Friday, November 23, 2012

Elite Intrigues and Military Purges: It’s Not About Sex, Stupid!

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The headline stories claim that CIA Director General David Petraeus resigned as head of the CIA because of an adulterous relation with his young biographer and that General John Allen, Supreme Commander of US troops in Afghanistan, was under investigation and his promotion to top commander of US troops in Europe was on hold, because, we are told, of his ‘inappropriate’ comments in the exchange of e-mails with a civilian female friend.  We are told that a ‘hard-charging’ local FBI agent, Frederick Humphries, Jr., had uncovered amorous e-mails sent by General Petraeus to his girlfriend-biographer in the course of investigating a complaint of ‘cyber-stalking’.  Out of concern that the General’s ‘adulterous behavior’ posed a risk to US national security, Florida-based FBI Agent Humphries handed the evidence over to one of Washington, DC’s most powerful Republican, Congressman Eric Cantor, who in turn passed them on to the Director of the FBI… leading to Petraeus resignation.

In other words, we are asked to believe that a single, low-ranking, zealous FBI agent has toppled the careers of two top US Generals: one in charge of the principle global intelligence agency, the CIA, and the other in command of the US and allied combat forces in the principle theater of military engagement – on the basis of infidelity and flirtatious banter!

Nothing could be more far-fetched simply on prima facie evidence.

In the sphere of tight hierarchical organizations, like the military or the CIA, where the activity and behavior of subordinate functionaries is centrally directed and any investigation is subject to authorization by senior officials (most especially regarding prying into the private correspondences of the heads of the CIA and of strategic military operations), the idea that a lone agent might operate free-lance is preposterous.  A ‘cowboy’ agent could not simply initiate investigation into such ‘sensitive’ targets as the head of the CIA and a General in an active combat zone without the highest level authorization or a network of political operatives with a much bigger agenda.   This has much deeper political implications than uncovering a banal sexual affair between two consenting security-cleared adults despite the agent’s claim that fornication constitutes a threat to the United States .

Clearly we are in deep waters here:  This involves political intrigue at the highest level and has profound national security implications, involving the directorship of the CIA and clandestine operations, intelligence reports, multi-billion dollar expenditures and US efforts to stabilize client regimes and destabilize target regimes.  CIA intelligence reports identifying allies and enemies are critical to shaping global US foreign policy.  Any shift at the top of the US empire’s operational command can and does have strategic importance.

The ‘outing’ of General Allen, the military commander in charge of Afghanistan, the US main zone of military operations occurs at a crucial time, with the scheduled forced withdrawal of US combat troops and when the Afghan ‘sepoys’, the soldiers and officers of the puppet Karzai regime, are showing major signs of disaffection, is clearly a political move of the highest order.

What are the political issues behind the beheading of these two generals?  Who benefits and who loses?

At the global level, both Generals have been unflinching supporters of the US Empire, most especially the military-driven components of empire building.  Both continue to carry out and support the serial wars launched by Presidents Bush and Obama against Afghanistan and Iraq , as well as, the numerous proxy wars against Libya , Syria , Yemen , Somalia , etc.  But both Generals were known to have publicly taken positions unpopular with certain key factions of the US power elite.

CIA Director, General Petraeus has been a major supporter of the proxy wars in Libya and Syria .  In those efforts he has promoted a policy of collaboration with rightwing Islamist regimes and Islamist opposition movements, including training and arming Islamist fundamentalists in order to topple targeted, mostly secular, regimes in the Middle East .  In pursuit of this policy – Petraeus has had the backing of nearly the entire US political spectrum.  However, Petraeus was well aware that this ‘grand alliance’ between the US and the rightwing Islamist regimes and movements to secure imperial hegemony, would require re-calibrating US relations with Israel .  Petraeus viewed Netanyahu’s proposed war with Iran, his bloody land grabs in the Occupied Territories of Palestine and the bombing, dispossession and assassination of scores of Palestinians each month, were a liability as Washington sought support from the Islamist regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Gulf States, Iraq and Yemen.

Petraeus implied this in public statements and behind closed doors he advocated the withdrawal of US support for Israel ’s violent settler expansion into Palestine , even urging the Obama regime to pressure Netanyahu to reach some settlement with the pliable US client Abbas leadership.  Above all, Petraeus backed the violent jihadists in Libya and Syria while opposing an Israel-initiated war against Iran, which he implied, would polarize the entire Moslem world against the Washington-Tel Aviv alliance and ‘provoke the US-proxy supplied Islamist fundamentalists to turn their arms against their CIA patrons.  The imperial policy, according to General Petraeus world view, was in conflict with Israel ’s strategy of fomenting hostility among Islamist regimes and movements against the US and, especially, the Jewish state’s promotion of regional conflicts in order to mask and intensify its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.  Central to Israeli strategy and what posed the most immediate threat to the implementation of a Petraeus’ doctrine was the influence of the Zionist power configuration (ZPC) in and out of the US government.

As soon as General Petraeus’ report naming Israel as a ‘strategic liability’ became known, the ZPC sprang into action and forced Petraeus to retract his statements – at least publicly.  But once, he became head of the CIA, Petraeus continued the policy of working with rightwing Islamist regimes and arming and providing intelligence to jihadi fundamentalists in order to topple independent secular regimes, first in Libya, then on to Syria.  This policy was placed under the spotlight in Benghazi with the killing of the US ambassador to Libya and several CIA/Special Forces operatives by CIA-backed terrorists leading to a domestic political crisis, as key Republican Congress people sought to exploit the Obama administration’s diplomatic failure.  They especially targeted the US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, whose maladroit efforts to obscure the real source of the attacks in Benghazi , have undermined her nomination to replace Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State.

General Petraeus, faced with mounting pressure from all sides: from the ZPC over his criticism of Israel and overtures to Islamist regimes, from the Republicans over the Benghazi debacle and from the FBI, over the personal investigation into his girlfriend and hyped up media smear, gave in.  He ‘fessed up’ to a ‘sexual affair’, saluted and resigned.  In so doing, he ‘sacrificed’ himself in order to ‘save the CIA’ and his strategy of long-term alliance-building with ‘moderate’ Islamist regimes while forming short-term tactical alliances with the jihadists to overthrow secular Arab regimes.

The key political operative behind the high-level FBI operation against Petraeus has been House Majority leader Eric Cantor, who cynically claims that the General’s romantic epistles represent a national security threat.  We are told that Congressman Cantor gravely passed the e-mails and reports he had received from the ‘Lone Ranger’ FBI agent Humphries to FBI Director Mueller ordering Mueller to act on the investigation or else face his own Congressional inquiry.

Washington-based Representative Cantor is a zealous lifetime Israel-firster and has been hostile to the Petraeus report and the General’s assessment of the Middle East .  Florida-based, Agent Humphries was not just any old conscientious gum-shoe:  He was a notorious Islamaphobe engaged in finding terrorists under every bed.  His claim to fame (or infamy) was that he had arrested two Muslims, one of whom, he claimed, was preparing to bomb the Los Angeles airport while the other allegedly planned a separate bombing.  In a judicial twist, unusual in this era of FBI sting operations, both men were acquitted of the plots for lack of evidence, although one was convicted for publishing an account of how to detonate a bomb with a child’s toy!  Agent Humphries was transferred from Washington State to Tampa , Florida – home of the US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM).

Despite their clear differences in station and location, there are ideological affinities between House Majority Whip Cantor and Agent Humphries – and possibly a common dislike of General Petraeus.  Concerns over his Islamophobic and ideological zealotry may explain why the FBI quickly yanked Agent Humphries out from his mission of ‘obsessive’ prying into CIA Director Petraeus and General Allan’s e-mails.  Undeterred by orders from his superiors in the FBI, Agent Humphries went directly to fellow zealot Congressman Cantor.

Who would have benefited from Petraeus ouster?  One of the top three candidates to replace him as head of the CIA is Jane Harmon, former California Congresswomen and Zionist uber-zealot.  In another twist of justice, in 2005 the Congresswoman had been captured on tape by the National Security Agency telling Israeli Embassy personnel that she would use her influence to aid two AIPAC officials who had confessed to handing classified US documents to the Israeli Mossad, if the AIPAC could round up enough Congressional votes to make her Chairwoman of the US House Committee on Intelligence, an act bordering on treason, for which she was never held to account.  If she were to take his position, the ousting of CIA Director Petraeus could represent to the greatest ‘constitutional coup’ in US history: the appointment of a foreign agent to control the world’s biggest, deadliest and richest spy agency.  Who would benefit from the fall of Petraeus? – first and foremost – the State of Israel.

The innuendos, smears and leaked investigation into the private e-mails of General Allen revolve around his raising questions over the US policy of prolonged military presence in Afghanistan .  From his own practical experience General Allen has recognized that the puppet Afghan army is unreliable: hundreds of US and other NATO troops have been killed or wounded by their Afghan counterparts, from lowest foot soldiers to the highest Afghan security officials, ‘native’ troops and officers that the US had supposedly trained for a much ballyhooed ‘transfer of command’ in 2014.  General Allen’s change of heart over the Afghan occupation was in response to the growing influence of the Taliban and other Islamist resistance supporters who had infiltrated the Afghan armed forces and now had near total control of the countryside and urban districts right up to the US and NATO bases.  Allen did not believe that a ‘residual force’ of US military trainers could survive, once the bulk of US troops pulled out.  In a word, he favored, after over a decade of a losing war, a policy of cutting the US ’ losses, declaring ‘victory’ and leaving to regroup on more favorable terrain.

Civilian militarists and neo-conservatives in the Executive and Congress refuse to acknowledge their shameful defeat with a full US retreat and a likely surrender to a Taliban regime.  On the other hand, they cannot openly reject the painfully realistic assessment of General Allen, and they certainly cannot dismiss the experience of the supreme commander of US ground forces in Afghanistan .

When, in this charged political context, the rabidly Islamaphobic FBI agent Humphries ‘stumbled upon’ the affectionate personal correspondences between General Allen and ‘socialite’ femme fatale Jill Kelly, the Neocons and civilian militarists whipped up a smear campaign through the yellow journalists at the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal implying another ‘sex’ scandal – this time involving General Allen. The neo-con– militarist-mass media clamor forced the spineless President Obama and the military high command to announce an investigation of General Allen and postpone Congressional hearings on his appointment to head the US forces in Europe .  While the General quietly retains his supreme command of US forces in Afghanistan , he has become a defeated and disgraced officer and his expertise and professional views regarding the future of US operations in Afghanistan will no longer be taken seriously.

Key Unanswered Questions Surrounding Elite Intrigues and Military Purges

Given that the public version of a lone-wolf, low ranking, zealously Islamophobic and incompetent FBI agent who just happened to ‘discover’ a sex scandal leading to the discrediting or resignation of two of the US highest military and intelligence officials is absurd to any thinking American, several key political questions with profound implications for the US political system need to be addressed.  These include:

1. What political officials, if any, authorized the FBI, a domestic security agency to investigate and force the resignation of the Director of the CIA?

2. Have the current police state structures, with their procedures for widespread and arbitrary spying led to our spy agencies spying on each other in order to purge each other’s top personnel?  Is this like the sow devouring her own offspring?

3. What were the real priorities of the political power-brokers who protected the insubordinate FBI agent Humphries after he defied top FBI officials’ orders to stop meddling in the investigation of the CIA Director?

4. What were FBI Agent Humphries ties, if any, to the neo-con, Zionist or Islamophobic politicians and other intelligence operatives, including the Israeli Mossad?

5. Despite Obama’s effusive praise of his brilliant ‘warrior-scholar’ General Petraeus in the past, why did he immediately ‘accept’ (aka ‘force’) the CIA Director’s resignation after the revelation of something as banal in civilian life as adultery?  What are the deeper political issues that led to the pre-emptive purge?

6. Why are critical political issues and policy disputes resolved under the guise of blackmail, smears and character assassination, rather than through open debates and discussions, especially on matters pertaining to the nation’s choice of strategic and tactical ‘allies’ and the conduct of overseas wars?

7. Has the purge and public humiliation of top US military officers become an acceptable form of “punishment by example”, a signal from civilian militarists that when it comes to dealing with politics toward the Middle East, the role of the military is not to question but to follow their (and Israel’s) directives?

8. How could a proven collaborator with the Israeli-Mossad and Zionist zealot like Jane Harmon emerge as a ‘leading candidate’ to replace General Petraeus, as Director of the CIA, within days of his resignation?  What are the political links, past and present between Congressman Eric Cantor, (the fanatical leader of the pro-Israel power bloc in the US Congress, who handed Agent Humphries’ unauthorized files on Petraeus over to the FBI Director Muellar) and Zionist power broker Jane Harmon, a prominent candidate to replace Petraeus?

9. How will the ouster of Director Petraeus and Jane Harman’s possible appointment to head the CIA deepen Israeli influence and control of US Middle East policy and the US overtures to Islamist countries?

10.  How will the humiliation of General Allen affect the US ‘withdrawal’ from the disaster in Afghanistan ?

Conclusion

The purge of top-level generals and officials from powerful US foreign policy and military posts reflects a further decay of our constitutional rights and residual democratic procedures: it is powerful proof of the inability of leadership at the highest level to resolve internecine conflicts without drawing out the ‘long knives’.  The advance of the police state, where spy agencies have vastly expanded their political power over the citizens, has now evolved into the policing and purging of each other’s leadership:  the FBI, CIA , Homeland Security, the NSA and the military all reach out and build alliances with the mass media, civilian executive and congressional officials as well as powerful foreign interest ‘lobbies’ to gain power and leverage in pursuit of their own visions of empire building.

The purge of General Petraeus and humiliation of General Allen is a victory for the civilian militarists who are unconditional supporters of Israel and therefore oppose any opening to ‘moderate’ Islamist regimes. They want a long-term and expanded US military presence in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The real precipitating factor for this ugly ‘fight at the top’ is the crumbling of the US empire and how to deal with its new challenges.  Signs of decay are everywhere:  Military immorality is rampant; the be-medaled generals sodomize their subordinates and amass wealth via pillage of the public treasury and military contracts; politicians are bought and sold by millionaire financial donors, including agents of foreign powers, and foreign interests determine critical US foreign policy.

The disrepute of the US Congress is almost universal – over 87% of US citizen condemn ‘the House and Senate’ as harmful to public welfare, servants of their own self-enrichment and slaves of corruption.  The economic elites are repeatedly involved in massive swindles of retail investors, mortgage holders and each other.  Multi-national corporations and the fabulously wealthy engage in capital flight, fattening their overseas accounts.  The Executive himself (the ever-smiling President Obama) sends clandestine death squads and mercenary-terrorists to assassinate adversaries in an effort to compensate for his incapacity to defend the empire with diplomacy or traditional military ground forces or to prop-up new client-states.  Cronyism is rife: there is a revolving door between Wall Street and US Treasury and Pentagon officials.  Public apathy and cynicism is rife; nearly 50% of the electorate doesn’t even vote in Presidential elections and, among those who do vote, over 80% don’t expect their elected officials to honor  their promises.

Aggressive civilian militarists have gained control of key posts and are increasingly free of any constitutional constraints.  Meanwhile the costs of military failures and burgeoning spy, security and military budgets soar while the fiscal and trade deficit grows.  Faction fights among rival imperial cliques intensify; purges, blackmail, sex scandals and immorality in high places have become the norm.  Democratic discourses are hollowed out:  democratic state ideology has lost credibility.  No sensible American believes in it anymore.

Is there a broom large enough to clean this filthy Augean stable?  Will a ‘collective Hercules’ emerge from all this intrigue and corruption with the strength of character and commitment to lead the revolutionary charge?  Surely the sell-out and crude humiliation of American military officials on behalf of the ‘chicken-hawk’ civilian militarists and their foreign interests should make many an officer re-think his own career, loyalty and commitment to the Constitution.

Is Israel's Gaza Assault Laying the Groundwork for an Attack on Iran?

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A close observation of the recent developments in Gaza might reveal broader implications for the region: Israel's operation Amud Anan ("Pillar of Cloud") in Gaza could be preparation for an Israeli strike on Iran.

The story begins late October when a mysterious blast destroyed the Sudanese military base Yarmouk on the outskirts of the capital, Khartoum. The Yarmouk was a base camp to receive arms shipments from Iran and stolen weapons from Libya that were smuggled continentally to Hamas and the Iranian terror proxy in Gaza, Islamic Jihad. The Sudanese authorities hurried to accuse Israel, which remained silent. Satellite images of the site indicate that the bombing of Yarmouk was executed from the air. As The Atlantic reported at the time, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) is the only one in the region with the capabilities to execute such a strike.

The immediate impact of the Yarmouk's destruction on Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza were the cutting of a planned shipment of additional arms, primarily the Iranian-made Fajr 3 and Fajr 5 artillery rockets that can cover a range of approximately 47 miles and easily reach Tel Aviv. These are the exact rockets that Hamas has recently launched at the vicinities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem

The operation in Sudan, assuming that it was an Israeli one, sent two clear messages to Tehran: First, that the Israeli intelligence follows Iran's whereabouts in the region, even deep into Africa. Second, that if the IAF can safely reach and destroy a target some 1,120 miles from Israel, it can make the 1000 miles journey to Iran's nuclear facilities. To be sure, an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would be infinitely more complex than the Yarmouk operation. But it can be interpreted as a possible rehearsal for a long distance strike similar to one that would be required to attack on Iran.

Operation Pillar of Cloud is not aimed at destroying the Hamas regime in Gaza, but rather at paralyzing it militarily. Aside from the immediate respite it would provide southern Israel from rocket fire, this would also ensure that Hamas and Islamic Jihad stay out of the conflict in case Israel strikes Iran. It undermined Hamas's command structure by starting its operation this month with the assassination Ahmad Jabari, chief of Hamas's armed forces. Shortly after, the IAF destroyed most of Hamas' Fajr missiles. With both the Yarmouk facility and most of the Fajr missiles eliminated, Israel has severely limited the capability of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad to fire beyond southern Israel and threaten high population concentrations around Tel Aviv.

Regardless of the damage Israel inflicts on Hamas, the movement's leaders will portray their resilience as a victory. But it will take Hamas and Islamic Jihad some time to regroup and restock their long-range missiles inventory, making it almost impossible for them to engage in a second round of intense fire in the near future. Though this may seem like a short- or medium-term achievement for Israel, it does provide important breathing room for an imminent operation against Iran.

Beyond neutralizing Hamas, the current operation is helpful in other ways in preparing for an Iran attack. If Israel were to attack Iran, the likelihood of a direct Iranian or a combined Iranian-Hezbollah response against Israeli cities is high. The heavy exchange of fire with Gaza is an excellent opportunity for the Israeli authorities to examine the preparedness of its home front, emergency infrastructure, defensive military capabilities, and Hezbollah's response. Immediately after the Thursday attack near Tel Aviv, many Israelis have begun preparing their shelters in case the fight escalates.

Psychologically, the longer the fire continues, the broader the media coverage will be, the more alert the Israeli public becomes. A responsive public, who closely follows the instructions of the home front authorities, is an utmost important element in minimizing the number of potential victims in case of an Iranian strike. Militarily, a large scale operation enables the Israeli forces to examine the coordination between the different units as well as the capabilities of its air defense system, the Iron Dome. And, as of now, aside from a declaration of support to Hamas, Hezbollah has refrained from joining the fray. While it is difficult to imagine that Israel launched its current offensive primarily to gauge these factors as a test-run for an attack on Iran, it certainly provides important ancillary benefits toward that end.

The heavy fire on southern Israel and Tel Aviv strengthens Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak's argument that possibility of terror from Gaza backed by a nuclear Iran demonstrates the urgency of stopping the latter's nuclear program. Israel actions also send a strong message to the reelected President Barack Obama: Israel is ready to act against its enemies and to bear the consequences. If the United States dithers in dealing with Iran, Israel will not hesitate to take action unilaterally.

Not overlooking the immediate threat of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to Israel's security, the Israeli operation in Gaza may also be preparing the ground for a more ambitious goal: Iran. By the time the current round of violence ends, the Israeli general elections will be just around the corner. With a smooth victory for Benjamin Netanyahu's hawkish bloc and a relaxed southern front, the path to Tehran will be as open as ever.

Hostess Bankruptcy: The Brutal Face Of American Capitalism


Hostess Brands has sought authorization from the bankruptcy courts to liquidate its bakery business and wipe out the jobs and pensions of 18,500 workers. The 82-year-old company, maker of the well-known brands Wonder Bread and Twinkies, submitted plans last week to close 33 bakeries, 565 distribution centers, approximately 5,500 delivery routes and 570 bakery outlet stores throughout the United States.

Company executives blamed their move on a week-long strike by 5,600 members of one of the largest unions at the company, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM). Management gave strikers until November 15 to accept demands for deep wage and benefit cuts and further plant closings—or face liquidation.

But the workers—who are passing through their second company bankruptcy in a decade—said enough was enough. A typical worker saw his pay cut from $48,000 to $34,000, or $16.12 an hour, after the company’s first trip through bankruptcy in 2004.

The latest contract demands would have cut pay to about $25,000, along with significantly higher out-of-pocket expenses for health insurance. These are poverty-level wages, less than what many workers would receive on unemployment.

When workers rejected this blackmail, the company responded ruthlessly—locking its gates, announcing mass layoffs and terminating the company pension plan. The news media overwhelmingly sided with management, denouncing the workers for striking and suggesting they had chosen collective suicide rather than accepting economic reality.

On Monday, a federal bankruptcy judge put the liquidation temporarily on hold, ordering the bakers’ union into private mediation with the company. The court has already sanctioned the abrogation of union contracts and approved management’s “final offer” of sweeping wage and benefit concessions. By Tuesday night, Hostess said the mediation efforts had failed and liquidation proceedings would resume today.

The aim of the court decision was to pressure the bakery union to follow the Teamsters, the largest union at Hostess, which rammed through management’s demands in September over widespread opposition from its 6,700 members at the firm. In return, the Teamsters got seats on the board of directors, a 25 percent share of company stock, and a $100 million claim in bankruptcy.

What is facing Hostess workers is the common experience of countless American workers over the last three decades. Companies, with the assistance of the unions, have imposed one round of concessions after another, each one more onerous than the last.

Corporations in virtually every sector of the economy—auto, mining, steel, meatpacking, airlines, retail, transportation—have used the bankruptcy courts to destroy workers’ wages, benefits and working conditions.

Financial sharks from private equity firms and hedge funds have organized takeovers to “save” failing companies, only to load up them up with debt, loot pensions and health benefits, strip their assets and walk away with millions in profits.

The unions have sought to defend the bloated salaries and perks of the union executives by offering up the jobs and living standards of their members to the bosses. In the end, the givebacks, far from “saving jobs” as promised by the unions, facilitate more layoffs and plant closures, devastating working class communities and entire cities.

This time the Hostess workers have said “no.” In so doing, they speak not just for themselves. They give voice to a growing mood of defiance in the working class as a whole.

Tens of millions sense that it is becoming impossible to live under conditions of permanent economic insecurity—the “new normal” of President Obama’s supposed economic recovery. Meanwhile, corporate profits, stock markets and executive bonuses soar and the chasm between rich and poor grows ever wider.

These conditions have exposed the bankruptcy of the official trade unions, which fully accept the framework of the capitalist system and the political subordination of the working class to the Democratic Party. In a bid to distance the attack on Hostess workers from the Obama administration, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka denounced it as an example of how “Bain-style Wall Street vultures make themselves rich by making America poor”—a reference to the private equity firm headed for many years by the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.

In fact, the private equity firms and hedge funds involved in the looting of Hostess have far closer ties to the Democratic Party than to the Republicans. Tom Collins, the head of the private equity firm Ripplewood Holdings, which loaded the company with debt, halted pension payments and imposed crippling wage and benefit concessions, is a prominent Democrat with ties to former Democratic House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt and, through him, the Teamsters.

One of the hedge funds that pulled the final plug on Hostess—Manhattan-based Monarch Alternative Capital—is a spin-off of private equity firm Quadrangle Group, co-founded by Steven Rattner, the multi-millionaire asset stripper Obama put in charge of the 2009 forced bankruptcy and restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler. In that capacity, Rattner oversaw the wiping out of tens of thousands of jobs, slashing of health and pension benefits, and halving of wages for new-hires.

This is the brutal face of American capitalism, supported by both parties of big business. The government, the corporations, the corporate-controlled media and the unions are united in a drive to make the working class pay for the failure of the profit system and increase the already obscene wealth of the financial aristocracy.

The working class can have only one answer to a system that uses blackmail and economic terror to enrich the few at the expense of the many—a revolutionary struggle to fundamentally reorganize society. To guarantee the social rights of the working class—to secure and good-paying jobs, decent working conditions, a dignified retirement, and high quality housing, education and health care—it is necessary to break the dictatorship of the banks and private equity firms.

The squandering of vast financial resources and the dismantling of industry must be stopped through the nationalization of the banking and financial industry under public ownership and the democratic control of working people. The financial books of Hostess should be made public, in order to expose the machinations between the corporate executives, financiers and union officials and lay the basis for the nationalization of the company. The ill-gotten gains of the financial criminals must be confiscated in order to set up a multi-trillion-dollar fund to make whole all those who have lost their homes, wages and pensions.

The Hostess bankruptcy demonstrates the need for a new perspective and leadership in the working class. The battle at Hostess is only the beginning of immense social struggles that will erupt against the Obama administration and the capitalist system it defends.

The Shocking Truth About What's Really In Vaccines

Senate Bill Rewrite Lets Feds Read Your E-Mail Without Warrants

Proposed law scheduled for a vote next week originally increased Americans' e-mail privacy. Then law enforcement complained. Now it increases government access to e-mail and other digital files.
A Senate proposal touted as protecting Americans' e-mail privacy has been quietly rewritten, giving government agencies more surveillance power than they possess under current law, CNET has learned.

Patrick Leahy, the influential Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has dramatically reshaped his legislation in response to law enforcement concerns, according to three individuals who have been negotiating with Leahy's staff over the changes. A vote on his bill, which now authorizes warrantless access to Americans' e-mail, is scheduled for next week.

Leahy's rewritten bill would allow more than 22 agencies -- including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission -- to access Americans' e-mail, Google Docs files, Facebook wall posts, and Twitter direct messages without a search warrant. It also would give the FBI and Homeland Security more authority, in some circumstances, to gain full access to Internet accounts without notifying either the owner or a judge.

CNET obtained a draft of the proposed amendments from one of the people involved in the negotiations with Leahy; it's embedded at the end of this post. The document describes the changes as "Amendments intended to be proposed by Mr. Leahy."

It's an abrupt departure from Leahy's earlier approach, which required police to obtain a search warrant backed by probable cause before they could read the contents of e-mail or other communications. The Vermont Democrat boasted last year that his bill "provides enhanced privacy protections for American consumers by... requiring that the government obtain a search warrant."

Leahy had planned a vote on an earlier version of his bill, designed to update a pair of 1980s-vintage surveillance laws, in late September. But after law enforcement groups including the National District Attorneys' Association and the National Sheriffs' Association organizations objected to the legislation and asked him to "reconsider acting" on it, Leahy pushed back the vote and reworked the bill as a package of amendments to be offered next Thursday. The package (PDF) is a substitute for H.R. 2471, which the House of Representatives already has approved.

One person participating in Capitol Hill meetings on this topic told CNET that Justice Department officials have expressed their displeasure about Leahy's original bill. The department is on record as opposing any such requirement: James Baker, the associate deputy attorney general, has publicly warned that requiring a warrant to obtain stored e-mail could have an "adverse impact" on criminal investigations.

Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said requiring warrantless access to Americans' data "undercuts" the purpose of Leahy's original proposal. "We believe a warrant is the appropriate standard for any contents," he said.

An aide to the Senate Judiciary committee told CNET that because discussions with interested parties are ongoing, it would be premature to comment on the legislation.

Marc Rotenberg, head of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said that in light of the revelations about how former CIA director David Petraeus' e-mail was perused by the FBI, "even the Department of Justice should concede that there's a need for more judicial oversight," not less.

Markham Erickson, a lawyer in Washington, D.C. who has followed the topic closely and said he was speaking for himself and not his corporate clients, expressed concerns about the alphabet soup of federal agencies that would be granted more power:

There is no good legal reason why federal regulatory agencies such as the NLRB, OSHA, SEC or FTC need to access customer information service providers with a mere subpoena. If those agencies feel they do not have the tools to do their jobs adequately, they should work with the appropriate authorizing committees to explore solutions. The Senate Judiciary committee is really not in a position to adequately make those determinations.
The list of agencies that would receive civil subpoena authority for the contents of electronic communications also includes the Federal Reserve, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Maritime Commission, the Postal Regulatory Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, and the Mine Enforcement Safety and Health Review Commission.

Leahy's modified bill retains some pro-privacy components, such as requiring police to secure a warrant in many cases. But the dramatic shift, especially the regulatory agency loophole and exemption for emergency account access, likely means it will be near-impossible for tech companies to support in its new form.

A bitter setback

This is a bitter setback for Internet companies and a liberal-conservative-libertarian coalition, which had hoped to convince Congress to update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act to protect documents stored in the cloud. Leahy glued those changes onto an unrelated privacy-related bill supported by Netflix.

At the moment, Internet users enjoy more privacy rights if they store data on their hard drives or under their mattresses, a legal hiccup that the companies fear could slow the shift to cloud-based services unless the law is changed to be more privacy-protective.

Members of the so-called Digital Due Process coalition include Apple, Amazon.com, Americans for Tax Reform, AT&T, the Center for Democracy and Technology, eBay, Google, Facebook, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, TechFreedom, and Twitter. (CNET was the first to report on the coalition's creation.)

Leahy, a former prosecutor, has a mixed record on privacy. He criticized the FBI's efforts to require Internet providers to build in backdoors for law enforcement access, and introduced a bill in the 1990s protecting Americans' right to use whatever encryption products they wanted.

But he also authored the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which is now looming over Web companies, as well as the reviled Protect IP Act. An article in The New Republic concluded Leahy's work on the Patriot Act "appears to have made the bill less protective of civil liberties." Leahy had introduced significant portions of the Patriot Act under the name Enhancement of Privacy and Public Safety in Cyberspace Act (PDF) a year earlier.

One obvious option for the Digital Due Process coalition is the simplest: if Leahy's committee proves to be an insurmountable roadblock in the Senate, try the courts instead.

Judges already have been wrestling with how to apply the Fourth Amendment to an always-on, always-connected society. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police needed a search warrant for GPS tracking of vehicles. Some courts have ruled that warrantless tracking of Americans' cell phones, another coalition concern, is unconstitutional.

The FBI and other law enforcement agencies already must obtain warrants for e-mail in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee, thanks to a ruling by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2010.

Top 10 Myths About Israel's Attack on Gaza


1. Israeli hawks represent themselves as engaged in a ‘peace process’ with the Palestinians in which Hamas refuses to join. In fact, Israel has refused to cease colonizing and stealing Palestinian land long enough to engage in fruitful negotiations with them. Tel Aviv routinely announces new, unilateral house-building on the Palestinian West Bank [3]. There is no peace process. It is an Israeli and American sham. Talking about a peace process is giving cover to Israeli nationalists who are determined to grab everything the Palestinians have and reduce them to penniless refugees (again).

2. Actions such as the assault on Gaza can achieve no genuine long-term strategic purpose. They are being launched to ensure that Jewish-Israelis are the first to exploit key resources. Rattling sabers at the Palestinians creates a pretext for further land-grabs and colonies on Palestinian land. That is, the military action against the people of Gaza is a diversion tactic; the real goal is Greater Israel, an assertion of Israeli sovereignty [4] over all the territory once held by the British Mandate of Palestine.

3. Israeli hawks represent their war of aggression as in ‘self-defense.’ But the UK Israeli chief rabbi admitted on camera that that the Gaza attack actually ‘had something to do with Iran.’ [5]

4. Israeli hawks demonize the Palestinians of Gaza as “bad neighbors” who don’t accept Israel. But 40% of the people in Gaza are refugees, mostly living in refugee camps, from families in pre-1948 Palestine that had lived there for millennia.



They were expelled from what is now Israel in the 1948 Zionist ethnic cleansing campaign [6]. Israelis are now living in their homes and farming their land, and they were never paid any reparations for the crimes done to them.[pdf] “Israel’s failure to provide reparations to Palestinian refugees over the past six decades is in blatant violation [7] of international law.” Israel does not accept Palestine’s right to exist, even though it is constantly demanding that everyone, including the displaced and occupied Palestinians, recognize Israel’s right to exist.



5. Israeli hawks and their American clones depict Gaza as a foreign, hostile state with which Israel is at war. In fact, the Gaza strip is a small territory of 1.7 million people militarily occupied by Israel [8] (something in which the UN and other international bodies concur). Israelis do not allow it to have a port or airport, nor to export most of what it produces. Palestinians cannot work about a third of its land, which is reserved by Israel as a security buffer. As an occupied territory, it is covered by the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 on the treatment of occupied populations by their military occupier. Indiscriminate bombing of occupied territories by the occupier is clearly illegal in international law.

6. Israeli hawks see themselves as innocent victims of bewildering Palestinian rage from Gaza. But Israel not only has kept Palestinians of Gaza in the world’s largest outdoor penitentiary, they have them under an illegal blockade [9] that for some years aimed at limiting their nutrition without altogether starving them to death. I wrote earlier:

“The food blockade had real effects. About ten percent of Palestinian children in Gaza under 5 [10] have had their growth stunted by malnutrition. A recent report [pdf] by Save the Children and Medical Aid for Palestinians found that [11], in addition, anemia is widespread, affecting over two-thirds of infants, 58.6 percent of schoolchildren, and over a third of pregnant mothers. “
If any foreign power surrounded Israel, destroyed Haifa port and Tel Aviv airport, and prevented Israeli exports from being exported, what do you think Israelis would do? Oh, that’s right, it is rude to see both Palestinians and Israelis as equal human beings.

7. Israeli hawks demonize the Palestinian residents of Gaza as followers of Hamas, a party-militia of the Muslim religious right. But half of Palestinians in Gaza are minors, who never voted for Hamas and cannot be held collectively responsible for that party.

8. Israeli hawks justify their aggression on the Palestinians on grounds of self-defense. But Israel is a country of 7.5 million people with tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, helicopter gunships and F-16s and F-18s, plus 400 nuclear warheads. Gaza is a small occupied territory of 1.7 million which has no heavy weaponry, just some old guns and some largely ineffectual rockets. (Israelis cite hundreds of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza in 2012; but until Israel’s recent attack they had killed not a single Israeli, though they did wound a few last March when fighting between Palestinians and Israelis escalated.) Gaza is a threat to Israel the way the Transkei Bantustan was a threat to Apartheid South Africa. As for genuine asymmetrical threats from Gaza to Israel, they could be dealt with by giving the Palestinians a state and ceasing the blockade imposed on them, or in the worst case scenario counter-terrorism targeted at terrorists rather than indiscriminate bombing campaigns.

9. Israeli hawks maintain that they were provoked into the attack. But actually Ahmad Jabari, the Hamas leader the Israelis assassinated earlier this week, had been engaged in talks with the Israelis about a truce [12]. Assassinations achieved by the ruse of openness to peace talks are guarantees of no further peace talks.

10. Although most American media is a cheering section for the Likud Party,in fact the world is increasingly done out with Israel’s aggressiveness [4]. Boycotts and sanctions will likely grow over time, leaving Israeli hawks with a deficit…

See more stories tagged with:
Israel [13],
gaza [14]
Links:

[1] http://www.juancole.com

[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/juan-cole

[3] http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/06/us-palestinians-israel-settlements-idUSBRE8A50I820121106?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews

[4] http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2012/11/16/john-mearsheimer/a-pillar-built-on-sand/

[5] http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/nov/16/bbc-apologises-chief-rabbi-jonathan-sacks-gaza

[6] http://suite101.com/article/gaza-refugee-camps-1948-present-a211374

[7] http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR26/FMR2624.pdf

[8] https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=9&ved=0CG8QFjAI&url=https%3A%2F%2Fopenaccess.leidenuniv.nl%2Fbitstream%2F1887%2F13159%2F2%2FWhat%2BConstitutes%2BOccupation.pdf&ei=KDenUNOoMM6EygHbwYHYAQ&usg=AFQjCNFEJ_8IvIn6alResmt0iVO6Q-hFrg&sig2=IaQzbH1IV5V3KlnaR9F5Jw&cad=rja

[9] http://www.juancole.com/2012/10/creepy-israeli-planning-for-palestinian-food-insecurity-in-gaza-revealed.html

[10] http://www.ibtimes.com/israels-blockade-gaza-puts-palestinian-childrens-health-risk-report-702821

[11] http://www.map-uk.org/files/1052_gaza_health_report_web_version.pdf

[12] http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/israeli-peace-activist-hamas-leader-jabari-killed-amid-talks-on-long-term-truce.premium-1.478085

[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/israel-gaza-conflict-casualties-timeline

[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/gaza

[15] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

The Everyday Chemical That Makes Breast Cancer 5 Times More Likely in High Doses

For more than three decades, workers, most of them women, have complained of dreadful conditions in many of this city’s plastic automotive parts factories: Pungent fumes and dust that caused nosebleeds, headaches, nausea and dizziness. Blobs of smelly, smoldering plastic dumped directly onto the floor. “It was like hell,” says one woman who still works in the industry.The women fretted, usually in private, about what seemed to be an excess of cancer and other diseases in the factories across the river from Detroit. “People were getting sick, but you never really thought about the plastic itself,” said Gina DeSantis, who has worked at a plant near Windsor for 25 years.

Now, workers like DeSantis are the focal point of a new study that appears to strengthen the tie between breast cancer and toxic exposures.

The six-year study, conducted by a team of researchers from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, examined the occupational histories of 1,006 women from Ontario’s Essex and Kent counties who had the disease and 1,146 who didn’t. Adjustments were made for smoking, weight, alcohol use and other lifestyle and reproductive factors.

The results, published online today in the journal Environmental Health, are striking: Women employed in the automotive plastics industry were almost five times as likely to develop breast cancer, prior to menopause, as women in the control group.

These workers may handle an array of carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. They include the hardening agent bisphenol A (BPA) — whose presence in polycarbonate water bottles and other products has unnerved some consumers — plus solvents, heavy metals and flame retardants.

Sandy Knight, who worked at two Windsor plastics plants from 1978 to 1998, had a breast cancer scare in 2000, when she was 41. The cancer was at Stage III — “invasive and fast-growing,” said Knight, 53, who now works at a Ford parts distribution center near Toronto. She had a single mastectomy and, following 10 years of hormonal treatment, is in remission.

Asked if she believed her disease was work-related, Knight said, “I’m suspicious of it because of all the exposures we had.” She remembers the “nauseating kind of odor,” the burning eyes and headaches, all the women with cancer, sterility and miscarriages. She’s upset that little seems to have changed at some plants.

“Why am I speaking to people today, in 2012, who are doing the same processes I did in 1980?” Knight asked. “It just seems like we’re fighting the same battle. A lot of these chemicals should be removed from the workplace.”

The study population included women who had worked at more than 40 plastics factories in the Windsor area. But the implications are broader: Workers in similar plants around the world are exposed to many of the same chemicals. So are members of the public, who encounter the substances — albeit in lower doses — in the course of their daily lives.

“These workplace chemicals are now present in our air, water, food and consumer products,” said one of the two principal investigators, James Brophy, an adjunct faculty member at the University of Windsor and a former occupational health clinic director. “If we fail to take heed then we are doing so at our own peril.”

Jeanne Rizzo, president of the Breast Cancer Fund, a San Francisco-based group that has pressed for more research into environmental causes of a disease that claimed nearly 40,000 lives in the United States last year, called the Windsor study “a very powerful piece of work. The piece that’s really been missing for female breast cancer is occupation.”

In the United States, an estimated 150,000 female workers in the plastics and synthetic rubber industries are likely exposed to many of the same chemicals as the women in Windsor, including polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, plastic; acrylonitrile; formaldehyde and styrene.

“I think the findings, although they’re clearly based on Canadian groups, go well beyond Canada,” said another of the Windsor study’s co-authors, Andrew Watterson, director of the Centre for Public Health and Population Health Research at the University of Stirling in Scotland. “They’re going to be significant for plastics workers in Europe, India, China, Africa, the United States. The chemicals will have the same toxic effects. The same diseases will develop.”

Even minuscule amounts of endocrine-disrupting chemicals like BPA can be worrisome, Watterson said. “This research is raising big questions both about what the [workplace] standards are and even about what happens if conditions are very good, with low-level exposures,” he said.

In a written statement, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said, “We look forward to reading this paper … and plan to explore how we may use the findings in protecting workers from hazardous exposures.”

The American Chemistry Council, the main chemical industry trade association in the United States, questioned the study’s conclusions, saying it includes “no actual determination of [worker] exposures.” The study’s estimates of risk seem to be based on a small sample and are “statistically very uncertain,” the council said in its statement.

“The well-established risk factors for breast cancer are not chemical exposures, but rather a combination of lifestyle and genetic factors,” the council wrote.

Barry Eisenberg, a spokesman for another U.S. trade group, the Society of the Plastics Industry, declined to comment on the study, saying, “We don’t have the expertise.” Eisenberg declined to answer general questions about worker and consumer health, although his group has had an Occupational Health and Environmental Issues Committee since 1985.

The Canadian Plastics Industry Association did not respond to requests for comment. The president of the Canadian Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association declined to comment.

Life in the factories

Modern cars and trucks are loaded with plastics: bumpers, door panels, license-plate brackets. Dozens of factories in and around Windsor make these parts from plastic pellets melted and shaped in injection molding machines. The parts are then shipped to auto manufacturers.

The Big Three U.S. automakers expressed varying degrees of concern about conditions in the parts plants.

General Motors said its suppliers are “independent businesses which must meet the Health and Safety legislation in the jurisdictions in which they operate.” Ford said it “requires suppliers to ensure that our products — no matter where they are made — are manufactured under conditions that demonstrate respect for the people who make them.” And Chrysler said that while its suppliers are “responsible for their own legal compliance,” its policies “restrict us from using suppliers who we learn do not comply with our requirements or environmental and health and safety laws.”

Conditions in some of the Windsor plants have improved, workers say. In years past, for example, hot plastic would be removed from the molding machines and dumped on the floor, where it might lie for up to an hour. Some companies have altered this process, known as purging, requiring that the reeking muck be put into covered barrels.

Others have relocated grinding machines — bladed devices that chew up scrap plastic and spit out huge quantities of dust — to isolated areas to reduce worker exposures.

Workers say, however, that a lack of local ventilation — vacuums that can suck up fumes and dust straight from the molding and grinding machines and direct them outside — is still the norm at many facilities.

The machines disgorge “pretty toxic stuff – either carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting chemicals,” said Robert DeMatteo, a retired health and safety director for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union and lead author of an article on the plastics industry scheduled for publication early next year in the journal New Solutions. “All you’re going to do with general ventilation is just dilute it.”

Carol Bristow got into the industry in 1989, having grown impatient with a dead-end cashier’s job at the A&P. “I never felt working in a factory would be my calling,” Bristow said. “The first six months I would come home in tears and in pain, almost praying to God that I wouldn’t get my seniority because it seemed like the wrong place to be. But the money kept coming in, and you just adjusted.”

In 1992, when she was 34, Bristow was diagnosed with cancer in her right breast, which was removed along with about 20 lymph nodes. She kept working and developed endometriosis, a painful condition in which cells from the lining of the uterus grow outside the uterine cavity. Some studies have linked endometriosis with exposure to chemicals such as dioxin, a byproduct of PVC incineration and chlorine production. Bristow underwent a hysterectomy in 2001.

As all of this was going on, Bristow was being tormented by bladder infections. Benign tumors were removed from her bladder in 2010 and again in August of this year. “I’ll have to be scoped every three months for the rest of my life,” she said, referring to a procedure called cystoscopy, in which a tube-like viewing device is inserted through the urethra into the bladder. One study found that women who had worked in the plastics industry had a more than threefold risk of developing bladder cancer.

Why does Bristow stay?

The pay, she explained, is a respectable $22 an hour, with benefits, in a tough economy. “Who’s going to hire me?” she asked.

The owner of Bristow’s factory, which bought the facility in 2001, says it is unaware of any worker health concerns and has a “consistently strong track record – recognized by workers and regulators – of protecting its employees’ health and safety.”

‘Horrifying’ symptoms

James Brophy and his partner, Margaret Keith, both PhDs with backgrounds in occupational health, began studying Ontario plastics workers in the late 1970s.

“It wasn’t something we chose to be interested in,” Keith said. “We had people come to us” — notably, a union official from a Windsor plant concerned about what seemed to be an abundance of disease among female workers.

Keith, Brophy and a physician put together a health questionnaire, which was circulated at five plants. Reports of nosebleeds, headaches and nausea came back. Some operators said the fumes had made them pass out at their machines. “The level of symptoms was pretty horrifying,” Brophy said.

In 1981, the CBC broadcast a documentary, “Dying for Work,” which highlighted conditions in the Windsor plants. “We thought that would really start the ball rolling” toward better ventilation and other improvements, Keith said. “Absolutely nothing happened.”

Keith and Brophy lost contact with the plastics workers for more than a decade, until several turned up at their occupational health clinic in 1993 to report that they had had miscarriages or difficulty conceiving. Keith, Brophy and clinic staff developed a second questionnaire for circulation in the plants. “We found a lot of acute symptoms as well as reproductive problems and some cancers,” Keith said.

Around the same time, Keith and Brophy convinced officials at the Windsor Regional Cancer Center to begin collecting work histories of cancer patients. This led to an initial study, completed in 1999, which found an increased risk of breast cancer among women who farmed. A subsequent study, finished in 2002, looked at the work histories of 564 women with breast cancer and 599 who didn’t have the disease. Again, a strong association between farming and breast cancer was noted; an even stronger link was found among women who’d farmed and then gone to work in the auto industry.

The new study, funded by groups including the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation-Ontario Region, examined a population twice as large and featured a more detailed questionnaire. Workers in the plastics industry, it found, are exposed to a brew of carcinogenic and estrogenic chemicals, also known as endocrine disruptors, which interfere with the hormone system and can cause tumors, birth defects and developmental disorders. This complex mixture, Brophy said, may be more dangerous than any one compound.

The study found that, in addition to the plastic workers, women who worked in food canning and agriculture and at bars, casinos and racetracks had elevated breast cancer risks. The highest risk for pre-menopausal women — nearly six times that of the controls — was found in canning, an industry in which workers may be exposed to BPA in epoxy can linings and pesticides released from food during cooking.

The primary risk factor associated with agriculture is pesticide exposure, the study found. Women who work at bars, casinos and racetracks are exposed to tobacco smoke, it noted, and also subjected to “disruption of circadian rhythms and decreased melatonin production resulting from night work,” which other research has shown to be associated with breast cancer.

In general, breast cancer is an older woman’s disease; a 60-year-old has a greater chance of developing the disease than does a 30-year-old. Many of the victims in the Windsor plastics factories are in their 30s, 40s and 50s, say six current and former workers, from multiple plants, interviewed by the Center for Public Integrity.

“We’re sitting here after three decades, and you see the weight of the evidence that these substances pose serious health problems, yet there’s nary a mention of the risk that blue-collar workers bear, particularly women,” Brophy said. “They’re just not on the radar. Had we paid more attention to them, the harm these substances cause would have been seen much sooner and we might have prevented them from becoming so ubiquitous in the environment.”

The President’s Cancer Panel, an advisory committee in the United States attached to the National Cancer Institute, reported in 2010 that “the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.” The panel singled out BPA as one of the chemicals that may be causing “grievous harm.”

The research in Windsor buttresses other recent work on breast cancer and chemicals. A French study in 2011, for example, found elevated risks among women who worked in plastics, rubber and textile manufacturing. A study from Mexico in 2010 found that the presence of metabolites of phthalates — softening agents for plastics that have endocrine-disrupting properties — in urine was “positively associated” with the disease. A 2007 paper from U.S. researchers identified 216 chemicals that had been associated with mammary gland tumors in animals.

The lone American co-author of the Windsor study, Robert Park of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, said he was “surprised by how strong the findings were. There was a lot of confirmation of prior concerns, which is always the goal but not always achieved by these kinds of studies.”

‘Race to the bottom’

The Canadian plastics workers say they have little faith in their country’s system of workplace regulation. Factory inspections are haphazard, they say, and chemical standards in many cases are weak, meaning few overexposures — by the legal definition, anyway — are cited. Conditions improve incrementally, if at all.

“It’s a race to the bottom,” said Sari Sairanen, national health and safety director for the Canadian Auto Workers union, which represents about 4,000 workers in parts plants, some of which make plastics. “For the worker, there’s the fear of losing your job or the fear of retribution from your employer if issues are raised.”

Bristow, a union member, said that many workers seem unwilling to confront their bosses with health questions. Too often, she said, a woman disappears from the factory floor and her co-workers don’t learn until much later that another case of breast cancer has been diagnosed.

The Ontario Ministry of Labor is committed to the prevention of work-related diseases, a spokesman said in a statement. The ministry uses a multifaceted approach that includes health and safety inspection “blitzes” and the updating of exposure limits, the spokesman wrote. “We make decisions on the latest science and we welcome any report that will bring a better understanding of occupational exposures to ensure that workers are protected from unsafe exposure levels.”

There is also deep dissatisfaction with workplace regulation in the United States. Adam Finkel, former director of health standards programs for OSHA, said the vast majority of exposure limits enforced by the agency in American workplaces are based on scientific data from the 1960s or earlier, even though an estimated 150 workers die each day of work-related diseases.

Limits for only 16 substances have been updated, a consequence of industry challenges and hesitancy on OSHA’s part. There are no limits for BPA. The limits that do exist for chemicals used in plastics — say, vinyl chloride, an ingredient in PVC — were designed to address cancer and acute symptoms, not the sort of hormonal damage that can occur when women of childbearing age receive low-level exposures. Only 18 percent of OSHA inspections last year focused on potential health, as opposed to safety, hazards.

“It’s a terrible record, and I’m getting more pessimistic as the years go by,” said Finkel, who runs the Penn Program on Regulation, a research center at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

In its statement, OSHA acknowledged, “Many of our current Permissible Exposure Limits are out of date and inadequately protective, and we do not have limits for many other chemicals. OSHA is currently examining ways to strengthen our efforts related to workplace chemical exposures, as well as ways to respond to the identification of new, emerging hazards.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s record on chemicals — like OSHA’s — is thin.

Chemicals found in the workplace — among them BPA and phthalates — also may pose health risks to the general public. Of the more than 80,000 chemicals registered for use today, however, the EPA has required only about 2 percent to undergo even basic testing. At the root of the problem is the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which puts the onus on the EPA to prove that a chemical is harmful before it can be banned or its use restricted. This burden is almost insurmountably high; the EPA has banned narrow uses of only five chemicals since the law was passed.

The Obama EPA has begun to disallow claims of “confidential business information” that for decades enabled companies to conceal the identities of chemicals when they submitted health and safety data, even if significant risks had been flagged.

Industry, however, is fighting an attempt by the EPA to extend its anti-secrecy policy to new chemicals; a proposed rule has been under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget for nearly a year.

A proposal to add BPA, phthalates and a certain class of flame retardants to an EPA “chemicals of concern” list has been at the OMB for more than 900 days. The EPA says that these chemicals “may present an unreasonable risk to human health and/or the environment” and wants to use its authority under the law to list them, a step that would, among other things, require producers to notify the EPA when they exported the chemicals, and the EPA to notify the recipient governments.

Industry groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce oppose the action, saying it amounts to an unwarranted blacklisting.

An EPA spokesman did not respond to requests for comment. An OMB spokesman declined to comment.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration no longer allows the use of BPA in baby bottles or infant-training cups. The FDA acted, however, only after receiving a petition from the American Chemistry Council, which said that manufacturers of these products had already abandoned the chemical to meet consumer preference. “The agency continues to support the safety of BPA for use in products that hold food,” an FDA spokeswoman said in a written statement.

The Canadian government didn’t wait for an industry petition. It banned BPA in baby bottles two years ago, based on concerns about the chemical’s toxicity.

Brophy, one of the researchers in Windsor, approves of the ban. But he worries about the women in the plastics plants, who soak up BPA and other chemicals on the job.

“There seems to be widespread concern about consumer exposures but almost no concern for the most highly exposed population — the blue-collar workers,” he said. “These women remain invisible and their cancer risk largely ignored.”

The Giant Lie Trotted Out by Fiscal Conservatives Trying to Shred Social Security

Go To Original

Trying to convince the public to cut America’s best-loved and most successful program requires a lot of creativity and persistence. Social Security is fiscally fit, prudently managed and does not add to the deficit because by law it must be completely detached from the federal operating budget. Obviously, it is needed more than ever in a time of increasing job insecurity and disappearing pensions. It helps our economy thrive and boosts the productivity of working Americans. And yet the sharks are in a frenzy to shred it in the upcoming “fiscal cliff” discussions.

The most popular red herring Social Security hustlers have unleashed into the waters of public discourse has grown into such a massive whale of a lie that liberals frequently subscribe to it. The idea goes like this: We need to somehow “fix” Social Security because people are living longer – “fix” in this context being code for “cut.” Two groups stand to benefit in the short-term from such a scheme: the greedy rich, who do not want to pay their share in taxes, and financiers, who want to move towards privatizing retirement accounts so they can collect fees. As for the masses of hard-working people who have rightfully earned their retirement, the only “fix” is the fix they will be in if already modest benefits are further reduced.

Here are five clear reasons why the life expectancy argument is nonsensical, counterproductive and based on a pack of lies.

1. Social Security’s original designers considered rising life expectancy.

On our red-herring tour, let’s start with the oft-repeated claim that the original designers of the program did not consider rising life expectancy in their calculations. Fortunately, public records pertaining to the lengthy and detailed discussions of the Roosevelt administration’s Committee on Economic Security (CES), tasked with constructing proposals for Social Security, are available for anyone to see. It is absolutely clear from the record that the designers knew that the number of people over the age of 65 was going to increase and that people were going to live longer.

There were differences – as there are now – on exactly how to project this demographic shift, but the idea that a growing rate of older folks taking payouts was bound to happen was a topic of intense scrutiny. Consider the Old Age Security Staff Report, dated January 1935 [3]:

“At the time of the last Census (1930) there were six and a half million people 65 years of age and over in the United States. They constituted 5.4% of the population. As a result of a declining birth rate in this country, which manifested itself about 1820 and persisted from that time, the ratio of aged persons has shown a continuous growth from the date. The increase was very slow for 40 years, more rapid from 1860 on, and noticeably accelerated between 1920 and 1930. The latter was due to a rather sharp decline in birth rate which set in about 1920. This decline is expected to persist, moreover, and will of course produce a correspondingly sharp increase in the ratio of the aged to the population as a whole. The recent improvement in mortality rate makes its contribution to this situation.”
That’s right: Not only did the designers know full well that a larger population of older folks was coming, they actually made projections based on that assumption well into the future. They even produced this handy table which projects that increase all the way up to 1980, anticipating a 140 percent increase in the 60 years following 1920:

Ratio of Aged General Population: 1860 - 1980 (By Decades)
1860
2.7
1920
4.7
18703.01930*5.4
18803.41940*6.3
18903.9 (74%)1950*7.7 (140% increase)
19004.11960*9.3
19104.31970*10.1
19204.71980*11.3
*This forecast includes survivors of assumed net immigration of 100,000 annually in years 1935-1939 inclusive, and 200,000 annually in 1940 and thereafter. There will be more than twice as many aged in 1960 as there were in 1930.

2. Life expectancy gains since 1935 have been modest.

Another popular argument for cutting Social Security by raising the retirement age assumes a vast difference in human longevity between 1935 and today. You’ll hear this group of hustlers claiming that life expectancy for Americans was less than 62 years in 1935, and now it's more than 77 years, so the program must be inadequate. Alan Simpson of the infamous Simpson-Bowles Commission, who ought to know better since he has been weighing in on Social Security policy, is a fan of this line of argument. Clearly, Simpson has not bothered to read the actual public record on Social Security, or he is knowingly lying.

Here’s the truth of the matter: The early figure was based on life expectancy at birth. That is a vastly different matter from projecting how long people will live after they reach the age of 65 and start collecting benefits. In the 1930s, there was much higher infant mortality, and children died much more frequently from diseases that are now preventable through immunization. Because our parents’ and grandparents’ generations had a high rate of early death, the life expectancy at birth in 1930 was indeed less than 62 years. But here’s the catch: Social Security is funded by the workers who collect the benefits, along with their employers. Obviously, if you die as a child, you are not going to collect benefits. So the significant measure is not how long you’re going to live after you are born, but rather how long you’re going to live once you hit 65.

In reality, the average life expectancy once a person has reached the age 65 has increased only a modest five years on average since 1940 [4]. Makes a big difference in how you look at retirement:

Table 1: Life Expectancy for Social Security
Year Cohort Turned 65Percentage of Population Surviving from Age 21 to Age 65Average Remaining Life Expectancy for Those Surviving to Age 65
Male
Female
Male
Female
1940

1950

1960

1970

1980

1990



53.9

56.2

60.1

63.7

67.8

72.3



60.6

65.5

71.3

76.9

80.9

83.6



12.7

13.1

13.2

13.8

14.6

15.3



14.7

16.2

17.4

18.6

19.1

19.6



So let’s be clear. Workers who reach the age of 65 today are only living five years longer than their parents. The designers of the program were fully aware of this possibility when they calculated the retirement age and they constructed the program accordingly.

3. The Greenspan Commission already raised the retirement age two years.

Back in 1983, just as Reagan was ushering in the destructive era of supply-side economics, the Social Security hustlers conspired to raise a great hue and cry about the program, which led to the creation of the Greenspan Commission. The Commission looked at the future increase in retired Baby Boomers and also considered increases in overall life expectancy. The result? People like me who were born after 1960 will have to wait until they're 67 to collect full benefits. If you’re younger than 52, two years of your retirement were taken away in the name of “permanently fixing Social Security.” For those a bit older you've had one year shaved off.

The Greenspan Commission demanded raising the payroll tax, cutting benefits and gradually raising the retirement age on future retirees. After these changes were enacted, Social Security accumulated enormous surpluses in its trust funds. As economist Robert Reich has explained, until 2012, Social Security took in more payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits and lent the surpluses to the rest of the government. The only reason the program took in less than it paid out in 2010 was due to the Wall Street-driven financial crash. But guess what? Social Security is so well-designed that the interest paid on government bonds more than made up for that difference.

1983 is a long time ago, and because the full increase in retirement age has not yet affected retirees (that experiment is waiting for those under 52) it’s easy for the Social Security hustlers to pretend that it never happened. But it did, and we do not yet know the social impacts of that decision. Since the people who had their Social Security cut are likely to suffer from increased job insecurity and a lack of traditional pensions, we may expect that the impact will not be pleasant for future retirees, excluding the very wealthy.

The Social Security hustlers have already gambled with our future, and now, using the excuse of the recession, they have committed themselves to doing it again.

4. Longevity gains have gone mostly to high earners.

Exhaustive research has clearly demonstrated that income inequality leads to poorer health among people who are not well-off, and that gains in life expectancy have primarily gone to high income workers. A report in the New York Times, “Gap in Life Expectancy Widens for the Nation [5]” explains that while longevity for the whole country has gone up, affluent people have gained more, and this has cause a widening gap in life span:

...Gopal K. Singh, a demographer at the Department of Health and Human Services, said "the growing inequalities in life expectancy" mirrored trends in infant mortality and in death from heart disease and certain cancers….

Dr. Singh said last week that federal officials had found "widening socioeconomic inequalities in life expectancy" at birth and at every age level.
In the same NYT report, Nancy Krieger, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, rejects the idea that such a gap is somehow inevitable as better and more expensive medical treatment becomes available:

"The recent trend of growing disparities in health status is not inevitable," she said. "From 1966 to 1980, socioeconomic disparities declined in tandem with a decline in mortality rates."

The creation of Medicaid and Medicare, community health centers, the "war on poverty" and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 all probably contributed to the earlier narrowing of health disparities, Professor Krieger said.
Income inequality is notably awful in the US, and according to the centrist Brookings Institute [6], our life expectancy is predictably lower than that of other industrialized countries. Our ranking among the 34 countries in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development is a shameful 27. Of the 21 large OECD countries with the highest incomes, America finishes “dead last."

Life expectancy among the less educated and those with lower incomes has actually dropped. New research [7] shows that between 1990 and 2008, white women lacking a high school diploma lost a shocking five years of life, while their male peers lost three years.

Under these circumstances, it’s clear that raising the retirement age is a direct assault on those at the lower rungs of the economic ladder, women in particular, and that it would only serve to increase income inequality even further and diminish the chances of long life among anyone but the rich.

5.  Life expectancy rises are likely to slow in the future.

The Social Security hustlers like to make wild predictions that life expectancy will grow in the future at a rapid rate and that our children and grandchildren will be living up to 10 years longer than we do. As we’ve seen, when you’re talking about life expectancy after age 65, gains since Social Security was originally designed are only five years—and those gains are largely among the well-off.

The truth is that there’s not much reason to think that giant increases in life expectancy are going to happen for the vast majority of people – even the more affluent.

A report in the Washington Post [8] shows that contrary to popular belief, we’ve actually seen average life expectancy among all Americans take a small dip in recent years:

Those born in 2008 can only expect to live to be 77.8 years old, down from 77.9 years for those born in 2007, according to an annual preliminary analysis [9] of data conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics.
Yes, there have been steady increases since 1975, but it’s also true that there were drops between 1992 and 1993 (75.8 to 75.5) and between 2004 and 2005 (77.5 to 77.4). Federal budget projections assume Baby Boomers will live much longer than their parents, thanks to new drugs, improved medical care and so on. But not so fast. Factors including obesity, cancer, increased cardiovascular problems, and even higher rates of suicide, could slow or actually reverse the longevity trend.

Justin Denny of Rice University warns [10]that it would be a mistake to base projections in longevity gains of the current century based on the last one. Unfortunately, that’s just what the trustees who estimate the future solvency of the U.S. Social Security retirement program have been doing.

In conclusion: cutting Social Security by raising the retirement age is nothing but a trick meant to fool us into thinking that there’s something wrong with a program that keeps millions of American retirees out of poverty. To even consider such a scheme in a time of widespread suffering is one of the most shameful outcomes of the Great Recession. Social Security is efficient, well-managed, and is not undergoing any crisis.

You will be hearing lots of convincing-sounding rhetoric on this topic in upcoming weeks --often from Democrats - including the notion that we should be means-testing Social Security for longevity among high-income earners. That plan plays into the mythology that the program is somehow broken and needs to be "fixed." It also plays into the game of fiscal conservatives who know full well that means testing will diminish support, which is why they have been ardently pushing it for 50 years. It's yet another red herring. Social Security is not contributing to the deficit, and if -- and that's a big if -- a tweak is needed down the road, we can easily accomplish that by raising the cap on payroll taxes, which stands just above $100K. In reality, there is absolutely no sound justification for doing anything now. The bottom line is that raising the retirement age and making changes based on longevity does not pass the test of morality, logic, or sound economics.