Saturday, February 5, 2011

Police Brutality in the USA: Americans, Too Are Oppressed

Police Brutality in the USA: Americans, Too Are Oppressed

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Police in the US now rival criminals, and exceed terrorists, as the greatest threat to the American public. Rogelio Serrato is the latest case to be in the news of an innocent person murdered by the police. Serrato was the wrong man, but the Monterey County, California, SWAT team killed the 31-year old father of four and left the family home a charred ruin.

The fact that SWAT teams often go to the wrong door shows the carelessness with which excessive force is used. In one instance the police even confused the town’s mayor with a drug dealer, broke into his home, shot dead the family’s pet dogs, and held
the mayor and his wife and children at gun point. But most cases of police brutality never make the news.

Most who suffer abuse from the police don’t bother to complain. They know that to make an enemy of the police brings a lifetime of troubles. Those who do file complaints find that police departments tend to be self-protective and that the naive and gullible public tends to side with the police.

However, you can find plenty of examples of police brutality on youtube, more than you can watch in a lifetime. I have just searched google for “youtube police brutality” and the result is: “497,000 results.” There’s everything from police shooting a guy in a wheelchair to body slamming a befuddled 89-year old great grandmother to tasering kids and mothers with small children. The fat goon cops love to beat up on women, kids, and old people.

The 497,000 google results may contain duplicates as more than one person might have posted a video of the same event, and the incidents occurred over more than one year. However, probably only a small percentage of incidents are captured on video by onlookers, and many incidents of police brutality have no witnesses. What the videos reveal is that a large percentage of police move with alacrity to assault the public. The number of incidences could be very high. One million annually would not be an exaggeration.

In contrast, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2009 (the most recent year for which data is compiled), there were 806,000 aggravated assaults (not including assaults by police against the public) by criminals against the public, of which 216,814 were committed by hands and feet and not by weapons. (In the U.S. if you merely push a person or grab his arm, you have committed assault. “Freedom and democracy” America uses any excuse to multiply the number of felons.)

Considering the data, one might conclude that the police are a greater danger to the public than are criminals.

Indeed, the trauma from police assault can be worse than from assault by criminals. The public thinks the police are there to protect them. Thus, the emotional and psychological shock from assault by police is greater than the trauma from being mugged because you stupidly wandered into the wrong part of town.

Why are the police so aggressive toward the public?

In part because their ranks attract bullies, sociopaths and psychopaths. Even normal cops are proud of their authority and expect deference. Even cops who are not primed to be set off can turn nasty in a heartbeat.

In part because police are not accountable. The effort decades ago to have civilian police review boards was beat back by “law and order” conservatives.

In part because the police have been militarized by the federal government, equipped with military weapons, and trained to view the public as the enemy.

In part because the Bush/Cheney/Obama regimes have made every American a suspect. The only civil liberty that has any force in the U.S. today is the law against racial discrimination. This law requires that every American citizen be treated as if he were a Muslim terrorist. The Transportation Security Administration rigorously enforces the refusal to discriminate between terrorist and citizen at airports and is now taking its gestapo violations of privacy into every form of travel and congregation: trucking, bus and train travel, sports events, and, without doubt, shopping centers and automobile traffic. http://www.gcnlive.com/wp/2011/02/01/tsa-invades-roads-highways-with-vipr-checkpoints/

This despite the fact that there have been no terrorist incidents that could be used to justify such an expansive intrusion into privacy and freedom of movement.

The TSA has not caught a single terrorist. However, it has abused and inconvenienced several hundred thousand innocent American citizens.

The abuse happens, because people with authority are dying to use the authority. The absence of terrorists means that the TSA turns innocent Americans into terrorists. There have been so many absurd cases. One woman traveling with her ill and dying mother, who required special food, had contacted the TSA prior to the flight, explained the situation, and was given permission to take the special food onboard. But when she went through “security,” the food was taken away, and when she protested she was arrested and hauled off, leaving the elderly mother in a wheelchair deserted.

Others have been arrested because a member of the household used a suitcase or carry bag to take guns and ammunition to the gun club or on a hunting trip and forgot to remove all the ammo, or the explosives test detected gunpowder residuals. Boy Scouts forgot to remove pocket knives from backpacks that they took on camping trips. Lactating mothers forced to give up breast milk. And so on.

These are the “great dangers” that the TSA protect the american sheeple from, and the sheeple submit, even servilely thanking their oppressors for protecting them.

Submission is what the government and the police want. Anyone who argues with TSA or the police will be abused. An American who stands up for his rights is likely to be beaten to a pulp. TSA has announced that such Americans are “suspects” and will be held in indefinite detention.

And “our” government assures us that we have “freedom and democracy.” We have a police state, and everyone who forgets it is in deep trouble.

The Amerikan police state is closely allied with police states all over the world--Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Israel in the Middle East and former constituent parts of the Soviet Empire in Central Asia. The U.S. government never lifts a finger in behalf of democracy anywhere. In fact, the U.S. government quickly moves to overthrow democracy wherever it rears its head, as the U.S. recently did in Honduras. Before Honduras it was Palestine where the U.S. overturned the election that brought Hamas to power. Now Washington is targeting Lebanon where Hisbollah has gained.

Everywhere on earth the U.S.government prefers an autocracy that it can purchase to free elections that bring to power candidates unwilling to serve as American puppets.

The U.S. government is the most determined foe of democracy in the world. Yet, Washington lectures China, which has more civil liberties than Bush/Cheney/Obama permit Americans.

If americans ever find the emotional strength to acknowledge the oppression under which they live, they, too, will be in the streets.

Banks get gov’t bailouts, demand even more

Banks get gov’t bailouts, demand even more

The foreclosure epidemic is escalating across the U.S. with no end in sight. At the same time, with virtually every foreclosure, the government continues to bail out the banks through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Yet the banks want even more. They have the audacity to push for direct control of these government-sponsored entities.

Lenders filed a record 3.8 million foreclosures in 2010, up 2 percent from 2009 and an increase of a whopping 23 percent from 2008. These numbers would have been even higher except for the temporary foreclosure moratoria the major banks announced last October, when their massive fraud was exposed. (housingwire.com, Jan. 12) According to RealtyTrac, banks repossessed 1 million homes in 2010, and 1.2 million more are slated for repossession in 2011. Five million borrowers are currently at least two months behind on their mortgages. (Associated Press, Jan. 13)

The state of California has been hit especially hard by the foreclosure epidemic. That state alone saw 532,200 foreclosures in 2010. It is projected that between 2009 and 2012, some 1.88 million foreclosures will take place and that this will bring about a decline of $627 billion in the value of nearby homes. Altogether, 12.25 million homes — almost all the homes in this state of 37 million people — will experience foreclosure-related declines in market value. (Center for Responsible Lending, August 2010)

A study by the Center for Responsible Lending analyzed the causes and impact of the foreclosure crisis in California. It noted that the vast majority of recent foreclosures there were on loans that originated between 2004 and 2007, just prior to the bursting of the bubble in housing prices.

The study pointed out that between 2000 and 2005 wages were flat, but home prices took off. For example, in Modesto, Merced, Stockton and Riverside-San Bernardino — all working-class communities devastated by foreclosures — average median wages during those years increased by roughly 15 percent. By contrast, median home prices rose by about 300 percent. As a result, homeowners were compelled to take out exotic loan packages with low introductory payments that they could initially afford, but which escalated out of range when the interest rates adjusted upward.

The report notes that many Alt-A loans are scheduled to adjust in 2012. These loans were provided to borrowers with good credit, but they include features characteristic of subprime loans, such as limited income documentation and interest-only periods. Therefore, the crisis will only escalate.

California: Nearly half of those losing homes are Latino/a

The study, titled “Dreams Deferred: Impact and Characteristics of the California Loan Crisis,” noted that people of color have been far disproportionately impacted by the foreclosure epidemic in the state. Foreclosure rates for Latino/a and African-American borrowers, respectively, are 2.3 and 1.9 times that of non-Latinos/as white borrowers. Latinos/as accounted for 48 percent of all foreclosures filed between September 2006 and October 2009.

The modification programs announced by the Obama administration continue to be dismal failures. According to the November “Making Home Affordable Program Servicer Performance Report,” only 549,620 homeowners have received permanent loan modifications, out of the 3 million to 4 million who had been projected to benefit from the program when it was first announced in March 2008.

The federal Helping Hardest Hit Homeowner program is being sabotaged as the major banks refuse to sign on. Recently, 23 California congressional representatives sent letters to Ally Financial (set up by General Motors), Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo asking them to participate in the California Housing Finance Agency so that $2 billion in federal funds geared to temporarily aiding primarily unemployed homeowners in California could be put to use.

As detailed in the Nov. 4 Workers World article, at the root of the banks’ refusal to work with homeowners in any way is that government agencies such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have been paying the banks, at foreclosure, full value for the fraudulent loans they issued. What this means is that taxpayers are making up the difference between the loan amount and the price the home actually sells for post-eviction.

The major banks are so greedy that they are now attempting to take control of the Obama administration’s announced review of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They have proposed that they directly administer these agencies while the silent bailout continues. In this way any obligations by the banks to negotiate with borrowers would effectively be removed. (New York Times, Jan. 20)

It’s time to demand that the government bail out the people, not the banks.

The government, which now either owns or guarantees the loans, should immediately

1) implement a two-year moratorium on all foreclosures and evictions;

2) lower the mortgage principal on all homes to their true value; and

3) set payments of what people can afford based on their incomes.

The millions of homes that have already been seized by the government should be rehabilitated as low-cost housing for the homeless — not sold back to the same financial institutions and investors who caused the crisis.

And the government should begin a criminal investigation to jail the bankers who precipitated this crisis with their massive fraud against the people.

67 Percent Of Americans Are Dissatisfied With The Size And Influence Of Major Corporations

67 Percent Of Americans Are Dissatisfied With The Size And Influence Of Major Corporations

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The American people are becoming increasingly angry about the extraordinary amount of power and influence that corporations have in the United States today. A new Gallup poll found that 67 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the size and influence of major corporations in the United States today. Not only that, the most recent Chicago Booth/Kellogg School Financial Trust Index found that only 26 percent of Americans trust our financial system at this point. The mainstream media is acting as if this is a new phenomenon, but the truth is that a dislike of giant corporations goes all the way back to the founding of this nation. Our founders held a deep distrust for all big concentrations of power, and they intended to set up a nation where no one person or no one institution could become too powerful.

Unfortunately, we have very much strayed from those principles. In the United States today, the federal government completely dominates all other levels of government and mammoth international corporations completely dominate our economy.

If our founding fathers could see what is going on today they would probably roll over in their graves.

The history of the corporation can be traced back to the early part of the 17th century when Queen Elizabeth I established the East India Trading Company.

Our founders were not too fond of the East India Trading Company. In fact, it was their tea that was dumped into the harbor during the original Boston Tea Party.

In his book entitled "Unequal Protection", Thom Hartman described the great antipathy that our founders had for the East India Trading Company....

"Trade-dominance by the East India Company aroused the greatest passions of America’s Founders – every schoolboy knows how they dumped the Company’s tea into Boston harbour. At the time in Britain virtually all members of parliament were stockholders, a tenth had made their fortunes through the Company, and the Company funded parliamentary elections generously."

So a disgust for great concentrations of financial power is built into our national DNA.

Many people today think of giant international corporations as being synonymous with "capitalism", but that is just not the case.

Our founders envisioned a land where free enterprise could flourish in an environment where no institution held too much power.

So this false left/right debate about whether we should give more power to the government or more power to the corporations is largely a bunch of nonsense.

If the founders were around today they would say that we need to take a lot of power away from both of them.

Fortunately, it looks like the American people are starting to think the same thing. Not only are the American people dissatisfied with government, they are also becoming increasingly dissatisfied with big corporations.

As mentioned above, according to Gallup two-thirds of Americans are now dissatisfied with the size and influence of major corporations in America today....

As you can see, the gap between those in favor of the size and influence of major corporations and those not in favor has been significantly widening over the past decade.

That is a good thing.

Not only that, but the latest Chicago Booth/Kellogg School Financial Trust Index shows that Americans have very little trust in the financial system at this point.

The following are some of the key findings from their most recent report....

*Only 26 percent of Americans trust the nation's financial system.

*Only 13 percent of Americans trust big corporations.

*Only 16 percent of Americans trust the stock market.

*Only 43 percent of Americans trust the banks.

These numbers are staggering, but they should not be surprising. The American people were not pleased at all when the major banks and big financial institutions were showered with bailouts during the recent financial crisis. A lot of that anger is still simmering.

The recent housing collapse, which is still ongoing, was caused in great part by the behavior of the major banks and big financial institutions, but it is the American people which have suffered the most from it. The following very brief animation from Taiwan demonstrates this very humorously....

The American people are still wondering where their "bailouts" are. Most of the big banks and big corporations seem to be thriving even while the number of Americans slipping into poverty continues to grow.

According to Calculated Risk, approximately 15 million Americans are unemployed, about 9 million Americans are working part-time for "economic reasons" and approximately 4 million American workers have left the labor force since the beginning of the economic downturn.

When you total that all up, you get 28 million Americans that wish they had full-time jobs.

Ouch.

There are other numbers that are very disturbing as well. In the month of November, the number of people on food stamps set another new all-time record: 43.6 million Americans.

So we have tens of millions of Americans that can't get the jobs that they want and we have tens of millions of Americans that can't feed themselves without government assistance.

No wonder so many people are angry at the big corporations!

The U.S. government has showered the big corporations and the big banks with bailouts, tax breaks and cheap loans and yet the big corporations and the big banks are not coming through for the American people.

Meanwhile, food prices continue to go up. According to the United Nations food agency, global food prices set another new all-time record during the month of January, and they are expected to continue rising for months to come.

That certainly is not going to ease tensions in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world. When people are not able to pay for the food that they need that tends to make them very, very angry.

For now we are not likely to see food riots in the United States, but as food prices rise all of those food stamp cards are not going to go as far as they used to. Average American families are going to feel more strain at the supermarket. There will be less money available for other things.

A key indicator to watch is the price of oil. The price of oil is one of the key components of the price of food, and if we see the price of oil go up to $120 or $150 a barrel that could mean really bad things for both the U.S. economy and the overall global economy.

If we do see another financial crisis like we did in 2008, is the U.S. government going to rush to bail out the big corporations and the big banks like they did the last time?

As we have seen from the numbers above, that certainly would not sit well with the American people.

Shell profits double to $18.6bn

Shell annual profits double to $18.6bn

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The oil giant Shell has reported profits almost doubled from $9.8bn to $18.6bn (£11.5bn) for 2010, partly thanks to rising oil prices and output.

Its chief executive, Peter Voser, said the company had made good progress and that there was "still more to come".

During the year, the company made $7bn of acquisitions and invested $3bn in exploration.

For the final quarter Shell made profits of $5.7bn, compared with $1.2bn for the same period in 2009.

Despite the strong gains, Shell's shares fell 3%.

Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers said shares had risen 27% over the past year and investors were taking profits: "Net income was well above expectations and a significant improvement on the previous year."

The fourth-quarter results are in line with rival BP, which earlier this week reported a profit of $4.6bn for that period, although the cost of sorting out the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico left BP with an annual loss.

Holly Pattenden: Traders are watching the situation in Egypt

Natural gas

Shell's results are reported on a current cost basis, which strips out fluctuations in the value of the oil stocks it has not sold.

The price of US crude oil prices averaged about $85 a barrel in the fourth quarter, up from $76 in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Brent crude this week hit $102 a barrel in London - its highest price since 2008.

Shell said it planned at least $25bn in capital expenditure this year.

The company now produces almost as much gas as oil, and the company is expecting gas output to outstrip oil in 2012.

IMF raises spectre of civil wars as global inequalities worsen

IMF raises spectre of civil wars as global inequalities worsen

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that "dangerous" imbalances have emerged that threaten to derail global recovery and stoke tensions that may ultimately set off civil wars in deeply unequal countries.

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Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF's chief, said the economic rebound across the world is built on unstable foundations, with many rich nations still strapped in job slumps while the rising powers of China, India and Brazil already facing the threat of overheating. "It is not the recovery we wanted. It is a recovery beset by tensions and strain, which could even sow the seeds of the next crisis," he said.

"Global unemployment remains at record highs, with widening income inequality adding to social strains," he said, citing turmoil in North Africa as a prelude to what may happen as 400m youths join the workforce over the next decade. "We could see rising social and political instability within nations – even war," he said.

The IMF has published a paper entitled Inequality, Leverage and Crisis arguing that the extreme gap between rich and poor – with echoes of the US in the late 1920s – was an underlying cause of the Great Recession from 2008-2009.

The paper, by the Fund's modelling unit, warned of "disastrous consequences" for the world economy unless workers regain their "bargaining power" against rentiers. It suggests radical changes to the tax system and debt relief for workers.

Mr Strauss-Kahn said the toxic global imbalances that caused the financial crisis are re-emerging, naming China and Germany as the two arch-sinners that rely on export surpluses to power growth at the expense of the US and other deficit countries.

"The most important question is to deal with the recurrent problem of some countries' large external surpluses," he said, warning that failure to curb excesses will lead to global clashes and rising protectionism in trade and finance.

In a veiled warning to China and other countries holding down their currencies for commercial advantage, the IMF chief said "exchange-rate adjustment should not be resisted". Nor should capital controls be imposed to stop the inflow of funds.

The comments appear to align the IMF behind Washington in the simmering dispute over the declining dollar. China and Brazil have accused the US of covert currency warfare through quantitative easing, but the claim is slippery since the US has a huge structural trade deficit.

Mr Strauss-Kahn also hinted that parts of Asia are exceeding the safe speed limit for growth and needed to "tighten" further before inflation gets out of control. "There are risks of overheating, and even a hard landing," he said.

The New Face of Revolution: After Tunisia and Egypt, the World

The New Face of Revolution: After Tunisia and Egypt, the World

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From the British newspaper the Independent: "Like in many other countries in the region, protesters in Egypt complain about surging prices, unemployment and the authorities' reliance on heavy-handed security to keep dissenting voices quiet."

Sound familiar?

Coverage by U.S. state-controlled media of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt is too dim by half: they say it's an Arab thing. So it is. But not for long. The problems that triggered the latest uprisings, rising inequality of income, frozen credit markets, along with totally unresponsive government, span the globe. To be sure, the first past-due regimes to be overthrown may be the most brutal U.S. client states--Arab states such as Yemen, Jordan and Algeria. Central Asia's autocrats, also corrupted by the U.S., can't be far behind; Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov, who likes to boil his dissidents to death, would be my first bet. But this won't stop in Asia. Persistent unemployment, unresponsive and repressive governments exist in Europe and yes, here in the U.S. They are unstable. The pressure is building.

Global revolution is imminent.

The first great wave of revolutions from 1793 through 1848 was a response to the decline of feudal agrarianism. (Like progressive historians, I don't consider the 1775-1781 war of American independence to be a true revolution. Because it didn't result in a radical reshuffling of classes, it was little more than a bunch of rich tax cheats getting theirs.)

During the 19th century European elites saw the rise of industrial capitalism as a chance to stack the cards in their favor, paying slave wages for backbreaking work. Workers organized and formed a proletariat that rejected this lopsided arrangement. They rose up. They formed unions. By the middle of the 20th century, a rough equilibrium had been established between labor and management in the U.S. and other industrialized nations. Three generations of autoworkers earned enough to send their children to college.

Now Detroit is a ghost town.

The uprisings we are witnessing today have their roots in the decline of industrial production that began 60 years ago. As in the early 1800s the economic order has been reshuffled. Ports, factories and the stores that serviced them have shut down. Thanks to globalization, industrial production has been deprofessionalized, shrunken, and outsourced to the impoverished Third World. The result, in Western countries, is a hollowed-out middle class--undermining the foundation of political stability in post-feudal societies.

In the former First World industry was supplanted by the knowledge economy. Rather than bring the global economy in for a soft landing after the collapse of industrial capitalism by using the rising information sector to spread wealth, the ruling classes chose to do what they always do: they exploited the situation for short-term gain, grabbing whatever they could for themselves. During the '70s and '80s they broke the unions. (Which is one reason average family income has steadily declined since 1968.) They gouged consumers in the '90s and '00s. (Now their credit cards are maxed out.) Now the banks are looting the government.

Now that the bill is due, they want us to pay. But we can't. We won't.

It's bad enough during a cyclical recession, when millions of Americans are losing their jobs and getting evicted from their homes. When the government's response to an economic holocaust is not to help these poor people, but instead to dole out hundreds of billions of dollars to the giant banks and insurance companies causing the firings and carrying out the foreclosures, it's crazy.

And when the media tells the one in four adults who is "structurally" (i.e. permanently) unemployed that he and she doesn't exist--the recession is over! recovery is underway!--it's obvious that the U.S. is cruising for revolution. Not the Tea Party kind, with corny flags and silly hats.

American Revolution, Tunisian/Egyptian style.

Late last year I wrote a book, The Anti-American Manifesto, which calls for Americans to revolt against our out-of-control plutocracy and the corrupt political biarchy that props it up. I expected the Right to react with outrage. To the contrary. While the desire for revolution is hardly universal among Americans, it is widespread and distributed across the political spectrum. Revolution, when it occurs here, will be surprisingly popular.

Criticism of my Manifesto centers not on its thesis that the status quo is unsustainable and ought to go, but on my departure from traditional Marxist doctrine. Old-school lefties say you can't (or shouldn't) have revolution without first building a broad-based popular revolutionary movement.

"We are still in a time and place where we can and should be doing more to build popular movements that can liberate people's consciousnesses and win reforms necessary to lay the foundation for a transformed society without it being soaked in blood," Michael McGehee wrote in Z magazine. "All this talk about throwing bricks and Molotov cocktails is extremely premature and reckless..."

Maybe that used to be true. I think things have changed. Given the demoralized state of dissent in the United States since the 1960s and the co-opting of radical activists by the cult of militant pacifism, it would be impossible to create such an organization.

As I argue in the book, anyone who participates in the Official Left as it exists today--the MoveOns, Michael Moores, Green Party, etc.--is inherently discredited in the current, rapidly radicalizing political environment. Old-fashioned liberals can't really help, they can't really fight, not if they want to maintain their pathetic positions--so they don't really try. America's future revolutionaries--the newly homeless, the illegally dispossessed, people bankrupted by the healthcare industry--can only view the impotent Official Left with contempt.

Revolution will come. When it does, as it did in Tunisia and Egypt, it will follow a spontaneous explosion of long pent-up social and economic forces. We will not need the old parties and progressive groups to lead us. Which is good, because they aren't psychologically conditioned to create revolution or midwife it when it occurs. New formations will emerge from the chaos. They will create the new order.

In my Manifesto I argue that old-fashioned ideologies are obsolete. Left, Right, Whoever must and will form alliances of convenience to overthrow the existing regime. The leftist critic Ernesto Aguilar is typical of those who take issue with me, complaining that "merging groups with different political goals around an agenda that does not speak openly to those goals, or worse no politics at all, is bound for failure."

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt may well be destined for failure--but it doesn't look that way now. So far those popular insurrections have played out exactly the way I predict it will, and must, here in the United States: set off by unpredictable events, formed by the people themselves, as the result of spontaneous passion rather than organized mobilization.

In Egypt, an ad hoc coalition composed of ideologically disparate groups (the Muslim Brotherhood, secular parties, independent intellectuals), has coalesced around Mohamed ElBaradei. "Here you will see extremists, moderates, Christians, Muslims, all kinds of people. It is the first time that we are all together since the revolution of Saad Zaghloul," a rebel named Naguib, referring to the leader of the 1919 revolution against the British, told Agence France-Press. ElBaradei's popularity, said Tewfik Aclimandos of the College de France, is due to the fact that "he is not compromised by the regime; he has integrity."

This is how it will go in Greece, Portugal, England, and--someday--here. There is no need to organize or plan. Scheming won't make any difference. Just get ready to recognize revolution when it occurs, then drop what you're doing and then organize.

What will set off the next American Revolution? I don't know. Nevertheless, the liberation of the long-oppressed peoples of the United States, and the citizens of nations victimized by its foreign policy, is inevitable.

The west's itch to meddle is no help. Leave Egypt alone

The west's itch to meddle is no help. Leave Egypt alone

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Our sole contribution to Muslim states wrestling with self-determination is plunging their neighbours into bloodbath and chaos

Anti-government protesters demonstrate near a damaged picture of Gamal Mubarak in Alexandria


Protesters demonstrate near a torn picture of Gamal Mubarak, son of Hosni Mubarak, in Alexandria on January 25. Photograph: Reuters

We are hypocrites. We cheer on the brave Tunisians and Egyptians as they assert the revolutionary power of the street. Hands off, we cry. Let them do it their way. It has taken a long time, but let the people get the credit and be strengthened thereby.

We gave no such licence to the Iraqis or Afghans. We presumed it was our job to dictate how they should be governed. We accused their leaders of crimes and decided to punish them all, massacring thousands. We declared a "freedom agenda", and bombed them to bits.

Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is another Saddam Hussein, a secular dictator ruling a Muslim country with a rod of iron through a kleptocracy of cronies. Less wealthy than Saddam, he had to rely on American support, but he was only a little more subtle in his ruthlessness.

We are told that there were sound strategic reasons for supporting Mubarak – as there once were for supporting the Ba'athists, Assad of Syria and Saddam himself. There were similar reasons for backing the Ben Ali dynasty in Tunisia and "Britain's good friend", the outrageous Colonel Gaddafi of Libya. All offered a supposed bulwark against Muslim extremism, a monster of which Americans and Britons are told to show a pathological, all-consuming and costly terror. Now, apparently, that no longer applies to Egypt.

In reality there is no such thing as an ethical foreign policy. There is something philosophical called ethics and something pragmatic called foreign policy. The art of diplomacy lies in navigating between them. The Blair-Bush "crusade for democracy" failed to do so. It was motivated by the most dangerous thing in politics, religious fervour.

What is happening in Egypt is plainly exhilarating to any lover of civil liberty. So too was Georgia's rose revolution, Ukraine's orange revolution, Burma's saffron revolution, Iran's green revolution and Tunisia's jasmine revolution. Few people scanning the pastel shades of designer Trotskyism will remember which were successful and which not, but they made great television.

In each of these cases people burst out in visceral opposition to dictatorship. Driven beyond endurance, they took the last option available to autonomous individuals and marched down the street. The outcome depended on the security and self-confidence of the regime and its command of the army. It rarely depended on the approval or assistance of outsiders. Indeed the most effective weapon deployed against an uprising in a moment of national crisis is to call it a tool of foreign interests. This was certainly the case in Iran.

To western eyes, watching revolutions is re-enacting our own democratic origins. They remind us, sometimes smugly, that much of the world has yet to find the path to free elections, free speech and freedom of assembly. But they are also the political equivalents of earthquake or flood. Surely these people need our advice, our aid, at least our running commentary. The itch to intervene becomes irresistible.

Britain, with a history of ineptitude in handling Egypt, offered its pennyworth at the weekend. The Foreign Office said: "We don't want to see Egypt fall into the hands of extremists … We want an orderly transition to free and fair elections, and a greater freedom and democracy in Egypt."

Who cares what Britain "wants" in Egypt? Egypt is not Britain's responsibility any more, insofar as it ever was.

The US is in an equally absurd position. Having intervened for three decades, backing Mubarak with $1.5bn a year for armed forces alone, Washington has slithered from declaring him a "force for stability in the region" to "demanding an orderly transition of power". The message to all allies is that an American friend in need is a friend who will vanish at the first sign of trouble.

America could intervene, as Bush and Donald Rumsfeld might have done, with Blair cooing along behind. They could have told Mubarak to reform his regime but hang in there. Since Washington regards the Middle East as a powder keg about to explode in its backyard, it should not allow the Muslim Brotherhood to run Egypt. Bush would have told Egypt to get the "bad guys" off the street. What are tanks for? Why are those F-16s buzzing round the sky? Drop bombs like American and British pilots did on Serbs, Iraqis and Afghans. Retain control or the mad mullahs will be at all our throats. Western security is too important to be left to the mob.

Alternatively Washington might intervene on the other side. It might argue that Mubarak has shot his bolt and "engineer regime change". Don't rely on rioters, half of them probably extremists. America could remove Mubarak as it removed Mullah Omar and Saddam Hussein, by force. Give Cairo a dose of the shock and awe. This is the policy supported elsewhere by Democrats and Republicans, Labour and Conservatives, that the west had a right and a duty to ordain regime change in Muslim countries. What was good for Afghans and Iraqis must be good for Egyptians – and perhaps even Iranians and Pakistanis.

Such interventions would be mad. Had the west not intervened in Iraq and Afghanistan, I bet the Iraqi people would by now have found a way to be rid of Saddam. They or the army would have done what the Tunisians and the Egyptians are doing, and at far less cost in lives, upheaval and chaos. As for the Taliban, as clients of Islamabad they would have come to Pakistani heel. The Afghans would be a threat to nobody but themselves.

What history will call the Wars of 9/11 have killed immeasurably more people than did 9/11 itself. They have cost western taxpayers billions that would have gone far to relieving global disease and famine. American and British governments, for reasons embedded in some imperial paranoia, grotesquely exaggerated the threat posed to them by the Muslim world. They embarked on a campaign of intervention, regime change and nation building far from their shores. The campaign has been inept and counterproductive, as well as in breach of the United Nations charter on self-determination.

Egypt, Tunisia, Iran and Pakistan are all Muslim states wrestling with agonies of self-determination. The west's sole contribution has been to plunge two of their neighbours, Iraq and Afghanistan, into a bloodbath of insecurity and chaos. This is not our continent, these are not our countries and none of this is our business. We should leave them alone.

The Arab World Is on Fire

‘The Arab World Is on Fire’

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"The Arab world is on fire," al-Jazeera reported on January 27, while throughout the region, Western allies "are quickly losing their influence."

The shock wave was set in motion by the dramatic uprising in Tunisia that drove out a Western-backed dictator, with reverberations especially in Egypt, where demonstrators overwhelmed a dictator's brutal police.

Observers compared the events to the toppling of Russian domains in 1989, but there are important differences.

Crucially, no Mikhail Gorbachev exists among the great powers that support the Arab dictators. Rather, Washington and its allies keep to the well-established principle that democracy is acceptable only insofar as it conforms to strategic and economic objectives: fine in enemy territory (up to a point), but not in our backyard, please, unless it is properly tamed.

One 1989 comparison has some validity: Romania, where Washington maintained its support for Nicolae Ceausescu, the most vicious of the East European dictators, until the allegiance became untenable. Then Washington hailed his overthrow while the past was erased.

That is a standard pattern: Ferdinand Marcos, Jean-Claude Duvalier, Chun Doo Hwan, Suharto and many other useful gangsters. It may be under way in the case of Hosni Mubarak, along with routine efforts to try to ensure that a successor regime will not veer far from the approved path.

The current hope appears to be Mubarak loyalist Gen. Omar Suleiman, just named Egypt's vice president. Suleiman, the longtime head of the intelligence services, is despised by the rebelling public almost as much as the dictator himself.

A common refrain among pundits is that fear of radical Islam requires (reluctant) opposition to democracy on pragmatic grounds. While not without some merit, the formulation is misleading. The general threat has always been independence. In the Arab world, the United States and its allies have regularly supported radical Islamists, sometimes to prevent the threat of secular nationalism.

A familiar example is Saudi Arabia, the ideological center of radical Islam (and of Islamic terror). Another in a long list is Zia ul-Haq, the most brutal of Pakistan's dictators and President Reagan's favorite, who carried out a program of radical Islamization (with Saudi funding).

"The traditional argument put forward in and out of the Arab world is that there is nothing wrong, everything is under control," says Marwan Muasher, former Jordanian official and now director of Middle East research for the Carnegie Endowment. "With this line of thinking, entrenched forces argue that opponents and outsiders calling for reform are exaggerating the conditions on the ground."

Therefore the public can be dismissed. The doctrine traces far back and generalizes worldwide, to U.S. home territory as well. In the event of unrest, tactical shifts may be necessary, but always with an eye to reasserting control.

The vibrant democracy movement in Tunisia was directed against "a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems," ruled by a dictator whose family was hated for their venality. This was the assessment by U.S. Ambassador Robert Godec in a July 2009 cable released by WikiLeaks.

Therefore to some observers the WikiLeaks "documents should create a comforting feeling among the American public that officials aren't asleep at the switch"--indeed, that the cables are so supportive of U.S. policies that it is almost as if Obama is leaking them himself (or so Jacob Heilbrunn writes in The National Interest.)

"America should give Assange a medal," says a headline in the Financial Times. Chief foreign-policy analyst Gideon Rachman writes that "America's foreign policy comes across as principled, intelligent and pragmatic--the public position taken by the U.S. on any given issue is usually the private position as well."

In this view, WikiLeaks undermines the "conspiracy theorists" who question the noble motives that Washington regularly proclaims.

Godec's cable supports these judgments--at least if we look no further. If we do, as foreign policy analyst Stephen Zunes reports in Foreign Policy in Focus, we find that, with Godec's information in hand, Washington provided $12 million in military aid to Tunisia. As it happens, Tunisia was one of only five foreign beneficiaries: Israel (routinely); the two Middle East dictatorships Egypt and Jordan; and Colombia, which has long had the worst human-rights record and the most U.S. military aid in the hemisphere.

Heilbrunn's Exhibit A is Arab support for U.S. policies targeting Iran, revealed by leaked cables. Rachman too seizes on this example, as did the media generally, hailing these encouraging revelations. The reactions illustrate how profound is the contempt for democracy in the educated culture.

Unmentioned is what the population thinks--easily discovered. According to polls released by the Brookings Institution in August, some Arabs agree with Washington and Western commentators that Iran is a threat: 10 percent. In contrast, they regard the U.S. and Israel as the major threats (77 percent; 88 percent).

Arab opinion is so hostile to Washington's policies that a majority (57 percent) think regional security would be enhanced if Iran had nuclear weapons. Still, "there is nothing wrong, everything is under control" (as Marwan Muasher describes the prevailing fantasy). The dictators support us. Their subjects can be ignored--unless they break their chains, and then policy must be adjusted.

Other leaks also appear to lend support to the enthusiastic judgments about Washington's nobility. In July 2009, Hugo Llorens, U.S. ambassador to Honduras, informed Washington of an embassy investigation of "legal and constitutional issues surrounding the June 28 forced removal of President Manuel `Mel' Zelaya."

The embassy concluded that "there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch." Very admirable, except that President Obama proceeded to break with almost all of Latin America and Europe by supporting the coup regime and dismissing subsequent atrocities.

Perhaps the most remarkable WikiLeaks revelations have to do with Pakistan, reviewed by foreign policy analyst Fred Branfman in Truthdig.

The cables reveal that the U.S. embassy is well aware that Washington's war in Afghanistan and Pakistan not only intensifies rampant anti-Americanism but also "risks destabilizing the Pakistani state" and even raises a threat of the ultimate nightmare: that nuclear weapons might fall into the hands of Islamic terrorists.

Again, the revelations "should create a comforting feeling--that officials are not asleep at the switch" (Heilbrunn's words)--while Washington marches stalwartly toward disaster.

US, China locked horns in secret space standoff: Wikileaks

US, China locked horns in secret space standoff:

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The United States and China both used advanced missiles to blow up their own satellites in a mutual show of military strength, documents published in Thursday's Telegraph newspaper showed.

The memos, leaked by the WikiLeaks website, revealed that the US responded to China's 2007 destruction of a weather satellite by blowing up its own malfunctioning satellite in a "test" strike.

The US insisted at the time that it undertook the operation to prevent the satellite returning to earth with a toxic fuel tank which would pose a health hazard.

A leaked cable sent from the US embassy in Beijing in February 2008, the day after the US strike, revealed that China was doubtful of this explanation.

"Teng Jianqun, Deputy Secretary General of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Department, described the shoot-down as unnecessary and simply an opportunity to test the US missile defense system," the memo said.

According to the cable, Teng said the shoot-down was "an ideal opportunity to voice their (the US) objection" and proved "the US missile defense system is also an offensive system."

Another leaked cable revealed that the US embassy in China received "direct confirmation of the results of the anti-satellite test" from the US military command in the Pacific.

The White House was shocked in February 2007 when China demonstrated its capability to strike in space by blowing up a weather satellite 530 miles above earth.

In another leaked cable sent in January 2008, it was communicated that officials working for the then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice had warned Beijing.

"A Chinese attack on a satellite using a weapon launched by a ballistic missile threatens to destroy space systems that the US and other nations use for commerce and national security," the officials said.

"Destroying satellites endangers people. Any purposeful interference with US space systems will be interpreted by the US as an infringement of its rights and considered an escalation in a crisis or conflict," they added.

A month later, Robert Gates, then US defense secretary, authorized the USS Lake Erie cruiser to fire a highly-sophisticated SM-3 rocket at the USA 193 spy satellite, the US's first such strike in 23 years.

The strike raised tensions between the two countries, with "angry" China claiming at a defense summit in 2008, that the US and themselves were "neither allies nor adversaries," the cables said.

Another memo claimed that China was worried over US plans to place defense radars in Japan and alleged the US was developing an "airborne laser system" which could "attack a missile in launch phase over the sovereign territory."

The latest memo, dated January 2010, showed that China had successfully used a SC-19 missile to destroy a CSS-X-11 missile 150 miles above earth, an action the US considered as an anti-satellite test.

The cable showed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shared the previous administration's concern over China's plans and said "objections... previously delivered in January 2007 and January 2008 are still valid."

World food prices hit new record

World food prices hit new record

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World food prices hit a new record high in January after rising for a seventh consecutive month, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said Thursday, warning the poor would be hit hardest.

The FAO Food Price Index, which monitors monthly price changes for a basket of commodities, averaged 231 points in January -- up 3.4 percent from December and its highest level since FAO started measuring food prices in 1990.

"The new figures clearly show that the upward pressure on world food prices is not abating. These high prices are likely to persist in the months to come," FAO economist and grains expert Abdolreza Abbassian was quoted as saying.

The rises were particularly high for dairy products -- up 6.2 percent from December -- and oils and fats rose 5.6 percent from the previous month, while cereals went up 3.0 percent because of lower global supply of wheat and maize.

Meat prices remained broadly stable due to a fall in prices in Europe caused by last month's scare over dioxin poisoning in eggs and pork in Germany, compensated by a slight increase in export prices from Brazil and the US.

"High food prices are of major concern especially for low-income food deficit countries that may face problems in financing food imports and for poor households which spend a large share of their income on food," Abbassian said.

"The only encouraging factor so far stems from a number of countries where -- due to good harvests -- domestic prices of some of the food staples remain low compared to world prices," he added.

FAO data released on Thursday showed the Food Price Index hit 200 points in 2008 at the height of the 2007/2008 food crisis. It breached that level for the first time in October 2010 with 205 points and has risen further since then.

America loses another ally as Yemen's President quits

America loses another ally as Yemen's President quits

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The President of Yemen, one of America's foremost allies in the "war on terror", has become the latest leader in the Middle East to announce he will be stepping down as he seeks to calm anger and stave off the street protests which have gripped Egypt and Tunisia.

Yemen is viewed as the second most important battleground by the US after Afghanistan and the decision by Ali Abdullah Saleh to leave office after three decades augurs uncertain times for the campaign against al-Qa'ida. Ahead of a planned "day of rage'", Mr Saleh asked the opposition parties to form a coalition government after declaring that he will not seek re-election when his current term ends in two years' time. He insisted that his son Ahmed, thought to be his political heir, will also be out of the running.

Yemen, with its combustible mix of Islamist militancy, tribal warfare and endemic poverty, was considered a prime candidate to be the next "domino" after the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, and President Saleh's move was described by his supporters as a statesmanlike attempt to avert widespread bloodshed.

The country's biggest opposition group, the Islamic Islah, welcomed Mr Saleh's departure but has refused to cancel the protest march.

Egypt crisis: Secret police blamed as peace protesters gunned down in Cairo

Secret police blamed as peace protesters are gunned down in the siege of Cairo

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  • More than 1,500 injured in overnight clashes between democracy protesters and Mubarak supporters
  • Rocks and concrete blocks hurled at pro-democracy demonstration
  • World leaders call for calm as situation spirals out of control

At least three anti-government protesters in Egypt were shot dead after gunfire rained down on Cairo's Tahrir Square in violent overnight clashes.

Protest organiser Mustafa el-Naggar said he saw the bodies of three dead protesters being carried towards an ambulance.

More than 1,500 people were injured in the latest violence, which came before dawn, as protesters remained in the street through the night following a day of clashes between supporters of President Hosni Mubarak and dissidents.

Overnight: Pro-government demonstrators, bottom, clashed with anti-government demonstrators as a palm tree burns from a firebomb in Tahrir Square, Cairo

Overnight: Pro-government demonstrators, bottom, clashed with anti-government demonstrators as a palm tree burns from a firebomb in Tahrir Square, Cairo

Clashes: The two factions face off against each other from behind make shift shields and barriers

Clashes: The two factions face off against each other from behind make shift shields and barriers

Message: Anti-government demonstrators remain in Tahrir Square after a violent night with their aims unchanged

Message: Anti-government demonstrators remain in Tahrir Square after a violent night with their aims unchanged

At dawn: The situation appears calm this morning after a night of violence

At dawn: The situation appears calm this morning after a night of violence

Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday: 'If it turns out that the regime in any way has been sponsoring or tolerating this violence, that would be completely and utterly unacceptable.'

A Foreign Office charter flight will leave Cairo for London's Gatwick Airport later with more than 200 passengers expected on board.

The army was accused of doing nothing to stop the bloody chaos around Tahrir Square in the country’s capital, the focus of the previously peaceful demonstrations.

In the first terrifying clashes between rival factions since the pro-democracy protests started last week, stones were torn from the pavements to use as missiles.

Protesters dragged attackers from the camels and horses – normally used to give tourists a ride around the square – and beat them with sticks, in at least two cases smashing heads against the paving.

The sound of automatic weapons crackled over the square above the screams of the mob and the chilling cries of the injured, many suffering from machete and razor wounds.

Charge: Pro-government demonstrators, one on a camel, go into battle in Cairo's Tahrir Square

Charge: Pro-government demonstrators, one on a camel, go into battle in Cairo's Tahrir Square

Mubarak supporters charge demonstrators with camels
Mubarak supporters charge demonstrators with camels

Battlefield: It wasn't just camels that took to the streets. Some demonstrators rode into battle on horseback

One man knelt helpless on the floor, his head spurting blood, while those around him beat him; another bloodied protester was dragged desperately from a mob by two men, both themselves bleeding from head wounds.

A man found hiding in the back of an army lorry was kicked mercilessly and then dumped head first over the side for a further beating.

All around, battles raged across a frontline that formed next to the Egyptian Museum, the treasury of pharaonic antiquities and mummies.

A mosque was turned into a makeshift hospital, with one doctor describing the scenes that greeted him on arrival as a ‘resembling a battlefield... carnage’. Pitched battles continued from behind makeshift barricades into a darkness punctured only by the few remaining street lights and, at one awful moment, by two protesters running with their clothes ablaze.

Missiles: Stones fly through the air as supporters of President Hosni Mubarak attack previously peaceful protesters in Liberation Square

Missiles: Stones fly through the air as supporters of President Hosni Mubarak attack previously peaceful protesters in Liberation Square

Protesters injured in Egyptian demos
Egyptian protester with rocks
Protesters injured in Egyptian demos

Bloodshed: Protesters comfort each other (left and right) after being injured during the protest while a veil-clad woman gathers rocks in her hands ready hurl

Anarchy: The opposing sides square off amid army tanks as the protests became increasingly volatile

Anarchy: The opposing sides square off amid army tanks as the protests became increasingly volatile

Masses: Hundreds of thousands of people once more massed in Cairo's central square but this time protests turned ugly

Masses: Hundreds of thousands of people once more massed in Cairo's central square but this time protests turned ugly

'IT'S INCREDIBLY EXCITING' - CLEGG

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg (pictured) was accused of schoolboy diplomacy yesterday after describing events in Egypt as ‘incredibly exciting’.

The Lib Dem leader was trying to sound enthusiastic about the revolution sweeping the country. But his words began to sound unwise as the protests turned violent.

Hundreds had already been killed or beaten when the Deputy Prime Minister told ITV Daybreak: ‘It is incredibly exciting what is going on, it reminds me so much of the time when the Berlin Wall fell, the power of the people out on the streets, in a regime which two weeks ago everybody thought was one of the most stable regimes in the region.’

Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander criticised Mr Clegg’s ‘schoolboy diplomacy’. But a source close to Mr Clegg said he was simply ‘acknowledging that the principle of bringing democracy to a country as significant as Egypt was exciting’.

At least four buildings were set alight while Mubarak supporters, who were reported to have sealed-off the square, trapping anti-government supporters inside, took over control of roof tops to hurl debris and petrol bombs on the crowds below.

The clashes came hours after Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for 30 years, had gone on TV to reject demands he step down immediately, saying he would serve out the remaining seven months of his term but would not stand again.

Last night all eyes were on the military to see how they would react after earlier asking protesters to disperse ‘for the good of the country’ so life could return to normal. For two days they had allowed protests to grow and many anti-Mubarak supporters believed the president’s followers – their numbers swollen by hated police in plain clothes – had orchestrated the attack to provide the military with a reason to crack down.

Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei said he feared ‘it will turn into a bloodbath’ and accused the government of using ‘scare tactics’ to cling on to power.

The clashes marked a dangerous new phase in Egypt’s upheaval – the first significant time that pro-Mubarak supporters have rallied.

Significantly, 20,000 pro-government demonstrators also held an angry but mostly peaceful rally across the Nile from Tahrir, saying that Mubarak’s concessions were enough.

Having the rival sides on the streets is particularly worrying because there do not appear to be anywhere near enough police or military to control resurgent violence.

Walking to the square in the morning through the throng of Mubarak supporters there had appeared no sign of the violence that was to about to erupt.

Men waving flags and women holding banners of the ageing dictator told of their fears of what would happen to Egypt if he were to go.

One man, Osman Hussein, screamed in broken English that this country of 80million would become a fundamentalist anti-Western state like Iran.

A few hundred yards away an estimated 10,000 anti-Mubarak protesters had massed in Tahrir to reject his speech as ‘too little too late’ and renew demands he leave immediately. But as the afternoon curfew approached around 3,000 Mubarak supporters smashed their way through a human chain of anti-government protesters defending those in the square and the chaos erupted.

March: Pro-democracy supporters descend on Liberation Square
Anti-government demonstrators break bricks off the floor to use during clashes with Mubarak supporters

Formidable: Thousands of Mubarak's supporters marched through the streets (left) while their opponents resorted to hacking bricks apart with sticks to make more projectiles

Arrests: Pro-Mubarak protesters captured by anti-government supporters are handed over to the army

Arrests: Pro-Mubarak protesters captured by anti-government supporters are handed over to the army

The army, which had been keeping the two sides apart earlier in the day, largely did not intervene. Many protesters – who for days have showered the military with love for its neutral stance – now accused the troops of intentionally allowing the attackers into the square.

The effects of the protests are already being felt throughout the region and there are fears it will spread, with Jordan forced to promise reforms and the Yemeni president announcing yesterday he would not seek another term in office.

Yemen leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is allied to the U.S. and has been in power for nearly 32 years, spoke on the eve of mass rallies that the opposition has called today in all the country’s provinces.

Saleh, whose current term in office expires in 2013, promised that his son would not seek to succeed him. He has already tried to defuse simmering tensions in Yemen by raising salaries for the army, ordering income tax to be slashed and instructing his government to control prices.

Mob: Marchers from rival sides face off as they come round the corner of a public building. They are only separated by a no man's land in the middle

Mob: Marchers from rival sides face off as they come round the corner of a public building. They are only separated by a no man's land in the middle

Egyptian demonstrator stands on tank
Attack: Demonstrators tussle on the streets

A pro-Mubarak protester clamber up on a tank in Liberation Square (left) as demonstrators from rival camps tussle in the street

Record pay for Wall Street executives in 2010

Record pay for Wall Street executives in 2010

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While the great majority of the American population is suffering from the consequences of mass unemployment, pay-cutting, record foreclosures, and ruthless cuts to all forms of social spending, America’s corporate elite are flush with record pay and profits.

According to a new study by the Wall Street Journal, total compensation handed out to employees at publicly traded Wall Street banks hit a record $135 billion in 2010, an increase of 5.7 percent over the combined payout in 2009.

The $135 billion in “compensation” given to the lords and ladies of Wall Street is $10 billion more than the combined budget deficit of $125 billion facing 44 states and the District of Columbia for fiscal year 2012—budget deficits that will be used to cut funding for schools, food stamps for the hungry, health care for the poor and working class, and unemployment compensation for the jobless.

One firm, Bank of America, paid out $35.1 billion in compensation alone. The figure is equivalent to the combined budget deficits of California and Illinois, which are together home to 50 million people.

In compiling the data, the Wall Street Journal analyzed 2010 financial reports from 25 Wall Street banks with stock-market valuation of at least $1 billion. The 25 have a combined value of $750 billion, or 85 percent of the banking industry total.

The payout to executives was about one third of the total $417 billion in Wall Street bank revenue in 2010, another record. This figure, the financial haul of America’s 25 biggest banks, is about twice the size of the 2010 GDP of Egypt, with a population of 80 million.

For top bankers, eight-figure payouts are once again the norm. Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, took home about $14.6 million in 2010, $12.6 million of it in the form of a corporate shares-based bonus. His pay package is about 340 times the median US income of $43,000.

The incomprehensible wealth making its way into the pockets of executives at publicly traded firms pales in comparison to the payouts given to the managers of hedge funds, investment groups generally only open to top investors which are even less subject to regulation than the finance industry as a whole.

One hedge fund manager, John Paulson, netted nearly $5 billion in personal profit in 2010. By way of comparison, with symphonies, museums, and parks being shut down across the country, Paulson’s income was about 31 times the $161 million Obama has proposed for 2011 funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, a $6 million cut from last year.

Several other hedge fund managers also received personal compensation in the billions, according to the Wall Street Journal. David Trapper of Appaloosa Management, Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates, and James Simons of Renaissance Technologies each made between $2 billion and $3 billion, it reports.

And how do these hedge fund managers “earn” this money? Paulson’s eponymous Paulson & Paulson Co. and other hedge funds “made winning bets on commodities,” including gold, according to the Journal. In other words, profiting from the “quantitative easing” bond buy-back program from the Federal Reserve Board, the hedge funds speculated in US Treasuries on one side, and foodstuffs and other commodities, on the other. This has resulted in a catastrophe for people the world over who can no longer afford the goods that sustain their lives.

For Paulson and his ilk, money is to be made on the way up and on the way down, by betting “short” on certain kinds of investments—and thus helping to precipitate crashes—and by going “long” on others. As the Journal notes, though a record, his “performance last year... paled in comparison to his 2007 returns, when Mr. Paulson made a huge wager against subprime mortgages and his funds scored gains of as much as 590 percent.”

Nonetheless, last year found the hedge-fund industry “back on its feet after a rough stretch,” the leading US business newspaper explains. “Assets managed by hedge funds have grown to a near-record $1.92 trillion, up 20 percent over the past year. Assets jumped almost $150 billion in the fourth quarter alone, the largest quarterly growth on record, according to Hedge Fund Research, Inc.”

On Tuesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the most prominent measure of US securities, crossed 12,000 points for the first time since June of 2008, largely based on a steady stream of record corporate profit reports in recent weeks. Share values are up an astonishing 84 percent since their post-financial crisis nadir of March 2009.

The “turnaround” since March 2009, which has been solely to the benefit of the financial elite, is not due to the mysterious workings of the market but to the conscious intervention of the Obama administration.

That month, with the DJIA nearing 6,000, Obama intervened with a series of pro-corporate policies in rapid-fire succession. He scuttled a bill passed by the House of Representatives that would have imposed mild limits on the pay of bank executives. Then Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner made public White House plans to deepen the bank bailout by buying up more, potentially unlimited, “toxic assets” at public expense. Finally, that month Obama rejected the turnaround plans submitted by General Motors and Chrysler, driving the firms into bankruptcy in order to carry through deeper cuts in jobs, wages and benefits of autoworkers and retirees.

The moves of March 2009 set a pattern for what has followed: on the one side, unrestrained corporate greed and the monopolization of an ever-greater share of the national wealth by the financial elite, and on the other an unprecedented assault on the living conditions of the working class both through wage-cutting and layoffs, and through cuts to social spending.

Obama’s aim, to the exclusion of all others, is to protect and enhance the wealth of America’s financial aristocracy. Only this can explain his surreal State of the Union address, in which he disregarded the enormous social misery in the US and boasted of having “broken the back of the recession,” because “the stock market has come roaring back [and] corporate profits are up.”

The FBI Has Been Violating Your Liberties in Ways That May Shock You

The FBI Has Been Violating Your Liberties in Ways That May Shock You

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Last week, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-VT, introduced legislation to extend the Patriot Act past its February 28 expiration date to December 2013. Though the extension once again saves some of the most nefarious, First-Amendment trampling provisions of the act -- roving wiretaps, secret access to third-party records, the hunting of targets unafilliated with foreign powers -- Leahy released a statement assuring us that the new extension will increase citizen protections.

“It will promote transparency and expand privacy and civil liberties safeguards in current law,” he said in a statement. “It increases judicial oversight of government surveillance powers that capture information on Americans. This is a package of reforms that all Americans should support.” The expanded bill would require the Department of Justice to issue public reports and generally expand oversight.

But will token rights-preserving provisions matter if the FBI refuses to comply?

Over the last decade, the FBI has been found to violate the Constitution countless times under the guise of the Patriot Act, including a 2007 scandal that led FBI head Robert Mueller to publicly apologize for the preponderance of security abuses, misconduct and violation of civil liberties on his watch. We’ve known since its enactment in 2001 that the Patriot Act, with its gross expansion of law enforcement power and murky reporting requirements, was just a rulebook waiting to be spoiled.

But according to a new report released by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the FBI’s violations go far beyond what has been reported.

Since July 2009, EFF has been involved in litigation with seven different federal agencies for ignoring EFF’s requests for information submitted in 2008. In December 2009, the CIA, NSA, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and Department of State were ordered by the Court to comply with EFF’s requests under the Freedom of Information Act, though it did not receive the complete papers from the FBI until October 2010.

The resulting 2,500-page document consists of FBI reports to the citizen-run Intelligence Oversight Board during the years 2001-2008. Consistently, documents released from the IOB reveal investigations of abuse that often have not been reported to Congress or the Department of Justice as required. But EFF’s analysis, pored over for several months, illuminates exactly how, when and why these investigations happened, and the results are shocking.

First, the numbers: EFF found that, since 9/11, the FBI has been responsible for up to 40,000 violations. Most often, said violations included bucking guidelines for internal oversight, abusing the National Security Letters and trampling on the Fourth Amendment. This, in tandem with the IOB’s weakened capacity for oversight under President George W. Bush, has resulted in nothing short of disaster. In 2008, Bush revoked the IOB’s right to refer violations to the Attorney General, and eliminated the agency’s requirement to report quarterly to the IOB. As EFF found, "The FBI’s disregard for its own internal oversight requirements and the Bureau’s failure to timely report violations to the IOB undermined the safeguards established to protect civil liberties violations from occurring." While the Obama administration restored a few of those changes, it still has not provided the proper transparency needed for a true citizen-protective oversight board or fully disclosed its makeup.

Some of the more egregious abuses, according to EFF’s report:

  • Private entities such as phone companies, banks and Internet providers assisted the FBI’s National Security Letters abuse with alarming frequency, turning over information without valid legal justification in more than half of all case.
  • Between 2001-2008, the average time between when a violation was committed, and when it was reported to the IOB, was 2.5 years.
  • During that same time frame, the FBI was found to have submitted false or inaccurate documents to courts, used "improper evidence" to obtain subpoenas, and accessed password-protected documents without a warrant.

This is government spying, in no uncertain terms.

In his bill to renew the Patriot Act, Senator Leahy called for "a higher standard" from the government, including "a statement of facts showing reasonable grounds to believe the tangible things are relevant to an authorized investigation and pertain to (a) an agent of a foreign power, (b) the activities of a suspected agent, or (c) an individual in contact with or known to a suspected agent of foreign power."

Lip service is mighty, but without true reform to the articles like Lone Wolf, It’s likely the FBI won’t stop stampeding our rights anytime soon.

Read the full report at the EFF.