Sunday, July 25, 2010

Money Laundering and the Global Drug Trade are Fueled by the Capitalist Elites

Money Laundering and the Global Drug Trade are Fueled by the Capitalist Elites

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When investigative journalist Daniel Hopsicker broke the story four years ago that a DC-9 (N900SA) "registered to a company which once used as its address the hangar of Huffman Aviation, the flight school at the Venice, Florida Airport which trained both terrorist pilots who crashed planes into the World Trade Center, was caught in Campeche by the Mexican military ... carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine destined for the U.S.," it elicited a collective yawn from corporate media.

And when authorities searched the plane and found its cargo consisted solely of 128 identical black suitcases marked "private," packed with cocaine valued at more than $100 million, the silence was deafening.

But now a Bloomberg Markets magazine report, "Wachovia's Drug Habit," reveals that drug traffickers bought that plane, and perhaps fifty others, "with laundered funds they transferred through two of the biggest banks in the U.S.," Wachovia and Bank of America.

The Justice Department charge sheet against the bank tells us that between 2003 and 2008, Wachovia handled $378.4 billion for Mexican currency exchanges, "the largest violation of the Bank Secrecy Act, an anti-money-laundering law, in U.S. history."

"A sum" Bloomberg averred, equal to one-third of Mexico's current gross domestic product."

Since 2006, some 22,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence. Thousands more have been wounded, countless others "disappeared," torture and illegal imprisonment is rampant.

In a frightening echo of the Reagan administration's anti-communist jihad in Central America during the 1980s, the Bush and now, Obama administration has poured fuel on the fire with some $1.4 billion in "War on Drugs" funding under Plan Mérida. Much of that "aid" is destined to purchase military equipment for repressive police, specialized paramilitary units and the Mexican Army.

There is also evidence of direct U.S. military involvement. In June, The Narco News Bulletin reported that "a special operations task force under the command of the Pentagon is currently in place south of the border providing advice and training to the Mexican Army in gathering intelligence, infiltrating and, as needed, taking direct action against narco-trafficking organizations."

One former U.S. government official told investigative journalist Bill Conroy, "'Black operations have been going on forever. The recent [mainstream] media reports about those operations under the Obama administration make it sound like it's a big scoop, but it's nothing new for those who understand how things really work'."

But, as numerous investigations by American and Mexican journalists have revealed, there is strong evidence of collusion between the Mexican Army and the Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels. A former Juarez police commander told NPR in May that "the intention of the army is to try and get rid of the Juarez cartel, so that [Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman] Chapo's [Sinaloa] cartel is the strongest."

The cosy relations among the world's biggest banks, drug trafficking organizations and the U.S. military-intelligence apparatus is not however, a new phenomenon. What is different today is the scale and sheer scope of the corruption involved. As Michel Chossudovsky points out,

"This trade can only prosper if the main actors involved in narcotics have "political friends in high places." As legal and illegal undertakings are increasingly intertwined, the dividing line between "businesspeople" and criminals is blurred. In turn, the relationship among criminals, politicians and members of the intelligence establishment has tainted the structures of the state and the role of its institutions, including the military." (The Global Economic Crisis: The Great Depression of the XXI Century, Montreal:Global Research, 2010, pp. 195-196)

While the Bloomberg story should cast new light on highly-profitable links amongst major financial institutions and narcotrafficking organizations in what may be protected drug rackets green-lighted by corrupt officials, media silence, particularly by outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and theFinancial Times, threaten to propel what should be an international scandal into a one-off news item scheduled for a trip down the memory hole.

"Cocaine One"

If, as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman claims "the hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist," then perhaps too, drug cartels work their "market magic" with their own "hidden fist" or, as the Russians like to say akrysha, a web of protectors--and facilitators--drawn from business, finance, organized crime and the secret world of intelligence.

Dubbed "Cocaine One" by Hopsicker, the DC-9 was curious for a number of reasons, not least of which was the fact that "one of the chief shareholders" of a dodgy outfit called SkyWay Aircraft "is a private investment bank in Dallas which also raised funds for a Mexican industrialist with reported ties to a Cali and Juarez Cartel narcotics trafficker."

More curious still, the airline kitted-out its fleet with distinctive colors and a seal "designed to impersonate planes from the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security." And when he learned that "SkyWay's genesis can be traced to In-Q-Tel Inc., a secretive, Arlington, Va., investment group owned, operated, and financed out of the black box budget of the Central Intelligence Agency," well you can bet corporate media ran themselves ragged investigating that!

To top it off, when another drug plane crash landed in the Yucatan Peninsula eighteen months later and broke apart, a Gulfstream II business jet (N987SA) that spilled "4 tons of cocaine across a muddy field," Hopsicker reported that it had originated from the same network and used the same source for its financing, the "Casa de Cambio Puebla SA, a country-wide network of currency exchanges."

And to make matters even more intriguing from a parapolitical perspective, after searching through FAA records Hopsickerdiscovered that the Gulfstream II business jet "was owned by a secretive Midwestern media baron and Republican fund-raiser, who had a business partner who, incredibly, owned the otherAmerican drug plane, the DC-9, recently busted in Mexico."

In fact, as Bloomberg investigative journalist Michael Smith learned years later, these were the same planes and samecurrency exchange which Hopsicker reported back in 2007 traffickers had used to purchase drug jets with funds laundered through Wachovia.

"One customer that Wachovia took on in 2004 was Casa de Cambio Puebla SA," Smith wrote. The Puebla, Mexico currency exchange was the brainchild of Pedro Alatorre, a "businessman" who "had created front companies for cartels."

Alatorre, and 70 others connected to his network, were seized in 2007 by Mexican law enforcement officials. Authorities discovered that the accused drug money launderer and airline broker for the cartels controlled 23 accounts at the Wachovia Bank branch in Miami and that it held some $11 million, subsequently frozen by U.S. investigators.

In 2008, a Miami federal grand jury indicted Alatorre, now awaiting trial in Mexico along with three other executives, charging them with drug trafficking and money laundering, accusing the company of using "shell firms to launder $720 million through U.S. banks." The Justice Department is currently seeking Alatorre's extradition from Mexico.

According to Bloomberg, "Puebla executives used the stolen identities of 74 people to launder money through Wachovia accounts." Jose Luis Marmolejo, the former head of the Mexican attorney general's financial crimes unit told Smith, "Wachovia handled all the transfers, and they never reported any as suspicious."

Some $300,000 was transferred by Wachovia to a Bank of America branch in Oklahoma City. With cash in hand Bloomberg reports, traffickers "used the funds to buy the DC-9 through Oklahoma City aircraft broker U.S. Aircraft Titles Inc." When queried by Smith about the sale, "U.S. Aircraft Titles President Sue White declined to comment."

Jeffrey Sloman, the federal prosecutor who handled the Wachovia case said in a press release that "Wachovia's blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations."

Yet, as Hopsicker wrote nearly three years ago, "the politically-explosive implications of the scandal may explain why American officials have been reluctant to move against, or even name, the true owners of the planes and basically 'turned a blind eye' to the American involvement exposed by the drug trafficking seizures."

As of this writing, no Americans have been criminally charged in the cash-for drug planes banking conspiracy.

"Troubled Assets" or Something More Sinister?

When Wells Fargo bought Wachovia, once America's fourth largest bank in 2008 at the fire-sale price of $12.8 billion, the bank and its former CEO, Kennedy "Ken" Thompson, who "retired at the request of the board" before the full-extent of the financial meltdown hit home, were in deep trouble.

Before the Wells takeover, Wachovia had been on a veritable shopping spree. After the firm's 2001 merger with First Union Bank, Wachovia merged with the Prudential Securities division of Prudential Financial, Inc., with Wachovia controlling the lion's share of the firm's $532.1 billion in assets. This was followed by the bank's purchase of Metropolitan West Securities, adding a $50 billion portfolio of securities and loans to the bank's Lending division. In 2004, Wachovia followed-up with the $14.3 billion acquisition of SouthTrust Corporation.

Apparently flush with cash and new market clout, Wachovia set it sights on acquiring California-based Golden West Financial. Golden West operated branches under the name World Savings Bank and was the nation's second largest savings and loan. At the time of the buy-out, Golden West had over $125 billion in assets. For Wachovia however, it was a deal too far.

With an enormous housing bubble fully inflated, and a new speculative merger-mania in full swing, one can only surmise that the need for liquidity at any price, had driven banking giants such as Wachovia to play dumb when shadier, yet highly-profitable transactions, such as the "arrangement" with Casa de Cambio Puebla SA, were involved.

Bleeding cash faster than you can say "mortgage backed securities," Wachovia was on the hook for their 2006 $26 billion buy-out of Golden West Financial at the peak of the housing bubble, a move that BusinessWeek reported generated "resistance from his own management team" but ignored by Thompson.

Why? "Because no one outside of Thompson and Golden West CEO Herb Sandler seemed to like the deal from the moment it was announced," a company insider told BusinessWeek.

While the buy-out may have given Thompson "the beachhead in California he had long desired ... the ink was barely dry on the Golden West deal in late 2006 when the housing bubble in markets including California and Florida began to deflate."

Hammered by the housing bust, Wachovia's share price, which had risen to $70.51 per share when the Golden West deal was announced had slid to $5.71 per share by October 2008. In other words, Wachovia, along with the world's economy, began circling the proverbial drain.

However you slice it, although it was clear that the Golden West deal had gone south quicker than you can say "credit default swaps," this didn't seem to stop Wachovia from paying "smartest guy in the room" Thompson $15.6 million in total compensation in 2007, a year after the fatal Golden West transaction. Nor did these losses stop the bank from showering Thompson with a severance package worth nearly $8 million.

But was something else going on here?

Wells Fargo bank admitted in a signed Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the federal government that they would not contest charges brought by the Justice Department in itsindictment of the bank.

The banking giant was forced to admit charges by prosecutors that "On numerous occasions, monies were deposited into a CDC [Casa de Cambio] by a drug trafficking organization. Using false identities, the CDC then wired that money through its Wachovia correspondent bank accounts for the purchase of airplanes for drug trafficking organizations. On various dates between 2004 and 2007, at least four of those airplanes were seized by foreign law enforcement agencies cooperating with the United States and were found to contain large quantities of cocaine."

Bloomberg reported that Wells Fargo, in the wake of the settlement "declined to answer specific questions, including how much it made by handling $378.4 billion--including $4 billion of cash--from Mexican exchange companies."

There was however, more than "troubled assets" and charges of money laundering to the story. In fact, the purchase of these drug planes have been tied to some of the Bush administration's most secretive "War On Terror" programs.

Drug Flights, CIA Renditions. Just Another Day at the Office!

Replicating a pattern used by the Central Intelligence Agency during the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, the secret state used a network of cut-outs and legitimate businesses to transport prisoners to Agency black sites for "special handling."

During Iran-Contra it was "guns in, drugs out." Today one might say its "drugs in, tortured prisoners out." The results however, were the same; egregious crimes and lawbreaking on a staggering scale.

Subsequent investigations by Narco News revealed that "this particular Gulfstream II (tail number N987SA), was used between 2003 and 2005 by the CIA for at least three trips between the U.S. east coast and Guantanamo Bay, home to the infamous 'terrorist' prison camp," Bill Conroy reported.

"In addition," Conroy wrote, "the two SkyWay companies are associated with individuals who have done highly sensitive work for the Department of Defense or U.S. intelligence agencies, public records show and Narco News sources confirm."

According to AFP, the Mexican daily El Universal said "it had obtained documents from the United States and the European Parliament which 'show that that plane flew several times to Guantanamo, Cuba, presumably to transfer terrorism suspects,'" the French newswire reported.

The plane was carrying "Colombian drugs" bound for the U.S. for the "fugitive leader of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin 'Chapo' Guzman," when it crashed in the Yucatan.

According to El Universal, the Federal Aviation Administration's "logbook registered that the plane had traveled between US territory and the US military base in Guantanamo," and that its last registered owner was "Clyde O'Connor in Pompano Beach, Florida."

The Independent confirmed separately in January of this year that "Evidence points to aircraft--familiarly known as 'torture taxis'--used by the CIA to move captives seized in its kidnapping or 'extraordinary rendition' operations through Gatwick and other airports in the EU being simultaneously used for drug distribution in the Western hemisphere."

Hugh O'Shaughnessy, confirming earlier reporting by Bill Conroy and Daniel Hopsicker said that "a Gulfstream II jet aircraft N9875A identified by the British Government and the European Parliament as being involved in this traffic crashed in Mexico in September 2008 while en route from Colombia to the US with a load of more than three tons of cocaine."

While O'Shaughnessy got the tail-number and date wrong, he's correct when he states that U.S. intelligence assets "continue the drug dealing they indulged in during the Iran-Contra affair of the Reagan years."

Narco News, citing DEA sources, learned that the crashed Gulfstream loaded with four tons of cocaine "was part of an operation being carried out by a Department of Homeland Security agency."

However in a later report, Mark Conrad, a former supervisory special agent with ICE's predecessor agency, U.S. Customs, toldNarco News that the crashed Gulfstream used to transport drugs and prisoners was controlled by the CIA and "that the CIA, not ICE ... [was] actually the U.S. agency controlling the ... operation. If this were the case, then "any individuals or companies involved in a CIA-backed operation, even ones that are complicit in drug trafficking, would be off limits to U.S. law enforcers due to the cloak of national security the CIA can invoke."

In other words, a jet purchased by drug traffickers with funds laundered through an American bank and used in the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program may have been part of aprotected drug operation by U.S. intelligence agencies. An operation furthermore, whose purpose is still unknown.

This report tracks closely with evidence uncovered by Peter Dale Scott. In a recent piece in Japan Focus Scott wrote that "it is not surprising that the U.S. Government, following the lead of the CIA, has over the years become a protector of drug traffickers against criminal prosecution in this country."

"A recent spectacular example" Scott tells us, drawing on research from his forthcoming book, is the curious case of CIA Venezuelan asset, General Ramon Guillén Davila.

General Ramon Guillén Davila, chief of a CIA-created anti-drug unit in Venezuela, was indicted in Miami for smuggling a ton of cocaine into the United States. According to the New York Times, "The CIA, over the objections of the Drug Enforcement Administration, approved the shipment of at least one ton of pure cocaine to Miami International Airport as a way of gathering information about the Colombian drug cartels." Time magazine reported that a single shipment amounted to 998 pounds, following earlier ones "totaling nearly 2,000 pounds." Mike Wallace confirmed that "the CIA-national guard undercover operation quickly accumulated this cocaine, over a ton and a half that was smuggled from Colombia into Venezuela." According to the Wall Street Journal, the total amount of drugs smuggled by Gen. Guillén may have been more than 22 tons. (Fueling America's War Machine: Deep Politics and the CIA's Global Drug Connection (in press, due Fall 2010 from Rowman & Littlefield).

Scott adds that "the United States never asked for Guillén's extradition from Venezuela to stand trial; and in 2007, when he was arrested in Venezuela for plotting to assassinate President Hugo Chavez, his indictment was still sealed in Miami. Meanwhile, CIA officer Mark McFarlin, whom DEA Chief Bonner had also wished to indict, was never indicted at all; he merely resigned."

But the stench of Iran-Contra, like that of the CIA's torture program, as with earlier secret state machinations with drug cartels never went away; in fact, like a cancer, one managed drug operation seamlessly metastasized into another.

Greasing the Wheels

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODOC) state in their 2010 Annual Report that "money-laundering is the method by which criminals disguise the illegal origins of their wealth and protect their asset bases in order to avoid suspicion of law enforcement and to prevent leaving a trail of incriminating evidence," and that financial institutions, particularly U.S. and European banks are key to efforts to choke-off illicit profits from the grisly trade.

The trouble is these institutions, along with U.S. intelligence agencies, are the problem.

UNODOC estimate that profits derived from narcotics rackets amount to some $600 billion annually and that up to $1.5 trilliondollars in drug money is laundered through seemingly legitimate enterprises.

Part of the fallout from capitalism's economic meltdown has been that "drugs money worth billions of dollars kept the financial system afloat at the height of the global crisis," The Observer disclosed late last year.

Antonio Maria Costa, UNODOC's director, told the British newspaper he saw evidence that proceeds from the illicit trade were "the only liquid investment capital" available to some banks on the brink of collapse last year and that "a majority of the $352bn (£216bn) of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result."

The UN drugs chief said that in "many instances, the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital." And with markets tanking and major bank failures nearly a daily occurrence, "liquidity was the banking system's main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor."

According to Costa, "Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade and other illegal activities... There were signs that some banks were rescued that way."

Web of Corruption

Although the UN's top anti-narcotics official declined to identify either the countries or banks that have benefited from the murderous trade, a web of corruption envelops the entire financial sector of the capitalist economy as the quest for "liquid assets" trumps everything.

Martin Woods, once director of Wachovia's anti-money-laundering unit in London told Bloomberg, "It's the banks laundering money for the cartels that finances the tragedy." Woods told the magazine he "quit the bank in disgust" after executives "ignored his documentation that drug dealers were funneling money through Wachovia's branch network."

Despite warnings from the Treasury Department since 1996 that Mexican currency exchanges were laundering drug money through U.S. banks, "Wachovia ignored warnings by regulators and police, according to the deferred-prosecution agreement,"Bloomberg reported.

"As early as 2004, Wachovia understood the risk," the bank admitted in court. "Despite these warnings, Wachovia remained in the business."

At the bank's anti-money laundering unit in London, Woods and his counterpart Jim DeFazio in Charlotte, NC told Smith "they suspected that drug dealers were using the bank to move funds."

Former Scotland Yard investigator Woods, said he "spotted illegible signatures and other suspicious markings on traveler's checks from Mexican exchange companies," and that he sent copies of his report to the U.K.'s Financial Services Authority, the DEA and U.S. Treasury Department.

But rather than being rewarded for his diligence, Woods told Smith "his bosses instructed him to keep quiet and tried to have him fired." In one meeting, "a bank official insisted Woods shouldn't have filed suspicious activity reports to the government, as both U.S. and U.K. laws require."

According to a whistleblower suit filed with an employment tribunal in London, Barrons reported last year before the Wachovia scandal broke, that Woods claimed "his bosses bullied and demoted him, then withdrew his reports of other suspicious activities in Eastern Europe."

It gets worse. Woods' complaint alleges "that Wachovia staff may have even tipped off Mexican-exchange clients about his laundering suspicions," and the veteran investigator told Wachovia officials "he feared for his safety."

In response, bank spokesperson Mary Eshet said at the time, "Wachovia believes that it has acted appropriately in its business dealings, and Mr. Woods' claims to the contrary are without merit."

Meanwhile, on the American side of the pond, 21-year FBI veteran DeFazio said "he told bank executives in 2005 that the DEA was probing the transfers through Wachovia to buy the planes." The bank ignored his warnings and continued along on their merry way until their indictment.

The law enforcement veteran told Bloomberg, "I think they looked at the money and said, 'The hell with it. We're going to bring it in, and look at all the money we'll make'."

The former Scotland yard investigator added, "If you don't see the correlation between the money laundering by banks and the 22,000 people killed in Mexico, you're missing the point."

But Wachovia wasn't the only large financial institution "missing the point." Bloomberg also revealed that Bank of America and the London-based "HSBC Holdings Plc, Europe's biggest bank by assets," American Express Bank, Banco Santander SA, Citigroup Inc., as well as "the world's largest money transfer firm," Western Union were also up to their eyeballs in dubious transactions.

In 1994 for example, American Express paid $14 million to settle with the federal government after "two employees were convicted in a criminal case involving drug trafficker Juan Garcia Abrego."

Yet between 1999-2004, Bloomberg reported "the bank failed to stop clients from laundering $55 million of narcotics funds, the bank admitted in a deferred-prosecution agreement in August 2007 ... and paid $65 million to the U.S. and promised not to break the law again." Charges were dismissed a year later under terms of the agreement.

And back in 2004, The Independent disclosed that "HSBC, the UK's largest bank, have been slammed for lax money-laundering procedures in a report by a US Senate subcommittee."

Journalists Hugh O'Shaughnessy and Paul Lashmar revealed that "the UK-based multinational stands accused of laxity in the fight against money laundering, drug trafficking, corruption and terrorism, notably in the oil-rich African state of Equatorial Guinea."

"In one of the few cases" when the scandal-plagued and now-shuttered Riggs Bank "seems to have properly followed US anti-money-laundering legislation," Riggs formally asked HSBC and a Spanish bank, Banco Santander, "to divulge the identities of the owners of two companies that kept accounts with them and that were receiving suspicious wire transfers totalling in excess of $35m (£20m). The banks refused to say who the owners were."

Bloomberg disclosed that "federal agents caught people who work for Mexican cartels depositing illicit funds in Bank of America accounts in Atlanta, Chicago and Brownsville, Texas, from 2002 to 2009." Authorities contend that "Mexican drug dealers used shell companies to open accounts at London-based HSBC."

Nevertheless, neither bank were accused of wrongdoing by the federal government and both firms denied any involvement in money laundering schemes.

Bank of America spokeswoman Shirley Norton told Smith that they "strictly follow the government rules." Norton said, "Bank of America takes its anti-money-laundering responsibilities very seriously," a fact not readily apparent from Bloomberg Marketsinvestigation.

Both Norton and HSBC spokesman Roy Caple told Smith that "[privacy] laws bar them from discussing specific clients."

And so it goes.

Fallout? What Fallout!

In the wake of Wachovia's admission to federal prosecutors, Wells Fargo will pay "$160 million in fines and penalties, less than 2 percent of its $12.3 billion profit in 2009."

"If Wells Fargo keeps its pledge," Bloomberg reports, then "according to the agreement [the federal government will] drop all charges against the bank in March 2011."

Why might that be? Large banks are immune from vigorous prosecution for violating the Bank Secrecy Act "by a variant of the too-big-to-fail theory."

Veteran Senate investigator Jack Blum, who led probes into the Iran-Contra drug connection and the CIA's favorite shadow bank during the 1980s, the Bank of Credit and Commerce (BCCI) toldBloomberg, "the theory is like a get-out-of-jail-free card for big banks."

"There's no capacity to regulate or punish them because they're too big to be threatened with failure," Blum says. "They seem to be willing to do anything that improves their bottom line, until they're caught."

Meanwhile as the bodies pile up, there's no jail time for executives and the assets of firms that could charitably be described as part of a "continuing criminal enterprise" haven't been seized; only a slap on the wrist and a promise to "do better next time."

Anger Rises Over US Tax Dollars for Settlements

Anger Rises Over US Tax Dollars for Settlements

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Ramallah - Anger has arisen in Palestinian areas over reports that millions of tax-exempt dollars from the U.S. are being funneled towards Israel's illegal settlement building in the Palestinian West Bank -- in flagrant violation of international law.

This is happening under the nose of the U.S. administration despite its claims of support for a two-state solution and criticism of Israel's continued settlement building.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) based in Ramallah has expressed outrage. "Adhering to international law is a big step towards holding Israel accountable for its actions," PA spokesman Ghassan Khatib told IPS from the Muqata (government) headquarters in Ramallah.

"Settlements violate international law, and the United States is supposed to be sponsoring a two-state solution, yet it gives deductions for donation to the settlements," said Saeb Erekat the PA's chief negotiator.

According to a recent report in The New York Times 40 U.S. groups have raised more than 200 million dollars in tax-deductable donations for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the last ten years. U.S. tax rules prohibit the use of charitable funds for political purposes at home or abroad.

But U.S. tax laws encourage citizens to support non-profit groups whose ideologies might diverge from official government policy as long as their missions are educational, religious or charitable. Religious groups have no obligation to divulge their finances, meaning settlements may be receiving sums that cannot be traced.

Direct donations to foreign charities are illegal but the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows donations to U.S. non-profit organisations which support charitable projects abroad. This is how many "clearing house companies" based in the U.S. are able to send the money to help finance and support the settlements.

The money has also financed items which might well be illegal under international law, such as guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts and settlements.

There are currently half a million Israeli settlers in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. All of the settlements are illegal under international law and are in violation of various UN resolutions.

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Although a lot of the tax-exempt money has gone towards supporting West Bank settlements, which although illegal under international law are legal under Israeli law, money has also gone towards the outposts which are illegal even under Israeli law.

"Friends of Itimar is an American organisation which provides tax-exempt funds for the Itimar settlement near Nablus in the northern West Bank. Friends of Bet El likewise support the Bet El settlement near Ramallah," Hagit Ofran from Israel's Peace Now movement which monitors Israeli settlements told IPS.

Both settlements have built outposts.

The settlements are supported by the Israeli government both militarily and economically. They are connected to water, electricity and other infrastructure. Residents number from several hundreds to cities with hundreds of thousands of residents.

The outposts generally comprise a small number of caravans, have limited populations, and are generally unconnected to road and other infrastructure. The Israeli government has vowed repeatedly to dismantle the outposts but to date only a few have been pulled down.

The funneling of the tax-exempt millions has been instrumental in helping Israel's continued Judaisation of East Jerusalem as the Jewish state establishes facts on the ground in an endeavour to keep the city united under its eternal sovereignty with a Jewish majority.

The Jerusalem Reclamation Project of Ateret Cohanim works to transfer ownership of Arab homes to Jewish families in East Jerusalem. Approximately 60 percent of Ateret Cohanim's funding comes from a U.S. affiliate.

Another non-profit group El'ad has been behind the financing and digging up of Palestinian homes in the Silwan suburb of East Jerusalem in order to establish a Jewish theme park.

"Without the substantial support of millions of tax-exempt dollars from the U.S., and elsewhere in the world, Israeli NGOs such as Elad and Ateret Cohanim which finance the construction and expansion of settlement building in East Jerusalem would be restricted," Ofran told IPS.

"They rely on the substantial funds they have to buy Palestinian homes often under dubious circumstances and then to fight long and protracted battles against the owners should they take the cases to court."

Researchers Confirm Subsea Gulf Oil Plumes Are From BP Well

Researchers Confirm Subsea Gulf Oil Plumes Are From BP Well

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St. Petersburg, Fla. - Through a chemical fingerprinting process, University of South Florida researchers have definitively linked clouds of underwater oil in the northern Gulf of Mexico to BP's runaway Deepwater Horizon well — the first direct scientific link between the subsurface oil clouds commonly known as "plumes" and the BP oil spill, USF officials said Friday.

Until now, scientists had circumstantial evidence, but lacked that definitive scientific link.

The announcement came on the same day that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that its researchers have confirmed the existence of the subsea plumes at depths of 3,300 to 4,300 feet below the surface of the Gulf. NOAA said its detection equipment also implicated the BP well in the plumes' creation.

Together, the two studies confirm what in the early days of the spill was denied by BP and viewed skeptically by NOAA's chief — that much of the crude that gushed from the Deepwater Horizon well stayed beneath the surface of the water.

"What we have learned completely changes the idea of what an oil spill is," said chemical oceanographer David Hollander, one of three USF researchers credited with the matching samples of oil taken from the water with samples from the BP well. "It has gone from a two-dimensional disaster to a three-dimensional catastrophe."

The other scientists involved in making the link, USF said, were biological oceanographer Ernst Peebles and geological oceanographer David Naar.

The finding is important because oil that escaped from the mile-deep, blown-out well had been treated with dispersants, which broke the oil in the water column into tiny droplets, and therefore did not form an oil slick at the surface, said Richard H. Pierce, senior scientist and director of the Center for Ecotoxicology at Sarasota's Mote Marine Laboratory.

"It's more readily taken up and absorbed and ingested by marine animals," he explained.

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Although dispersed oil degrades more quickly over the long-run, in the short-term, it poses a more toxic threat to marine life, Pierce said.

"So, we've been very concerned, and it is critical USF has verified it," he said.

The full report was not released Friday, but will be available sometime next week, USF spokeswoman Vickie Chachere said.

BP declined to comment on the USF discovery. "We have only seen media reports, and have not yet seen the report and underlying data," BP spokesman Phil Cochrane said in an e-mail.

USF scientists found microscopic droplets of biodegraded oil at varying depths beneath the Gulf's surface, the university said in a statement.

One layer was 100 feet thick; it was found 45 nautical miles north-northeast of the well site, officials said.

The researchers found the plumes after models created by a USF expert in ocean currents, Robert Weisberg, predicted subsurface oil from the Deepwater Horizon well would move toward the north-northeast, USF said.

"The clouds were found near the DeSoto Canyon, a critical area that interacts with Florida's spawning grounds," USF said.

The NOAA study made similar findings. According to the report, which was reviewed by 19 scientists known as the Joint Analysis Group, data collected by five research ships deployed in the Gulf from May 19 to June 19 showed oil suspended in the water between 1,000 and 1,300 meters — about 3,280 feet to 4,265 feet.

The NOAA scientists detected the oil by measuring its fluorescence — many of the droplets are too small to detect otherwise — and said that that measurement linked it to the BP well.

The report said the oil had been detected in heaviest concentrations near the BP well and that its concentrations dropped as the ships moved away from the well, but that not enough samples had been taken to determine the full "horizontal extent" of the plumes.

The report also said the impact of the oil on sealife had yet to be determined. Even at low concentrations, the report said, the oil "might be biologically meaningful" because of the length of time fish and other organisms would be exposed to it.

The report also said that scientists had detected lower levels of dissolved oxygen in the water at depths below 3,280 feet, but that they couldn't determine why the levels were low with certainty. They said the levels were not so low as to be fatal to sealife.

Steven Murawski, chief scientist for NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, said the data confirm that the subsea plumes of oil were the result of the Deepwater Horizon well.

"That's a real smoking gun, as far as we're concerned," he said. "It really is a flow" from the well.

In May, when scientists first reported that they had discovered oil beneath the Gulf's surface and blamed it on the Deepwater Horizon spill, they were denounced by both BP and NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco.

BP CEO Tony Hayward denied that such plumes existed and Lubchenco called the reports "misleading, premature and, in some cases, inaccurate."

BP Hires Prison Labor to Clean Up Spill While Coastal Residents Struggle

BP Hires Prison Labor to Clean Up Spill While Coastal Residents Struggle

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In the first few days after BP's Deepwater Horizon wellhead exploded, spewing crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, cleanup workers could be seen on Louisiana beaches wearing scarlet pants and white t-shirts with the words "Inmate Labor" printed in large red block letters. Coastal residents, many of whom had just seen their livelihoods disappear, expressed outrage at community meetings; why should BP be using cheap or free prison labor when so many people were desperate for work? The outfits disappeared overnight.

Work crews in Grand Isle, Louisiana, still stand out. In a region where nine out of ten residents are white, the cleanup workers are almost exclusively African-American men. The racialized nature of the cleanup is so conspicuous that Ben Jealous, the president of the NAACP, sent a public letter [1] to BP CEO Tony Hayward on July 9, demanding to know why black people were over-represented in "the most physically difficult, lowest paying jobs, with the most significant exposure to toxins."

Hiring prison labor is more than a way for BP to save money while cleaning up the biggest oil spill in history. By tapping into the inmate workforce, the company and its subcontractors get workers who are not only cheap but easily silenced—and they get lucrative tax write-offs in the process.

Known to some as "the inmate state," Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration of any other state in the country. Seventy percent of its 39,000 inmates are African-American men. The Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) only has beds for half that many prisoners, so 20,000 inmates live in parish jails, privately run contract facilities and for-profit work release centers. Prisons and parish jails provide free daily labor to the state and private companies like BP, while also operating their own factories and farms, where inmates earn between zero and forty cents an hour. Obedient inmates, or "trustees," become eligible for work release in the last three years of their sentences. This means they can be a part of a market-rate, daily labor force that works for private companies outside the prison gates. The advantage for trustees is that they get to keep a portion of their earnings, redeemable upon release. The advantage for private companies is that trustees are covered under Work Opportunity Tax Credit, a holdover from Bush's Welfare to Work legislation that rewards private-sector employers for hiring risky "target groups." Businesses earn a tax credit of $2,400 for every work release inmate they hire. On top of that, they can earn back up to 40 percent of the wages they pay annually to "target group workers."

If BP's use of prison labor remains an open secret on the Gulf Coast, no one in an official capacity is saying so. At the Grand Isle base camp in early June, I called BP's Public Information line, and visited representatives for the Coast Guard Public Relations team, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Louisiana Fisheries and Wildlife Department. They were all stumped. Were inmates doing shore protection or oil cleanup work? They had no idea. In fact, they said, they'd like to know—would I call them if I found out?

I got an answer one evening earlier this month, when I drove up the gravel driveway of the Lafourche Parish Work Release Center jail, just off Highway 90, halfway between New Orleans and Houma. Men were returning from a long day of shoveling oil-soaked sand into black trash bags in the sweltering heat. Wearing BP shirts, jeans and rubber boots (nothing identifying them as inmates), they arrived back at the jail in unmarked white vans, looking dog tired.

Beach cleanup is a Sisyphean task. Shorelines cleaned during the day become newly soaked with oil and dispersant overnight, so crews shovel up the same beaches again and again. Workers wear protective chin-to-boot coveralls (made out of high-density polyethylene and manufactured by Dupont), taped to steel-toed boots covered in yellow plastic. They work twenty minutes on, forty minutes off, as per Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety rules. The limited physical schedule allows workers to recover from the blazing sun and the oppressive heat that builds up inside their impermeable suits.

During their breaks, workers unzip the coveralls for ventilation, drink ice water from gallon thermoses and sit under white fabric tents. They start at 6 AM, take a half-hour lunch and end the day at 6PM, adding up three to four hours of hard physical labor in twenty-minute increments. They are forbidden to speak to the public or the media by BP's now-notorious gag rule. At the end of the day, coveralls are stripped off and thrown in dumpsters, alongside oil-soaked booms and trash bags full of contaminated sand. The dumpsters are emptied into local HazMat landfills, free employees go home and the inmates are returned to work release centers.

Work release inmates are required to work for up to twelve hours a day, six days a week, sometimes averaging seventy-two hours per week. These are long hours for performing what may arguably be the most toxic job in America. Although the dangers of mixed oil and dispersant exposure are largely unknown, the chemicals in crude oil can damage every system in the body, as well as cell structures and DNA.

Inmates can't pick and choose their work assignments and they face considerable repercussions for rejecting any job, including loss of earned "good time." The warden of the Terrebonne Parish Work Release Center in Houma explains: "If they say no to a job, they get that time that was taken off their sentence put right back on, and get sent right back to the lockup they came out of." This means that work release inmates who would rather protect their health than participate in the non-stop toxic cleanup run the risk of staying in prison longer.

Prisoners are already subject to well-documented health care deprivations while incarcerated, and are unlikely to have health insurance after release. Work release positions are covered by Worker's Compensation insurance, but pursuing claims long after exposure could be a Kafkaesque task. Besides, there is currently no system for tracking the medical impact of oil and dispersant exposure in cleanup workers or affected communities.

"They're not getting paid, it's part of their sentence"

To learn how many of the 20,000 prisoners housed outside of state prisons are involved in spill-related labor, I called the DOC Public Relations officer, Pam LaBorde, who ultimately discouraged me from seeking such information. ("Frankly, I do not know where your story is going, but it does not sound positive," she said on our third phone call.)

Going to prison officials directly didn't help. The warden of a South Louisiana jail refused to discuss the matter, exclaiming, "You want me to lose my job?" A different warden, of a privately-owned center admitted, on condition of anonymity, that inmates from his facility had been employed in oil cleanup, but declined to answer further questions. Jefferson Parish President Steve Theriot and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, and Grand Isle Police Chief Euris DuBois declined interview requests.

Transparency problems are longstanding with the Louisiana DOC. There is also scant oversight of private prison facilities. Following Hurricane Katrina, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a 140-page report [2] that documented abuses and botched prison evacuations, as well as the numerous times its requests for official information were rejected. "It appears that you are standing in the shoes of prisoners, and therefore DOC is exempted from providing any information which it might otherwise have to under public records law," DOC lawyers told the ACLU National Prisons Project [3].

Some officials have been more forthcoming. A lieutenant in the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Office told me that three crews of inmates were sandbagging in Buras, Louisiana in case oil hit there. "They're not getting paid, it's part of their sentence," she said. "They'll work as long as they're needed. It's a hard job because of the heat, but they're not refusing to work." In early May, Governor Bobby Jindal's office sent out a press release [4] heralding the training of eighty inmates from Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in "cleaning of oil-impacted wildlife recovered from coastal areas." DOC Spokesperson Pam LaBorde subsequently denied that any inmates participated in wildlife cleaning efforts.

Offering an exception to this policy of secrecy is Lafourche Parish Work Release Center, the only one in the state that is accredited by the American Correctional Association. It is audited regularly and abides by national standards of safety and accountability, which is perhaps why I was able to simply walk in on a Thursday afternoon and chat with the warden.

Captain Milfred Zeringue is a retired Louisiana state police officer with a jaunty smile, powerful torso, and silver hair. His small, gray office is adorned with photos of many generations of his Louisiana family and a Norman Rockwell print picturing a policeman and a small runaway boy sharing a meaningful look at a soda fountain counter. A brass plaque confers the "Blood and Guts Award" upon Zeringue. Of 184 men living under the Captain's charge, 18 are currently assigned to oil spill work. The numbers change daily and are charted on white boards that stretch down the hallway.

Captain Zeringue says that inmates are glad for any opportunity they can get, and see work release jobs as a step up, a headstart on re-entry. "Our work release inmates are shipped to centers around the state according to employer demand," he explains, describing the different types of skilled and unskilled labor. "I have carpenters, guys riding on the back of the trash trucks, guys working offshore on the oil rigs, doing welding, cooking. Employers like them because they are guaranteed a worker who's on time, drug-free, and sober."

"And," he adds, "because they do get a tax break."

Inside the center, men sit around long plastic tables watching TV, or nap on thin mattresses under grey wool covers. The windowless dormitories hold twenty to thirty men each in blue metal bunk beds. Hard hats hang off of lockers, ceiling fans circle slowly, and each bunk has a white mesh bag of laundry strung from one rung. An air of dejection and fatigue permeates the atmosphere, but the facility looks safe and clean. It's surrounded by chain link fence and staffed by former police officers. One long shelf stacked with donated romance and adventure novels serves as a library. GED classes and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings gather weekly. Individuals are free to walk around the halls, use pay phones, shoot pool, or sit and watch cars pass on the highway from a small outdoor yard. A doctor visits once a week. Inmates greet the captain as we walk and jump to hold doors open for us.

Zeringue exudes a certain affection for the workers in his center. "To me, I'm kind of like Dad here. The inmates come to me and talk about their problems. They get antsy and nervous when they're close to getting out—how am I going to survive, how's my family gonna be with me?"

Like all Gulf Coast residents, inmates have good reason to feel anxious about the future. BP has received almost 80,000 claims for lost revenue in the wake of the spill. Scores of people are out of work, the offshore drilling industry is in limbo and the age-old fishing and shrimping professions are looking death in the face. In the towns and bayous of the gulf, anxiety and post-traumatic stress are taking hold.

In some places, the desperation is palpable. I met Randy Adams, a construction contractor from Grand Isle, on the sidewalk outside of a local bar. "This BP spill is turning me into an alcoholic, because I don't have anything to do," he says. "That, that, thing—that thing they did—" He points to the beach. He's unable to say "spill" or label it in any way. He points to the water again and again. "That thing has taken everything away from me. I have a gun under the front seat of my truck, and every day I decide, do I want to put a bullet in my skull? Live or die, that's my choice here, every day. My life is gone, do you understand?"

Scott Rojas of the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission suggests that for all the work to be done, finding local labor to do oil-spill cleanup jobs is trickier than it would seem. "These are really hard, and really low-paid jobs—I know agencies have put effort into finding locals to do the work. But they may not always have an easy time of it. As for reports of inmates being hired, I can't confirm or deny. The people down in Grand Isle swear to it, but you're going to have to talk to them."

The Louisiana Workforce Commission, the state unemployment agency, is advertising hazardous waste removal oil spill cleanup positions as "green jobs." They pay $10 per hour, so these jobs might seem like an attractive opportunity. But Paul Perkins, a retired Angola Prison deputy warden who owns and operates five for-profit inmate work release centers, says that even as the agency is "overflowing with applications for oil spill jobs," the work force is inconsistent. "They might hire 400 people on Monday, and after one day of work, only 200 will come back on Tuesday."

Hiring prison labor might prove more reliable, but it evokes understandable rage among Gulf Coast residents. According to Perkins, the Louisiana Secretary of Corrections, James LeBlanc, met with disaster contractors in early June and asked them to stop using inmate labor until all unemployed residents found work. But as the spill has so dramatically demonstrated, in this new environment, the government seems only able to make polite requests. BP calls the shots, and its private contractors, like ES&H [5], are the sole clean-up operators. From there, subcontractors, such as Able Body Labor [6], decide whom to employ.

Working for BP: "This isn't what I would like to be doing."

Anna Keller relocated to Grand Isle in May to work with Gulf Recovery LLC, to help develop community-based responses to the oil disaster. Also a member of Critical Resistance New Orleans [7], Keller says, it is "common knowledge" that prisoners are doing cleanup. "If you talk to anyone working on the beach they'll tell you, yes, prisoners are working here." She describes a shipping container that sits at the turn-off for the Venice Boat Harbor, advertising "Jails to Go." Such containers work as contract labor housing for work release prisoners, with bunks inside, bars on the windows, and deadbolts on the doors.

According to Keller, the use of inmate labor takes recovery one step further away from those people who are most intimate with the ecology, culture and landscapes of the area. In her view, they should be hired first, and not just for the grunt jobs. "Community members should be hired in the planning stages, and paid for their expertise. The local people are the true experts here."

Up the road at A-Bear's Restaurant in Houma, an elderly man in overalls describes his son's financial dilemmas to the room of locals over dinner. The son is 40, married with children, and was laid off from an oyster shucking factory shortly after the BP leak began. He's now walking door-to-door with a lawnmower, looking for grass to cut. The man holds his head in both arthritic hands. The waitress hands him a paper napkin to blot his eyes. I ask him if his son would work for BP in the cleanup and he grimaces. "Maybe, no, I don't think so," he says. "That would be hard for his pride, you know? For that little money? No."

Beach cleanup workers do make the lowest wages in the recovery effort. Others on the BP payroll have it slightly better, but the jobs they are doing are a daily reminder of what they have lost. Chris Griffin is a French-speaking Cajun shrimper whose father and grandfather also captained shrimp boats. After oil contamination closed the gulf waters, Griffin was hired to captain airboat tours of oil-impacted marshlands for BP. Three times a day he steers a slim four-seat boat with a deafening engine into the waters he's known all his life, while Coast Guard officials give media tours and answer the same grim questions again and again.

"This isn't what I would like to be doing," Griffin says, "but I'm glad I have a job so I can take care of my family. I'm not worrying about the money. Not everybody has that. Me, I'm worrying about the years in the future here. Will we keep cleaning it up? Will they take care of everybody?"

Pentagon expands U.S. role in Africa

Pentagon expands U.S. role in Africa

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Several African states have been targeted by successive U.S. administrations for regime change and political domination. Those facing threats from the U.S. include, but are not limited to, Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is essential that the anti-war movement in the U.S. firmly oppose U.S. imperialist intervention in Africa.

U.S. intervention in East Africa was apparent as African leaders from throughout the continent gathered in Uganda the week of July 19 to attend preliminary sessions for the annual African Union Summit, set for July 25-27. The African Union is comprised of 53 independent states whose stated objective is the strengthening of political and economic cooperation among member countries to resolve issues resulting from the legacy of colonialism and underdevelopment.

This year’s summit follows a series of bombings that killed 74 people in and around Kampala, Uganda’s capital. The Somali Islamic resistance organization al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying they were in response to Ugandan troops inside Somalia propping up the U.S.-backed Transitional Federal Government there.

The corporate-owned media reported these bombings while omitting Washington’s role in interfering in Somalia’s internal affairs and bankrolling Uganda, which serves as an outpost for imperialist foreign policy in East and Central Africa. Uganda, which already has 3,200 troops in Somalia, has pledged to dispatch another 2,000 soldiers in order to prevent the collapse of the TFG.

Following the July 11 attacks, Ugandan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Kale Kaihura exposed his government’s intentions. “The act of bombing Uganda is a confirmation of the need to take control and pacify Somalia,” Kaihura stated. (BBC, July 14)

Inside Somalia, however, many in the civilian population see the Ugandan military forces as the enemy of the people. Uganda’s forces are part of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). This so-called peacekeeping operation in Somalia, which also includes more than 2,000 troops from Burundi, has openly declared as its objective to neutralize the resistance forces led by al-Shabab.

Opposition forces in Uganda have expressed grave concerns about the role of President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni’s government in carrying out U.S. foreign policy aims in the Horn of Africa. This trepidation over the role of AMISOM echoes sentiment throughout Africa, which has been wary of deliberate and politically motivated intervention into the internal affairs of AU member states.

Opposition Member of Parliament Hussein Kyanjo said in response to the July 11 attacks: “All the time there has been this reply from the government side that ‘we are in control and nothing can happen to Uganda.’ Now it has happened. It is very sad and I am sure we are not going to be prepared to let the blood of Ugandans be spilt over an issue that we have not been convinced about.” (BBC, July 14)

Aware of its unpopularity in Somalia, the U.S. State Department has issued a travel advisory valid until Aug. 15 to U.S. citizens saying they “should consider the possibility of similar terrorist attacks occurring in conjunction with the African Union Summit.” (CNN, July 19)

Pentagon increases role in Africa

On Oct. 1, 2008, the Pentagon inaugurated a new regional military structure known as the Africa Command. Africom’s stated aim is to prevent the spread of Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism and other security threats on the continent.

The Pentagon’s plans met tremendous opposition from African states as well as mass organizations. At present no African country has been willing to host the Africom headquarters, which remain located in Stuttgart, Germany. The Pentagon has a military base in Djibouti, as does the French military. Other African states throughout the region have held joint military exercises with both of these imperialist states.

U.S. military involvement in Africa has escalated over the last decade. It was estimated that at the beginning of the millennium the cost of the Pentagon’s African operations was between $100 million and $200 million. Today the figure is estimated to be at least $1.5 billion and is growing annually.

These figures may exclude other projects that have military and intelligence implications but are funded through the State Department and private contractors. This increased involvement in Africa was reflected in the bombing of Somalia in 2007-2008 and the dispatching of warships into the Gulf of Aden beginning in 2008.

According to Daniel Volman, who writes for the Concerned Africa Scholars Bulletin, there are two major concerns that are driving the U.S. in its increasing military role in the region. One is that the U.S. is “becoming increasingly dependent on resources, particularly oil, coming from the African continent.” (ACAS Bulletin 85, June 2010)

Volman points out that “today the U.S. imports more oil from Africa than it does from the entire Middle East. The U.S. still imports more from the Western hemisphere — Mexico, Canada, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador — which has a lot to do with explaining U.S. policy these days towards Latin America and disputes with the Chávez regime.”

Volman notes that “Africa is the next most important source of imported oil,” second only to the oil-producing countries in the Western hemisphere. “Nigeria and Angola are now the U.S.’s fifth and sixth largest suppliers of oil imports,” Volman continues. “[U.S.] American policy makers began to see this happening in the late 1990s.”

In addition to the supply of oil, the U.S. is concerned about the growth of movements in Africa that resist U.S. control. These are mainly Islamic resistance movements. This concern dates back to the second half of the Bill Clinton administration during the late 1990s and has extended to the current government of President Barack Obama.

Volman emphasizes that this growing intervention by U.S. imperialism “is not a partisan political issue. ... Instead it represents a bipartisan consensus amongst the political elite, that Africa is of growing military importance to the U.S. and therefore requires a growing level of military involvement on the continent and that is what has led to the creation of the new African command.”

Anti-imperialist view necessary

U.S. involvement in Africa dates from the period when colonists first brought indentured servants from the continent to Virginia in 1619. By 1660 African slavery had become a primary institution within the displacement of the Native peoples and the expansion of British and colonial control over North America.

The U.S. Constitution did not recognize African people as full human beings and their enslavement continued well into the latter half of the 19th century. At the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865, 4 million Africans resided in the U.S.

It would take another century after the conclusion of the Civil War and the failure of Reconstruction to guarantee in law the ostensible rights of African people. The enslavement of Africans in the Western Hemisphere would lay the groundwork for the eventual colonization of the African continent.

Today, neocolonialism is the principal mechanism used to perpetuate the exploitation and oppression of African people. Neocolonialism is a form of imperialism, controlling Africa’s economies through trade, investment and international finance as well as direct and indirect military intervention.

Serious consideration must be given to the increasing role of U.S. imperialism in Africa. Resolutions and action proposals must be developed to effectively address these concerns alongside the demands for the immediate withdrawal of Pentagon forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other geopolitical regions throughout the world.

America's Undeclared War on Pakistan

America's Undeclared War on Pakistan

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It was a relatively flawless performance. With Washington stuck in its Afghan review and Pakistan’s cities under bombardment, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touched down in a hostile Pakistan in October 2009 on a self-proclaimed propaganda mission. Greeted with bombs from Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and treated with hard questions on the freshly signed Kerry-Lugar bill, Clinton left a foul impression after deploying her grating “do more” mantra on al-Qaeda’s leadership.

July 2010 would be different. No major explosions signaled her arrival, which Clinton attributed to Pakistan’s military success in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Drones have lost their controversial potency and US aid, always a third rail, grows increasingly palatable to an economically struggling Pakistan. Clinton beamed throughout her photo-ops and Pakistani leadership reflected the shine. She even managed to accuse someone within the government of knowing Osama bin Laden’s location without drawing attention, having landed in South Korea by the time her Fox News interview aired.

From Islamabad Clinton triumphantly landed in Kabul for what she hailed as a “turning point” in Afghanistan: a six hour international conference that pledged $20 billion in aid and declared Afghan security forces would assume command of all provinces by 2014. The choreography went off as planned, which of course is the point when the show is too good to be true.

Like a bridge, errors in one part of the span expose other flaws and threaten to bring the entire structure down with it.

Though Clinton undoubtedly improved upon her last visit, charm can only beautify an ugly reality so much. Promises of aid were automatically linked to a military invasion of North Waziristan rather than Pakistan’s current strategy of negotiating with its hosts, Sirajuddin and Jalaluddin Haqqani. Clinton explicitly ruled out a dialogue with them, tagging US aid as conditional.

Already fearful of military servitude, it doesn’t help that US and foreign aid lacks the track record to inspire confidence among average Pakistanis. The Kerry-Lugar bill, President Barack Obama’s celebrated achievement in civilian aid, stalled in Congress due to fears of misappropriated funds; a trade bill designed for the FATA similarly gridlocked. Pakistan had to jump through hoops to receive long-delayed reimbursement from the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), while the Friends of Pakistan have delivered only $725 million of $5.6 billion pledged in April 2009.

So when Clinton announced
“$500 million in several new development programs,” funded in part by the Kerry-Lugar bill, the many strings attached cast ominous shadows over her smiles. The attitude of Pakistan’s press was straightforward: “Given Pakistan's current plight, any assistance from the outside world has to be welcomed. The recognition by the US that policy cannot be focused only on security issues is also a step in the right direction.”

Whatever the strings and grudges, Pakistan simply isn’t in the position to turn down assistance.

But Islamabad’s endgame is roughly the opposite of Washington’s. While the White House believes its efficiency in delivering military and humanitarian aid determines success in Afghanistan, Pakistanis base success on the effectiveness of Pakistan’s leaders. These aren’t the same goals. America needs Pakistan to improve and thus assist in stabilizing Afghanistan so that it can remain in the region, but Pakistan wants to utilize US aid to regain sovereignty of the state and ultimately rid South Asia of America’s military presence.

“The hugely positive tone adopted by the Secretary of State will of course have brought smiles to the faces of Pakistani leaders,” wrote The News International. “But they must recognize that the relationship between Pakistan and the US is a complex one. Many believe it is in fact the root cause behind our militant problem and that this cannot be solved until the US withdraws from the region.”

Clinton may have missed this not-so-subtle difference, but the chances of her merely ignoring it are higher. While admitting that Pakistani’s negative perception of America “wouldn’t change overnight,” she raved about its new environment - “I could feel a change” - and Pakistani officials who, “really believe that the people are understanding that the United States wants to be a real partner to us and that it's not just killing terrorists.”

Pew Research Center listed Pakistani approval at 17% in June 2010, up 1% from last year but down from 19% in 2008.The News International warned upon her exit, “There is a very real risk that the latest aid offer will be seen as a kind of bribe intended to ensure that the fighting continues. The effort to persuade people that the war against militancy is Pakistan's has so far been a faltering one.”

The Dawn analyzed
“Hillary’s iron fist in a velvet glove,” while a less generous Nation concluded, “It is time we broke off from the present US stranglehold that is suffocating Pakistan to death.”

But Clinton’s most telltale contradiction: passing the blame off to George Bush. "Of course there is a legacy of suspicion that we inherited,” she argues, when Pakistan is actually one of the Obama administration's favorite words - a “whole of government” problem. Anti-US sentiment has ran high for over 20 years and spans multiple presidencies, many staffed with the same officials that fill Obama’s cabinet and National Security Council. Pew still has Bill Clinton clocked at 22% in 1999.

Pakistan’s fate has always be decided by how the foreign chips fall, not how they stack up. America may uphold its obligations this time around, it just hasn’t before, and Afghanistan repeats the same story. The Huffington Post digs up the old bones of past “international conferences” and “turning points.”

Paradoxes in Kabul were equally numerous, for instance the massive quantity of foreign aid that may disappear. Karzai called for 50% to funnel through Afghanistan’s ministries by 2012, up from 20%, while dutifully promising to clean up corruption for Western ears. However, the conference followed a report from Integrity Watch Afghanistan that found corruption had doubled between 2006 and 2009. This story never seems to change, whether before or after Karzai's controversial election victory in 2009, and the West’s power to reform this gray area remains suspect.

Reintegration prospects are dwindling too. Reconciliation appears a non-starter in Washington despite its public support for reintegration, a stance that hinders reintegration. On top of UK reports that few Taliban are switching sides, the idea of transferring authority to Afghan forces by 2014 implies that the West still expects to be fighting the Taliban rather than reintegrating it. This tidal wave of uncertainty finally throws the 2014 deadline into upheaval.

When Karzai insisted, "Afghan national security forces will be responsible for all military and law enforcement operations throughout our country by 2014,” he’s asking for the same three years Iraq needed after its surge.

Given that most deadlines in Afghanistan evaporate, history and the present offer no reason to define 2014 as realistic as NATO did. Marjah and Kandahar’s time-lines already protracted. Obama’s 2011 transfer deadline, if not postponed outright, will amount to a symbolic transition of power, and Vice President Joe Biden recently conceded “a couple thousand troops” is the likeliest withdrawal option. Clinton desperately tried to counter the slippery slope by arguing, “the transition process may be able to begin by the end of this year."

Yet believing in 2014, let alone Clinton’s new claim, makes no sense in a country where projects rarely start or finish on time.

The last few days in Afghanistan brought no surprises. The White House in particular is facing renewed criticism from the US Congress and media to clarify the war’s objectives, and Clinton’s tour was its answer. But instead of leveling with the US, Afghan, and Pakistani peoples and shunning unrealistic expectations, Washington rolled out more smoke and mirrors to conjure the image of success.

Being illusions, the deadlines are likely to vanish one by one and ultimately fail to break the West’s cycle of mission drift in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Massey shut off methane detectors at deadly mine

Massey shut off methane detectors at deadly mine

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Coal miners who worked at the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, where a deadly blast killed 29 miners on April 5, told federal investigators that Massey foremen ordered an electrician, over his objections, to disable a methane detector on a continuous mining machine in the months before the explosion occurred.

Ricky Lee Campbell and other witnesses said that they witnessed the incident on February 13 at a site in the mine several miles from the location of the April disaster.

The company has confirmed that the incident took place, but claims that it was done because the detector was malfunctioning. Massey says that it wanted to move the machine to a safer area, where it could be repaired.

Campbell and the other miners have disagreed, however, stating that the machine was kept in operation. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which first reported the story, interviewed the electrician, George Holtzapfel, who confirmed Campbell’s account.

“That’s how it went,” Holtzapfel told the Post-Gazette after hearing Campbell’s story. “I’ve worked for probably six or eight coal companies. They’re all the same. They all do the same practices. It’s not something that was new. It was just new to me,” he said.

A continuous mining machine, or continuous miner, is a 30-foot machine with a large drum on the front, equipped with teeth, that continuously turns. It is used to break the coal and rock from the coalface. Coalfaces give off methane gas. During operations the machine will often hit a pocket of methane. When the teeth of the continuous miner strike rock, they give off millions of sparks. These sparks can ignite the methane, if the concentrations are too high.

The methane detectors are set to automatically shut the machine down when methane levels reach 1 percent. A 5 percent methane concentration is explosive. Federal law states that all continuous miners must be equipped with such safety devices.

Miners reported that in the weeks before the deadly explosion at least two small methane explosions occurred while they were mining coal. While the government investigation into the April 5 blast has not yet been completed, miners and safety experts believe that a methane explosion, which then ignited a larger and more powerful coal dust explosion, caused the deadly events.

Campbell and the other miners’ accounts confirm what many Massey miners, family members and residents of the Montcoal, West Virginia, area told the World Socialist Web Site in the days following the disaster—it was common practices for supervisors to order miners to bypass and ignore methane detectors in Massey operations.

“I’ve seen machines where the sniffers have been bridged,” one miner told the WSWS in mid-April. (A sniffer is the device that samples the air for methane. Bridging it means the device was bypassed.) “And others that have had a bag put over them,” he added.

Other workers explained to the WSWS that they were often ordered to continue working despite alarms from their handheld methane detectors. They further reported that coal dust levels were too high and that Massey regularly refused to take steps necessary to reduce the amount suspended in the air.

According to these miners, Massey did not make sure that the mine was properly ventilated, so as to prevent a buildup of explosive methane gas. Workers were also not given time to hang curtains in the mine, which are used to direct the air flow as the mining machines move deeper into the earth. (See WSWS verifies Massey’s threat to fire workers who took off work to attend funerals.)

Shortly after the April 5 explosion, Campbell spoke to several media outlets about the unsafe conditions at the mine. Massey quickly fired him on a trumped-up charge. An administrative law judge has since ruled that Campbell was unfairly fired for speaking out and ordered that he be reinstated to his job.

Campbell’s testimony and that of his fellow miners confirm the criminal nature of Massey’s operations. In press statements, the coal giant has repeatedly stated that it has never condoned any action at its mines that violate safety laws. The implication of this being that any violations uncovered by the federal government in its investigation were the fault of local supervisors, not company executives.

However, Campbell’s firing and subsequent efforts to silence him demonstrate that top Massey officials are involved in a cover-up of conditions at the West Virginia mine. These actions are intended to have a chilling effect on other miners in the area, where mining is often the only paying job.

From the time of the April 5 explosion, Massey has been working non-stop to deny its responsibility for the disaster and to place the blame on others. They have hired a public relations firm, led by a top spokesman of the former Bush administration, to assist them in this effort.

Miners, their families and other workers should have no illusions that the federal criminal investigation into the Upper Big Branch disaster, or for that matter action by any other section of the government, will halt Massey’s and other coal companies’ unsafe operations.

The federal investigation is in fact part of the cover-up of Massey. Last month, after four years of investigation, the Federal government indicted four low-level supervisors at Massey Energy’s Aracoma Alma Number One mine in Logan County, West Virginia, where two miners were killed in 2006.

None of Massey’s top executives were charged in the miners’ deaths, and those facing prosecution men are charged with misdemeanor offensives related to not conducting proper safety classes for the work crews.

As has happened at the Aracoma mine, if any criminal charges are ever brought in relation to the disaster at the Upper Big Branch mine, they will be years in the making and directed at only a handful of low-level supervisors.

Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) officials who are conducting the investigation have already begun indicating that it may take until the end of the year just to complete their work and much longer to report their findings.

MSHA itself shares responsibility for the deaths at Massey, as it allowed the mine to continue to operate despite a massive number of repeated serious safety violations.

For their part, Democrats in Congress have all but abandoned measures to tighten safety rules in the mines. If a preliminary mine-safety bill currently in the House of Representatives even passes, it is expected to die in the Senate. And even this legislation would do little to protect miners. In particular, it contains no provisions for lowering legal limits on the amount of coal dust in mines, which is the primary cause of black lung disease, a painful ailment responsible for more than 400 deaths yearly and the disabling of thousands of workers.

Since at least 1995, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has recommended reducing the amount of coal dust allowed in mines, but MSHA officials of the Clinton, Bush, and now Obama administrations have refused to implement these recommendations. Most recently, Joe Main, the current head of MSHA, cancelled plans to impose precisely such a stricter limit

Deepwater Horizon workers knew of problems before explosion

Deepwater Horizon workers knew of problems before explosion

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Two internal Transocean reports obtained by The New York Times shed further light on the criminal negligence of both BP and Transocean in the lead-up to the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which killed 11 workers and set off one of the most devastating environmental catastrophes in human history.

The reports reveal that Deepwater Horizon workers were well aware of mechanical and safety problems aboard the rig, but they feared reprisal should they speak out. The documents also strongly indicate that BP and Transocean knowingly disregarded basic safety and maintenance.

The first, a 33-page report, details confidential surveys of at least 40 workers aboard the rig, carried out by a third party and commissioned by Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig. The surveys, conducted from March 12-16—just one month before the blowout—reveal serious concerns among workers about safety procedures and the reliability of rig equipment.

According to the Times, workers told surveyors that they “often saw unsafe behaviors on the rig” and that “company plans were not carried out properly.” Some workers raised concerns that “drilling priorities [took] precedence over planned maintenance” and that this had resulted in poor equipment reliability. Another worker said that the rig had not been to dry dock, where it would go to receive thorough maintenance, in the nine years of its existence.

The investigators also documented workers’ fears of reprisals from executives on the mainland, who were said to consistently use “fear tactics” when workers reported “risky” situations. The Times notes the reports showed that “only about half of the workers interviewed said they felt they could report actions leading to a potentially ‘risky’ situation without reprisal.”

Additionally, workers indicated that they often falsified data to be entered into the safety system known as START (See, Think, Act, Reinforce, Track) because “nearly everyone” viewed the system as “counter-productive.” START is an example of the sort of self-regulation pushed for decades by industry and politicians alike.

The second report, a 112-page equipment assessment also commissioned by Transocean, verified the workers’ concerns. The Times notes that the report stated that at least 26 components and systems on the rig were in “bad” or “poor” condition. Additionally, the Times notes, “many key components—including the blowout preventer rams and failsafe valves—had not been fully inspected since 2000, even though guidelines require inspection of the preventer every three to five years.”

The equipment assessment also revealed other mechanical problems that may have been directly related to the April 20 accident. At least one of the rig’s mud pumps was said by investigators to be in “bad condition.”

Experts have speculated that a lack of mud weight used to seal the exploratory well played a role in the blowout. Even in the last hours before the disaster, BP and Transocean officials aboard the rig had argued over the question of replacing drilling mud with much lighter salt water, which experts have criticized as particularly risky. (See “BP had prior warning of Deepwater Horizon blowout”)

Investigators also noted that the rig’s ballast system, which helps to ensure the stability of the ship, was impaired. Numerous other equipment problems are detailed in the reports.

Lou Colasuonno, a spokesman for Transocean, responded to the Times revelations in an email to the AP, stating that most of the 26 components said to have been in “bad” or “poor” condition in the released reports were minor.

Colasuonno flatly denied the revelation that maintenance was disregarded, claiming that all maintenance had been carried out according to the original manufacturer specifications. “A fair reading of those detailed third-party reviews indicates clearly that while certain areas could be enhanced, overall rig maintenance met or exceeded regulatory and industry standards,” he argued.

That the oil rig’s maintenance met or exceeded government regulatory standards does not at all indicate that the Deepwater Horizon was safe. Indeed, it has been the decades-long gutting of industry regulation under both Republican and Democratic administration that set the stage for the disaster.

In 2007, under the Bush administration, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) carried out three studies of the potential environmental impact of deep sea drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, including one that pertained specifically to the area where the Deepwater Horizon was ultimately deployed. The MMS’s results, largely dictated by BP, determined that a “deepwater spill” would not reach the coast and would not exceed 4,600 barrels.

In April 2009 the Obama administration granted BP a special exemption from a legal requirement that it produce a detailed environmental impact study on the possible effects of its Deepwater Horizon drilling operation. (See “Obama sheltered BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig from regulatory requirement”)

The newly revealed reports add to an overwhelming body of evidence that demonstrates the Deepwater Horizon blowout was caused by the criminal pursuit of profit.

Social crisis in California deepens for millions

Social crisis in California deepens for millions

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The seven-week delay by the US Senate in passing an extension of unemployment benefits has considerably deepened the social crisis in California, the most populous state. Over 400,000 workers were affected by the delay, and the passage of the watered-down bill will do little to alleviate the hardships of many unemployed workers.

The bill for extending unemployment benefits was stripped of a provision that would have made federal funds available to assist in the increased demand throughout all states for Medicaid; this will result in a deepening of the budget crisis in many states and ultimately increased layoffs of state and local workers as well as cuts to basic social services. (See “US Senate advances stripped-down jobless benefits bill”)

Even with the decision to grant extensions, over 150,000 workers in California have reached the 99-week limit in unemployment benefits and will not receive further assistance.

Official unemployment in California for June remains in the double digits at 12.3 percent. Unemployment in some California counties, however, is much higher: in Imperial County the unemployment rate is 27.6 percent; in Sutter, 19.8 percent; Yuba, 18.8 percent; and in Merced 18.1 percent. Nearly 20 counties in the state have an official unemployment rate over 15 percent.

In June 2010, 618,000 Californians filed first-time or extension claims, which is a 162 percent increase from the same month in 2008. Loree Levy, spokeswoman for the state Employment Development Department, told the Sacramento Bee that the demand for unemployment benefits in California was “unprecedented.”

In order to alleviate the state’s $19.1 billion budget deficit, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers have proposed slashing vital social services and education, including the removal of millions from Medi-Cal, Healthy Families and In-home Supportive Services, along with the complete removal of CalWorks, the state’s welfare to work program. (See “California proposes to eliminate CalWORKS welfare program”)

State lawmakers have thus far failed to agree on this year’s budget and the fiscal year has already started. Because of this, Schwarzenegger has called for over 200,000 state workers’ pay to be reduced to the federal minimum wage of $7.25. A judge has temporarily halted this action from being carried out, but will issue a final ruling later in the summer.

Like all workers, those in California have not seen any of the benefits from the so-called “recovery.” CalJOBS, a state government career website, reported that from July 2009 to March 2010 the number of people looking for work totaled 1,693,499, with only 415,453 job openings. Further, the US Census Bureau placed 13.3 percent of California’s population below the poverty threshold for 2008, and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that 1 out of every 230 people in California were homeless during 2008.

These conditions are the expression of wretched inequality. Ten percent of the world’s billionaires reside in California, and the richest resident billionaire controls a personal wealth greater than the state’s deficit.

World Socialist Web Site reporters recently spoke with workers at career centers in Santa Cruz and San Diego about the dire economic situation they face.

Nadine, a job-seeker at the Workforce Career Center in Santa Cruz, told the WSWS that she had “been laid off for about a year now,” and was not receiving unemployment benefits. “My company that I worked for didn’t put in for it.” She felt individuals in her situation currently have little, if any, support from the state. When asked about Congress’ seven-week delay on passing the unemployment benefits extension, Nadine stated that “California desperately needs the funds.”

Sara, who had also visited the career center, said she is currently holding two jobs. “I work at Orchard [Supply and Hardware] and for [California] in-home support.” As a California State employee, Sara could be subject to a reduction of pay down to minimum wage should the courts allow it to go through. “They are trying to cut our wages for in-home support to federal minimum wage. Why doesn’t he [Governor Schwarzenegger] get minimum wage?”

When asked about her thoughts on the handling of the economic crisis by both the Democrats and Republicans, Sara stated, “I think they like to line their pockets with money, so they don’t really care about us. They both have their priorities wrong.”

John, a former part-time employee of a janitorial company that was subcontracted through the United Parcel Service (UPS), was laid off this February. His employer’s contract expired earlier this year, just prior to receiving a full-time position with the company, and was not renewed by UPS. The result was mass layoffs.

“I was just getting ready to start full-time; everything would have been good.” Leaving Santa Cruz to find work, John explained that he had “moved to Nevada about two weeks ago thinking the work situation would be better. It turned out not to be. The police told me I couldn’t be living in my vehicle—they more or less told me to get out of Nevada.”

With currently about $1,000 dollars left in unemployment insurance, John spoke of being “directly affected” by Congress’s decision to not extend unemployment benefits last week before leaving for an extended July 4 recess.

When asked about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent pledge to see through a $33 billion bill to continue funding the war in Afghanistan, John quickly responded, “Like we need that. I think it’s absurd, wasting money over there, especially when it can be put to use here—a lot better use.” Sighing, he added, “It’s a waste.”

John expressed shock that unemployment could still be in the double digits in today’s day and age. “It’s 2010. Everybody can be clothed, fed, and housed. It can be done.”

Outside of a San Diego career center, Heather and Elena told WSWS reporters of their difficulties finding work in San Diego. “It’s impossible for me to find work here. The only positions available are for bilingual speakers, and I’m not bilingual,” said Heather, who had been unemployed for six months and is trying to make ends meet with Elena, her daughter.

Elena has a bachelor’s degree and told the WSWS she came to California to look for work. “I used to work in cosmetology. I’m really frustrated right now. If I want a job I need to rent my own booth, which requires money. You need money to make money, but my funds are all tapped out.” When asked what she thought of Obama she responded, “What has changed? The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. That’s how it goes in the USA. You have to come from a dirt poor nation to think that this is the American dream.”

Nichaeles Villanueva, a music performance major, has been unemployed since Jan 2009. “I want to work in construction, where I used to make good money. I’m not sure what I will do once my benefits run out. I don’t want to be working at McDonald’s when I’m 70, but that’s what I see happening.” When asked about the political situation he responded, “Politics ruins everything: music, culture, and my life.”