Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Why is the CIA putting bombs on Virginia school buses?

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Last Wednesday, March 30, police officials and the Loudoun County Fire Marshal placed Briar Woods High School in northern Virginia on lockdown and conducted bomb sweeps after a “putty-like” substance was found inside the engine of one of the school buses during routine maintenance. The substance was later identified as C-4 and had been used by CIA agents to conduct bomb detection training exercises on the school grounds March 21-24, during spring break.
A press statement by the intelligence agency on the incident said: “CIA K-9 units regularly participate in training with K-9 units from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in the Washington Metropolitan Area. Last week, a CIA K-9 unit conducted a routine training exercise with law enforcement [in which] explosive training material was inadvertently left by the CIA K-9 unit in one of the buses used in the exercise.”
According to NBC Washington, the explosive was located in “a small, black package” next to the engine and had been inside the bus as it made eight separate runs Monday and Tuesday with at least 26 special needs children. Loudoun County school officials said that parents of the children placed in harm’s way had been personally contacted about the incident. In addition to Briar Woods High School, children from Rock Ridge High School, Pinebrook Elementary School and Buffalo Trail Elementary School rode on the bus while the explosive was affixed to the engine.
The explosive was detected Wednesday during a routine maintenance inspection.
The CIA announced that the joint program would be suspended until the agency had “taken immediate steps to strengthen inventory and control procedures in its K-9 program.” The CIA-sponsored K-9 program has existed in the Washington, D.C. region since 2010 and according to comments made by the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office to the Washington Post, the incident had been the second time this year that the CIA had used the Loudoun high school for exercises.
“One of the things that we try to do with all canines is expose them to as many different environments and surfaces as we can, so then when the real call comes in, they will already be familiar with that particular environment,” Deputy Fire Marshal Jerry Swain said of the training program’s purpose. “The animals being familiar with the environment they’re going to work in makes them less apprehensive,” he continued, “they’ll be more focused.”
Located just outside of the US capital, Loudoun County is home to numerous federal contractors and government workers. According to the US Census Bureau, Loudoun is the wealthiest county in the United States, with a median household income level exceeding $115,000 yearly.
Seeking to assuage public concern over the lapse, public officials sought to present the incident as more of an embarrassment than a danger. Referring to the deadly C-4 explosive, Loudon County spokesperson Wayde Byard said, “When it is in a benign state, which means it has no blasting cap or electronic triggering devices on it, it is a safe substance.”
“It’s not something that if you picked it up off the street you could blow up,” Byard said, adding “obviously we’re concerned. The CIA really expressed its deep concern and regret today, and it was sincere.” Press reports suggested that C-4 can only be detonated by high heat and a shock wave caused by a blasting cap detonator. While these reports suggest that such conditions could not be created through the heat and motion of a bus engine, that seems far from certain.
While the incident certainly indicates incompetence and lack of regard for public safety, nothing that the CIA says about the events should be taken at face value. An exercise that trains dogs to sniff out explosives also gives CIA personnel experience in planting them. How was it possible that the CIA personnel did not properly inventory the explosives used during a training exercise, none of which were detonated? Where else are explosives being planted by US government operatives in the name of “counter-terrorism” training?
There is a long history of the CIA staging provocations overseas, including the planting of explosive devices, timed to affect political events such as elections or legislative votes, or even provide a pretext for the declaration of martial law and the staging of military coups. There is every reason to be concerned that similar operations are being prepared for within the United States itself, as the social and political situation in America becomes more tense and the working class begins to emerge as an independent political force.

“Panama papers” tax evasion leak stokes political crises worldwide

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On Sunday evening, a group of over 100 global newspapers, in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), began releasing reports on corruption, money laundering and other fraudulent activities by leading global politicians and business people disclosed in what the ICIJ called the “biggest leak of inside information in history.”
The reports are based on 11.5 million confidential documents from the Panamanian corporate service provider Mossack Fonseca that provide detailed information on more than 214,000 offshore companies.
The documents, according to the ICIJ, “Reveal the offshore holdings of 140 politicians and public officials around the world—including 12 current and former world leaders. Among them: the prime ministers of Iceland and Pakistan, the president of Ukraine, and the king of Saudi Arabia.”
The firm also set up accounts used by 29 billionaires listed in Forbes magazine’s ranking of the world’s 500 richest people.
The release of the report triggered scandals and investigations in over a dozen countries, including Iceland, the UK, Chile, France, Russia, Ukraine, Argentina, the United States, Germany, Brazil, Canada, Norway and Sweden.
Up to 10,000 people participated in a demonstration in front of the parliament building in Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, to demand flash elections after leaked documents showed that Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, of the center-right Progressive Party, hid assets in an offshore company that he failed to disclose while serving in the country’s parliament.
The documents also revealed that Ian Cameron, the father of the British prime minister, and other prominent members of the Conservative Party were clients of Mossack Fonseca. When asked whether the prime minister’s family had any more money invested in the funds, a spokeswoman for Cameron replied, “That is a private matter.”
Ukrainian lawmakers have demanded an investigation after the documents revealed that President Petro Poroshenko, who was brought into power after the 2014 US-backed coup, moved his assets to an offshore account to avoid paying taxes.
The investigation also indicated that Mauricio Macri, president of Argentina, had served as a director of an offshore company in the Bahamas.
US and British newspapers sought to put an anti-Russian spin on the revelations, with the British Guardian concentrating its reporting on claims that individuals with connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin were involved in multi-billion-dollar offshore deals. Reuters, in reporting the Guardian ’s claims, wrote that it “could not confirm those details.”
The documents, amounting to some 2.6 terabytes, were leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung in August 2015 by an unnamed individual who said he wanted to expose criminal wrongdoing. The files were reviewed by a team of over 300 journalists over the course of a year prior to the coordinated publication of reports Sunday.
The documents reveal that Mossack Fonseca, far from being an aberration, was an integral part of the operations of leading global banks. As ICIJ put it, “The documents make it clear that major banks are big drivers behind the creation of hard-to-trace companies in the British Virgin Islands, Panama and other offshore havens. The files list nearly 15,600 paper companies that banks set up for clients who want to keep their finances under wraps, including thousands created by international giants UBS and HSBC.”
According to the ICIJ, among the services offered by the firm were the back-dating of corporate documents and the destruction of evidence to prevent criminal prosecution. The company has denied involvement in any criminal activity.
Sunday’s revelations follow a release of documents by the ICIJ in 2015 that showed that the Swiss private banking arm of HSBC, Europe’s largest bank, functioned for years as a tax evasion and money laundering firm. The company ran a branch that gave out “bricks” of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in foreign denominations and provided its wealthy clientele with advice on how to commit tax fraud, according to the reports.
The ICIJ report provides extensive documentation of the claims by University of California economist Gabriel Zucman, who has estimated that 8 percent of global financial wealth, amounting to some $7.6 trillion, is hidden in offshore tax havens. “These findings show how deeply ingrained harmful practices and criminality are in the offshore world,” Zucman said in response to the reports.
“One leak exposed a global web of over 200,000 offshore shell companies: Imagine what leaks at other well-placed law firms and banks would expose?”
Mark Williams, a lecturer at Boston University, told Bloomberg, “This leak is proof that despite explicit banking laws against tax evasion, criminal uses and money laundering, the global offshore shell game business remains open for the wealthy and well connected.”
While the US was the fourth-most popular country for the shell companies set up by Mossack Fonseca to operate, no high-profile individuals in the US were exposed as having had accounts. Some experts speculated that this was simply because of the fact that, with extremely limited financial regulation, particularly in some state and local jurisdictions, wealthly Americans wishing to hide their assets or launder money can easily do so at home.
Shima Baradaran Baughman, a law Professor University of Utah, College of Law, told Fusion, “Americans can form shell companies right in Wyoming, Delaware or Nevada. They have no need to go to Panama to form a shell company to use for illicit activities.”

The Lie of Patriotism

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The working class in France mobilizes against austerity

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French youth and workers have carried out mass demonstrations to protest Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri’s reactionary labour law reform. They have done so in defiance of the state of emergency imposed by the Socialist Party (PS) government after the November 13 Paris terror attacks. These initial mobilizations mark a new stage in the international class struggle, with implications well beyond the borders of France.
The attempt to promote hysteria over terrorism to suppress popular opposition is failing in the face of a growing radicalization of workers and youth. The working class has not been intimidated by the state of emergency and is entering into struggle against the social counterrevolution being carried out by the PS government and the European Union as a whole.
University students are organizing on-going protests and meetings, hundreds of high schools are being blockaded by students, and growing sections of workers are taking strike action. Last Thursday, port workers, Air France employees and transit workers struck across France, while workers walked out at steel and auto plants in various cities.
As it enters into struggle, the working class finds itself compelled from the outset to define its aims and interests in opposition to all the forces that for decades have represented official “left” politics. There is deep anger against the PS government of President François Hollande, elected in 2012 with the support of the Left Front and the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA), as it seeks to destroy social rights won in historic struggles of the working class in the 20th century.
The El Khomri Law would lengthen the workday by up to two hours, increase the precariousness of employment for young workers, and allow the unions, in violation of France’s Labour Code, to work out contracts with employers at the level of individual firms.
The fact that this regressive and unpopular proposal would violate existing law testifies to its illegitimate character. That it is being pushed by a supposedly “socialist” party, which depends for the implementation of its attacks on unions whose budgets are 95 percent funded by the state and big business, underlines the fraudulent and anti-working class character of the entire framework of what passes for “left” politics in France.
An explosive political dynamic is developing. Despite the relentless promotion of fear and national chauvinism in connection with the terror attacks, a deeply rooted mood of social militancy is developing among workers and youth. This has taken the PS government by surprise and frightened pseudo-left organizations such as the Left Front and the NPA, which are deeply integrated into the PS.
Something of 1968 is in the air. In the May-June general strike of that year, tens of millions of workers erupted into struggle against the seemingly impregnable government of Charles de Gaulle and in opposition to the Stalinist French Communist Party. What is emerging today is a similar explosion of the class struggle against a discredited PS government and its political allies. The broad popular opposition to PS austerity revealed by the protests has already deeply shaken the Hollande government, France’s most unpopular administration since World War II.
On Thursday, as over a million people across France marched against the El Khomri Law, Hollande withdrew a proposed amendment enshrining in the Constitution the state of emergency as well as a policy of depriving terrorists of French nationality. Though the Senate and the National Assembly had both passed versions of the amendment, Hollande did not attempt to reconcile the differences between the two measures.
The reversal provoked consternation in sections of the media close to the PS, which fear that it marks the end of any hope of the PS avoiding a wipeout in next year’s presidential election. Le Monde called it a “major political disaster,” warning that “after this calamitous episode, Mr Hollande leaves behind him a field of ruins.”
Libération wrote: “François Hollande wanted to build national unity above the parties… He succeeded only in earning the opprobrium of his own camp and creating the spectacle of a petty political game, which citizens, even the most favourably disposed, did not understand and in many cases totally rejected.”
The entire reactionary strategy pursued by the administration of Prime Minister Manuel Valls since it emerged from the governmental crisis of the autumn of 2014 is threatened with disintegration.
At its heart, this strategy relied on using the terror attacks carried out in Europe by Islamist forces mobilized by French imperialism and its allies for their war in Syria to present Hollande as a “war president” and promote the neo-fascist National Front (FN). The PS responded to each attack by seeking to create a right-wing, nationalist atmosphere and incite Islamophobia to divide the workers and suppress social opposition to its austerity agenda.
After the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo shootings, Hollande invited FN leader Marine Le Pen to the Elysée Presidential Palace. After the November 13 attacks, he promoted two policies linked to the far right: the state of emergency first implemented in 1955 to wage the Algerian war, and deprivation of nationality, forever associated with its use to launch the deportation of Jews from Occupied France during the Holocaust.
This politically criminal strategy encountered no meaningful opposition from pseudo-left forces such as the Left Front and the NPA, both of which have supported the Syrian war. Left Front deputies voted for the state of emergency in the National Assembly.
As the passage of versions of the constitutional amendment by both houses of parliament makes clear, there is no opposition in ruling circles to the rehabilitation of the bloodiest crimes of French imperialism in the 20th century. This is a serious warning to the working class.
In the face of rising social opposition, however, the PS did not feel the current political climate allowed it to proceed with negotiating a compromise version of its reactionary amendment.
These events signify that workers entering into battle against the El Khomri Law are facing a historic struggle. The attempt to rehabilitate the legacy of the French far right and the attack on workers’ social rights in the El Khomri Law are rooted not in the personal cynicism and corruption of the PS and its political and trade union accomplices, but in an objective global crisis of capitalism.
Amid an escalating spiral of economic collapse and war, every imperialist power is driven into ruthless competition for profits and strategic advantage. French capitalism, deindustrialized by decades of reactionary governments of all stripes and crumbling under a worn-out infrastructure and a mountain of debt, sees no way out other than wars of plunder from Mali to Syria, and a policy of plunder against workers within France itself. To create a suitable political climate for the economic policies they are driven to carry out, all of the bourgeois parties, including the PS and its satellites, fall in line with the rehabilitation of fascism and militarism.
The only way forward in the struggle against the El Khomri Law is the path of intransigent political struggle by the working class against capitalism, and, in particular, the so-called “left” parties of the bourgeoisie. No confidence can be given to proposals by the student unions and trade unions to negotiate with Prime Minister Valls over token changes to the El Khomri Law. These are simply attempts to impose this reactionary bill with the aid of the pseudo-left parties and their union allies.
Above all, the struggle must be liberated from the national straitjacket these forces seek to impose upon it. In the fight against the reactionary policies of Hollande, the main allies of the French workers and youth are the workers of all other countries, mobilized in a united struggle in opposition to austerity, war and attacks on democratic rights.

Jobs Report Blues

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On Friday the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 215,000 new jobs in March.
John Williams of ShadowStats.com reports that these “new jobs” result from the the Birth-Death model that “artificially inflates headline month-to-month payroll gains with add-factors that currently average well in excess of 200,000 jobs per month.”
In other words, the jobs are the product of a model’s assumption that unreported new start-ups created 200,000 more jobs than unreported business failures lost.
To look at the jobs report in a different way, assume March did bring 215,000 new jobs and ask, “which sectors had jobs gains?” The answer is the same as has been the case since I began years ago reporting on the payroll jobs report:
Retail trade accounts for 47,700 of the jobs.
Health care and social assistance account for 44,000 of the jobs.
Waitresses and bartenders account for 24,800 of the jobs.
Manufacturing lost 29,000 jobs.
Part-time jobs without benefits comprise a rising percentage of US employment.
In the 21st century the main source of corporate profits has been lower labor costs achieved by offshoring US jobs and by bringing in lower-paid foreigners on work visas. This practice stopped the growth of US real median family income. Federal Reserve policy kept consumer demand alive by expanding consumer credit, which substituted a rise in consumer indebtedness for the missing growth in consumer income. Today the growth of consumer credit is limited by the absence of income growth to service the debt.
In short, corporations maximized short-run profits by ruining their domestic consumer market along with the personal income and sales tax base for government. It is unclear that this extraordinary mistake can be unwound.