Saturday, May 19, 2012

Why Isn't Closing 40 Philadelphia Public Schools National News?

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If some racist made an inappropriate remark about the First Lady or her children our national "civil rights leaders" Obama fans all of them, would be all over that. But standing up for ordinary black children is something our leaders just don't do much any more. When was the last time you heard Sharpton, Jealous or any of that tribe inveigh against school closings and the creeping privatization of our schools?

In what should be the biggest story of the week, the city of Philadelphia's school system announced Tuesday that it expects to close 40 public schools next year and 64 by 2017. The school district expects to lose 40% of current enrollment to charter schools, the streets or wherever, and put thousands of experienced, well qualified teachers, often grounded in the communities where they teach, on the street.

Ominously, the shredding of Philadelphia's public schools isn't even news outside Philly. This correspondent would never have known about it save for a friend's Facebook posting early this week. Corporate media in other cities don't mention massive school closings, whether in Chicago, Atlanta, NYC, or in this case Philadelphia, perhaps so people won't have given the issue much deep thought before the same crisis is manufactured in their town. Even inside Philadelphia the voices of actual parents, communities, students and teachers are shut out of most newspaper and broadcast accounts.

The black political class is utterly silent and deeply complicit. Even local pols and notables who lament the injustice of local austerity avoid mentioning the ongoing wars and bailouts which make these things "necessary." A string of black mayors have overseen the decimation of Philly schools. Al Sharpton, Ben Jealous and other traditional "civil rights leaders" can always be counted on to rise up indignant when some racist clown makes an inappropriate remark about the pretty black First Lady and her children.

But they won't grab the mic for ordinary black children. They won't start and won't engage the public in a conversation about saving public education. It's not because they don't care. It's because they care very much about their funding, which comes from Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation, from Wal-mart and the Walton Family Foundation, from the corporations that run charter charter schools and produce standardized tests.

To name just one payment to one figure, Rev. Al Sharpton took a half million dollar "loan" from charter school advocates in New York City, after which he went on tour with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Newt Gingrich extolling the virtues of standardized testing, charter schools and educational privatization. Bill Gates delivered the keynote speech at the latest gathering of the National Urban League. And the nation's two big teachers' unions, NEA and AFT have already endorsed Barack Obama's re-election, and will funnel him gobs of union dues as campaign contributions, despite his corporate-inspired "Race To The Top" program which awards federal education funds in proportion to how many teachers are fired and replaced by inexperienced temps, how many schools are shut down, and how many charter schools exempt from meaningful public oversight are established and granted public funds.

The fix has been in for a long time, and not just in Philadelphia. Philly's school problems are anything but unique. The city has a lot of poor and black children. Our ruling classes don't want to invest in educating these young people, preferring instead to track into lifetimes of insecure, low-wage labor and/or prison. Our elites don't need a populace educated in critical thinking. So low-cost holding tanks that deliver standardized lessons and tests, via computer if possible, operated by profit-making "educational entrepreneurs" are the way to go. The business class can pocket the money which used to pay for teachers' and custodians' retirement and health benefits, for music and literature and gym classes, for sports and science labs and theater and all that other stuff that used to be wasted on public school children.

The national vision of ruling Democrats and Republicans and the elites who fund them is to starve, discredit, denounce and strangle public education. Philly and its children, parents, communities and teachers are only the latest victims of business-class school reform. And they won't be the last.

One of the recent CEO's of Philadelphia Public Schools was a guy from Chicago named Paul Vallas. Vallas's previous job was head of Chicago's Public Schools where his "innovations" included military charter schools and wholesale school closings to get around local laws that school parent councils veto power over the appointment of principals. Vallas was succeeded by Arne Duncan, now Secretary of Education, and arrived in Philly in 2002. As CEO of Philly schools he closed and privatized chunks of 40 schools, leaving town for post-Katrina New Orleans where he closed more than 100 public schools and fired every last teacher, custodian and staff person to create a business-friendly citywide charter school experiment. After his post-Katrina destruction of New Orleans public education, Vallas went to post-earthquake Haiti to commit heaven only knows what atrocity on the corpse of public education there.

So the carving up of Philadelphia public schools IS a national story. It's just one that corporate media won't tell. Not in Philly, not in LA, not in Kansas City or anywhere, for fear that ordinary people might try to write themselves into a leading role. Polls show that the American people don't want their schools privatized, and don't believe education should be run by business people like a business. People want to take the money we spend on wars and bailouts and use it on education. Telling the story might give people the notion that the ultimate power is in their hands, not of mayors and chambers of commerce or the so-called "CEOs" of school system. It's time that story was told, and more of us heard it.

Kwame Toure used to say that the thing to do is join an organization and pick a fight. If you can't find an organization you like, he said, start one and then pick a fight. It's that time in Philly, and in Los Angeles and New York and wherever you are. It's time to stand up for our children and grandchildren.

Can the Euro Avert Collapse?

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Socialist François Hollande’s victory in the French presidential elections and an impressive showing by the leftist Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) in the Greek polls on the same day may prove to be a watershed moment in Europe’s battle for survival against global bond markets. Or it may not. For while the backlash against austerity has now reached the European core, the eurozone is still trapped by its own monetary union and lacks the tools to implement an alternative to the depression economics of a crumbling Berlin consensus.

Hollande sent shudders through the European orthodoxy and was branded “a rather dangerous man” by The Economist when he pledged to renegotiate the fiscal compact pushed through by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the defeated Nicolas Sarkozy in March in an attempt to lock permanent austerity into the European Constitution. “Austerity should no longer be Europe’s fate,” Hollande said in his victory speech in Paris, echoing a perception gaining ground even in Brussels that an obsession with deficits is driving the region into a double-dip recession and an ever deeper debt trap. “‘Merkozy’ is gone. We’re now going to have an open debate in Europe on austerity—not just lip service to growth but real measures, starting with the renegotiation of the fiscal compact,” said Pervenche Berès, the French Socialist Member of the European Parliament (MEP) who heads the committee on employment and social affairs, speaking the week before the elections after a conference in Rome with the slogan “Beyond Austerity.”

Even as the mainstream media warned that Hollande’s populism would be punished by the bond markets, the IMF’s chief economist, Frenchman Olivier Blanchard—who is closer to Hollande’s heterodoxy than might be expected—confessed that “schizophrenic” investors are now as scared by the impact of austerity on growth as they are of fiscal largesse. Even in Germany the austerity paradigm may be under review. Merkel’s office ruled out any renegotiation of the fiscal compact, but Berlin does not oppose adding new commitments to growth. “Hollande will demand that the fiscal pact be supplemented by a robust growth initiative, and the SPD [Social Democratic Party] in Germany will support him,” said Alfred Gusenbauer, former Austrian chancellor, at the Rome conference. This will force Merkel, weakened after local election setbacks, to introduce some pro-growth measures, he predicted.

French Socialist MEPs said their new growth plan will include doubling the European Investment Bank’s capital base to 60 billion euros, which allows it to provide more cheap loans to credit-starved businesses, and issuing bonds for infrastructure development; fast-tracking structural cohesion funds to finance development projects in poorer regions; and adopting a financial transactions tax to curb speculation in the markets. The revamping of the EIB—which unlike the European Central Bank (ECB) can issue debt for investment—now has the support of EU commissioner Olli Rehn, and Berlin seems likely to follow. “We need far more loans disbursed to small business to compensate private credit contraction and fiscal adjustment, and we have seen how effective public development banks can be, from Brazil to China and even in Germany,” said Britain-based development economist Stephany Griffith-Jones, one of the organizers of the Rome conference. She calculates that the EIB could provide more than 30 billion euros’ worth of investment loans a year, a welcome (though barely sufficient) resource for Europe’s credit-starved southern rim, where a spate of suicides of Italian small businessmen in recent months has highlighted the drama of this crisis.

Hollande’s commitment to wealth redistribution by way of a 75 percent income tax on France’s highest earners could also set an example for Europe’s debt-constrained periphery, said Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. Despite market constraints on their ability to implement fiscal expansion to combat recession, countries like Italy and Spain could kick-start growth by redistributing income to the less well off, who consume more and save less of their income. In countries like Germany, meanwhile, there should be an immediate end to “deficit fetishism,” Stiglitz added.

Yet even Hollande’s longstanding economic advisers recognize that these measures by themselves will do little to halt Europe’s slide into another recession or avert the real possibility of catastrophic defaults on Spanish and Italian debt. Not even the newly created European stability mechanism, with some 800 billion euros of emergency funds bolstered by the IMF’s replenished crisis-prevention resources, will be enough to save Spain or Italy if, as some economists believe, their debt-servicing costs pass a point of no return in markets gripped by a self-fulfilling fear of default. “We need new instruments: eurobonds and a central bank that can buy sovereign debt and bring interest payments down,” said Jean-Paul Fitoussi, one of Hollande’s economic advisers, in an interview in Rome. The French president-elect supports both measures, Fitoussi added, and has daringly supported changes in the ECB’s mission that would allow it to set a ceiling on interest payments by buying sovereign bonds whenever markets pushed interest rates beyond sustainable levels. Hollande would like to see the ECB play the role of lender of last resort, which could assuage market fears of defaults in Spain and Italy. In Rome Stiglitz sketched out a “holistic” alternative to austerity, in which a looser fiscal policy in the euro-core plus pan-European investment would be followed by the introduction of European debt.

But while Germany will make concessions on new growth measures, few expect the Bundesbank or the German taxpayer to back eurobonds or a more active ECB, at least in the short run. “You need a paradigm shift in Germany, and, frankly, that is further away than ever,” said Peter Bofinger, a rare Keynesian among austerity lovers in the country’s influential nongovernment Council of Economic Experts. Meanwhile, after a short period of calm following the ECB’s injection of half a trillion euros into the banking system late last year, the cost of financing Spanish and Italian debt has returned to the giddy heights of 2011. “With zero growth and rising interest costs in Spain and Italy, no debt is sustainable,” Fitoussi said. “Even France will be challenged if it goes into recession.”

For the Italian center left—partners in Mario Monti’s national unity government—the demise of “Merkozy” creates the potential for a new, progressive Mediterranean response to the crisis from Italy and France with the support of Spain and Portugal, which, despite their recently elected conservative governments, are aware that only pan-European investment, eurobonds and the full support of the ECB can save the eurozone. Even Monti’s conservative government partner, the People of Liberty Party, has used Hollande’s victory to call for a more flexible approach to the fiscal compact. While Monti, a former European Commissioner, has obediently implemented spending cuts and a reform that will weaken Italian labor unions, he seemed keen to show some support for Hollande’s and Stiglitz’s Keynesian alternative. “I agree with most of what Professor Stiglitz says,” he told a packed audience in Rome’s Chamber of Commerce as center-left leader and former Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema looked on. The devastating protest vote in Greece, meanwhile, makes a second default on that country’s debt appear almost inevitable, and withdrawal from the eurozone an ever more likely endgame.

The stakes are terrifyingly high. If economic slump, mass unemployment and uncontrollable debt are beginning to evoke the interwar years in Europe, so is Marine Le Pen’s bid to replace Sarkozy as the leader of the French right—to say nothing of the success of Greece’s violently racist Golden Dawn. “The fiscal compact is folly for two reasons: it will do nothing to solve the debt problem, and it is hollowing out national democracy, creating conditions for the rise of extremism,” said Fitoussi. In the street outside his office at LUISS University in central Rome, the billboards had been plastered with electoral posters for Italy’s Right Party (La Destra). They showed a radiant Le Pen under the slogan: “In Italy, just as in France, we need coherence.”

The Energy Wars Heat Up

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There has been much discussion recently about the Obama administration’s “pivot” from the Greater Middle East to Asia: the 250 Marines sent to Darwin, Australia, the littoral combat ships for Singapore, the support for Burmese “democracy,” war games in the Philippines (and a drone strike there as well), and so on. The U.S. is definitely going offshore in Asian waters, or put another way, after a decade-long hiatus-cum-debacle on the Eurasian continent, the Great Game v. China is back on.

While true, however, the importance of this policy change has been exaggerated. At the moment, as it happens, the greatest game isn’t in Asia at all; it’s in the Persian Gulf where, off the coast of Iran and in bases around the region, the U.S. is engaged in a staggering build-up of naval and air power. Most people would have little idea that this was even going on, since it rarely makes its way into the mainstream and even less often onto front pages or into the headlines. The Washington Times, for instance, has been alone in reporting that, for the U.S. military, “war planning for Iran is now the most pressing scenario.” It adds that the “U.S. Central Command believes it can destroy or significantly degrade Iran’s conventional armed forces in about three weeks using air and sea strikes.”

Most of the time, however, you have to be a genuine news jockey or read specialist sites to notice the scale of what’s going on, even though the build-up in the Gulf is little short of monumental and evidently not close to finished. It’s not just the two aircraft carrier task forces now there, but (as the invaluable Danger Room website has reported) the doubling of minesweepers stationed in Bahrain, as well as the addition of minesweeping helicopters and coastal patrol boats that are being retrofitted with Gatling guns and missiles. Throw in new advanced torpedoes for Gulf waters and mini-drone subs; add in newly outfitted units of F-22s and F-15s heading for bases in the Gulf to make up “the world’s most powerful air-to-air fighting team.” And don’t forget the major CIA drone surveillance program already in operation over Iran (and undoubtedly still being bolstered).

And then, of course, you would have to add in what we don’t know about, including -- you can be sure -- the strengthening of special operations activities in the region. It’s the perfect build-up for a post-presidential-election war season. After a failed war in Iraq that left that country ever more firmly allied with Iran and another failing war in Afghanistan, you might think that the Pentagon would want to back off. Well, think again. To adapt the famed mantra of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential run, “It’s the oil heartlands of the planet, stupid.” And as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare, author of a new, must-read book, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources, points out, we’re now entering an era when “war” and “oil” may become synonymous. (To catch Timothy MacBain's latest Tomcast audio interview in which Klare discusses global energy conflicts, click here or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

The Energy Wars Heat Up
Six Recent Clashes and Conflicts on a Planet Heading Into Energy Overdrive

By Michael T. Klare

Conflict and intrigue over valuable energy supplies have been features of the international landscape for a long time. Major wars over oil have been fought every decade or so since World War I, and smaller engagements have erupted every few years; a flare-up or two in 2012, then, would be part of the normal scheme of things. Instead, what we are now seeing is a whole cluster of oil-related clashes stretching across the globe, involving a dozen or so countries, with more popping up all the time. Consider these flash-points as signals that we are entering an era of intensified conflict over energy.

From the Atlantic to the Pacific, Argentina to the Philippines, here are the six areas of conflict -- all tied to energy supplies -- that have made news in just the first few months of 2012:

* A brewing war between Sudan and South Sudan: On April 10th, forces from the newly independent state of South Sudan occupied the oil center of Heglig, a town granted to Sudan as part of a peace settlement that allowed the southerners to secede in 2011. The northerners, based in Khartoum, then mobilized their own forces and drove the South Sudanese out of Heglig. Fighting has since erupted all along the contested border between the two countries, accompanied by air strikes on towns in South Sudan. Although the fighting has not yet reached the level of a full-scale war, international efforts to negotiate a cease-fire and a peaceful resolution to the dispute have yet to meet with success.

This conflict is being fueled by many factors, including economic disparities between the two Sudans and an abiding animosity between the southerners (who are mostly black Africans and Christians or animists) and the northerners (mostly Arabs and Muslims). But oil -- and the revenues produced by oil -- remains at the heart of the matter. When Sudan was divided in 2011, the most prolific oil fields wound up in the south, while the only pipeline capable of transporting the south’s oil to international markets (and thus generating revenue) remained in the hands of the northerners. They have been demanding exceptionally high “transit fees” -- $32-$36 per barrel compared to the common rate of $1 per barrel -- for the privilege of bringing the South’s oil to market. When the southerners refused to accept such rates, the northerners confiscated money they had already collected from the south’s oil exports, its only significant source of funds. In response, the southerners stopped producing oil altogether and, it appears, launched their military action against the north. The situation remains explosive.

* Naval clash in the South China Sea: On April 7th, a Philippine naval warship, the 378-foot Gregorio del Pilar, arrived at Scarborough Shoal, a small island in the South China Sea, and detained eight Chinese fishing boats anchored there, accusing them of illegal fishing activities in Filipino sovereign waters. China promptly sent two naval vessels of its own to the area, claiming that the Gregorio del Pilar was harassing Chinese ships in Chinese, not Filipino waters. The fishing boats were eventually allowed to depart without further incident and tensions have eased somewhat. However, neither side has displayed any inclination to surrender its claim to the island, and both sides continue to deploy warships in the contested area.

As in Sudan, multiple factors are driving this clash, but energy is the dominant motive. The South China Sea is thought to harbor large deposits of oil and natural gas, and all the countries that encircle it, including China and the Philippines, want to exploit these reserves. Manila claims a 200-nautical mile “exclusive economic zone” stretching into the South China Sea from its western shores, an area it calls the West Philippine Sea; Filipino companies say they have found large natural gas reserves in this area and have announced plans to begin exploiting them. Claiming the many small islands that dot the South China Sea (including Scarborough Shoal) as its own, Beijing has asserted sovereignty over the entire region, including the waters claimed by Manila; it, too, has announced plans to drill in the area. Despite years of talks, no solution has yet been found to the dispute and further clashes are likely.

* Egypt cuts off the natural gas flow to Israel: On April 22nd, the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation and Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company informed Israeli energy officials that they were “terminating the gas and purchase agreement” under which Egypt had been supplying gas to Israel. This followed months of demonstrations in Cairo by the youthful protestors who succeeded in deposing autocrat Hosni Mubarak and are now seeking a more independent Egyptian foreign policy -- one less beholden to the United States and Israel. It also followed scores of attacks on the pipelines carrying the gas across the Negev Desert to Israel, which the Egyptian military has seemed powerless to prevent.

Ostensibly, the decision was taken in response to a dispute over Israeli payments for Egyptian gas, but all parties involved have interpreted it as part of a drive by Egypt’s new government to demonstrate greater distance from the ousted Mubarak regime and his (U.S.-encouraged) policy of cooperation with Israel. The Egyptian-Israeli gas link was one of the most significant outcomes of the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries, and its annulment clearly signals a period of greater discord; it may also cause energy shortages in Israel, especially during peak summer demand periods. On a larger scale, the cutoff suggests a new inclination to use energy (or its denial) as a form of political warfare and coercion.

* Argentina seizes YPF: On April 16th, Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, announced that her government would seize a majority stake in YPF, the nation’s largest oil company. Under President Kirchner’s plans, which she detailed on national television, the government would take a 51% controlling stake in YPF, which is now majority-owned by Spain’s largest corporation, the energy firm Repsol YPF. The seizure of its Argentinean subsidiary is seen in Madrid (and other European capitals) as a major threat that must now be combated. Spain’s foreign minister, José Manuel García Margallo, said that Kirchner’s move “broke the climate of cordiality and friendship that presided over relations between Spain and Argentina.” Several days later, in what is reported to be only the first of several retaliatory steps, Spain announced that it would stop importing biofuels from Argentina, its principal supplier -- a trade worth nearly $1 billion a year to the Argentineans.

As in the other conflicts, this clash is driven by many urges, including a powerful strain of nationalism stretching back to the Peronist era, along with Kirchner’s apparent desire to boost her standing in the polls. Just as important, however, is Argentina’s urge to derive greater economic and political benefit from its energy reserves, which include the world’s third-largest deposits of shale gas. While long-term rival Brazil is gaining immense power and prestige from the development of its offshore “pre-salt” petroleum reserves, Argentina has seen its energy production languish. Repsol may not be to blame for this, but many Argentineans evidently believe that, with YPF under government control, it will now be possible to accelerate development of the country’s energy endowment, possibly in collaboration with a more aggressive foreign partner like BP or ExxonMobil.

* Argentina re-ignites the Falklands crisis: At an April 15th-16th Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia -- the one at which U.S. Secret Service agents were caught fraternizing with prostitutes -- Argentina sought fresh hemispheric condemnation of Britain’s continued occupation of the Falkland Islands (called Las Malvinas by the Argentineans). It won strong support from every country present save (predictably) Canada and the United States. Argentina, which says the islands are part of its sovereign territory, has been raising this issue ever since it lost a war over the Falklands in 1982, but has recently stepped up its campaign on several fronts -- denouncing London in numerous international venues and preventing British cruise ships that visit the Falklands from docking in Argentinean harbors. The British have responded by beefing up their military forces in the region and warning the Argentineans to avoid any rash moves.

When Argentina and the U.K. fought their war over the Falklands, little was at stake save national pride, the stature of the country’s respective leaders (Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher vs. an unpopular military junta), and a few sparsely populated islands. Since then, the stakes have risen immeasurably as a result of recent seismic surveys of the waters surrounding the islands that indicated the existence of massive deposits of oil and natural gas. Several UK-based energy firms, including Desire Petroleum and Rockhopper Exploration, have begun off-shore drilling in the area and have reported promising discoveries. Desperate to duplicate Brazil’s success in the development of offshore oil and gas, Argentina claims the discoveries lie in its sovereign territory and that the drilling there is illegal; the British, of course, insist that it’s their territory. No one knows how this simmering potential crisis will unfold, but a replay of the 1982 war -- this time over energy -- is hardly out of the question.

* U.S. forces mobilize for war with Iran: Throughout the winter and early spring, it appeared that an armed clash of some sort pitting Iran against Israel and/or the United States was almost inevitable. Neither side seemed prepared to back down on key demands, especially on Iran’s nuclear program, and any talk of a compromise solution was deemed unrealistic. Today, however, the risk of war has diminished somewhat -- at least through this election year in the U.S. -- as talks have finally gotten under way between the major powers and Iran, and as both have adopted (slightly) more accommodating stances. In addition, U.S. officials have been tamping down war talk and figures in the Israeli military and intelligence communities have spoken out against rash military actions. However, the Iranians continue to enrich uranium, and leaders on all sides say they are fully prepared to employ force if the peace talks fail.

For the Iranians, this means blocking the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow channel through which one-third of the world’s tradable oil passes every day. The U.S., for its part, has insisted that it will keep the Strait open and, if necessary, eliminate Iranian nuclear capabilities. Whether to intimidate Iran, prepare for the real thing, or possibly both, the U.S. has been building up its military capabilities in the Persian Gulf area, deploying two aircraft carrier battle groups in the neighborhood along with an assortment of air and amphibious-assault capabilities.

One can debate the extent to which Washington’s long-running feud with Iran is driven by oil, but there is no question that the current crisis bears heavily on global oil supply prospects, both through Iran’s threats to close the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for forthcoming sanctions on Iranian oil exports, and the likelihood that any air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities will lead to the same thing. Either way, the U.S. military would undoubtedly assume the lead role in destroying Iranian military capabilities and restoring oil traffic through the Strait of Hormuz. This is the energy-driven crisis that just won’t go away.

How Energy Drives the World

All of these disputes have one thing in common: the conviction of ruling elites around the world that the possession of energy assets -- especially oil and gas deposits -- is essential to prop up national wealth, power, and prestige.

This is hardly a new phenomenon. Early in the last century, Winston Churchill was perhaps the first prominent leader to appreciate the strategic importance of oil. As First Lord of the Admiralty, he converted British warships from coal to oil and then persuaded the cabinet to nationalize the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the forerunner of British Petroleum (now BP). The pursuit of energy supplies for both industry and war-fighting played a major role in the diplomacy of the period between the World Wars, as well as in the strategic planning of the Axis powers during World War II. It also explains America’s long-term drive to remain the dominant power in the Persian Gulf that culminated in the first Gulf War of 1990-91 and its inevitable sequel, the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The years since World War II have seen a variety of changes in the energy industry, including a shift in many areas from private to state ownership of oil and natural gas reserves. By and large, however, the industry has been able to deliver ever-increasing quantities of fuel to satisfy the ever-growing needs of a globalizing economy and an expanding, rapidly urbanizing world population. So long as supplies were abundant and prices remained relatively affordable, energy consumers around the world, including most governments, were largely content with the existing system of collaboration among private and state-owned energy leviathans.

But that energy equation is changing ominously as the challenge of fueling the planet grows more difficult. Many of the giant oil and gas fields that quenched the world’s energy thirst in years past are being depleted at a rapid pace. The new fields being brought on line to take their place are, on average, smaller and harder to exploit. Many of the most promising new sources of energy -- like Brazil’s “pre-salt” petroleum reserves deep beneath the Atlantic Ocean, Canadian tar sands, and American shale gas -- require the utilization of sophisticated and costly technologies. Though global energy supplies are continuing to grow, they are doing so at a slower pace than in the past and are continually falling short of demand. All this adds to the upward pressure on prices, causing anxiety among countries lacking adequate domestic reserves (and joy among those with an abundance).

The world has long been bifurcated between energy-surplus and energy-deficit states, with the former deriving enormous political and economic advantages from their privileged condition and the latter struggling mightily to escape their subordinate position. Now, that bifurcation is looking more like a chasm. In such a global environment, friction and conflict over oil and gas reserves -- leading to energy conflicts of all sorts -- is only likely to increase.

Looking, again, at April’s six energy disputes, one can see clear evidence of these underlying forces in every case. South Sudan is desperate to sell its oil in order to acquire the income needed to kick-start its economy; Sudan, on the other hand, resents the loss of oil revenues it controlled when the nation was still united, and appears no less determined to keep as much of the South’s oil money as it can for itself. China and the Philippines both want the right to develop oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea, and even if the deposits around Scarborough Shoal prove meager, China is unwilling to back down in any localized dispute that might undermine its claim to sovereignty over the entire region.

Egypt, although not a major energy producer, clearly seeks to employ its oil and gas supplies for maximum political and economic advantage -- an approach sure to be copied by other small and mid-sized suppliers. Israel, heavily dependent on imports for its energy, must now turn elsewhere for vital supplies or accelerate the development of disputed, newly discovered offshore gas fields, a move that could provoke fresh conflict with Lebanon, which says they lie in its own territorial waters. And Argentina, jealous of Brazil’s growing clout, appears determined to extract greater advantage from its own energy resources, even if this means inflaming tensions with Spain and Great Britain.

And these are just some of the countries involved in significant disputes over energy. Any clash with Iran -- whatever the motivation -- is bound to jeopardize the petroleum supply of every oil-importing country, sparking a major international crisis with unforeseeable consequences. China’s determination to control its offshore hydrocarbon reserves has pushed it into conflict with other countries with offshore claims in the South China Sea, and into a similar dispute with Japan in the East China Sea. Energy-related disputes of this sort can also be found in the Caspian Sea and in globally warming, increasingly ice-free Arctic regions.

The seeds of energy conflicts and war sprouting in so many places simultaneously suggest that we are entering a new period in which key state actors will be more inclined to employ force -- or the threat of force -- to gain control over valuable deposits of oil and natural gas. In other words, we’re now on a planet heading into energy overdrive.

Is The Food We Eat Killing Us?

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Are we digging our own graves with our teeth? Is the food that we eat every day slowly killing us? When I was growing up, I just assumed that everything in the grocery store was perfectly safe and perfectly healthy. I just assumed that the government and the big corporations were watching out for us and that they would never allow something harmful to be sold in the stores. Boy, was I wrong! Today, the average American diet is extremely unhealthy. Most of the foods that we all love to eat are absolutely packed with things that will damage our health. Many of the ingredients that make our foods "taste good" such as fat, salt and sugar can be extremely damaging in large amounts. On top of that, most processed foods are absolutely loaded with chemicals and preservatives. The next time you go to the grocery store, just start turning over packages and read the "ingredients" that are being put into our food. If you have never done this before, you will be absolutely amazed. In many of our most common foods there are "ingredients" that I cannot even pronounce. Sadly, most Americans have no idea that eating a steady diet of these processed foods will likely leave them massively overweight, very sick and much closer to death.

Eating healthy takes more time, more effort and more money than eating poorly does.

Unfortunately, most Americans are content to chow down on foods that are quick to make and that taste good.

In particular, Americans are absolutely addicted to foods that are loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

When you start looking at food product labels, you will find that either sugar or high fructose corn syrup is in almost everything.

For example, I was absolutely amazed when I learned that most bread sold in our grocery stores contains high fructose corn syrup.

Why in the world would they need to put that into our bread?

Today, Americans are consuming far more sugar and high fructose corn syrup than ever before, and this has many health professionals very alarmed. The following is an excerpt from an article on the website of the Mayo Clinic....

Some research studies have linked consumption of large amounts of any type of added sugar — not just high-fructose corn syrup — to such health problems as weight gain, dental cavities, poor nutrition, and increased triglyceride levels, which can boost your heart attack risk.

But it is not just sweeteners that are a concern.

There are great concerns about much of the meat that we eat as well.

Today, we grow animals much larger than we used to, but it comes at a price.

For example, we pump our cows full of growth hormones and they stand around in piles of their own manure until it is time for them to die.

If many Americans were aware of where the "cheap beef" in their grocery stores really comes from they might just change their eating habits.

Another dramatic change that has happened to our food supply in recent decades has been the rise of genetically modified crops.

In this area, there has been nothing short of a revolution.

In 1996, only about 2% of all soybeans in the United States were genetically modified. Today, about 90% of all soybeans in the United States are genetically modified.

At this point, approximately 70% of all processed foods in our grocery stores contain at least one ingredient that has been genetically modified.

This is one reason why so many Americans have shifted to an organic diet. Nobody really knows what the long-term health effects of eating all of this genetically-modified food will be on all of us.

But there are some things that we do know.

For example, if you drink large amounts of soda every day you are going to gain weight and you are likely to damage your health.

Sadly, even though we know this, the average American still consumes over 600 12-ounce servings of soda per year.

Is it any wonder that we have an obesity epidemic in America?

As I wrote about the other day, approximately 36 percent of all Americans are obese.

In fact, the United States has a higher percentage of obese people than any other major industrialized nation does.

All of this obesity helps to explain the dramatic rise that we have seen in diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes in recent years.

Did you know that people living in the United States are three times more likely to have diabetes than people living in the United Kingdom?

It is not a mystery why this is happening.

It is because of our unhealthy diets.

The food we eat is killing us.

We are a nation that is becoming a little less healthy every single day, and this is causing healthcare costs to completely spiral out of control.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, health care costs accounted for just 9.5% of all personal consumption back in 1980. Today they account for approximately 16.3%.

That is an incredible rise.

And health care costs have been rising much faster than the overall rate of inflation.

For example, health insurance premiums have risen three times faster than wages have in the United States over the past decade.

As Americans get sicker, health care will continue to be a "growth industry".

When we all get sick, what do the doctors do?

They put us all on prescription drugs.

According to the CDC, the percentage of Americans that report that they have taken at least one prescription drug within the last 30 days has risen to almost 50 percent.

In fact, 31 percent of Americans say that they have taken at least two prescription drugs within the last 30 days and 11 percent have taken at least five prescription drugs within the last 30 days.

But what happens when you take prescription drugs?

Well, most of them have nasty little side effects that cause even more health problems.

You know, there is something to be said for going back to a much more natural approach to health. For example, a recent study found that Amish children have very low levels of asthma and allergies. The following is from a recent Reuters article....

Amish children raised on rural farms in northern Indiana suffer from asthma and allergies less often even than Swiss farm kids, a group known to be relatively free from allergies, according to a new study.

"The rates are very, very low," said Dr. Mark Holbreich, the study's lead author. "So there's something that we feel is even more protective in the Amish" than in European farming communities.

What it is about growing up on farms -- and Amish farms in particular -- that seems to prevent allergies remains unclear.

Could the Amish teach the rest of us a thing or two about staying healthy?

That is something to think about.

Another aspect of all this is the packaging that our food comes in.

Chemicals from the packaging our food comes in can often get into our food and have serious health effects as an article by Emily Barrett recently described....

Increasingly, evidence shows that the plastics and wrappers used for packaging can inadvertently leach unwanted chemicals into food. Several recent studies found high levels of bisphenol A – an environmental chemical that can disrupt hormonal processes – in canned foods and in packaged foods for people and pets.

Now, another study suggests that the problems go far beyond just one culprit or one health effect. Among the many toxic chemicals that can migrate from packaging into food are the endocrine disrupting phthalates and organotins and the carcinogen benzophenone. These compounds are heavily used in food packaging and have known health effects, yet are not routinely tested or regulated in food, according to the paper's author Jane Muncke.*

Although some regulations exist to guarantee safe food packaging, the current system does not address concerns posed by endocrine disrupting chemicals, Muncke explains.* The associated health effects of exposure to hormone altering compounds are many and varied, including immune disfunction, metabolic disorders (diabetes, thyroid) and reproductive problems.

But our story is still not over.

After we are done with our food we throw the packaging in the garbage and most Americans never even think about where it eventually ends up.

Unfortunately, much of it ends up out in the ocean.

In the Pacific Ocean today, there is a toxic stew of plastic and garbage about twice the size of the continental United States that is known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch".

According to a BBC report, there are now 100 times more small plastic fragments in the northeast Pacific Ocean than 40 years ago.

But most of us never even stop and think about how the food we eat is destroying our bodies and the world around us.

Most of us just go through our daily lives assuming that somehow everything is going to be okay.

But the truth is that our food is causing major problems.

Sadly, with each passing year the federal government and the big corporations get even more control over our system of food distribution.

Hopefully more Americans will wake up and will start rejecting the "food" that the system wants to cram down our throats.

We all need to start making better choices.

Growing a garden, eating organic foods and supporting local farmers are some good places to start.

Us Senator Warns About Imminent Radiation Release From 'Precarious' Fukushima Power Plant

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U.S. Senator Ron Wyden is, as far as Senators go, an honorable guy. I don't agree with all his politics, but I actually used to live in his district in Oregon when he was a congressman (1981 - 1996), and I remember him standing out as someone who genuinely seemed to care about the People.

To my knowledge, Sen. Wyden is the only U.S. Senator who has actually visited the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility and warned the U.S. public about what he saw. And what did he see? A wrecked, half-collapsed building site littered with massive collections of nuclear fuel rods that now threaten the entire Northern hemisphere with a radiation apocalypse. (http://www.naturalnews.com/035789_Fukushima_Cesium-137_Plume-Gate.htm...)

When Wyden returned to the USA following the visit, he immediately issued an urgent warning, now reprinted on his website. In the watered-down language of political correctness, the warning is still quite strong. As his website says: (http://www.wyden.senate.gov/news/press-releases/after-tour-of-fukushi...)

Wyden's principal concern is the relocation of spent fuel rods currently being stored in unsound structures immediately adjacent to the ocean. He strongly urged the Ambassador to accept international help to prevent dangerous nuclear material from being released into the environment.

He then went on to say, in his own words: (emphasis added)

"The scope of damage to the plants and to the surrounding area was far beyond what I expected and the scope of the challenges to the utility owner, the government of Japan, and to the people of the region are daunting. The precarious status of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear units and the risk presented by the enormous inventory of radioactive materials and spent fuel in the event of further earthquake threats should be of concern to all and a focus of greater international support and assistance."

His website goes on to say something that should stun anyone who understands the threat of radioactive contamination of the environment:

"Wyden found that the facilities designed to house spent nuclear fuel and the reactors themselves were still in a state of disrepair and located in areas that would make them susceptible to further damage from future seismic events. The reactor buildings still contain large amounts of spent fuel -- making them a huge safety risk and the only protection from a future tsunami, Wyden observed, is a small, makeshift sea wall erected out of bags of rock."

Did you catch that last part? The only protection from a tsunami is a "makeshift sea wall erected out of bags or rock."

And to think, the fate of the world now depends on us all just "lucking out" and crossing our fingers in the hope that no earthquake or tsunami takes place before they clean up the Fukushima facility mess.

Which brings up the question: What exactly is being done to clean up the Fukushima facility mess?

In a word, nothing.

Governments play pretend

Virtually nothing is happening. All the governments involved (Japan and USA, primarily) are playing a ridiculously stupid game of pretending there is no problem. The Japanese government, for its part, has decided that instead of admitted to a radiation problem, it's easier to just tell Japanese citizens they have a mental disorder if they're concerned about radiation (http://www.prisonplanet.com/fear-of-radiation-treated-as-psychiatric-...).

The U.S. government plays a similar mind game, raising the allowable levels of radiation exposure by thousands of times and then declaring Fukushima fallout to be suddenly safe! (http://www.naturalnews.com/031963_radiation_exposure.html)

Governments, in other words, are in denial mode even while Fukushima smolders and hurls us all toward irreversible global disaster.

If Fukushima were a "terrorist," the U.S. government would stop at nothing to defeat it

What's really telling in all this is that if a "terrorist" organization were threatening the USA with the same amount of nuclear material held at Fukushima, the U.S. would take immediate and decisive action to eliminate that threat. For the record, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility has enough radioactive material to make thousands of terrorist "dirty bombs".

All that radioactive material now threatens America, but because it is subjected to random "natural" causes (earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.) instead of "terrorist" causes, the U.S. government has stupidly chosen to ignore it. It's not politically advantageous to talk about Fukushima, you see, because it doesn't fit into the false theatrical narrative of terrorists threatening America.

This leaves us all in a frustratingly idiotic catch-22, where governments refuse to address a problem that threatens the world unless and until the problem explodes in their faces, at which point it is too late to address it.

All this leads to the obvious solution for resolving the Fukushima conundrum. The way to get governments to address Fukushima is to allow the facility to be taken over by terrorists! Only then will the U.S. government consider the threat to be real, since the entire government only sees things through "terrorist glasses."

The science of denial

Of course, the real source of all this terror is the arrogance of modern science itself, which now threatens the very survival of the human race. As I recently wrote here on NaturalNews, the human race is being "suicided" in the name of science. (http://www.naturalnews.com/035790_scientific_suicide_humans.html)

Science has become a far greater threat than terrorism could ever imagine, because in the name of "science," we have been placed in the crosshairs of not just a nuclear apocalypse, but also the disastrous effects of self-replicating genetic pollution via GMOs.

"Science" has handed us antibiotic-resistant superbugs, the global pollution of crops and soils with synthetic pesticides, the death of the honey bees, and the mass poisoning of children with mercury through dentistry and vaccines (among other crimes). "Science" told us that nuclear power was safe ... yet here we are in 2012, on the verge of an event that could kill a quarter of the human population on the planet, and all the scientists can do is deny any problem exists at all.

Denial may be an effective psychological tactic in politics and poker, but unfortunately for the rest of us it does not alter the laws of physics. "Denial" does not change the 30-year half life of Cesium-137, a radioactive isotope that mimics the mineral potassium and thus is easily absorbed into food crops, poisoning the entire food supply.

Denial is not a tactic of genuine leaders; it is a last-ditch desperate ploy of the weak-minded.

We are living in the land of denial, led by elected denialists who are voted into office by working-class denialists. Denial has become our modus operandi, our fabric of fairytales. It has allowed our civilization to ride high on a global debt pyramid and it will be the harbinger of our ultimate destruction at the hands of "scientists" who promised us life but delivered us unto death.

The Political Uses Of The Latest “Terror Plot”

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One day after publicly announcing that the CIA had foiled an Al Qaeda plot to bomb a commercial airliner, US officials revealed Tuesday that the would-be bomber was in fact an informant working for the CIA and Saudi intelligence.

This turn of events is in line with so many domestic terror plots “disrupted” by federal authorities, which—in the overwhelming majority of cases—have featured confidential informants acting as agent provocateurs, instigating stage-managed plots and providing targeted patsies with money, dummy bombs and fake weapons before they are rounded up.

The account given for this latest operation is decidedly murky. Officials have claimed that the plot originated with the infiltration of a group affiliated to the Yemen-based Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula by the CIA-Saudi double agent. Why the US government would choose to expose such a seemingly valuable mole by making the supposed plot public is unclear to say the least.

It is impossible to sort fact from fiction in the versions being reported by the media. A highly skeptical attitude toward the most basic claims about this episode is more than warranted. However, the saturation news coverage is itself an unmistakable indication that, with less than six months to go before the US presidential election, elements within the Obama administration and the state apparatus want to move the “war on terror” to the front burner of American politics.

A key motivation for this was made clear Wednesday by the Washington Post, which published an editorial entitled “The US is right to strike hard at terrorists in Yemen.” The Post cites the alleged bomb plot to retroactively justify the Obama administration’s sharp escalation in US drone strikes against Yemen, with more missiles fired from the pilotless aircraft at targets in the country in the first four months of this year than in all of 2010 and 2011 combined.

The editorial went on to praise White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan for delivering a speech last week defending drone attacks as both legal and “ethical.” Brennan argued that the strikes were sanctioned by the Authorization of the Use of Military Force passed by Congress in September 2001 and used to justify both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

As the media provided wall-to-wall coverage of the alleged terror plot, virtually no attention was given to the announcement Tuesday by the Pentagon that US special forces “trainers” have been sent back into Yemen to aid troops of the country’s US-backed dictatorship in an ongoing civil war. They had been withdrawn during the mass uprisings that toppled dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled Yemen for 33 years, only to see him replaced by his deputy. The Pentagon also revealed that an amphibious assault battle group, including some 2,000 Marines, has been deployed off Yemen’s coast in the Gulf of Aden.

Thus, the “war on terror”, in the form of the reported bomb plot, is being utilized to justify yet another US war, this time in Yemen. The country is of great strategic concern to the US, as it commands the choke point between the Red and Arabian Seas, a key oil shipping route, and borders Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer.

There are doubtless political calculations in making the bomb plot public as well. Obama launched his re-election campaign by glorifying his role as the man who ordered the assassination of Osama bin Laden. He appears determined to make it impossible for the Republicans to attack him from the right on the “national security issue” by touting his record as the most militarist president in the country’s history.

Finally, aside from immediate foreign policy and political objectives, publicizing the purported bomb plot serves an institutional purpose, providing a justification for the perpetuation of a massive apparatus of military aggression and domestic repression.

In Congressional testimony on Wednesday, FBI chief Robert Mueller cited the plot to call for swift renewal of provisions granting the US government sweeping authority to spy on electronic communications. The provisions are set to expire at the end of the year.

CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria pointed to this side of the issue in an online column posted this week, noting that Washington remains “firmly committed to the war on terror at home” and to the “expansion of federal bureaucracies to tackle this war.”

“Since September 11, 2001, the US government has created or reconfigured at least 263 organizations to tackle some aspect of the war on terror,” he writes. “Thirty-three new building complexes have been built for the intelligence bureaucracies alone, occupying 17 million square feet—the equivalent of 22 US Capitols or three Pentagons. The largest bureaucracy after the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs is now the Department of Homeland Security, which has a workforce of 230,000 people.”

Zakaria notes that the vast powers of this intelligence apparatus “now touch every aspect of American life”, with “some 30,000 people, for example … now employed exclusively to listen in on phone conversations and other communications within the United States.”

After more than a decade of first the Bush administration and then that of Obama attempting to terrorize the American people with the supposedly ubiquitous threat of terrorism, the breathless announcement of new “bomb plots” appears to be producing diminished returns.

The overwhelming majority of the American people are opposed to war and have seen again and again how the “war on terror” has been used to justify military aggression abroad. Moreover, millions of working people in the United States and around the world are confronting far more immediate threats in the form of mass unemployment, declining living standards, the lack of a future for the youth and the destruction of public education and basic social services.

The 2012 election contest between the Democratic and Republican parties will offer no opportunity to vote for or against the continued buildup of the US military and intelligence apparatus and the threat it poses to the democratic rights and very lives of working people on a world scale. Nor will it allow the people to vote for or against the assault on jobs, wages and social conditions in the interest of the banks and the financial elite. Both parties are fully committed to these policies.

None of this can be opposed within the framework of the capitalist two-party system. Such a struggle can be waged only by means of the independent political mobilization of the working class to put an end to the profit system.

Monsanto, Dow and Genetically Modified Trouble

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Thanks to the blessings of nature and good farmers, you and I can enjoy such scrumptious delights as fresh corn-on-the-cob, popcorn and many other variations of this truly great grain. And now, thanks to Dow Chemical and federal regulators, we can look forward to "Agent Orange Corn." The chemical giant is in line to gain approval for putting a genetically altered corn seed on the market that will produce corn plants that won't die when doused with high levels of 2,4-D.

This potent pesticide was an ingredient in Dow's notorious Agent Orange defoliant, which did such extensive and horrific damage to soldiers and civilians in the Vietnam War. However, the corporation and the feds claim that 2,4-D was not the deadliest ingredient of the killer defoliant and has not yet been proven to cause cancer in humans, so they're pressing ahead to let this corporate-constructed seed be planted across America.

Dow now sells 2,4-D to help kill various weeds, but the herbicide is so strong that it also kills nature's own version of corn plants. Thus, Dow's genetic engineers went into the corporate lab and manufactured a new corn that's immune to the weed-killer. This would let the chemical maker profit from selling the patented seed, plus enjoying a huge increase in sales of its 2,4-D herbicide. How happy for Dow! Not so happy, though, for consumers worried about the untested long-term health consequences of the altered corn and the carcinogenic possibilities of ingesting more 2,4- D. Also, when sprayed, this herbicide can vaporize and spread for miles, killing crops that are not immune, poisoning the surrounding environment, and endangering the health of farmers and townspeople throughout the area.

Dow is hardly alone in pursuing its happiness at the expense of others. Indeed, rather than finding ways to cooperate with the natural world, America's agribusiness giants generally reach for the quick, high-tech fix in a futile effort to overpower nature.

Their attitude is that if brute force isn't working, they're probably not using enough of it.

Monsanto, for example, has banked a fortune by selling a corn seed that it genetically manipulated to produce corn plants that won't die when sprayed with a toxic weed-killer called "Roundup." Not coincidentally, Monsanto also happens to be the maker of Roundup, so it has profited from the seed and from the surge in Roundup sales that the seed generated.

Slick.

But Mother Nature, damn her, has rebelled. So much of Monsanto's poison was spread across America in the past decade that weeds naturally and rather rapidly developed a resistance to it. As a Dow Chemical agronomist put it, "The real need here is to diversify our weed management systems." Exactly right! We need non-chemical, non-GMO, sustainable systems that work with nature.

But, no, the Dow man didn't mean that at all. He was calling for more brute force in the form of his corporation's altered corn seed — the one that can withstand being doused with Dow's super-potent 2,4-D weedkiller. Use this, he promises, and this time nature will surely be defeated.

Wrong. Nature doesn't quit. The weeds will keep evolving and will adapt to Dow's high-tech fix, too. By pushing the same old thing relentlessly, says an independent crop scientist, agribusiness interests "ratchet up (America's) dependence on the use of herbicides, which is very much a treadmill." So much unhappiness for so many just to make one corporation happy by getting much richer at our expense.

It's time to start listening to the weeds — and cooperating with Mother Nature. To advance this common sense approach, a national coalition is backing a California "Right to Know" initiative requiring GMO-altered foods to be labeled. To help, go to Organic Consumers Association at www.OrganicConsumers.org, and get involved in the coalition's Money Bomb Monsanto Campaign.

Israel Will Receive A Record $4 Billion In Military Aid In 2013

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Following a decision by the U.S. House of Representatives Defense Appropriations Subcommittee which just approved over $948 million in funding for Israel’s anti-missile defense programs, Israel will receive a record $4 billion in military aid in 2013.

The Jewish Press reports: Approximately $679 million of the funding will go to the Iron Dome, thanks in large part to legislation initiated last month by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairwoman and ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, respectively.

The remaining $269 million will go to Israel’s other anti-missile initiatives: the short-range David’s Sling ($149.7 million), and the current long-range Arrow anti-ballistic missile system and its successor the Arrow 3 ($119.3 million). These projects, unlike the Iron Dome, are joint Israel-US projects.

While the increase in funding for the Iron Dome was expected, with the Department of Defense stating in March that it “intends to request an appropriate level of funding from Congress to support such acquisitions based on Israeli requirements and production capacity,” the funding for the other projects represents an increase of $169 million over the Obama administration’s proposed number.

A Time-Lapse Map of Every Nuclear Explosion Since 1945

World Battleground, 1000 Years Of War In 5 Minutes

11 Quotes That Show How Worried The Financial World Is About Europe Right Now

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The recent elections in France and in Greece have thrown the global financial system into an uproar. Fear and worry are everywhere and nobody is quite sure what is going to happen next. All of the financial deals that Greece has made over the past few years may be null and void. Nobody is going to know for sure until a new government is formed, and at this point it looks like that is not going to happen and that there will need to be new elections in June. All of the financial deals that France has made over the past few years may be null and void as well. New French President Francois Hollande seems determined to take France on a path away from austerity. But can France really afford to keep spending money that it does not have? France has already lost its AAA credit rating and French bond yields have started to move up toward dangerous territory. And Greek politicians are delusional if they think they have any other choice other than austerity. Without European bailout money (which they won't get if they don't honor their current agreements), nobody is going to want to lend Greece a dime.

And all of this talk about "austerity" is kind of silly anyway. It isn't as if either France or Greece was going to have a balanced budget any time soon. Both nations were still running up huge amounts of debt even under the "austerity" budgets.

But the citizens of both nations have sent a clear message that they are not going to tolerate even a slowdown in government spending. They want to go back to the debt-fueled prosperity of the last several decades, even if it makes their long-term financial problems a lot worse.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, Greece does not have that option. Without the bailout money that they are scheduled to get, Greece does not have a prayer of avoiding a disorderly default. Private investors would have to be insane to lend Greece money if the bailout deal falls apart. Greece desperately needs the help of the EU, the ECB and the IMF and the only way they are going to get it is if they abide by the terms of the agreements that have already been reached.

The only way that Greece can avoid austerity at this point would be to leave the euro. Nobody would want to lend money to Greece under that scenario either, but Greece could choose to print huge amounts of their own national currency if they wanted to.

The situation is different in France. Investors are still willing to lend to France at reasonable interest rates, but if France chooses to run up huge amounts of additional debt at some point they will end up just like Greece.

What is even more important in the short-term is the crumbling of the French/German alliance on European fiscal matters. Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy were a united front, but now Merkel and Hollande are likely to have conflict after conflict.

Instead of moving in one clear direction, the eurozone is now fractured and tensions are rising.

So what comes next?

Well, investors are not certain what comes next and that has many of them deeply concerned.

The following are 11 quotes that show how worried the financial world is about Europe right now....

#1 Tres Knippa of Kenai Capital Management: "What is going on in Europe is an absolute disaster…the risk-on trade is not the place to be. I want to be out of equities and very, very defensive because the situation in Europe just got worse after those elections."

#2 Mark McCormick, currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman: "We’re going to have higher tensions, more uncertainty and most likely a weaker euro."

#3 Nick Stamenkovic, investment strategist at RIA Capital Markets in Edinburgh: "Investors are questioning whether Greece will be a part of the single currency at the end of this year."

#4 Jörg Asmussen, a European Central Bank executive board member: "Greece needs to be aware that there is no alternative to the agreed reform program if it wants to remain a member of the eurozone"

#5 Tristan Cooper, sovereign debt analyst at Fidelity Worldwide Investment: "A Greek eurozone exit is on the cards although the probability and timing of such an event is uncertain."

#6 Art Cashin: "Here’s the outlook on Greece from Wall Street watering holes. If a coalition government is formed or looks to be formed, global markets may rally. Any coalition is unlikely to make progress on goals, since austerity is political suicide. There will likely be another election around June 10/17. A workable majority/plurality remains unlikely, so back to square one. Therefore, Greece will be unable to attain goals by the deadline (June 30). Lacking aid funds, pensions are suspended and government workers are laid off. Protestors take to the streets and government is forced to revert to drachma to avoid social chaos. Pass the peanuts, please."

#7 John Noonan, Senior Forex Analyst with Thomson Reuters in Sydney: "Sentiment is very bearish, The euro is under a lot of pressure right now. I get the feeling that it’s going to be a nasty move lower for the euro finally"

#8 Kenneth S. Rogoff, a professor of economics at Harvard: "A Greek exit would underscore that there’s no realistic long-term plan for Europe, and it would lead to a chaotic endgame for the rest of the euro zone."

#9 Chris Tinker of Libra Investment Services: "It’s a binary decision. If Greece gets itself to the point where the European administration says, ‘We can’t play this game anymore,’ that starts a domino effect"

#10 Nicolas Véron, a senior fellow at Bruegel: "France has very limited fiscal space and actually has to engage in fiscal consolidation"

#11 80-year-old Greek citizen Panagiota Makri: "I'm confused. I feel numb and confused. Only God can save us now"

All of this comes at a time when much of Europe is already descending into a new recession. Economies all over Europe are contracting and unemployment rates are skyrocketing. Until things start improving, there is going to continue to be a lot of civil unrest across Europe.

Meanwhile, things are not so great in the United States either.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon claims that the U.S. economy is holding a "royal straight flush", but the only part of that he got right was the "flush" part.

There are 100 million working age Americans that do not have jobs, the middle class continues to shrink, the rising cost of food and the rising cost of gas are severely stretching the budgets of millions of American families and the federal government continues to run up gigantic amounts of debt.

When Europe descends into financial chaos, the United States is not going to escape it. The financial crisis of 2008 deeply affected the entire globe, and so will the next great financial crisis.

Let us hope that we still have a little bit more time before the next great financial crisis strikes, but things in Europe are rapidly unraveling and at some point the dominoes are going to begin to fall.

The Unbelievable Brutality Unleashed on Kids in For-Profit Prisons

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Michael McIntosh couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He had come to visit his son at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility near Jackson, Miss., only to be turned away. His son wasn’t there.

“I said, ‘Well, where is he?’ They said, ‘We don’t know.’”

Thus began a search for his son Mike that lasted more than six weeks. Desperate for answers, he repeatedly called the prison and the Mississippi Department of Corrections. “I was running out of options. Nobody would give me an answer, from the warden all the way to the commissioner.”

Finally, a nurse at the prison gave him a clue: Check the area hospitals.

After more frantic phone calls, he found Mike in a hospital in Greenwood, hours away. He was shocked at what he saw. His son could barely move, let alone sit up. He couldn’t see or talk or use his right arm. “He’s got this baseball-size knot on the back of his head,” McIntosh said. “He’s got cuts all over him, bruises. He has stab wounds. The teeth in the front are broken. He’s scared out of his mind. He doesn’t have a clue where he’s at – or why.”

Though he had found his son, McIntosh still had no answers. He said prison officials wouldn’t allow him to see his son again for months. No one would tell him what happened – that is, until he received a phone call from a Southern Poverty Law Center advocate who was investigating Walnut Grove.

“When I was at my wit’s end and couldn’t get anywhere, an advocate from the SPLC actually found me,” McIntosh said. “She said, ‘Your son was in a riot.’ They [SPLC] just took bits [of information] and started putting this puzzle together. Without them, we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.”

Mike suffered brain damage. A U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) report about the conditions at Walnut Grove later noted that after weeks of hospitalization, his “previously normal cognition resembled that of a two year old.”

In the dry language typical of such reports, the DOJ investigators wrote that on February 27, 2010, “a youth melee resulted in the stabbing of several youth, as well as other types of physical injuries necessitating treatment at an outside hospital. One of the injured youth … suffered irreparable brain damage and sustained a fractured nose, cuts and stab wounds.”

And no one bothered to tell his father.

Others were hurt, too – stabbed, punched, kicked, stomped and thrown from an upper floor to a lower one. Mike and his cellmate, who was stabbed in the head, were both nearly killed. A dozen others were hospitalized.

There was another shocking detail: A female guard had “endorsed the disturbance by allowing inmates into an authorized cell to fight,” according to the March 20, 2012, DOJ report. She was fired but not charged with any crime.

The guard’s involvement wasn’t uncommon. Investigations showed that guards frequently instigated or incited youth-on-youth violence. Often, they were the perpetrators.

What happened to Mike was symptomatic of a youth prison – one run for profit by a private corporation – that was completely out of control.

The initial investigation, which began in 2006, turned into a federal civil rights lawsuit, with the ACLU and Jackson-based civil rights attorney Robert McDuff as co-counsels. It was settled in March with a sweeping consent decree designed to end the barbaric, unconstitutional conditions and the rampant violations of state and federal law that were documented separately by both the SPLC and the DOJ.

The Walnut Grove story is a cautionary tale that raises alarming questions about the treatment of youthful, mostly nonviolent offenders in Mississippi and elsewhere. And it calls into question the wisdom of turning over the care of these youths, some as young as 13, to private companies that exist solely to turn a profit – companies that have no incentive to rehabilitate youths, that thrive on recidivism, and that increase their profits by cutting corners and reaping ever more troubled souls into their walls.

Walnut Grove
The Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility near Jackson, Miss., was known for a culture of violence and corruption.

‘Deliberate Indifference’

On March 26, U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves issued a blistering court order approving the settlement of the lawsuit. He wrote that the GEO Group Inc., the company that runs Walnut Grove, “has allowed a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate.”

Violence by youths and guards wasn’t the only problem. Neither were the gang affiliations of some guards. Or the grossly inadequate medical and mental health care. Or the proliferation of drugs and other contraband. Or the lack of educational and rehabilitative programs. Or the wild overuse of pepper spray on passive youths.

Indeed, the DOJ found that sexual abuse – including brutal youth-on-youth rapes and “brazen” sexual misconduct by prison staffers who coerced youths – was “among the worst that we have seen in any facility anywhere in the nation.”

What’s more, both the prison staff and the Mississippi Department of Corrections, which pays GEO $14 million each year to run the prison, showed “deliberate indifference” to these problems.

In other words, nobody cared. Nobody cared that the bottom line – private profit, secured in part by dangerously understaffing the prison – was more important than providing humane conditions and services that would protect youths from violence and help get them back on the right track.

They should care – if not out of basic human decency then because these young men will eventually get out of prison. They will re-enter their communities, many lacking an education, many lacking treatment for their disabilities, many severely scarred both physically and psychologically by their experience.

GEO Riding Privatization Wave

Mike was three weeks shy of his 20th birthday when he arrived at Walnut Grove to serve a four-year sentence in October 2009. After growing up with his mother in California, he had been living for the previous two years with his father in Hazlehurst, a small town about a half hour’s drive south of Jackson. He was an active, athletic kid who liked to fish and was good with his hands. He had begun studying at a local community college, hoping to become a welder.

But now, after running afoul of the law, he was just another number in prison garb, living in a facility that housed young men ages 13 to 22 who had been tried and convicted as adults.

In August 2010, six months after Mike was injured, GEO purchased the company, Cornell Companies Inc., that had been operating the prison since 2003. GEO, which was born as Wackenhut Corrections Corp. in 1984, is the second-largest prison company in America, with 66,000 beds at 65 prison facilities across the U.S. and another seven overseas. With a total of 4,000 beds in three prisons, including Walnut Grove, the company houses about a quarter of Mississippi’s prison population.

Built with $41 million in taxpayer subsidies, Walnut Grove has generated about $100 million in revenue for the companies operating it since the doors opened in 2001.

With the acquisition of Walnut Grove and its other prison projects, GEO is riding a wave of privatization efforts.

Across the U.S., the number of inmates in such private facilities grew by 80 percent between 1999 and 2010 – from 71,208 to 128,195 – as states and the federal government bought the industry’s pitch that it could save taxpayer money by operating prisons at a lower cost, according a January 2012 report by The Sentencing Project. Thirty states now have partially privatized their prison systems.

For GEO, more privatization means greater profits. In 2011, the company produced $1.6 billion in revenue, a 27 percent increase over the previous year, and net income of $98.5 million, the best performance in the company’s history, according to its 2011 annual report.

The company’s business model depends, at least in part, on tough sentencing.

With 1.6 million people living behind bars, the U.S. already has the world’s largest population of prisoners – and the highest per-capita rate of incarceration. But the prison industry wants more. GEO’s annual report is clear about that – noting that “positive trends” in the industry may be “adversely impacted” by early release of inmates and changes to parole laws and sentencing guidelines.

Walnut Grove Population Triples

In the decade before Mike came to Walnut Grove, the prison’s population had soared – more than tripling from 2001 to 2010, from 350 to 1,200 inmates.

That was part of the problem. When the facility opened in 2001 with 500 beds, it was authorized to only accept “juvenile offenders” between the ages of 13 and 19.

There are important public policy reasons to keep children and teens separate from adult prisoners. The juvenile system was created to protect children from the harsh, punitive environment of adult prisons and to rehabilitate youths, recognizing that they are still developing and can greatly benefit from educational and other services.

Research has shown that youths who stay in the juvenile system are less likely to be arrested again than those who are transferred into the adult population. Further, youths are far more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons and are more likely to commit suicide.

Even so, the Mississippi legislature, under lobbying pressure, periodically raised the maximum age of those who could be housed at Walnut Grove – now at 22 – while also steadily increasing its capacity.

The staffing levels, however didn’t keep pace with the rapidly growing population. In fact, a prison auditor reported to the legislature in 2005 – and again in 2010 – that staffing had actually decreased. When it acquired the facility in 2010, GEO did nothing to correct the imbalance. In fact, the SPLC lawsuit says GEO “has a policy … of understaffing the prison.”

Michael McIntosh testifying
Michael McIntosh testifies before the Mississippi House Juvenile Justice Committee about the horrible conditions at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility.

Brutality the Norm

It was a brutal place. Mike told his father that he was locked in his cell for 23 hours a day. He spoke of pervasive violence. “It didn’t seem like there was much being done to curtail anything going on,” McIntosh said.

Guards frequently doused young men with pepper spray as a first response, rather than a last resort. Youths were routinely sprayed simply for refusing verbal commands, such as failing to remove their arms from food tray slots while locked in their cells – something they sometimes did to get attention for medical emergencies. Most commonly used was the “Fox Fogger,” a chemical weapon that discharges as much spray as possible per burst. Some inmates described instances in which entire cans of pepper spray were emptied into a cell, after which guards locked the door with the inmate inside. Typically, youths were not given the opportunity to wash away the pepper spray or decontaminate their clothes or bedding.

When DOJ investigators asked about the use of pepper spray, some guards were less than forthcoming. One lieutenant told them he couldn’t recall the last time he had used it. A video taken by one of the prison’s many cameras told a different story, showing him wielding it a mere two weeks earlier.

Pepper spray wasn’t the only hazard.

Fights were common, occurring almost daily. Cell doors could be easily rigged to remain unlocked, allowing youths to leave their cells and enter others at will. Guards were often complicit in attacks. Weapons were readily available. Emergency call buttons in the cells didn’t work.

In addition, guards “frequently and brutally react to low-level aggression” – such as using profanities or reacting too slowly to an order – by “slamming youth head first into the ground, slapping, beating, and kicking youth,” the DOJ found. In one such incident, a youth said he was ordered out of his cell by a supervising guard, who then jumped him and kicked him in the back four times. Another guard stomped on his leg. Investigators later observed a bruise on his leg in the shape of a boot print.

“We also found that youth were assaulted for the way they allegedly looked at officers or for absolutely no given reason at all,” the DOJ report says.

Some guards apparently saw their charges as sexual prey. Sexual misconduct between staffers and youth occurred on a monthly basis – “at a minimum,” the DOJ found. But GEO did little or nothing to prevent it, other than firing those caught in the act – like the female guard who yelled “close the door” at another guard who saw her engaged in intercourse with a youth in a medical department restroom.

Between July 2009 and May 2010, 13 staffers were fired and two arrested for sexual misconduct. No one knows how many other incidents went undetected.

In addition, youths were “routinely” subject to sexual assaults by other youths, the result of “grossly inadequate staffing” in the facility’s living areas, the DOJ found. Some youths told horrific stories of rape or attempted rape by cellmates who beat them or wielded “shanks,” the prison term for knives fashioned from ordinary metal objects.

Shanks, the investigators discovered, were far too common – and often used in assaults. During one 11-month period ending in November 2010, 91 youths were transported to outside medical facilities for treatment of injuries due to inmate violence. Many had cuts and stab wounds.

One youth, who was referred to as J.D. in the lawsuit, was tied up, brutally raped and beaten over a 24-hour period by a cellmate who had been the subject of multiple prior complaints involving sexual misconduct. The victim tried to summon guards, but the emergency button in his cell didn’t work.

Medical Care Lacking

Nothing, perhaps, illustrates the inhumane, callous and unconstitutional treatment of the youths at Walnut Grove more than the provision – or lack thereof – of mental health and medical care.

New inmates were not properly screened when they arrived; in fact, the facility appeared to lack even the most basic equipment needed to check arrivals for common conditions such as asthma, kidney disease or urinary infections. Exam rooms did not even contain examination tables or chairs.

Youths who were sick or injured often had to make multiple requests to see a nurse and sometimes waited weeks for treatment. Many with chronic conditions were not always given their medicine on time, if at all. The administration of medication was “grossly deficient,” the DOJ found. And though some inmates were as young as 13, none of the physicians who provided care at Walnut Grove were trained in pediatrics or family medicine.

For all those problems, the mental health care may have been worse.

The facility is not supposed to house inmates with serious mental health needs – but it does.

A number of inmates “have a history of prior psychiatric illness or treatment and/or are presently exhibiting symptoms of suicidal behavior or serious mental illness,” the DOJ report says. “The Facility, however, is not providing adequate mental health care to those youth. Instead, the Facility fails to adequately assess and treat youth at risk of suicide.”

In December 2008, a youth was found hanging from a noose attached to a light fixture but was revived. He was not placed on suicide watch. In October 2009, another youth with a history of depression and suicidal thoughts was found dead in his cell. Hours earlier, he had told a nurse that he had cut himself and planned to do it again. Ten days earlier, a guard had seen him with a rope around his neck.

In one six-month period in 2010, 285 youths – nearly a quarter of the population at the time – were placed on suicide watch. A psychiatrist evaluated only about 8 percent of them.

But many youths were placed in isolation as punishment, on the pretense they were suicidal. They were typically stripped, given a thin paper gown and forced into a cell with only a single blanket and a steel bed frame without a mattress. They stayed for 24 hours a day with little or no human contact.

For those who needed mental health crisis services, there were none – no therapy, no access to acute or chronic care, no special needs unit. Instead, medication and “therapeutic lockdown” were the only options available. Some youths, the DOJ found, “languish for years at a time without receiving evidence based mental health services that are routinely used to treat serious mental health conditions.”

A possible reason for the lack of care was the “shockingly low” level of psychiatric staffing. One psychiatrist, who was on call for just 14 hours per month, was responsible for providing care to 1,200 inmates. Additionally, a psychologist was available once a week for five hours.

The DOJ report came with a warning: “It must be noted that most of these youth with their untreated or inadequately treated mental health problems are eventually going to be released in worse condition, and often times more dangerous, than when they entered WGYCF [Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility].”

Mike McIntosh
Mike McIntosh enjoys a day of fishing prior to entering the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Mississippi. In February 2010, he suffered brain damage and other severe injuries during a melee that the U.S. Justice Department says was facilitated by a guard at the privately run, for-profit prison.

A ‘Sea Change’

Today, Mike is 22 and no longer at Walnut Grove. After spending some time at Parchman, the state’s only maximum security prison, he was transferred to the Alcorn County Correctional Facility.

After two years, he’s still recovering. It took a year before he could twist the top off a soda bottle. Some days, Mike can remember things about his life, like the fact he owns a car. Some days, he can’t.

As far as McIntosh knows, his son never received any kind of therapy for his injuries.

“Believe it or not, he still talks about the welding,” McIntosh said. “That’s exciting. That gives me some hope.”

As for the youths at Walnut Grove, the settlement agreement offers hope – hope for educational and rehabilitative services, hope for better health care, hope for common decency and freedom from harm.

The settlement requires the state to remove all boys under the age of 18 and certain teens who are 18 and 19 from the prison and house them in separate facilities governed by juvenile justice, rather than adult, standards. In his March 26 order, the judge wrote that the evidence in the case, along with the DOJ’s findings, left him with the “unshakeable conviction” that the settlement agreement must be entered immediately.

“Those youth, some of whom are mere children, are at risk every minute, every hour, every day,” the judge wrote. “Nothing has curtailed actions of the staff and indifference of management officials to the constant violations, even though the parties and their experts have been monitoring, investigating and conducting on-site visits constantly since before the lawsuit was filed and during the pendency of this action.”

As a result of the agreement, pepper spray will no longer be used to punish youths and can be deployed only to prevent serious bodily injury. Guards won’t be allowed to rely on inmates to enforce rules or impose punishment on others. Youths will not be subject to solitary confinement. Physical exertion used to inflict pain or discomfort won’t be allowed. Regular rehabilitative, educational and recreational programs will be available. Mental health and medical care will be required. And, “at all times,” youths will be provided with “reasonably safe living conditions and will be protected from violence” and sexual abuse.

“This represents a sea change in the way the Mississippi Department of Corrections will treat children in its custody,” said Sheila Bedi, deputy legal director for the SPLC. “As a result of this litigation, Mississippi’s children will no longer languish in an abusive, privately operated prison that profits each time a young man is tried as an adult and ends up behind bars.”

Soon, the Department of Corrections will be seeking another company to run the three prisons currently in GEO’s hands. A month after the Walnut Grove settlement, the company announced it was discontinuing its $21 million contract to operate the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, perhaps in anticipation of another SPLC lawsuit. GEO said in a press release that the facility had been “financially underperforming.” Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps then revoked GEO’s remaining contracts, saying the state would seek another company to manage all three prisons.

But questions remain. Will the future of private prisons elsewhere be affected by the abuses uncovered at Walnut Grove – many of which were blamed on severe understaffing, a lack of accountability and other shortcomings that appear related to profits? Will states rethink the idea of trying children as adults and housing them with older prisoners?

In its report “Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America,” The Sentencing Project questions the private prison industry’s claim that it can safely and humanely operate prisons for less money than the government. Prisons run by the government are not exactly extravagant, so where do the savings – and profits – come from?

“[P]rivate prisons must make cuts in important high-cost areas such as staffing, training and programming to create savings,” the report says.

Walnut Grove seems to be a case in point.

“Deliberately indifferent.” It’s a phrase used throughout the DOJ report to describe the mindset of both the staff at Walnut Grove and the prison officials who were supposed to ensure constitutional conditions there.

McIntosh believes the evidence is sufficient to show that the profit motive isn’t a good fit for prisons.

“I think it’s terrible,” he said. “Our children’s lives shouldn’t be at risk because corporations cut corners in order to increase their profits.

“They rob the kids of hope. They rob the kids of dignity. I think that’s probably the worst thing you can do to them.”