Thursday, May 27, 2010

Toxic Oil Spill Rains Warned Could Destroy North America

Toxic Oil Spill Rains Warned Could Destroy North America


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A dire report prepared for President Medvedev by Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources is warning today that the British Petroleum (BP) oil and gas leak in the Gulf of Mexico is about to become the worst environmental catastrophe in all of human history threatening the entire eastern half of the North American continent with “total destruction”.

Russian scientists are basing their apocalyptic destruction assessment due to BP’s use of millions of gallons of the chemical dispersal agent known as Corexit 9500 which is being pumped directly into the leak of this wellhead over a mile under the Gulf of Mexico waters and designed, this report says, to keep hidden from the American public the full, and tragic, extent of this leak that is now estimated to be over 2.9 million gallons a day.

The dispersal agent Corexit 9500 is a solvent originally developed by Exxon and now manufactured by the Nalco Holding Company of Naperville, Illinois that is four times more toxic than oil (oil is toxic at 11 ppm (parts per million), Corexit 9500 at only 2.61ppm). In a report written by Anita George-Ares and James R. Clark for Exxon Biomedical Sciences, Inc. titled “Acute Aquatic Toxicity of Three Corexit Products: An Overview” Corexit 9500 was found to be one of the most toxic dispersal agents ever developed. Even worse, according to this report, with higher water temperatures, like those now occurring in the Gulf of Mexico, its toxicity grows.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in discovering BP’s use of this dangerous dispersal agent ordered BP to stop using it, but BP refused stating that their only alternative to Corexit 9500 was an even more dangerous dispersal agent known as Sea Brat 4.

The main differences between Corexit 9500 and Sea Brat 4 lie in how long these dangerous chemicals take to degrade into their constituent organic compounds, which for Corexit 9500 is 28 days. Sea Brat 4, on the other hand, degrades into an organic chemical called Nonylphenol that is toxic to aquatic life and can persist in the environment for years.

A greater danger involving Corexit 9500, and as outlined by Russian scientists in this report, is that with its 2.61ppm toxicity level, and when combined with the heating Gulf of Mexico waters, its molecules will be able to “phase transition” from their present liquid to a gaseous state allowing them to be absorbed into clouds and allowing their release as “toxic rain” upon all of Eastern North America.

Even worse, should a Katrina like tropical hurricane form in the Gulf of Mexico while tens of millions of gallons of Corexit 9500 are sitting on, or near, its surface the resulting “toxic rain” falling upon the North American continent could “theoretically” destroy all microbial life to any depth it reaches resulting in an “unimaginable environmental catastrophe” destroying all life forms from the “bottom of the evolutionary chart to the top”.

Note: For molecules of a liquid to evaporate, they must be located near the surface, be moving in the proper direction, and have sufficient kinetic energy to overcome liquid-phase intermolecular forces. Only a small proportion of the molecules meet these criteria, so the rate of evaporation is limited. Since the kinetic energy of a molecule is proportional to its temperature, evaporation proceeds more quickly at higher temperatures.

As over 50 miles of the US State of Louisiana’s coastline has already been destroyed by this spill, American scientists are warning that the damage may be impossible to repair, and as we can read as reported by the Associated Press News Service:

“The gooey oil washing into the maze of marshes along the Gulf Coast could prove impossible to remove, leaving a toxic stew lethal to fish and wildlife, government officials and independent scientists said. Officials are considering some drastic and risky solutions: They could set the wetlands on fire or flood areas in hopes of floating out the oil. They warn an aggressive cleanup could ruin the marshes and do more harm than good.”

And to understand the full import of this catastrophe it must be remembered that this disaster is occurring in what is described as the “biologically richest waters in America” with the greatest amount of oil and toxic Corexit 9500 set to come ashore in the coming days and weeks to destroy it completely for decades to come.

Reports are also coming from the United States that their government is secretly preparing to evacuate tens-of-millions of their citizens from their Gulf of Mexico States should the most dire of these scientific warnings start to come true.

To the greatest lesson to be learned by these Americans is that their government-oil industry cabal has been just as destructive to them as their government-banking one, both of which have done more to destroy the United States these past couple of years than any foreign enemy could dare dream was possible.

But to their greatest enemy the Americans need look no further than their nearest mirror as they are the ones who allowed these monsters to rule over them in the first place.

Israelis open fire on Gaza workers

Israelis open fire on Gaza workers

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Hours after 16 people were wounded by Israeli warplanes; Israeli soldiers have opened fire on Palestinians, wounding three workers in the Gaza Strip.

The incident happened in the northern parts of the coastal strip on Wednesday, a Press TV correspondent reported

The Palestinians were collecting scrap metal when Israeli forces opened fire from their check point on the Gaza border.

Earlier, Israeli F-16 warplanes attacked the northern Gaza Strip, reportedly leaving 16 people, including civilians and police officers, wounded.

The Israeli Air Force also struck the south, targeting the tunnels near a disused airport south of the town of Rafah.

The area near the Rafah border crossing -- the sliver's only border that bypasses Israel -- has been recently targeted in dozens of Israeli aerial assaults.

The Case for Socialism

The Case for Socialism

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"Afterword" by Howard Zinn

Haymarket Books
$12.00, 173 pages

It’s obvious that if you repeat something often enough, in an authoritative voice, listeners will begin to believe what you say. That’s the theory behind both advertising and conservative media.

The oft-repeated barrage of verbal assaults lobbed at Barack Obama - that he’s a commie/foreigner/infidel/Nazi - confirm this. Indeed, an April 2010 CBS/NY Times poll found that 52 percent of Americans believe that the president is moving the US toward socialism, something they clearly regard as bad, and maybe even dangerous, for the US and its people. What’s more, The Huffington Post reported in February that 78 percent of Republican leaders consider the Commander in Chief to be a full-blown pinko.

That these assertions are insane - and more than a little frightening - goes without saying. But they also reveal a profound lack of knowledge about socialism, the class struggle, and theories of governance.

Alan Maass’ The Case for Socialism goes a long way in rectifying this information gap, and should be required reading in every high school and college civics class. Clearly and accessibly written, it posits socialism as a viable and necessary alternative to capitalism.

The late historian Howard Zinn, in an afterword that was originally published in The Progressive, reminds readers that in the early decades of the 20th century, a vast number of US residents were cheered by socialism’s promise. For one, more than a million people read Appeal to Reason, a socialist newspaper published from 1897-1922. Other left-wing publications - including The New Masses, The Labor Herald, and The Call - were similarly popular until the combined effects of the Palmer Red Raids and the country’s economic collapse drove them out of business. Zinn notes that prior to Palmer’s clampdown, “The [Socialist] Party had 100,000 members and 1200 office-holders in 340 municipalities. Socialism was especially strong in the Southwest, among tenant farmers, railroad workers, coal miners, and lumberjacks. Oklahoma had 12,000 dues-paying members in 1914 and more than one hundred socialists in local office.”

Zinn implied that if it could happen then, it could happen now. And why not?
Maass opens The Case for Socialism with a simple declaration: “Capitalism isn’t working.” Not in the US and not in other parts of the world. In fact, virtually anywhere one goes, suffering is pervasive. “Almost half the world’s population - more than three billion people, the equivalent of the population of ten United States - live on less than $2.50 a day. A billion people are undernourished and go to bed hungry each night. Two in five people around the world lack access to clean water, and one in four lacks basic electricity,” Maass reports.

Here in the US, whole communities are being decimated by evictions and foreclosures, healthcare is a shambles, and hunger and homelessness are at near-record levels. Twenty percent of children are born into poverty, and illnesses correlating with inadequate nutrition are epidemic. At the same time, Maass reports that in 2009, the world’s 793 billionaires had a combined worth of $2.4 trillion. This translates into “twice the combined gross domestic product of all the countries in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Yes, three billion human beings have fewer resources than 793 others.

“The free market system is organized in completely the wrong way for the good of meeting the needs of the largest number of people in society,” Maass continues. “Capitalism is built around organized theft - the theft of a portion of the value of what workers produce by the people who employ them.” Buttressed by out-of-whack priorities, atrocities abound:

  • World governments annually spend more than $1 trillion on war. The US government’s military budget for this year is an obscene $663.8 billion;
  • The US nuclear weapon’s program cost $52 billion in 2008. This is seven-and-a-half times the amount spent on Head Start pre-school programs;
  • Companies like Bud Light, Coca-Cola, and Michelob spent upwards of $3 million for 30-second ad spots during the 2010 Super Bowl. This sum is more than most people will earn in a lifetime of labor.

Maass is banking that readers will want to do something after reading what can only be described as a roster of horrors. After all, it’s enraging stuff and he is masterful at citing examples that makes it impossible not to get riled up about the injustices and inequities he chronicles.

Unfortunately, The Case for Socialism doesn’t provide a roadmap for creating a more just socio-economic order or moving countries away from capitalism. On the other hand, it makes a compelling case for reorganizing society so that workers reap the fruits of their toil, rather than allowing business owners and bosses to cash in. You can almost feel Maass seething as he presents a deceptively straightforward query: if we truly love our neighbor as ourselves, shouldn’t we prioritize education over war, healthcare over armaments, and jobs over profiteering?

Good questions…

Maass, a member of the International Socialist Organization, is optimistic that a different world is possible, and his attitude is contagious. But what to do? While critics will surely accuse him of avoiding the hardscrabble realities of contemporary life, Maass urges readers to avoid working inside the current two-party dominated political arena. As he sees it, doing the electoral work advocated by MoveOn.org, Common Cause, and other progressive organizations is pointless because the parties of both Democrats and Republicans are beyond reform. Despite campaign promises, he cites examples of lawmaker after lawmaker who fails in his or her efforts to make significant change. “Once in office, rather than being able to pull the levers of power to change the system, the levers of power pull them. At best, they end up managing the system they expected to change,” he writes.

Instead, Maass makes the case for a 21st century American revolution. He recognizes the value in incremental victories - the 2008 occupation of Chicago’s Republic Windows and Doors is highlighted - and he lauds grassroots efforts of all kinds, from strikes to win better working conditions and wages, to mobilizations to stop evictions or promote gay marriage.

In so doing, Maass proudly claims socialism as a positive - if as-yet unrealized - political system. While right-wing pundits and bloggerheads liken socialism to the Black Plague, Maass never stops crowing about socialism’s potential. Progressives need to join the fray to make sure that the message catches fire. How else to ensure that every person on the planet has enough food, water, shelter, education, and leisure to live a fulfilling and productive life?

Obama's Flip-Flop Leadership Style

Obama's Flip-Flop Leadership Style

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What do you make of it when Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal now refers to the only significant offensive he’s set in motion -- the attempt to drive the Taliban out of Marjah, a collection of villages in Helmand Province -- as “a bleeding ulcer”? Or what about his upcoming summer “offensive” to drive the Taliban out of the second largest Afghan city, Kandahar, which has recently been verbally downgraded from an “operation” to something called “Cooperation for Kandahar,” now also referred to as a “military presence” so as not to offend local sensibilities with a hint of the coming violence. What do you make of it when Dion Nissenbaum and Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers report in mid-May that the American non-operation in Kandahar, scarcely beginning, is already showing signs of “faltering,” while Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post describes it as a “go-for-broke move that even its authors are unsure will succeed,” adding: “There is no Plan B.”

Or what about when Gareth Porter, who has been doing top-notch reporting on the Afghan War for Inter Press Service, points out McChrystal’s striking recent Kandahar flip-flop. Back in March, his team was talking about getting rid of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother Wali Karzai, Kandahar’s major powerbroker, a man reputedly deeply involved in the drug trade, and an asset or former asset of the CIA. (“The only way to clean up Chicago,” said McChrystal’s intelligence chief General Michael Flynn back then, “is to get rid of Capone.”) More recently, however, they have executed a 180-degree turn and decided not only to leave him in place, but to intensify their work with him. “The reaffirmation of ties between the U.S. and [Wali] Karzai,” writes Porter, “ensures that the whole military effort in the province is locked into Karzai’s political strategy for maintaining his grip on power.”

Consider this but a brief snapshot of Obama’s flailing war in Afghanistan. As TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro makes clear in his latest canny analysis, the president of what was, until recently, the global power is losing his grip not just on Afghanistan, but on the planet. Hiro, whose latest book, After Empire: The Birth of A Multipolar World, offers a deep look into international power shifts, has been writing about the downward slope of American power at this site since 2007. Tom

The American Century Is So Over
Obama’s Rudderless Foreign Policy Underscores America’s Waning Power

By Dilip Hiro

Irrespective of their politics, flawed leaders share a common trait. They generally remain remarkably oblivious to the harm they do to the nation they lead. George W. Bush is a salient recent example, as is former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. When it comes to foreign policy, we are now witnessing a similar phenomenon at the Obama White House.

Here is the Obama pattern: Choose a foreign leader to pressure. Threaten him with dire consequences if he does not bend to Washington’s will. When he refuses to submit and instead responds vigorously, back off quickly and overcompensate for failure by switching into a placatory mode.

In his first year-plus in office, Barack Obama has provided us with enough examples to summarize his leadership style. The American president fails to objectively evaluate the strength of the cards that a targeted leader holds and his resolve to play them.

Obama’s propensity to retreat at the first sign of resistance shows that he lacks both guts and the strong convictions that are essential elements distinguishing statesmen from politicians. By pursuing a rudderless course in his foreign policy, by flip-flopping in his approach to other leaders, he is also inadvertently furnishing hard evidence to those who argue that American power is on the decline -- and that the downward slide of the globe’s former “sole superpower” is irreversible.

Those who have refused to buckle under Obama’s initial threats and hardball tactics (and so the impact of American power) include not just the presidents of China, a first-tier mega-nation, and Brazil, a rising major power, but also the leaders of Israel, a regional power heavily dependent on Washington for its sustenance, and Afghanistan, a client state -- not to mention the military junta of Honduras, a minor entity, which stood up to the Obama administration as if it were the Politburo of former Soviet Union.

Flip-Flop on Honduras

By overthrowing the civilian government of President Manuel Zelaya in June 2009, the Honduran generals acquired the odious distinction of carrying out the first military coup in Central America in the post-Cold War era. What drove them to it? The precipitating factor was Zelaya’s decision to have a non-binding survey on holding a referendum that November about convening a Constituent Assembly to redraft the constitution.

Denouncing the coup as a “terrible precedent” for the region and demanding its reversal, President Obama initially insisted: “We do not want to go back to a dark past. We always want to stand with democracy.”

Those words should have been followed by deeds like recalling his ambassador in Tegucigalpa (just as Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela did) and an immediate suspension of the American aid on which the country depends. Instead, what followed was a statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the administration would not formally designate the ouster as a military coup “for now” -- even though the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and the European Union had already done so.

This backtracking encouraged the Honduran generals and their Republican supporters in Congress. They began to stonewall, while a top notch public relations firm in Washington, hired by the de facto government of the military’s puppet president Roberto Micheletti, went to work.

These moves proved enough to weaken the “democratic” resolve of a president who makes lofty speeches, but lacks strong convictions when it comes to foreign policy. Secretary of State Clinton then began talking of reconciling the ousted president and the Micheletti government, treating the legitimate and illegitimate camps as equals.

Having realized that a hard line stance vis-à-vis Washington was paying dividends, the Honduran generals remained unbending. Only when Clinton insisted that the State Department would not recognize the November presidential election result because of doubts about it being free, fair, and transparent did they agree to a compromise a month before the poll. They would let Zelaya return to the presidential palace to finish his term in office.

That was when rightwing Republican Senator Jim DeMint, a fanatical supporter of the Honduran generals, swung into action. He would give Republican consent to White House nominees for important posts in Latin America only if Clinton agreed to recognize the election results, irrespective of what happened to Zelaya. Clinton buckled.

As a result, Obama became one of only two leaders -- the other being Panama’s president -- in the 34-member Organization of American States to lend his support to the Honduran presidential poll. What probably appeared as a routine trade-off in domestic politics on Capitol Hill was seen by the international community as a humiliating retreat by Obama when challenged by a group of Honduran generals. Other leaders undoubtedly took note.

A far more dramatic reversal awaited Obama when he locked horns with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Wily Netanyahu Trumps Naïve Obama

On taking office, the Obama White House announced with much fanfare that it would take on the intractable Israeli-Palestinian dispute right away. On examining the 2003 “road map” to peace backed by the United Nations, the United States, Russia, and the European Union, it discovered Israel’s promise to cease all settlement-building activity.

After Empire by Dilip HiroIn his first meeting with Netanyahu in mid-May 2009, Obama demanded a halt to the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, already housing nearly 500,000 Jews. He argued that they were a major obstacle to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Netanyahu balked -- and changed tack by stressing the existential threat that Iran’s nuclear program posed to Israel.

Obama slipped into the Israeli leader’s trap. At their joint press conference, he linked the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks with the Iranian nuclear threat. Then, to Netanyahu’s delight, he gave Tehran “until the end of the year” to respond to his diplomatic overtures. In this way, the wily prime minister got the American president to accept his linkage of two unrelated issues while offering nothing in return.

Later, Netanyahu would differentiate between the ongoing expansion of present Jewish settlements and the creation of new ones, with no compromise on the former. He would also draw a clear distinction between the West Bank and East Jerusalem which, he would insist, was an integral part of the “indivisible, eternal capital of Israel,” and therefore exempt from any restrictions on Jewish settlements.

Reflecting the Obama administration’s style, Clinton offered a strong verbal riposte: “No exceptions to Israeli settlement freeze”. These would prove empty words that changed nothing on the ground.

When Netanyahu publicly rejected Obama’s demand for a halt to settlement construction in the West Bank, Obama raised the stakes, suggesting that Israeli intransigence endangered American security.

On October 15th, after much back-channel communication between the two governments, Netanyahu announced that he had terminated the settlements talks with Washington. Having said this, he offered to curb some settlement construction during a later meeting with Clinton. This won him the secretary of state’s effusive praise for an “unprecedented” gesture, and a call for the unconditional resumption of the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

The Palestinians were flabbergasted by this American volte-face. “I believe that the U.S. condones continued settlement expansion,” said stunned Palestinian government spokesman Ghassan Khatib. “Negotiations are about ending the occupation and settlement expansion is about entrenching the occupation.”

In December, Netanyahu agreed to a 10-month moratorium on settlement building, but only after his government had given permission for the construction of 3,000 new apartments in the occupied West Bank. Sticking to their original position, the Palestinians refused to revive peace talks until there was a total freeze on settlement activity.

On March 9, 2010, just as Vice-President Joe Biden arrived in Jerusalem as part of Washington’s campaign to kick-start the peace process, the Israeli authorities announced the approval of yet more building -- 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem. This audacious move, meant to underline Israel’s defiance of Washington, left Biden -- as well as Obama -- fuming.

With the House of Representatives adopting his health reform bill on March 24th, Obama was on a domestic roll when he met Netanyahu in Washington the next day. He reportedly laid out three conditions for defusing the crisis: an extension of the freeze on Jewish settlement expansion beyond September 2010; an end to further Jewish settlement projects in East Jerusalem; and withdrawal of the Israeli forces to the positions held before the Second Intifada in September 2000. He then left Netanyahu at the White House to consult with his advisers and get back to him if “there is anything new.” Again, however, as with the Honduran generals Obama’s tough talk remained just that: talk.

The purpose of all this activity was to get the Palestinians to resume peace negotiations with Israel, which they had broken off when that country attacked the Gaza Strip in December 2008. Netanyahu was prepared to talk as long as no preconditions were set by the Palestinians.

In the end, he got what he wanted. He met neither Palestinian preconditions nor those of the Obama administration. Simply put, it was Obama who bent to Netanyahu’s will. The tail wagged the dog.

The hapless officials of the Palestinian Authority read the writing on the wall. After some ritual huffing and puffing, they agreed to participate in “proximity talks” with the Netanyahu government in which Washington’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, would shuttle back and forth between the two sides. These started on May 9th. Over the next four months, Mitchell’s tough task will be to try to narrow the yawning differences on the terms of Palestinian statehood -- when both sides now know that Obama will shy away from pressuring Israel where it hurts.

Spat With China, Then a Sudden Thaw

Obama’s problems with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) began in November 2009 when, to his disappointment, the Chinese government failed to accord him the royal treatment he had expected on his first visit to the country.

Washington-Beijing relations cooled further when the Obama administration greenlighted the sale of $6.4 billion worth of advanced weaponry to Taiwan, including anti-missile missiles, and Obama met the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, at the White House. The PRC regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and Tibet as an integral part of the republic.

Senior U.S. officials described the moves as part of Obama’s concerted drive to “push back” at China which, in his view, was punching above its weight. Along with these moves went unrelenting pressure on Beijing, in private and in public, to revalue its currency, the yuan. The administration repeatedly highlighted a legal provision requiring the Treasury Department to report twice a year on any country that has been manipulating the rate of exchange between its currency and the American dollar to gain unfair advantage in international trade. That the next due date for such a report -- a preamble to possible sanctions -- was April 15th was repeated by U.S. officials ad nauseam.

In mid-April, Obama was convening an international summit on nuclear security in Washington. He was eager to have as many heads of state as possible attend. At the very least, he wanted the leaders of the four nuclear powers with U.N. Security Council vetoes -- Britain, France, Russia, and China -- present.

That provided Chinese President Hu Jintao with a powerful card to play at a moment when a White House threat to name his country as a currency manipulator hung over his head. He refused to attend the Washington nuclear summit. Obama blinked. He postponed the Treasury Department’s judgment day. In return, Hu came and met Obama at the White House.

That tensions existed between Beijing and Washington did not surprise China’s leaders, a collective of hard-nosed realists. Their attitude was reflected in an editorial in the official newspaper, the China Daily, soon after Obama’s inauguration. “U.S. leaders have never been shy about talking about their country’s ambition,” it said. “For them, it is divinely granted destiny no matter what other nations think.” The editorial went on to predict that “Obama’s defense of U.S. interests will inevitably clash with those of other nations.” And so they have, repeatedly.

Such realism contrasted starkly with the mood prevalent at the White House where it was naively believed that a few well scripted speeches in foreign capitals by the eloquent new president would restore U.S. prestige left in tatters by George W. Bush’s policies. What the president and his coterie seem not to have noticed, however, was an important Pew Research Center poll. It showed that, following Obama’s public diplomacy campaign, while the image of the U.S. had indeed risen sharply in Europe, Mexico, and Brazil, any improvement was minor in India and China, marginal in the Arab Middle East, and nonexistent in Russia, Pakistan, and Turkey.

Stuck in its self-congratulatory mode, the Obama team paid scant attention to the full range of options that other powers had for retaliating to its pressure. For instance, it did not foresee Beijing threatening sanctions against major American companies supplying weapons to Taiwan, nor did it anticipate the stiff resistance the PRC would offer to revaluing the yuan.

Some attributed Beijing’s behavior to a rising Chinese nationalism and the fears of its leaders that bending under pressure from “foreigners” would play poorly at home. But the real reasons for Chinese resistance had more to do with hard economics than popular sentiment. In the wake of the Great Recession of 2008-09, symbolized by the collapse of the gigantic Lehman Brothers investment bank, China’s leaders noted tectonic changes occurring in the international economic balance of power -- at the expense of the hitherto “sole superpower."

While the U.S. and European economies contracted, Beijing quickly adopted policies aimed at boosting domestic demand and infrastructure investment. This resulted in impressive expansion: 9% growth in the gross domestic product in 2009 with a prediction of 12% in the current year. This led Goldman Sachs’ analysts to advance their forecast of the year when China would become the globe’s number one economy from 2050 to 2027.

For the first time since World War II, it was not the United States that pulled the rest of the world out of negative growth, but China. The U.S. has emerged from the financial carnage as the most heavily indebted nation on Earth, and China as its leading creditor with an unprecedented $2.4 trillion in foreign reserves.

Its cash-rich corporations are now buying companies and future natural resources from Australia to Peru, Canada to Afghanistan where, last year, the Congjiang Copper Group, a Chinese corporation, offered $3.4 billion -- $1 billion more than the highest bid by a Western metallurgy company -- to secure the right to mine copper from one of the richest deposits on the planet.

Karzai the Menace Becomes Karzai the Indispensable

On assuming the presidency, Obama made no secret of his dislike for his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai. To circumvent his central government’s pervasive corruption, senior American officials came up with the idea of dealing directly with Afghan provincial and district governors. In the presidential election of August 2009, their preference for Abdullah Abdullah, a serious rival to Karzai, was widely known.

When Karzai resorted to massive vote rigging to ensure his reelection and turned a deaf ear to Washington’s exhortations to clean up his administration, Obama decided to use a stick to bring Washington’s latest client regime in line. In a dramatic gesture, he undertook an air journey of 26 hours -- from Washington to Kabul -- over the last weekend in March to deliver a 26-minute lecture to Karzai on the corruption and administrative ineptitude of his government. The Afghan leader had few options but to listen in stony silence.

When, however, Karzai read a news story in which an unnamed senior American military official suggested that his younger half-brother, Ahmed Wali, the power broker in the southern province of Kandahar, deserved to be put on the Pentagon’s current list of drug barons to be killed or captured, his patience snapped.

An incensed Afghan president responded by claiming that the U.S. was deliberately intensifying and widening the war in Afghanistan in order to stay in the region and dominate it. He added that, if Washington’s pressure continued, he might join the Taliban. (He had, in fact, been a significant fundraiser for the Taliban after they captured Kabul in September 1996.)

Obama reacted as he had done in the past. When facing a serious challenge, he retreated. From being a stick wielder he morphed into a carrier of carrots during a Karzai visit to Washington early this month (that, in March, administration officials were threatening to postpone indefinitely).

The high point of the wooing of Karzai -- worthy of being included in a modern version of Alice in Wonderland -- was a dinner Vice-President Joe Biden gave for the Afghan dignitary at his residence. At the very least Karzai must have been bemused. In February, Biden had staged a dramatic walk-out halfway through a dinner at the Afghan president’s palace after Karzai denied that his government was corrupt or that, if it was, he was at fault.

Despite the Obama administration’s “red carpet treatment” and “charm offensive,” Karzai was boldly honest at a joint press conference with Obama when he described Iran as “our bother country, our friend.”

The same sentiments would soon be expressed by another leader -- in Brazil.

President da Silva Thumbs His Nose at Obama

Ever since assuming the presidency of Brazil in 2003, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has, when necessary, not hesitated to challenge U.S. policy moves. He has clashed with Washington on world trade (the Doha round), global warming, and continuing U.S. sanctions against Cuba.

In December 2008, he chaired a meeting of 31 Latin American and Caribbean countries, which excluded the United States, at the Brazilian tourist resort of Sauipe. The next month, instead of going to the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, da Silva attended the Eighth World Social Forum at Belem at the mouth of the Amazon River.

He was critical of the way Obama compromised democracy in Honduras, and, despite the Obama administration’s dismay and opposition, he invited Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Brasilia in November 2009 for talks on the Iranian nuclear program, his first attempt at high-profile international diplomacy. (A week earlier he had warmly received Israeli president Shimon Peres in the Brazilian capital.) Six months later, he paid a return visit to Tehran -- and made history, much to the chagrin of Washington.

Acting in tandem with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, da Silva revived a putative October 2009 nuclear agreement and brokered an unexpected deal with Ahmadinejad. Iran agreed to ship 1,200 kilograms of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey; in return, Russia and France would provide 120 kilograms of 20% enriched uranium for a medical research reactor in Tehran.

Taken by surprise and rattled by the success of Brazil and Turkey in the face of American disapproval, the Obama administration reverted to the stance of the Bush White House and demanded that Iran suspend its program to enrich nuclear fuel. It then moved to push an agreement on further U.N. sanctions against Iran, as if the Brazilians and Turks had accomplished nothing.

This refusal to register reality was myopic at best. The blinkered view of the present White House ignores salient global facts. The influence of mid-level powers on the world stage is on the rise. Their leaders feel -- rightly -- that they can ignore or bypass the Obama administration’s demands. And, on the positive side, they can come together on certain international issues and take diplomatic initiatives of their own with a fair chance of success.

By now, from Afghanistan to Honduras, Brazil to China, global leaders large and small increasingly sense that the Obama administration’s bark is worse than its bite, and though the U.S. remains a major power, it is no longer the determinative one. The waning of the truncated American Century is by now irreversible.

Merkel's Savage Blitz through Euroland: The German Chancellor pushes the Eurozone closer and closer to the Cliff

Merkel's Savage Blitz through Euroland: The German Chancellor pushes the Eurozone closer and closer to the Cliff.

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Angela Merkel has let a minor brush-fire on the periphery turn into a raging inferno that's sweeping across the continent. Absent Berlin's fumbling diplomatic effort and its ferocious attachment to Hooverian economics, the Greek matter would have been over by now. Instead, the fire continues to burn while the German Chancellor pushes the eurozone closer and closer to the cliff. And what for; to prove that prodigal spending by the member states (Greece) mustn't go unpunished? Is that what this is all about? Is Merkel really willing to break up the EU just to prove her point and to accommodate her towering sense of self righteousness?

There is a fix for the EU's problems, but it will require cooperation, vision and a supra-national government institution capable of implementing fiscal policy. It's all very doable, but not in an atmosphere that is charged with acrimony and divisiveness . As the most powerful member,
Germany has a special role to play in maintaining cohesion; it's the glue that holds the EU together. Unfortunately, Merkel and Co. appear to be less interested in building bridges than settling on new ways to punish nations that stray from the 3%-maximum deficit rule. The German Chancellor wants to make sure that countries that exceed the limits will be stripped of E.U. subsidies and voting rights. The Austrian Finance Minister summarized the policy perfectly when he opined, "Countries that are lax with budget planning must be able to be rapped on the knuckles."

None of the countries in the Euro-project joined because they wanted to be lectured by arrogant German/Austrian bureaucrats whose Stone Age grasp of economics has thrust the 16-state confederation to the brink of disaster. Besides, the markets have already voted thumbs down on Merkel's "hair shirts and thin gruel" remedy. They want stimulus, growth and liquidity; none of which are provided in "Frau Nein's" plan for economic contraction.

It's worth reviewing some of the details of the so-called "Greek bailout" to get a handle on how debilitating the EU's austerity measures really are. Here's an excerpt from an article by Polyvios Petropoulos, former economics professor in the US, which outlines some of the harshest cutbacks:

"First of all, the IMF/EU program... is no “help” or “aid” or “rescue”, or even “bailout”, as the IMF, the EU and various commentators are saying. It consists of a series of loans, in fact non-concessional loans...with unprecedented draconian conditionality and the normal interest rate which is charged by the IMF in all cases. As to the EU portion, it is given at an even higher interest rate... Paying 5-6% interest rate, when the country’s GDP growth is -4% p.a., clearly makes the country’s debt problem unsustainable, as has been shown by several economists....

Second, it was not offered to help the “Greek people”. It was offered to help the bondholders, the bankers, the euro, and to avoid contagion with its nasty consequences for the EU and the global economy...

Third, there is absolutely no “protection for the most vulnerable”, as one would have expected from the “socialist” (or “ex-socialist”?) head of the IMF, or the “socialist” Greek government for that matter, and this claim is made several times in both of the documents mentioned above. The opposite is true. A mere listing of some of the austerity measures will suffice to prove my assertion:

-A meager so-called “social solidarity allowance” for destitute people was abolished, despite assurances in the IMF Q&A session that “the targeting of social expenditures will be revised to strengthen the social safety net for the most vulnerable”.

-Despite assurances in the Q&A session that “minimum pensions and family support instruments will not be cut”,all public and private-sector pensions and allowances have been cut, all the way down to meager pensions of 450, 500, 550 euros per month etc., which are well below the poverty line (making it impossible for old pensioners to survive)...

-Reduction of the salaries of even the lowest-paid civil servants....

-Freezing of the lowest salaries and pensions for the next few years, although inflation is already galloping above 4%...

-VAT (value added tax), which was much higher in Greece than in Portugal and Spain, was raised by about 20% on all goods, including basic foodstuffs, which make up the majority of poor people’s purchases.

-Sales taxes were raised on –supposedly- luxury goods…such as gasoline (+50%), cigarettes, beer, wine etc....

To be fair... the reduction of the pitiful pensions of the private sector was not imposed by the IMF officials in
Athens, but by the EU officials." ("Truths and myths about the "Greek Crisis", Polyvios Petropoulos, Credit Writedowns)

So the debts of the bankers and speculators are being hoisted onto the backs of the working poor and aged. Where have we heard that before?

Greece's deficits are not the problem anyway. The real problem is the underwater EU banks (that hold Greek debt) that will capsize if Greece doesn't get a lifeline. This is from Reuters:

"European banks have an estimated $2.8 trillion exposure to
Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy -- debt-heavy euro zone nations that have worried investors. These banks may be hit with losses ranging from $350 billion to $700 billion, Neela Gollapudi, a Citigroup interest rate strategist wrote....

"The EU stabilization package helps towards refinancing of sovereign debt, but does not address private sector debt," Gollapudi said." (Reuters, "
US 3-month Libor seen rising above 1 pct-Citigroup")

So Merkel can stop pretending that the bailout is an act of selfless charity. No one is buying it. Nor are they confused about the $1 trillion pile of euros that the EU gathered together to ward-off speculators. Short-sellers saw through that sham in less than 24 hours and sent the markets plunging again. Do the Euro leaders really think they're smart enough to pull the wool over Wall Street's eyes? Wall Street invented fraud; they're not about to be duped by prissy politicians in tweed suits.

Will someone in the EU at least show that they understand the basic problem? European integration is more than just a common currency and a Treaty. It requires politics, governance and unification. Currency is not politics and treaties are no substitute for government institutions. The charade has gone as far as it can go without more concessions from the individual states to establish a central authority to implement fiscal policy. The Merkel view is that
Germany should maintain its sovereign independence--along with its gigantic surpluses--while reaping the benefits of a currency that serves its own economic interests. But the flaws in that plan have already been exposed. The smaller non-export dependent countries (aka--Greece, Portugal, Spain) need fiscal accommodation or be they'll forced from the Union. It's not a matter of profligate Greek spending versus German thriftiness. It's a practical matter of economic reality.

So, how can the EU get ahead of the markets before the euro vaporizes and the economy is pushed back into recession?

First,
Brussels needs to change its counterproductive, punitive tone with Athens and strengthen friendly relations. No more condescending talk of "knuckle rapping", please. Greece needs to restructure its debt (everyone agrees on this point) while the ECB initiates a quantitative easing program (purchasing Greek corporate and government debt) to increase liquidity so Greece can grow its way out of the slump. That means that German and French banks (and bondholders) will have to take a haircut which could lead to bankruptcy. If that's the case, then the ECB will have to establish a lending facility to provide a (temporary) backstop to get troubled financial institutions through the rough patch while regulators check to see if they are sufficiently capitalized to stay in business.

The markets are jittery because the proposed remedies are all deflationary and will lead unavoidably to recession. So the EU needs to enact alternative policies that will increase employment, stimulate demand and restore confidence. Here are a few recommendations:

1--The EU needs to show that it's taking steps to become a viable political union with supra-national fiscal policymaking authority.

2--The ECB needs to be willing to spend whatever is needed to avert another meltdown.

3--Policies should be put in place for the orderly withdrawal of countries that don't fit within the EU's economic schema.

4--Regulations on shadow banking, derivatives, and repo transactions should be drawn up to avoid another market crash.

5--The EU should develop a strategy for providing long-term fiscal stimulus throughout the eurozone until unemployment falls, aggregate demand picks up, and household balance sheets show signs of improvement.

The EU's problems can be fixed and the market's can be calmed. It's just a question of solidarity, vision and a lot of money; all of which are available with the right leadership.

A Just War?

A Just War?

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War has been problematic since Roman times, especially after the rise of Christianity. "Thou shalt not kill" did not seem to leave much wiggle room. Yet, it was recognized that people have a right to defend themselves when under lethal attack. Saint Augustine suggested a solution in his theory of a Just War. This was developed by St. Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages and his tenets for a Just War have been more or less accepted every since by those who concern themselves about such things.

This article looks at the main tenets of Just War Theory as they relate to our wars in the Middle East, and then asks if a war can be just if it deploys the weapons of our modern arsenals.

Six essential elements for the conduct of a Just War are:

  • Just Cause
  • Proportionality
  • Proper Authority
  • Last Resort
  • Right Intention
  • Reasonable Hope for Success

Just Cause

The cause is just if it is to prevent the domination of a country by an attacker: "A just war exists when a people tries to ward off the threat of coercive domination by another people, or to overthrow an already-existing domination."(1)

Another contemporary view is, "The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain."(2)

War is not just if it is fought to punish a people, to acquire their assets or to change their regime. Our wars in the Middle East do not fit this criterion for a Just War. The survival of our state is not under threat from Iraq or Afghanistan; nor are we seriously threatened with lasting and grave damage. Any threat from terrorists could and should be dealt with by appropriate police activity.

Proportionality

Even proponents of war generally consider that a violent response should be proportional to the offense. Our government's justification for our wars in the Middle East is that they are necessary to make British citizens at home safe from terrorists.
War, conducted primarily by the Americans and the British, has been waged in Iraq since 2003 and in Afghanistan since 2001. Since these wars began 52 British citizens have died in the UK in a terrorist attack.

Since no official record is published listing the number of Iraqi civilians killed ("We do not do body counts" - Gen. Tommy Franks) estimates for the current total vary widely from an absolute minimum of 94,708 to 1,366,350 In 2006 the medical journal, The Lancet, published an article that estimated the number of Iraqis who had died since the war began was 600,000.

But even if we take the very lowest figure for the Iraqi deaths, the relationship between 52 civilian deaths in the UK and 94,708 in Iraq quite clearly exposes the truth.

These wars are NOT a proportional response to any threat to British citizens.

The estimates of civilian deaths as a result of the war in Afghanistan range between 12,400 and 32,057.

The terrorist atrocity in Britain which resulted in the death of 52 citizens took place in 2005. In the same year, 3,201 people were killed in UK road accidents, 28,954 people were seriously injured and the total number of casualties was 271,017.
Moreover, the 52 terrorist killings has been, to date, a one-off event; the figures for death and injury on the roads are similar every year.

In addition, every year the number of deaths in the UK due to hospital infections alone is variously estimated to be between 5,000 and 20,000.

If the government was concerned about saving British lives, it would be immeasurably more effective in its utilization of citizens' wealth if its military spending on gratuitous wars were redirected to ensuring better driving on our roads and on achieving cleaner hospitals.

The figures expose the truth. These are not Just Wars.

Proper Authority

A war must be declared by a proper authority. The proper authority in the case of the Iraq and Afghan wars was the United Nations. It is common knowledge that Mr. Blair did not receive the UN resolution he asked for to authorize the invasion of Iraq.
The proper authority, the UN, refused to sanction the war. We have learned from the Chilcot inquiry that the government lawyers advising the government considered that the Iraq war was illegal and told the government so. Elizabeth Wilmshurst, while deputy legal adviser to the Foreign Office, said her office had "consistently" advised that an invasion would be unlawful without a new UN resolution.

A Dutch inquiry, led by a former supreme court judge, found that the invasion had "no sound mandate in international law."

United Nations resolution 1441 stated that Iraq was in material breach of the terms of a previous resolution. There was much discussion during the run-up to the war, as to whether or not Resolution 1441 gave legal justification. However this had already been discussed at the time of proposing the resolution. Some states were concerned that it might be used as legal justification for war. These states were categorically assured by the US and the UK that this was not the case. The Ambassador for the United States, John Negroponte, told the world, "[T]his resolution contains no 'hidden triggers' and no 'automaticity' with respect to the use of force. If there is a further Iraqi breach, reported to the Council.... the matter will return to the Council for discussions as required in paragraph 12." In addition the ambassador for the United Kingdom, the co-sponsor of the resolution, said, "We heard loud and clear during the negotiations the concerns about "automaticity" and "hidden triggers" - the concern that on a decision so crucial we should not rush into military action; that on a decision so crucial any Iraqi violations should be discussed by the Council. Let me be equally clear in response... There is no 'automaticity' in this resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council for discussion as required in paragraph 12."

Last Resort

By March 2003, Hans Blix, head of the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) inspection team in Iraq, declared that his team had found no WMD. He assured the international community that they had made significant progress, that they were receiving "proactive" cooperation from the Iraqi authorities, and that they only needed a few more months to resolve outstanding disarmament issues.

Despite this and in spite of many dissenting opinions and regardless of many questions regarding the integrity and reliability of the underlying intelligence, Britain and American went to war.

Right Intention

The intention stated by the British government in the Iraq war was the removal of the Iraqi WMD, which were presented as a dire and immediate threat. We now know that there were no such weapons. We also know that the government had no good reason to believe that there were.

Moreover, there is now good reason to believe that the intentions of the British government, which had abrogated its responsibilities to the will of Prime Minister Blair, were different to the one which was mendaciously presented to the British citizens. It seems that these illegitimate intentions included Blair's wish to ingratiate himself with the American administration.

Reasonable Hope of Success

The size of the invading force in Iraq was sufficient to achieve a quick military victory, but totally inadequate to take control and run the country until stability was achieved. The result was widespread looting followed by fighting between rival factions within the country.

Among the justifications for going to war in Iraq was the contention that the invading forces would end the cruel dictatorship and replace it with a benign democratic regime. Since there was virtually no planning for the aftermath of the war, there was no hope of achieving the latter goal.

In Afghanistan, Britain had already been defeated in three previous wars. The 1838-42 war ended when a 16.000 strong British column was wiped out. The second war in 1878-81 saw an entire garrison massacred in Kabul, and the third war of 1919 resulted in the effective independence of the Afghans.(3)

Prior to our recent invasion, the Russians had invaded the country with a substantial army, lost 15,000 men and after the deaths of over one million Afghans, they admitted failure and left.

There was and is no reasonable hope of success in these wars.

Our wars in the Middle East are not just by all the main criteria for the engaging in a Just War.

Is Just War Possible Today?

Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell warned us in their 1955 manifesto that the human race has a choice. We can renounce war or we can bring about our own end.

"Here then is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?"

Their manifesto included the words:

"We have to learn to think in a new way. We have to learn to ask ourselves, not what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there no longer are such steps; the question we have to ask ourselves is: what steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties."

Weapons are now so destructive and indiscriminate that we must, at last, take heed of this warning. There is always a danger that wars will escalate. They could escalate to the nuclear level and bring an end to the human race. So, the view that it is no longer possible to have a Just War is hard to refute.

We do, indeed, need to learn to think in a new way.

Footnotes:

1. Libertarian scholar Murray Rothbard
2.
Catechism of the Catholic Church (para. 2309)
3. Gerald Warner's Telegraph blog

BP had prior warning of Deepwater Horizon blowout

BP had prior warning of Deepwater Horizon blowout

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BP, which leased the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, disregarded indications hours before the April 20 blast that the rig might suffer a catastrophic blowout, according to a preliminary report published Wednesday by the House Energy and Commerce committee.

The report showed that the Deepwater Horizon had received evidence of 'kicks' of oil and natural gas coming up the drill pipe several times before the blowout, but disregarded them and went ahead with its effort to cap the well. The report also outlined multiple safety failures on systems involved in making sure that the well remained under control.

On the day of the disaster, the Deepwater Horizon had just finished drilling an exploratory well and was in the process of capping it in order for a different vessel to harvest the oil. Halliburton, which was in charge of capping the well with cement, had just finished putting a cement plug at the well's bottom, and BP wanted to finish the job as soon as possible in order to avoid paying the $500,000-per-day rental fee on the rig any longer than absolutely necessary.

At 5:05 P.M., nearly five hours before the blast, the Deepwater Horizon's crew found unusually low pressure inside the riser pipe connecting it to the ocean bottom, "suggesting there were leaks" in one part of the blowout preventer.

The crew received yet another warning two hours before the explosion, when, after a test that involved reducing the well's pressure, the pipe filled up with three times more fluid than previously expected.

In a follow-up test, the crew found abnormally high pressure on the "kill line," one of the pipes connecting the rig to the blowout preventer on the ocean bottom. Despite the fact that this was an “indicator of a very large abnormality,” BP concluded it was “satisfied" the test was "successful."

At this time, a witness on the rig said the “well continued to flow and spurted,” despite the fact that no drilling was going on. The fact that fluid was being forced up the drill pipe was evidence something was very wrong, and this indication, coupled with the failure of the tests, should have been enough to halt the process and begin an emergency response, including activating some of the valves on the blowout preventer.

But since BP was "satisfied" with the results of the pressure test, it then decided, two hours before the blowout, to replace the heavier drilling mud inside the well with seawater.

While this process was underway, the crew received numerous other direct readings that seawater was flowing up the pipe, including three separate readings, all within an hour of the explosion. Eighteen minutes before the explosion, the rig's pump stopped working.

The House Committee's report noted at this point, the crew attempted "mechanical interventions" in order to control the blowout, meaning they may have tried to activate the blowout preventer.

When this was done, the blowout preventer malfunctioned in several places. The blowout preventer unit, a five-story stack of heavy-duty shutoff valves, was designed to stop the flow of oil and gas in the event of a "kick" like the one that had been observed. The unit included a series of valves, ranging from the light-duty annular valve to the last-ditch shear rams, all of which failed.

The fact that so many systems failed simultaneously, after BP ignored continual warnings and abnormalities, show clear signs of negligence on the company's part. BP wantonly disregarded the safety of its crew, and of the natural environment, in order to cut costs. There is no reason to believe that BP executives on shore were unaware of the test results. It is more likely they ordered the crew to continue capping the well despite ample warnings of a potential disaster.

Witnesses called to testify at hearings held in Washington said they had seen confrontations between representatives of BP, which was leasing the rig, and Transocean, which owned it, over the capping process. One of the witnesses said representatives of BP and other oil companies were often the "outright adversaries" of employees seeking to maintain the safety of the drilling operations.

Transocean's chief mechanic on the rig, Douglas H. Brown, said representatives from BP and Transocean had argued the morning of the disaster over the question of replacing drilling mud with much lighter saltwater, which experts have criticized as particularly risky.

Meanwhile BP on Wednesday began its latest attempt to stop the well, referred to as a "top kill," in which the company will attempt to pump heavy drilling mud into the blowout preventer at the bottom of the ocean in order to clog the pipe.

BP gave the plan, which has never been attempted at this depth, a 60-70 percent chance of succeeding. BP Chief executive Tony Hayward said the outcome of the plan would not be known for up to two days. It also possible the failure of the plan could actually increase the amount of oil being released into the Gulf of Mexico.

Obama orders troops to Mexican border

Obama orders troops to Mexican border

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President Barack Obama’s order deploying 1,200 National Guard troops to the Mexican border marks another reactionary turn in his immigration policy and a threat of intensified violence against immigrant workers.

The order will more than quadruple the National Guard force presently operating in the four southern border states—California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Besides the added troops, the administration is asking Congress to appropriate an additional $500 million to step up operations by the US Border Patrol.

The action came on Tuesday, the same day that Obama met with the Senate Republican caucus, and appeared to be a gesture aimed at deflecting criticism from the Republican right that Washington has not done enough to “control the border.”

The White House did not issue any formal announcement of the military deployment. Rather, an Arizona Democratic member of Congress, Gabrielle Giffords, revealed the decision to send more troops. Running for reelection against a Republican challenger who is campaigning on the immigration issue, Giffords hailed the move. Administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, later confirmed the decision.

The source of the announcement suggested that Obama acted largely on the basis of such short-term political calculations, attempting to give Democrats a right-wing platform on which to run against Republican opponents seeking to whip up anti-immigrant sentiments.

The government of Mexico reacted cautiously to the new US military deployment on its border. It expressed the hope that the troops would be utilized to “combat organized crime which operates on both sides of the border,” and that they would not “carry out activities directly linked to the enforcement of immigration laws.”

The deployment comes just a week after Mexican President Felipe Calderón made a state visit to Washington, where he condemned, including in a speech before Congress, a new Arizona law that calls upon local police to detain individuals on “reasonable suspicion” that they are undocumented immigrants. The law also makes it a crime for anyone to offer shelter or aid to the undocumented.

Calderón’s statements on the Arizona law evoked a storm of condemnation from the anti-immigrant right. Critics denounced him for daring to condemn a US law in a speech to Congress—as if US officials do not make a regular practice during visits to other countries of denouncing and demanding changes in policies that have nothing to do with the immediate welfare of US citizens.

It is unclear from the statements from the Mexican government whether it was given any advance notice of the troop deployment. Its statements would suggest that it was not. Obama’s use of the military may in part be a means of distancing himself from Calderón’s criticisms.

On Wednesday afternoon, a State Department spokesman appeared to reassure Mexico on the mission of the troops being sent to the border. The spokesman, Philip Crowley, told reporters that the deployment was “fully consistent with our efforts to do our part to stem, you know, violence, to interdict the flow of dangerous people and dangerous goods—drugs, guns, people.” He added, “It’s not about immigration.”

Such formal claims are belied by the statements of Obama himself, who linked the further militarization of the border to his efforts to placate the Republicans and assume a “get tough on immigration” posture.

Speaking at a Democratic Party fundraiser in California Tuesday night after ordering the deployment, Obama described his meeting with the Senate Republicans: “I said to them, look, I disagree with this Arizona law. I think it’s a bad idea. But I also said I understand the frustration of folks in Arizona. I understand they’re feeling that somehow the federal government can’t control the border effectively, and I’m willing to work with my Republican colleagues to create a stronger border here in California, New Mexico and in Arizona.”

Obama linked this buildup on the border to a broader immigration “reform,” spelling out the punitive measures that such legislation would include. As for “the millions of folks who are already here,” he said, “we’ve got to say to them, you’ve got to take responsibility. You broke the law, you’ve got to pay a fine. You’ve got to pay your back taxes. You’ve got to learn English. You’ve got to go to the back of the line …”

These conditions—pleading guilty to committing a crime, paying onerous fines and taxes, and getting “to the back of the line,” which in many cases means waiting up to a decade to get papers—assures that only a fraction of the 12 million or more undocumented immigrants in the US would be able to obtain legal status.

Obama’s military action met with sharp criticism from immigrant rights organizations. “As we have seen time and time again, efforts to overhaul our broken immigration system have taken a back seat to dramatic escalations of border enforcement, including placing troops on the US border to serve in a function for which they have not been trained,” said Rosa Rosales, the national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

“We are on a collision course of enforcement-only policies and, as experience shows, this will not solve the problem,” added Janet Murguía, the president of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).

Obama won faint praise from the Republicans. “I am pleased that President Obama has now, apparently, agreed that our nation must secure the border to address rampant border violence and illegal immigration without other preconditions, such as passage of ‘comprehensive immigration reform,’” said Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, one of the main supporters of the reactionary legislation ordering Arizona police to pursue anyone suspected of being an undocumented immigrant.

Other Republicans, led by Senator John McCain of Arizona, have demanded that 6,000 troops be deployed on the border and that border enforcement funding be increased by $2 billion. They have proposed this escalation in the form of an amendment to a $59 billion supplemental funding bill, the majority of which is directed to supporting the US war in Afghanistan.

Top White House aides have opposed the Republican amendment on the grounds that it infringes on Obama’s prerogatives as commander-in-chief.

Other Republicans have demanded that the government announce specific “rules of engagement” that would ensure that National Guard troops have the authority to shoot down immigrants trying to cross the border.

Typical was a statement from California Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, who distinguished himself recently by calling for the deportation of US-born children of undocumented immigrants. Such children, under the US Constitution, are American citizens.

“While the National Guard troops involved in this deployment appear to be taking more of a support role, it is still important that they are provided with clear rules of engagement to appropriately defend themselves under any circumstance,” Hunter said.

Obama’s action largely parallels that taken by his predecessor, George W. Bush, in 2006, when 6,000 troops were sent to the border. Like Obama, Bush ordered the deployment to appease the Republican right, while tying his escalation of the US military presence to an immigration “reform” proposal that includes many of the draconian conditions included in the present Democratic proposal.

In answering his Republican critics, Obama has pointed to the increased funding for border enforcement and a more aggressive persecution of immigrant workers launched under his administration.

Given present trends, the Obama administration is expected to deport a record 400,000 people in 2010—70 percent of them immigrants who have broken no law outside of entering the US in search of work. This represents a substantial increase over the 358,000 deported during 2008, the last year of the Bush administration. It reflects the Democratic administration’s increased use of police-state style raids of immigrant workers’ neighborhoods, workplaces and homes.

Obama’s latest actions are based on the most cynical political calculations. They represent an attempt to balance between conflicting constituencies within the Democratic Party and appease the most virulent anti-immigrant forces within the Republican right.

However, more fundamental interests are reflected in this political maneuvering. Under conditions of sustained mass unemployment, deepening poverty and drastic cuts to basic social services, the scape-goating of immigrants is a tried and tested means of diverting popular anger from the source of these conditions—the capitalist profit system.

At the same time, the measures being prepared against immigrants—including the proposal for a national biometric identification card as a condition for gaining employment in the US—can be utilized as means of repression against the working class as a whole.

The further militarization of the border, moreover, has the potential of unleashing a new round of killings and a major international crisis. Armed National Guard troops will be standing across the border from Mexico, which has itself become militarized in the US-backed drug war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives over the past four years. There is a danger not only of immigrant workers being shot by American soldiers, but of US and Mexican military forces coming into armed conflict.

Gulf oil spill: Why is BP in charge?

Gulf oil spill: Why is BP in charge?

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BP's criminal actions in causing the deadly explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, documented in recent congressional testimony, and its incompetence and greed in response to the resulting oil spill have provoked growing popular anger. Millions are wondering why they have yet to see television footage of executives handcuffed and hauled away in police cars, their passports revoked, their assets seized, and BP's vast resources devoted fully to stopping the spill and cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico.

Instead, the Obama administration has insisted from the beginning that BP remain in command of the spill site and cleanup. Only BP has the "expertise" to handle the spill, administration officials have repeatedly claimed.

This is absurd on its face. It is tantamount to putting the perpetrator in control of the crime scene—at the expense of tens of thousands of jobs and the compounding of an environmental and ecological catastrophe of unprecedented proportions.

In its efforts to stop the hemorrhaging on the ocean floor 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, the oil giant has floundered from one debacle to the next, its efforts fatally compromised at every turn by the profit concerns that trump all other questions under capitalism. Just as the Deepwater Horizon disaster was created by the blind drive for profit, so BP's response has been predicated on the defense of its bottom line.

For nearly a month after the explosion, BP hid video evidence that contradicted its claim that the impact of the spill would be "very, very modest," as CEO Tony Hayward put it last week.

Thousands of Gulf Coast fishermen have been made jobless by the spill, many with no access to unemployment insurance. They and their boats stand ready to join the cleanup, but BP has hired only a small percentage—at first on condition that the fishermen renounce their right to sue for damages.

BP has used nearly 800,000 gallons of a chemical dispersant, Corexit, that is more toxic and less effective than other dispersants readily available on the market. Corexit's only apparent advantage is that the company selling it, Nalco, is dominated by executives with close ties to BP and Exxon.

More effective methods could be used to contain and remove the oil—for example, deploying absorbent boom lines that soak up the oil rather than plastic booms that allow the oil to pass under and over, and creating barrier islands along the Gulf Coast. But these and other possibilities have been ruled out due to their cost.

BP claims to have spent $760 million so far in spill-related costs. Even if true, this is a relatively small sum. Peter Hitchens of Panmere Gordon told the Wall Street Journal that BP could "easily absorb" $20 billion in spill-related costs. "BP will tend to view this as a one-off," he said.

Nor will the spill likely affect BP's coming disbursement to its shareholders, just as Transocean, the owner and operator of Deepwater Horizon, recently handed out $1 billion in dividends to its shareholders, even as it fought in court to limit its liability to injured workers and the families of the 11 workers killed in the blast to $27 million.

As the disaster grows by the day, the Obama administration's insistence that BP remain in control is provoking nervousness in ruling circles. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee told a weekend news program that "under the law the federal government can take it over [the spill] if they choose," and longtime Democratic Party strategist James Carville of Louisiana pleaded with Obama. "Man, you got to get down here and take control of this, put somebody in charge of this thing and get this moving," he said. "We're about to die down here."

Politicians are alarmed over a shift in popular attitudes toward the spill. According to the most recent USA Today/Gallup Poll, 60 percent of surveyed Americans now rate the federal response to the disaster as "poor." Nearly three quarters say the same of BP's response.

The one constant feature in the Obama administration's response—which has ranged from a full-throated defense of deep-sea drilling in the first days after the disaster to impotent criticisms of the implicated corporate interests—has been its insistence that BP should be in charge. Why?

Over the past several decades, US capitalism has based itself on the removal of virtually all legal limitations on the pursuit of corporate profit. Deregulation—leaving the major industrial concerns to supervise their own safety and environmental performance—has taken hold across the economy. From finance, to the airlines, to the energy industry, deregulation has created a disaster for the American people.

The entire apparatus of the government, all of its branches, the two major political parties and their bought-and-paid-for politicians have so deeply integrated themselves into the structure of big business and Wall Street and so thoroughly subordinated themselves to corporate interests that any assertion of government control is almost unthinkable.

Under these conditions, the Obama administration is fearful that even a marginal degree of government control over the oil spill could spark popular demands for similar action regarding other sectors of the the economy. Why, after all, should the same financial concerns that led the world into economic collapse be left in control of the economic "cleanup"—at the cost of trillions in public wealth?

US Coast Guard Commander Thad Allen inadvertently posed the central question when, at a news conference this week, he declared that only BP could handle the spill because it "owns the means of production." But why should BP, or any corporation, be allowed to own the means of production, which are the product of the collective labor of working people, and utilize them entirely for the benefit of the private fortunes of CEOS, bankers and big investors?

In fact, the catastrophe in the Gulf cries out for the means of production to be wrested from the hands of the criminals who caused the oil spill.

The disaster can be addressed only on the basis of an objective, scientific assessment of what has taken place and what is required to deal with the environmental and economic damage. This requires a social response, putting many thousands to work guided by the best scientific knowledge available.

The resources for such a massive effort can be easily realized by seizing the assets of BP, Transocean, and Halliburton. The personal fortunes of their executives should be appropriated and criminal prosecutions launched.

The great energy corporations, like the finance houses, must be placed under the democratic control of the working class and operated to meet social needs rather than to generate private profit. Only on this basis can the population's need for energy be met cheaply and safely.

If these steps are not taken, it is a certain that more spills and environmental catastrophes will take place that will eventually place in question the survival of civilization.

10 Things You Need (But Don't Want) To Know About the BP Oil Spill

10 Things You Need (But Don't Want) To Know About the BP Oil Spill

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It's been 37 days since BP's offshore oil rig, Deepwater Horizon, exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Since then, crude oil has been hemorrhaging into ocean waters and wreaking unknown havoc on our ecosystem -- unknown because there is no accurate estimate of how many barrels of oil are contaminating the Gulf.

Though BP officially admits to only a few thousand barrels spilled each day, expert estimates peg the damage at 60,000 barrels or over 2.5 million gallons daily. (Perhaps we'd know more if BP hadn't barred independent engineers from inspecting the breach.) Measures to quell the gusher have proved lackluster at best, and unlike the country's last big oil spill -- Exxon-Valdez in 1989 -- the oil is coming from the ground, not a tanker, so we have no idea how much more oil could continue to pollute the Gulf's waters.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster reminds us what can happen -- and will continue to happen -- when corporate malfeasance and neglect meet governmental regulatory failure.

The corporate media is tracking the disaster with front-page articles and nightly news headlines every day (if it bleeds, or spills, it leads!), but the under-reported aspects to this nightmarish tale paint the most chilling picture of the actors and actions behind the catastrophe. In no particular order, here are 10 things about the BP spill you may not know and may not want to know -- but you should.

1. Oil rig owner has made $270 million off the oil leak

Transocean Ltd., the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig leased by BP, has been flying under the radar in the mainstream blame game. The world's largest offshore drilling contractor, the company is conveniently headquartered in corporate-friendly Switzerland, and it's no stranger to oil disasters. In 1979, an oil well it was drilling in the very same Gulf of Mexico ignited, sending the drill platform into the sea and causing one of the largest oil spills by the time it was capped... nine months later.

This experience undoubtedly influenced Transocean's decision to insure the Deepwater Horizon rig for about twice what it was worth. In a conference call to analysts earlier this month, Transocean reported making a $270 million profit from insurance payouts after the disaster. It's not hard to bet on failure when you know it's somewhat assured.

2. BP has a terrible safety record

BP has a long record of oil-related disasters in the United States. In 2005, BP's Texas City refinery exploded, killing 15 workers and injuring another 170. The next year, one of its Alaska pipelines leaked 200,000 gallons of crude oil. According to Public Citizen, BP has paid $550 million in fines. BP seems to particularly enjoy violating the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and has paid the two largest fines in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's history. (Is it any surprise that BP played a central, though greatly under-reported, role in the failure to contain the Exxon-Valdez spill years earlier?)

With Deepwater Horizon, BP didn't break its dismal trend. In addition to choosing a cheaper -- and less safe -- casing to outfit the well that eventually burst, the company chose not to equip Deepwater Horizon with an acoustic trigger, a last-resort option that could have shut down the well even if it was damaged badly, and which is required in most developed countries that allow offshore drilling. In fact, BP employs these devices in its rigs located near England, but because the United States recommends rather than requires them, BP had no incentive to buy one -- even though they only cost $500,000.

SeizeBP.org estimates that BP makes $500,000 in under eight minutes.

3. Oil spills are just a cost of doing business for BP

According to the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, approximately $1.6 billion in annual economic activity and services are at risk as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Compare this number -- which doesn't include the immeasurable environmental damages -- to the current cap on BP's liability for economic damages like lost wages and tourist dollars, which is $75 million. And compare that further to the first-quarter profits BP posted just one week after the explosion: $6 billion.

BP's chief executive, Tony Hayward, has solemnly promised that the company will cover more than the required $75 million. On May 10, BP announced it had already spent $350 million. How fantastically generous of a company valued at $152.6 billion, and which makes $93 million each day.

The reality of the matter is that BP will not be deterred by the liability cap and pity payments doled out to a handful of victims of this disaster because they pale in comparison to its ghastly profits. Indeed, oil spills are just a cost of doing business for BP.

This is especially evident in a recent Citigroup analyst report prepared for BP investors: "Reaction to the Gulf of Mexico oil leak is a buying opportunity."

4. The Interior Department was at best, neglectful, and at worst, complicit

It's no surprise BP is always looking out for its bottom line -- but it's at least slightly more surprising that the Interior Department, the executive department charged with regulating the oil industry, has done such a shoddy job of preventing this from happening.

Ten years ago, there were already warnings that the backup systems on oil rigs that failed on Deepwater Horizon would be a problem. The Interior Department issued a "safety alert" but then left it up to oil companies to decide what kind of backup system to use. And in 2007, a government regulator from the same department downplayed the chances and impact of a spill like the one that occurred last month: "[B]lowouts are rare events and of short duration, potential impact to marine water quality are not expected to be significant."

The Interior Department's Louisiana branch may have been particularly confused because it appears it was closely fraternizing with the oil industry. The Minerals Management Service, the agency within the department that oversees offshore drilling, routinely accepted gifts from oil companies and even considered itself a part of the oil industry, rather than part of a governmental regulatory agency. Flying on oil executives' private planes was not rare for MMS inspectors in Louisiana, a federal report released Tuesday says. "Skeet-shooting contests, hunting and fishing trips, golf tournaments, crawfish boils, and Christmas parties" were also common.

Is it any wonder that Deepwater Horizon was given a regulatory exclusion by MMS?

It gets worse. Since April 20, when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, the Interior Department has approved 27 new permits for offshore drilling sites. Here's the kicker: Two of these permits are for BP.

But it gets better still: 26 of the 27 new drilling sites have been granted regulatory exemptions, including those issued to BP.

5. Clean-up prospects are dismal

The media makes a lot of noise about all the different methods BP is using to clean up the oil spill. Massive steel containment domes were popular a few weeks ago. Now everyone is touting the "top kill" method, which involves injecting heavy drilling fluids into the damaged well.

But here's the reality. Even if BP eventually finds a method that works, experts say the best cleanup scenario is to recover 20 percent of the spilled oil. And let's be realistic: only 8 percent of the crude oil deposited in the ocean and coastlines off Alaska was recovered in the Exxon-Valdez cleanup.

Millions of gallons of oil will remain in the ocean, ravaging the underwater ecosystem, and 100 miles of Louisiana coastline will never be the same.

6. BP has no real cleanup plan

Perhaps because it knows the possibility of remedying the situation is practically impossible, BP has made publicly available its laughable "Oil Spill Response Plan" which is, in fact, no plan at all.

Most emblematic of this farcical plan, BP mentions protecting Arctic wildlife like sea lions, otters and walruses (perhaps executives simply lifted the language from Exxon's plan for its oil spill off the coast of Alaska?). The plan does not include any disease-preventing measures, oceanic or meteorological data, and is comprised mostly of phone numbers and blank forms. Most importantly, it includes no directions for how to deal with a deep-water explosion such as the one that took place last month.

The whole thing totals 600 pages -- a waste of paper that only adds insult to the environmental injury BP is inflicting upon the world with Deepwater Horizon.

7. BP is sequestering survivors and taking away their right to sue

With each hour, the economic damage caused by Deepwater Horizon continues to grow. And BP knows this.

So while it outwardly is putting on a nice face, even pledging $500 million to assess the impacts of the spill, it has all the while been trying to ensure that it won't be held liable for those same impacts.

Just after the Deepwater explosion, surviving employees were held in solitary confinement, while BP flacks made them waive their rights to sue. BP then did the same with fishermen it contracted to help clean up the spill though the company now says that was nothing more than a legal mix-up.

If there's anything to learn from this disaster, it's that companies like BP don't make mistakes at the expense of others. They are exceedingly deliberate.

8. BP bets on risk to employees to save money -- and doesn't care if they get sick

When BP unleashed its "Beyond Petroleum" re-branding/greenwashing campaign, the snazzy ads featured smiley oil rig workers. But the truth of the matter is that BP consistently and knowingly puts its employees at risk.

An internal BP document shows that just before the prior fatal disaster -- the 2005 Texas City explosion that killed 15 workers and injured 170 -- when BP had to choose between cost-savings and greater safety, it went with its bottom line.

A BP Risk Management memo showed that although steel trailers would be safer in the case of an explosion, the company went with less expensive options that offered protection but were not "blast resistant." In the Texas City blast, all of the fatalities and most of the injuries occurred in or around these trailers.

Although BP has responded to this memo by saying the company culture has changed since Texas City, 11 people died on the Deepwater Horizon when it blew up. Perhaps a similar memo went out regarding safety and cost-cutting measures?

Reports this week stated that fishermen hired by BP for oil cleanup weren't provided protective equipment and have now fallen ill. Hopefully they didn't sign waivers.

9. Environmental damage could even include a climatological catastrophe

It's hard to know where to start discussing the environmental damage caused by Deepwater Horizon. Each day will give us a clearer picture of the short-term ecological destruction, but environmental experts believe the damage to the Gulf of Mexico will be long-term.

In the short-term, environmentalists are up in arms about the dispersants being used to clean up the oil slick in the Gulf. Apparently, the types BP is using aren't all that effective in dispersing oil, and are pretty high in toxicity to marine fauna such as fish and shrimp. The fear is that what BP may be using to clean up the mess could, in the long-term, make it worse.

On the longer-term side of things, there are signs that this largest oil drilling catastrophe could also become the worst natural gas and climate disaster. The explosion has released tremendous amounts of methane from deep in the ocean, and research shows that methane, when mixed with air, is the most powerful (read: terrible) greenhouse gas -- 26 times worse than carbon-dioxide.

Our warming planet just got a lot hotter.

10. No one knows what to do and it will happen again

The very worst part about the Deepwater Horizon calamity is that nobody knows what to do. We don't know how bad it really is because we can't measure what's going on. We don't know how to stop it -- and once we do, we won't know how to clean it up.

BP is at the helm of the recovery process, but given its corporate track record, its efforts will only go so far -- it has a board of directors and shareholders to answer to, after all. The U.S. government, the only other entity that could take over is currently content to let BP hack away at the problem. Why? Because it probably has no idea what to do either.

Here's the reality of the matter -- for as long as offshore drilling is legal, oil spills will happen. Coastlines will be decimated, oceans destroyed, economies ruined, lives lost. Oil companies have little to no incentive to prevent such disasters from happening, and they use their money to buy government regulators' integrity.

Deepwater Horizon is not an anomaly -- it's the norm.