Sunday, March 21, 2010

Homeland Security seeking clearance to fly drones over Texas

Drones may be sent soon to help with border security, Napolitano says

Go To Original

The federal government may soon send unmanned aircraft to scour West Texas and the state's coastal waters in an effort to boost border security, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a letter to the governor sent Friday.

Perry had formally requested the assistance a week ago. The need also was underscored in a phone call that Democratic nominee Bill White had with Napolitano on Thursday.

Homeland Security has six drones and is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to get the necessary clearance to begin flying over Texas, Napolitano wrote.

Before operations start, ground control stations, pilots, sensor operators and maintenance support have to be allocated. She said that the governor would be kept apprised of the progress.

"This is encouraging news, and we are hopeful that this technology and additional federal resources will be deployed to Texas as soon as possible," said Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger.

Perry has complained that the federal government has not done enough to secure the border, especially in light of escalating drug violence in Mexico border towns.

Germany Latest Victim Of Phony Gold Bar Scam

Germany Latest Victim Of Phony Gold Bar Scam

Go To Original

Amid international accusations that U.S. officials in the Clinton administration replaced gold in Fort Knox with phony, mostly tungsten bars that were later shipped to China and other places yet unknown, a German refinery has now discovered that it has received a bogus “gold” bar as well.

The video proof was shown on the German television station ProSieben that ran the news story covering W.C. Heraeus in Hanau, Germany, the world’s largest privately owned refinery.

In the story, Wilfried Horner, head of the gold foundry, shows a 500-gram bar (16.0755 troy ounces) received from an unidentified bank. The bar had the right physical dimensions to be an authentic gold bar, but one of the Heraeus employees suspected something.

After the bar was cut in half, the TV audience could plainly see that the dark insides were tungsten, with only a coating of gold on the outside.

While the story never aired on American TV, it is available on the Internet.

Last fall, Rob Kirby of Kirby Analytics in Toronto reported that China’s central bank had discovered nearly 6,000 400-ounce gold-plated tungsten bars among those it had recently received from bonded warehouses.

It was later learned that at least four counterfeit bars at other locations were found and that all had come from sources within the United States, including Fort Knox, according to the Chinese investigators.

As suspicions grow about counterfeit bars among those held in bonded warehouses for delivery against either COMEX or London Bullion Market Association contracts or shares of exchange-traded funds, investors could panic. It is believed this could be the reason for the blackout on news coverage in the United States on this story except for AFP.

Several metals have similar densities to gold. However, using these metals to produce fake gold is unprofitable due to their high cost. There are two metals that are suitable, from both a density and economic perspective, for manufacturing fake gold—uranium and tungsten.

These metals aren’t without their negatives. Uranium can be radioactive. Tungsten is extremely brittle—the exact opposite of gold. Additionally, tungsten has the highest known melting point of any non-alloyed metal at 3,422 degrees Celsius (6,192 F),making it difficult to work with. However, it appears that at least one high-temperature furnace is producing gilded tungsten products.

Gilded steel is a unconvincing form of fake gold. A steel bar identical in size to the standard 400-troy ounce gold bars commonly used in bank-to-bank trades would weigh only 162.5 troy ounces (about 60 percent lighter) and would be easily identifiable as counterfeit.

Gold’s unmistakable density, along with its scarcity, durability, and other qualities, made it attractive to be used as money for our nation’s founders, and its theft through Federal Reserve fakery over the past century has provoked these current problems of “banker control” via paper notes and credit over what was designed to be the actual money.

Thus far, the commodity exchanges have disclaimed any responsibility for the purity of the gold bars they are delivering against contracts. However, as stories of gold-plated tungsten bars in bonded warehouses continue to appear, brokers say we can expect the commodity exchanges to be forced—not legally, but to meet competition—to modify their business practices to provide a guaranty of purity for any bars they deliver.

To maximize safety, it is advisable to trade now only for only smaller size coins and ingots, such as one ounce of gold content or less. One-tenth and quarter-ounce pieces will be desirable and usable during a hyperinflation or a depression. Individuals should deal only with companies that have a lengthy track record and in-house staff expertise. Trustworthy dealers have told us that if you have purchased coins and ingots from unknown sources, you may want have them checked out by an experienced independent third party, because even these can be counterfeited, but not nearly as likely.

The respected dealers with decades of integrity in their past tell us that these problems have been created by “big-time” international swindlers, not to mention governments, counterfeiting multi-ounce bars and should have no effect on the confidence of the individual investor who is exchanging his Federal Reserve note paper for gold coins.

For all of the reasons above, it would be advisable to take physical possession of the smaller sizes of gold coins and bars now, and know that what you own is genuine, solid gold.

FEMA Detention Site Plans Exposed

FEMA Detention Site Plans Exposed

Go To Original

If, God forbid, Americans are ever rounded up in large numbers during a natural or manmade disaster, where could they be detained? Well, perhaps look no further than the school building next door, the office building around the corner or the stadium downtown. And besides existing military installations, state fair grounds, horse stables, airports “and maybe even a hotel” also could be used as detention centers.

That’s according to Restore the Republic’s Gary Franchi at Freedom Law School’s recent Health & Freedom Conference. Franchi was one of several speakers who gathered at the Airport Hilton in Ontario, Calif., March 12-15 to talk about cutting-edge developments in health and politics.

Many vigilant Americans have become aware of some apparently underutilized military facilities and other installations around the nation that seem designed to detain large numbers of people but are largely empty.

Unsubstantiated rumors and urban legends have been circulated, and Franchi was careful not to overstate this issue. But he said there is cause for considerable concern in these post-9-11 days when the normal patriotic impulses of Americans are being relabeled as radical or even on par with terrorism by federal agencies.

Franchi told the conference audience that on April 1, 1979, under Executive Order 12127, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was created but it unfortunately was “no joke” for April Fools Day. Just as FEMA was absorbed nearly 25 years later by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), FEMA at its birth absorbed the Department of Defense civil-preparedness functions that designated schools, office buildings and other structures as atom bomb “fallout shelters” starting in the 1950s during the Cold War days with the Soviet Union.

DHS, created on the direct recommendation of the 9-11 Commission, that purported to deeply study what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, says, under its “Goals and Objectives” statement (Part VI), that its mission is to “protect our nation from dangerous people.”

Now under the DHS umbrella, FEMA’s three basic objectives, according to its own policy, are: national emergency recovery, continuity of government and “to combat perceived threats to the social and political order,” Franchi emphasized.

He showed an aerial picture of “FEMA City,” the drab barracks set up in Florida after Hurricane Charlie. These cookie-cutter mobile homes were “free housing with nosebleeds,” Franchi said, referring to the effects of chemical fumes emitted from the shoddy building materials.

The area, courtesy of FEMA, became a crime haven. Any genuine public benefit was marginal at best.

Fast-forward to Highland Mall in Austin, Texas, claimed by FEMA in 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as a place to put Louisiana refugees entering Texas. The New Orleans Superdome itself was “another
private building used to house refugees,” Franchi added.

Given the ongoing “war on terror” and the threat to the people’s liberties that can arise from “anti-terror” measures, combined with steep economic decline and the procedures and policies that FEMA and DHS have developed or are still developing, Franchi says the situation looks grim unless Americans protest now and show they are informed of, and actively opposed to, potential plans to imprison large numbers of people, lest Americans bite the dust the way the USSR people did when they were sent to brutal labor camps amid political turmoil and the demonizing of “unlawful” political beliefs.

Pointing to the World War II detention of thousands of Japanese-Americans, Franchi said the detaining of Americans has already happened. Recall that during Woodrow Wilson’s days, many notable war dissenters were imprisoned in a nation supposedly dedicated to free speech. So it’s only a question of circumstance, as Franchi sees it.

The FBI’s Project Megiddo in 1999, the Missouri Information Analysis Center “militia” report from February 2009 and the April 2009 DHS report Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment, are among the reports that have tried to tie Americans’ concerns and beliefs to supposed violent tendencies, so these linkages can be transformed into the “truth” and used to arrest political dissidents, just like what happened in the early 20th century, said Franchi.

He added that the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has long tried to influence law enforcement and legislation, has issued yet another report that follows a similar tack. His research is in the documentary Camp FEMA. “We cannot let these people . . . intimidate us; we are sovereign U.S. citizens, and nothing is going to stop us from [resisting] this tyranny,” Franchi said, noting that public television stations may help.

US prepares for military confrontation with Iran

US prepares for military confrontation with Iran

Go To Original

An article in the Scottish-based Sunday Herald last weekend provided an ominous reminder that the Obama administration has retained what is euphemistically described as the “military option” against Iran—that is, massive, unprovoked US air strikes.

The newspaper reported that the US military was moving 387 bunker-buster bombs, from California to the US base on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, in preparation for a possible attack on Iran. Superior Maritime Services was contracted in January to transport 10 containers of munitions, including 195 smart Blu-110 bombs and 192 huge 2,000 pound Blu-117 bombs, which are designed for use against hardened or underground structures.

The Sunday Herald cited Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy (CISD) at the University of London, who said: “They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran. US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours.” According to a CISD study in 2007, the Pentagon’s war plans, drawn up under the Bush administration, would not only target Iran’s nuclear facilities but its air defences, military and industrial capacity.

None of the analysts interviewed by the newspaper described a US attack as imminent. But Plesch commented: “The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely. The US… is using its forces as part of an overall strategy of shaping Iran’s actions.”

However, President Obama’s “overall strategy” appears increasingly in disarray. Having set the end of last year as the deadline for Tehran to meet US demands, the White House has been waging a sustained diplomatic offensive this year to secure a UN resolution imposing tough new sanctions on Iran. The US not only needs the agreement of UN Security Council members, but is seeking support from Arab allies in the Middle East and attempting to ensure that Israel does not take unilateral, preemptive military action of its own against Iran.

On Wednesday, Obama declared again that the US would pursue “aggressive sanctions” against Iran. However, as the Financial Times pointed out yesterday, the effort to build a consensus for UN sanctions “is looking increasingly under stress”. Any resolution “is unlikely to reach the 15-member Security Council before June, if then”. The main opponent is China, which has repeatedly dismissed calls for fresh sanctions, reiterating as recently as Thursday its commitment to “a peaceful solution through diplomatic means”. By refusing to consider further sanctions, Beijing has encouraged other UN Security Council members, including Russia, Turkey, Brazil and Lebanon, to maintain an ambivalent position.

Washington had been exploiting the so-called P5+1 grouping—the permanent UN Security Council members, the US, Britain, France, Russia and China, plus Germany—as a forum to pressure Beijing into line. However, no face-to-face meeting of the group has taken place since January and none is scheduled. In recent weeks, top-level delegations have visited Beijing—including from Israel, the US and, this week, British Foreign Secretary David Milliband. They have attempted without success to cajole and pressure China to agree to tough new penalties against Tehran. Beijing’s opposition is a significant factor in the increasingly tense relations with Washington over a range of issues.

The American and international press has highlighted the Chinese economic interests at stake in Iran. In 2009, China became Iran’s top trading partner, with bilateral trade worth $21.2 billion, up from $14.4 billion three years earlier. Although Beijing still relies on Saudi Arabia and Angola for more than half its oil imports, it has increased Iran’s share to 11.4 percent and is investing heavily in oil and gas projects there as well as other infrastructure. China National Petroleum and its subsidiary Petrochina last year agreed to invest more than $8 billion in one gas and two oil projects.

Shining a media spotlight on Chinese interests only underscores the fact that the US confrontation with Iran is not about its alleged plans to build a nuclear weapon. Rather, Washington is exploiting the issue to block the interests of its European and Asian rivals and to further its own ambitions for dominance in the energy-rich Middle East and Central Asia. Tehran has repeatedly declared that it has no intention of building a bomb, but is determined to develop a nuclear energy program.

Washington’s diplomatic efforts are running into obstacles on other fronts. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to Moscow this week has turned into a debacle. In what can only be described as a calculated diplomatic snub, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia and Iran would complete the process of starting up the long-delayed, Russian-built power reactor at Bushehr within months. In a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday, Clinton criticised the plan as “premature” because “we want to send an unequivocal message to the Iranians”.

Clinton was obviously hoping for Russian support for stronger sanctions. Last year Obama shut down the planned US anti-ballistic missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic, which was bitterly opposed by Moscow, hoping for Russian support for sanctions against Iran in return. However, Lavrov made clear that Moscow would only back sanctions that were “not aggressive”—an obvious reference to Obama’s remarks on Wednesday—and did not target the Iranian population or have humanitarian consequences.

The sharp tensions between the US and Israel, which erupted last week during US Vice President Joseph Biden’s visit, also cut across Washington’s strategy on Iran. Israel’s announcement of new Jewish settlements—while Biden was in Israel—was a direct rebuff to US efforts to restart talks with Palestinian leaders and provoked a furious response from Biden and Clinton. The US is not concerned in the slightest about the fate of Palestinians. But by undermining the sham peace process, Israel is damaging intense US efforts to enlist the support of Arab allies, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, to back sanctions against Iran, and weaken Syrian ties with Iran.

If the UN Security Council fails to pass new sanctions, the US has already raised the prospect of further unilateral penalties. Over the weekend, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, who was hosting a meeting of EU foreign ministers, tentatively declared that there would be “consensus enough” for unilateral EU sanctions, if a UN resolution were not passed. The US Congress is also considering far-reaching legislation to allow the US administration to penalise foreign companies selling refined oil products to Iran or engaged in providing insurance, reinsurance or shipping for such trade.

Even if finally put in place, unilateral US or European sanctions are fraught with difficulties. Action against the sale of gasoline would potentially have a severe impact on the Iranian economy, which imports 40 percent of its requirements due to a lack of refining capacity. But such a measure would inevitably provoke widespread popular opposition in Iran under conditions where Washington is still hoping to encourage political opposition and some form of regime change in Tehran. Moreover, Chinese corporations might increase their sales of gasoline and diesel to Iran, as is already taking place. Congressional sanctions against Tehran could provoke a further sharpening of tensions with Beijing.

As Obama’s diplomatic campaign becomes bogged down, a debate has opened up in US ruling circles over the future course of action. Sections of the foreign policy establishment are proposing a policy of “containment” in the event that the US fails to prevent Iran building a nuclear weapon. An extensive essay entitled “After Iran Gets the Bomb” in this month’s issue of the influential Foreign Affairs magazine argues for aggressive policies to isolate Iran. Far from easing tensions in the Middle East, a strategy of “containment” would only heighten them.

The authors—James Lindsay and Ray Takeyh—call for the consolidation of US military alliances in the Middle East along the lines of the Central Treaty Organisation established in 1955 by the US, Britain, Turkey, Pakistan and Iran to counter Soviet influence. Washington would offer security guarantees to, and bolster the military capacity of, its allies, as well as laying down a series of three “red lines” that Tehran would cross at its peril. Chillingly, the article insisted that “it should also be made clear that the price of Iran’s violating these three prohibitions could be US military retaliation by any and all means necessary, up to and including nuclear weapons”.

The alternative being canvassed—but not so openly discussed—is to dramatically intensify action to compel Iran to accede to US demands. The case is argued in today’s New York Times by Howard Berman, the Democrat chairman of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs. He declares: “It is foolhardy to believe that the West could contain or deter Tehran were it to acquire the bomb. A nuclear-armed Iran would usher in a dangerous new era of instability in the Gulf and Middle East… If recalcitrant governments seek to block or dilute the ability of the United Nations to take strong swift action, then we Americans will have no choice but to act on our own.” He calls for Obama “to focus our efforts on the pressure track” and declares that Congressional sanctions legislation will be ready in a matter of weeks.

What is left unsaid is that the only “option” left, should sanctions fail to bring Iran to heel, is the military one. The transfer of bunker-buster bombs to Diego Garcia, along with a string of visits by top US generals to the Middle East in recent weeks and US assistance to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to bolster anti-missile systems, are all evidence of the advanced nature of US preparations for a military attack on Iran. While the outcome of the current debate in Washington is not yet clear, no one can rule out a reckless new US military adventure against Iran as the Obama administration seeks to extricate itself from a mounting political crisis both at home and abroad.

US Congress poised to pass Obama's cost-cutting health plan

US Congress poised to pass Obama’s cost-cutting health plan

Go To Orignal

Barack Obama spoke Friday in northern Virginia, making a final pitch for passage of his health care legislation. The rally at George Mason University culminated a weeks-long public relations blitz for the plan, in which the president has sought to present its cost-cutting features as a boon for ordinary Americans.

On Friday, he repeated a formulation he has used of late, claiming demagogically that minimal protections for health care consumers in the legislation are “like a patient’s bill of rights on steroids.” He went on to state that the final vote on the bill in Congress boiled down to “whether we still have the guts and the courage to give every citizen, not just some, the chance to reach their dreams.”

In reality, Obama’s health care plan will increase private insurance company profits, slash hundreds of billions of dollars from the Medicare program for the elderly, and set into motion a series of measures that will result in reduced care and rationing of services for the vast majority of working families. The legislation has nothing to do with “reform” of the health system to expand and improve care, but is aimed rather at radically reducing government spending and business costs.

As Obama addressed his mostly student crowd, House Democratic leaders were scrambling to assemble the 216 votes necessary to pass the legislation. If all works to plan, the House will vote Sunday to approve the previous Senate version of the bill along with an accompanying package of amendments. The reconciled bill would then be sent to the Senate for approval by a simple majority vote, then on to the president to be signed into law.

The White House got a boost Thursday with the release of a report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that estimated the Obama plan had a $940 billion price-tag and would reduce the federal deficit by $138 billion over 10 years. In the yearlong wrangling over provisions of the legislation, Obama has consistently pledged that it would not add “one dime” to the federal deficit.

The Democratic leadership was “absolutely giddy” over the CBO’s report, according to House Majority Whip James Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina, as it gave Speaker Nancy Pelosi and White House officials new ammunition to sway reluctant, mainly conservative House Democrats to commit to a “yes” vote on Sunday.

With the release of the CBO report, the White House and Democratic leaders largely reverted to selling their plan as a means of reining in soaring federal deficits and a model for more sweeping cuts in social “entitlement” programs to come.

As of Friday afternoon, Democratic leaders were still about a half dozen votes shy of the 216 votes needed. Pelosi and Obama administration officials were confident, however, that they would garner the requisite votes, and the White House was sending out alerts to the press every time a Democratic House member agreed to support the legislation.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, switched his vote from “no” to “yes” on Wednesday, throwing in his lot with the Obama plan after months of opposing it because it did not include a public option and would leave “patients financially vulnerable to insurance companies.” His move followed some one-on-one coaxing from Obama. (See “Kucinich throws his support behind Obama health care bill”)

Other Democratic members of the House who voted “no” on the November House bill, but now say they will vote “yes,” include Bart Gordon (Tennessee), Betsy Markey (Colorado) and John Boccieri (Ohio).

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Democrat of Illinois, who had threatened to oppose the bill because of provisions barring undocumented immigrants from purchasing insurance, said Thursday he would vote for the legislation.

While Democratic leaders have worked to convince House Democrats to vote in favor of the bill, they have also been engaged in negotiations over who will be given permission to vote against it. A number of Democrats fear a backlash at the polls this November due to the growing popular opposition to the plan, particularly the proposed cuts to Medicare. In closed-door meetings, Pelosi and party leaders are meeting one on one with these potentially vulnerable Democrats.

In an article Thursday, the New York Times noted some of the criteria being used to determine who gets the go-ahead to publicly oppose the bill: “Who won by the smallest margin? Which districts have smaller black populations, a traditionally reliable vote? Who voted for the somewhat different version of the legislation in November and is going to be attacked by Republicans for that vote regardless of what they do this weekend?”

Exposed in this cynical horse-trading is the fact that despite Obama’s efforts to convince the American people that the legislation constitutes a genuine reform in their interests, most view it with skepticism or oppose it outright. A Gallup poll released Friday showed that only 28 percent of those surveyed thought the health care bill would make things better for them and their families, while 37 percent said it would make things worse. Only 39 percent of those polled said they believed the health legislation would make things better for the US as a whole.

In fact, it constitutes a boondoggle for the insurance companies, who will gain millions of new customers. Individuals and families will be required to purchase coverage, or face a penalty if they do not—up to 2.5 percent of income by 2016. Employers will be under no obligation to provide insurance to their workers and will face only minimal fines if their employees receive government subsidies to purchase insurance from private firms on the health care exchanges that are to be set up.

About half of the estimated 32 million people who will get insurance under the plan will be insured through Medicaid, the health program for the poor and disabled jointly administered by the federal government and the states. States are already struggling to fund Medicaid, and many doctors have stopped accepting patients from the program because they are poorly compensated for their services or don’t receive payment at all.

The tax on so-called “Cadillac” health plans will be delayed from the schedule proposed in the Senate version of legislation. Plans will be taxed at a 40 percent rate for that portion of premiums costing more than $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families, beginning in 2018 instead of 2013. The number of plans taxed is expected to rise yearly as insurers raise premiums.

This tax will be born in full by millions of workers, including many trade unionists, who receive insurance under company-sponsored plans. Their benefits will be cut and their out-of-pocket costs increased.

Despite Obama’s claims that premium prices will be held down as a result of his plan, there are no provisions that would prevent the insurance companies from doing so. The watchdog government panel proposed by Obama with much fanfare before last month’s bipartisan health care summit—the Health Insurance Rate Authority—has been eliminated from the bill.

Obama’s plan includes the establishment of a new body—the “Independent Payment Advisory Board”—to root out “waste and abuse” in the Medicare program. This unelected body of presidential appointees will wield broad powers to reduce costs and services and rewrite Medicare regulations. The changes this panel proposes can be overruled only by a super-majority vote in Congress.

Mayor plans to relocate poor residents to “downsize” Detroit

Mayor plans to relocate poor residents to “downsize” Detroit

Go To Original

A spate of fatal house fires has occurred in Detroit since the beginning of the year, the majority of which have claimed victims who had their electrical and gas service cut off by the utility giant DTE Energy.

The tragedies—including a January 5 fire on Dexter Ave. that killed two disabled men and a third resident, and a March 4 blaze on Bangor Street, which claimed the lives of three small children—occur as city officials are outlining plans to force residents out of poor neighborhoods and bulldoze their houses in order to eliminate sewerage, public lighting, fire protection and other services to whole swaths of the city.

Meanwhile, the mayor is continuing to gut basic services to the population. The Detroit Free Press reported Monday that Mayor David Bing’s administration is “exploring consolidating the city’s health and human services department, closing the Herman Kiefer health complex and shuttering all but two Neighborhood City Halls,” in order to save $2 million a year.

Although the cost of providing health services at Herman Kiefer is largely picked up by the federal government, city officials complain that the physical upkeep of the aging facility is costing $1 million a year. The bigger question being asked by the Bing administration, the Free Press quotes Bing official Charles Beckham as saying, is “should we be in the business of providing health services at all.”

The facility—which services 2,000 people a day—is one of the only public health sites in the city, and for decades has provided poor Detroiters with the only access to vaccinations, HIV testing, health fairs and other services. With an infant mortality rate already equivalent to that of the Dominican Republic and ill health chronically pervasive throughout the city, the closing of Kiefer will have deadly consequences.

From the moment he took office Mayor Bing, a multimillionaire and former CEO of a steel and auto parts manufacturer in Detroit, has declared a war on the working class of the city, laying off more than a 1,000 workers, demanding draconian wage cuts from the remaining workforce, and slashing services. Along with the governor-appointed emergency financial director of the Detroit schools, Bing has overseen the closing of scores of schools and a series of attacks on the living standards and working conditions of teachers.

Detroit has become a model for the Obama administration’s reactionary urban policy, which includes “shrinking” cities,” like Detroit, which have been decimated by decades of industrial decline and budget cutting. In the last two years alone tens of thousands of auto jobs in the area have been wiped out, including those shed under the White House’s forced bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler.

With the backing of the Obama administration, including a $40 million federal award for “renewal work,” Bing is embarking on a plan to expel poor residents from “desolate” neighborhoods and supposedly relocate them to more “stable” areas.

According to the Detroit News, the Democratic Party-aligned “Brookings Institution, local foundation leaders, several national funding groups and the White House offered financial support of up to $100 million a year for downsizing the city.” Bruce Katz, vice president of the Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program, told the News, “There is a nothing-left-to-lose quality in Detroit, much like there was in New Orleans after Katrina.”

Speaking on local radio news station WJR last month, Bing said the relocation idea was “absolutely” part of his plans to slash costs. “There is just too much land and too many expenses for us to continue to manage the city as we have in the past.” He continued, “You can’t support every neighborhood. You can support every community across this city. Those communities that are stable, we can’t allow them to go down the tubes. That’s not a good business decision from my standpoint.”

Bing said he would use internal and outside studies to determine who the “winners and losers” would be. “If we can incentivize some of the folks that are in those desolate areas, they can get a better situation. If they stay where they are I absolutely cannot give them all the services that they require.”

In identifying “stable” neighborhoods, Bing said, he was also looking at neighborhoods surrounding schools that Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb previously singled out for spending, the Michigan news web site reported.

This makes it clear that the mayor and Bobb are working in tandem to shut down services, including public schools, in the poorest neighborhoods and channel money into areas where only better-off segments of the population will be able to afford to live. In the end, this will mean driving the poor out of the city. To where, would be anyone’s guess.

The decline of Detroit—whose population has fallen from 2 million in 1950 to around 900,000 today—is likely unparalleled in modern history, with the exception of cities destroyed by war and natural disasters. This devastation was the deliberate policy of the corporate and political establishment that beginning in the 1970s and 1980s waged an unrelenting war against the working class in the city, which through its mass struggles had attained the highest per capita income in America. After three decades of plant closings and mass layoffs, Detroit has become the poorest big city in America.

Having rejected any measures to provide jobs and attract workers back into the city, such as a mass public works project to hire the unemployed and rebuild Detroit, the Obama administration and Bing are seeking to plunge the final knife into the city, with unprecedented social consequences.

A recent survey showed that a third of Detroit’s residential parcels are either vacant lots or abandoned homes. Detroit’s unused lots are the largest of any city in the country. According to an Associated Press story Monday, the mayor’s “radical renewal plan calls for turning large swaths of this now-blighted, rusted-out city into the fields and farmland that existed before the automobile … Roughly a quarter of the 139-square-mile city could go from urban to semi-rural.”

The proposals for “urban farming” are largely fantasies to provide a “Green” façade to the destruction of what was once America’s fourth largest city and a manufacturing center for the global auto industry.

Having largely destroyed the city, the Democratic Party is now parceling off its most attractive assets—the mayor has hinted that he plans to privatize the city’s Public Lighting Department by selling it to DTE Energy—and open up large tracts of cheap land for private investment.

The city is reportedly planning to offer residents 125 percent of the value of their homes, which have fallen in some cases to a few thousand dollars. It is also reportedly planning to use Eminent Domain laws to remove those that resist, seize their homes and flatten them. The “legal” justification for the seizure of personal homes will reportedly include the dubious constitutional argument that a single house remaining in an otherwise abandoned neighborhood is “blighting” the city because it requires fire and other services to the detriment of the larger community.

In addition to other business interests, there is little doubt that Bing’s downsizing plans have the backing of DTE Energy, whose CEO Anthony Earley was one of the mayor’s campaign fundraisers. Shutting down large portions of the city would reduce the cost of maintaining power and gas lines and give the company’s “Revenue Protection Department” a smaller area to patrol when it comes to discontinuing service for non-payment or for those who have jerry-rigged electrical service in a desperate attempt to maintain heat for their families in the winter.

According to press reports, the Brookings Institution in a recent study identified another 50 cities besides Detroit, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Memphis, which need to “shrink.” In Michigan, the former center of GM’s manufacturing empire, the city of Flint is planning similar measures in a plan overseen by former Democratic congressman Dale Kildee.

Detroit Medical Center to be sold to for-profit hospital chain

Detroit Medical Center to be sold to for-profit hospital chain

Go To Original

The Detroit Medical Center, the largest hospital system in Michigan and the state’s largest provider of health care to the uninsured, will be sold to for-profit Vanguard Health Systems for $417 million in a deal announced March 19.

The sale follows months of negotiations between DMC executives, Detroit Mayor Bing, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and Vanguard. As part of the agreement the city of Detroit and county and state authorities are pledging to create a “renaissance zone” that will free Vanguard from virtually all taxes.

The sale of DMC is part of a national drive to subordinate every aspect of health care to the demands of private profit. It will inevitably mean that the health care safety net, already severely strained by a huge increase in the number of uninsured, will be further eroded.

The move is also part of Bing’s campaign to privatize city services and downsize and depopulate broad sections of the city. Detroit Medical Center has long served as a place of last resort for those without medical insurance. Nonprofit hospitals are required to provide a certain minimum of uncompensated care and other benefits to the local communities they serve to maintain tax-exempt status.

Nashville, Tennessee-based Vanguard has purchased 15 hospitals over the past 10 years in four states, turning them into for-profit operations.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said he was “elated” by the agreement. “To be able to get the private sector and this organization to come together to make this kind of commitment and investment in the city of Detroit is a watershed day,” Bing said. “No doubt about it.”

DMC CEO Mike Duggan hailed the agreement, saying it would permit the system to compete more effectively. “The nonprofit hospital model is killing health care in the city of Detroit,” he declared.

Vanguard says it will invest $850 million in capital improvements over the next five years at DMC hospitals. DMC Board Chair Steve D’Arcy called the deal, “the largest single private investment in the city’s history.” He said the conversion to a for-profit model would allow the DMC to compete with suburban hospitals.

The DMC operates eight Detroit-area hospitals with 1,734 licensed beds and has annual revenues of $1.9 billion. It is affiliated with the Wayne State University School of Medicine and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute.

Access to health care in Detroit has declined drastically over the past several decades. In 1995 there were 12 nonprofit hospitals in the city. Now there are only six, four of which are run by the DMC. In 2007, St. John Detroit Riverview Hospital closed, the only hospital on Detroit’s impoverished east side.

While Vanguard says it is committed to keep all the system’s hospitals open and to maintain its policies on charity care for 10 years, there is little doubt that the conversion of the DMC to for-profit status will have a serious negative impact on the delivery of health care to the uninsured and underinsured In Detroit, the poorest big city in the United States.

The largest shareholder in Vanguard is Blackstone Group, a private equity firm that has played a significant role in the restructuring and downsizing the auto parts industry.

Private equity firms like Blackstone are notorious for focusing on short term gains for wealthy shareholders, slashing jobs and shutting down less profitable operations of the companies they take over. Blackstone reported profits of $329.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2009.

The plan to sell DMC to a for-profit hospital chain evoked expressions of concern from health care professionals because of its implications for the provision of health services to the poor.

Addressing the growing national trend toward the conversion of nonprofit hospitals to for-profit entities Dr. Quentin Young, national coordinator and CEO for Physicians for a National Health Program commented, “The people who run the hospital do their best to placate the people who own the hospital. More often than not it’s based on denial of care to sick people.”

He continued, “Once you go for-profit, you can pretty much do whatever you want. You can limit services, you can exclude people; not in emergencies, but you can define your patient load.” For-profit, or investor-owned, hospitals, he said, “aggravate intensely the shortcomings of the American health system.”

The tax abatement to Vanguard for the purchase of the DMC will further starve Detroit of revenue in the face of a $300 million plus deficit. The city administration is in the midst of a drive to slash city services, including a proposal to shut down services in some of the most impoverished areas of Detroit.

As part of his proposed cuts Mayor Bing is considering the closure of the Herman Kiefer health complex in Detroit that serves some 2,000 people daily, providing the only access to poor Detroiters for vaccinations, HIV testing, substance abuse treatment and other services.

Meanwhile, Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb has announced plans to shut down another 45 public schools while encouraging the expansion of charter schools.

American Naifs Bringing Ruin to Other Lands

American Naifs Bringing Ruin to Other Lands

Go To Original

According to news reports, the U.S. military is shipping “bunker-buster” bombs to the U.S. Air Force base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The Herald Scotland reports that experts say the bombs are being assembled for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The newspaper quotes Dan Piesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London: “They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran.”

The next step will be a staged “terrorist attack,” a “false flag” operation as per Operation Northwoods, for which Iran will be blamed. As Iran and its leadership have already been demonized, the “false flag” attack will suffice to obtain US and European public support for bombing Iran. The bombing will include more than the nuclear facilities and will continue until the Iranians agree to regime change and the installation of a puppet government. The corrupt American media will present the new puppet as “freedom and democracy.”

If the past is a guide, Americans will fall for the deception. In the February issue of the American Behavioral Scientist, a scholarly journal, Professor Lance DeHaven-Smith writes that state crimes against democracy (SCAD) involve government officials, often in combination with private interests, that engage in covert activities in order to implement an agenda. Examples include McCarthyism or the fabrication of evidence of communist infiltration, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution based on false claims of President Johnson and Pentagon chief McNamara that North Vietnam attacked a U.S. naval vessel, the burglary of the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in order to discredit Ellsberg (the Pentagon Papers) as “disturbed,” and the falsified “intelligence” that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction in order to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

There are many other examples. I have always regarded the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City as a SCAD. Allegedly, a disturbed Tim McVeigh used a fertilizer bomb in a truck parked outside the building. More likely, McVeigh was a patsy, whose fertilizer bomb was a cover for explosives planted inside the building.

A number of experts dismissed the possibility of McVeigh’s bomb producing such structural damage. For example, General Benton K. Partin, who was in charge of U.S. Air Force munitions design and testing, produced a thick report on the Murrah building bombing which concluded that the building blew up from the inside out. Gen. Partin concluded that “the pattern of damage would have been technically impossible without supplementary demolition charges at some of the reinforced concrete bases inside the building, a standard demolition technique. For a simplistic blast truck bomb, of the size and composition reported, to be able to reach out on the order of 60 feet and collapse a reinforced column base the size of column A7 is beyond credulity.”

Gen. Partin dismissed the official report as “a massive cover-up of immense proportions.”

Of course, the general’s unquestionable expertise had no bearing on the outcome.

One reason is that his and other expert voices were drowned out by media pumping the official story. Another reason is that public beliefs in a democracy run counter to suspicion of government as a terrorist agent. Professor Laurie Manwell of the University of Guelph says that “false flag” operations have the advantage over truth: “research shows that people are far less willing to examine information that disputes, rather than confirms, their beliefs.” Professor Steven Hoffman agrees: “Our data shows substantial support for a cognitive theory known as ‘motivated reasoning,’ which suggests that rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe. In fact, for the most part people completely ignore contrary information.” Even when hard evidence turns up, it can be discredited as a “conspiracy theory.”

All that is necessary for success of “false flag” or “black ops” events is for the government to have its story ready and to have a reliable and compliant media. Once an official story is in place, thought and investigation are precluded. Any formal inquiry that is convened serves to buttress the already provided explanation.

An explanation ready-at-hand is almost a give-away that an incident is a “black ops” event. Notice how quickly the U.S. government, allegedly so totally deceived by al Qaida, provided the explanation for 9/11. When President Kennedy was assassinated, the government produced the culprit immediately. The alleged culprit was conveniently shot inside a jail by a civilian before he could be questioned. But the official story was ready, and it held.

Professors Manwell and Hoffman’s research resonates with me. I remember reading in my graduate studies that the Czarist secret police set off bombs in order to create excuses to arrest their targets. My inclination was to dismiss the accounts as anti-Czarist propaganda by pro-communist historians. It was only later when Robert Conquest confirmed to me that this was indeed the practice of the Czarist secret police that the scales fell from my eyes.

Former CIA official Philip Giraldi in his article, “The Rogue Nation,” makes it clear that the U.S. government has a hegemonic agenda that it is pursuing without congressional or public awareness. The agenda unfolds piecemeal as a response to “terrorism,” and the big picture is not understood by the public or by most in Congress. Giraldi protests that the agenda is illegal under both U.S. and international law, but that the illegality of the agenda does not serve as a barrier. Only a naif could believe that such a government would not employ “false flag” operations that advance the agenda.

The U.S. population, it seems, is comprised of naifs whose lack of comprehension is bringing ruin to other lands.

Let's Drop the Good Guys vs. Bad Guys Talk, We Need to Grow Up as a Species

Let's Drop the Good Guys vs. Bad Guys Talk, We Need to Grow Up as a Species

Go To Original

President Obama has given us a huge gift. It's so big we may have trouble getting our arms around it, but it's potentially life-changing.

In 2008, even though I knew better, I fell for the notion that a more intelligent, reflective and progressive president could deflect our country's, even our world's, downward spin. Apparently a lot of people shared my frame of mind, or, dare I say, my hope.

It's tempting to blame the president for letting us down, or even easier to blame his opponents. But doing that would deny us his gift. Obama's gift is that the very failure we're witnessing -- failure to reform the financial system at the root level necessary to avoid the next calamity or the failure to convince Americans that health insurance reform now is an immediate, moral and economic necessity -- exposes a deeper truth. If President Obama's first year had been more successful, maybe we'd have missed it.

The truth is simply this: Bad people are not the root cause of our problems and "better people" can't make everything right.

Many think of conservatives, long wrapped in "family values," as the moralists, but the tendency to blame shortcomings of character for our problems shows up across the political spectrum. Economist Joseph Stiglitz, in his newest book, Freefall, talks of a "moral deficit" at the heart of our financial industry's woes, and Nomi Prins rails against "greed" on Wall Street in It Takes a Pillage.

Right and Left appear to share at least one common frame: The problem is defects in those people in power. If true, it's easy to believe that changing the people will solve a lot. As long as we believe this, we're in big trouble.

Really accepting Obama's gift starts with letting go of this frame and facing truths about ourselves we'd rather avoid. But the work is worth it. Only with an evidence-based take on ourselves can we move toward the saner, healthier world most people want.

The first part of this frame adjustment is fairly easy to swallow: More and more neuroscience confirms that we are indeed hardwired to care about each other, so we can't legitimately claim great moral victory when we're good. We just can't help it. Cooperation, it turns out, stimulates pleasure centers that are similar to what happens when we eat chocolate! Babies cry at the sound of other babies' cries but typically not at recordings of their own cries. In recent charming experiments, toddlers scurry to help clueless adults, without being asked and with no reward. And in another study, subjects ended up happier by buying a gift for someone else rather than indulging themselves.

Berkeley anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy brings us the greatest news of all. We probably didn't evolve in the same line with extant great apes. Whew. They can be really brutal. We likely evolved our uniquely cooperative nature through eons of distinctive "cooperative breeding," caring for each others' babies, which developed empathy, trust and the capacity to read each others' feelings. But there's more, and here's where it gets touchy.

History and lab experiments provide undeniable proof that most of us, not a handful of bad guys, will commit horrible deeds in the wrong conditions.

Have most of us, for example, really taken in the truth that the Holocaust was not the work of one madman but carried out by millions of ordinary people? And other genocides? The same truth. Like the one in the Congo today, ignored by the world but arguably resulting in even more deaths by everyday people than Hitler's death camps.

To solid historical evidence we can add compelling results from psychological experiments. One is the infamous 1971 Stanford prison experiment, which Dr. Philip Zimbardo had to halt early because his young subjects who'd tested "normal" were abusing each other in ways eerily similar to what happened at Abu Ghraib.

Taking all this in -- truly accepting the good, the bad and the ugly in ourselves -- we can drop the false and failing good-guys-vs.-bad-guys frame. We can grow up as a species. Accepting who we really are, we can identify the conditions shown to bring out the worst. They seem pretty clear. My short list includes concentrated unaccountable power, anonymity and lack of transparency, and scapegoating others.

Whether you would pick these conditions or others, my point is that we can begin to redirect the trajectory we're on -- decimating 100 species a day and causing a billion of our own species to go hungry despite vast abundance -- only if we take this big step: Only if we are determined to stop blaming and create the social conditions now proven to bring out the best in us, the pro-social needs and capacities we know are in there.


By working to flip the conditions proven to bring out the worst in us. We can begin by dispersing power -- by creating new power as we ourselves step up as community problem solvers and by challenging the concentration of power by, for example, getting democracy-killing money out of politics. Only then can we create rules to ensure wealth's dispersion and to hold decision makers accountable.

Helping us to let go of illusion and get a grip on an evidence-based path to democratic solutions could be the real gift of Obama's presidency. Let's grab it.


Nomi Prins responds:

I agree with France Moore Lappé that categorizing people as good vs. bad or moral vs. immoral, leaves us in a precarious place in which the players rather than the system are seen to have disproportionate "blame" for various crises or extreme lapses of general social, humanitarian or economic judgment. In It Takes a Pillage, and my earlier works, I don't merely blame the players for their choices, but also consider the current system of unbridled global finance and regulatory leniency to be a complete and expensive disaster.

The fact that elite groups of bankers and politicians have the ability to wreak economic havoc on the rest of the nation and the world is inexcusable. The rules, or lack thereof, have been watered down to a such an impotent state, that bankers are in many instances merely taking advantage of a game they (with help from key politicians) rigged in their favor. Their greed is not just for money, but for power and influence as well. I've worked in that world; the drive is real, and it will and does spiral out of control without appropriate boundaries.

As Lappé so eloquently points out, "We can begin by dispersing power." This is why anyone in a position to change the status quo must attempt to do so. The more influential that position, the greater the responsibility; hence, my criticism of the current and past administration's and Congress' inaction in that regard. This is not to say, as Lappé points out, that we don't have a collective responsibility to push for a safer, saner and more stable system. We do. In fact, besides giving up, there is no other option.

State Destruction as war aim

State Destruction as war aim

Reflections on the targeted killings of academics on the occasion of the seventh anniversary of the war in Iraq

Go To Original

While the anniversary of the war waged on Iraq is approaching, I think of what I wrote seven years ago: that this illegal invasion had nothing to do with the war on terror but was planned well in advance and was not about democracy but about the destruction of Iraq. I was openly taunted for it. At best, I was considered endearing or pathetic in my anger, but not on the level when it came to world politics.

In preparation for an evening on the occasion of this seventh anniversary on March 20, I am reading a book: Cultural Cleansing in Iraq. Why museums were looted, burned libraries and academics murdered. The basic thesis is, believe it or not, that the purpose of the war was from the onset the destruction of the Iraqi state. But there is more: cultural cleansing, tolerating the looting of museums, the burning of libraries and the murder of academics was part of the war strategy, the authors argue. State ending will certainly become established as a concept, alongside genocide and its derivatives, such as urbicide (destruction of cities), sociocide (destruction of social fabric) mnemocide (destruction of collective memory). We do hope so, because unfortunately these concepts and their intertwinement do not only apply to Iraq.

There was a lot of press coverage about the looting of the museums, albeit press reports didn’t put responsibility with the occupying powers, as the international laws of war stipulate; and without identifying it as a strategy of “mnenocide”. In contrast, all these years a deafening silence has reigned on the hundreds of academics who have been victims of targeted assassinations in Iraq. Strange. In the first three months of the occupation 250 academics were killed. The BRussells Tribunal has now a list of 437 casualties, a list that serves as a worldwide reference. Because the professors who documented these killings and disappearances have been killed or forced to flee the country, it is increasingly harder to keep this list up to date. According to the Christian Science Monitor, by June 2006 already 2500 academics were killed, kidnapped or driven out of the country. Nobody knows how many have been murdered until today. We do know that thousands have been threatened — often by envelopes containing bullets — and fled. Alongside academics also media professionals, doctors, engineers and spiritual leaders have been targets of intimidation, kidnapping and murder. It is important to know that, in the case of academics, it’s not about sectarian killing, because statistics show that there is no pattern in the murders. Professors in leading positions have especially been targeted, and not just Baathists.

These murders have never being investigated, the culprits never found let alone prosecuted. How come? Perhaps because both the occupiers and the new rulers in Iraq thought it was not important. Or maybe because death squads are part of their strategy, like formerly in El Salvador. That is what the book claims: the murder of academics was and is part of the “Salvador Option”.

Conclusion of the authors? The goal was to liquidate the intellectual class, which would naturally be the basis for a new democratic state. It is that sinister. So sinister that it is difficult to believe. And yet it is true: the elimination of academics and other professionals from the middle class served the first and highest war aim: the destruction of the Iraqi state. “State-ending” instead of “nation building”. According to the editors of the book, this war objective was a decision taken when three parties aligned: the neoconservatives who wanted permanent bases in a geopolitical strategy of military domination; Israel that did not want a powerful state in its backyard; and the oil industry that wanted to lay its hands on one of the largest oil reserves in the world. This I have also written seven years ago. Now it’s there, in black and white, with many footnotes, well documented in a book published by an internationally renowned publishing house (Pluto Press). Perhaps the world will now finally start to realise the truth.

Worldwide protests from the academic community would be nice. But one minute of silence for their murdered colleagues will not suffice. Because, and that makes it so overwhelming, all this is just the tip of the iceberg: the children who are born severely deformed by the use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium, the lack of potable water, electricity and healthcare, the destruction of the educational system which results in a lost generation, the 1.2 million deaths and five million refugees — all these things combined make the Iraq war the biggest war crime and the largest man-made humanitarian catastrophe in decades. And it continues. There is little or no hope of improvement, especially not after the recent elections. Add to this the countless bombings and the sectarian disintegration of the country and you have a picture of hell. And we, we all look more and more the other way. Because we are sick and tired of Iraq after seven years? It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth to see that I have been proven right with my thesis about the destruction of Iraq, that so many thought was absurd. Even Bush has been proven right with his famous show on the deck of the USS Lincoln that first May of 2003: “Mission accomplished”. Indeed, Iraq is destroyed.

Happy birthday, Mr President! Yes, tu quoque Obama.