Monday, August 9, 2010

Record number of Illinois families on food stamps

Record number of Illinois families on food stamps

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A report released by the Illinois Department of Human Services on Tuesday revealed that over 785,000 Illinois households—more than 1,630,000 individuals—throughout the state receive food stamps through a program known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The total represents a nearly 12 percent increase from June 2009, and state officials expect those numbers to increase steadily over the next year, according to an August 3 report in the Chicago Tribune. The data also reflects a national trend, as recent Department of Agriculture reports indicate that national levels of food stamp assistance are at an all time high, exceeding over 40 million Americans.

Nearly every county in Illinois saw a sharp increase in food stamp use over the last year. According to the IDHS’ Bureau of Research and Analysis, the southern counties of Saline, Williamson and Jackson saw their usage increase by 13.2 percent, 10.1 percent and 7.9 percent respectively. The hardest hit counties were to the north and west of Chicago, according to IDHS Director Jennifer Hrycyna.

The IDHS’s report on SNAP data also belies a much greater crisis in hunger and its attenuating social despair. Even within the IDHS report, applications were up 27 percent over the last year, signifying that perhaps more than half of those who applied for assistance did not receive it.

The Food and Research Action Center published a report in February indicating that significant sections of people entitled to food assistance do not receive services, largely due to cuts in state social services and the corresponding rise in demand. According to the report, in 2007 nearly 142,000 Chicago residents did not receive food stamps even though they were eligible.

The threshold for SNAP qualification is also absurdly low. For a family of three, a household cannot have more than $1,984 in monthly income, or $18,948 a year. The maximum monthly SNAP allowance for a family of three is $526, but this week’s IDHS report indicates that the average state payments are $296 per household. The threshold for assistance for one person is that they make no more than $1,174 per month.

Poor and working people often find themselves just outside of these SNAP thresholds. Typical, for instance, was an August 4 Associated Press report in which one woman, Alana Sykes from Rantoul, could not qualify for food stamps because her unemployment benefits put her just above the maximum threshold. Sykes, an unemployed schoolteacher and military veteran, indicated that she could no longer afford to feed herself and two children.

The problems associated with the food stamp program really only begin to paint a much bleaker picture of impending hunger epidemics and a growing social crisis throughout the state. A number of food agencies, independent of SNAP, have also reported sharp increases in demand and services. A recent study released by Feeding Illinois, an affiliate of the nation’s largest emergency food service provider, Feeding America, revealed some ominous statistics:

• Feeding Illinois food banks provided service to 1.4 million Illinois residents in 2009, roughly 1 out of every 10 people in the state.

• The agency has seen a 50-percent increase in requests for food assistance in the last two years.

• Nearly 2 million Illinois children were enrolled in a federal free lunch program during the 2009-2010 school year.

• Nearly 500,000 children—roughly one out of every seven—throughout the state are considered “food insecure.”

• 50 percent of their clients report having to choose on a monthly basis between buying food or paying for utilities or heating fuel.

Studies done by other agencies reveal further hunger problems. According to the Northern Illinois Food Bank, demand for their emergency food services has increased by one-third since 2006, to around 678,000 people. The NIFB also reported that 43 percent of their clients included households where at least one adult was fully employed. The US Department of Agriculture has also released studies indicating the 11.1 percent of all Illinois households face food insecurity, and that nearly a third of the eligible “working poor” were not participating in any food stamp program.

The hunger crisis in Illinois is a reflection of the growing crisis of global capitalism, and is bound up with increasing state unemployment, rising poverty levels, and diminished or non-existent social services. Statewide official unemployment currently stands at 10.4 percent, higher than the national average. The north-central Counties of Winnebago and Boone stand well above either average at 14.7 percent and 15.1 percent respectively. Winnebago County media outlets reported that over 30,000 residents in the area were receiving SNAP assistance.

Poverty levels in Illinois, which are acutely reflected in growing hunger, have been rising steadily throughout the state. A recent study by the Heartland Alliance indicated that 12.2 percent of Illinois residents were living in poverty, and another 16 percent were living precariously close to the poverty line (See “Report finds deepening poverty in Illinois”).

Illinois also has one of the worst home foreclosure rates in the United States, increasing 23 percent—or roughly 18,000 homes—to total nearly 78,000 houses over the last year.

At a time when poor and working people suffer increasingly dire straits, staff and funds for vital health and human services are being cut in order to make up for record budget shortfalls.

Governor Pat Quinn, who cut $1.4 billion in education and social services from the state budget on July 1, announced last week that he was cutting an additional $891 million from both areas once again. (See “Illinois budget cuts gouge education, social services”).

These cuts come in addition to studies showing that the state of Illinois has been underfunding social services for years. A report by the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability indicated, among other findings, that Illinois has underfunded human service providers by at least $4.4 billion between fiscal years 2002 and 2010.

Within the last week, Chicago officials have announced a record fiscal year 2011 budget shortfall of $654 million, exceeding last year’s record shortfall of roughly $500 million. This news was shortly followed by the announcement that Chicago’s bond rating was downgraded by both Moody’s Investor’s Service and Fitch Rating, further limiting the city’s ability to borrow funds in order to pay for social services and outstanding bills. Both investors cited, among other reasons for the downgrade, growing concerns over the city’s “rapidly depleting reserves.” Mayor Richard Daley hinted in his recent “State of the City” speech that cuts to city services may be needed in order to make up for portions of the deficit.

It is worth noting that amidst the increasing hunger and social misery in Illinois, privileged elements of the city are enjoying tremendous wealth and growth. A recent study noted that in a city with record shortfalls and growing hunger, Chicago has the third most millionaires of any US city—counting among its wealthy residents multi-millionaire President Barack Obama, who holds property there.

Leading Republicans call for partial repeal of 14th Amendment...Behind the attack on US citizenship rights

Leading Republicans call for partial repeal of 14th Amendment

Behind the attack on US citizenship rights

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A constituency within the political establishment has been consolidating in recent months for a repeal of the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, which provides that every person born in the US is guaranteed citizenship. This reactionary proposal, ostensibly to combat “illegal” immigration, has broad and far-reaching consequences for democratic rights in the US.

Various proposals for overturning the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment have been festering in extreme right-wing circles for decades. Republican Congressman Elton Gallegly of California claims to have supported legislation to that effect for 20 years, having introduced a bill along similar lines in 1991. Nevertheless, this latest proposal, in the form of a constitutional amendment, has found significant support among top figures in the US political establishment and the media.

Over the past week, leading Republican senators have publicly given consideration to introducing a constitutional amendment that would repeal the citizenship clause, including John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas, Jon Kyl of Arizona, and Jeff Sessions, the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, indicated that he supported holding hearings on whether the 14th Amendment citizenship right should be abolished.

The campaign to abolish the citizenship clause has been accompanied by an accelerating xenophobic campaign against immigrants and their children. “People come here to have babies,” Lindsey Graham declared on National Public Radio. “They come here to drop a child—it’s called drop and leave. To have a child in America, they cross the border, they go to an emergency room, have a child and that child is automatically an American citizen.”

John Cornyn appeared on CBS to say, “The question is, if both parents are here illegally, should there be a reward for their illegal behavior?” Here the birth of a child is treated as a criminal act, with both the parents and the child to be punished for the offense.

Right-wing media commentators in the US are taking it a step further, sparing no effort to cultivate ignorance and racial hatred in the population. Various television and radio shows throughout the week featured discussions on the “problem” of “anchor babies”—the slur for children of undocumented immigrants.

Bill O’Reilly declared on his Tuesday Fox News program, “I think public opinion knows it’s a ruse, knows that this is a ruse for people to sneak in here, get their kid to be an American citizen so they can stay.”

On Friday, Fox News reported falsely that “most of the violent crime that we are seeing comes out of the illegal immigration community.” In fact, undocumented workers and their families account for only 3 or 4 percent of the total US population, and there is no evidence suggesting a higher incidence of violent crime among them.

The response of the Democrats has been cowardly and tepid. While declining to endorse a constitutional amendment, leading Democrats provided assurances that they remain “tough on illegal immigration.” Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who chairs the Senate subcommittee that would introduce a constitutional amendment, stated, “We can and should address the problem of illegal immigration head-on without amending the Constitution.”

A number of media commentators have pointed out that a constitutional amendment is unlikely to pass in the near future because it requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress and passage by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states. Some opponents of the citizenship clause argue that it is possible to reach the same result by means of a Supreme Court decision adopting a new interpretation of the 14th Amendment.

Whatever steps are ultimately taken, the fact that overturning the citizenship clause is being openly discussed at top levels in Washington and in the media should serve as a warning to the working class.

In every country, hatred of immigrants has long been promoted to divide the working class along national and ethnic lines and to provide a base for right-wing policies. In the US, it is the cornerstone of a growing quasi-fascistic element in the political establishment that has the increasing support of major sections of the media.

The assault on the 14th Amendment, however, is not only an attack on undocumented workers and their children, it is an attack on the right of citizenship itself, with broad implications for the democratic rights of the entire population.

The significance of the 14th Amendment

The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868 in the aftermath of an extraordinary series of historical events. The Republican Party was founded in 1854 when opponents of slavery split from the Whig party after a long series of unsatisfactory compromises.

In 1861, hostilities exploded into a bloody four-year Civil War, in which 3 million men fought and 640,000 died to prevent the secession of a Southern confederation of slave states. The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the war, freed vast numbers of slaves in the Southern states. In April 1865, Lincoln was assassinated in Washington. The 13th Amendment, adopted in December 1865 under the leadership of the victorious Republican Party, officially abolished slavery and involuntary servitude throughout the US.

The 14th Amendment, drafted in 1866, contains many of the most significant of the US constitutional protections, including the rights to equal protection under the law, due process, and citizenship. The amendment was designed primarily to permanently break up the Southern slavocracy by providing full citizenship and democratic rights to the freed slaves. For definite reasons, the word “equal” appears in the 14th Amendment for the first time in the US Constitution and nowhere else.

The 14th Amendment effected a significant change in US constitutional law. Subsequent Supreme Court cases interpreted the 14th Amendment to apply the protections of the Bill of Rights to the states, which they formerly did not. The 14th Amendment also provided the legal rationale during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s to desegregate the South and strike down the discriminatory Jim Crow laws. The rights to privacy, marriage and abortion have their source in the 14th Amendment’s due process clause.

It comes as no surprise that for political reactionaries the 14th Amendment has always been a sore spot.

The history of the 14th Amendment has been largely distorted in the media. On July 30, for example, the Wall Street Journal reported uncritically the claim of Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce that “when it was ratified in 1868, the amendment had to do with African-Americans; it had nothing to do with aliens.” This claim has become a recurring theme on television and radio shows in which the proposed amendment is being discussed.

The Senate record of 1866, when the amendment was drafted, is replete with acknowledgments by individual senators that the amendment would apply to the children of non-citizen immigrants. In fact, the issue was hotly debated.

For example, Senator Edgar Cowan of Pennsylvania opposed the amendment on the Senate floor on the grounds that children of Asian immigrants would become citizens by virtue of the citizenship clause, and that Asians would “pour in their millions upon our Pacific coast in a very short time.”

Senator John Conness of California rejected this position, stating, “We are entirely ready to accept the provision proposed in this constitutional amendment, that the children born here of Mongolian parents shall be declared by the Constitution of the United States to be entitled to civil rights and to equal protection before the law with others.”

Section 1 of the 14th Amendment reads, in full, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The citizenship clause is itself significant because it places American citizenship on a substantially democratic basis. Under the 14th Amendment, every person born in the US has a constitutional right to citizenship. Citizenship cannot be made contingent on race, religion, political affiliation or allegiance, national origin, or heritage. Citizenship is irrevocable. Citizenship and all of the consequent rights and privileges cannot be taken away by the government. Finally, the 14th Amendment ensures there is only one class of citizen. Southern states were prevented by the citizenship clause from creating separate classes of citizenship based on race.

The right to citizenship is a right on which many other rights depend. For example, in the recent case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004), the US Supreme Court held that a US citizen has a right to habeas corpus, or judicial review of detention, that cannot be overridden by the president’s designation of a person as an “unlawful enemy combatant.” However, in subsequent cases, the Supreme Court found that a non-citizen could be denied the same right.

If citizenship can be revoked and a non-citizen can be denied constitutional protections, then the entire system of democratic rights can be bypassed and a class of persons with no rights can be created. This is what is behind Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman’s proposal in May of this year for a “citizenship-stripping” law. This proposed law would empower the State Department to revoke a person’s citizenship if the person were found to have engaged in “terrorist activities” or other acts of “disloyalty.” A number of prominent Democrats have signaled support for such a law, including Charles Schumer of New York.

Responding to the campaign to abolish the 14th Amendment citizenship clause, the Atlantic magazine remarked, “The question, then, is how, and what requirement would replace US birth.” So far, no specific proposals have been made publicly. However, the magazine reported that an unnamed Senate aide had indicated the proposed amendment “would specify that Congress has the power to delineate citizenship requirements.”

US-Vietnam nuclear talks heighten frictions with China

US-Vietnam nuclear talks heighten frictions with China

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In a move that will further raise regional tensions, the US is conducting negotiations with Vietnam over a deal to allow the purchase of nuclear fuel, as well as American nuclear technology and reactors. The talks, details of which were leaked to the US media last week, are another sign that the Obama administration is engaged in an aggressive strategy of countering Chinese influence throughout the Asian region.

The most detailed account was published in the Wall Street Journal on August 3. Based on the comments of a top US official, the article explained that Washington was in “advanced negotiations” with Hanoi over an agreement to share nuclear fuel and technology with Vietnam. Significantly, the deal would allow Vietnam to enrich its own uranium to produce fuel for its power reactors, subject to monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

While the agreement is yet to be finalised, the proviso allowing uranium enrichment has already provoked criticisms in the Middle East, where the US reached a nuclear deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that ruled out uranium enrichment. “It is ironic… as nonproliferation is one of the [US] president’s top goals that the UAE model is not being endorsed here [with Vietnam]… People will start to see a double standard,” a senior Arab official cautiously told the Wall Street Journal.

The cynicism of the Obama administration’s projected nuclear deal with Vietnam is underscored by its campaign against Iran over the same issue. Washington has imposed punitive sanctions and threatened military action against Tehran for building enrichment facilities and producing low-enriched uranium, under IAEA monitoring, to fuel its power reactors—precisely what Hanoi would be permitted to do.

In his comments to the Wall Street Journal, the senior US official justified the double standard with the claim that Iran was planning to build nuclear weapons—an assertion that Washington has never proved. “Given our special concerns about Iran and the genuine threat of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, we believe the UAE… agreement is a model for [that] region. These same concerns do not specifically apply in Asia. We will take different approaches region by region and country by country,” the official said.

In reality, the “different approaches” have the same driving force—the strategic and economic interests of US imperialism. In the case of Iran, the Obama administration is exploiting the nuclear issue as a means of fashioning a regime favourable to US ambitions for dominance throughout the energy-rich regions of the Middle East and Central Asia. In the case of Vietnam, the White House is forging close strategic ties as part of broader plans to block Chinese influence in South East Asia.

The Wall Street Journal acknowledged that the US-Vietnam nuclear deal was “the latest example of the US’s renewed assertiveness in South and South East Asia, as Washington strengthens its ties with nations that have grown increasingly wary of Beijing’s growing regional might”. Asked whether China had been informed about the talks, the senior US official replied: “This is a negotiation between the US and Vietnam. We don’t ask China to approve issues that are in our own strategic interest.”

In an indication of Beijing’s opposition, a senior Chinese nonproliferation official told the state-run China Daily that the US-Vietnam talks showed “double standards” and “challenged the present international order”. The Times of India commented that the US negotiations had taken Beijing by surprise. The article noted that China had signed its own nuclear agreement with the Vietnamese government in July last year and had hoped to be chosen to build Vietnam’s planned nuclear power stations.

Like other South East Asian countries, Vietnam is attempting to balance between the US and China, even as rivalry between the two powers intensifies. While acknowledging that an initial nuclear agreement with the US had been reached in March, Vietnamese officials downplayed the negotiations toward a final pact, saying they were yet to begin. Vietnam’s Atomic Energy Institute director Vuong Huu Tan said his country had no plans to enrich uranium, adding: “Vietnam doesn’t want to make its international relations complicated.”

As a result of its rapid economic expansion, Vietnam is suffering power shortages and plans to build as many as 13 nuclear power plants, with a combined capacity of 16,000 megawatts, over the next two decades. US, Russian, Japanese, Chinese and French corporations are vying for the contracts to build them. Russia’s Rosatom Corp has been chosen to build the first plant, but American corporations such as General Electric and Bechtel obviously want a nuclear agreement between the two countries that would put them in the running.

However, the US decision to offer Vietnam an agreement on favourable terms goes beyond immediate economic calculations. The Obama administration is determined to forge closer ties with Vietnam as part of increasingly blatant moves to develop “strategic partnerships” and consolidate current military alliances with countries throughout Asia. Confronted with the challenge of China’s rising economic strength, the US, which is waning as an economic power, is relying on military and strategic muscle to defend its position.

The leaked news of US-Vietnamese nuclear talks follows US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s provocative statements on the South China Sea at last month’s Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) security forum in Hanoi. The South China Sea, along with the Spratly and Paracel islands, has been the subject of sharply conflicting claims between China and several ASEAN countries, including Vietnam.

In the past, the US has maintained a neutral stance on the competing claims to sovereignty in the South China Sea. At the ASEAN meeting, however, Clinton sided with Vietnam and other ASEAN members, calling for a “regional code of conduct” in opposition to China’s claims in the strategically sensitive area. China’s foreign minister Yang Jichi condemned Clinton’s comments, describing them as “virtually an attack on China”.

While in Hanoi, Clinton also commented on growing US-Vietnamese cooperation on a range of security, economic and environmental issues. “The Obama administration is prepared to take the US-Vietnam relationship to the next level,” she declared. “We see this relationship not only as important on its own merits, but as part of a strategy aimed at enhancing American engagement in the Asia Pacific.”

Despite the bitter legacy of US imperialism’s war on Vietnam until 1975, the Stalinist regime in Hanoi has had no qualms about developing its relations with Washington. Like its counterpart in China, the Vietnamese government has transformed the country into a cheap labour platform and is increasingly dependent on the US for trade, investment and economic aid. The US is now Vietnam’s largest market, accounting for 20 percent of exports, and in 2009 was the largest source of foreign investment.

Even though Vietnam wants to avoid antagonising China, there is longstanding rivalry between the two countries. With the tacit support of the US, China launched a war against Vietnam in 1979 aimed at crippling the regime, which had just toppled Pol Pot in neighbouring Cambodia. While China and Vietnam have since patched up relations, the two countries have a disputed land border, and have clashed over control of the Spratly Islands. Increasingly, Hanoi is tilting toward the US as a means of prosecuting its own regional ambitions, particularly against China.

In a demonstration of closer military ties, the US sent the aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington, to Vietnam last Sunday to mark the 15th anniversary of the normalisation of relations between the two countries. In recent years, the US has sent warships to visit Vietnam, raising fears in Beijing that ports such as Cam Ranh Bay will, in effect, again become major US bases, as they were during the Vietnam War. The visit by the USS Washington was particularly provocative—both because of its size and fighting capacity, and also because the same warship engaged in joint naval exercises with the South Korean navy off the Korean Peninsula last month. China publicly warned against such war games so close to its coastline.

At the ASEAN summit last month, US Secretary of State Clinton bluntly declared that the US was “back in South East Asia”—reflecting criticisms of the previous Bush administration for having neglected Asia. The nuclear talks with Vietnam confirm that the Obama administration is accelerating its reckless strategy of undermining China’s position in Asia, regardless of the potential for confrontation and conflict.

A massive crime compounded by a massive cover-up

A massive crime compounded by a massive cover-up

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The Obama adminsitration is in full propaganda mode in an effort to declare an end to the Gulf oil disaster. The way is being prepared for the oil industry in the Gulf to return to business as usual, while working people, whose livelihoods were stripped away by the Deepwater Horizon disaster, will be left to fend for themselves.

The administration is promoting claims that most of the oil erupting from the leak has either been contained or evaporated, with only a quarter posing a continued threat to the region.

The claim, advanced in a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and promoted by the National Incident Command in the Gulf, is simply the latest in a long record of lies and falsifications. From the beginning, the policy of both BP and the Obama administration has been to cover up the true size and scope of the oil spill. It was NOAA which provided the claim in the days immediately following the April 20 blowout that only 5,000 barrels per day were spilling into the Gulf, and continued to drastically underestimate the size of the spill throughout the crisis.

Like those claims, the current numbers were immediately challenged by independent scientists. Among them was Susan Shaw, the director of the Marine Environmental Research Institute, who told the press, “The blanket statement that the public understood is that most of the oil has disappeared. That is not true. About 50 percent of it is still in the water.” Others, like University of South Florida chemical oceanographer David Hollander, who described the findings as “ludicrous,” have said as much as 75 percent of the oil remains unaccounted for.

Even if the administration’s numbers were accurate, this still means that more than 100 million gallons of oil remain in the Gulf (either on the surface or sunk to the bottom of the sea)—about ten times more than was released by the Exxon Valdez.

The widespread concerns of scientists did not deter the administration from its public relations campaign. Carol Browner, the director of the Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, went on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday to assure the American people that “the vast majority of oil is gone.” The same day, Thad Allen, head of the National Incident Command, appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation” to congratulate BP, saying they have done “very well” with operations at the wellhead. His only criticism of the oil giant was for errors in judgement regarding their public relations campaign.

Under pressure from the oil industry to rescind the moratorium on offshore drilling, scheduled to end November 30, Michael Bromwich, the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement indicated this week that his agency was prepared to do just that, saying “I think it’s everybody’s hope that we will feel comfortable enough that the moratorium can be lifted significantly in advance of November 30.”

The oil companies will return to drilling without having been compelled to make changes to their safety practices. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat—Nevada) recently withdrew a bill calling for stricter regulations on deepwater drilling and greater financial penalities for corporations responsible for spills.

The campaign to minimize the impact of the spill is also designed to reinforce the adminsitration’s efforts to ensure the continued profitability of BP. The grossly inadequate $20 billion compensation fund set up by BP and the Obama administration only serves to shield the oil giant from overwhelming financial liabilities. The fund is administered by Kenneth Feinberg who was appointed by President Obama and, it has been revealed, is on the BP payroll. Feinberg’s job will entail settling only those claims against BP which he designates as “legitimate,” while working to prevent costly litigation for the company.

Above all, no one will be held accountable—either in BP or the government, which facilitated the disaster by giving free rein to the company to ignore safety and environmental regulations. The Obama administration’s investigation into the cause of the Deepwater Horizon disaster stands exposed as a farce. The New Orleans hearings, co-chaired by ConocoPhillips board member William Reilly, amounted to little more than public relations events in which representatives of BP and the US Coast Guard were given the opportunity to present the company line unchallenged.

These events expose the absolute dicatorship that corporations like BP exercise over American society. They expose a political system in which both the Democrats and Republicans function as direct agents of the corporate elite. Just as the financial speculators on Wall Street escaped prosecution for the criminal activities which led to the global economic crisis, the executives at BP, if the administration has its way, will escape the Deepwater Horizon disaster unscathed.

With unbridled contempt for the population, the administration—along with the entire political establishement and mass media—believes that it can simply declare “mission accomplished” and move on from the worst environmental disaster in US history.

But it is in for a rude shock. The blatant criminality exposed by the BP oil spill, combined with the throughly corrupt and cynical response of the government, has only added to mounting public outrage in the US, outrage that will find political expression, sooner rather than later. When it does so, it must be based on the realization that there can be no serious response to disasters like the Gulf oil spill—and no serious effort to prevent the next disaster—that does not address the problem at its source: the capitalist system.

Palestinians Denied Access to Water

Palestinians Denied Access to Water

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According to OCHA (the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), Palestinians face a serious water crisis, being denied access to their own resources.

Cara Flowers with the Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Group (EWASH - a coalition of almost 30 water and sanitation sector organizations in Occupied Palestine) said many vulnerable communities in Israeli-controlled Area C (covering 60% of the West Bank) are hardest hit, the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) having limited say over its own resources, ones Israel uses itself, an international water expert saying:

It's "easy (making) the desert bloom by using someone else's water (and) denying them access to their fair share...." In some areas, it's easier denying them none except what they can obtain by other means or illegally.

In 2009, Amnesty International (AI) addressed the problem in its report titled, "Troubled Waters - Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water," explaining that water is life, stealing it a crime, without it "we can't live; not us, not the animals, or the plants," said Fatima al-Nawajah, a South Hebron Hills area resident.

Throughout the Occupied Territories, the problem is longstanding, exacerbated by Israeli water policies, denying Palestinians for themselves, preventing their right to their own resources.

"The inequality in access....between Israelis and Palestinians is striking," especially in summer when needs are greatest. Palestinians consume about 70 liters per capita a day (the lowest amount in the region), well below the WHO-recommended 100 liter minimum, and in some rural areas much less, as little as 20 liters.

In contrast, Israelis use about 300 liters, denying Palestinians an equitable share, including from the underground Mountain Aquifer and Jordan River surface water, reserved solely for Jews.

As a result, around 200,000 Palestinians in rural communities have no access to running water, even in towns and villages connected to the water network because taps often run dry. So rationing is common, especially in summer, with villages and neighborhoods getting piped supplies one day weekly or, in some cases, one every few weeks.

Consequently, many Palestinians must buy water at exorbitant prices, often of "dubious quality," a severe burden for poor families consuming as much as one-fourth of their income, what most can't afford.

In Gaza, the Coastal Aquifer's southern end is the only supply, an inadequate resource for 1.5 million people, Israel prohibiting West Bank transfers. However, "the aquifer has been depleted and contaminated by over-extraction and by sewage and seawater infiltration," making up to 95% of it unfit for irrigation and human consumption.

In addition, vital equipment and other supplies needed to develop and repair infrastructure are prohibited, causing further water and sanitation deterioration, now at a "crisis point," especially in refugee camps and isolated poor communities.

Moreover, for over four decades, Israel over-exploited OPT resources, neglected its water and sanitation infrastructure, denied permit authority to alleviate it, and used the Territories as a dumping ground for its waste, damaging groundwater resources and the environment - in violation of its obligations as an occupier, the Palestinian Authority (PA), Palestinian Water Authority (PWA), and international donors unable to compensate enough because Israel obstructs them.

With no other choice, some Palestinians have drilled unlicensed wells. Others connected to the water network illegally, and many stopped paying their bills, further compounding the problem by undermining the PWA's authority and economic viability, making it dependent on international donors, an unreliable source at best.

Israeli and Occupied Territory Water Resources

Israel and Palestine share the West Bank Mountain Aquifer, for West Bank Palestinians their only resource and a vital one for Israel, replenished by rain and northern snow, flowing north and west toward Israel and the Jordan River in the east.

It's composed of three aquifers (or basins) - the Western, Northeastern, and Eastern ones - with an average yield of 679 - 734 MCM (millions of cubic meters), the higher figure from the Hydrological Service of Israel (HSI), "the most authoritative source," the lower one used by Israeli authorities to allocate supplies to Palestinians.

Gaza's Coastal Aquifer yields up to 450 MCM for Israel, leaving a meager 55 for Gazans requiring other ways to compensate. Doing without isn't an option.

Israel gets additional supplies from the Western Galilee and Carmel Aquifers in the north and southern Negev-Aravah Aquifer. No reliable yields for either are available.

The Jordan River is the most important surface water source, supplying up to 650 MCM, exclusively for Jews, Palestinians denied it entirely, withholding a crucial resource, drying up from overuse, impacting the Dead Sea severely, experiencing a water drop to its lowest ever level.

Israel's Military Order Water Grab

Relevant ones are as follows:

-- No. 92 giving Israel control of all West Bank and Gaza water;

-- No. 158 stipulating that Palestinians can't construct water installations without (nearly impossible to get) permits and those built will be confiscated; and

-- No. 291 annulling all land and water-related arrangements prior to the occupation.

Military orders apply only to Palestinians, not Israelis, including settlers, subject to civil law. Moreover, Israel continues developing its own water infrastructure, reducing Palestinian yields for a growing population and crippling its agricultural output.

For over four decades, Israel restricted water (and land) availability to Palestinians, granting its own and settler populations privileged access. As a result, Palestinians compensate to make due using unsafe sources, buying what they can afford, reusing water, flushing toilets less often, washing less regularly, washing clothes and floors infrequently, growing rain-fed crops in home gardens, keeping fewer animals, and drilling unlicensed shallow wells.

Oslo Accords Established Inequality

The agreement ostensibly "recognize(d) the Palestinian water rights in the West Bank. These will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations and settled in the Permanent Status Agreement (PMA) relating to the various water resources."

However, 17 years later, a PMA was never reached, and Oslo rights were vague and undefined, preventing an equitable distribution of resources - Palestinians getting a meager 20% from the Mountain Aquifer and none from the Jordan River, Israel taking the lion's share, one Palestinian saying:

"There is no water in the village, so we have to bring it from far away and it's expensive. I can't wash and clean as often as needed. We can't afford it. It's a daily struggle."

Gaza's Water Crisis

AI called it dire, the Coastal Aquifer polluted by raw sewage from cesspits and waste collection ponds and seawater, itself contaminated from daily discharges into the Mediterranean Sea. As a result, waterborne diseases are common, UNWRA reporting in February 2009 that:

"Water diarrhea as well as acute bloody diarrhea remain the major causes of morbidity among reportable infectious diseases in (Gaza's) refugee population...."

In September 2009, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP):

"The pollution of groundwater is contributing to two main types of water contamination in the Gaza Strip. First and most importantly, it is causing the nitrate levels in the groundwater to increase. In most parts of (Gaza), especially around areas of intensive sewage infiltration, the nitrate level in groundwater is far above (accepted) guidelines....Second, because the water abstracted now is high in salt, the sewage is also very saline. (It's well known that higher drinking water nitrate levels) can induce methemoglobinaemia (a blood disorder) in young children."

Oslo's Established Joint Water Committee (JWC)

AI called it a "pretense of cooperation," composed of Israeli and Palestinian representatives, ostensibly requiring both sides to agree on water sector activities. In fact, however, Israel dominates it, an international donor saying "The interaction between the two sides during the meetings can best be described as an exercise in subjugation and humiliation," Palestinians entirely shut out, needing Israeli permission for all water related activities, even minor ones, restricting supplies by limiting access, and destroying Palestinian facilities, including storage cisterns, agricultural pools and spring canals for harvested rainwater as well as unlawful water network connections.

Barring Water Access by the Separation Wall

A Jayyus hydrologist expressed angst saying:

"We are here and our water is there. Many farmers don't have permits to go to cultivate their land where the water is, and on this side of the wall we suffer from lack of water."

Tens of thousands of Palestinians are affected, separated from their land, farms and water resources and denied their means of livelihood - the Wall's route confiscating some of the most fertile, water-rich areas, Palestinians denied permission to use it.

Prior to the Wall's construction, Jayyus, near Qalqilya, was the region's food basket, its land some of the most fertile because water was plentiful. No longer, agricultural output falling to a fraction of its former level, making most families dependent on humanitarian aid. Other area villages were also affected, including Ras al-Tira, Dab'a, Wadi al-Rasha, and Ramadin, cut off and trapped in the "Alfei Menashe enclave," so-called because the Wall encompasses the Alfei Menashe settlement and much land around it. Qalqilya has been severely impacted, surrounded by the Wall on three sides, cut off from access to 80% of its agricultural land and 11 wells.

Movement Restrictions Affecting Water Access

Besides the Wall, they include hundreds of checkpoints, other barriers and various obstacles, including cement blocks, earth mounds and gates, creating a nightmarish system to negotiate, obstructing access and requiring detours, delays, and time-consuming journeys, what used to be less grueling.

According to a Susya resident:

"It takes me most of the day to go to the well, fill up the tanker and bring the water to the village....I have to rent the tractor, pay for fuel and spend a lot of money and time just to bring some water for our basic needs. At such a high cost, we cannot afford to buy water to irrigate the we have no fodder for the sheep. We are being forced to sell some sheep because we cannot afford to feed them, but the sheep are our livelihood and if we are forced to sell them we will lose (it) for good."

Other towns and villages are just as impacted, seeing their way of life destroyed with few ways to compensate.

Military Attacks Destroying Water Infrastructure

Wells, water connections, cisterns, roof water tanks, mains and sewage conduits "have been routinely (destroyed by air strikes or) crushed by tanks and armoured vehicles during Israeli military incursions" in both Gaza and the West Bank, and efforts to repair damage have been obstructed or prevented, exposing residents to long periods without water, forcing them to rely on unsafe sources and consume less.

During Cast Lead, attacks caused millions of dollars of damage to Gaza's water supply, sewage and wastewater facilities and infrastructure. In northern Gaza, three facilities were destroyed and the emergency sewage treatment plant damaged, as well as water distribution networks. In central Gaza, the Sheikh 'Ajlin sewage treatment plant was damaged, causing raw waste to flood over a square km of agricultural and residential land, ruining crops and contaminating neighborhoods.

In northern and eastern Gaza, Israeli tanks and bulldozers destroyed or damaged water mains, leaving over 800,000 people without running water. More recently, contamination is still high, and repairs not made because needed parts and materials are banned.

A September 2009 UNEP report called Gaza's water resources in crisis before Cast Lead, its destruction and damage aggravating a bad situation, accelerating aquifer pollution and reducing the supply of available drinking water.

Settlers' Attacks on Water Facilities

Attacks are frequent, damaging, and done with impunity, Israeli authorities doing nothing to stop them or punish those responsible. "Indeed settler attacks (are) often perpetrated in the presence or with the knowledge or tacit consent of Israeli soldiers, and in some cases with their active participation."

Even if injuries or deaths occur, offenders aren't prosecuted, settlers getting carte blanche to pillage, destroy, and at times kill. AI and other human rights representatives have been targeted while investigating or documenting incidents, making them as vulnerable as Palestinians.

PA/PWA Failures and Mismanagement

Evidence reveals corruption, mismanagement, a lack of transparency and accountability, an audit saying "chaos reigns in the water sector (because of) political/personal infighting...."

They're also hamstrung by lack of control, a water and sanitation sector in duress, an insufficient water supply to meet needs, a dependence on international donors, their own self-interest prioritized, Israeli-imposed restrictions, and a population disenfranchised by decades of occupation.

As a result, both authorities face an impossible challenge, unable to provide enough water to millions of Palestinians, undermining their credibility.

Dependence on International Donors

Because of Israeli control over permission to pursue projects, international donors have borne the costs of emergency ones, including repairing damaged infrastructure and providing services to Palestinians who lost their homes and property and have no adequate access to water. Because of the siege, Gaza is especially impacted, its water sector damaged or destroyed, creating grave problems for the people dependent on it for survival.

International Law - The Right to Access Water

"Under international law, Israel, as the occupying power (has) well defined responsibilities to respect the Palestinians' human right to water, (and) must take deliberate, concrete and targeted steps to ensure this right is fulfilled and fully realized."

Various human rights laws are relevant, notably the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Fourth Geneva and both Hague Conventions also apply as binding international law, protecting civilian populations, Israel alone contending these obligations don't apply to OPT Palestinians, just its own settlers, despite UN bodies and ICJ rulings stating otherwise, including the right to water, required to be adequate for human dignity, life and health under ICESCR's Articles 11 and 12.

It must be available, sufficient, safe, accessible, and affordable on a non-discriminatory basis, including to the most vulnerable and marginalized, Israel prohibited from interfering directly or indirectly with its delivery, the obligation including:

"refraining from engaging in any practice or activity that denies or limits equal access to adequate water; arbitrarily interfering with customary or traditional arrangements for water allocation; unlawfully diminishing or polluting water....; and limiting access to, or destroying, water services and infrastructure as a punitive measure," including during armed conflicts.

Systematically, Israel has been grievously in breach, spurning its well-defined obligations, harming millions of Palestinians, including their right to food, clean water, and life, inviolable ones under international law, obligating it supply what no one can live without, requiring that member states assure it, and hold Israel accountable otherwise, assuring no one is above the law - not Israel or its Washington paymaster/partner.

The War on Iraq : 5 US Presidents, 5 British PMs, 30 Years of Duplicity, and Counting

The War on Iraq : Five US Presidents, Five British Prime Ministers, Thirty Years of Duplicity, and Counting....

Go To Original

"Out of the mirror they stare,Imperialism's faceAnd the international wrong." (W.H. Auden, 1907-1973, writing in 1939.)

Twenty years ago this August, with a green light from America, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. He had walked into possibly the biggest trap in modern history, unleashing Iraq's two decade decimation, untold suffering, illegal bombings, return of diseases previously eradicated and what can also only be described as UN-sponsored infanticide.

The reason for the Kuwait invasion, has been air brushed out of the fact books by Britain and America, and been presented as the irrational and dangerous act of a belligerent tyrant who was a threat to his neighbours. He had, they pointed out piously, attacked, then fought an eight year war with Iran, and exactly two years to the month, after the 20th August 1988 ceasefire, invaded Kuwait, on 2nd August 1990.

It was, of course, not quite that simple. After the US engineered the fall of the democratic government of Mossadegh, in Iran, resultant from his nationalizing the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP) in 1953. After two years of economically ravaging sanctions, The US installed Shah Reza Pahvlavi (whose savage state police, SAVAK, were trained by General Norman Schwartzkopf, Snr., father of General "Storming" Norman Schwartzopf of the 1991 Gulf war, who famously declared at the time of the ceasefire: "... no one left to kill .." ) Under the Shah, oil arrangements satisfactory to the United States were, of course, restored.

Five years later, across the border in Iraq, the British installed monarchy was overthrown and the popular leader of the anti-British uprising, Abdel Karim Kassem, began nationalizing the country's Western assets. It took the CIA just five more years to bring about his overthrow. They picked the wrong collaborators, the nascent Ba'ath Party, with Saddam Hussein as Vice President, embarked on nationalizing the oil industry. President Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger schemed with Iran to arm the Kurds and weaken the Iraqi government. Iraq was placed on list of supporters of terrorism.

Interestingly, Saddam, and the Shah quietly came to US-excluded, mutually beneficial agreement - and aid to the Kurds was cut.

In 1980, the year after the Shah was overthrown, to grass roots Iranian jubilation, President Jimmy Carter announced the "Carter Doctrine", with breath taking political arrogance, granting the US the unilateral right to intervene in the Persian Gulf region to protect US oil demands. With (broadly) a US political nod and wink, Iraq invaded Iran - the US aiding both sides in a war where the million lives estimated lost equal that of Rwanda and Armenia, each which have been cited as a genocide.

Iraq was also perceived as a more secular buffer again fundamentalist tendencies in Iran, under Ayatollah Khomeni. (Ironically, now, Iraq is largely politically dominated by fundamentalist Iranian-backed factions, which came in with the invasion, due, seemingly, to blind ignorance of the region by the British and Americans, their useless "diplomats" and unemployable "Middle East experts.")

Carter won the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize. His Carter Center blurb informs: "President Carter has been committed to peace in the Middle East since his White House days (and) advancing human rights, accountability and the rule of law", in the region. Devotion is to : "Peace with Justice"; "Waging Peace."

In 1984, President Reagan ordered the sharing of top secret intelligence with Iraq - and also with Iran. The following year, Colonel Oliver North of Iran-Contra infamy, informed Iranian authorities that the US would help Iran overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Subsequently, when Iraq looked vulnerable in America's (arguably) proxy bloodbath, US military hardware and other assistance was ratcheted up. Breathtaking duplicity being the order of the decade, General Norman Schwartzkopf, then head of CENTCOM quietly intervened by re-flagging Kuwaiti tankers (with US flags) thus if attacked, it would be deemed an attack on the United States. The US began bombing Iranian oil platforms.

The scales tipped for Iraq, and in August 1988 the ceasefire was signed - and the (US) Center for Strategic and International Studies immediately began a two years study on the outcome of a war between the United States and Iraq. The following year, with much of Iraq's youth "stone dead ..", terribly wounded or imprisoned in Iran, it's Air Force near wiped out, and the country financially on its knees, the US renamed War Plan 1002 - dreamt up to counter a Soviet confrontation - War Plan 1002-90, designating Iraq the new threat.

Iraq, needing to recoup the $billions the war had cost, now addressed the problem of Kuwait's alleged systematic "slant drilling" under the Iraq/Kuwait border, in to Iraq's Rumeila oil field, syphoning off, claimed Iraq, millions of $'s worth of oil. Iraq wanted - and desparately needed - reparation. Not in dispute is that over the eight years of war, Kuwait had moved its borders northwards in to Iraq by some considerable distance, by establishing encroaching settlements. Iraq wanted its territory back. Kuwait and the Gulf states were also manipulating oil prices, to hard pressed Iraq's disadvantage, with Washington's backing, claimed Iraq, with some justification.

Iraq, additionally, wanted to negotiate to lease two islands, Warbah and Bubiyan, from Kuwait, for additional access to the Gulf, which would also have reduced residual tensions with Tehran.* Tiny Kuwait, population at the time, under two million - "an oil company masquerading as a country", as one commentator remarked unkindly - confident of mighty Washington's backing, refused negotiation - as it had in 1975 and 1980.

After two years of attempts to resolve the problems with Kuwait, in late July, 1990, Saddam Hussein met with US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie. With the border tensions mounting, she told him that:"I have direct instruction from the President (Bush Snr.,) to seek better relations with Iraq." She even expressed the United States apology for a critical article on Iraq by the American Information Agency, designating resultant broadcasted comments: " and unjust." Adding that : "President Bush ... is not going to declare an economic war against Iraq."

She continued: "I admire your extraordinary efforts to rebuild your country. I know you need funds. We understand that and out opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country." (How arrogantly, patronisingly kind.) Then: "But we have no opinion on Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border dispute with Kuwait." Her conversation followed on from a meeting the previous April, between Glaspie and President Saddam, with five US Senators, Robert Dole, Alan Simpson, Howard Metzenbaum, James McClure and Frank Murkowski, who had travelled to Iraq, with President Bush's blessings, ostensibly to form better relations and trade relations with Iraq and to assure that President Bush would oppose any suggestion of sanctions on Iraq.

President Saddam commented later to Glaspie that anyway: "There is nothing left for us to buy from America except wheat. Every time we want to buy something they say it is forbidden. I am afraid, one day, you will say 'You are going to make gunpowder out of wheat.' " (1)

The response to the invasion of Kuwait, was, of course, an embargo of unique severity, imposed on Hiroshima Day (6th August) 1990 (UNSCR 661.) All overseas assets were frozen, as were oil sales, thus, effectively all imports in a country which imported two thirds of absolutely everything (on advice given by the United Nations via their UN Food and Agriculture Organization.) Iraq faced famine. Infant mortality doubled in just four months, by December 1990. Advice to any country when outside consultants counsel relinquishing self-sufficieny : Don't do it. The day before the embargo was imposed, President H.W. Bush stated:

"What's emerging is nobody seems to be showing up as willing to accept anything less than total withdrawal from Kuwait of the Iraqi forces, and no puppet regime. We've been down that road, and there will be no puppet regime that will be accepted by any countries that I'm familiar with. And there seems to be a united front out there that says Iraq, having committed brutal, naked aggression, ought to get out, and that this concept of their installing some puppet -- leaving behind -- will not be acceptable. ... There is no intention on the part of any of these countries to accept a puppet government, and that signal is going out loud and clear to Iraq. I will not discuss with you what my options are or might be, but they're wide open, I can assure you of that."

Britain's then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher - whose son, Mark, was allegedly doing arms deals across the Middle East, using his mother's status - pitched in on Hiroshima Day : " ... I think it is quite different when you have a nation which has violated all rules of United Nations Charter, which has gone in with guns and tanks to take and invade another country, which would have far-reaching consequences if it were left like that for every other country in the world ... " (Given America's British-backed, bombings, invasions, imposed, useless, corrupt, foreign passport holding puppet governments, imposed since the Balkans in 1999 alone, irony is redundant.)

Without Congressional approval, Bush ordered forty thousand US troops to "defend Saudi Arabia", despite no sign of any intention by Iraq to attack the Kingdom. Washington lied that Iraq's troops were massing on Saudi's border. They were not.

Entirely forgotten, is that just ten days after the invasion, Saddam Hussein, a staunch supporter of Palestinian rights, announced that Iraq would with draw from Kuwait, if Israel withdrew from Israeli occupied Palestinian territories. The United States rejected the offer, out of hand. Subsequently Iraq proposed withdrawal without the stipulation relating to Palestine. Washington rejected it as "a complete nonstarter." For Washington, seemingly, war, war, is ever preferable to jaw, jaw. Heaven forbid peace should ever reign, the military industrial complex's billion $s munitions bonanza would dry up and the remnants of the US economy with it. (For graphic unravelling of the unholy conspiracy in this, between media, military and politics, see: "The Global Economic Crisis - The Great Depression of the XX1 Century", Chossudovsky and Marshall,

The US having refused all negotiation, then dispatched an extra three hundred and sixty thousand US troops to the Gulf at the end of November, the UN Security Council passed UNSCR 678, threatening force of Iraq did not withdraw by January 15th - Iraq having offered to withdraw, albeit with conditions on August 12th., and without conditions a short time later.

In Geneva, on 9th January 1991, then Secretary of State James Baker (a "diplomat" who stated: "We will reduce Iraq to a pre-industrial age") met Iraq's Foreign Minister, Tareq Aziz, with a letter from Bush Snr., promising the destruction of Iraq, if Kuwait was not withdrawn from by 15th January. Tareq Aziz stated he would not deliver the letter.

On 17th January the forty two day assault on Iraq began, as now well documented, deliberately destroying all infrastructure necessary to sustain society, including the deliberate targeting of all water purification facilities, with an exact time line of how long it would take Iraq's complex water system "to fully degrade" issued to all NATO Command Headquarters.(2) Somewhere in Iraq's ashes lay all the painstakingly crafted legal Treaties, Conventions and Principles, on war crimes and treatment of civilians in conflict, never to surface again, as far as the US and UK were concerned, arguably now officially signed up to "rogue state" status.

On 21st February, the USSR stated that Iraq had agreed to a complete withdrawal, without conditions. The United States rejected unless they had left by mid-day on 23rd. Interestingly, on the rare occasions the US and UK moot a withdrawal, the public is told, ad nauseum, that this is a complicated process which takes time and can not be achieved overnight. The US ground assault, however, almost could be. It started on 23rd February. Three days later, when the Iraqi troops did withdraw, they with civilians, were strafed mercilessly from both ends of the road to Basra, resulting in a massacre, or for General Norman Schwartkopf, a seemingly psychologically disturbed individual : "A turkey shoot."

The ceasefire was finally agreed by America on February 28th., five months and sixteen days of decimation, after Saddam Hussein had first offered to withdraw.

Two days later, the US killed thousands more, heading from the south, towards Baghdad. Another war crime of enormity, for which no one has ever faced trial.

In the light of the near-unprecented illegality of all which has happened to Iraq, before 1991 and subsequently, the thirteen years of bombings, the famine-style deprivation, and then the illegal invasion built on lie, upon lie, it is worth returning to Margaret Thatcher, who quoted the fine words of St Francis ("Where there is discord, may we bring harmony, where there is error, may we bring truth ... and where there is despair, may we bring hope") from the steps of Downing Street, on 4th May 1979, the day she took office.

Further, in Afghanistan's invasion and ongoing massacres by the occupiers, a gate crashing daily more resembling the towering illegality of that of Iraq, here are more of the 1990 Hiroshima Day's now laughable lauding of the values and integrity of the US and UK: "The West is dealing with a person who, without warning, has gone into the territory of another state with tanks, aircraft and guns, has fought and taken that state against international law, against the will of that state, and has set up a puppet regime. That is the act of an aggressor which must be stopped. While a person who will take such action on one state will take it against another state if he is not stopped."

"President Saddam Hussein and Iraq are aggressors. They have invaded another country, they have taken it by force—that is not the way we do things in this world. Other countries have rights, they have their right to their nationhood, they have the right to their territorial integrity. He has been rightly branded as an aggressor, contrary to international law, and it is not a question of taunting, it is a question of earning the condemnation of the world and the appropriate action which follows." The "Iron lady" Thatcher, was as subservient to Bush Snr., as her slippery successor, Blair was to Clinton and baby Bush.

On the 21st August, Thatcher opined: "I think it is as well to remind ourselves how this whole position started. It started because Saddam Hussein substituted the rule of force for the rule of law and invaded an independent country and that cannot be allowed to stand."

This August, an estimated three million dead later, in Iraq, as the bell now tolls ever louder for Iran, with the near identical sleights of hand and word being played out, as were against Iraq. Farcical, were it not so sinisterly demented, Iran is (says the US and UK) hell bent on making "weapons of mass destruction", remember them? The one's the crazies are still searching for in Iraq? The ones Iraq accounted for not having in 11,800 pages, delivered to the UN in December 2002 and stolen by the US mission to the UN?

The substitution of "the rule of force for the rule of law", seemingly imminent, are there governments, statesmen and women, world bodies and institutions, unions; is there enough people power to halt the juggernaut on the Armageddon highway?

With the United Nations, as ever, either complicit, or asleep at the wheel, can "We the people" finally ".. save succeeding generations from the scourge of war", and the equivalent unimaginable horrors of the equivalent of multiple Hiroshimas and Nagasakis.


Geoff Simons details these complexities with clarity : "From Sumer to Saddam." :

As does : "The Fire this Time", Ramsey Clark, with eagle-eyed witness account, background :

Both with invaluable time-lines.

1. Simons p 314-316.


Profits soar as bosses cut workers

Profits soar as bosses cut workers

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Corporate profits are rising, corporate cash is piling up, business has increased. But jobs are not coming back any time soon for the millions of unemployed.

This is the theme running through the big business media. It shows deep anxiety over the new stage of the capitalist economy and the way the “jobless recovery” is playing out.

While 30 million workers remain unemployed or underemployed, corporate profits have soared to an annual rate of $1.2 trillion — higher than at the height of the bubble. Much of that $1.2 trillion comes from laying off workers and getting more production out of those who remain.

“It turns out,” wrote Steven Pearlstein in the July 30 Washington Post, “that companies have found ways to produce as much as they ever did, but with fewer workers. As a result, over the past year, output for each hour worked rose more than 6 percent, even as average hourly earnings have risen less than 2 percent. The rest of those productivity gains have gone straight to the bottom line, creating a record stash of cash on corporate balance sheets.

“Some of the cash,” continued the article, “has been used to pay down debt or buy back stock. But so far the one thing businesses haven’t done is hire back full-time employees, preferring instead to contract for temporary workers or increase the hours of the workers they already have.”

Pearlstein then made a remarkably candid observation for the big business press: “The only surprise is that anyone is surprised by the lack of private-sector hiring. It is only in the world of Chamber of Commerce propaganda that businesses exist to create jobs. In the real world, businesses exist to create profits for shareholders, not jobs for workers. That’s why they call it capitalism, not job-ism.”

When a mouthpiece of big business such as the Washington Post allows such anti-capitalist commentary, it is a sign of deep worry about the permanence of this economic system.

The July 26 New York Times described the same trend in a piece entitled “U.S. Firms Wringing Huge Profits Out of Job Cuts.” The headline says it all.

The Times chose to focus on Harley-Davidson, whose sales have fallen for the last three years in a row. “But despite that drought,” observed the Times, “Harley’s profits are rising — soaring, in fact. Last week, Harley reported a $71 million profit in the second quarter, more than triple what it earned a year ago.

“This seeming contradiction — falling sales and rising profits — is one reason the mood on Wall Street is so much more buoyant than in households, where pessimism runs deep and joblessness shows few signs of easing.”

A future of economic contraction & layoffs

The Times points to the fact that Harley has laid off 2,000 workers — a fifth of its workforce — and is planning to terminate 1,400 to 1,600 more by the end of next year. Harley has warned union employees at its Milwaukee factory that it would move production elsewhere in the United States if they did not agree to more flexible work rules and tens of millions in cost-saving measures.

Harley’s evolution is part of a longer-term shift in U.S. manufacturing, said Rod Lache, an analyst with Deutsche Bank, in the Times article. “These companies have cracked the code of a successful industrial turnaround. They’re shrinking the business to a size that’s defendable, and growing off that lower base.”

On a larger scale, the Times article continues, Ford’s revenue is down $20 billion since 2005. But this year, instead of a loss, it expects to announce a $5 billion profit in large part because “Ford has shrunk its North American workforce by nearly 50 percent over the last five years.”

“When Alcoa reported a turnaround this month in profits and a 22 percent jump in revenue,” adds the Times, “its chief financial officer, Charles D. McLane Jr., assured investors that it was not eager to recall the 37,000 workers let go since late 2008. ‘We have a tight focus on spending as market activity increases, operating more effectively and minimizing rehires where possible,’ he said. ‘We’re not only holding headcount levels, but are also driving restructuring this quarter that will result in further reductions.’”

A spokesperson for Alcoa said the company “had to be resized to match the realities of the recession.”

Whole industries are making more profits than ever on lower sales. Lower sales reflect lower production. Lower production reflects lower employment. And this is a permanent condition arising out of the present economic crisis.

First-time unemployment claims & the ‘recovery’

Since the end of 2007 these bosses have laid off more than 8 million workers in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. That was on top of the 7 million already unemployed before the crisis hit. Millions of others have been put on short hours, have suffered mandatory furloughs, or have been forced to work at reduced wages with harsh conditions and speed-up.

It is estimated that 150,000 new jobs are needed each month just to hire young people who come of working age. Now many of these youth cannot get any connection to the job market and do not even appear in the statistics.

Most of the layoffs that have taken place are permanent. Jobs are not coming back, even though we are now officially in the fourth quarter of a “recovery.”

First-time jobless filings have remained in the range of at least 450,000 per month during the entire eight months of the “recovery.” This has been described as “eight months of going sideways.” The most recent first-time claims for unemployment went down by a four-week average of 4,500. That decline represents a drop of only 1 percent, which is both statistically and humanly irrelevant for the nearly half a million workers who did file.

What kind of “recovery” is it when official unemployment remains at 9.5 percent?

There is no mystery about the unemployment crisis. The capitalists caused it. And now these millionaires and billionaires are hanging on to their profits and their cash reserves for dear life rather than relieve the mass suffering they have caused.

Nonfinancial companies are sitting on $1.8 trillion in cash reserves, roughly one-quarter more than at the beginning of the recession. Yet they won’t rehire full-time workers in any significant numbers, despite the desperate job crisis. People are losing their homes, living out of their cars, doubling and tripling up with relatives, losing their health insurance and their human dignity, while the moneybags who run the profit system find ways to cut more workers.

A Marxist approach to crisis

Marxists have both an analysis of the crisis and a strategy for fighting back.

From the standpoint of analysis, it is clear that capitalism itself is at an impasse. The system cannot start itself up again, and has reached an historical crisis point. All the technology, all the speed-up, the great rise in productivity — another name for a great increase in the rate of exploitation of the working class — has brought the contradictions of capitalism to a new level.

Workers to live under capitalism must have jobs. For workers to have jobs, production must constantly expand. For production to expand, there must be expanding markets so the capitalists can sell at a profit. But the bosses are boosting their profits by driving down wages, laying off workers permanently and cutting hours. In doing so, they destroy the buying power, the consumption of the workers.

The present crisis with its “jobless recovery” shows that capitalism has only misery in store for the working class, and especially African-American, Latino/a, undocumented immigrants, youth, women and all other oppressed workers who suffer higher rates of unemployment and get lower wages. The capitalists have been putting in job-destroying technology for three decades until it has reached a turning point: The system is now so productive they have to shrink production in order to stay profitable.

This is the vicious capitalist cycle, which only gets worse as the system goes on.

Demand a new WPA-style jobs program

While that is a Marxist analysis of the situation, the Marxist fighting response is that the bosses are on a hiring strike. And the workers have to fight to get jobs any way they can. They must fight to reopen closed workplaces. They must fight to rehire laid-off workers. And they must establish that they have the right to a job. There is no other way for workers to live under capitalism — the right to a job reduces itself to the right to live.

The bosses have $1.8 trillion in cash that they can use to start rehiring — if they are forced to do so by a mass mobilization of the working class and the communities around the country.

But in addition to these direct battles with the bosses, the capitalist government must be forced to give every worker who needs one a job at living wages with benefits. In the Depression of the 1930s, the Roosevelt administration, under pressure of mass demonstrations, was forced to launch the Works Progress Administration. It provided 8 million workers with jobs at prevailing wages.

The question of jobs is becoming a political issue seized on by the right wing to attack undocumented workers and even the Obama administration. This campaign is intended to divide the working class and poison the atmosphere with racism in order to keep the workers from uniting against their real enemy: the bosses and bankers who are ruthlessly throwing them onto the unemployment lines and out of their homes.

The right-wing attack does not include the demand for a jobs program for all. But the workers’ movement, the union movement and all the mass organizations should come together with a practical program to take the trillions of dollars in the vaults of the banks and corporations, the hundreds of billions of dollars given to the Pentagon, and the trillions in tax breaks for the rich and use it to put workers back to work.

The Obama administration has given the banks and corporations many concessions and bailouts, but it is not responsible for the economic crisis. It is capitalism itself and the profit-seeking capitalist class that is responsible.

This tiny handful of billionaires owns and controls the economy and the vast wealth created by the working class. They run the global system of production for profit. The economy must ultimately be taken out of their hands and put in the hands of the workers so that production can be planned to meet the needs of the many, not the profits of the few.

BP scales down cleanup efforts

BP scales down cleanup efforts

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In line with new numbers presented by the National Incident Command in the Gulf of Mexico, claiming the majority of oil from BP’s Macondo well has either been contained or destroyed, BP is drawing down cleanup and recovery efforts in the region.

As the World Socialist Web Site noted yesterday (See “Scientists criticize White House minimization of Gulf disaster”), independent scientists have challenged the NIC’s claims.

On Friday, there were 31,000 BP workers in the Gulf, compared to 48,000 during the height of recovery operations. In a statement last week, CEO Bob Dudley announced, “It’s not too soon for a scaleback,” adding, “you probably don’t need to see people in hazmat suits on the beach” in areas where there is no oil.

In Louisiana, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser has spoken out publicly against the premature reduction in cleanup forces. “We know there’s a lot of oil out there,” he told the press, “It’s going to continue to come ashore, and we’re going to hold their feet to the fire to make sure they’re there until all the oil is gone out of the Gulf of Mexico before we pull all of the assets out of our parish.”

Michael Bromwich, the new director of the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management, formerly the Minerals Management Service, said the moratorium on offshore drilling may now end earlier than the proposed date of November 30. In a Washington press briefing earlier this week, Bromwich told the media, “We may be able to cut short the moratorium before November 20 if that’s what the facts support.”

“I think it is everybody’s hope,” he added, “that we will feel comfortable enough that the moratorium can be lifted significantly in advance of November 30.”

Although the ban has affected less than 1 percent of offshore drilling operations in the Gulf, the oil conglomerates oppose the slightest limitation on their ability to extract enormous profits from the region.

There are roughly 3,600 drilling platforms already in place in the Gulf and hundreds of new leases have been sold to oil companies since the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion, at least 10 of them sold to BP.

ChevronTexaco, the second largest oil company in the US after Exxon Mobil, is the largest leaseholder in the Gulf of Mexico. The drilling moratorium has impacted the drilling of five of their wells in the Gulf. In all, as many as 33 rigs belonging to various companies have had operations suspended due to the ban.

The Gulf is considered an extremely lucrative resource for the oil companies with an estimated 30-40 billion barrels of oil and gas to be found in deepwater reserves.

On Friday, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles, who has managed BP’s recovery efforts in the Gulf but has now been recalled by the company, said the oil giant is considering a return to the very site from which it has spilled as much as 300 million gallons of oil into the Gulf in order to drill once again. Suttles said, “There’s a lot of oil and gas here. We’re going to have to think about what to do with that at some point.” It is estimated there is still as much as $4 billion worth of oil in the reservoir beneath the Macondo well.

Both BP and the Obama administration are doing their best to bring the episode of the Deepwater Horizon disaster to an end and to present the cleanup and recovery efforts as a mission accomplished. For its part, the media will begin to question whether the danger presented by the spill wasn’t overrated to begin with and the path will be prepared for the oil industry to rake in billions in profits from the Gulf once again with no substantial changes made to safety practices or industry regulations.

US economy lost 131,000 jobs in July

US economy lost 131,000 jobs in July

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The US economy lost 131,000 jobs in July, considerably more than most economists had predicted. Companies added 71,000 positions, but the government laid off 143,000 census workers, contributing to the net loss.

The Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also revised downward its statistics for June, concluding that payrolls dropped by 221,000 that month instead of the 125,000 reported on July 2.

The figures reveal that the US economy, which showed signs of life in March and April, is slowing. This is consistent with other reports, including the July 30 announcement by the Commerce Department that gross domestic product (GDP) rose at an annualized rate of 2.4 percent in the second quarter of 2010, a sharp drop from the 3.7 percent growth rate in the previous three months.

The jobless figures are stark.

• The official unemployment rate remained at 9.5 percent last month, but only because some 181,000 people left the work force.

• There are 14.6 million people jobless in the US, according to BLS calculations. The number of unemployed, discouraged or involuntarily part-time workers is more than 25 million, or 16.5 percent of the labor force, one in six Americans. This is also unchanged from the month before.

• Some 6.6 million of the unemployed have been jobless for more than six months, continuing a historic high. There are approximately five unemployed workers for every available opening.

• The unemployment rate for black workers stood at 15.6 percent in July, and 12.1 percent for Latinos.

Manufacturers added 36,000 job in July, but much of the gain was due to fewer than normal seasonal layoffs in the auto industry. Professional and business services lost 13,000 jobs; financial services cut 17,000 employees; and the number of jobs in construction fell by 11,000 (on top of a 21,000 job loss in June).

State and local governments shed 48,000 workers, including public school teachers. Significantly, the number of temporary jobs fell by 6,000, the first drop since last September.

The Associated Press (AP) commented, “Employers usually hire temp workers if they need more output but don’t want to hire permanent employees.” The AP quoted Nigel Gault, chief US economist at HIS Global Insight, as noting that “firms aren’t even adding temporary workers right now.”

Private sector payrolls have increased by only 630,000 so far this year, with some two-thirds of that increase occurring in March and April. The private sector eliminated 8.5 million jobs between December 2007 and December 2009.

The July jobless numbers underscore the fact that a high level of unemployment is now a chronic if not permanent feature of American life.

The workforce participation rate—the percentage of the working-age population working or looking for work—fell to 64.6 percent in July, matching the lowest level since 1985.

An article at MarketWatch—with a subhead reading, “Millions have simply given up on a job”—pointed out that “[I]f the participation rate had remained above 66 percent as it did for most of the past decade, the jobless rate would be 12.2 percent today and there’d be 19.2 million people classified as unemployed, instead of 14.6 million.”

Commentators had some relatively blunt things to say:

The Los Angeles Times noted, “Overall, the latest snapshot of the US economy indicates no momentum building in the crucial job market, which underpins consumer spending and confidence on the part of individuals and businesses. After adding 200,000 private-sector jobs on average in March and April, the labor market has weakened—producing just 51,000 jobs on average in each of the last three months.”

“The nation continues to struggle with its weakest job market in more than a generation,” commented the Washington Post.

Bloomberg cited economist Gault’s comment: “To the extent that we have a labor market recovery, it’s a slow one … I don’t see anything to indicate that the third quarter will be better.”

Daniel Indiviglio in the Atlantic pointed out that “the already weak job market recovery fell off a cliff in May and hasn’t returned.” He added, “The last three months have averaged just 12,333 jobs created, if you exclude Census effects.”

Time magazine wrote, “We need hundreds of thousands of new jobs each month to even start to make up for the millions wiped out by the recession.” According to estimates by the Economic Policy Institute, the economy would have to generate 280,000 jobs every month for the next five years to return the jobless rate to its pre-recession level.

Employers, by and large, are not hiring, but rather attempting to squeeze out every ounce of increased production from the existing work force. The New York Times referred to the comments of a senior economist at PNC Financial Services, Robert Dye, who explained that “employers were pushing for productivity gains among existing workers … ‘I think many employers are realizing that they can get away with very lean payrolls and are pushing their employees as much as they can and without adding,’ he said.”

US labor productivity increased 3 percent in the last 12 months and 4 percent in the first quarter of 2010.

The AP noted, “Corporate net income rose sharply in the second quarter, but businesses aren’t using the proceeds to ramp up hiring. Companies in the S&P 500 index reported a 46 percent increase in net earnings for the second quarter, compared to a year earlier.”

“Businesses just don’t want to hire,” Allen Sinai, chief global economist at Decision Economics, told the New York Times. “Workers are too costly and it’s very easy to substitute technology for labor.”

Sinai “added that with corporate earnings rising partly on the back of cost-cutting, employers are reluctant to give up profits. ‘So while corporate earnings were spectacular,’ Mr. Sinai said, ‘the job market just stinks.’”

Corporate earnings are soaring and “that’s enabled many US companies to amass healthy amounts of cash” (Daily Finance), pushing up stock prices. For the working population, the situation is ever more grim.

Media pundits described the employment situation as “stagnant,” “bleak,” “disappointing,” “lethargic,” “stone-cold,” and the so-called economic recovery as “sluggish,” “[moving] at a glacial pace,” “stuck in neutral,” “stalled,” etc.

Behind these innocuous words and phrases lies a reality of increasing misery for millions of people in the US. Some 50 million faced food insecurity last year, i.e., the inability at one time or another to put food on the table, according to the US Department of Agriculture. A recent study by the Rockefeller Foundation reported that 1 in 5 American households is financially insecure, i.e., has experienced a 25 percent decline in income from one year to the next, the highest level in a quarter-century.

Joblessness is now the major factor driving foreclosures and personal bankruptcy. Some four million homeowners are now in foreclosure proceedings, and banks will likely repossess more than one million homes this year. Unemployment is also leading to higher levels of stress, mental illness, and domestic violence.

A Pew Research poll published in late June found that more than half of all adults in the US labor force “have suffered a spell of unemployment, a cut in pay, a reduction in hours or have become involuntary part-time workers.” A Bloomberg National Poll revealed that more than 7 in 10 Americans believe “the economy is still mired in recession.”

The Obama administration is proposing to do nothing to alleviate the plight of the unemployed. Speaking in Washington on Friday, President Obama attempted to present the grim jobs report as a sign of progress. He noted that private sector jobs have grown in each of the past seven months, without mentioning that the rate of growth has slowed to a snail’s pace.

Oozing complacency and indifference, he said, “That’s a good sign,” and added, “Climbing out of any recession takes some time. The road of recovery is not a straight line.”

Council of Economic Advisers Chair Christina Romer issued a hollow statement Friday morning which did not promise a single serious measure to create jobs. Romer is leaving her post in the Obama administration to return to her well-paid position at the University of California and possibly to become head of the Federal Reserve in San Francisco.

In the face of the deepening social crisis, Romer asserted, “We have made substantial progress from the days when employment was declining by 750,000 a month. But, today’s employment report emphasizes just how important the additional jobs measures before Congress are. In addition to the state fiscal relief nearing passage, the President strongly supports the small business jobs bill and targeted incentives for clean energy investments. There will likely be more bumps in the road ahead as the economy recovers.”

Along with governments all over the world, the Obama administration has turned decisively, with widespread support in the Democratic Party, from so-called stimulus measures to fiscal austerity. It is preparing major cuts in social programs in order to make the working class pay for the multi-trillion-dollar bailout of the banks.