Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Entire US-Mexico Border to Be Guarded by Predator Drones

Entire US-Mexico Border to Be Guarded by Predator Drones

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The entire 2,000-mile US-Mexico border will be monitored by drones starting Wednesday when a new Predator drone begins flying from Corpus Christi, Texas, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.

There are already three drones operating along portions of the border. Aside from the new drone launched today, money for two more was included in $600 million legislation President Barack Obama signed earlier this month, which ramps up border security ahead of midterm elections on Nov. 2 and as Mexico’s heated drug war gains more attention. Meanwhile, Napolitano calls the border safer than ever.

"With the deployment of the Predator in Texas, we will now be able to cover the southwest border from the El Centro sector in California all the way to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, providing critical aerial surveillance assistance to personnel on the ground," Napolitano said during a conference call, according to Reuters.

"This is yet another critical step we have taken in ensuring the safety of the border and is an important tool in our security toolbox," she said.

Previously, the drones had covered only California to the west Texas portion of the border, according to the Associated Press.

By the beginning of next year, six should be operating along the border, covering California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.

The Predator B drones that are being deployed have night-vision cameras and can stay in flight for 30 hours, detecting drug and human smuggling, Reuters added.

Bloomberg reported that Napolitano addressed the administration's focus on deporting those with criminal records.

On the call, Napolitano said the administration has focused the country’s border strategy on criminals who have entered the US illegally. Currently, half of deported illegal immigrants were convicted of a crime, she said. That compares [read pdf report from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement] with 34 percent of those deported in June 2009.

The August legislation signed by Obama also sends 1,200 National Guardsmen to the border, the first of which begin arriving in Arizona this week. Texas is to receive 250 national guardsmen, which Gov. Rick Perry (R), who is up for re-election, has said is not enough. He has asked for 1,000 guardsmen to be sent to Texas alone, the San Antonio Express-News reports.

Texas Republican congressmen sent a letter to Obama this week in support of Perry’s guardsmen request and called the president’s current plan “woefully inadequate,” the Express-News reported.

But the legislation and the addition of drones come at a time when Napolitano also calls the border region safer than ever; “numbers don’t lie,” she said, according to The New York Times.

But the near-daily news of fresh violence in Mexico, such as the finding of a massacre site in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas last week, has increased fears about violence south of the border. Seventy-two migrants from Central and South America – including a pregnant woman – who were trying to enter the US were found killed, presumably by a drug gang that tried to force them to become recruits. It was the largest massacre in Mexico since President Felipe Calderón took office in late 2006 and deployed the army to fight organized crime. About 28,000 have been killed in the years since

The massacre confirmed what analysts have begun to suspect, The Christian Science Monitor reports: gangs are diversifying their criminal activities and targeting groups other than just rival drug traffickers.

Five years since Hurricane Katrina Part 3: The gutting of social infrastructure

Five years since Hurricane Katrina

Part 3: The gutting of social infrastructure

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The following is the third in a series of articles on the fifth anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Part 1, which focused on the political implications of the event, was published August 28; Part 2, an examination of the housing crisis in New Orleans, was published August 30.

In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck the US Gulf Coast, the political establishment used the disaster to carry out long sought after privatizations and cuts to basic public infrastructure. For the wealthy elite, the destruction of working class neighborhoods and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people from New Orleans were seen as a lucrative opportunity to remake the city, at public expense, in its own interests.

While real estate firms, speculators, luxury hotels and the gambling industry were given access to government aid and no-bid contracts, residents of the low-lying, poor neighborhoods were denied significant help. After five years, wide swaths of the city remain crippled by blight—a state of affairs that is being exploited to further gut social services.

Speaking recently in Washington, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu referred to the city as the country’s “laboratory for innovation and change”—a phrase that reveals perhaps more than he intended about the class character of the policies shaping the city. Landrieu declared, “With the fifth anniversary of Katrina approaching, it’s especially important that we stop thinking about rebuilding the city we were and start creating the city we want to become.”

Following the storm, public housing was among the first targets of this agenda. In 2007, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) ordered the destruction of a great deal of heavily damaged housing. That year, HUD razed 4,500 housing units, displacing some 3,000 families who lived there before Katrina. Other remaining housing projects are currently slated for demolition, including some that are still occupied. The number of newly built housing units has not made up for the quantity that was removed, and many of these establishments are slated as “mixed-income,” which means that the poorest residents will be denied access.

The public school system has also been dismantled. Since 2005, three-quarters of New Orleans public schools have been handed over to charter operations. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, 107 schools were taken over by the Recovery School District in order to fast-track the transformation of the public school system into a patchwork of privately-run facilities. Today, 60 percent of students attend charter schools.

On August 25, Mary Landrieu, the Louisiana senator and sister of mayor Mitch Landrieu, announced that the New Orleans school system would receive $1.8 billion in FEMA funds. The FEMA grant lifts requirements that stated that school officials had to rebuild schools that were destroyed by the hurricane, paving the way for even more charter schools. The grant, announced a day after Louisiana was denied $175 million from federal education funds, was “worth the wait,” according to the senator.

The city’s two school districts have had plans for the funds since 2008, when the Recovery School District and the Orleans Parish school boards announced a $1.8 billion plan to “landbank” at least 43 of the 128 still-existing public schools. In the 2010-2011 school year, four new charter schools will open and six public schools will be turned over to charter management. Other public schools are slated to close and merge. As a result, by the end of the year, charter schools will outnumber public schools by 2 to 1.

Predictably, advocates of privatizing education have touted test score improvements between 2005—when students had their lives utterly uprooted and many did not even attend school for long periods in the state—and 2009. However, the replacement of public schools by charters has splintered oversight of quality, conditions at facilities, curriculum, and fair-enrollment standards. Charters are managed by independent boards and operate outside of many of the regulations public schools must follow. New Orleans’ charter schools are managed by more than 30 separate operators.

The health care system in the city also remains in tatters. Three weeks after the disaster, then Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco ordered Charity Hospital permanently closed, despite the tremendous social need for medical care by hurricane victims and the fact that it was structurally intact. In fact, the building had been fully cleaned by the military and was ready for use.

The hospital was the primary provider of medical care for the city’s large poor and uninsured population. After five years, eastern New Orleans still has no hospital and over 80,000 residents are at least a 30-minute drive away from an emergency room. The Louisiana State University hospital that now serves the whole city is small and cannot provide a full range of medical services. According to a report by local ABC news affiliate WAPT, the university hospital is serving far more residents than before with far fewer resources, including half of the 550 beds it had before Katrina.

Last week, the city purchased Methodist Hospital, another facility that was also closed following Katrina. City officials have made clear that it will be at least two to three years before it will reopen, and it will have only 80 beds. By the time Methodist Hospital is scheduled to reopen under new management, it is estimated that many poor and uninsured residents will have gone at least eight years without access to regular medical care.

The city’s physical infrastructure is likewise in disrepair. The Sewerage and Water Board is short $1 billion in funds needed for urgent projects. The Department of Public Works needs an additional $1.4 billion to repair streets in “poor to failed condition” and to fix the city’s drainage system. According to a Times Picayune report, however, “the department isn’t sure it can even pay for $400 million in capital projects it hopes to complete by 2016.”

A multitude of other departments are in similar straits, including the juvenile court system and the coroner’s office. Facilities owned by the city, including jails and City Hall itself, are in need of repair or replacement. Community centers, parks, homeless shelters, mental health facilities, and countless other services are woefully underfunded and in many cases, have been abandoned.

Significantly, after five years, even the rebuilding of the city’s levee system has not been completed. The Army Corps of Engineers estimates that a ring of levees and floodwalls—a $15 billion project—will not be finished until the beginning of the 2011 hurricane season. Some experts have warned that the new system is not enough to prevent massive flooding from happening again.

An August 25 New York Times article cited Robert Bea, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who authored a 2006 report on the New Orleans levee failures. In his report, Bea pointed out that Katrina “grew to a full blown catastrophe … principally due to the massive and repeated failure of the regional flood protection system and consequent flooding.” Bea stated that what the Army Corps defines as 100-year protection for the city “is not even close to what is needed.”

Every aspect of the “market-driven recovery” exposes the priorities of a ruling class concerned only with its own enrichment. The lives of the working class are subordinated, and sacrificed, to the “free market” interests of the wealthy few. While trillions of dollars can be poured into the banks and illegal wars, the cost of rebuilding hospitals, schools and basic infrastructure is considered prohibitively expensive. Like the disaster itself, the current condition of New Orleans reveals this social chasm.

Global youth unemployment reaches record levels

Global youth unemployment reaches record levels

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The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has issued a report documenting the severe impact of the global economic crisis on employment prospects for the world’s youth. The report, “Global Employment Trends for Youth”, presents detailed statistics on the growing number of 15-to-24-year-olds who find themselves out of work.

The most striking findings are those showing the rapid rise of youth unemployment from the eruption of the financial crisis in 2008 onwards. At the end of 2009, according to the report’s introduction, global youth unemployment stood at 81 million. This was an increase of 7.8 million, or nearly 10 percent, from the end of 2007.

In percentage terms, global youth unemployment rose from 11.9 percent to 13 percent during this period, an increase described as “sharper than ever before”.

In 2009 alone, the number of young people out of work globally rose by a staggering 6.6 million. As the report noted, “To put this in perspective, over the course of the ten-year period prior to the current crisis (1996-1997 to 2006-2007), the number of unemployed youth increased, on average, by 192,000 per year”.

The report projected that this rate of increase would slow, but that by the end of 2010 global youth unemployment would stand at 13.1 percent. Most significantly, it stated that although the unemployment rate would drop slightly from 2011, there would be no return to the lower jobless levels of the pre-crisis period.

The report warns of the danger of young people becoming alienated from the labour market and today’s youth becoming a “lost generation”. It states, “Numerous studies show how entering labour markets during recession can leave permanent scars on the generation of youth affected, and recently fears have been expressed regarding a possible crisis legacy of a ‘lost generation’ made up of young people who detach themselves from the labour market altogether”.

The report hints at the issue that should concern the ruling elite in such a scenario: “Finding and motivating young people who have given up hope for a productive future is an expensive venture. Nonetheless, the alternative of doing nothing is even more expensive when the social, economic and possibly even political costs are added together”.

ILO Director-General Juan Somavia spoke along similar lines, saying, “Young people are the drivers of economic development. Foregoing this potential is an economic waste and can undermine social stability”.

It should be noted that the ILO report deals only with the beginning of the economic downturn, when stimulus measures were adopted by governments internationally. Now, with the focus shifting to austerity as the bourgeoisie seeks to claw back from the working class the money used to bail out the banks, unemployment is projected to increase in every country.

As the report makes clear, the youth are the most vulnerable section of the working class and will bear the brunt of this rise in joblessness. In 2008, young people were 2.8 times more likely to be out of work than adults, with the youth unemployment rate standing at 12.1 percent whilst joblessness amongst the adult population was 4.3 percent. Even during the last period of economic growth prior to the crisis, the percentage of young people active in the labour market dropped from 54.7 to 50.8 percent between 1998 and 2008.

Having outlined the global trends, the study details how young people across different regions of the world have been impacted. Some of the poorest areas have been hit worst of all.

In South Asia, one million young people are expected to seek employment every year between now and 2015, while the figure for sub-Saharan Africa is 2.2 million. In the Middle East and North Africa, 20 percent of the youth population was unable to find work in 2008.

Even those with a job in these regions saw their living standards decline. The report calculated that roughly 28 percent of all young workers were part of the working poor, seeking to maintain themselves on less than $1.25 per day.

In a press release published to coincide with the issuing of the report, Director-General Somavia commented, “In developing countries, crisis pervades the daily life of the poor. The effects of the economic and financial crisis threaten to exacerbate the pre-existing decent work deficits among youth. The result is that the number of young people stuck in working poverty grows, and the cycle of working poverty persists through at least another generation”.

Developed economies have also suffered. The report shows a 4.6 percent rise in youth unemployment in the Developed Economies and European Union region, while in Central and Eastern Europe (non-European Union) and the Commonwealth of Independent States the rate of increase was 3.5 percent. These are the largest yearly increases ever recorded.

The overall youth unemployment rate in the Developed Economies and European Union of 17.7 percent in 2009 is the highest level since records began in 1991.

While only 10 percent of global youth live in the “developed economies”, 45 percent of the increase in unemployment came from these states. In the United States, for example, youth unemployment was up 8 percent, reaching 18 percent in 2009. In Britain, the Daily Telegraph recently reported a 42 percent increase in long-term unemployment amongst young people.

America's Holy Crusade against the Muslim World

America's Holy Crusade against the Muslim World.

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We have reached a decisive transition in the evolution of US military doctrine. The "Global War on Terrorism" (GWOT) directed against Al Qaeda launched in the wake of 9/11 is evolving towards a full-fledged "war of religion", a "holy crusade" directed against the Muslim World.

US military dogma and war propaganda under the Bush administration, was predicated on combating Islamic fundamentalism rather than targeting Muslims. "This is not a war between the West and Islam, but .. a war against terrorism." So-called "Good Muslims" are to be distinguished from "Bad Muslims":

"The dust from the collapse of the twin towers had hardly settled on 11 September 2001 when the febrile search began for "moderate Muslims", people who would provide answers, who would distance themselves from this outrage and condemn the violent acts of "Muslim extremists", "Islamic fundamentalists" and "Islamists". Two distinct categories of Muslims rapidly emerged: the "good" and the "bad"; the "moderates", "liberals" and "secularists" versus the "fundamentalists", the "extremists" and the "Islamists"." (Tariq Ramadan, Good Muslim, bad Muslim, New Statesman, February 12, 2010)

In the wake of 9/11, the Muslim community in most Western countries was markedly on the defensive. The "Good Muslim" "Bad Muslim" divide was broadly accepted. The 9/11 terrorist attacks allegedly perpetrated by Muslims were not only condemned, Muslim communities also supported the US-NATO invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, as part of a campaign directed against Islamic fundamentalism.

The fact that the 9/11 attacks were not instigated by Muslims has rarely been acknowledged by the Muslim community. Al Qaeda's ongoing relationship to the CIA, its role as a US sponsored "intelligence asset" going back to to the Soviet-Afghan war is not mentioned. (Michel Chossudovsky, America's "War on Terrorism" Global Research, Montreal, 2005)

Since the early 1980s, Washington has covertly supported the most conservative and fundamentalist factions of Islam, largely with a view to weakening secular, nationalist and progressive movements in the Middle East and Central Asia. Known and documented, the fundamentalist Wahhabi and Salafi missions from Saudi Arabia, dispatched not only to Afghanistan but also to the Balkans and to the Muslim republics of the former Soviet republics were covertly supported by US intelligence. (Ibid) What is often referred to as "Political Islam" is in large part a creation of the US intelligence apparatus (with the support of Britain's MI6 and Israel's Mossad).

The Ground Zero Mosque

Recent developments suggest a breaking point, a transition from "the war on terrorism" to the outright demonization of Muslims. While underscoring the freedom of religion, the Obama administration is "beating the drums" of a broader war against Islam:

“As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country... This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable." (quoted in Obama Backs Ground Zero Mosque; Iranian Link Questioned, Israel National News, August 15, 2010)

Beneath the political smokescreen, the distinction between "Good Muslims" and "Bad Muslims" is being scrapped. The proposed Ground Zero mosque is allegedly being funding by "the radical rogue Islamic state of Iran ... as the United States is stepping up sanctions on the regime in retaliation for its support of terrorism and what is feared to be an illegal nuclear-weapons development program." ( Ground Zero mosque developers refuse to outright reject funding from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - NYPOST.com, August 19, 2010)

The rising tide of xenophobia, sparked by the proposed Ground Zero mosque and community center, has all the appearances of a PSYOP (Psychological Operation) which contributes to fomenting hatred against Muslims throughout the Western World.

The objective is to instil fear, rouse and harness citizens' unbending support for the next stage of America's "long war", which consists in waging "humanitarian" aerial attacks on the Islamic Republic of Iran, portrayed by the media as endorsing the terrorists.

While "all Muslim are not terrorists", all terrorist attacks (planned or realized) are reported by the media as being perpetrated by Muslims.

In America, the Muslim community as a whole is being targeted. Islam is described as a "religion of war". The proposed mosque and community center are being heralded as "violating the sanctity of Ground Zero".

"..opening a mosque at Ground Zero is offensive and disrespectful to the city and the people who died in the attacks. The project is “spitting in the face of everyone murdered on 9/11.” (Plan to build mosque at Ground Zero angers New Yorkers ,National Post, May 17, 2010)

"Homegrown Terrorists"

The arrests on trumped up charges, as well as the show trials of alleged "homegrown" Islamic terrorists, perform an important function. They sustain the illusion, in the inner consciousness of Americans, that "Islamic terrorists" not only constitute a real threat but that the Muslim community to which they belong is broadly supportive of their actions:

"[T]he threat increasingly comes not from strangers with rough English and dubious passports. Instead, it resides much closer to home: in urban townhouses, darkened basements -- anywhere with an Internet connection. Homegrown terrorism is the latest incarnation of the al-Qaeda threat." How terror came home to roost, Ottawa Citizen, August 27, 2010, report on an alleged homegrown terrorist attack in Canada)

From a process of selective targeting of Muslims with radical tendencies (or allegedly associated with "terrorist organizations"), what is now unfolding is a generalized process of demonization of an entire population group.

Muslims are increasingly the object of routine discrimination and ethnic profiling. They are considered a potential threat to national security. The threat is said to be "much closer to home", "within your neighborhood", in other words what is unfolding is an all out witch-hunt reminiscent of the Spanish inquisition.

In turn, Al Qaeda is described as a powerful multinational terrorist organization (possessing WMDs) with subsidiaries in a number of Muslim countries: Al Qaeda is present (with corresponding acronyms) in various geopolitical hotspots and war theaters:

-Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) (comprised of Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Jihad of Yemen), Al Qaeda in Southeast Asia (Jamaah Islamiyah), Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb, Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen in Somalia, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, etc.

At no moment is the issue of atrocities committed against several million Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan considered a terrorist act by the occupation forces.

The American Inquisition

A "war of religion" is unfolding, with a view to justifying a global military crusade. In the inner consciousness of many Americans, the "holy crusade" against Muslims is justified. While President Obama may uphold freedom of religion, the US inquisitorial social order has institutionalized patterns of discrimination, prejudice and xenophobia directed against Muslims. Ethnic profiling applies to travel, the job market, access to social services and more generally to socila mobility.

The American Inquisition as an ideological construct, which is, in many regards, is similar to the inquisitorial social order prevailing in France and Spain during the Middle Ages. The inquisition, which started in France in the 12th century, was used as a justification for conquest and military intervention. (See Michel Chossudovsky, 9/11 and the "American Inquisition", Global Research, September 11, 2008).

The arrests, trials and sentences of so-called "homegrown" terrorists" (from within America's Muslim community) on trumped up charges sustain the legitimacy of the Homeland Security State and its inquisitorial legal and law enforcement apparatus.

An inquisitorial doctrine turns realities upside down. It is a social order based on lies and fabrications. But because these lies emanate from the highest political authority and are part of a widely held "consensus", they invariably remain unchallenged. And those who challenge the inquisitorial order or in any way oppose America's military or national security agenda are themselves branded as "conspiracy theorists" or outright terrorists.

Beyond the process of inquisitorial arrests and prosecution, which outdwarfs the Spanish inquisition, an expedient extrajudicial assassination program sanctioned by the White House has been launched. This program allows US special forces to kill American citizens and suspected homegrown terrorists:: "A shortlist of U.S. citizens specifically targeted for killing"? (See Chuck Norris, Obama's US Assassination Program? "A Shortlist of U.S. Citizens specifically Targeted for Killing"?,. Global Research, August 26, 2010)

The objective is to sustain the illusion that "America is under attack" and that Muslims across the land are complicit and supportive of "Islamic terrorism".

The demonization of Muslims sustains a global military agenda. Under the American inquisition, Washington has a self-proclaimed holy mandate to extirpate Islam and "spread democracy" throughout the world.

What we are dealing with is an outright and blind acceptance of the structures of power and political authority. America's holy crusade against the Muslim World is an outright criminal act directed against millions of people.

30 Statistics That Prove The Elite Are Getting Richer, The Poor Are Getting Poorer And The Middle Class Is Being Destroyed

30 Statistics That Prove The Elite Are Getting Richer, The Poor Are Getting Poorer And The Middle Class Is Being Destroyed

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Not everyone has been doing badly during the economic turmoil of the last few years. In fact, there are some Americans that are doing really, really well. While the vast majority of us struggle, there is one small segment of society that is seemingly doing better than ever. This was reflected in a recent article on CNBC in which it was noted that companies that cater to average Americans are doing rather poorly right now while companies that market luxury goods and services are generally performing exceptionally well. So why aren't all American consumers jumping on the spending bandwagon? Well, it seems that there are a large number of Americans who either can't spend a lot of money right now or who are very hesitant to. A stunningly high number of Americans are still unemployed, and for many other Americans, there is a very real fear that hard economic times will return soon. On the other hand, there is a significant percentage of Americans who are blowing money on luxury goods and services as if the economy has fully turned around and it is time to let the good times roll. So exactly what in the world is going on here?

Well, in 2010 life is very, very different depending on whether you are a "have" or a "have not". The recent article on CNBC referenced above described it this way....

Consumer spending in the U.S. has turned into a tale of two cities in 2010, with an entire segment of consumers splurging confidently on the finer things in life, while another segment, concerned about unemployment and with little or no discretionary income, spends only on bare necessities.

So why is this happening?

It is happening because the rich are getting richer and they have plenty of money to buy stuff and the poor are getting poorer and have less money to spend than ever.

In case you haven't been paying attention over the past couple of decades, what we have in America today is a system that is designed to funnel as much wealth into the hands of the elite as possible.

This isn't capitalism that we have in America in 2010. Instead, what we have created is a system where the laws are set up so that the power elite and their big, dominant corporations always win.

Why do you think so many of America's largest corporations pay so little in taxes?

Why do you think so many of them are showered with government subsidies, tax breaks and bailouts?

It's not about competition anymore.

It's about rigging the game in your favor.

The power elite and the giant corporations they control spend millions and millions on lobbying and campaign contributions and they expect a big return on that investment.

Let's take a look at one example. Many people think that Barack Obama and the Democrats are supposed to be anti-business, right?

Well then why are some of Barack Obama's biggest donors the very same corporations that are receiving giant bailouts, making record profits and paying their employees billions in bonuses?

Goldman Sachs was Barack Obama's second biggest donor. Microsoft was number four. Citigroup was number six. JPMorgan Chase was number seven. Time Warner was number eight.

Are you starting to get the picture?

Every single year, the U.S. Congress passes law after law after law that makes it easier for big corporations to dominate and makes it easier for the rich to get even richer.

America's economy is not about competition anymore.

It is about eliminating competition.

And unfortunately for middle class Americans, the giant predator corporations that now dominate our economy are realizing that they don't really need nearly as many American workers anymore.

Instead, they are slowly but surely shipping our jobs off to the other side of the world where workers are willing to work for about a tenth as much.

And yet we still run out to the "big box" stores and fill up our carts with a bunch of plastic crap made on the other side of the world by these giant corporations.

Meanwhile, those giant corporations are taking the profits they make out of our communities and they are taking our jobs and are shipping them overseas.

So in the final analysis, is it any wonder why the income inequality gap is growing?

Without small businesses having a legitimate chance to compete and without good jobs for American workers, the middle class in America is going to continue to get chewed up and spit out.

The following are 30 statistics that prove that the elite are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is being destroyed in 2010....

The Rich Are Getting Richer

1 - As of 2007, the top 1 percent of all Americans was taking home 24 percent of the national income. This was a level that had not been seen since the days of the Great Depression.

2 - Incomes have been growing in the United States, but those at the very top of the pyramid have been gobbling up almost all of the income growth. According to Harvard Magazine, 66% of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans.

3 - Even official government figures bear out the fact that the rich are getting richer. An analysis of income-tax data by the Congressional Budget Office a few years ago found that the top 1% of all American households own nearly twice as much of the corporate wealth as they did just 15 years ago.

4- Most Americans have suffered during the last few years, but not the boys and girls down on Wall Street. New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says that Wall Street bonuses for 2009 were up 17 percent when compared with 2008.

5 - Even as the number of Americans living in poverty skyrockets, the number of millionaires just keeps growing. In fact, the number of millionaires in the United States rose a whopping 16 percent to 7.8 million during 2009.

6 - The amount of money some of these Wall Street hotshots are making is incredible. Back in 2005, the top 25 hedge fund managers earned a total of 9 billion dollars. That would be bad enough, but even in these hard economic times the rich just keep getting richer. One year after the recent financial collapse the top 25 hedge fund managers earned a total of approximately $25 billion. That breaks down to an average of $1 billion each. The truth is that the United States has been experiencing uneven prosperity for quite some time and things just seem to get worse with each passing year.

The Poor Are Getting Poorer

7 - Government anti-poverty programs are exploding in size in response to the recent economic difficulties. USA Today is reporting that a record one in six Americans are now being served by at least one government anti-poverty program.

8 - Over 50 million Americans are on now Medicaid. That figure is up more than 17 percent since the beginning of the recession.

9 - The number of Americans in the food stamp program rose to a new all-time record of 40.8 million in May. That number is up almost 50 percent since the beginning of the recession.

10 - The number of Americans who cannot afford even the basic necessities is absolutely staggering. A whopping 50 million Americans could not afford to buy enough food in order to stay healthy at some point over the last year.

11 - Compared to other industrialized nations, the United States is doing very poorly. The U.S. poverty rate is now the third worst among the developed nations tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

12 - The saddest part of this is what we are doing to our children. According to one recent study, approximately 21 percent of all children in the United States are living below the poverty line in 2010.

13 - But the American people cannot provide for their families if they don't have jobs. Today there are not nearly enough jobs for everyone. In 2010, it takes the average unemployed American worker over 8 months to find a job.

14 - Approximately 10 million Americans are currently receiving unemployment insurance, which is a number that is nearly four times higher than what it was at back in 2007.

15 - The truth is that we are creating a permanent underclass of Americans that cannot get jobs. The number of Americans receiving long-term unemployment benefits has increased over 60 percent in just the past year.

16 - Increasingly, the wealth of the United States is being held in fewer and fewer hands. One study found that as of 2007, the bottom 80 percent of American households held about 7% of the liquid financial assets.

17 - It is not a good time to be living in "the bottom half" in America. The size of "the pie" being divided up among those at the low end of the wage scale is becoming really, really small. In fact, the bottom 40 percent of all income earners in the United States now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth.

The Middle Class Is Being Destroyed

18 - Even those Americans that still do have decent jobs are seeing their wealth fade rapidly. For example, U.S. families have $6 trillion less in housing wealth than they did just three years ago.

19 - Home ownership used to be a sign that one had arrived in the middle class, but in 2010 an increasing number of Americans are finding out that they simply can't afford their homes anymore. One out of every seven mortgages were either delinquent or in foreclosure during the first quarter of 2010.

20 - The reality is that incomes have just not kept up with housing costs. This has put an incredible amount of pressure on the middle class. Just how much pressure? Well, only the top 5 percent of all U.S. households have earned enough additional income to match the rise in housing costs since 1975.

21 - The debt binge middle class Americans have been on over the past couple of decades has drained many of them completely dry, and now more Americans than ever have bad credit scores. Over 25 percent of Americans now have a credit score below 599, which means that they are a very bad credit risk.

22 - A rapidly rising number of Americans are actually choosing bankruptcy as a way out of their financial problems. Nationwide, bankruptcy filings rose 20 percent in the 12 month period ending this past June 30th.

23 - The middle class manufacturing jobs that once defined so many American cities are rapidly disappearing. Despite the fact that the U.S. population has dramatically increased, less Americans are employed in manufacturing today than in 1950.

24 - These days it seems like almost everyone is looking for a good job, but very few people are finding them. According to one recent survey, 28% of all U.S. households have at least one member that is looking for a full-time job.

25 - Even many of those Americans that still have decent jobs have been hit hard by this economic downturn. A recent Pew Research survey found that 55 percent of the U.S. labor force has experienced either unemployment, a pay decrease, a reduction in hours or an involuntary move to part-time work since the recession began.

26 - The number of jobs that are evaporating is absolutely stunning. According to one analysis, the United States has lost a total of 10.5 million jobs since 2007.

27 - So where are the jobs going? It doesn't take a genius to figure it out. China's trade surplus (much of it with the United States) climbed 140 percent in June compared to a year earlier.

28 - The truth is that "globalism" and "free trade" have put middle class American workers in direct competition with the cheapest labor in the world. This is what middle class American workers must now compete against: in China a garment worker makes approximately 86 cents an hour and in Cambodia a garment worker makes approximately 22 cents an hour.

29 - Due to these difficult economic conditions, the middle class is being squeezed as never before. According to a poll taken in 2009, 61 percent of Americans "always or usually" live paycheck to paycheck. That was up significantly from 49 percent in 2008 and 43 percent in 2007.

30 - So what kind of future do our young people have in front of them? Unfortunately, things don't look pretty. Many fresh college graduates can't even get a job that will allow them to be independent. One recent survey of last year's college graduates discovered that 80 percent moved right back home with their parents after graduation. That was up significantly from 63 percent in 2006.

Despite "All Clear," Mississippi Sound Tests Positive for Oil

Despite "All Clear," Mississippi Sound Tests Positive for Oil

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Laboratory confirmed oil-soaked sorbent pad. (Photo © Erika Blumenfeld 2010)

The State of Mississippi's Department of Marine Resources (DMR) opened all of its territorial waters to fishing on August 6. This was done in coordination with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Food and Drug Administration, despite concerns from commercial fishermen in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida about the presence of oil and toxic dispersants from the BP oil disaster.

On August 19, Truthout accompanied two commercial fishermen from Mississippi on a trip into the Mississippi Sound in order to test for the presence of submerged oil. Laboratory test results from samples taken on that trip show extremely high concentrations of oil in the Mississippi Sound.

James "Catfish" Miller and Mark Stewart, both lifelong fishermen, have refused to trawl for shrimp because they believe the Mississippi Sound contains submerged oil.

James Catfish Miller, third-generation fisherman.

James "Catfish" Miller, third-generation fisherman. (Photo © Erika Blumenfeld 2010)

"I can't tell you how hard it is for me not to be shrimping right now, because I'm a trawler," Miller told Truthout as he piloted his shrimp boat out of Pass Christian Harbor, "That's what I do. I trawl."

But Miller and Stewart have been alarmed by their state's decision to reopen the waters, and have been conducting their own tests for oil in areas where they have fished for years. Their method was simple - they tied an absorbent pad to a weighted hook, dropped it overboard for a short duration of time, then pulled it up to find the results.

Miller and Mark Stewart attaching the sorbent pad to the weighted hook.

Miller and Mark Stewart attaching the sorbent pad to the weighted hook. (Photo © Erika Blumenfeld 2010)

Hook with pad

(Photo © Erika Blumenfeld 2010)

Hook with pad closer.

(Photo © Erika Blumenfeld 2010)

Hook with pad close up with hand.

(Photo © Erika Blumenfeld 2010)

On each of the eight tests Truthout witnessed, the white pads were brought up covered in a brown oily substance that the fishermen identified as a mix of BP's crude oil and toxic dispersants.

The first test conducted was approximately one-quarter mile out from the harbor, and the pad pulled up was stained brown.

Man with pad.

(Photo © Erika Blumenfeld 2010)

"They're letting people swim in this," Miller exclaimed, while holding the stained pad up to the sun.

Miller and Stewart were both in BP's Vessels Of Opportunity (VOO) program and were trained in identifying oil and dispersants.

This writer took two samples from two absorbent pads that were brought up from the water that were covered in brown residue and had them tested in a private laboratory via gas chromatography.

Miller and Dahr Jamail holding oil-soaked sorbent pad.

Miller and Dahr Jamail holding oil-soaked sorbent pad. (Photo © Erika Blumenfeld 2010)

The environmental analyst who worked with this writer did so on condition of anonymity, and performed a micro extraction that tests for Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons (TPH). The lower reporting limit the analyst is able to detect from a solid sample like the absorbent pad is 50 parts per million (ppm).

The first sample this writer took was from a sorbent pad dropped overboard to a depth of approximately eight feet and held there for roughly one minute. The location of this was 30 18.461 North, 089 14.171 West, taken at 9:40 AM. This sample tested positive for oil, with a hydrocarbon concentration of 479 ppm. Seawater that is free of oil would test at zero ppm of hydrocarbons.

The second sample this writer took was from a sorbent pad dropped overboard to a depth of approximately eight feet and held there for roughly one minute. The location of this was 30 18.256 North, 089 11.241 West, taken at 10:35 AM. This sample tested positive for oil, with a hydrocarbon concentration of 587 ppm.

"For the sorbent pads, I had to include the weight of the actual pad itself, so that the extraction was done as a solid," the environmental analyst explained. "Had I had enough liquid in these samples to do a liquid extraction, the numbers would have been substantially higher."

Jonathan Henderson, with the nonprofit environmental group, Gulf Restoration Network, was on board to witness the sampling.

Jonathan Henderson, coastal resiliency organizer of the Gulf Restoration Network.

Jonathan Henderson, coastal resiliency organizer of the Gulf Restoration Network. (Photo © Erika Blumenfeld 2010)

"I can verify that the shrimp boat captain retrieved what appeared to be an oily residue," Henderson told Truthout. "My suspicion is that it was oil. It felt like oil to the touch, and it smelled like oil when you sniffed it."

On August 11, the two fishermen brought out scientist Dr. Ed Cake of Gulf Environmental Associates. (Video from the "Bridge the Gulf Project" of that trip with Miller and Stewart finding an oil and dispersant mixture on open Mississippi fishing waters.)

Dr. Cake wrote of the experience: "When the vessel was stopped for sampling, small, 0.5- to 1.0-inch-diameter bubbles would periodically rise to the surface and shortly thereafter they would pop leaving a small oil sheen. According to the fishermen, several of BP's Vessels-of-Opportunity (Carolina Skiffs with tanks of dispersants [Corexit?]) were hand spraying in Mississippi Sound off the Pass Christian Harbor in prior days/nights. It appears to this observer that the dispersants are still in the area and are continuing to react with oil in the waters off Pass Christian Harbor."

Shortly thereafter, Miller took the samples to a community meeting in nearby D'Iberville to show fishermen and families the contaminated sorbent pads. At the meeting, fishermen unanimously supported a petition calling for the firing of Dr. Bill Walker, the head of Mississippi's DMR, who is responsible for opening the fishing grounds.

On August 9, Walker, despite ongoing reports of tar balls, oil and dispersants being found in Mississippi waters, declared "there should be no new threats" and issued an order for all local coast governments to halt ongoing oil disaster work being funded by BP money that was granted to the state.

Recent weeks in Mississippi waters have found fishermen and scientists finding oil in Garden Pond on Horn Island, massive fish kills near Cat Island and Biloxi, "black water" in Mississippi Sound, oil inside Pass Christian Harbor and submerged oil in Pass Christian, in addition to what Miller and Stewart showed Truthout and others with their testing.

Stewart, third-generation fisherman.

Stewart, third-generation fisherman. (Photo © Erika Blumenfeld 2010)

"We've sent samples to all the news media we know, here in Mississippi and in [Washington] D.C.," Stewart, a third-generation fisherman from Ocean Springs told Truthout, "We had Ray Mabus' people on this boat, and we sent them away with contaminated samples they watched us take, and we haven't heard back from any of them."

Raymond Mabus is the United States Secretary of the Navy and a former governor of Mississippi. President Obama tasked him with developing "a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan as soon as possible."

Mabus has been accused by many Gulf Coast fishermen of not living up to his task.

Thus, since neither the federal nor state governments will conduct the testing they feel is necessary, Miller and Stewart decided to take matters into their own hands.

Stewart had on board another homemade method of capturing oil in the water column. He took two tomato cages and filled them with sorbent pad, layered it in plastic to hold it together, and left a hole at the bottom for the water to flow through, creating a large sorbent cone that could flow through the water.

Stewart had on board another homemade method of capturing oil in the water column.

(Photo © Erika Blumenfeld 2010)

The method proved fruitful. After several tests in the water column, being careful to never let it touch bottom, the cone was turned a dark brown with what turned out to be a very high concentration of oil.

"Normally we have a lot of white shrimp in the Sound right now," Stewart told Truthout of the current situation in the Mississippi Sound. "You can catch 500-800 pounds a night, but right now, there are very few people shrimping, and those that are, are catching nothing or maybe 200 pounds per night. You can't even pay your expenses on 200 pounds per night."

"We think they opened shrimp season prematurely," Miller told Truthout. "How can we put our product back on the market when everybody in America knows what happened down here? I have seen so many dead animals in the last few months I can't even keep count."

Jonathan Henderson holding the oil-soaked sorbent cone.

Jonathan Henderson holding the oil-soaked sorbent cone. (Photo © Erika Blumenfeld 2010)

On August 19, several commercial shrimpers, including Miller and Stewart, held a press conference at the Biloxi Marina. Other fishermen there were not fishing because they feared making people sick from toxic seafood they might catch.

Protesters with signs against BP.

(Photo © Erika Blumenfeld 2010)

"I don't want people to get sick," Danny Ross, a commercial fisherman from Biloxi told Truthout. "We want the government and BP to have transparency with the Corexit dispersants."

Ross said he has watched horseshoe crabs trying to crawl out of the water and other marine life like stingrays and flounder also trying to escape the water. He believes this is because the water is hypoxic due to the toxicity of the dispersants, of which BP admits to using approximately 1.9 million gallons.

"I will not wet a net and catch shrimp until I know it's safe to do so," Ross added, "I have no way of life now. I can't shrimp and others are calling the shots. For the next 20 years, what am I supposed to do? Because that's how long it's going to take for our waters to be safe again."

David Wallis, another fisherman from Biloxi, attended the press conference. "We don't feel our seafood is safe, and we demand more testing be done," Wallis told Truthout. "I've seen crabs crawling out of the water in the middle of the day. This is going to be affecting us far into the future."

"A lot of fishermen feel as we do. Most of them I talk to don't want the season opened, for our safety as well as others," Wallis added. "Right now there's barely any shrimp out there to catch. We should be overloaded with shrimp right now. That's not normal. I won't eat any seafood that comes out of these waters, because it's not safe."

Miller told Truthout that when he worked in BP's VOO program, "I came out here and looked at the oil and they didn't let us clean it up most days. Instead, I watched them spray dispersants on it at night, and now we're seeing acid rain burn holes in our plants. I've seen them spray Corexit from Carolina Skiffs with my own eyes. For the last several weeks now they keep shoving these lies in our face. You can only turn your head so far, for so long."

The hydrocarbon tests conducted on the samples taken by this writer only represent a tiny part of the Gulf compared to the massive area of the ocean that has been affected by BP's oil catastrophe. A comprehensive sampling regime across the Gulf, taken regularly over the years ahead, is clearly required in order to implement appropriate cleanup responses and take public safety precautions.

On their own, Miller and Stewart have made at least seven sampling runs, covering many tens of miles of the Mississippi Sound, and have, in their words, "rarely pulled up a sorbent pad that did not contain oil residue."

US slashes estimate of second-quarter economic growth

US slashes estimate of second-quarter economic growth

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The Commerce Department on Friday sharply cut its estimate of US economic growth in the second quarter of 2010. The department revised downward its initial estimate, issued July 30, of a 2.4 percent increase in the gross domestic product (GDP) to the even more anemic figure of 1.6 percent.

A 2.4 percent growth rate would already represent a sharp slowdown from previous quarters. US GDP rose 5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 and 3.7 percent in the first quarter of this year. A growth rate of 1.6 percent is below the minimum pace of 2.0-2.5 percent which economists consider necessary to prevent a further rise in unemployment.

The reduced figure was widely anticipated following a battery of economic indicators reflecting a sharp contraction in economic growth. Many economists are now predicting that the US economy will grow by less than 2 percent for the remainder of 2010, and some are warning of a “double-dip” fall into negative growth. Economists at Goldman Sachs this week placed the chances of a double-dip recession at 25-30 percent.

Despite these grim economic realities, and the resulting social disaster for tens of millions of Americans, the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve Board continue to talk about an economic “recovery,” while conceding that its pace is less than anticipated. This terminology is used to justify a calculated policy of keeping unemployment high in order to pressure workers into accepting wage cuts and speedup, and to carry through a permanent increase in the exploitation of American workers toward the levels of workers in China and other so-called “emerging economies.”

In a column published Friday, economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman referred to a speech to be delivered that day by Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke and remarked, “But we can safely predict what he and other officials will say about where we are now: that the economy is continuing to recover, albeit more slowly than they would like. Unfortunately, that’s not true: this isn’t a recovery, in any sense that matters.”

He continued: “The important question is whether growth is fast enough to bring down sky-high unemployment. We need about 2.5 percent growth just to keep unemployment from rising, and much faster growth to bring it significantly down. Yet growth is currently running somewhere between 1 and 2 percent, with a good chance that it will slow even further in the months ahead.”

Krugman, a liberal Democrat and Obama supporter, points to the real state of the economy while obscuring the class interests that are served by high unemployment and the roots of the jobs crisis in the systemic crisis of the capitalist system.

In its report, the Commerce Department attributed the slowdown in growth mainly to a “sharp acceleration in imports and sharp deceleration in private inventory investment.” Commerce focused particularly on the trade deficit, which soared by 16 percent in June to nearly $50 billion, the highest level in 19 months. The report said the trade gap subtracted nearly 3.4 percentage points from second quarter growth, the biggest hit from a trade imbalance since 1947.

The GDP report culminated a week of economic data confirming that the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression is continuing and, if anything, deepening. Reports issued Tuesday and Wednesday on existing home sales and new home sales in July reflected a housing market that is in free-fall. Existing home sales plummeted a record 27.2 percent from June to hit their lowest levels since 1995. New home sales fell 12 percent from the prior month and were down 32.4 percent from July of 2009 to their lowest levels since records began in 1963.

On Wednesday, the Commerce Department reported that orders for durable goods rose from June to July by a mere 0.3 percent. Economists had forecast a 3.0 percent rise. Core orders, excluding transportation items, fell 3.8 percent, the biggest decline since January 2009. Orders for machinery fell 15 percent and those for computers and electronics also fell by 2.4 percent.

On Thursday, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released its manufacturing index, showing a fall from 14 in July to zero in August. The report’s employment index fell into negative territory and the bank said expectations for the next six months had weakened. This followed a report last week by the Philadelphia Fed showing a similar decline in manufacturing in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Until the past few months, manufacturing had been a relative bright spot in the US economy. But as Michelle Girard, an economist at RBS Economics Research, told the Financial Times, “These figures will no doubt fuel concern that the manufacturing sector is losing momentum quickly.”

On Thursday, the Labor Department released its weekly survey on claims for unemployment benefits. While the report showed the first decline in initial jobless claims in a month, the total, 473,000, remained far above the 400,000 level indicative of an economy that is generating jobs at a sufficient rate to keep pace with the growth in the labor force. The four-week average of claims, moreover, rose to the highest level since last November. And the number of people who have used up their traditional benefits and are now collecting emergency or extended benefits jumped by 302,000 to 5.84 million—a measure of a long-term jobless rate that is breaking all records since the 1930s.

This was the context in which Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke delivered his much anticipated speech Friday at the Kansas City Fed’s annual economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Attending the event are central bankers and finance ministers from around the world, top officials from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Wall Street economists, academics, and most members of the Federal Reserve’s policy-making Federal Open Market Committee.

There was much speculation that in light of the worsening economic situation, Bernanke would announce new stimulative measures beyond the modest steps announced by the Fed at its last policy meeting on August 10. At that meeting, the Federal Open Market Committee said the US central bank would use cash from maturing mortgage-backed securities that it holds to purchase long-term Treasury notes, instead of paying down the bank’s much expanded balance sheet.

That largely symbolic move was designed to reassure the markets that the Fed would continue to pump cheap credit into the system while doing nothing substantial to promote serious job-creation.

In his Friday speech, Bernanke largely repeated the policy adopted and the rhetoric employed previously. He insisted that the economic “recovery” was continuing, while admitting that it was proceeding more slowly than the Fed had forecast. He reiterated that the central bank stood ready to take new measures, including a more expansive purchase of Treasuries, should it conclude that the economy was slipping back into negative growth, but he made clear that there were no immediate plans to change course.

“I expect the economy to continue to expand in the second half of this year, albeit at a relatively modest pace,” he declared, and added that despite the weak second quarter “the preconditions for a pickup in growth in 2011 appear to remain in place.”

These reassurances were well received on Wall Street. All of the major US stock indexes closed sharply higher, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 164 points. The US corporate and financial elite generally favors the approach of both the Fed and the Obama administration, which is to seek to avert a return to negative growth, while utilizing the jobs crisis to permanently restructure class relations in the US, to the detriment of the working class.

As one commentator pointed out Friday on the CNBC business cable channel, US corporations made higher profits in the second quarter than in any previous quarter in history.

Obama to Escalate Slaughter in Yemen

Obama to escalate slaughter in Yemen

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With the opening of a new front in Yemen for the CIA’s drone “targeted killing” program, the Obama administration is steadily escalating the role played by both the covert agency and secretive US military Special Operations forces as a global Murder Incorporated.

“The White House, in an effort to turn up the heat against Al Qaida’s branch in Yemen, is considering adding the CIA’s armed Predator drones to the fight,” reported the Associated Press on Thursday, citing senior Washington officials.

“The US military’s Special Operation Forces and the CIA have been positioning surveillance equipment, drones and personnel in Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia” in preparation for the stepped-up killing spree, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

The Washington Post quoted intelligence officials as saying that the CIA now views Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as a “more urgent” threat than the Qaeda organization in Pakistan.

Yemen, like Afghanistan and Iraq before it, is being targeted not to eradicate terrorism—the killing of civilians with cruise missiles and drone attacks will only produce more recruits for terrorist attacks—but because of its strategic location, bordering Saudi Arabia, the number-one oil exporter, and the vital Bab al-Mandab strait, through which three million barrels of oil pass daily.

“They’re not feeling the same kind of heat—not yet, anyway—as their friends in the tribal areas of Pakistan,” one official told Reuters Wednesday. “Everyone involved on our side understands that has to change.”

The “kind of heat” inflicted upon the population of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas is well known. According to Pakistani officials quoted in the country’s media, at least 700 civilians were killed by drone attacks in 2009. According to an estimate by a Washington think tank sympathetic to the Obama administration, at least a third of those killed in drone attacks in Pakistan are civilians. This year, drone flights have increased ten-fold, with missile strikes increasing from one a week to at least one a day.

Even Pakistan’s devastating floods have not brought an end to these robotic assassinations. The latest reported attack came Monday in North Waziristan, leaving 20 dead, including four women and three children.

Now, in the name of combating terrorism, Washington is proposing to inflict this same kind of state terror on a desperately poor country that is already torn by regional, religious, ethnic and tribal conflicts. A secessionist movement in the south of Yemen, which had been a separate country until uniting with the north in 1990, has simmered for the last 16 years.

Supporters of the assassinated dissident Shi’a cleric Hussain Badr al-Din al-Huthi have battled the predominantly Sunni government for the past six years in the northern Sa’ada and Amran provinces.

And the entire population is mired in extreme poverty and deprivation, with fully one quarter of the 24 million Yemenis suffering chronic hunger and nearly half living on less than $2 a day. According to a 2008 World Bank report, fully 43 percent of children under five are malnourished.

To this already desperate situation, the Obama administration is proposing to contribute slaughter from the air by Hellfire missiles and assassination on the ground by special operations death squads.

The regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, having aligned itself with Washington, has utilized the US “global war on terror” as a justification for a brutal crackdown on all of its opponents.

“An extremely worrying trend has developed where the Yemeni authorities, under pressure from the USA and others to fight al-Qa’ida, and Saudi Arabia to deal with the Huthis, have been citing national security as a pretext to deal with opposition and stifle all criticism,” Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa program, said this week in releasing a new report from the human rights group documenting abuses in Yemen.

The Amnesty report provides harrowing details concerning the saturation bombing of residential areas, the gunning down of peaceful demonstrators, and the imprisonment, torture and disappearance of the government’s political opponents, including lawyers, journalists and human rights advocates.

The government of Yemen publicly rejected this week’s assessment from Washington, charging that it and the Western media “exaggerate the size of al-Qaeda and the danger that it poses to Yemen’s stability and security,” and insisting that “fighting terrorism in Yemen remains the responsibility of Yemeni security authorities.”

In reality, however, hundreds of US military and intelligence operatives are already deployed in Yemen, and the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh has repeatedly given a green light for US attacks on Yemeni soil. The statement repudiating any US escalation was no doubt issued for domestic consumption. The American military attacks have provoked widespread outrage, while intensifying opposition to the Yemeni government.

A CIA drone war will add to the war crimes already committed by the US military in Yemen on Obama’s command. In the worst of these, at least 41 people, 21 of them children and 14 of them women, were slaughtered last December 17 when their homes in the southern district of Abyan were struck by US cruise missiles carrying cluster bombs—a weapon banned by international treaties.

Last June, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, charged the US government with arrogating to itself “an ever-expanding entitlement for itself to target individuals across the globe” and a “strongly asserted but ill-defined license to kill without accountability.”

This “license to kill” has also been claimed in relation to US citizens. Among those targeted in Yemen is the American Islamic cleric Anwar al Awlaki. Last April, US officials revealed that the Obama administration had authorized the “targeted killing” of al-Awlaki, whose family is Yemeni. This marks the first time that a US government has admitted seeking the assassination of one of its own citizens.

Al-Awlaki’s family and civil liberties lawyers have attempted to secure a restraining order against this extra-judicial execution and gross abuse of power, insisting that if the New Mexico-born man is guilty of any crime, he should be charged and tried in a US court.

The Obama administration sought to stifle any lawsuit, however, claiming that because the government has deemed al-Awlaki a terrorist, it would be a criminal offense to seek a court order barring his assassination by the CIA or the US military. Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights were finally allowed to proceed with the action only after obtaining a special license from the US Treasury Department.

The Obama administration is escalating and spreading criminal wars abroad while continuing where Bush left off in erecting the scaffolding for a police state dictatorship at home. No section of the political establishment or the corporate media seriously opposes these measures, because they are driven by the interests of the financial aristocracy that both major parties and the government represent.

The preparations for a new war in Yemen must be taken as a serious warning to working people in the US. The unchecked growth of American militarism, coupled with the shredding of basic democratic rights and mounting attacks on jobs, wages and social conditions, threatens to unleash a catastrophe.

U.S. wasted billions in rebuilding Iraq

U.S. wasted billions in rebuilding Iraq

Hundreds of infrastructure projects are incomplete or abandoned

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A $40 million prison sits in the desert north of Baghdad, empty. A $165 million children's hospital goes unused in the south. A $100 million waste water treatment system in Fallujah has cost three times more than projected, yet sewage still runs through the streets

As the U.S. draws down in Iraq, it is leaving behind hundreds of abandoned or incomplete projects. More than $5 billion in American taxpayer funds has been wasted — more than 10 percent of the some $50 billion the U.S. has spent on reconstruction in Iraq, according to audits from a U.S. watchdog agency.

That amount is likely an underestimate, based on an analysis of more than 300 reports by auditors with the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. And it does not take into account security costs, which have run almost 17 percent for some projects.

There are success stories. Hundreds of police stations, border forts and government buildings have been built, Iraqi security forces have improved after years of training, and a deep water port at the southern oil hub of Umm Qasr has been restored.

Even completed projects for the most part fell far short of original goals, according to an Associated Press review of hundreds of audits and investigations and visits to several sites. And the verdict is still out on whether the program reached its goal of generating Iraqi good will toward the United States instead of the insurgents.

Col. Jon Christensen, who took over as commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region District this summer, said the federal agency has completed more than 4,800 projects and is rushing to finish 233 more. Some 595 projects have been terminated, mostly for security reasons.

Christensen acknowledged that mistakes have been made. But he said steps have been taken to fix them, and the success of the program will depend ultimately on the Iraqis — who have complained that they were not consulted on projects to start with.

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"There's only so much we could do," Christensen said. "A lot of it comes down to them taking ownership of it."

Image: Pipes at a waste water treatment site
Hadi Mizban / AP
Pipes at a nearly-complete waste water treatment site in Fallujah, Iraq.

The reconstruction program in Iraq has been troubled since its birth shortly after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The U.S. was forced to scale back many projects even as they spiked in cost, sometimes to more than double or triple initial projections.

As part of the so-called surge strategy, the military in 2007 shifted its focus to protecting Iraqis and winning their trust. American soldiers found themselves hiring contractors to paint schools, refurbish pools and oversee neighborhood water distribution centers. The $3.6 billion Commander's Emergency Response Program provided military units with ready cash for projects, and paid for Sunni fighters who agreed to turn against al-Qaida in Iraq for a monthly salary.

But sometimes civilian and military reconstruction efforts were poorly coordinated and overlapped.

Iraqis can see one of the most egregious examples of waste as they drive north from Baghdad to Khan Bani Saad. A prison rises from the desert, complete with more than two dozen guard towers and surrounded by high concrete walls. But the only signs of life during a recent visit were a guard shack on the entry road and two farmers tending a nearby field.

In March 2004, the Corps of Engineers awarded a $40 million contract to global construction and engineering firm Parsons Corp. to design and build a prison for 3,600 inmates, along with educational and vocational facilities. Work was set to finish in November 2005.

But violence was escalating in the area, home to a volatile mix of Sunni and Shiite extremists. The project started six months late and continued to fall behind schedule, according to a report by the inspector general.

The U.S. government pulled the plug on Parsons in June 2006, citing "continued schedule slips and ... massive cost overruns," but later awarded three more contracts to other companies. Pasadena, Calif.-based Parsons said it did its best under difficult and violent circumstances.

Citing security concerns, the U.S. finally abandoned the project in June 2007 and handed over the unfinished facility to Iraq's Justice Ministry. The ministry refused to "complete, occupy or provide security" for it, according to the report. More than $1.2 million in unused construction material also was abandoned due to fears of violence.

The inspector general recommended another use be found for the partially finished buildings inside the dusty compound. But three years later, piles of bricks and barbed wire lie around, and tumbleweed is growing in the caked sand.

"It will never hold a single Iraqi prisoner," said inspector general Stuart Bowen, who has overseen the reconstruction effort since it started. "Forty million dollars wasted in the desert."

Another problem was coordination with the Iraqis, who have complained they weren't consulted and often ended up paying to complete unfinished facilities they didn't want in the first place.

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"Initially when we came in ... we didn't collaborate as much as we should have with the correct people and figure out what their needs were," Christensen said. He stressed that Iraqis are now closely involved in all projects.

One clinic was handed over to local authorities without a staircase, said Shaymaa Mohammed Amin, the head of the Diyala provincial reconstruction and development committee.

"We were almost forced to take them," she said during an interview at the heavily fortified local government building in the provincial capital of Baqouba. "Generally speaking, they were below our expectations. Huge funds were wasted and they would not have been wasted if plans had been clear from the beginning."

As an example, she cited a date honey factory that was started despite a more pressing need for schools and vital infrastructure. She said some schools were left without paint or chalkboards, and needed renovations.

"We ended up paying twice," she said.

In some cases, Iraqi ministries have refused to take on the responsibility for U.S.-funded programs, forcing the Americans to leave abandoned buildings littering the landscape.

"The area of waste I'm most concerned about in the entire program is the waste that might occur after completed projects are handed over to the Iraqis," Bowen said.

The U.S. military pinned great hopes on a $5.7 million convention center inside the tightly secured Baghdad International Airport compound, as part of a commercial hub aimed at attracting foreign investors. A few events were held at the sprawling complex, including a three-day energy conference that drew oil executives from as far away as Russia and Japan in 2008, which the U.S. military claimed generated $1 million in revenues.

But the contracts awarded for the halls did not include requirements to connect them to the main power supply. The convention center, still requiring significant work, was transferred to the Iraqi government "as is" on Jan. 20, according to an audit by the inspector general's office.

The buildings have since fallen into disrepair, and dozens of boxes of fluorescent lightbulbs and other equipment disappeared from the site. Light poles outside have toppled over and the glass facade is missing from large sections of the abandoned buildings.

Waste also came from trying to run projects while literally under fire.

The Americans committed to rebuilding the former Sunni insurgent stronghold of Fallujah after it was destroyed in major offensives in 2004. The U.S. awarded an initial contract for a new waste water treatment system to FluorAMEC of Greenville, S.C. — just three months after four American private security contractors were savagely attacked. The charred and mutilated remains of two of them were strung from a bridge in the city.

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An audit concluded that it was unrealistic for the U.S. "to believe FluorAMEC could even begin construction, let alone complete the project, while fierce fighting occurred daily." The report also pointed out repeated redesigns of the project, and financial and contracting problems.

The Fallujah waste water treatment system is nearly complete — four years past the deadline, at a cost of more than three times the original $32.5 million estimate. It has been scaled back to serve just a third of the population, and Iraqi officials said it still lacks connections to houses and a pipe to join neighborhood tanks up with the treatment plant.

Desperate residents, meanwhile, have begun dumping their sewage in the tanks, causing foul odors and running the risk of seepage, according to the head of Fallujah's municipal council, Sheik Hameed Ahmed Hashim.

"It isn't appropriate for the Americans to give the city these services without completing these minor details," Hashim said. "We were able to wipe out part of the memories of the Fallujah battles through this and other projects. ... If they leave the project as it is, I think their reputation will be damaged."

By contrast, the Basra children's hospital — one of the largest projects undertaken by the U.S. in Iraq — looks like a shining success story, with gardeners tending manicured lawns in preparation for its opening. But that opening has been repeatedly delayed, most recently for a lack of electricity.

The construction of a "state of the art" pediatric specialist hospital with a cancer unit was projected to be completed by December 2005 for about $50 million. By last year, the cost had soared above $165 million, including more than $100 million in U.S. funds, and the equipment was dated, according to an auditors' report.

Investigators blamed the delays on unrealistic timeframes, poor soil conditions, multiple partners and funding sources and security problems at the site, including the murder of 24 workers. Bechtel, the project contractor, was removed because of monthslong delays blamed on poor subcontractor performance and limited oversight, the special inspector general's office said. A Bechtel spokeswoman, Michelle Allen, said the company had recommended in 2006 that work on the hospital be put on hold because of the "intolerable security situation."

In an acknowledgment that they weren't getting exactly what they hoped for, Iraqi officials insisted the label "state of the art" be removed from a memorandum of understanding giving them the facility. It was described as a "modern pediatric hospital."

Hospital director Kadhim Fahad said construction has been completed and the electricity issue resolved.

"The opening will take place soon, God willing," he said.

Residents are pleased with the outcome. One, Ghassan Kadhim, said: "It is the duty of the Americans to do such projects because they were the ones who inflicted harm on people."

U.S. military wants to exert influence over private cyber infrastructure

U.S. military wants to exert influence over private cyber infrastructure

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The U.S. military wants to exert more influence over the protection of power grids, transportation networks and financial network systems, a Pentagon official says in a broad-ranging essay published in Foreign Affairs.

In cyberwar, who's in charge?

To do so the Pentagon is urging that its defense expertise be put in play beyond the .mil domain to include .gov and .com and wants policy makers to figure out how best to do that.

The reasons are that the military relies on these networks to deal with suppliers and that these networks could become military targets, says William J. Lynn III, undersecretary of defense, in the essay called "Defending a New Domain."

"Protecting those networks and the networks that undergird critical U.S. infrastructure must be part of Washington's national security and homeland defense missions," Lynn says.

Because the military relies on these networks, the expertise it has developed should be made available to them, he says, but he doesn't describe exactly how that would happen in practice.

"The best-laid plans for defending military networks will matter little if civilian infrastructure -- which could be directly targeted in a military conflict or held hostage and used as a bargaining chip against the U.S. government -- is not secure," he says. "The Defense Department depends on the overall information technology infrastructure of the United States... The Pentagon is therefore working with the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector to look for innovative ways to use the military's cyberdefense capabilities to protect the defense industry."

Some of these defenses are being developed by the National Security Agency and include blending U.S. intelligence capabilities with network security so that networks can react to threats detected by other means than network intrusion-detection tools.

"The National Security Agency has pioneered systems that, using warnings provided by U.S. intelligence capabilities, automatically deploy defenses to counter intrusions in real time," Lynn says.

"They work by placing scanning technology at the interface of military networks and the open Internet to detect and stop malicious code before it passes into military networks."

The Pentagon is also relying on Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to come up with ways to blunt the capabilities of intruders. DARPA is trying to figure out a new basic design for Pentagon networks that would result in a generation-long overhaul to make hardware, software and computer languages less susceptible to cyber attack, he says.

Gaining the authority to impose military security on civilian assets is still in its infancy. "The U.S. government has only just begun to broach the larger question of whether it is necessary and appropriate to use national resources, such as the defenses that now guard military networks, to protect civilian infrastructure," Lynn says.

"Information networks connect a variety of institutions, so the effort to defend the United States will only succeed if it is coordinated across the government, with allies, and with partners in the commercial sector."