Saturday, January 16, 2016

Washington invokes hunger to promote war in Syria

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The United States, France and Britain called a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Thursday to press for “immediate action” to secure the delivery of humanitarian aid to besieged areas of Syria. The supposedly heartfelt humanitarian concerns of the three imperialist powers that are currently bombing Syria came amid a concerted propaganda campaign over alleged starvation in the southwestern Syrian town of Madaya.
Originating with Al Jazeera, the news agency controlled by the Qatari monarchy, a key source of financial and arms support for the Al Qaeda-linked militias that have ravaged much of Syria, the invocation of Madaya as proof of the supposed inhumanity of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad has been taken up by much of the world media. The New York Times published a front-page report Friday on conditions in the town, based on accounts that the newspaper said “could not be independently confirmed.”
There is no reason to doubt that conditions are desperate in Madaya, as they are in much of Syria after more than four years of a sectarian civil war fomented and provisioned by US imperialism and its regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar. As many as 4.5 million Syrians are in areas that have been cut off from the rest of the country by the battle lines.
If Madaya is the focus of international attention, however, it is because it is encircled by Syrian government forces along with their allies from the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. The town sits at a strategic juncture near the Lebanese border and less than 25 miles from the capital, Damascus.
In the international furor being whipped up over conditions in Madaya, including through the use of photographs of starving people taken elsewhere, little attention is given to the fact that the town is largely controlled by the al-Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, and Ahrar al-Sham, a similar Salafist jihadi militia.
While conditions of hunger in the town are routinely attributed to the government siege, residents have reported that food supplies have been monopolized by the Al Qaeda-linked groups, which sell them at extortionate prices to finance their operations. On October 18, the International Committee of the Red Cross delivered two months’ worth of food supplies to Madaya, with the government doing nothing to impede humanitarian access to the town. That many are facing hunger is largely attributable to the looting of the aid shipment by US-backed “rebels.”
While the imperialist powers and their media accomplices are directing all eyes to Madaya, they have wholly ignored equally if not more desperate conditions in the predominantly Shia towns of Kefraya and al-Foua in the northwestern province of Idlib, which have been under attack by the US-backed “rebels” since 2011 and under a total siege since March of last year. Starved of supplies and under constant attack, the town has seen 1,700 civilian residents killed.
The indifference of the imperialist powers to hunger and suffering among populations under siege by their proxy forces demonstrates that the invocation of starvation is just one more bid to promote a war for regime change as some kind of humanitarian intervention.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the launching of the first Gulf War against Iraq in 1991. Then, as now, phony pretexts were floated by the US government and echoed and amplified by the corporate media to justify a predatory war for control of the Middle East and its strategic oil resources. In this regard, little has changed over the course of a quarter century of uninterrupted American militarism in the region.
In 1991, it should be recalled, the public was told of marauding Iraqi troops snatching Kuwaiti babies out of incubators and leaving them to die in order to ship the devices back to Iraq. A tearful volunteer nurse was brought to Capitol Hill to testify on this atrocity, which seemed to echo World War I propaganda about German soldiers using Belgian babies for bayonet practice.
Only well after the US invasion was it revealed that the “nurse” was, in fact, the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US and a member of the oil sheikdom’s royal family, and that the incubator story was a propaganda hoax from start to finish.
In the years that followed, the US imposed draconian sanctions upon Iraq that led to real starvation and unchecked disease. According to some estimates, the sanctions led to the deaths of as many as 500,000 Iraqi children due to a lack of food, medicine and uncontaminated water resulting from the imperialist blockade. Confronted with this appalling death toll in a 1996 television interview, Madeleine Albright, who was then the US ambassador to the UN and soon to be secretary of state, responded, “We think the price is worth it.”
This is the same government now shedding crocodile tears over the alleged use of hunger as a weapon by the Syrian government.
Since then, the United States has annihilated over a million people in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, killed tens of thousands more in the US-NATO war to overthrow Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, and orchestrated the war in Syria that has left an estimated 260,000 dead and displaced half of the country’s population. These interventions have thrown all three countries and their social infrastructures into a state of collapse.
The recklessness and brutality of the US ruling oligarchy’s militarist attempts to impose its hegemony over the Middle East and the entire planet go hand-in-hand with its destructive role within the US itself, smashing up the country’s industrial base, destroying the jobs and living standards of the working class, and funneling the bulk of the nation’s wealth to a handful of financial parasites.
Neither the escalation of the war for regime change in Syria, nor, for that matter, the toppling of Assad will extricate American capitalism from its insoluble crisis. The unending eruption of American militarism will produce only more death and destruction, intensifying the crisis both at home and abroad and bringing humanity ever closer to a global conflagration.

Global stocks plunge amid fears of a new financial crisis

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Stock markets in the US and around the world ended the week with massive selloffs, rocked by fears that the slowdown in China and plunging oil and commodity prices will trigger a new financial crisis on the order of the 2007-2008 disaster.
Another sharp fall on Chinese markets, with the Shanghai Composite Index dropping 3.55 percent, followed by a 6 percent fall in oil prices to $29 a barrel, set off a wave of panic selling. The mood was summed up by the chief strategist at Federated Investors, who said, “Investors are scared to death, and the fact that it’s happening at the beginning of the year has some historical significance.”
A major factor in the Chinese selloff was concern that Beijing will report its weakest full-year growth figure in 25 years on Tuesday.
On Friday, Walmart announced that it will close 269 stores, 154 of them in the US, and eliminate 16,000 jobs. The Walmart statement, coming on the heels of multi-store closure announcements by Macy’s and Sears-Kmart, highlighted the worsening slowdown in the real economy globally and in the US that underlies the turbulence on stock and bond markets. It also reflected the reality of falling wages and mounting income insecurity affecting broad layers of the US population.
Also this week, BP announced 4,000 layoffs, pointing to the increasingly depressed state of the energy sector.
Friday’s selloff, with the EURO STOXX/50 index down 2.37 percent and all of the major US indexes lower by well over 2 percent, caps off the worst-ever yearly opening for Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which lost 391 points on Friday to crash through the 16,000-point level, has fallen by 8.24 percent so far this year. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index has fallen by more than 8 percent and the Nasdaq has lost more than 10 percent.
All three US indexes are officially in correction, having lost more than 10 percent from their recent highs. The Chinese stock indexes are officially in bear market territory, having shed more than 20 percent of their value. In just the first two weeks of the new year, global stock markets have lost $5.7 trillion in value.
The price of oil, a barometer of global economic activity, is down 20 percent so far this year. The first two weeks of 2016 have seen the steepest two-week decline for oil since the 2008 financial crisis.
Going into a three-day weekend, with the markets closed Monday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, there will be intensive behind-the-scenes discussions between Treasury and Federal Reserve officials and the major Wall Street banks and hedge funds over the spiraling crisis. The White House on Friday took the unusual step of commenting on market movements in an attempt to reassure investors. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said officials were closely watching market movements and their potential impact on the economy.
Since the financial crash of 2008, the world capitalist economy has been propped up by rapid growth in China and a number of emerging market countries and a huge run-up in stock prices, all of which has been engineered on the basis of an immense growth of debt. The Federal Reserve and the central banks of Europe and Asia have pumped trillions of dollars into the financial markets, fueling a further increase in financial parasitism and speculation. This, combined with ruthless austerity against the working class, has formed the basis for an unprecedented enrichment of the world’s rich and super-rich and a further transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top.
But in the US and the other older industrialized countries, there has been a sharp decline in business investment in the productive forces. Instead, the vast profits of banks and corporations have gone largely to parasitic activities such as stock buybacks, dividend increases and mergers and acquisitions.
Earlier this week, Albert Edwards, a strategist at Societe Generale, told an investment conference in London that global economic developments would “push the US back into recession.” Predicting that there will be a new financial crisis “every bit as bad as 2008-2009,” he noted, “We have seen massive credit expansion in the US. This is not for real economic activity; it is borrowing to finance share buybacks.”
Now, with China slowing rapidly, Brazil and Russia in deep recessions, and the other emerging market economies sinking under the impact of falling commodity prices and rising debt, the inherently unstable financial house of cards is beginning to collapse.
A measure of the growth of speculation is the fact that since 2009, the US junk bond market has increased by some 80 percent, to $1.3 trillion. The market for energy junk bonds has increased even faster, up 180 percent to more than $200 billion. In recent weeks, as oil and other commodities have continued to fall and China has continued to slow, the junk bond market has shown signs of imploding, with prices dropping sharply and a number of energy junk bond mutual funds collapsing.
Larry Fink, the CEO of Blackrock, the world’s biggest private investment fund, told the US cable channel CNBC Friday that the market crisis was likely to worsen. “I actually believe there’s not enough blood in the streets,” he said, adding that “you’re going to start seeing more layoffs in the middle part of the first quarter, definitely the second quarter…”
A battery of economic data released Friday indicated that the US economy is sharply decelerating. The Federal Reserve reported that industrial production fell 0.4 percent in December, primarily as a result of cutbacks in utilities and mining output, after declining 0.9 percent in November. Industrial production fell at an annual rate of 3.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015.
Last week, the Institute for Supply Management released its manufacturing index, showing a decline to 48.2 in December, the lowest reading since December 2009. Any number below 50 signals a contraction.
The New York Fed this week released its Empire State Manufacturing Survey index, showing a decline to minus 19.37 in January from minus 6.21 in December. “Business activity declined for New York manufacturing firms more sharply than at any time since the 2007-2009 recession, according to the January 2016 survey,” the New York Fed said.
These reports confirm the existence of an industrial recession in the US. And this week, Michael Ward, chief executive of the CSX railway, said in a television interview that the country was in the grips of a “freight recession,” with coal and other commodity shipments falling precipitously.
The Commerce Department reported on Friday that US retail sales fell 0.1 percent in December from the previous month. For all of 2015, retail sales rose just 2.1 percent, the weakest reading since 2009, after advancing 3.9 percent in 2014. The National Retail Federation separately estimated that holiday sales rose just 3 percent from the previous year, far below its projection of 3.7 percent growth.
The Commerce Department also reported that business inventories fell 0.2 percent in November, the biggest drop since September 2011.
The Labor Department released its Producer Price Index, showing a decline of 0.2 percent last month. Pointing to deflationary forces in the US economy, producer prices fell 1.0 percent in 2015, the weakest figure since the series began in 2010.
As a result of the weak data on the US economy, JPMorgan Chase cut its fourth quarter 2015 estimate for growth of the gross domestic product from a 1.0 percent annual rate to a mere 0.1 percent pace. Barclays trimmed its forecast by four-tenths of a percentage point to a 0.3 percent rate.
The sharp intensification of the economic crisis will further inflame geopolitical tensions and the drive of the US and other imperialist powers to war. At the same time, it will stoke internal social tensions that are already driving the working class into struggle in the US and internationally against austerity and social inequality.
The emergence of a major economic crisis takes place against the backdrop of a critical presidential election in the US, which has already revealed the growing alienation of the working population from the entire political system and the further lurch of the two big-business parties to the right.

Declassified Emails Reveal NATO Killed Gaddafi to Stop Libyan Creation of Gold-Backed Currency

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In spite of French-led U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 creating a no-fly zone over Libya with the express intent of protecting civilians, one of the over 3,000 new Hillary Clinton emails released by the State Department on New Year’s Eve, contain damning evidence of Western nations using NATO as a tool to topple Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi. The NATO overthrow was not for the protection of the people, but instead it was to thwart Gaddafi’s attempt to create a gold-backed African currency to compete with the Western central banking monopoly.

The emails indicate the French-led NATO military initiative in Libya was also driven by a desire to gain access to a greater share of Libyan oil production, and to undermine a long term plan by Gaddafi to supplant France as the dominant power in the Francophone Africa region.

The April 2011 email, sent to the Secretary of State Hillary by unofficial adviser and longtime Clinton confidante Sidney Blumenthal with the subject line “France’s client and Qaddafi’s gold,” reveals predatory Western intentions.

The Foreign Policy Journal reports:
The email identifies French President Nicholas Sarkozy as leading the attack on Libya with five specific purposes in mind: to obtain Libyan oil, ensure French influence in the region, increase Sarkozy’s reputation domestically, assert French military power, and to prevent Gaddafi’s influence in what is considered “Francophone Africa.”

Most astounding is the lengthy section delineating the huge threat that Gaddafi’s gold and silver reserves, estimated at “143 tons of gold, and a similar amount in silver,” posed to the French franc (CFA) circulating as a prime African currency.

The email makes clear that intelligence sources indicate the impetus behind the French attack on Libya was a calculated move to consolidate greater power, using NATO as a tool for imperialist conquest, not a humanitarian intervention as the public was falsely led to believe.

According to the email:
This gold was accumulated prior to the current rebellion and was intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency based on the Libyan golden Dinar. This plan was designed to provide the Francophone African Countries with an alternative to the French franc (CFA).

(Source Comment: According to knowledgeable individuals this quantity of gold and silver is valued at more than $7 billion. French intelligence officers discovered this plan shortly after the current rebellion began, and this was one of the factors that influenced President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to commit France to the attack on Libya.)
The email provides a peek behind the curtain to reveal how foreign policy is often carried out in practice. While reported in the media that the Western backed Libyan military intervention is necessary to save human lives, the real driving factor behind the intervention was shown to be the fact that Gaddafi planned to create a high degree of economic independence with a new pan-African currency, which would lessen French influence and power in the region.

The evidence indicates that when French intelligence became aware of the Libyan initiative to create a currency to compete with the Western central banking system, the decision to subvert the plan through military means began, ultimately including the NATO alliance.