Saturday, April 3, 2010

Carrying a Backpack of Sorrow ... Soldiers on the Edge of Suicide

Carrying a Backpack of Sorrow ... Soldiers on the Edge of Suicide

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More of our young soldiers are now killing themselves than are being killed in our wars in the Middle East. The sad statistics are at the end of this article, but the following poem by a 24-year-old former Marine, who slashed his wrists twice after four years of duty and two tours of combat, tells it all.

You fell off the seat as the handlebars turned
sharp left, throwing your body onto
the hot coals of Ramadi pavement,
intertwining your legs within your bicycle.
Lifeless eyes looking to the sky,
your neck muscles twitched turning your head
directly towards us. Nothing escaped your
lips except for the blood in the left corner
of your mouth that briefly moistened them
until the sand and dust dried them out.
The blood trail went behind the stone wall
where your body was placed, weighed down
by your blue bicycle and we laughed.
I used to fall asleep to the pictures and now
I can't even bear to get a glimpse.
-Excerpted from "The Bicycle" by Jon Michael Turner

The military "broke me down into a not-good person, wearing a huge mask," Turner told the audience at his poetry reading in San Francisco's Beat Museum, in North Beach. The March 12 event - on the birthday of "Beatnik" literary icon Jack Kerouac - was organized by the venerable Jack Hirschman, San Francisco's 2006 poet laureate, and by the local IVAW (Iraq Veterans Against the War). Jon read from his small, self-published book "Eat the Apple" and from several large pages of dark green, handmade paper - the product of The Combat Paper Book Project, where 125 vets, ranging from World War II through Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, shredded their uniforms to make books for their poetry. "Poetry saved my life," Jon told us, more than once.

The Burlington, Vermont, native was accompanied by his father and stepmother on a coast to coast series of readings from the little book, the name of which comes from a play on the word "core." The flier for the evening reading stated: "There's a term 'Once a Marine, always a Marine,'" Turner said, ripping his medals off and flinging them to the ground. As the room exploded in applause he adds, "But there's also the expression: 'Eat the apple, f*ck the corps. I don't work for you no more!'"

Jon walks with a cane and was physically injured in battle, but only his poetry reveals his invisible wounds, as in these excerpts from "A Night in the Mind of Me - part 1":

The train hits you head on when you hear of another
friend whose life was just taken.
Pulling his cold lifeless body from the cooler,
unzipping the bag and seeing his forehead,
caved in like a cereal bowl from the sniper's bullet
that touched his brain.
His skin was pale and cold.

It becomes difficult to sleep even after being
physically drained from patrols, post,
overwatches and carrying five hundred
sandbags up eighty feet of stairs after
each post cycle.

The psychiatrists still wonder why we
drink so heavy when we get home.
We need something to take us away
from the gunfire, explosions,
sand, nightmares and screams ... ...
I still can't cry.
The tears build up but no weight is shed.
Anger kicks in and something else
becomes broken.
A cabinet
An empty bottle of liquor
A heart
A soul.

People still look away as we submit ourselves
to drugs and alcohol to suppress these
feelings of loneliness and sadness,
leading to self mutilation and
self destruction on the gift of a human body.
The ditch that we dug starts to cave in.

And from "A Night in the Mind of Me - part 2":

Laughter pours out from the house as if nothing
were the matter, when outside in a chair, underneath
a tree, next to the chickens, I sit,
engulfed in my own sorrows... ...

Resting on the ground is my glass,
half filled with water but I don't have
enough courage to pick it up and smash it against
my skull so that everyone can watch blood
pool in the pockets where my collar
bones meet my dead weighted shoulders,...
Every time I'm up, something pulls me down,
whenever I relax, something stresses me out,
every time a smile tugs on my heart, an
iron fist crushes it, and I sit outside in a chair,
underneath a tree, next to the chickens,
away from the ones that I love so
that my disease won't infect them.
Sorrow and self-pity should be detained,
thrown into an empty bottle and given to the
ocean so that the waves can wash away the pain.

One wonders why this slightly-built, sensitive young man joined the Marines in 2004 at the age of 18 (he was sent first to Haiti at the time of the US-backed February coup that ousted the populist and democratic President Jean-Bertrand Aristide). Jon revealed that he came from a military family whose participation in every American conflict stretches back to the Revolutionary War. His father is clearly too young to have gone to Vietnam, but could have easily been in one or both of the Bushes' wars. Jon's big brother is also a soldier, ironically now in Haiti after the earthquake. Of the American military, Jon now writes in "What May Come":

tap, tap
That's the sound of the man at your door,
I'm sorry but you won't see your son alive anymore,
my name is Uncle Sam and I made your boy a whore.

And, from "Just Thoughts":

I often wonder
if this will be the rest of my life.
Schizophrenic, paranoid, anxious.
That guy that walks around the city center that
people steer their children away from.
"Mommy, who's that man walking next
to the crazy guy?"
"Oh that's just Uncle Sam sweetheart, he takes
the souls from young men so that
they have trouble sleeping at night"

"It takes the Courage and Strength of a Warrior to ask for Help" - we've all seen the ads, on billboards and buses, with the silhouette of a downcast soldier against a back drop of the stars and stripes, and a 1-800 Help Line just for vets, provided by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Veterans Affairs. But "The Surge" in self-inflicted deaths continues, with our military reporting 350 suicides of active duty personnel in 2009, compared to 340 combat deaths in Afghanistan, and 160 in Iraq during the same year - the highest active duty military suicide numbers since records began to be kept in 1980. And for every death, at least five serving personnel are hospitalized for attempting to take their life, according to the military's own studies.

But these statistics do not include the far larger number of post-active duty veterans who kill themselves after discharge, or, like Turner, who make the attempt. (Vietnam veteran suicides number easily in the tens of thousands.) A CBS study put the current suicide rate among male veterans aged 20 to 24 at four times the national average. According to CNN, total combat deaths since 2001 (8+ years) in Afghanistan are now 1,016, since 2003 (7 years) in Iraq 4,390 - totaling 5,406 as of March 21, 2010. However, the Veteran's Administration estimates that 6,400 veterans take their own lives each year - an ever growing proportion of them from the recent Mid-East wars - with this figure widely disputed as being way too low. Multiply 6,400 by seven or eight years to compare the numbers of our young soldiers that are now killing themselves, to those being killed in our wars and occupations.

The last word belongs to Turner, from "Taught How To Love":

I'm sick of carrying this pain
everywhere I go. I'm sick of being
thanked for my service. I'd rather
have society thank the people that
don't believe in war, or thank
the people that get arrested for
an act of civil disobedience, or
thank the people that resist.

To buy "Eat the Apple," contact Jon M. Turner, Seven Star Press, 4 Howard Street Suite 12, Burlington, VT 05401; Email: JT@greendoorstudio.net See also: www.IVAW.org (Iraq Veterans Against the War)

Washington asserts colonial-style control of Haiti at UN donors' conference

Washington asserts colonial-style control of Haiti at UN donors’ conference

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The international donors’ conference for Haiti, held Wednesday at the United Nations in New York, was a forum for the United States, in the persons of Bill and Hillary Clinton, to assert American colonial-style control over the devastated island nation.

The event, co-sponsored by the US State Department and the UN, took pledges from some 100 countries, multilateral lending institutions and charities for $5.3 billion in aid to Haiti over the next two years and an additional $5 billion thereafter. This sum, already far from adequate to rebuild an impoverished country that lost between 250,000 and 300,000 people and suffered an estimated $14 billion in damage in the January 12 earthquake, includes an unknown amount of previously pledged monies.

Going into the event, Haiti had received a mere $23 million in cash of more than $1.35 billion in previously committed humanitarian assistance.

On the dais for the event, UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon and Haitian President René Préval were flanked by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton, who is the UN special envoy to Haiti. Préval announced the formation of an Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, co-chaired by Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and Bill Clinton, which is to oversee the distribution of the reconstruction funds.

The board for the commission will have representatives from the US, Canada, Brazil, France, Venezuela and the European Union, along with the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and the United Nations. This structure, to remain in place for at least 18 months, is transparently designed to place the fate of Haiti in the hands of the imperialist powers, with the US playing the uncontested dominant role.

Only the flimsiest pretense is being made that the Haitian government will exercise any sovereign control. As the New York Times noted in a March 31 article: “There has been a certain amount of grumbling around the United Nations about tight control by the State Department over the donor conference, with a senior European diplomat dubbing it ‘The Bill and Hillary Show.’”

A Washington Post blog on Thursday noted: “Despite universal lip service about the necessity of Haitians taking ownership of their rebuilding, no one was really fooled. Hillary Clinton, as US secretary of state, was co-chair of the conference... Bill Clinton—the “United Nations special envoy for Haiti”—will be calling the shots in the near term in conjunction with Haiti’s prime minister as to the strategy, coordination and direction of that international aid. Can you say, ‘Mr. Viceroy?’”

Of the $5.3 billion in short-term aid pledged at the conference, the US accounted for only $1.15 billion, less than the $1.7 billion pledged by the European Union and even less than Venezuela’s pledge of $1.3 billion. The US pledge to help a country whose devastation is largely the result of over a century of American imperialist domination, including repeated military occupations, is a tiny fraction of the amount allocated to bail out Wall Street.

The Obama administration responded to the January 12 earthquake by dispatching coast guard cutters and naval ships to patrol the waters around Haiti and prevent refugees from the disaster finding shelter in the US. This was followed by a massive military occupation, involving over 12,000 soldiers and Marines.

The US seized control of the Port-au-Prince airport and for days blocked desperately needed food, water, medical supplies and medical personnel from getting into the city, which had been leveled by the 7.0 magnitude quake, so that it could deploy its military forces. Washington’s overriding aim was to suppress any popular unrest arising from the disaster and utilize the tragedy to tighten its grip on the country.

As a result, thousands died needlessly, either buried in the rubble or dying from wounds not treated in time. More than two months later, while the dignitaries gathered in New York and discussed their plans to “rebuild” Haiti, more than a million Haitians who lost their homes were struggling to survive in makeshift tents set up in squalid camps without proper sanitation or other elementary services.

The US military continues to control the airport and a large contingent of troops remains in the country.

As the New York Times reported March 27, much of the aid money that has gone to Haiti has ended up further enriching the country’s tiny ruling elite, which basks in luxury while 80 percent of the people survive on less than $2 a day. The Times quoted one resident of a tent city set up in the exclusive Pétionville district of Port-au-Prince, who said, “The rich people sometimes need to step over us to get inside” their chic restaurants.

The article continued: “Often, just a gate and a private guard armed with a 12-gauge shotgun separate the newly homeless from establishments like Les Galeries Rivoli, a boutique where wealthy Haitians and foreigners shop for Raymond Weil watches and Izod shirts.”

The danger of a social eruption by the oppressed Haitian masses was undoubtedly what Hillary Clinton had in mind when she told the donors’ conference, “The challenges that have plagued Haiti could erupt with global consequences.”

Bill Clinton continued, as he had prior to the earthquake, to insist that Haiti’s salvation lay in attracting private capital, primarily American, by promoting the profit potential of exploiting Haiti’s vast pool of super-cheap labor. He said he would push to remove trade barriers to the US import of Haitian garments, produced by workers earning less than $3 a day.

Referring in his remarks to the conference to a social and human tragedy with few parallels in modern history—to which he greatly contributed during his two terms as president—Clinton spoke as if he were discussing a corporate merger or the setting up of a new hedge fund. “My job in the next 18 months,” he said, “is going to be to try to connect the inside and outside forces in a way that maximizes the input and the impact of all the players, and minimizes the frictions and transaction costs.”

Aside from setting up more garment sweatshops, the main component of the “reconstruction” plan submitted by Haitian President Préval with the blessing of Washington appears to center on relocating impoverished workers from Port-au-Prince to more rural areas. This would serve the two-fold function of permitting a gentrification of the capital, making it more attractive to foreign investors, and disaggregating the working class in the hope of dissipating its potential social and political power.

Racist school plan ignites struggle

Racist school plan ignites struggle

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The looming threat of a return to the dark days of Jim Crow segregation has ignited a broad struggle against the racist new Raleigh school board majority.

On March 23, the board was scheduled to take the second of two votes needed to dismantle the system’s busing program and move to a “neighborhood schools” model. It would mean the resegregation of the school system.

With less than 24 hours notice, the board instituted a number of restrictions in access to the meeting, including: taking seats out of the already insufficient seating area; requiring the public to get a ticket for the meeting at 10 a.m. and then stay in the building until 3 p.m. or forfeit the ticket; bringing in dozens of cops and security guards, and erecting a barricade between the board and the public.

It was all designed to stifle the overwhelming opposition to their agenda.

When the board decided to cut off public comment and begin voting on the resegregation plans, a group of nearly 70 high school students attempted to make their way into the meeting.

After being shut out by a line of cops, the students began a spirited sit-in right outside the meeting room, chanting, “Shut it down! No segregation in our town!”

Parents, teachers and community members from several different progressive and civil rights organizations immediately joined the students in the hallway, taking their lead.

The sit-in forced the board into recess. Chair Ron Margiotta came out to the hallway to tell students to “respect the process.” He was drowned out as the students began to chant, “Hey hey, ho ho! Pope Foundation’s got to go!” This ultra-right foundation is the funder of the racist new majority on the board and architect of a 30-year plan to dismantle public education.

Resistance continues despite arrests

One student was arrested in the hallway and the rest were kicked out of the building by the cops. But that did not dampen the energy of the demonstrators, who continued to rally outside for nearly two and a half hours. Two more arrests were made outside as students attempted to reenter the building and make their voices heard before the vote.

Because of the size and scope of the demonstration, as well as the broad base of organizations represented, the story was covered in numerous major news outlets around the country. National media has been forced to report on the issue for what it is: a powerful anti-racist struggle waged by the community that exposes the clear connections between this racist school board majority and the larger power brokers at play.

After 30 years of solid community backing of the busing program, the new majority on the school board, dubbed the Resegregationist 5, was elected in an off-year of the staggered election cycle by only 5 percent of registered voters.

Behind this carefully orchestrated plan to destroy public education are some of the richest conservatives in North Carolina: Art Pope of the John W. Pope Foundation, Robert Luddy of the Civitas Institute, and Americans for Prosperity, the group behind the right-wing “Tea Party” protests.

Ron Margiotta, chair of the school board, also sits on the board of trustees for Thales Academy, a private school in Apex, a suburb of Raleigh.

It is clear that this is a battle of ideology, not fact. The election of the new majority is but another piece in the master plan of Pope and his cohorts to spread their right-wing agenda to public education and to ultimately put education into the hands of private interests. They have already been behind dismantling the Women and Gender Studies Program at North Carolina State University and funding “Western Studies” programs in public universities.

The all-white majority was elected on a promise to dismantle the busing system in Wake County and implement a program they call “neighborhood schools,” which is nothing but a thinly veiled disguise for resegregation.

If the shift to “neighborhood schools” is allowed to reach its conclusion, there will be a two-tiered education system in Wake County: well-funded, less-crowded schools with mostly affluent white students, and poorly funded, overcrowded, high-poverty schools in Black and Latino/a communities. In effect, a return to the ugly, segregated past of Jim Crow.

This attack on oppressed people and communities in Wake County, which would devastate the quality of education available to Black and Latino/a students in the county, has galvanized the NAACP and other organizations to mount strong opposition to this plan.

Struggle to end resegregation

Fifty years ago, students stood up to fight back against racist, Jim Crow segregation in the U.S. South, ushering in a landslide of historic and monumental changes in society. Today, students are taking action to defend those gains and the right of all students to a quality, public education from the attacks of the right-wing, Resegregationist 5.

The new majority has faced overwhelming opposition every step of the way as evidenced by the bold action taken at the school board meeting on March 23. Despite the fact that the new majority passed the resolution to begin the transition to “neighborhood schools,” the struggle led by students opened political space and emboldened the board minority to propose and pass two amendments to the resolution.

This fight is only in its early stages. If the action at the March 23 school board meeting is any indication, students and community members are committed to continuing to build the struggle to stop resegregation. The newly installed right-wing board’s plan to move to “neighborhood schools” will not remain in the face of united community resistance.

We say no to Jim Crow — we won’t go back!

What's driving up oil prices again? Wall Street, of course

What's driving up oil prices again? Wall Street, of course

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Oil consumption has fallen, demand from U.S. motorists for gasoline is flat at best and refiners that turn crude into fuel are operating well below capacity. Yet oil prices keep marching toward $90 a barrel, pushing gasoline toward $3 a gallon in many markets, and prompting American drivers to ask, "What gives?"

Blame it on the same folks who brought you $140 oil and $4 gasoline in 2008: Wall Street speculators.

Experts attribute much of the recent rise in prices to flows of speculative money into oil markets. These bets are fueled by investor expectations that the U.S. and global economies are poised to return to growth and thus spark increased use of oil. Strong growth in China supports the narrative of rising oil consumption and tightening supplies.

"The thinking goes that rising stock (market) prices implies expanding business activity, implies growing energy demand, implies rising oil prices. I think you can make that case, but it's awfully weak," said Michael Fitzpatrick, vice president-energy for MF Global, a financial firm that brokers the sale of contracts for future delivery of oil.

While there are signs of U.S. economic recovery, such as a slight uptick in consumption and strong manufacturing data, there are plenty of ho-hum signs too, including dismal construction spending and continued high unemployment.

"I just don't think if you look across the entire spectrum of the macro-economy that it creates a picture of a growing body of incontrovertible evidence that there is a strong, sustainable recovery. I just don't see it," Fitzpatrick said. "I think it should be closer to the range we were seeing in late summer and early fall, $67 to $72" a barrel.

On the last day of July, oil traded at $67.50 a barrel and gasoline sold at a nationwide average of $2.52 a gallon for regular unleaded. On Thursday, oil prices settled at $84.87 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and regular unleaded gasoline averaged $2.80 a gallon and more than $3 on the West Coast, according to the AAA.

"It's the story we've been talking about . . . . It's really about oil being an attractive investment for investors right now," said Troy Green, a AAA spokesman. "You've seen quite a bit of money flooding into the oil markets because of that."

What's different about today's price run-up from two or three years ago is that oil is now in ample supply.

"If you look at the fundamentals right now, there is certainly an abundance that is available (of oil) to the market for the next 12 months or so. It's not a near-term supply shortfall," said David Dismukes, the associate director of the Center for Energy Studies at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

U.S. motorists and businesses consumed 18.69 million barrels per day (bpd) of petroleum product last year. That's projected to rise slightly this year to 18.89 million bpd. However, it remains far below peak consumption of 20.80 million bpd in 2005.

The latest data from the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Energy Department, shows that as of mid-March, U.S. refiners were operating at 81.1 percent capacity. They're making eight gallons of gasoline for every 10 they're capable of producing, a clear sign that demand is down.

Perhaps the only argument that would justify rising prices is that global consumption is expected to grow by 1.6 million bpd to 86.6 million bpd this year, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency.

Even so, there's 6 million bpd of oil that's shut-in, a technical way of saying that recoverable oil is being left in the ground by the world's oil producers.

"When you look at inventories and shut-in capacity, (oil) prices today are above what those would indicate," said Daniel Yergin, the author of "The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power," the recently updated Pulitzer Prize-winning book that chronicles the history of oil.

When oil traded above $140 a barrel nearly two years ago and pundits warned that the world was running out of oil, Yergin suggested that a glut of oil would come onto the market in 2010 and beyond. The 6 million bpd of oil now on the sidelines suggests that he was right.

Today's spare production capacity is three times what it was in 2004 and 2005, when supply actually was tight.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries signaled this week its concerns about rising prices by not calling for hard enforcement of production quotas by its members. That suggested the cartel will tolerate an open-spigot policy by its 12 members as needed to stabilize prices.

"While OPEC was silent on any threat to the recovery, speculation continues that the cartel is deliberately allowing members to exceed production quotas in order to limit upward price pressure," wrote analyst Matt Robinson, in a research report Thursday by forecaster Moody's Economy.com.

Rising oil and gasoline prices are deja vu all over again for Michael Masters. The hedge fund manager has crusaded for legislation that would prevent so much speculative money in the oil markets.

Wall Street is "gaming" the price of oil, he warns.

"If you're a bank, and you know there is going to be a large amount of investor inflows into the commodities market, you are going to position yourself ahead of them . . . You want to be a seller at a higher price," explained Masters, noting that large Wall Street banks invest for themselves in these markets even as they also broker the oil investments of others.

What's abundantly clear, he and others argue, is that an oil contract's price today has little to do with the supply of and demand for oil.

"It's a capital asset now. Once the majority of participants are capital-asset folks, common sense would tell you it's going to be traded like a capital asset . . . and consumers pay," Masters said. "It wasn't that way in the past."

What can be done?

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is weighing a proposal to put global limits on how many oil contracts any one market player can buy or sell, and legislation to revamp financial regulation that's expected to pass Congress this year could force greater disclosure by oil traders to regulators.

Neither, however, promises imminent relief at the pump.

Millions of H1N1 vaccine doses may have to be discarded

Millions of H1N1 vaccine doses may have to be discarded

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Despite months of dire warnings and millions in taxpayer dollars, less than half of the 229 million doses of H1N1 vaccine the government bought to fight the pandemic have been administered -- leaving an estimated 71.5 million doses that must be discarded if they are not used before they expire.

Between 81 million and 91 million doses of swine flu vaccine were injected into peoples' arms or squirted up their noses through the end of February, according to federal officials, leaving about 138 million doses unused. An estimated 60 million of those will be donated to poor countries or saved for possible future use. But doses already in vials and syringes will be thrown away if not used before their expiration dates pass.

The prospect of millions of doses of the once-precious vaccine being discarded is the latest twist in the $1.6 billion program -- the most ambitious immunization campaign in U.S. history. The government-led effort produced a vaccine in record time, but unexpected production problems delayed delivery of the bulk of supplies until after the second wave of infections had peaked, leaving millions anxious and frustrated as they scrambled for the shots and nasal sprays.

Nevertheless, officials said they were largely satisfied with the effort, which blunted the impact of the first flu pandemic in decades. Between 72 million and 81 million people are estimated to have been immunized.

"Did we do as well as we would have liked to? No, not at all," said Anne Schuchat of the federall Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "But the country did an extraordinary job of responding. It's pretty incredible to think about how much uncertainty we had at the beginning of this."

Given the potential seriousness of the threat and the uncertainties of vaccine production, Schuchat said, it was unavoidable that some doses would go to waste.

"We were dealing with a very unusual situation. We had a pandemic. We had young people being killed," she said. "We wanted to make sure we had enough. We didn't want to be short. It was important to us to be able to protect the American people."

Noting that the virus still poses a threat, Schuchat and other experts stressed that they hope millions more in the country will still get vaccinated.

"It's too early to write the final chapter on this vaccine," said Michael T. Osterholm of the University of Minnesota. "If we're at the beginning of a third wave, I just bet you a lot of that vaccine that is sitting there will not be unused."

But officials acknowledge that it becomes more difficult in spring to persuade a skeptical public to get vaccinated, especially because the threat appears to be fading.

"We still don't know what the future is. We need to be nimble enough in case there is an uptick in disease," said Bruce Gellin, head of the National Vaccine Program Office.

The immunization program was designed to provide enough vaccine to protect every U.S. resident if needed. But antiquated technology dependent on growing the virus in chicken eggs delayed arrival of most of the doses. Fears about the pandemic fostered wide-scale anxiety and spawned long lines as the first doses trickled in amid the second wave of infections last fall. By the time the vaccine was plentiful, demand had dissipated.

Of the 229 million doses bought by the federal government, about 162.5 million were put into vials and syringes, which starts the clock ticking on an expiration date. About 25 million are being donated to poor countries, and about 35 million remain in bulk form, which lasts longer and could be used if the virus flares up again later this year or as part of next year's seasonal flu vaccine. The Defense Department received about 3 million doses.

Overall, about one-third of people considered at the highest risk from the virus, including nearly 37 percent of children ages 6 months to 17 years, were vaccinated through January. But the proportion of people immunized varied widely nationwide, with some states reporting vaccination rates three times as high as others.

"The message we should take away from this experience is that we need to continue to explore technologies to improve the stability of the flu vaccine supply and, equally as important, we need to invest in public health infrastructure to make sure that there are strong health departments to communicate with the public and administer vaccine once it is produced," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.).

The World Health Organization, meanwhile, faces mounting charges that it overreacted to the pandemic. The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly is investigating allegations that the Geneva-based arm of the United Nations was influenced by pharmaceutical companies to exaggerate the risk, thereby helping in vaccine sales.

WHO officials have strongly disputed the charges, saying the response was vital given the uncertainty about the new virus and its potential threat. Many independent public health experts have defended the agency.

Nevertheless, the WHO has launched an internal review of its response and announced Monday that a committee of 29 outside experts would conduct an independent assessment. The critique will include whether WHO's pandemic alert system should consider the severity of a new virus, not just whether it is novel and spreading globally.

"Could we have made decisions better? Could we have considered things in a different way at the time?" said Keiji Fukuda, WHO's top flu official, told reporters Monday. "We, along with many others, are asking the same kinds of questions of ourselves and each other."

The CDC estimates that more than 60 million people in the United States were sickened by the virus, at least 265,000 were hospitalized and more than 12,000 died. Although about 36,000 residents succumb in a typical flu season, officials said H1N1 tended to kill pregnant women, children and otherwise healthy young adults, making the impact far more serious than the numbers alone indicate.

Infections have dropped sharply in most of the country, but the CDC reported Monday that the virus was still spreading in several southeastern states, including Georgia, where hospitalizations have increased in recent weeks.

Internationally, officials are concerned because the virus has started spreading widely for the first time in some parts of the Southern Hemisphere, especially in poor African countries with limited resources to stem the spread and treat cases.

Israeli warplanes pound Gaza Strip

Israeli warplanes pound Gaza Strip


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Israeli warplanes carried out at least 13 overnight air strikes on the Gaza Strip, injuring three children on Friday, Palestinian sources say.

The F16 fighter jets were hovered over the enclave, launching a series of successive strikes in southern Gaza Strip towns of Rafah and Khan Younis and in Gaza City.

Three children were injured by flying glass, AFP reported.

Hamas security sources said the Israeli jets bombed three different areas "that belong to Palestinian resistance groups," adding that the Israeli missiles landed mostly on non-residential areas, dpa reported.

Four of the strikes took place near the town of Khan Younis, BBC reported.

Israeli fighter jets regularly launch attacks on the beleaguered Gaza Strip, which has been blockaded since mid-June 2007.

On Tuesday, the Israeli army crossed into the coastal sliver's southern Qarara region, before invading Dair al-Balah in central Gaza.

The Israeli strikes are at their highest level in more than a year.

Shopaholic China

Shopaholic Chin

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He donned a leather bomber’s jacket with an Air Force One logo on it, got up in front of a boisterous crowd of about 2,000 military personnel in a hangar at Bagram Air Base, and gave a tub-thumping, “support the troops” campaign speech. I’m talking about Barack Obama on his six-hour visit to “Afghanistan.” Of course, any presidential trip to “the front” is always essentially a domestic political phenomenon destined to trump all other news and be covered uncritically. In this case, it was undoubtedly part of the post-health-care run-up to election 2010, emphasizing an area -- the Afghan War -- in which Americans are, at the moment, remarkably supportive of the president’s policies.

Starting with that bomber’s jacket, the event had a certain eerie similarity to George W. Bush’s visits to Iraq. As Bush once swore that we would never step down until the Iraqis had stepped up, so Obama declared his war to be “absolutely essential.” General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, even claimed that the president had used the long-absent (but patented) Bush word “victory” in his meeting with Hamid Karzai. Above all, whatever the talk about beginning to draw down his surge troops in mid-2011 -- and he has so far committed more than 50,000 American troops to that country -- when it comes to the Afghan War, the president seemed to signal that we are still on Pentagon time.

Particularly striking was his assurance that, while there would be “difficult days ahead... we also know this: The United States of America does not quit once it starts on something... [T]he American armed services does not quit, we keep at it, we persevere, and together with our partners we will prevail. I am absolutely confident of that.” He assured his listeners, and assumedly Americans at home, that we will “finish the job” (however undefined), and made another promise as well: “I’m looking forward,” he told the troops, “to returning to Afghanistan many times in the years to come.”

Many times in the years to come. Think about that and fasten your seatbelt. The U.S. evidently isn’t about to leave Afghanistan anytime soon. The president seems to have set his watch to the Pentagon’s clock, which means that, in terrible financial times, he is going to continue investing staggering sums of our money long-term in a perilous war in a distant land with terrible supply lines and no infrastructure. This represents a perfect Paul-Kennedy-style working definition of “imperial overstretch.” Contrast this with the China-on-the-move that Michael Klare, TomDispatch regular and author of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet, describes below. If the word “folly” doesn’t come to mind, what does? Tom

China's Global Shopping Spree
Is the World’s Future Resource Map Tilting East?

By Michael T. Klare

Think of it as a tale of two countries. When it comes to procuring the resources that make industrial societies run, China is now the shopaholic of planet Earth, while the United States is staying at home. Hard-hit by the global recession, the United States has experienced a marked decline in the consumption of oil and other key industrial materials. Not so China. With the recession’s crippling effects expected to linger in the U.S. for many years, analysts foresee a slow recovery when it comes to resource consumption. Not so China.

In fact, the Chinese are already experiencing a sharp increase in the use of oil and other commodities. More than that, anticipating the kind of voracious resource consumption that goes with anticipated future growth, and worried about the availability of adequate supplies, giant Chinese energy and manufacturing firms -- many of them state-owned -- have been on a veritable spending binge when it comes to locking down resource supplies for the twenty-first century. They have acquired oil fields, natural gas reserves, mines, pipelines, refineries, and other resource assets in a global buying spree of almost unprecedented proportions.

Like most other countries, China suffered some ill effects from the Great Recession of 2008. Its exports declined and previously explosive economic growth slowed from record levels. Thanks to a well-crafted $586 billion stimulus package, however, the worst effects proved remarkably short-lived and growth soon returned to its previous high-octane pace. Since the beginning of 2009, China has experienced significant jumps in car ownership and home construction -- along with worries about the creation of a housing bubble -- among signs of returning prosperity. This, in turn, has generated a rising demand for oil, steel, copper, and other primary materials.

Take oil. In the United States, oil consumption actually declined by 9% over the past two years, from 20.7 million barrels per day in 2007 to 18.8 million in 2009. In contrast, China’s oil consumption has risen in this same period, from 7.6 to 8.5 million barrels per day. According to the most recent projections from the U.S. Department of Energy, this is no fluke. The Chinese demand for oil is expected to continue climbing throughout the rest of this year and 2011, even as American consumption remains nearly flat.

Like the United States, China obtains a certain amount of oil from domestic wells, but must acquire a growing share from overseas suppliers. In 2007, the country produced 3.9 million barrels per day and imported 3.7 million barrels, but that proportion is changing rapidly. By 2020, it is projected to produce only 3.3 million barrels, while importing 9.1 million barrels. This situation has “strategic vulnerability” written all over it, and so leaves Chinese leaders exceedingly uneasy. In response, like American officials in decades past, they have moved to gain control over foreign sources of energy -- and similarly many other vital materials, including natural gas, iron, copper, and uranium.

China Binging on Energy

Chinese energy companies initially started buying up foreign firms and drilling ventures (or, at least, shares in them) as the twenty-first century began. Three large state-owned oil companies -- the China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC), the China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), and the China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. (Sinopec) -- took the lead. These firms, or their partially privatized subsidiaries – PetroChina in the case of CNPC, and CNOOC International Ltd. in the case of CNOOC -- began gobbling up foreign energy assets in Angola, Iran, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Sudan, and Venezuela. On the whole, these acquisitions were still dwarfed by those being made by giant Western firms like ExxonMobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, and BP. Nonetheless, they represented something new: a growing Chinese presence in a universe once dominated by the Western “majors.”

Then along came the Great Recession. Since 2008, Western firms have, for the most part, been reluctant to make major investments in foreign oil ventures, fearing a prolonged downturn in global sales. The Chinese companies, however, only accelerated their buying efforts. They were urged on by senior government officials, who saw the moment as perfect for acquiring crucial valuable resources for a potentially energy-starved future at bargain-basement prices.

“The international financial crisis… is equally a challenge and an opportunity,” insisted Zhang Guobao, head of the National Energy Administration, at the beginning of 2009. “The slowdown… has reduced the price of international energy resources and assets and favors our search for overseas resources.”

As a policy matter, the Chinese government has worked hard to facilitate the accelerating rush to control foreign energy resources. Among other things, it has provided low-interest, long-term loans to major Chinese resource firms in the hunt for foreign properties, as well as to foreign governments willing to allow Chinese companies to participate in the exploitation of their natural resources. In 2009, for example, the China Development Bank (CDB) agreed to lend CNPC $30 billion over a five-year period to support its efforts to acquire assets abroad. Similarly, CBD has loaned $10 billion to Petrobras, Brazil’s state-controlled oil company, to develop deep offshore fields in return for a promise to supply China with up to 160,000 barrels of Brazilian crude per day.

Prodded in this fashion and backed with endless streams of cash, CNPC and the other giant Chinese firms have gone on a global binge, acquiring resource assets of every imaginable type in staggering profusion in Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. A very partial list of some of the more important recent deals would include:

* In April 2009, CNPC formed a joint venture with Kazmunaigas, the state oil company of the energy-rich Central Asian state of Kazakhistan, to purchase a Kazakh energy firm, JSC Mangistaumunaigas (MMG), for $3.3 billion. This was just the latest of a series of deals giving China control over about one-quarter of Kazakhstan’s growing oil output. A $5 billion loan-for-oil offer from China’s Export-Import Bank made this latest deal possible.

* In October 2009, a consortium led by CNPC and the oil heavyweight BP won a contract to develop the Rumaila oil field in Iraq, potentially one of the world’s biggest oil reservoirs in a country with the third largest reserves on the planet. Under this agreement, the consortium will invest $15 billion to boost Rumaila’s daily yield from 1.1 to 2.8 million barrels, doubling Iraq’s net output. CNPC holds a 37% share in the consortium; BP, 38%; and the Iraqi government, the remaining 25%. If the consortium succeeds, China will have access to one of the world’s most-promising future sources of petroleum and a base for further participation in Iraq’s underdeveloped oil industry.

* In November 2009, Sinopec teamed up with Ecuador’s state-owned Petroecuador in a 40:60 joint venture (with Petroecuador holding the larger share) to develop two oil fields in Ecuador’s eastern Pastaza Province. Sinopec is already a major producer in Ecuador, having joined with CNPC to acquire the Ecuadorian energy assets of Canada’s EnCana Corp. in 2005 for $1.4 billion.

* In December 2009, CNPC acquired a share of the Boyaca 3 oil block in the Orinoco Belt, a large deposit of extra-heavy oil in eastern Venezuela. In that month, CNOOC formed a joint venture with the state-owned company Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. to develop the Junin 8 block in the same region. These moves are seen as part of a strategic effort by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to increase his country’s oil exports to China and reduce its reliance on sales to the U.S. market.

* That same December, CNPC signed an agreement with the government of Myanmar (Burma) to build and operate an oil pipeline that will run from Maday Island in the western part of that country to Ruili, in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan. The 460-mile pipeline will permit China-bound tankers from Africa and the Middle East to unload their cargo in Myanmar on the Indian Ocean, thereby avoiding the long voyage to China’s eastern coast via the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea, areas significantly dominated by the U.S. Navy.

* In March 2010, CNOOC International announced plans to buy 50% of Bridas Corp., a private Argentinean energy firm with oil and gas operations in Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. CNOOC will pay $3.1 billion for its share of Bridas, which is owned by the family of Argentinean magnate Carlos Bulgheroni.

* In March, PetroChina joined oil major Shell to acquire Arrow Energy, a major Australian supplier of natural gas derived from coal-bed methane. The two companies are paying about $1.6 billion each and will form a 50:50 joint venture to operate Arrow’s holdings.

And that’s only in the energy field. Chinese mining and metals firms have been scouring the world for promising reserves of iron, copper, bauxite, and other key industrial minerals. In March, for example, Aluminum Corp. of China, or Chinalco, acquired a 44.65% stake in the Simandou iron-ore project in the African country of Guinea. Chinalco will pay Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto Ltd. $1.35 billion for this share. Keep in mind that Chinalco already owns a 9.3% stake in Rio Tinto, and has been prevented from acquiring a larger share mainly thanks to Australian fears that China is absorbing too much of the country’s energy and minerals industries.

Shifting the World’s Resource Balance

Chinese companies like CNPC, Sinopec, and Chinalco are hardly alone in seeking control of valuable foreign resource assets. Major Western firms as well as state-owned companies in India, Russia, Brazil, and other countries have also been shopping for such properties. Few, however, have been as determined or single-minded as Chinese firms in taking advantage of the relatively low prices that followed the global recession, and few have the sort of deep pockets available to such companies, thanks to the willingness of the China Development Bank and other government agencies to offer munificent financial backing.

When the United States and other Western nations finally recover from the Great Recession, therefore, they will discover that the global resource chessboard has been tilted strongly in China’s favor. Energy and mineral producers that once directed their production -- and often their political allegiance -- to the U.S., Japan, and Western Europe now view China as a major customer and patron. In one eye-catching sign of this shift, Saudi Arabia announced recently that it had sold more oil to China last year than to the United States, previously its largest and most pampered customer. “We believe this is a long-term transition,” said Khalid A. al-Falih, president and chief executive of Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil giant. “Demographic and economic trends are making it clear -- the writing is on the wall. China is the growth market for petroleum.”

For now, Chinese leaders are avoiding any hint that their recent foreign resource acquisitions entail political or military commitments that could produce friction with the United States or other Western powers. These are just commercial transactions, they insist. There is, however, no escaping the fact that growing Chinese resource ties with countries like Angola, Australia, Brazil, Iran, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Venezuela have geopolitical implications that are unlikely to be ignored in Washington, London, Paris, and Tokyo. Perhaps more than any other recent developments, China’s global shopping spree reveals how the world’s balance of power is shifting from West to East.

FEC enforcement of US election laws drops more than 600 percent

FEC inaction on enforcing election laws rises more than 600 percent

Republican appointee has encouraged deadlock

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After GOP lawyer Caroline Hunter helped lead the national Election Assistance Commission, a propitious series of events allowed her swift confirmation to the Federal Election Commission.

The result, along with FEC appointments of her two Republican colleagues, has been a staggering decrease in the commission's ability to enforce campaign finance law.

A new statistical analysis shows that the number of FEC enforcement decisions that ended up in deadlocked votes -- three-three ties on the six-member bipartisan commission -- soared more than 600 percent in 2009.

With von Spakovsky out, Hunter quietly slips in

By the time Hunter was nominated to the Federal Election Commission in May 2008, President Bush's nomination of Republican Justice Department official Hans von Spakovsky had already been stalled in the Senate for nearly two-and-a-half years. Teamed up with government watchdog groups and former Justice Department colleagues, Democrats fought fiercely to prevent his confirmation.

In January 2006, while Congress was out of session, Bush had given von Spakovsky a one-year recess appointment to the FEC, circumventing a Senate confirmation hearing.

During the long fight over von Spakovsky's nomination, the nomination process for other prospective commissioners had stalled as well. By the time von Spakovsky finally withdrew his nomination in May 2008, the FEC was down to only two members with the election year already in full swing. It had not been fully functional for several months.

The Federal Election Commission is supposed to consist of three Democrats and three Republicans. By law, the commission requires at least four affirmative votes on a decision for the commission to take action on issues, including enforcement and regulation.

Once von Spakovsky withdrew, Democratic and Republican Senate leadership worked toward solidifying a package deal of nominees from both parties. Their selections would then be confirmed uncontested.

Hunter was one of those nominees.

At the time, Roll Call reporter Matthew Murray wrote, "Hunter, whose proposed nomination would expire in 2013, is a seasoned -- and fully vetted -- GOP insider who has worked in the current Bush White House and as a lawyer at the Republican National Committee."

It turned out, however, that Hunter's selection largely escaped notice.

With all the focus on preventing von Spakovsky's confirmation, Hunter's ascension to the FEC evaded scrutiny even by some of the staunchest of von Spakovsky's opponents.

Craig Holman, a campaign finance expert at the Washington watchdog group Public Citizen, admitted to Raw Story that he was so relieved after von Spakovsky's withdrawal he didn't think twice about Hunter, even though he had no idea who she was.

"I knew nothing about her," Holman said. "When she was appointed, I didn't have a clue where she came from or what she was about or how she would act as an FEC commissioner. And that just shows the lack of review and lack of scrutiny for these FEC appointments."

Holman believes that was "exactly" the intent behind her nomination.

"When [von Spakovsky] was finally removed and replaced with Hunter, I just didn't have a clue who Hunter was," he said. "So I didn't even comment on it."

Joe Rich, a former Justice Department Voting Section chief, who along with several career Justice Department colleagues wrote an open letter to Congress arguing against von Spakovsky's confirmation, described a similar experience.

"After von Spakovsky finally withdrew, I don't think I was even aware that she'd been nominated," Rich told Raw Story.

"All those months that they were trying to get Hans in, the Republicans, it was a real battle, a major battle in the Senate," he explained. "And finally the Democrats essentially won that battle. But I think in winning it, they just wanted him gone and once he was gone I think everybody felt they just needed to fill those positions."

"Frankly," Rich added. "I didn't even know she was on the FEC."

Holman said that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has a history of recommending people who are ideologically opposed to enforcing campaign finance laws.

"Quite frankly, Mitch McConnell is committed to try just throwing a monkey wrench into the entire campaign finance system," said Holman. "And he's figured out one of the most effective ways of doing it is to appoint people who are opposed to the campaign finance laws to the Federal Election Commission."

McConnell could not be reached for comment.

Historic deadlock over enforcement action

Campaign finance and FEC law experts cited an historic increase in the FEC's inability to muster the four votes necessary to take action since Hunter and her two Republican FEC colleagues Donald McGahn and Matthew Petersen joined the commission.

Paul Ryan, an FEC law expert at the Campaign Legal Center, told Raw Story, "I have seen an increase in the number of deadlocks, three-three deadlocks on the commission, as a result of this ideological split."

Ryan and other FEC law and campaign finance experts acknowledged that the commission tends to be filled by partisan stalwarts from both political parties.

The Senate deal for expediting the confirmation of FEC commissioners in the summer of 2008, which included Hunter, Petersen and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's (R-TX) ethics lawyer Donald McGahn, also involved the confirmation of two Democrats with very close party ties. Joining the commission from the left were Cynthia Bauerly, a legislative director for Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Steven Walther, a Reno attorney who used to be Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) personal lawyer.

But Ryan made a distinction between general party affiliation and the ideological approach driving Hunter and her GOP colleagues' record of "refusing to enforce the law."

Public Citizen's Holman concurred.

"The Federal Election Commission is hopelessly deadlocked," Holman said, "and the caucus of three Republicans really have realized that the best way they can prevent the enforcement of campaign finance laws is just by voting as a block to deadlock everything. Without a four-vote margin, the FEC can't act."

The new statistical analysis performed by Holman for Public Citizen, which he released exclusively to Raw Story, shows that from 2003 to 2008 the number of FEC enforcement decisions that ended up in deadlocked votes averaged less than 2 percent and in three of those six years averaged less than 1 percent. (Holman said those low percentages have been consistent since the creation of the FEC in 1975.) Yet, in 2009, Holman found that deadlocks on enforcement cases jumped to 12.6 percent -- an increase of more than 600 percent.

fecenforcementvotes Exclusive: FEC inaction on enforcing election  laws rises more than 600 percent

(The full Public Citizen analysis, showing that there has not been a comparable leap in other types of votes, can be found here.)

Both Hunter and fellow Republican FEC commissioner Donald McGahn have defended their record by claiming, respectively, "the law is not clear and absolute in many cases" and "the elusive spirit of the law can, and does, lead to disparate, unfair results." Both also assert their stances stem from concerns about discouraging political participation.

An op-ed Hunter published in Roll Call in July 2009 even argued that increased "deadlocks" -- 3-3 votes where no action is taken -- are a positive result and the intention of the FEC's designers.

"Congress made an affirmative choice," Hunter posits, "not to create an odd-numbered commission, which would increase the likelihood of majority decisions and fewer 'deadlocks.'"

But structural flaws aside, the intention of the provision in the statute explained on the FEC's website specifically states: "By law, no more than three Commissioners can be members of the same political party, and at least four votes are required for any official Commission action. This structure was created to encourage nonpartisan decisions."

Hunter and her GOP colleagues, however, have used this structure to encourage the opposite outcome: partisan deadlock.

"Enforcing federal campaign finance laws is precisely the job of the Federal Election Commission," Ryan said. He described "a tendency among Republican commissioners to forecast and prejudge what courts might do down the road, and determine in their own view that a law might be found to be unconstitutional or is unconstitutional even though the law was never judged to be such by a court and to refrain from enforcement along that basis."

But Ryan said that "also is wholly inappropriate for an administrative agency like the FEC."

"All laws are written to be enforced," he added. "The exercise of Congress writing laws is pointless if there's a notion out there that executive agencies, and in this case the Federal Election Commission, is not supposed to enforce the law that Congress passed.

"That makes no sense whatsoever," he said.

Hunter also defended her record by saying she won't "violate [her] oath of office by getting ahead of the law."

Gerry Hebert, executive director at the Campaign Legal Center and a former DOJ voting rights attorney -- who calls Hunter and her fellow GOP commissioners "three of the most partisan individuals ever to sit on the Federal Election Commission" and blames them for the dysfunction of the commission going "off the charts" -- finds her approach to be a violation of the oath she swore to uphold.

"When you become an FEC commissioner," he explained, "you take an oath that you are going to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the laws passed by Congress. If you disagree with those laws, you should not take an oath of office to uphold them. If your ideology says that these laws -- I think I have First Amendment issues or I have concerns about them but they're on the books, then you cannot -- you cannot in good faith -- take an oath to uphold those laws if you are going to let your ideology trump those laws."

Hebert continued, "And the fact that people of such ilk are permitted to even be on the FEC is a disgrace."

FEC spokeswoman Judith Ingram declined comment on behalf of Hunter and the commission.

Holman suggested altering how commissioners are selected.

"At this point we have a dysfunctional FEC and Hunter is one part of the problem," he said. "It's an agency that simply does not function anymore. We can't just let one senator appoint the Republicans and another senator appoint the Democrats. We need to actually get some review and provide the President with choices instead of just rubber-stamping whoever Mitch McConnell or Harry Reid want appointed."

Judge overturns medical patents on human genes

Judge strikes fear into biotech industry with nullification of patents on human genes BRCA1

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As NaturalNews readers already know, corporations and universities right now claim intellectual property ownership over roughly twenty percent of your genetic code. This absurdity has occurred due to bizarre operations of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office which has handed corporations intellectual property monopolies over everything ranging from human genes to animals and seeds. Monsanto's "ownership" of genetically modified seed crops, for example, was only made possible by the patent office's willingness to grant the corporation intellectual property ownership over seeds.

I have long argued that granting patents on seeds, genes and medicines is a violation of natural law. In 2007, for example, I wrote an article entitled " Corporate Greed, Intellectual Property Laws and the Destruction of Human Civilization" (http://www.naturalnews.com/022096.html) in which I argued that the granting of such patents is a threat to not just human freedom but also the future of life on earth.

What happens when corporations, for example, wish to start collecting royalties on the human genes that you are copying when you reproduce by having children? The mere act of conceiving a child makes you a patent law violator... a criminal engaged in genetic piracy under U.S. law. This may sound patently absurd, if you'll excuse the expression, but it is precisely what has been held as true under current U.S. patent law.

You can't patent things created by Mother Nature

Fortunately, things are beginning to shift. Earlier this week, a federal judge struck down patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. These are the genes used by many doctors to attempt to predict breast cancer risk. Of course, the very idea that genes alone can determine your cancer risk is provably false, but that's another story altogether. For the point of this story, just keep in mind that lots of women have their DNA tested for the presence of these BRCA genes in order to (they think) determine their breast cancer risk.

But one corporation called Myriad Genetics holds seven patents on these genes. Although the patents are shrouded in lawyer's language, this company essentially claims to own these genes as if it had invented them! Furthermore, this company held that the mere act of testing for these genes was a violation of their patents.

Now, a more sensible person might instantly recognize that your genes existed long before Myriad Genetics came around. Depending on your frame of belief, your genes were either created by God or by Mother Nature, and to grant monopoly IP ownership over those genes to a corporations seems absurd beyond all reason.

But no: This corporation and its lawyers argued with a straight face that they alone effectively owned your BRCA genes and that no one could even test for the presence of those genes without paying them a royalty!

United States District Court Judge Robert W. Sweet disagreed with the patents in his 152-page decision (see NY Times PDF file at http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packag... ) which strikes down seven patents formerly belonging to Myriad Genetics. This victory was achieved, in part, by the American Civil Liberties Union which helped challenge the BRCA patents last year. The ACLU argued (quite correctly, in my view) that human genes are products of nature and should never be owned by Man.

As state in a NY Times article (source below), an ACLU lawyer explained it like this: "The human genome, like the structure of blood, air or water, was discovered, not created. There is an endless amount of information on genes that begs for further discovery, and gene patents put up unacceptable barriers to the free exchange of ideas."

Striking back at biotech

If this decision stands, the resulting consequences could be hugely damaging to the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, both of which depend on government-granted monopolies (patents) to lock in their corporate profits. Biotech companies have been ramping up research on gene-based diseases for a decade or more, hoping to cash in on the genetic monopolies that would guarantee them profits for all sorts of human diseases that they could tie to "genetic disorders."

The idea that "your genes made you sick" is a very seductive (and profitable) concept for the biotech and pharmaceutical industries because it implies that patients have no role in their own health. Genes determine your future, you're told, so eating right and taking nutritional supplements is useless, they insist. Because your genes have already determined what diseases you'll get, the only thing you can do is take their patented chemicals that target those genes or their symptoms. Merely being screened for these "diseases" earns these corporations a royalty, by the way, since they owns the patents on the genes themselves.

This "Great Lie" of the biotech industry, of course, depends entirely on being able to procure intellectual property monopolies over human genes. And that's why this week's decision by judge Sweet is sending shockwaves through the biotech industry. They are now concerned that they won't be able to attract investors to develop more gene-targeted "therapies" (yeah, right) because they will no longer be granted patent monopolies through which they can make obscene profits by scaring patients into expensive gene therapies.

The greed of the corporation knows no bounds

Biotech, pharmaceutical and agricultural corporations, you see, are some of the most arrogant and dangerous organizations on the planet. They believe that they alone have the right to monopolize your genes, your seeds, your food and your medicine. Anything that they don't control and profit from is attacked or destroyed. The FDA's pharma-inspired attacks on nutritional products is a great example of this monopoly profiteering in action. It's the same story with Monsanto's legal assaults on farmers who refuse to plant genetically modified seeds.

That's why these corporations will be lobbying hard to reverse this decision by judge Sweet, forcing a reversal that would lock in their monopoly ownership over genes, seeds and medicines. These corporations want to own the world and control everyone and everything in it. And while they can't necessarily own all the physical objects in the world, if they can achieve ownership over most of the intellectual property, they can come pretty close to ruling the world.

Think about it: If they own your genes, your food crops and your medicines, they effectively control virtually everything you depend on to stay alive. It's not out of the realm of possibility to suppose that in the near future, you will not be allowed to have a baby without paying royalties to the biotech corporations that "own" your human genes. Making a baby, after all, does involve copying your genes, you pirate!

That's why granting corporations over genes, seeds or medicines is so dangerous to the future of humanity: It concentrates power over the world into the hands of the few. If that sounds like Monsanto's corporate motto, that's because Monsanto is the perfect example of a company that literally seeks to control the entire world and everything in it, and if they can exploit U.S. patent law to assert that control over the people, they will almost certainly take every opportunity to do so.

Why corporations are inherently evil

Allow me to share something about large corporations. Corporations have people, money, lobbyists and lots of power. But corporations do not have morals or ethics or human compassion. Corporations are granted all of the rights of the People (free speech rights, for example) and yet they have none of the compassions or sensibilities of people. Corporations consistently endanger and even sacrifice human lives in order to maximize their profits.

Want examples? Union Carbide in Bhopal, India. See the horrifying pictures of "the children of Dow's Chemicals" here: http://www.bhopal.org

Or review the story of Enron and how that company turned off power plants in California, killing senior citizens in the high heat in order to make more money selling emergency electricity back to the State of California.

Or look at the drug companies that manufacture and push deadly cholesterol and heart drugs that are killing people, even while burying the clinical trial evidence that proves those drugs to be extremely dangerous.

The list of corporate crimes against humanity is far too long to cover right here, but if you want a good overview of the situation, pick up some books by author John Perkins who wrote Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. I recently interviewed John Perkins by phone and will be posting that here on NaturalNews in the near future.

Watch this interview with John Perkins here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9QE...

The important point here is simply this: If you grant corporations intellectual property ownership over your genes, foods, seeds and medicines, they will use that power to enslave you.

That's what corporations do: They inherently seek to create high-profit monopolies that limit consumer choice and force consumers to pay monopoly prices for all their goods and services, all to the benefit of the corporate shareholders. This simple truth is, in fact, the entire point of having a corporation in the first place: To make as much money as possibly by any means possible within the law. So if patent law grants monopolies over human genes, then it's only a matter of time before corporations will exploit that to own and dominate human reproduction involving those genes!

Patent reform is crucial to freedom

This is why I believe that judge Sweet's decision to deny patent ownership over the BRCA genes was hugely important to the future of freedom for humankind. If these intellectual property monopolies are allowed to stand, they will only grow ever more powerful and dangerous to the freedoms of populations around the world. If they are not struck down, these corporate monopolies will inevitably result in the outright enslavement of humankind to the corporatocracy -- a situation that many would agree we are dangerously close to right now.

So watch this situation carefully. You can bet that behind closed doors, judge Sweet is right now being pressured and perhaps even threatened if he does not reverse his decision. Or members of a higher court are being lobbied to overturn it for him.

One thing I've learned in my years of being the editor for NaturalNews is that corporations will do anything -- absolutely ANYTHING -- to protect their profits. This includes doing things that are far outside U.S. law and that endanger the lives of individuals or groups of people who stand in the way of a particular corporate agenda. Individual freedom has no value whatsoever in the eyes of these corporations, especially if it interferes with their profits. So send some good vibes over to judge Sweet and ask that he be protected right now for having the courage to boldly state the obvious: Corporations should not own human genes!

And don't be surprised to see the corporations in the biotech industry pulling out all the stops to try to get this decision reversed. Their very future depends on dominating humankind through legal monopolies known as patents, and anyone who threatens that profit model will be targeted by the biotech industry in more ways than one.

UAW membership continues to plummet

UAW membership continues to plummet

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The United Auto Workers union lost another 76,000 members last year, bringing its total membership to 355,000. This is the lowest level since the late 1930s, just after the fledgling organization had won recognition at General Motors.

GraphUAW membership fell by 18 percent in 2009, according to the union’s annual report filed Monday with the US Department of Labor. The losses were chiefly the result of the tens of thousands of job cuts the UAW accepted under the terms of the Obama administration’s forced bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler.

The UAW will lose another 4,600 members next week when the former GM-Toyota plant in Fremont, California, closes its doors, eliminating the last auto assembly factory on the US West Coast.

UAW membership has fallen by nearly half since 2001, when it had 701,818 members. Since reaching its peak of 1.53 million members in 1979, the union has lost 1.14 million members, or 77 percent of its membership.

The UAW largest local is no longer Local 600 at Ford’s River Rouge complex in Dearborn, Michigan, but a unit representing state public employees—which is also losing members due to state budget cuts.

According to the Detroit News, the UAW shut down 50 locals last year, reducing the total from 800 to 750, as plants closed and the organization’s Detroit headquarters consolidated locals to cut costs.

Michigan, long the center of the UAW, saw thousands of job losses in 2009 and continues to have the highest jobless rate in the nation. The restructuring of the auto industry—which has led to more than a 70 percent decline in Michigan’s auto-related employment since 1989—and the economic downturn over the last two years have led to sharp falloff in the membership of the UAW and other unions. The number of union members in Michigan fell by 60,000 last year.

Earlier in the year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the number of unionized hourly and salaried workers in the US declined by 771,000 to 15.3 million in 2009. Only 12.3 percent of all US workers were unionized—including just 7.2 percent in the private sector, compared to 35.7 percent of private sector workers in 1953 and 22 percent as late as 1979.

The disintegration of the UAW—a process that has been duplicated by trade unions throughout the US and in country after country—is the result of the reactionary policies and nationalist outlook that has long guided this organization.

The UAW emerged in the mass social upheavals of the 1930s, including the sit-down strikes in Flint and Detroit. By the 1940s, however, the socialist and other left-wing militants who pioneered the building of the UAW were purged from its leadership by the Reuther bureaucracy, which consolidated the UAW on the basis of an explicit defense of the capitalist system and an alliance with the Democratic Party.

Having tied the fate of the working class to what the UAW leadership perceived as the permanent dominance of American capitalism in the world economy, the UAW reacted to the rising challenge by Asian and European automakers in the 1980s and the globalization of auto production by abandoning any resistance to the attack on jobs and living standards and imposing the dictates of corporate management. In the name of increasing the “competitiveness” of the Detroit automakers the UAW suppressed every struggle against plant closings, mass layoffs and the unending demands for concessions.

The culmination of its corporatist program of “labor-management partnership” and “Buy American” nationalism was its collaboration with the Obama administration in the restructuring and drastic cost-cutting at GM and Chrysler. Over the past four years the UAW forced tens of thousands of older, higher-paid workers to leave the industry through so-called buyouts and agreed to contracts with GM, Chrysler and Ford that would put labor costs in line with Asian producers operating nonunion plants in the US South by reducing the wages of younger new hires by half. In addition, the UAW relieved the auto companies of billions in health care obligations owed to more than 1 million retirees and their dependents.

As the dues-based income of the UAW apparatus declined, it increasingly sought alternative means to secure the financial position and privileges of the army of union executives that run the organization. In exchange for its collaboration with the auto companies and the White House, the UAW was granted a substantial ownership stake of the US automakers, including 55 percent of Chrysler and 17.5 percent of GM, and essentially transformed itself into a business enterprise.

Despite the continuing hemorrhaging of its membership rolls last year, the UAW suffered only a small decline in net worth, the Labor Department reported. UAW assets were worth $1.13 billion in 2009, down slightly from $1.2 billion the year before.

On Tuesday, the UAW carried out a sale—conducted by Deutsche Bank Securities—of 362 million warrants in Ford Motor stock, representing an 11 percent ownership stake in the company. Ford issued the warrants—certificates entitling the bearer to buy securities at a given price—to the UAW in December, after the organization relieved Ford of $13.6 billion in medical cost obligations to 200,000 retirees and their spouses.

The sale was expected to raise $1.3 billion for the UAW-controlled retiree health care trust fund, known as the Voluntary Employees’ Beneficiary Association or VEBA. Commenting on the sale, the Financial Times of London wrote, “The union’s move to cash in the warrants comes after Ford’s share price has surged over the past year amid growing optimism about the company’s chances of emerging successfully from the crisis in its industry.”

The UAW has a direct financial stake in driving up the value of Ford shares through increasing the exploitation of auto workers and imposing further cost-cutting measures on its so-called members.

This only underscores the fact that auto workers can only defend themselves by breaking with this rotten organization and building a powerful political movement in opposition to the profit system and its defenders in the union apparatus.

Obama opens US coastlines for oil drilling

Obama opens US coastlines for oil drilling

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In a speech before a military audience at Andrews Air Force Base on Wednesday, President Obama announced he was preparing to make large regions of the US coastline available for oil drilling for the first time. Oil corporations will now be allowed to explore and eventually drill along the Atlantic coastline, new regions in the Gulf of Mexico and off the northern coast of Alaska.

Coastal waters spanning from northern Delaware to central Florida, an area comprising 167 million acres of ocean, could now be leased to oil corporations for exploration and development. Approximately 130 million acres in the waters north of Alaska will also be made available. The Pacific coast will remain closed to oil and gas development, along with coastal waters from New Jersey north.

The oil and gas industries have had their sights on these regions for decades. The area in the eastern Gulf of Mexico to be opened up to corporations by the new Obama plan is of particular interest, with up to 3.5 million barrels of “economically recoverable oil” and 17 trillion cubic feet of gas believed to be waiting there. Both the amount of resources available and their close proximity to American markets are important incentives. Oil companies could stand to gain billions of dollars in profits from the newly accessible coastal areas.

These regions have been off-limits to oil corporations for decades. In 1981, Congress initiated the Outer Continental Shelf Moratorium, which prohibited the leasing of waters on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the United States as well as in Alaska’s Bristol Bay. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush also issued a ban on Outer Continental Shelf drilling with an executive order that was later renewed by President Clinton.

In 2008, President George W. Bush lifted the presidential ban issued by his father, and the Democratic-controlled Congress allowed its own moratorium to expire. While the Bush administration was unable to finish the work of opening up coastal waters for the oil corporations, the Obama administration has now stepped in to finish the job of removing any further restrictions.

In his remarks at Andrews Air Force Base on Wednesday, Obama informed his audience, “We’re announcing the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration but in ways that balance the need to harness domestic energy resources and the need to protect America’s natural resources.”

Turning reality on its head, Obama attempted to paint the opening of millions of acres to energy conglomerates as a major step on the way to “clean energy.” He admitted, “There will be those who strongly disagree with this decision, including those who say we should not open any new areas to drilling.”

He presented this cave-in to the oil companies as though it was a “middle of the road” compromise. “[W]e need to move beyond the tired debates of the left and the right, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure-all and those who would claim it has no place,” he said.

This marks a complete reversal from the position held by Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign when the Republican Party was using soaring gas prices as a pretext to clear the way for offshore drilling. In a 2008 press conference held in Florida, then-candidate Obama rejected calls to open new areas of the coastline to drilling, saying, “It would have long-term consequences for our coastlines but no short-term benefits, since it would take at least 10 years to get any oil.”

Obama added then, “Offshore drilling would not lower gas prices today, it would not lower gas prices tomorrow, it would not lower gas prices this year, it would not lower gas prices five years from now.”

“When I'm president,” Obama said, “I intend to keep in place the moratorium here in Florida and around the country that prevents oil companies from drilling off Florida’s coasts.”

Aiding Obama in implementing his new plan has been Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. A former senator from Colorado, Salazar has maintained close ties to mining and ranching industries for years, and during his time in the Senate was a right-wing ally of energy corporations. His voting record shows that he was a supporter of offshore drilling near the coast of Florida, that he came out against repealing tax breaks for Exxon-Mobile and against increasing fuel efficiency standards for US automobiles.

Among those groups now protesting the Obama-Salazar plan for offshore drilling is the Sierra Club, whose executive director, Michael Brune, released a statement reading, “Drilling our coasts will do nothing to lower gas prices or create energy independence. It will only jeopardize beaches, marine life, and coastal tourist economies, all so the oil industry can make a short-term profit.”

The offshore drilling plan proposed by Obama is in line with all other pro-corporate policies of his administration. It is a gift to the oil corporations and yet another concession made to the Republican Party. The offshore drilling plan comes as the Obama administration is renewing its push for the passage in the Senate of a comprehensive climate bill that it claims will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said earlier this month, "If you're a Republican, and you believe we should 'drill, baby, drill,' now's your chance.”

US escalates threats against Iran

US escalates threats against Iran

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At two forums this week, the United States and its main allies stepped up their threats against Iran, citing the country’s alleged nuclear weapons ambitions and pledging to impose a fourth round of sanctions against the regime in Tehran.

This diplomatic offensive has been combined with press reports of highly provocative US military actions.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama at a joint White House press conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared that he wanted and expected a new round of sanctions to be passed by the United Nations Security Council “in weeks” rather than months.

The same day, following a meeting in Canada of the foreign ministers of the G-8 industrialized nations, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed “optimism” that a consensus would be reached within the Security Council on a new round of anti-Iran sanctions. Clinton roundly denounced Iran, declaring that “the last 15 months have demonstrated clearly the unwillingness of Iran to fulfill its international obligations…”

This was followed Wednesday by a conflicting series of press reports and disavowals that the US military had test-fired a Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile during a joint exercise with Saudi Arabia. The Washington Post web site carried a mid-day Associated Press report attributing the revelation to a “Western military official.”

The Washington Post-AP article noted that the missile was capable of carrying nuclear warheads. It went on to say: “The US has been strengthening missile defenses in allied Arab nations in the Gulf to help counter any potential missile strike from Iran… The Western military official in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, said US Lt. Gen, Patrick O’Reilly, head of the Missile Defense Agency, attended the test launch.”

The article concluded by reporting: “On Monday, Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khaled bin Sultan said Saudi and US warplanes will carry out joint exercises soon.”

The US intelligence web site Stratfor carried a report on the Washington Post-AP article, in which it noted that “ultimately, this could be a powerful signal that the United States is moving to counter Iran’s nuclear rise by extending the American nuclear umbrella to its allies in the region.”

Later in the day, however, Stratfor posted a disavowal under the headline “US: No SLBM Fired—Stratfor Source.” The web site wrote: “An American Stratfor source adamantly called false a March 31 AP report that a Trident US submarine-launched ballistic missile was fired in Saudi Arabia during a recent joint military exercise of the United States and the Saudis. The source was not able to speak to the possibility of other types of missile launched, or to the veracity of the claims that the military exercise itself took place.”

It is impossible to determine at this point the precise significance of this strange series of reports and counter-reports. However, within the context of an aggressive US diplomatic offensive against Iran and an increasingly strident anti-Iran campaign in the US media, there is reason to suspect that Washington may be seeking to goad the Iranians into some sort of defensive action that could be portrayed as a hostile military act. This would provide the US with a casus belli to justify a military attack on Iran, or at least a means of stampeding reluctant Security Council members such as Russia and especially China into backing harsh sanctions.

There are many signs that the Obama administration, the CIA and the US military are moving toward a major escalation in the US drive to destabilize or oust the Iranian regime. On Tuesday night, the ABC network news program featured a report that an Iranian nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, defected last June to the US and has told American intelligence agencies that Iran is secretly building two additional nuclear enrichment facilities. The report cited no named sources and provided no evidence to substantiate the claim that Iran is expanding its nuclear program.

The ABC report followed a front-page lead article in last Sunday’s New York Times making similarly unsubstantiated charges that Iran is “preparing to build more sites in defiance of United Nations demands.”

At a press conference held Wednesday in Kabul, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, charged Iran with sending a shipment of arms to anti-US militants in Kandahar province, in what he called a “significant development.” Again, no evidence was provided to back the allegation.

Mullen was in Afghanistan to prepare for a major US military offensive against Kandahar, a city of nearly 1 million inhabitants, which is the capital of Kandahar province, a stronghold of the Taliban. The offensive is expected to be launched in June.

These developments follow several weeks of threatening statements by US officials and news reports of US military preparations against Iran, including the revelation last week that Washington has shipped hundreds of bunker-buster bombs to the American military air base on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.

The mounting threats and provocations against Iran have gone hand in hand with increasing pressure by the US, France, Britain and Germany on China to end its opposition to new sanctions. As one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, China has a veto power over council resolutions.

On Wednesday, in an apparent softening of China’s position, it was reported that Beijing had agreed to begin talks with the other four permanent council members and Germany on the terms of a resolution on new sanctions against Tehran. At the same time, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, traveled to China for talks Thursday in an evident effort to press Beijing to maintain its previous opposition to new sanctions.

Washington’s drive to provoke a crisis with Iran underscores the essential continuity of US imperialist policy, exposing the claims that Obama would pursue policies fundamentally different from those of Bush. In fact, Obama is employing against Iran the same modus operandi of unsubstantiated allegations and lies about “weapons of mass destruction” used by Bush to justify war against Iraq. This is shown by the CIA’s own declassified annual report to Congress.

In it, the CIA admits that it has no hard evidence that Iran is seeking to produce nuclear weapons. The report states: “Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, though we do not know whether Tehran eventually will decide to produce nuclear weapons.”