official" Iranian opposition wants no such change; as such, they have stopped organizing demonstrations and have become mere spectators, watching events unfold that have already passed them by.

This was already the case in June, when The New York Times reported:

“People in the street have been radicalized, and I do not believe that most of them would today subscribe to Moussavi’s avowed platform.” (June 24, 2009).

Also from The New York Times:

“...Mr. Moussavi... meant only to be an instrument for making Iran a tiny bit better, nothing more... Now, like us, Mr. Moussavi finds himself caught up in events that were unimaginable, each day’s march and protest more unthinkable than the one that came before.” (June 19, 2009).

It’s now been seven months since this commentary, and the revolution has only become more resolute and militant. The initial shouts against voter fraud have evolved into demanding "death to the dictator", combined with threats against other sections of Iran's political superstructure. The “respectable" opposition seems like a dinosaur in this context.

But Obama is determined to re-energize the already-extinct “official” opposition. He hopes that by financially targeting the current political rulers — through sanctions and bank account freezes — that the U.S. friendly Iranian opposition will be strengthened, while toppling the existing regime.

This is a risky maneuver. The outcome could in fact strengthen the current regime, and help unite people against the economic attacks of a foreign enemy. But any open collaboration between Iran’s opposition and the U.S. is also risky, since Iranians have a good memory of repressive U.S. interference in their country — when the C.I.A. organized the overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian government in 1953 — not to mention more recent examples of U.S. imperialist foreign policy in neighboring Iran and Afghanistan.

The Wall Street Journal article is the first report of Iran’s opposition openly proposing plans to help de-stabilize the current regime and signifies Washington’s willingness to follow through.

It must be noted that Moussavi and other leaders of the U.S. friendly-section of Iran’s opposition do not represent progress for Iran. These people are arch-conservatives who constitute a resolute section of Iran’s repressive establishment. If they were to come to power, they would likely welcome U.S. business interests, while maintaining the repressive state apparatus used by the current regime, which is exactly why the U.S. wants them in power.

But the U.S. is walking a dangerous tightrope, since the energy of the revolution is more than capable of ruining all the U.S. plotting. Moussavi and his ilk are already in the process of being pushed aside. Real revolutions — unlike a U.S. “color revolution” — are not easily manipulated events; masses of suddenly-conscious people have high expectations that cannot be met by the corporate-controlled U.S. government.

If Obama were sincere about helping the people of Iran, he would leave the country in peace, instead of making threats and beating the war drum, a drum he’s pounding in the exact same rhythm that Bush played in the march to war with Iraq.

Hands off Iran!

A North American Security Perimeter on the Horizon

A North American Security Perimeter on the Horizon

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NAFTA has extended from economic integration into a political and regional security pact which has been achieved through the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) of North America, Plan Mexico, as well as other initiatives. Various pieces of legislation and reports, along with influential individuals have called for closer trilateral cooperation regarding common rules for immigration and security enforcement around the perimeter of the continent. A major part of the U.S. security agenda already includes the defense of North America, but a full blown security zone would bring Canada and Mexico further under its control. A Fortress North America poses a serious threat to our sovereignty and would mean the loss of more civil liberties

Plans for a North America security perimeter might have seemed like a pipe dream just a short time ago, but it could become a reality sooner than one thinks. Some believe that a perimeter approach to security would be a more effective way of providing safety while ensuring the free flow of trade and investment. For those pushing for deep continental integration, this move is seen as the next logical step. A recent article from the Toronto Star, Canada warms to idea of a tougher ‘perimeter’ suggests that Canadians might now be ready to debate the concept of perimeter security. David Biette who specializes in U.S.-Canada relations and is a member of the Woodrow Wilson Center stated that a, “Perimeter is no longer a dirty word. It’s beginning to come up again, at least in academic circles.” He went on to say, “Canada held back when it first came up and I can certainly understand why. There was still such bad feeling left over on free trade and what that might mean for Canadian sovereignty that perimeter security was just not palatable to Canadians.” Biette also added, “You ask yourself, ‘What would a mutually improved relationship look like?’ and really, there is nothing else. Perimeter is the one big thing – the last truly huge step on the horizon.” A North American security perimeter would be one of the final steps needed in the creation of a North American Union.

Some of the recommendations from the 2005 report, Building a North American Community co-sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, included a unified border, a North American border pass, a single economic space, as well as a common security perimeter by 2010. Many of the task force recommendations in areas of trade, transportation, energy, immigration and security became part of the SPP agenda. Despite the demise of the SPP, many of its key objectives continue to move forward under the North American Leaders Summit, as well as through other initiatives. In February of 2009, it was reported that former Canadian international trade and foreign affairs minister, David Emerson, “called on the government to aggressively seek stronger Canada-U.S. ties, up to and including a customs union. He said at minimum, Canada should advocate a North American security perimeter arrangement, a labour mobility agreement that modernizes NAFTA provisions, and greater integration on regulatory matters.” U.S. officials remain concerned on how risk assessments of people entering Canada are conducted as well as the differences in its immigration and visa policies. A common perimeter approach to border management and security would require harmonization of Canadian-U.S. immigration and customs standards.

It was clear before Obama became president that he wished to relax immigration restrictions with Mexico and supported some sort of amnesty program. In mid-December of last year, H.R. 4321 the Comprehensive Immigration Reform ASAP Act of 2009 was introduced in the House of Representatives. The Obama administration has been criticized for its lack of immigration enforcement. Many have warned that the new legislation would not only grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens, but also increase legal immigration and create more loopholes in the system. In Sec. 143. Reports on Improving the Exchange of Information on North American Security, there is wording which could further promote deep continental integration. This includes yearly status reports, “in developing and implementing an immigration security strategy for North America that works toward the development of a common security perimeter.” Previous failed security and immigration bills also contained similar language referring to a shared security perimeter around the continent.

The Merida Initiative, also known as Plan Mexico is an extension of NAFTA and has its roots in the SPP. It is based on America’s failed war on drugs, which has been costly and ineffective. The Merida Initiative relies primarily on military and law enforcement solutions and is advancing police state measures. In a recent interview, Laura Carlsen director of the Americas Policy Program in Mexico City described how Plan Mexico, “was designed in Washington as a way to ‘push out the borders’ of the US security perimeter, that is, that Mexico would take on US security priorities including policing its southern border and allowing US companies and agents into Mexico’s intelligence and security operations.” She also commented that, “The Obama administration has supported the plan and even requested, and received from Congress, additional funds beyond what the Bush administration requested.” The Plan Mexico strategy is working towards the development of a common security perimeter and is further encouraging the militarization of Mexico. Continued drug violence in the country could be used as a pretext to set up a North American security perimeter

The recent foiled terrorist attack on Christmas day is accelerating the implementation of a high-tech control grid which could restrict, track and trace our movements. With the war on terrorism back in the forefront, the continued merging of North America might include Canada and Mexico playing a bigger role in regards to perimeter security. Canadian officials have announced that within the next several months, body scanners will be installed in 11 airports across the country. Some proponents of a continental security zone believe that it is the best way to secure North America, but at the same time falsely claim that this could be done with respect to each nation’s sovereignty. We are well on the way towards a North American security perimeter where trade and investment will be able to roam freely, while we are all forced to endure new security practices dominated by U.S. interests.

Earth's north magnetic pole is racing toward Russia

North Magnetic Pole Moving Due to Core Flux

Blue lines show Earth's northern magnetic field and the magnetic north pole in an artist's rendering.

Blue lines show Earth's northern magnetic field and the magnetic north pole in an artist's rendering.

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Earth's north magnetic pole is racing toward Russia at almost 40 miles (64 kilometers) a year due to magnetic changes in the planet's core, new research says.

The core is too deep for scientists to directly detect its magnetic field. But researchers can infer the field's movements by tracking how Earth's magnetic field has been changing at the surface and in space.

Now, newly analyzed data suggest that there's a region of rapidly changing magnetism on the core's surface, possibly being created by a mysterious "plume" of magnetism arising from deeper in the core.

And it's this region that could be pulling the magnetic pole away from its long-time location in northern Canada, said Arnaud Chulliat, a geophysicist at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris in France.

Finding North

Magnetic north, which is the place where compass needles actually point, is near but not exactly in the same place as the geographic North Pole. Right now, magnetic north is close to Canada's Ellesmere Island.

Navigators have used magnetic north for centuries to orient themselves when they're far from recognizable landmarks.

Although global positioning systems have largely replaced such traditional techniques, many people still find compasses useful for getting around underwater and underground where GPS satellites can't communicate.

The magnetic north pole had moved little from the time scientists first located it in 1831. Then in 1904, the pole began shifting northeastward at a steady pace of about 9 miles (15 kilometers) a year.

In 1989 it sped up again, and in 2007 scientists confirmed that the pole is now galloping toward Siberia at 34 to 37 miles (55 to 60 kilometers) a year.

A rapidly shifting magnetic pole means that magnetic-field maps need to be updated more often to allow compass users to make the crucial adjustment from magnetic north to true North.

Wandering Pole

Geologists think Earth has a magnetic field because the core is made up of a solid iron center surrounded by rapidly spinning liquid metal. This creates a "dynamo" that drives our magnetic field.

(Get more facts about Earth's insides.)

Scientists had long suspected that, since the molten core is constantly moving, changes in its magnetism might be affecting the surface location of magnetic north.

Although the new research seems to back up this idea, Chulliat is not ready to say whether magnetic north will eventually cross into Russia.

"It's too difficult to forecast," Chulliat said.

Also, nobody knows when another change in the core might pop up elsewhere, sending magnetic north wandering in a new direction.

World Health Organization Wants Tax on Internet

U.N.'s World Health Organization Eyeing Global Tax on Banking, Internet Activity

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The World Health Organization (WHO) is considering a plan to ask governments to impose a global consumer tax on such things as Internet activity or everyday financial transactions like paying bills online.

Such a scheme could raise "tens of billions of dollars" on behalf of the United Nations' public health arm from a broad base of consumers, which would then be used to transfer drug-making research, development and manufacturing capabilities, among other things, to the developing world.

The multibillion-dollar "indirect consumer tax" is only one of a "suite of proposals" for financing the rapid transformation of the global medical industry that will go before WHO's 34-member supervisory Executive Board at its biannual meeting in Geneva.

The idea is the most lucrative — and probably the most controversial — of a number of schemes proposed by a 25-member panel of medical experts, academics and health care bureaucrats who have been working for the past 14 months at WHO's behest on "new and innovative sources of funding" to accomplish major shifts in the production of medical R&D.

WHO's so-called Expert Working Group has also suggested asking rich countries to set aside fixed portions of their gross domestic product to finance the shift in worldwide research and development, as well as asking cash-rich developing nations like China, India or Venezuela to pony up more of the money.

These would also add billions in additional funds to international health care for the future — as much as $7.4 billion yearly from rich countries, and as much as $12.1 billion from low- and middle-income nations.

But the taxation ideas draw the most interest. The expert panel cites a number of possible examples. Among them:

—a 10 per cent tax on the international arms trade, "which might net about $5 billion per annum";

—a "digital tax or 'hit' tax." The report says the levy "could yield tens of billions of U.S. dollars from a broad base of users";

—a financial transaction tax. The report approvingly cites a levy in Brazil that charged 0.38 percent on bills paid online and on unspecified "major withdrawals." The report says the Brazilian tax was raising an estimated $20 billion per year until it was cancelled for unspecified reasons.

The panel concludes that "taxes would provide greater certainty once in place than voluntary contributions," even as the report urges WHO's executive board to promote all of the alternatives, and more, to support creation of a "global health research and innovation coordination and funding mechanism" for the planned revolution in medical research, development and distribution.

Click here to read the executive summary of the report.

The WHO scheme to transfer impressive amounts of money, technology, patents and manufacturing ability to the developing world in a global battle to conquer disease looks similar in many respects to the calls for huge transfers of wealth and technology that were at the heart of the just-failed U.N.-sponsored conference on lowering greenhouse gas emissions at Copenhagen.

Indeed, the volume of revenues that the experts foresee from their global indirect tax — if it should ever be approved by enough national governments — might well come close to the $30 billion annual wealth transfer that rich nations approved at Copenhagen to hand over to poor countries until 2012.

But a global health tax would go one big step further. And, as the experts point out, one trail-blazing version of their global consumer tax for medical research already exists: a germinating program known as UNITAID, which aims to battle against HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

UNITAID, which began in 2006 and is also hosted by WHO, is financed in part by a "solidarity contribution" levy of anywhere from $1.20 to $58 on airline tickets among a group of nations led by France, Brazil, Chile, Norway and Britain. According to the WHO experts report, it has raised around $1 billion since its inception, with 13 countries having already passed the airline tax legislation and "several" others in the process of doing so.

The idea, as with the "indirect" taxes that WHO is about to consider, is that a relatively small consumer levy, once implemented, is a low-profile and relatively painless way to create a global health-care tax system.

UNITAID's board chairman, Philippe Douste-Blazy, a former French Cabinet Minister and currently special advisor to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on "innovative financing for development," is also a member of the WHO expert working group.

The global financial mechanism that the experts have been exploring is the keystone to WHO's entire program for the transformation of the world's health industry, which was endorsed as a "global strategy and plan of action" by the health organization's World Assembly in May 2008.

The plan includes more than 100 specific actions across the areas of research and development, technology transfer and intellectual property rights, among others, according to an update that will also be presented to the executive board next week.

Click here for the update.

New regional and national networks for medical innovation and development are being planned in Asia, Latin America and Africa — where, for example, there will be "African-led product research and development innovation," including delivery of drugs based on traditional medicines.

Another major effort is the transfer of technology to poorer countries to produce vaccines. One example: H1N1 flu vaccine, which is being manufactured in China, India and Thailand under licensing arrangements created under WHO auspices.

After WHO issued repeated warnings of a serious H1N1 influenza pandemic over the past two years, countries such as Britain and France ordered hundreds of millions of dollars worth of vaccine, only to decide that they were unnecessary, leading to mass cancellations of orders. WHO is reviewing how it handled the crisis.

According to the WHO update, the U.N. organization is already promoting transfers of new medical products for vaccines against rabies, even though that disease is now something of a rarity in the West.

A significant aim of the WHO effort is expanding production and distribution of remedies for what it calls "neglected diseases," mainly meaning those that are more common in poor, underdeveloped countries than in richer ones. These include a variety of parasitic ailments, including trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness.

Behind all of the effort is the "persistent and growing concern," as the expert's paper puts it, that "the benefits of the advances in health technology are not reaching the poor," which the paper calls "one of the more egregious manifestations of inequity."

As with "climate change" at Copenhagen, the WHO's experts see that health inequity as a malady that innovative and permanent forms of global taxation are just the right thing to help cure.

Too Little Too Late for Haiti? Six Sobering Points

Too Little Too Late for Haiti? Six Sobering Points

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Point One. $100 Million - Are You Kidding Me?

President Obama promised $100 million in aid to Haiti on January 14, 2010. A Kentucky couple won $128 million in a Powerball lottery on December 24, 2010. The richest nation in the history of the world is giving Powerball money to a neighbor already suffering tens of thousands of deaths?

Point Two. Have You Ever Been Without Water?

Hundreds of thousands of people in Haiti have had no access to clean water since the quake hit. Have you ever been in a place that has no water? Have you ever felt the raw fear in the gut when you are not sure where your next drink of water is going to come from? People can live without food for a long time. Without water? A very short time. In hot conditions people can become dehydrated in an hour. Lack of water puts you into shock and starts breaking down the body right away. People can die within hours if they are exposed to heat without water.

Point Three. Half the People in Haiti Are Kids, and They Were Hungry Before the Quake

Over half the population of Haiti is 15 years old or younger - and they were hungry before the quake hit. A great friend, Pere Jean-Juste, explained to me that most of the people of Haiti wake every day not knowing how they will eat dinner. So, for most, there were no reserves, no soup kitchens, no pantries, nothing. Hunger started immediately.

Point Four. A Toxic Stew of Death Is Brewing

Take hundreds of thousands of people. Shock them with a major earthquake and dozens of aftershocks. Take away their homes and put them out in the open. Take away all water and food and medical care. Sit them out in the open for days with scorching temperatures. Surround them with tens of thousands of decaying bodies. People have to drink. So they are drinking bad water. They are getting sick. There is no place to go. What happens next?

Point Five. Aid Is Sitting at the Airport

While millions suffer, humanitarian aid is sitting at the Port au Prince airport. Why? People are afraid to give it out for fear of provoking riots. Which is worse?

Point Six. Haiti Is Facing a Crisis Beyond Our Worst Nightmares

"I think it is going to be worse than anyone still understands," Richard Dubin, vice president of Haiti shipping lines, told The New York Times.

He is so right. Unless there is a major, urgent change in the global response, the world may look back and envy those tens of thousands who died in the quake.

Wake up world!

U.S. Journalist Amy Goodman Detained at Canadian Border

AARP Urges Defeat of Binding Debt-Reduction Proposals

AARP Urges Defeat of Binding Debt-Reduction Proposals

The powerful AARP lobby on Thursday called on senators to defeat a proposal to create a debt-fighting commission, as well as any plan to put the "pay-as-you-go" budget rules into law.

Both approaches to stemming the tide of red ink will be considered as floor amendments when the Senate begins debate Jan. 20 on legislation to raise the debt ceiling.

"We oppose providing fast-track authority to a task force that will function with limited accountability outside of the regular order of Congress, and with an exclusive focus on debt reduction," A. Barry Rand, CEO of the seniors' lobby group, wrote in a letter to senators.

AARP represents the interests of Americans age 50 and older, who tend to vote in large numbers. It is a leading defender of Social Security and Medicare, the linchpin entitlement programs for older Americans.

The commission proposal is set to be considered as an amendment to the debt ceiling increase, and a "pay-as-you-go" amendment may be offered as well. That would require offsetting tax increases or spending cuts anytime Congress improves benefits in entitlement programs or cuts taxes.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and ranking Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire are championing the proposal to create a debt commission composed of members of Congress and administration officials. The commission would recommend spending cuts, tax increases or both to rein in the long-term growth in government debt, and Congress would have to vote on the recommendations, up or down without amendments.

Conrad and Gregg say such an approach is the only way to get Congress to pass politically dangerous cuts to programs such as Social Security, or equally unpopular tax increases.

AARP is just the latest organization to denounce the idea. Liberal groups have become increasingly vocal in their opposition to the commission, echoing AARP's warning it would cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. And some conservatives are now opposing the idea on grounds that it would result in tax increases.

The commission amendment will need 60 votes to be adopted, which appears highly unlikely at this point.

Reversing itself, FDA expresses concerns over health risks from BPA

Reversing itself, FDA expresses concerns over health risks from BPA

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The Food and Drug Administration has reversed its position on the safety of Bisphenol A, a chemical found in plastic bottles, soda cans, food containers and thousands of consumer goods, saying it now has concerns about health risks.

Growing scientific evidence has linked the chemical to a host of problems, including cancer, sexual dysfunction and heart disease. Federal officials said they are particularly concerned about BPA's effect on the development of fetuses, infants and young children.

"We have some concern, which leads us to recommend reasonable steps the public can take to reduce exposure to BPA," said Joshua Sharfstein, FDA's deputy commissioner, in a conference call to reporters Friday.

Regulators stopped short of banning the compound or even requiring manufacturers to label products containing BPA, saying that current data are not clear enough to support a legal crackdown. FDA officials also said they were hamstrung from dealing quickly with BPA by an outdated regulatory framework.

Sharfstein said the agency is conducting "targeted" studies of BPA, part of a two-year, $30 million effort by the administration to answer key questions about the chemical that will help determine what action, if any, is necessary to protect public health. The Obama administration pledged to take a "fresh look" at the chemical.

BPA, used to harden plastics, is so prevalent that more than 90 percent of the U.S. population has traces of it in its urine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers have found that BPA leaches from containers into food and beverages, even at cold temperatures.

The FDA's announcement came after extensive talks between federal agencies and the White House about the best approach to an issue that has become a significant concern for consumers and the chemical industry.

One administration official privy to the talks said the FDA is in a quandary. "They have new evidence that makes them worried, but they don't have enough proof to justify pulling the stuff, so what do you do?" said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "You want to warn people, but you don't want to create panic."

The FDA had long maintained that BPA is safe, relying largely on two studies funded by the chemical industry. The agency was faulted by its own panel of independent science advisers in 2008, which said its position on BPA was scientifically flawed because it ignored more than 100 published studies by government scientists and university laboratories that raised health concerns about BPA. Recent data found health effects even at low doses of BPA -- lower than the levels considered safe by the FDA.

The chemical industry, which produces more than 6 billion tons of BPA annually and has been fighting restrictions on its use, said Friday's announcement was good news because the agency did not tell people to stop using products containing the chemical.

"The science continues to support the safety of BPA," said Steven Hentges of the American Chemistry Council.

In a statement, the industry group said: "Plastics made with BPA contribute safety and convenience to our daily lives because of their durability, clarity and shatter-resistance. Can liners and food-storage containers made with BPA are essential components to helping protect the safety of packaged foods. . . . ACC remains committed to consumer safety, and will continue to review new scientific studies concerning the safety of BPA."

Bisphenol A was discovered to be a synthetic estrogen in the 1930s. By the 1950s, chemists found BPA could be used to make polycarbonate plastics, giving them a "shatterproof" quality, and the uses for the chemical exploded.

But recently, consumers have placed increasing pressure on manufacturers and retailers to migrate away from BPA. In 2008, Babies R Us and other major retailers told suppliers they would no longer stock baby bottles made with BPA. Last year, the six largest manufacturers of baby bottles announced they would voluntarily stop selling bottles made with bisphenol A to consumers in the United States.

But BPA remains in the epoxy linings of most canned goods, including baby formula. Research has shown that it leaches from the linings into liquid formula, but not powered formula.

Environmental groups, public health advocates and consumer organizations applauded the FDA for recognizing concern about BPA, but some said the agency didn't go far enough.

"It's really a shame after all of the studies out there that they didn't do anything to protect the public health," said Urvashi Rangan, director of technical policy at Consumers Union. "How many pieces of evidence do we need before we have enough to act?"

Canada declared BPA a toxin and banned it from baby bottles in 2008. Similar restrictions have taken root in Chicago, Minnesota, Connecticut and Suffolk County in New York. In Congress, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) have filed a bill that would block BPA from all food and drink packaging.

As it awaits additional research results, the FDA plans to change the way it classifies BPA so that it can exercise tighter controls over the chemical, Sharfstein said. Currently, BPA is approved as a "food additive," which means manufacturers are not required to tell the government which products contain BPA and in what amounts. The agency wants to reclassify it as a "food contact material," which would require greater disclosure from manufacturers and would allow the FDA to take fast action if it determined that the material posed a health risk.

The Department of Health and Human Services has released recommended ways for the public to reduce exposure to BPA. It can be found at http://www.hhs.gov/safety/bpa.

The US is failing Haiti -- again

The US is failing Haiti - again

There is nobody to co-ordinate the most rudimentary relief and rescue efforts

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The US-run aid effort for Haiti is beginning to look chillingly similar to the criminally slow and disorganised US government support for New Orleans after it was devastated by hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Five years ago President Bush was famously mute and detached when the levees broke in Louisiana. By way of contrast, President Obama was promising Haitians that everything would be done for survivors within hours of the calamity.

The rhetoric from Washington has been very different during these two disasters, but the outcome may be much the same. In both cases very little aid arrived at the time it was most needed and, in the case of Port-au-Prince, when people trapped under collapsed buildings were still alive. When foreign rescue teams with heavy lifting gear does come it will be too late. No wonder enraged Haitians are building roadblocks out of rocks and dead bodies.

In New Orleans and Port-au-Prince there is the same official terror of looting by local people, so the first outside help to arrive is in the shape of armed troops. The US currently has 3,500 soldiers, 2,200 marines and 300 medical personnel on their way to Haiti.

Of course there will be looting because, with shops closed or flattened by the quake, this is the only way for people to get food and water. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. I was in Port-au-Prince in 1994, the last time US troops landed there, when local people systematically tore apart police stations, taking wood, pipes and even ripping nails out of the walls. In the police station I was in there were sudden cries of alarm from those looting the top floor as they discovered that they could not get back down to the ground because the entire wooden staircase had been chopped up and stolen.

I have always liked Haitians for their courage, endurance, dignity and originality. They often manage to avoid despair in the face of the most crushing disasters or any prospect that their lives will get better. Their culture, notably their painting and music, is among the most interesting and vibrant in the world.

It is sad to hear journalists who have rushed to Haiti in the wake of the earthquake give such misleading and even racist explanations of why Haitians are so impoverished, living in shanty towns with a minimal health service, little electricity supply, insufficient clean water and roads that are like river beds.

This did not happen by accident. In the 19th century it was as if the colonial powers never forgave Haitians for staging a successful slave revolt against the French plantation owners. US marines occupied the country from 1915 to 1934. Between 1957 and 1986 the US supported Papa Doc and Baby Doc, fearful that they might be replaced by a regime sympathetic to revolutionary Cuba next door.

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a charismatic populist priest, was overthrown by a military coup in 1991, and restored with US help in 1994. But the Americans were always suspicious of any sign of radicalism from this spokesman for the poor and the outcast and kept him on a tight lead. Tolerated by President Clinton, Aristide was treated as a pariah by the Bush administration which systematically undermined him over three years leading up to a successful rebellion in 2004. That was led by local gangsters acting on behalf of a kleptocratic Haitian elite and supported by members of the Republican Party in the US.

So much of the criticism of President Bush has focused on his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that his equally culpable actions in Haiti never attracted condemnation. But if the country is a failed state today, partly run by the UN, in so far as it is run by anybody, then American actions over the years have a lot to do with it.

Haitians are now paying the price for this feeble and corrupt government structure because there is nobody to co-ordinate the most rudimentary relief and rescue efforts. Its weakness is exacerbated because aid has been funnelled through foreign NGOs. A justification for this is that less of the money is likely to be stolen, but this does not mean that much of it reaches the Haitian poor. A sour Haitian joke says that when a Haitian minister skims 15 per cent of aid money it is called "corruption" and when an NGO or aid agency takes 50 per cent it is called "overheads".

Many of the smaller government aid programmes and NGOs are run by able, energetic and selfless people, but others, often the larger ones, are little more than rackets, highly remunerative for those who run them. In Kabul and Baghdad it is astonishing how little the costly endeavours of American aid agencies have accomplished. "The wastage of aid is sky high," said a former World Bank director in Afghanistan. "There is real looting going on, mostly by private enterprises. It is a scandal." Foreign consultants in Kabul often receive $250,000 to $500,000 a year, in a country where 43 per cent of the population try to live on less than a dollar a day.

None of this bodes well for Haitians hoping for relief in the short term or a better life in the long one. The only way this will really happen is if the Haitians have a legitimate state capable of providing for the needs of its people. The US military, the UN bureaucracy or foreign NGOs are never going to do this in Haiti or anywhere else.

There is nothing very new in this. Americans often ask why it is that their occupation of Germany and Japan in 1945 succeeded so well but more than half a century later in Iraq and Afghanistan was so disastrous. The answer is that it was not the US but the efficient German and Japanese state machines which restored their countries. Where that machine was weak, as in Italy, the US occupation relied with disastrous results on corrupt and incompetent local elites, much as they do today in Iraq, Afghanistan and Haiti.

Iraq Political Fissures Widen as March Vote Nears

Iraq Political Fissures Widen as March Vote Nears


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With all attention on Afghanistan as violence and US troop commitment there surges, the occupation in Iraq has received less attention in recent months than it has since the invasion of Iraq took place in March 2003.

However, national elections in Iraq, originally scheduled to take place this month, but postponed until March 7, rather than possibly bringing greater stability to war-torn Iraq, now threaten to reignite a powder keg of political tensions that has been simmering for years.

Last week, the Shiite-sectarian political power brokers in Baghdad, led by US-appointed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, used the so-called Iraq Accountability and Justice Commission (AJC), (a remnant group of the former De-Baathification Commission set up by L. Paul Bremer, the US czar of Iraq during the first year of the occupation and led by Ahmed Chalabi), on January 7 to ban at least 14 largely Sunni political parties and political figures from the upcoming vote due to supposed links to the Baath Party, which has long since been banned in Iraq.

The AJC claims that its decision was based on new "evidence" showing connections between the 14 groups and the Baath Party, but has thus far failed to produce any said evidence.

On January 5, the Saudi-owned London-based daily newspaper Al-Hayat wrote of this: "The independent Iraqi Election Commission has revealed that it has received an interpretation from the Iraqi Supreme Federal Court in regard to the seventh article of the constitution, which prohibits Ba'thist participation in all elections and also the participation of any Ba'th allies or supporters in any political activity. It is important to note that this decision could lead to the exclusion of fourteen political parties and groups from the electoral process."

The commission's president Faraj al-Haydari was quoted in that regard by Al-Hayat as saying: "We have received the Federal Court's interpretation regarding some political entities which were first included in the electoral process but will be excluded from the process altogether in light of this recent court decision. The Federal Court considered that any politician or party involved in terrorist activities, or enjoying Ba'thist ideas, must be excluded. This decision considers that, based on Article 7 of the constitution, these people should be excluded from any political participation and from public life."

The most important figure banned, thus far, was Saley al-Mutlaq, a secular Sunni leader, whose National Dialogue Front is very popular among Iraq's largely disenfranchised Sunni population. Mutlaq was likely targeted by Maliki in this pre-emptive political assassination attempt because in recent months he has effectively created a powerful bloc of opposition that would challenge both Maliki and the broader Shiite political alliance to which he belongs, which is comprised of the likes of Muqtada al-Sadr's group, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and Chalabi.

While Iraq's government still could, theoretically, decide to void the aforementioned ban, the move has created outrage across Iraq, threatened to reignite sectarian violence and civil war that ravaged the country throughout 2006-2007, and would inevitably cause the more than 120,000 US troops in Iraq to, rather than see their numbers decline, remain and possibly increase.

Mutlaq's political bloc, which includes former Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and the prominent Sunni leader Tariq al-Hashemi, is now threatening to boycott the March election, as Reuters reported on January 9:
"The 'Iraqi List,' headed by Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi'ite, and MP Salih al-Mutlaq, an influential secular Sunni politician, blasted the decision from an independent state committee to ban al-Mutlaq from the elections."

Likely in response to Mutlaq's threat of boycott, and to use fear to consolidate power, on January 12, Iraqis in Baghdad awoke to find their capital city locked down and streets sealed off, with rumors flying that there had been a Baathist coup.

With a Sunni and secular-Shia political boycott of the March elections, and the ensuing lack of political representation in Baghdad, the threat of large-scale violence looms large.

President Barack Obama's current stated promise is to draw down US forces in Iraq to around 50,000 by this August, and remove those forces by the end of 2011 (with the usually unstated caveat that at least 50,000 US troops will remain in Iraq indefinitely). This appears very unlikely even without a large boycott of the upcoming vote and the likely violence that would explode as a result, as the current Obama plan would, since US forces are expected to remain above 120,000 until after the elections, mean that at least 70,000 troops would be withdrawn in only five months.

Meanwhile, evidence of further political turmoil arose on January 12 when Iraqi Speaker Ayad al-Samarraie, told the newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, "I can also tell you that our efforts [toward government accountability] were met with opposition from the government, which did not like having someone watching over its head. They thought that we were practicing our prerogatives in order to topple the government and bring it down, which is, of course, not true at all. We wanted to fight corruption, but our efforts were met with anger and rejection from a significant number of ministers. They refused to come to parliament for questioning, thinking that was a humiliation for them."

Al-Samarraie said this about the government response to his anti-corruption efforts: "If the prime minister has something on his mind, let him express it, but the final decision belongs to the parliamentary blocs. I told the prime minister on many occasions that, if you strongly believe in something, let your parliamentary bloc work to implement it. But, if your bloc is not up to the task, do not blame me for that," and added that the government, particularly Prime Minister Maliki, wants "... the speaker to be powerless, but that will not be the case. We are not in a dictatorial regime and I will never be a figurehead. Many attempts were made to topple me, but they have all failed."

A statement by the head of the European Parliament's delegation for relations with Iraq, Scottish lawmaker Struan Stevenson, cited Mutlaq's "uncompromising positions" against Iran's "meddling" in Iraq as the "true" reason behind the decision to ban him from the upcoming election.

In another move, in response to charges of sectarianism in banning political groups and individuals from the March 7 vote who have alleged ties to the banned Sunni party, the commission said it also intends to ban Shiite opposition parties that are affiliated with the Sunni parties that are accused of Baathist affiliations.

It is important to note that Maliki was an Iraqi in exile in Tehran from 1982-1990, then remained in Syria before returning to Iraq after the US invasion of 2003. Maliki, who is also the secretary general of the Islamic Dawa Party, worked as a political officer for the Dawa while in Syria, developing close ties with Hezbollah and Iran.

Maliki's government has also been busy recently conducting mass arrests of hundreds of young men in predominantly Sunni areas of Iraq. While the vast majority of Iraqis are nonsectarian, the US-backed government in Baghdad continues to carry out acts that blatantly foment violent sectarianism, evidenced by the article "Mass Arrests Reported in Sunni Areas in Iraq" in the Azzaman newspaper on January 4 that stated: "Iraqi security forces have launched a wide campaign in Sunni Muslim-dominated neighborhoods of Baghdad and towns and cities to the north and west of the capital" and "the campaign is said to be the widest by the government in years and has led to an exodus of people to the Kurdish north."

Those arrested have been accused of illegal membership in the Awakening Council.

Family members of those being arrested are not told where their loved ones are being held, only that those arrested will remain behind bars until after the elections. In addition, there have been government sweeps collecting other members of the once US-backed Awakening Council, a group of nearly 200,000 Sunni militiamen, who the US paid off to stop their attacks against occupation forces, but have since been cut free of US support, at least officially.

The Councils were originally founded by the Bush administration to help combat al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The Judicial Council, that is run by Iraq's Interior Ministry, last week passed 77 death sentences in Baghdad, all targeting men accused of terrorism, mostly from the Sunni community.

Maliki's clampdown on the Sunnis also happens to coincide with the recent release of Qais Khazali, a popular Shiite cleric who was jailed in March 2007. Khazali was an associate of Muqtada al-Sadr, but was expelled from Sadr's Mehdi Army militia in 2004. It is believed Khazali will be used by Maliki in the March vote to counterbalance the Sadrist bloc that is now running for Parliament in March in a coalition that does not include Maliki.

Maliki's recent targeting of his Sunni and secular Shiite political opponents likely stems from an attempt to salvage what he can of his deteriorating political power. With violence again escalating in Iraq with recent widespread bombings, Maliki has also lost face on the Iraqi street, as his reputation of having improved security in Iraq is now stained with Iraqi blood.

Maliki's political bloc, the State of Law Alliance (SoL), which had the support of the majority of Sunnis during Iraq's provincial elections in January 2009, has now effectively lost that support by these recent clampdowns on the Awakening Council and Sunni politicians like Mutlaq.

Mutlaq has vowed to seek to overturn the decision through the country's Supreme Court or, if necessary, the United Nations.

If he fails, and a Sunni and secular Shia boycott of the March 7 vote happens, a growing fear of major resumption of armed resistance activities looms large.