Sunday, June 13, 2010

An Ugly Jobs Report, and a Complacent Congress

An Ugly Jobs Report, and a Complacent Congress

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When will the White House push for real job creation?

As if the spread of oil across the Gulf of Mexico was not sufficiently disastrous, the nation's latest job report contained some very bad news.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed a net job loss of 11,000 permanent private-sector jobs in May, according to the Economic Policy Institute. As the EPI pointed out, "The private sector saw very modest growth [in May], adding just 41,000 jobs, much slower than the average growth of the previous three months, which was 146,000."

A quick look at the figures would have been deceiving. Yes, the official jobless rate dropped to 9.7%. But some 411,000 temporary U.S. Census jobs—95% of the growth—will disappear this summer. Three-fourths of the private-sector jobs represented hires by temporary agencies, and permanent-job losses outweighed gains by 11,000, the EPI noted ruefully.

The new numbers provided a jolting injection of reality for those in the Obama White House and elsewhere complacently imagining a smooth economic recovery.

8.2 MILLION JOBLESS AT RISK

The new report ought to light a fire under the Obama Administration and Congress to pass $150 billion legislation for job creation and the extension of health and unemployment compensation benefits for the jobless.

Unemployment benefits are starting to run out for large numbers of the jobless. With the long-running recession starting in December 2007, Congress has repeatedly provided extensions to the standard 26-week limit on unemployment benefits.

At this point, there is a 99-week maximum in states with especially-severe rates of joblessness, and jobless workers are running up against that. "However, without another extension, many of those workers could begin to exhaust those benefits in June," the Economic Policy Institute warns.

EPI economist Heidi Shierholz calculates that some 8.2 million workers could lose benefits this year without a further extension, such as that contained in The American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010. If the extension is passed, that would limit the casualties to a still-significant 3.3 million jobless workers losing benefits.

The extension of unemployment benefits coming up next week in Congress is imperative because the typical household headed by an unemployed person had little savings to begin with and may now be cutting back on food to save money, with appalling consequences for family nutrition and health:

Raj Chetty, professor of economics at Harvard University …said that the median unemployed person has less than $250 in liquid savings at the time of job loss. He also presented a chart showing a sharp drop in food consumption when a person loses his job.

This not only supports other research showing that prolonged unemployment impacts health and even mortality rates, particularly when there is not an adequate safety net in place, but it also helps explain why unemployment insurance dollars are quickly put back into local communities.

But don't be surprised by strident resistance from the Republican Right up in arms over the federal budget deficit. The Right—possibly including some Blue-Dog-type Democrats of the Blanche Lincoln variety—will oppose greater outlays, despite the simple fact that increased federal spending on jobs and benefits for the unemployed are precisely what’s needed at this moment to kick-start the economy.

TAXING BILLIIONAIRES

Of course, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010 will provide the GOP with an opportunity to lash out at deficit-creating Democratic "tax and spend" policies—even with taxes specifically targeted at billionaires,

Moreover, Republican indifference to the plight of the jobless running out of benefits—exemplified by Sen. Jim Bunning's (R-Ky.) infamous "I don't give a sh*t" response—is already evident. With the mid-term elections less than five months away, more cynical Republicans may calculate that a denial of benefits will cause some of the unemployed to lose faith in Democrats, vote Republican—or refrain from voting altogether.

But clearly, the need for more job-creation efforts and help for the jobless is growing more acute by the day. Jobless workers are losing benefits, and mega-banks are simply drawing interest from the Federal Reserve rather than lending out money to fuel the recovery. May actually set a record for home foreclosures. The American economy has increasingly been characterized by minimal job growth, at best.

In this dire context, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka thundered to Congress, "If you're not for this bill, you're not for jobs. Period. And please, no more excuses about budget deficits unless you're willing to make Wall Street pay its fair share to bring it down."

The US-NATO "Arc of War" Stretches From Afghanistan to the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus

The US-NATO "Arc of War" Stretches From Afghanistan to the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus

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U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrived in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, on June 6, meeting with President Ilham Aliyev on that day and on the following with Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiyev.

Gates was the first cabinet-level American official to visit the strategically positioned nation – located in the South Caucasus with Russia to its north, Iran to its south and the Caspian Sea to its east – in five years and the first U.S. defense chief to visit since Donald Rumsfeld did in 2005.

When Gates’ predecessor was last in Azerbaijan his mission centered on “the transportation of Caspian oil and the security of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline” as the chief element of U.S. trans-Eurasian oil and natural gas plans “which [are] directly connected with Mr Rumsfeld’s department” [1] to bring Caspian Sea hydrocarbons into Europe while bypassing Russia and Iran, both of which adjoin Azerbaijan.

Rumsfeld’s visit of five years ago also focused on a related initiative, the Caspian Guard project the Pentagon launched in 2003. “Guaranteeing security to the pipeline…will be the prime goal of the Caspian Guard. The Caspian Guard will represent a network of police detachments and special military units in the Caspian region.” [2]

At the time Rumsfeld’s Defense Department planned to allot over $100 million for the Caspian Guard to operate at both ends of the inland sea – Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan – and to be based in Stuttgart, Germany where the Pentagon’s new Africa Command is now based. In fact U.S. European Command was simultaneously elaborating plans for the Caspian Guard and a complementary Gulf of Guinea Guard in oil-rich western Africa to secure control over the 21st century’s main new sources of energy supplies. [3]

Gates arrived in Azerbaijan the day after the ninth annual Asian security summit organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore and before his attendance at the NATO defense chiefs meeting in Brussels on the 10th and 11th.

He had intended to visit Beijing following the conference in Singapore, but his overtures in that direction were rebuffed by the Chinese government, presumably because of Washington’s confirmation this January of plans to complete a $6.5 billion arms transaction with Taiwan, one whose latest installment includes 200 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 anti-ballistic missiles.

That Baku replaced Beijing on the Pentagon chief’s way to the NATO meeting indicates the importance that the comparatively small nation – with a population of under nine million while China’s is over 1.3 billion – has in American global geostrategic plans.

U.S. media reports highlighted efforts to mend fences with Azerbaijan after joint military exercises scheduled in the nation for last month were abruptly cancelled – evidently by the host country as a sign of dissatisfaction with Washington’s moves to take a more balanced approach toward Azerbaijan’s regional rival Armenia in a bid to lure all the nations of the South Caucasus into the U.S. and NATO orbit. Last December the Armenian government approved the deployment of troops to serve under NATO command in the Afghan war theater along with those of their Caucasus neighbors Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Received opinion has it that the U.S. intends to incorporate all three nations into NATO simultaneously. Armenia and Azerbaijan have NATO Individual Partnership Action Plans and Georgia a special, even more advanced, Annual National Programme.

The cancelled exercises were to have built upon last year’s Regional Response 2009 in Azerbaijan, a NATO Partnership for Peace operation to advance the North Atlantic military bloc’s Individual Partnership Action Plan with the nation.

To demonstrate that Rumsfeld’s Caspian Guard plans are still alive, during his visit to Azerbaijan Secretary Gates discussed bilateral military ties, particularly “further U.S. help with maritime security in the Caspian Sea.”

In his own words, “We already help them there with several tens of millions of dollars, boats, radars and capabilities.” [4]

According to the Pentagon’s website, “More military exercises and intelligence sharing also came up during the meetings,” Gates added, “and the discussions also touched on Iran and Russia,” with the American defense secretary saying of his hosts, “These guys clearly live in a rough neighborhood.” [5]

Georgia borders Russia and Armenia borders Iran, but Azerbaijan alone abuts both. The same defense minister Gates met with on June 7, Colonel General Safar Abiyev, not long ago addressed the head of state Gates met with the day before and said: “Our armed forces are able to annihilate targets in all the territory of Armenia. Mr. President, I notify you that the Azerbaijani Armed Forces are able to hit any target in the territory of Armenia.” [6]

Gates’ main concentration – or at least that of most immediate importance – was on the expanding war in South Asia, where he will soon have 100,000 U.S. troops serving with another 50,000 NATO forces.

Western and local reports have recently divulged that 25 percent of U.S. and NATO supplies and equipment for the Afghan war pass through what is referred to as the Caucasus Spur – Azerbaijan and Georgia – and that “100,000 troops have flown through Azerbaijani airspace in the past year en route to Afghanistan.” [7]

More specifically, “Tens of thousands of cargo aircraft have flown over Azerbaijan for the Afghan war, with planes ferrying 100,000 US and allied troops and personnel through the country’s airspace last year, Pentagon officials said.” [8]

With the recent turmoil in Kyrgyzstan hampering the transit of troops and equipment through the Central Asian country where hundreds of thousands of U.S. and NATO forces have passed directly to Afghanistan, Azerbaijan (in addition to Kazakhstan [9]) will play an even more pivotal role as the battle for Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province begins.

While in Baku, Gates delivered a personal letter from President Barack Obama to his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev. As the local press described it, “Gates, the most senior U.S. official to visit Azerbaijan since Obama took office last year, hand delivered the letter to Aliyev to make clear ‘we have a relationship going forward,’ a senior defense official said….” [10]

Obama commended his opposite number for doubling the amount of troops deployed to Afghanistan and providing the use of his nation’s land (for supply trucks) and air space, especially ahead of the next surge of 30,000 U.S. troops.

An Azeri news agency reminded its readers that “Azerbaijan is also a major oil producer and a key hub on a route for Central Asia and Caspian Sea energy to Europe bypassing Russia to the north and Iran to the south,” while quoting the following from Obama’s letter: “Azerbaijan’s leadership in the development for a Southern Corridor for energy has also increased regional prosperity and enhanced global energy security.” [11]

Gates told Azerbaijan’s defense minister that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would also be visiting the nation shortly.

Last month an Azerbaijani delegation visited Afghanistan to meet with the nation’s defense minister and NATO International Security Assistance Force commanders, during which “the education of Afghan national policemen, soldiers and officers in Azerbaijan” was discussed. [12] In early May U.S. military officers arrived in Baku to “hold seminars related to the tasks of operational officers at the battalion and brigade [levels]. [13] The month before Azerbaijani troops began “a communication course in San Antonio, USA from April 21 to December 15.” [14]

In April Robert Simmons, the NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia and NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Security Cooperation and Partnership [15], was in Baku to promote Azerbaijan’s Individual Partnership Action Plan. In the same month it was announced that the bloc’s chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is to visit this summer.

Since January of 2009 Romania has been the NATO Contact Point Embassy in Azerbaijan and its ambassador to the country, Nicolae Ureche, the Brussels-based military bloc’s main liaison there. In early May he opened a conference in Baku titled NATO’s Role in Ensuring Security and Stability in Europe and in the Strategic Arena, dedicated to NATO 61st anniversary and the 16th of Azerbaijan joining the bloc’s Partnership for Peace program.

The preceding month the Romanian envoy gave a speech in Baku in which he stated that “In connection with the 61st anniversary of NATO, the NATO Institute of Cooperation and embassies of the NATO member-states accredited in Azerbaijan have declared April NATO Month in Azerbaijan.” [16] During his presentation Ureche “especially emphasized NATO’s attention to energy security.” [17] A week before he said, “We…welcome Azerbaijan’s role in ensuring global energy security.” [18]

That sentiment was echoed last week when Special Envoy of the United States Secretary of State for Eurasian Energy Richard Morningstar spoke at the 17th International Caspian Oil and Gas Exhibition and Conference held in the capital of Azerbaijan and confirmed that Washington “support[s] the diversification of energy exports from the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia” and – American that he is – presumed to speak on behalf of Europe’s energy security, endorsing the anti-Russian Southern Corridor to transport natural gas and oil from the Caspian Sea Basin and the Middle East to Europe. [19]

The preceding month Morningstar’s fellow Foggy Bottom denizen, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Tina Kaidanow, was in Azerbaijan. While there her message to the nation’s leaders was: “The United States considers Azerbaijan an essential partner. Our interests overlap in many areas, from collaborating on strengthening energy security via the Southern Corridor gas and oil projects to our work together countering terrorism and extremism. We appreciate Azerbaijan’s contributions to regional and global security, from Kosovo to Iraq to Afghanistan.” [20] Kaidanow took over her current post last August from Matthew Bryza, arguably a contender for Washington’s main point man in the former Soviet Union over the past two decades. His resume includes:

- Being attached to the U.S. embassy in Poland from 1989-1991 as contact person for Solidarnosc

- Serving at the U.S. embassy in Russia during the equally key transitional years of 1995-1997 with his main assignments being the Russian parliament, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the North Caucasus, especially then tense Dagestan

- Special advisor to Richard Morningstar (the current Special Envoy of the United States Secretary of State for Eurasian Energy) from 1997-1998, who at the time was Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State on Assistance to the New Independent States of the Former Soviet Union

- Deputy to the Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State on Caspian Basin Energy Diplomacy from July 1998 to March 2001

- In 2001 he occupied the post of the National Security Council’s Director for Europe and Eurasia with emphasis on the Caucasus, Central Asia and Caspian Sea energy

- Became Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs in 2005

Last month the White House nominated Bryza as U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan.

His appointment indicates the importance Washington assigns to the nation.

In March of this year Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg spoke of U.S.-Azerbaijan cooperation, mentioning in particular the “involvement of Azerbaijan in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, bilateral military ties in the context of Caspian energy and Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline security, and the participation of Azerbaijan in the US-led military missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.” [21]

A Russian report on his comments added, “US companies are actively involved in the development of Caspian hydrocarbons in offshore Azerbaijani oilfields, and the US government actively supported the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline as the primary route of transportation for Caspian oil.” [22]

In the same month the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus in Washington sent a letter to President Obama “reflecting the importance of Azerbaijan-US relations.”

It included these items:

“Azerbaijan has opened Caspian energy resources to development by U.S companies and has emerged as a key player for global energy security. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline project, supported by both the Clinton and George W. Bush Administrations…has become the main artery delivering Caspian Sea hydrocarbons to the US and our partners in Europe.”

“Notably, in 2009 Azerbaijan provided nearly one quarter of all crude oil supplies to Israel and is considered a leading potential natural gas provider for the U.S supported Nabucco pipeline.”

“Azerbaijan was among the first to offer strong support and assistance to the United States. Azerbaijan participated in operations in Kosovo and Iraq and is actively engaged in Afghanistan, having recently doubled its military presence there.”

“Azerbaijan has extended important over-flight clearances for US and NATO flights to support ISAF and has regularly provided landing and refueling operations at its airports for US and NATO forces.” [23]

With Turkey increasingly adopting an independent foreign policy orientation not to Washington’s liking; with the nearly nine-year-old war in Afghanistan reaching its apex; with the U.S. and its NATO allies ramping up pressure on Iran in Azerbaijan’s “rough neighborhood”; and with the U.S. pursuing global interceptor missile plans that may include evicting the Russian military from the Gabala radar station in the north of the country, Azerbaijan is assuming a greater strategic significance with each passing day.

That is why U.S. Defense Secretary Gates was there on June 6 and 7. It will not be his last visit.

Related articles:

West’s Afghan War And Drive Into Caspian Sea Basin
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/08/31/wests-afghan-war-and-drive-into-caspian-sea-basin
Azerbaijan And The Caspian: NATO’s War For The World’s Heartland
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/08/31/azerbaijan-and-the-caspian-natos-war-for-the-worlds-heartland
Eurasian Crossroads: The Caucasus In U.S.-NATO War Plans
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/08/28/118

Notes

1) Armenian News Network, May 10, 2005
2) Ibid
3) Global Energy War: Washington’s New Kissinger’s African Plans
Stop NATO, January 22, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/08/26/global-energy-war-washingtons-new-kissingers-african-plans
4) U.S. Department of Defense
American Forces Press Service
June 7, 2010
5) Ibid
6) Azeri Press Agency, April 24, 2010
7) Trend News Agency, June 7, 2010
8) Agence France-Presse, June 6, 2010
9) Kazakhstan: U.S., NATO Seek Military Outpost Between Russia And China
Stop NATO, April 14, 2010
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2010/04/15/kazakhstan-u-s-nato-seek-military-outpost-between-russia-and-ch
10) Azeri Press Agency, June 7, 2010
11) Ibid
12) Azertag, May 20, 2010
13) ANS News, May 3, 2010
14) Azeri Press Agency, April 19, 2010
15) Mr. Simmons’ Mission: NATO Bases From Balkans To Chinese Border
Stop NATO, March 4, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/08/27/mr-simmons-mission-nato-bases-from-balkans-to-chinese-border
16) Trend News Agency, April 8, 2010
17) Azeri Press Agency, April 8, 2010
18) Interfax-Azerbaijan, Azeri Press Agency, April 1, 2010
19) Trend News Agency, June 2, 2010
20) Azeri Press Agency, May 12, 2010
21) Itar-Tass, March 30, 2010
22) Ibid
23) Azeri Press Agency, March 30, 2010

Bank Lobbyists Pulling Out Every Stop to Sink Real Reform

Bank Lobbyists Pulling Out Every Stop to Sink Real Reform

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You would think that having won some of the key battles in financial reform in spite of destroying the world economy with their greed that bank lobbyists would be counting themselves lucky and relaxing a little. But they believe it is their God-given right to win every single legislative battle and run all things finance-related with no oversight, regulations, barriers, or fairness to other economic sectors. And because they are so completely used to getting their way in all things, the idea that they might possibly, actually lose a few of these legislative fights is making them frantic.

Elizabeth Warren gave a (great, if I hear right) speech to the House Democratic caucus yesterday, rallying the troops to pass a bill with real muscle in terms of consumer protection, derivative regulations, and putting money back into the main street economy with such provisions as regulating credit card swipe fees. Joe Stiglitz did a press conference for Americans for Financial Reform (AFR) where he raised hell about derivatives and pushed that issue forward. AFR has put together a remarkable lobbying operation focused on the House and Senate conferees (which you can find here if you want to know who the targets are to give them a call). An exciting new consumer-business coalition has come together around the Durbin amendment on swipe fees, which I’m proud to be consulting on. You can check out a new ad on the issue here. Good things are happening on our side, but the bankers are spending money like drunken sailors because they don’t like to lose. They are hiring lobbyists all over town at rates of $50,000 a month or more. They are paying PR lobbyists huge money, and then spending tens of millions in advertising. They are giving politicians massive amounts of PAC dollars- Greg Meeks, who is a key conference committee negotiator on the swipe fee issue, for example, has raked in over $90,000 in campaign contributions from big banks in recent months. The big banks have also made good friends with state treasurers like Shane Osborn from my beloved home state of Nebraska to shill for them, and with credit unions who have come to town today to lobby on the bank’s behalf on the swipe fee issue even though the issue doesn’t impact the credit unions much. (Side note here, just because I am annoyed with these guys for selling out to the bankers: credit unions, according to a report from the Tax Foundation, have a $31.3 billion tax break, so they can serve low-income people, even though the vast majority of their clients are now middle income or wealthy folks. I just had a new idea for cutting the deficit.) The question on financial reform is very simple: do the big banks, which have more concentrated money and power than any industry since the giant monopoly trusts of the 1890s, win on all these key issues in conference committee? Or do consumers, homeowners, and main street businesses?

Politicians like to talk about how complicated everything is, and some issues do get pretty wonky, it’s true. But the age-old which side are you on question remains pretty simple. Let’s hope the Democrats understand they need to be on the opposite side of the guys on Wall Street.

Does a New Flotilla Video Show Israeli Commandos Executing Gaza Aid Ship Victim?

Does a New Flotilla Video Show Israeli Commandos Executing Gaza Aid Ship Victim?

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A newly surfaced video clip, allegedly from the May 31, 2010 Israeli attack, in international waters, on the Gaza aid flotilla ship Mavi Marmara, appears to show Israeli commandos carrying out an execution. The clip may be from one hour’s worth of footage smuggled off the Mavi Marmara by American independent filmmaker Iara Lee. That footage is being released at four PM Eastern Time today at the United Nations. Here is an interview with Lee aired today on the Democracy Now show.

Jewish-American journalist and blogger Richard Silverstein has thrown his weight behind the veracity of video clip that appears to show two commandos in the process of executing someone. The victim, behind a railing, is not visible but the commandos in the clip are clearly kicking someone (or something) on the ground. One of the two aims his rifle at what one would assume is a person, and seems to fire several shots. [update: Richard Silverstein has subsequently consulted with weapons expert Professor Scott MacEachern who states, on the question of what sort of weapon the commando in the video is carrying, "I think he’s shooting whoever is on the ground with a silenced Ruger 10/22 .22-calibre bolt-action rifle with a modified stock. The Israelis bought some and used them for ‘crowd control’ for a while, until they were prohibited legally from using it – except they still did. They also use it to kill guard dogs – a so-called ‘hush-puppy’ weapon – in the Special Forces, so Sayeret 13 might be using it. This would kill you."]

I’ve studied the clip in detail, and there are no muzzle flashes visible but the muzzle of the gun was out of the line-of-sight of the camera that took the footage, hidden behind the ship railing that presumably also occludes the person the commando is aiming his rifle at. Towards the very end of the footage, the commando can be seen loading what would appear to be an ammunition clip into his rifle. He then aims it toward what is presumably a human victim. I’ve studied the clip frame by frame, and at this point (it’s hard to see with the naked eye) there is a rifle recoil.

If the video clip is authentic it would be extremely incriminating. An official autopsy done by the Turkish government on the corpses of victims from the Mavi Marmara showed many of the dead were shot at close range, multiple times, in the head. At least nine Mavi Marmara Gaza aid activists died in the assault, and forty eight of the 600-700 activists aboard the Marmara suffered gunshot wounds.

Both the clip that appears to show an execution aboard the Mavi Marmara, and the soon-to-be released smuggled footage from filmmaker Iara Lee, have surfaced at an embarrassing time for Israel’s government given that only a few days ago, on June 4th, the Israeli Government Press Office, which is under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, “accidentally” released a satirical music video mocking the activists recently attacked aboard the Marmara. That video, produced by former Netanyahu adviser Caroline Glick, also mocked allegations of a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip with the following lyrics,

“We must go on, pretending day by day that in Gaza there’s crisis hunger and plague coz the billion bucks in aid won’t buy their basic needs like some cheese and missiles for the kids.”

As result of both the long-term Israeli blockade of Gaza, and the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead IDF attack on the Gaza Strip, Gaza’s economy has nearly collapsed and many of Gaza’s children are suffering from malnutrition according to a 2009 United Nations agency report which indicated that up to 65.5 percent of babies 9-12 months old in Gaza are anemic. Anemia can cause long-term development delays, retardation, and behavioral disorders.

As Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, when the blockade of the Gaza Strip was initiated under Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Olmert’s adviser Dov Weisglass stated that “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”

US-Turkish tensions and the Israeli assault on the Gaza flotilla

US-Turkish tensions and the Israeli assault on the Gaza flotilla

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Israel's May 31 assault on the MV Mavi Marmara, a ship departing from Turkey to carry humanitarian supplies to Gaza, has provoked anger and outrage worldwide.

By inspecting and allowing the humanitarian flotilla to depart Turkish ports for Gaza, Ankara made clear its doubts over the viability of its decades-long alliance with the US and Israel. The standoff that has emerged between Turkey and Israel over the aftermath of the assault has highlighted the political explosiveness of Turkey’s rapidly deteriorating relations with Israel and the US.

These tensions were on display on Wednesday, when Turkey joined Brazil to vote against US-backed sanctions against Iran in the United Nations Security Council. Brazil and Turkey had agreed to a nuclear fuel swap agreement with Iran last month. Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, denounced Brazil and Turkey for “standing outside of the rest of the Security Council, outside of the body of the international community.”

Mass protests—in Turkey, by Israeli Arabs, and broadly in the Middle East and Europe—have highlighted popular hostility to the policies of war and collective punishment that have dominated the Middle East and Central Asia during the “war on terror.” These wars, unpopular in the US itself, threaten to discredit pro-US regimes throughout the region. In Europe, the question of participation in the NATO occupation of Afghanistan underlay the February collapse of the Dutch government and the resignation of German President Horst Köhler last month.

Ankara’s emergence as a major economic power over the past decade has deepened its conflicts with the US and Israel. Afraid of the domestic political consequences of supporting US and Israeli wars, Ankara also finds them harmful to its attempt to develop economic and strategic relations in the Middle East.

In 2003, the new Islamist government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan voted against allowing US forces to invade northern Iraq from Turkish soil. It feared a US occupation would strengthen Kurdish forces in northern Iraq and Kurdish nationalist sentiment in Turkey’s volatile east. It was dismayed by Israel’s subsequent backing for Iraqi Kurds, whom Jerusalem supported to prevent the emergence of a strong Iraqi state.

At the same time, Erdogan supervised IMF austerity measures. The slashing of Turkish workers’ wages turned Turkey into one of the Middle East’s main cheap-labor exporters, oriented to Middle Eastern and especially to European markets. Turkey also became a transit state for Caucasian, Iraqi and potentially Iranian oil and natural gas to Europe.

Erdogan initially strove to maintain good relations with Israel and the US. While criticizing Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon and its 2007 air raid on alleged nuclear facilities at Deir-ez-Zor in Syria, in which Israeli fighter bombers traveled through Turkish airspace, Erdogan maintained military cooperation with Israel. Having renewed relations and signed a free trade pact with Syria in 2004, Turkey offered to broker Israeli-Syrian negotiations after the Deir-ez-Zor raid.

US hostility towards Syria and Iran in the aftermath of the Iraq war posed growing difficulties for Ankara, however. In an attempt to dissuade a US attack, Iran supported numerous regional forces, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, which could threaten Israel. At the same time, Iran continued developing its trade ties with Turkey.

The Israeli decision to launch Operation Cast Lead—the January 2009 assault on Gaza—on the heels of Erdogan’s Israeli-Syrian talks was a major political embarrassment for Turkey. Stephen Cook, a scholar at the US Council on Foreign Relations, wrote that Ankara was concerned “that Erdogan would either look like he was in collusion with the Israelis, or too weak to stop the Israelis from undertaking this action in Gaza.”

Since then, despite continued cooperation on certain military contracts, Turkish-Israeli relations have continued to deteriorate. Turkey cancelled a joint “Anatolian Eagle” air force exercise with Israel last year. In January, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon created a diplomatic incident by publicly humiliating Turkish ambassador Oguz Celikkol during a meeting to protest the portrayal of Israel in a Turkish television series.

Writing in January 2010, the French journal Politique Etrangère concluded: “The Turko-Israeli partnership is extremely fragile and is losing its substance, in particular on political issues. Unlike Jerusalem, Ankara no longer considers Syria or Iraq as potential adversaries, but as partners. As for Iran, Turkey apparently intends to develop lasting ties.”

Turkish economic interests in the Middle East also increasingly pull it away from an alliance with Israel. Turkish-Israeli trade was valued at $3 billion in 2009, but Turkish trade with Iran, Iraq and Syria was valued at $11 billion, $5 billion, and $4 billion, respectively.

The US response to the Turkish role in the standoff has been consistently hostile, while it has moved to block an international investigation of the Israeli raid on the flotilla. The New York Times commented, “Mr. Erdogan’s tough talk eliminates Turkey’s place at the table as a moderator with Israel… and also boxes in the Obama administration, forcing it into a choice between allies that the Turks are sure to lose.”

US foreign policy after the fall of the USSR has largely been built around military and political dominance of the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Balkans. Wars in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan allowed Washington to regulate relations between its major rivals in Europe and Asia, prevent the emergence of an anti-US bloc, or intimidate them if needed with the threat of military force. However, the weakening of the US economy and the unpopularity of US foreign policy at home are undermining this strategy.

Washington sees the emergence of Turkey as an independent power—in the center of this contested region, and opposed to US policy on Iran and Gaza—as a threat to fundamental US interests. Stephen Kinzer, an author studying the Middle East, explained to the New York Times: “Turks are telling the US, ‘The Cold War’s over. You have to take a more cooperative approach, and we can help.’ The US is not prepared to accept that offer.”

Stephen Cook stated the issue more bluntly: the question being debated in Washington, Cook said in the Times, is “how do we keep the Turks in their lane?” Writing in Foreign Policy, Cook labeled Turkey “America’s new rival in the Middle East.”

These comments underscore the global ramifications of the confrontation developing in the Near East. One major consideration guiding policy towards Turkey in Washington will be the impact of Turkey’s actions on US relations with Europe.

Summarizing a May essay by former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Die Welt wrote: “The European Union will be able to exist independently of the power centers in the US and China only by uniting its forces. It must therefore deepen relations with Turkey and associate itself with Russia.”

The significance of public advocacy of a political axis between Germany, Russia, and Turkey, aiming to preserve European independence from the US, goes far beyond the immediate prospects that such an axis will emerge. Schröder is remembered in Washington for his opposition at the UN to the US invasion of Iraq. His advocacy of such a political axis will be met by powerful sections of the US political establishment by moves to prevent it from developing.

Obama defends Israel as tactical shift prepared on Gaza blockade

Obama defends Israel as tactical shift prepared on Gaza blockade

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President Barack Obama’s meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington on Wednesday again demonstrated US complicity with the Israeli government’s criminal blockade of Gaza that led to the May 31 raid on an aid flotilla which resulted in nine activists being shot dead by Israeli naval commandos.

Obama described the situation in the besieged Palestinian territory as “unsustainable” and noted that there were “debates within Israel, recognising the problems with the status quo”. On lifting the blockade, he declared the “key” was in “making sure that Israel’s security needs are met”, and that this could involve a “new conceptual framework” involving “ways of focusing narrowly on arms shipments, rather than focusing in a blanket way on stopping everything and then in a piecemeal way allowing things into Gaza.”

Israel has been able to maintain the two-year blockade and inflict a humanitarian crisis upon 1.5 million people only thanks to US support. Now what Obama is proposing is a tactical shift. It is now apparent that the brutal collective punishment inflicted on the population of Gaza for the election of a Hamas administration in 2006 has not succeeded in achieving the goal of undermining and ousting the Islamists. As the New York Times reported yesterday: “Three years after Israel and Egypt imposed an embargo on this tormented Palestinian strip, shutting down its economy, a consensus has emerged that the attempt to weaken the governing party, Hamas, and drive it from power has failed.”

The blockade has never been about preventing crude rockets being fired into Israel from Gaza—instead it has formed part of a wider Israeli government strategy of crushing all resistance among the Palestinians to the occupation of their lands. McClatchy newspapers in the US reported Wednesday that it has obtained an Israeli government document, via a freedom of information lawsuit, which describes the siege not as a security measure but as “economic warfare”.

Israel’s allies are increasingly sensitive to the reality that this mode of warfare has prevented Fatah from re-establishing a presence in the territory since it was routed in the mid-2007 civil conflict. Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues, including the unconstitutionally installed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, now govern only the limited areas of the West Bank not directly occupied by Israel. Abbas’s visit to Washington was another demonstration of his abject servility; his priority in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara massacre has been to exploit the situation for his own purposes, urging a shift on Gaza to bolster Fatah’s standing against Hamas.

The foreign ministers of France, Italy and Spain—Bernard Kouchner, Franco Frattini and Miguel Angel Moratinos respectively—yesterday issued a joint statement stressing that a “lasting solution also implies that the Palestinian Authority should be fully reinstated in Gaza” while calling for the lifting of the blockade. The foreign ministers’ posturing as peace proponents is belied by the European powers’ support for the Israeli government. Kouchner et al. did not refer to the European Union’s role in 2006 as a member of the Quartet (EU, UN, US, and Russia), when it froze funds to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas won democratic elections. The devastating financial embargo set the stage for the subsequent Israeli blockade on all imports and exports to Gaza.

The three foreign ministers added that an investigation into the aid flotilla operation must “be sure to avoid the mistakes made after the submission of the Goldstone report, whose follow-up was exploited by the Human Rights Council, half of whose resolutions, unfortunately, have been devoted to condemning Israel.” In other words, the Netanyahu government must be assured that no action will be taken against it irrespective of what an inquiry reveals about the violent Mavi Marmara raid.

The US and European governments all accept the pretext for Israeli violence against the Palestinians—that it represents a legitimate “security” response to the threat of terrorism. Former British prime minister and current Quartet envoy Tony Blair summed up the position when he declared this week: “When it comes to security, I’m 100 percent on Israel’s side.”

During his meeting with Abbas, Obama pledged an additional $400 million for housing, schools, and business development in Gaza and the West Bank. This sum is a small fraction of what is required to rebuild the damage done to the Palestinian territories caused by the Israeli blockade and the criminal bombardment of Gaza over three weeks in 2008-2009. Moreover, the New York Times reported that only $70 million was actually new money, and that no details were provided as to how the money would be distributed in Gaza.

A Hamas spokesman denounced the aid pledge as “cheap publicity”, adding, “This is what prettifies the image of the occupation and allows it to continue its criminal policies.”

The Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week permitted a limited amount of consumer goods into Gaza, including snack food and beverages. The move merely highlighted the severity of the blockade. The British Daily Telegraph reported Tuesday that the Netanyahu administration was preparing to ease the siege in return for US and international support for an Israeli rather than international inquiry into the killings of the nine Turkish activists aboard the Mavi Marmara. The newspaper cited an unnamed “Western source close to international discussions with Israel” who said: “A quid pro quo deal is in the offing.”

The Obama administration has played the key role in defusing demands for an international and independent inquiry into the illegal Israeli assault. It ensured that only the vaguest language was incorporated into a UN Security Council resolution calling for an investigation and that no condemnation of Israel was included. Obama this week again refused to condemn the Israeli killings, instead declaring that “we were very clear in condemning the acts that led to this crisis”. He referred to the attack on the aid vessel itself as a “tragedy”.

Obama also refused to indicate any support for an international inquiry, referring instead to the UN Security Council resolution, which favoured a “credible, transparent investigation that met international standards”.

Haaretz today reported that Israel and the US have agreed on the nature of the Israeli investigative committee and that a public announcement will soon follow. The body is to be headed by a retired Israeli Supreme Court justice and include two jurists from the US and Europe. Haaretz reported: “The panel will be a government-appointed committee but will not be considered an official government inquiry convened in accordance with the Basic Law on the Government. Nor will it be a state commission of inquiry.”

The commandos involved will not be questioned. The inevitable outcome will be a whitewash. Netanyahu effectively admitted as much when he declared on Wednesday in relation to the inquiry: “We know the truth and the people of Israel know the truth.”

BP and government authorities collude to suppress reality of oil spill

BP and government authorities collude to suppress reality of oil spill

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Numerous media accounts confirm that oil giant BP, in collusion with the Obama administration and various federal agencies, is attempting to block information about the extent of the damage wreaked on the Gulf Coast and other areas.

The New York Times reported Wednesday (“Efforts to Limit the Flow of Spill News”) that “Journalists struggling to document the impact of the oil rig explosion have repeatedly found themselves turned away from public areas affected by the spill, and not only by BP and its contractors, but by local law enforcement, the Coast Guard and government officials.”

The Times article describes the media “being kept at bay” is merely “another example of a broader problem of officials’ filtering what images of the spill the public sees,” adding that “Scientists, too, have complained about the trickle of information that has emerged from BP and government sources.”

Essentially, BP and the authorities are trying to suppress information about the oil spill just as the US military, with the complicity of the American media, has done in Iraq and Afghanistan. From Vietnam came images of wounded and dying soldiers, which had a significant impact on public opinion; from the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, notes Newsweek magazine, “pictures of dead otters, fish, and birds, as well as oil-covered shorelines, ignited nationwide outrage and led to a backlash against Exxon.” The Pentagon and the corporate elite have learned a simple lesson: by whatever means necessary, prevent the population from learning the truth.

The Times observes, “Michael Oreskes, senior managing editor at the Associated Press, likened the situation to reporters being embedded with the military in Afghanistan. ‘There is a continued effort to keep control over the access,’ Mr. Oreskes said. ‘And even in places where the government is cooperating with us to provide access, it’s still a problem because it’s still access obtained through the government.’”

Indeed CNN has described its correspondent, Kyra Phillips, as “embedded” with US Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen.

There are numerous examples of BP and the government blocking media coverage of the oil spill. A CBS television crew was threatened in late May with arrest for attempting to film an oil-covered beach in Louisiana. A vessel carrying BP contractors and Coast Guard officials stopped the crew, and the pilot told CBS reporters, “This is BP rules, it’s not ours.”

A reporter from Mother Jones recounted in detail how local deputies, at the behest of BP, prevented journalists from reaching Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge, also in Louisiana. An oil company representative told the reporter, “BP’s in charge because ‘it’s BP’s oil.’”

An airplane pilot planning to carry a New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter over the oil slick was denied permission for the flight. “We were questioned extensively. Who was on the aircraft? Who did they work for?” recalled Rhonda Panepinto, who owns Southern Seaplane with her husband, Lyle. “The minute we mentioned media, the answer was: ‘Not allowed.’”

When Associated Press photographer Gerald Herbert attempted to accompany Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of Jacques Cousteau, on a trip to Breton Island, a national wildlife refuge off the barrier islands of Louisiana, the US Coast Guard intervened. Newsweek reports, “Upon approaching the island, a Coast Guard boat stopped them. ‘The first question was, ‘Is there any press with you?’ says Herbert.’ They answered yes, and the Coast Guard said they couldn’t be there. ‘I had to bite my tongue. That should have no bearing.’”

Newsweek comments: “Photographers who have traveled to the Gulf commonly say they believe that BP has exerted more control over coverage of the spill with the cooperation of the federal government and local law enforcement. ‘It’s a running joke among the journalists covering the story that the words ‘Coast Guard’ affixed to any vehicle, vessel, or plane should be prefixed with ‘BP,’’ says Charlie Varley, a Louisiana-based photographer. ‘It would be funny if it were not so serious.’”

At 10 pm the evening before a scheduled trip by Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, along with a group of journalists, on the Gulf of Mexico, reports the New York Times, “someone from the Department of Homeland Security’s legislative affairs office called the senator’s office to tell them that no journalists would be allowed.

“‘They said it was the Department of Homeland Security’s response-wide policy not to allow elected officials and media on the same ‘federal asset,’’ said Bryan Gulley, a spokesman for the senator. ‘No further elaboration’ was given, Mr. Gulley added.”

A reporter and photographer from the New York Daily News were told by a BP contractor that they could not have access to a public beach on Grand Isle, Louisiana. A local sheriff, brought in by the BP employee, told the reporter that “news media had to fill out paperwork and then be escorted by a BP official to get access to the beach.” (New York Times)

The stories go on and on, underscoring, on the one hand, the determination of BP to conceal the catastrophe by suppressing images of the spill on land and sea. Financial questions are at the heart of this. The extent of the devastation has a bearing on the immediate fate of BP’s share price, as well as the amount of the damages eventually levied against the oil giant.

On the other hand, the collusion of the Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Aviation Administration and other institutions with the censorship efforts of a private corporation reveals something about the character of the Obama administration and all levels of the government in the US: they are entirely subservient to the interests of big business and equally hostile to the interests of the American population.

BP, Coast Guard, Law Enforcement Block Reporting on Spill

BP, Coast Guard, Law Enforcement Block Reporting on Spill

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hen the operators of Southern Seaplane in Belle Chasse, La., called the local Coast Guard-Federal Aviation Administration command center for permission to fly over restricted airspace in Gulf of Mexico, they made what they thought was a simple and routine request.

A pilot wanted to take a photographer from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans to snap photographs of the oil slicks blackening the water. The response from a BP contractor who answered the phone late last month at the command center was swift and absolute: Permission denied.

"We were questioned extensively. Who was on the aircraft? Who did they work for?" recalled Rhonda Panepinto, who owns Southern Seaplane with her husband, Lyle. "The minute we mentioned media, the answer was: 'Not allowed.'"

Journalists struggling to document the impact of the oil rig explosion have repeatedly found themselves turned away from public areas affected by the spill, and not only by BP and its contractors, but by local law enforcement, the Coast Guard and government officials.

To some critics of the response effort by BP and the government, instances of news media being kept at bay are just another example of a broader problem of officials' filtering what images of the spill the public sees.

Scientists, too, have complained about the trickle of information that has emerged from BP and government sources. Three weeks passed, for instance, from the time the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20 and the first images of oil gushing from an underwater pipe were released by BP.

"I think they've been trying to limit access," said Representative Edward J. Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts who fought BP to release more video from the underwater rovers that have been filming the oil-spewing pipe. "It is a company that was not used to transparency. It was not used to having public scrutiny of what it did."

Officials at BP and the government entities coordinating the response said instances of denying news media access have been anomalies, and they pointed out that the company and the government have gone to great lengths to accommodate the hundreds of journalists who have traveled to the gulf to cover the story. The F.A.A., responding to criticism following the incident with Southern Seaplane, has revised its flight restrictions over the gulf to allow for news media flights on a case-by-case basis.

"Our general approach throughout this response, which is controlled by the Unified Command and is the largest ever to an oil spill," said David H. Nicholas, a BP spokesman, "has been to allow as much access as possible to media and other parties without compromising the work we are engaged on or the safety of those to whom we give access."

Anomalies or not, reporters and photographers continue to be blocked from covering aspects of the spill.

Last week, Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, tried to bring a small group of journalists with him on a trip he was taking through the gulf on a Coast Guard vessel. Mr. Nelson's office said the Coast Guard agreed to accommodate the reporters and camera operators. But at about 10 p.m. on the evening before the trip, someone from the Department of Homeland Security's legislative affairs office called the senator's office to tell them that no journalists would be allowed.

"They said it was the Department of Homeland Security's response-wide policy not to allow elected officials and media on the same 'federal asset,'" said Bryan Gulley, a spokesman for the senator. "No further elaboration" was given, Mr. Gulley added.

Mr. Nelson has asked the Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano, for an official explanation, the senator's office said.

Capt. Ron LaBrec, a Coast Guard spokesman, said that about a week into the cleanup response, the Coast Guard started enforcing a policy that prohibits news media from accompanying candidates for public office on visits to government facilities, "to help manage the large number of requests for media embeds and visits by elected officials."

In a separate incident last week, a reporter and photographer from The Daily News of New York were told by a BP contractor they could not access a public beach on Grand Isle, La., one of the areas most heavily affected by the oil spill. The contractor summoned a local sheriff, who then told the reporter, Matthew Lysiak, that news media had to fill out paperwork and then be escorted by a BP official to get access to the beach.

BP did not respond to requests for comment about the incident.

"For the police to tell me I needed to sign paperwork with BP to go to a public beach?" Mr. Lysiak said. "It's just irrational."

In the first few weeks after the oil rig explosion, BP kept a tight lid on images of the oil leaking into the gulf. Even when it released the first video of the spewing oil on May 12, it provided only a 30-second clip. The most detailed images did not become public until two weeks ago when BP gave members of Congress access to internal video feeds from its underwater rovers. Without BP's permission, some members of Congress displayed the video for news networks like CNN, which carried them live.

For journalists on the ground, particularly photographers who hire their own planes, one of the major sources of frustration has been the flight restrictions over the water, where access is off limits in a vast area from the Louisiana bayous to Pensacola, Fla. Each time they fly in the area, they have to be granted permission from the F.A.A.

"Although there's a tremendous amount of oil, finding out exactly where it's washing ashore or where booming is going on is very difficult," said John McCusker, a photographer with The Times-Picayune. "At 3,000 feet you're shooting through clouds, and it's difficult to tell the difference between an oil slick and a shadow from a cloud."

A spokeswoman for the agency, Laura J. Brown, said the flight restrictions are necessary to prevent civilian air traffic from interfering with aircraft assisting the response effort.

Ms. Brown also said the Coast Guard-F.A.A. command center that turned away Southern Seaplane was enforcing the essential-flights-only policy in place at the time; and she said the BP contractor who answered the phone was there because the F.A.A. operations center is in one of BP's buildings.

"That person was not making decisions about whether aircraft are allowed to enter the airspace," Ms. Brown said.

But the incident with Southern Seaplane is not the only example of journalists being told they cannot go somewhere simply because they are journalists. CBS News reported last month that one of its news crews was threatened with arrest for trying to film a public beach where oil had washed ashore. The Coast Guard said later that it was disappointed to learn of the incident.

Media access in disaster situations is always an issue. But the situation in the gulf is especially nettlesome because journalists have to depend on the government and BP to gain access to so much of the affected area.

Michael Oreskes, senior managing editor at the Associated Press, likened the situation to reporters being embedded with the military in Afghanistan. "There is a continued effort to keep control over the access," Mr. Oreskes said. "And even in places where the government is cooperating with us to provide access, it's still a problem because it's still access obtained through the government."

30% Increase in Trade Unionists Killed World-Wide

101 Trade Unionists Murdered in 2009; Pressure on Workers’ Rights Grows as Crisis Hits Jobs

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The ITUC’s Annual Survey of Trade Union Rights has documented a dramatic increase in the number of trade unionists murdered in 2009, with 101 killings – an increase of 30% over the previous year. The Survey, released today, also reveals growing pressure on fundamental workers’ rights around the world as the impact of the global economic crisis on employment deepened.

Of 101 murdered, 48 were killed in Colombia, 16 in Guatemala, 12 in Honduras, six in Mexico, six in Bangladesh, four in Brazil, three in the Dominican Republic, three in the Philippines, one in India, one in Iraq and one in Nigeria. Twenty-two of the Colombian trade unionists who were killed were senior trade union leaders and five were women, as the onslaught of previous years continued. The rise in violence in Guatemala and Honduras also followed a trend developing in recent years.

“Colombia was yet again the country where standing up for fundamental rights of workers is more likely than anywhere else to mean a death sentence, despite the Colombian government’s public relations campaign to the contrary. The worsening situation in Guatemala, Honduras and several other countries is also cause for extreme concern,” said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder.

This year’s report again records an extensive list of violations suffered by trade unionists struggling to defend workers’ interests, this time in 140 countries. Many other violations remain unreported, as working women and men are deprived of the means to have their voices heard, or fear to speak out due to the consequences to their jobs or even to their physical safety. Along with the appalling list of killings, the Survey provides detailed documentation of harassment, intimidation and other forms of anti-union persecution. A further ten attempted murders and 35 serious death threats were recorded, again mostly in Colombia and Guatemala. Furthermore, many trade unionists remained in prison and were joined by around hundred newly imprisoned in 2009. Many others were arrested in Iran, Honduras, Pakistan, South Korea, Turkey and Zimbabwe in particular. The general trade union rights’ situation has continued to deteriorate in a number of other countries, including Egypt, the Russian Federation, South Korea and Turkey.

Anti-democratic forces continued to target union activity, aware that unions are often in the front line in the defence of democracy. This was evident in Honduras during the post-coup violence and in Guinea during a protest demonstration against the ruling junta which turned into a terrible massacre on 28 September.

Numerous cases of strike-breaking and repression of striking workers were documented in each region. Thousands of workers demonstrating to claim wages, denounce harsh working conditions or the harmful effects of the global financial and economical crisis faced beatings, arrest and detention, including in Algeria, Argentina, Belarus, Burma, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Honduras, India, Iran, Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan and Turkey. Dismissals of workers due to their trade union activities were reported in many countries. In Bangladesh, six garment workers on strike for a pay increase and settlement of outstanding wages died after a police intervention.

Union busting and pressure continued to be widely used by employers. In several countries, companies threatened workers with closure or transfer of production sites if they organised or joined a trade union. Often employers simply refused to negotiate with legitimate workers’ representatives while the authorities did nothing. Some labour codes were amended to permit more “flexibility” and to unravel social welfare systems, which often impacted the existing industrial relations systems and thus curtailed trade union rights.

The undermining of internationally-recognised labour standards saw more and more workers facing insecurity and vulnerability in employment, with some 50% of the global workforce now in precarious jobs. This affected workers in export processing zones, especially in South East Asia and Central America, domestic workers, particularly in the Middle East and South East Asia, and migrants and agricultural workers. Many of the worst affected sectors have high concentrations of women workers. Furthermore, the growth of informal employment and the development of new “atypical” forms of employment were seen across both regions and industrial sectors. The difficulties faced by these workers to organise or exercise their trade union rights are directly related to their highly vulnerable position in the labour market.

The Survey also highlights many cases where, while trade union rights are officially protected in legislation, restrictions on legal coverage and weak or non-existent enforcement added to the vulnerability of workers already struggling in the depths of the crisis. Severe restrictions or outright prohibition of strikes also exist in a large number of countries. Furthermore, complex procedural requirements, imposition of compulsory arbitration and the use of excessively broad definitions of “essential services” provisions often make the exercise of trade union rights impossible in practice, depriving workers of their legitimate rights to union representation and participation in industrial action.

The ITUC report notes that 2009 was the 60th Anniversary of the ILO Convention 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining, which has still not been ratified by countries such as Canada, China, India, Iran, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam. Thus, approximately half of the world’s economically active population is not covered by the Convention.

“This year’s ITUC survey shows that the majority of the world’s workers still lack effective protection of their rights to organise trade unions and bargain collectively. This is a major factor in the long-term increase in economic inequality within and between countries. Inadequate incomes for much of the world’s workforce helped cause the global economic crisis, and is making it much harder to put the economy on a path of sustainable growth,” said Ryder.

Obama Shies from Real Intel Reform

Obama Shies from Real Intel Reform

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Editor’s Note: President Obama has sought to counter right-wing and Republican attacks on him as “soft” on national security by staffing top positions with retired senior military officers, but the shortage of civilian experts has created an imbalance in how geopolitical problems are viewed.

Now, with the choice of a retired general to replace an ex-admiral as “intelligence czar,” Obama is repeating the pattern, as former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman notes in this guest essay:

President Barack Obama's appointment of retired Gen. James Clapper as the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) demonstrates the Pentagon's enormous influence over the President and indicates that there is little likelihood of genuine reform of the hidebound intelligence community.

Once again, the President has appointed a general officer to an important strategic position that should be in the hands of an experienced civilian who understands the need for change.

President Obama has given career military officers the key positions of national security adviser, ambassadors to Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia and DNI (on two occasions in a 17-month period). Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is about to name a retired general who was responsible for special operations in Afghanistan as the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism.

These career military officers are not known for strategic thinking, having been trained to focus on worst-case assessments of geopolitical problems. It is no wonder that there have been few diplomatic successes during the Obama administration, that the State Department remains underused and without influence and that the humongous Pentagon budget remains largely untouchable.

In the political panic that followed the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration permitted the creation of two large bureaucratic entities - the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of National Intelligence (ONI).
Both have been largely sclerotic and demonstrated genuine incompetence, DHS during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and ONI during the attempted suicide bombing of a commercial airliner in 2009.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration has convinced the mainstream media that Clapper's predecessor, retired Adm. Dennis Blair, was forced to resign because of the pathetic performance of the intelligence community in December 2009 when the young Nigerian bomber was permitted to board a commercial airline.

Blair also was hurt by the Central Intelligence Agency’s incredible incompetence in a series of events that led to the successful bombing attack against its most important operational base in Afghanistan.

In fact, Blair cannot be blamed for these intelligence failures. The CIA, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), the National Security Agency (NSA) and the State Department were all at fault for the attempted suicide bombing.

The State Department ignored the Nigerian's multiple-entry visa for the United States; the State Department and the CIA ignored warnings from the Nigerian's father; the NSA didn't exploit collection opportunities that would have provided significant information; and NCTC failed to pursue information that would have placed the Nigerian on a no-fly list.

Part of the problem also could be blamed on Congress for its ill-considered, post-9/11 “reforms.” The NCTC should have had operational control of counterterrorism operations, but the 2004 statute that created Blair's position specifically states that the NCTC director "may not direct the execution of counterterrorism operations."

President Obama's principal adviser on counterterrorism, John Brennan, should have taken this problem to Congress, where it needs to be corrected; he still hasn't done so. None of the numerous human errors that were made could be placed at Blair's door; yet except for Blair’s ouster, no one has been held accountable or even responsible.

Blair's major problem was one he shares with many general and flag officers who lack experience in Washington but are placed in sensitive political positions for which they are not prepared.

As a result, Blair created unnecessary battles within the intelligence community that he was destined to lose, particularly the effort to control the appointment of chiefs in CIA stations that are located in U.S. embassies around the world. Station chiefs have always been CIA operations officers and it simply made no sense to raise the possibility of placing NSA officers or Defense Intelligence Agency officers as station chiefs.

Blair lost that battle, but that did not stop him from trying to halt all clandestine operations in France, which would have weakened the CIA's counterterrorism mission and placed the CIA too close to a French intelligence operation that has been penetrated by foreign intelligence over the years.

Blair also never established a personal rapport with President Obama, despite his regular visits to the White House to conduct intelligence briefings. Military officers typically lack the background and experience to provide these largely geopolitical briefings, which should be given by intelligence professionals.

If President Obama were truly interested in intelligence reform, he would have abolished the Office of National Intelligence and the position of intelligence czar or at least placed the DNI in civilian hands to counter the Pentagon's control of intelligence personnel and intelligence spending.

The Pentagon already controls nearly 85 percent of the $70 billion intelligence budget and nearly 90 percent of the 100,000 intelligence personnel. Active duty and retired general officers now command nearly all of the major institutions of the intelligence community, although my 18 years on the faculty of the National War College confirmed my impression that military officers are not distinguished in the fields of strategic intelligence or geopolitical problem solving.

Strategic management of the 16 agencies of the intelligence community is the DNI's major challenge, but the last three intelligence czars have been unqualified general and flag officers. The absence of an independent civilian to counter the power of military intelligence threatens civilian control of the decision to use military power and makes it more likely that intelligence will be tailored to suit the purposes of the Pentagon.

The President's erratic decision making on Afghanistan over the past year points to military domination of the decision-making process.

Finally, the mainstream media, particularly The New York Times, has demonstrated an ability to accept briefing guidance from the White House on the Clapper appointment and an inability to scrutinize Obama's actions.
Saturday's New York Times, for example, cited Clapper's "decades of experience" without mentioning that his experience in communications intelligence and military spy operations is not relevant to his major missions as intelligence czar.

The Times credited the President with "pushing the reset button" in order to "recalibrate the intelligence structure," when Clapper's appointment really amounts to new wine in old bottles.

The Times also discussed Clapper's ability to refashion and reorganize the intelligence community, without noting that the Pentagon's undersecretary of defense for intelligence has veto power over the ability of the DNI to transfer personnel or budgetary authority from individual intelligence agencies into joint centers or other agencies in order to integrate strategic intelligence.

Clapper is familiar with this problem even if the mainstream media isn't; he served as undersecretary for intelligence for both Secretaries of Defense Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld.

At that time, moreover, Clapper was responsible for managing the Counterintelligence Field Activities Office, which managed an illegal database that included information about antiwar protests planned at churches, schools and Quaker meeting halls. Perhaps, some of these issues will be raised at his Senate confirmation hearings.

Obama Goes with Neocon Flow on Iran

Obama Goes with Neocon Flow on Iran

The Obama administration is celebrating its victory in getting the UN Security Council on Wednesday to approve a fourth round of economic sanctions against Iran. Obama also is expected to sign on to even more draconian penalties that should soon sail through Congress.

Obama may be thinking that his UN diplomatic achievement will buy him some credibility – and some time – with American neocons and Israel’s Likud government, which favor a showdown with Iran over its nuclear program.

However, the end result of the new sanctions may well be a greater likelihood that the debate within the Iranian government will tilt toward a decision to proceed with ever-higher-level enrichment of uranium and possibly construction of a nuclear bomb as the only means of self-defense.

That may be the opposite of what Obama seeks, but it is what the neocons and Likud would cite as justification for another Middle East war.

Just as the neocons and Israel wanted “regime change” in Iraq, they have long hungered for “regime change” in Iran, too. A favorite neocon joke at the time of the Iraq War was to speculate on which direction to go next, to Syria or Iran, with the punch-line, “Real men to go Tehran!”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that he considers the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon an “existential threat” to Israel, one that would justify a military strike. While Israel’s powerful air force would likely inflict the first blows, national security analysts believe that the U.S. military would be pulled in to finish off Iran’s military capabilities.

The neocon/Likud hope would be that these military attacks would embolden Iran’s internal opposition to rise up and overthrow the Islamic system that has governed Iran since 1979, in other words, “regime change.” Much like the neocon/Likud thinking about Iraq, however, these grandiose plans often end up with unpredictable and bloody outcomes.

Many war-gamers believe the economic, geo-political and military consequences of an attack on Iran are impossible to gauge, though some in the U.S. military fear that such a conflict could ignite a regional war and cause serious strategic damage to the United States. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Bomb-Bomb-Iran Parlor Game.”]

President Onboard?

Whether President Obama comprehends these risks – or may invite them – is unclear. What is known is that he staffed his administration with a number of hardliners on Iran, from Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State to Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff. Voices of moderation, if there are any, have been noticeably silent.

Some analysts believe that the President is a relative “dove” on Iran, citing his private letter to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva that encouraged Brazil and Turkey to work out a deal to get Iran to transfer about half its low-enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for more highly enriched uranium that could only be used for peaceful medical purposes.

However, after Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan got Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to agree to that deal, the arrangement was denounced by Secretary of State Clinton and was ridiculed by the major U.S. news media, including the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Even after Brazil released Obama’s supportive letter, the President would not publicly defend his position. Instead, his administration pressed ahead with the new round of sanctions.

What is also clear is that tough-guy-ism is running strong, much like it was in the months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

A New York Times editorial on Thursday praised the new round of anti-Iran sanctions, but complained they “do not go far enough.” Still, the Times took encouragement from the hope that the United States and European countries might impose much harsher sanctions on their own.

The Times also took another mocking swipe at Brazil and Turkey, which voted against the new sanctions from their temporary seats on the Security Council.

“The day’s most disturbing development was the two no votes in the Security Council from Turkey and Brazil,” the Times wrote. “Both are disappointed that their efforts to broker a nuclear deal with Iran didn’t go far. Like pretty much everyone else, they were played by Tehran.”

Though this Times point of view fits with neocon orthodoxy – that any reasonable move toward peace and away from confrontation is a sign of naivete and weakness – the fact is that the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal was torpedoed by the United States, after Obama had encouraged it. This wasn’t a case of the two countries being “played by Tehran.”

The Real Agenda

The Times star columnist Thomas L. Friedman has more explicitly laid out the real goal regarding Iran, not nuclear safeguards, but “regime change.” In a May 26 column, Friedman wrote that the United States should do whatever it can to help Iran’s internal opposition overthrow President Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Islamic-directed government.

“In my view, the ‘Green Revolution’ in Iran is the most important, self-generated, democracy movement to appear in the Middle East in decades,” Friedman wrote.

“It has been suppressed, but it is not going away, and, ultimately, its success — not any nuclear deal with the Iranian clerics — is the only sustainable source of security and stability. We have spent far too little time and energy nurturing that democratic trend and far too much chasing a nuclear deal.”

Friedman’s argument again tracks with the neocon case for war with Iran – as he earlier was onboard for war with Iraq – claiming that “regime change” was the only acceptable outcome.

As an institution, the New York Times also played a key role in making war with Iraq inevitable, with bogus reporting about Iraq getting aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges. Similarly, in the case of Iran, the Times and other leading U.S. news outlets have promoted the propaganda line that Iran’s presidential election last June was “fraudulent” or “rigged.”

However, an analysis by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes found that there was little evidence to support allegations of fraud or to conclude that most Iranians viewed Ahmadinejad’s reelection as illegitimate.

Not a single Iranian poll analyzed by PIPA – whether before or after the June 12 election, whether conducted inside or outside Iran – showed Ahmadinejad with less than majority support. None showed the much-touted Green Movement’s candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi ahead or even close.

"These findings do not prove that there were no irregularities in the election process,” said Steven Kull, director of PIPA. “But they do not support the belief that a majority rejected Ahmadinejad." [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Ahmadinejad Won, Get Over It!”]

Nevertheless, President Obama has refused to contest Washington’s conventional wisdom on the Iranian election or to buck the neocon-favored trend toward a heightened confrontation with Iran.

Having let his administration rebuff the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal in favor of more UN sanctions and soon even tougher U.S. sanctions, Obama has let his foreign policy either drift – or be piloted – toward a worsening crisis.

The deficit, budget cuts & the Pentagon budget

The deficit, budget cuts & the Pentagon budget

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The money the U.S. government will spend this year on the Pentagon and its wars, past and present, is approaching the total of the budgets of all 50 U.S. states combined.

Even as funding for education, health care, parks and recreation, senior centers, environmental protection, and all the other vital services provided by federal, state and local governments is being cut, the Pentagon budget is continuing to grow.

In the current fiscal year (FY2011), the budget for the Department of Defense, including what is to be spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, comes to $876 billion — an increase of 8 percent over last year.

However, this is only part of the enormous cost of U.S. militarism. Add to that the $522 billion being spent this year to cover the cost of past wars, including veterans’ benefits and interest on the debts incurred to pay for war, and the total amount becomes $1.39 trillion. (War Resisters League pie chart)

The money that all 50 state governments spend for everything they do is expected to add up to $1.43 trillion this year. (usgovernmentspending.com) It may not get that high. State budgets are being drastically shrunk as federal monies and tax revenues dry up; new cuts are being announced every week.

Increasingly the billions wasted on war are aggravating the deteriorating conditions for tens of millions of workers and their families. It is up to the most determined political activists to connect the dots and make the connections widely known.

When protesters at the closing of a hospital, school or library chant: “Health care, not war!” “Education, not war!” “Jobs, not war!” or “Feed the people, not the Pentagon!” these are more than just slogans. They reflect the reality of every state and city facing an unsolvable budget crisis and cuts at a time when the only authorized funding increases are for the military budget and repression at home.

The script is the same everywhere. Workers are told that due to a sharp decline in tax revenue, there is no money for state, county and city projects. What isn’t said is that the decline in taxes is caused by a capitalist economic crisis, where the bosses deal with the collapse of the markets by throwing workers out of their jobs.

With a decline of 10 percent in revenue from state and local taxes, every governor, mayor and city council is claiming that it is impossible to solve their budget gaps except by attacking the living standards of working people and the poor. Union contracts are being shredded and public workers illegally furloughed in total violation of these legal documents.

Hospitals, schools, libraries, recreation centers, after-school programs and health clinics are forced to close or dramatically cut their staffs, hours and programs for lack of funding, not for lack of need. But there are no moves to freeze interest payments on tax-exempt bonds held by banks and multimillionaires.

Of course, a dramatic increase in funds from the federal government could immediately ease this crisis that the working class is facing. A massive federal jobs program and an emergency moratorium on housing foreclosures and evictions are needed.

The federal government has instead committed $10.5 trillion to bailing out the banks. And on Feb. 1 President Barack Obama announced that this year’s federal budget contained a three-year hard freeze on all nonmilitary discretionary funding.

The announcement drew scant media attention at the time. But the impact is being felt now and the pain of the drastic freeze will be increasingly felt. Because of inflation, the three-year freeze is actually an annual and cumulative cut in funds to states and cities.

Social programs will face further cuts than just those caused by inflation because almost half of military spending is hidden in discretionary funding. President Obama’s announcement made it clear that there would be no freeze in military funding. Protected multibillion-dollar programs include foreign arms sales, nuclear weapons maintenance and policy- driven foreign assistance programs.

Capitalism and militarism

This budget freeze, announced as a measure to rein in the deficit, will supposedly save $250 billion over 10 years. That is less than 3 percent of the $9 trillion that is projected to be added to the national debt during this period.

Despite all the promises and all the hype, this freeze in discretionary funding confirms that there are no plans to create millions of jobs, halt millions of scheduled foreclosures or reconstruct the deteriorating infrastructure.

The only planned increases are in the trillions of dollars for high-tech weapons systems that generate superprofits for the giant military corporations. The military budget is projected to grow by at least 5 percent a year. There was no congressional or corporate media opposition to this multibillion-dollar deficit buster.

The $250 billion saved over 10 years in the freeze of discretionary funding will be quickly squandered. The Pentagon plans to spend $240 billion on 2,400 new Joint Strike Fighter planes, at $100 million a plane.

And it will be gobbled up in one year in military cost overruns. President Obama on signing the 2010 Pentagon budget said, “The Government Accountability Office, the GAO, has looked into 96 major defense projects from the last year, and found cost overruns that totaled $296 billion.” (whitehouse.gov, Oct. 28)

A big chunk of every state and city budget is interest payments to banks and bondholders for past projects. These interest payments must be made on time and in full or the bankers threaten their credit rating and all future loans, creating a worse financial crisis.

In the face of this crisis for the working class, it is essential that Marxists explain in all of their literature and campaigns some basic facts of capitalism. The workers create all the fabulous wealth of the capitalist system. The economic crisis is not caused by giving the workers too much. It is caused by the unplanned overproduction of goods that are too numerous to be sold at a profit by the capitalist owners. Even spending trillions of dollars on military expenditures is no longer enough to sop up this overproduction.

The federal budget deficit is caused by the hundreds of billions handed out annually over decades to the military corporations and the trillions of dollars handed to the banks to guarantee their profits. The debt also ballooned when the government drastically cut taxes on the rich.

Another part of federal, state and city budgets that the capitalist decision makers will not cut is expenses for police, prisons and courts. This repressive role of the capitalist state functions at every level, from 1,000 military bases around the world to police and cameras on every corner. It is an indispensable part of protecting profits, not human lives.

Federal budget freeze

It is essential for political activists to look closely at what drastic cuts are being projected to begin to plan counteroffensives with the workers who will be most directly impacted.

The federal budget freeze will cause immediate and continuing reductions in agencies such as Health and Human Services, which funds low-income preschool Head Start programs; aid to pregnant women, infants and seniors; food and drug safety; and disease prevention. It will impact Housing and Urban Development, which provides funds for affordable housing, antipoverty programs and infrastructure development. These two departments, along with transportation, agriculture and energy, receive a combined $250 billion in federal funding.

A freeze in the Department of Agriculture immediately impacts food stamp programs and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The Department of Transportation will have even fewer funds for infrastructure maintenance of bridges, roads, airports, pipelines and hazardous waste systems.

Also targeted by the federal funds freeze are the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Parks Service, the National Science Foundation and the Army Corps of Engineers flood control programs.

The Pentagon budget is not only an enormous waste of the resources of the planet. It also funds the slaughter of peoples struggling to control their own destiny and its doomsday weapons systems pollute the whole environment.

Military expenditures cannot save the capitalist system. But they can ruin millions of lives.