Kazakhstan suggested the US to create in its territory a military base instead of the Transit Center Manas in Bishkek. By the information-analytical portal “K2Kapital”: the statement was voiced by Michael McFaul, a special assistant to President Obama for Russia, Eurasia and Caucasus affairs.

He said that the proposal was stated by the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbaev at the meeting with the US President Barack Obama in Washington. “The leaders discussed a possibility of the US troops to fly in Afghanistan through the North Pole and territory of Kazakhstan from the US, McFaul underlined, that is more convenient than flights through Europe”.

By the “K2Kapital”: the US looks for an alternative path for its military troop’s flight to Afghanistan. Notwithstanding that the interim government head Roza Otunbaeva stated that the new state administration will follow all agreements concerning the Transit Center Manas.

If you’re like me, now that we’re in the week that federal income taxes are due, you are finally starting to collect your records and prepare for the ordeal. Either way, whether you are a procrastinator like me, or have already finished and know how much you have paid to the government, it is a good time to stop and consider how much of your money goes to pay for our bloated and largely useless and pointless military.

The budget for the 2011 fiscal year, which has to be voted by Congress by this Oct. 1, looks to be about $3 trillion, not counting the funds collected for Social Security (since the Vietnam War, the government has included the Social Security Trust Fund in the budget as a way to make the cost of America’s imperial military adventures seem smaller in comparison to the total cost of government). Meanwhile, the military share of the budget works out to about $1.6 trillion.

That figure includes the Pentagon budget request of $717 billion, plus an estimated $200 billion in supplemental funding (called “overseas contingency funding” in euphemistic White House-speak), to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, some $40 billion or more in “black box” intelligence agency funding, $94 billion in non-DOD military spending (that would include stuff like military activies funded through NASA, military spending by the State Department, etc., miilitary-related activities within the Dept. of Homeland Security, etc.), $123 billion in veterans benefits and health care spending, and $400 billion in interest on debt raised to pay for prior wars and the standing military during peacetime (whatever that is!).

The 2011 military budget, by the way, is the largest in history, not just in actual dollars, but in inflation-adjusted dollars, exceeding even the spending in World War II, when the nation was on an all-out war footing.

This military spending in all its myriad forms works out to represent 53% of total US federal spending.

It’s also a military budget that is rising at a faster pace than any other part of the budget (with the possible exception of bailing out crooked Wall Street financial firms and their managers). For the past decade, and continuing under the present administration, military budgets have been rising at a 9% annual clip, making health care inflation look tiny by comparison.

US military spending isn’t just half of the US budget, though. It is also half of the entire global spending on war and weaponry. In 2009, according to the venerable War Resisters League, US military spending accounted for 47% of all money spent globally on war, weapons and military preparedness (it’s probably closer to 50% now). What makes that staggering figure particularly ridiculous is that America’s allies–countries like France, Britain, Germany, Italy, and Japan–account for another 21% of the world’s military spending. Fully 12 of the top-spenders among big military-spending nations are either allies of the US, or are friendly or completely non-threatening countries like Brazil and India. That is to say, America and its friends and allies account for more than two-thirds of all military spending worldwide.

China, in contrast, probably the closest thing to a real “threat” to American interests because of America’s treaty commitments to the island nation of Taiwan, and China’s counter claim that the island is a part of the PRC, spends only some $130 billion on its military, much of which is actually devoted to maintaining military control over the country’s own 1.3 billion people, some of whom might prefer to be independent, or to be freer, if they weren’t under the military jack-boot.

The next biggest military spender, Russia, spends less than $80 billion a year on its decrepit military–about one-twentieth of what the US spends–and isn’t even technically an enemy of the America anymore. Its military is largely busy keeping restive regions from spinning off from the mother country, anyhow.

Meanwhile Iran, which the White House and Congress are portraying as America’s arch enemy, despite its not having invaded another country in hundreds of years, isn’t even on the list of the top 17 military big-spenders. Iran’s current military budget is a teensy $4.8 billion (no surprise since its economy is about equal to Finland’s), about the same as the estimated $5 billion spent on the military by North Korea–America’s other “major enemy.” Each of those country’s military budgets is about one-quarter of the military budget of Australia. Combined, they add up to about two thirds of the military budget of the Netherlands.

Just to give one an idea of how small $4.8 billion is in comparison to the $1.6 trillion that the US is spending each year on war and planning for war, that number is roughly what the Pentagon plans to spend over the next year on childcare and youth programs, morale and recreation programs and commissaries on its bases! It’s about what the Pentagon will spend acquiring replacement Seahawk, Chinook and Blackhawk helicopters this year.

For the average American, what all this means is that of every dollar you send to the IRS, 53 cents will be going to pay for blowing stuff up, fattening the wallets of colonels admirals and generals, bloating the portfolios of investors in military industries, and of course funding the bonuses paid to executives of those companies, and the campaign chests and private expense accounts of the members of Congress who vote for these outlandish budgets. Your money will also be going to pay for the salaries and the bullets of those brave heroes over in Afghanistan who are executing kids, killing pregnant women (and then digging out the bullets and claiming they were stabbed by their families), and for the anti-personnel weapons that are creating legions of legless Afghani kids.

Next time you hear that the government needs to cut funds for providing medical care to the children of laid-off workers, or that supplemental unemployment funds are running out, next time you hear that federal funds that are needed to fund extra teachers at your school are being cut, or that Social Security benefits need to be cut back, or the retirement age needs to be increased to 70, next time you hear that your local post office has to be shut down for lack of funds, next time you hear that Medicare benefits need to be reduced, think about that 53% of your tax payment that is going to finance the most enormous war machine the world has ever known.

And ask yourself: Is this really necessary? Is this really where I want my money going? Is this really even making me safer or my country stronger?

Award-winning investigative reporter Dave Lindorff has been working as a journalist for 37 years. A regular columnist for CounterPunch, he also writes for Extra! and Salon magazine, as well as for Businessweek, The Nation and Treasury&Risk Magazine. Visit his website http://www.thiscantbehappening.net/

The WikiLeaks video footage from Iraq taken from an Apache helicopter in July 2007 showing soldiers killing 12 people and wounding two children has caused an explosion of media coverage. But many Iraq vets feel it is too little and too late.

In contrast to most of the coverage that favors the military’s stated position of forgiving the soldiers responsible and citing that they followed the Rules of Engagement (ROE), Iraq war veterans who have spoken to the media previously about atrocities carried out against innocent Iraqis have largely been ignored by the mainstream media in the United States.

Also See: Iraq War Vet: “We Were Told to Just Shoot People, and the Officers Would Take Care of Us”

This includes Josh Steiber, a former US Army specialist who was a member of the Bravo Company 2-16 whose acts of brutality made headlines with the WikiLeaks release of the video “Collateral Murder.”

Steiber told Truthout during a telephone interview on Sunday that such acts were “not isolated incidents” and were “common” during his tour of duty. “After watching the video, I would definitely say that that is, nine times out of ten, the way things ended up,” Steiber was quoted as saying in an earlier press release on the video, “Killing was following military protocol. It was going along with the rules as they are.”

Steiber was not with his unit, who were the soldiers on the ground in the video. He was back at his base with the incident occurred. While not absolving of responsibility those who carried out the killing, Steiber blames the “larger system” of the US military, specifically how soldiers are trained to dehumanize Iraqis and the ROE.

“We have to address the larger system that trains people to respond in this way, or the same thing will probably happen again,” Steiber told Truthout.

However, Steiber explained that during his basic training for the military, “We watched videos celebrating death,” and said that his leaders would “pull aside soldiers who’d not deployed, and ask us if somebody open fired on us in a market full of unarmed civilians, would we return fire. And if you didn’t say ‘yes’ instantly, you got yelled at for not being a good soldier. The mindset of military training was one based on fear, and the ability to eliminate any threat.”

Steiber was released from the military as a conscientious objector, and is now a member of the group Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).

“I saw many instances, frequently, of the military killing civilians,” Steiber added, “One thing we were told was that if a roadside bomb went off, anybody in the area was considered an enemy. Obviously those are innocent civilians since most of them, if not all of them, are not involved with the bombing. So I would consider those innocent civilians as lives lost. That policy came down from high up [the chain of command].”

When Truthout asked Steiber how many times this happened with his unit, he said, “Between five and ten times, and each time we’d end up killing people.”

The group to which Steiber belongs, IVAW, sponsored the Winter Soldier hearings that took place March 13-16, 2008, in Silver Spring, Maryland. The hearings provided a platform for veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to share the reality of their occupation experiences with the media.

While the hearings garnered major coverage from foreign media outlets, they were ignored by mainstream US media outlets. The censorship of that event is reflective of an overarching censorship by the mainstream media in the US of veterans from both occupations who have tried to tell their stories to the public.

Garret Reppenhagen, who testified at the Winter Soldier hearings, served in Iraq from February 2004-2005 in the city of Baquba, 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) northeast of Baghdad.

“There are so many incidents like this that happen in Iraq it’s bound that eventually one of them hits the vein of public attention, like this one,” Reppenhagen told Truthout of his opinion of the WikiLeaks footage, “Film helps – like this, and Abu Ghraib – the video and film documentation helps spurn public attention. So, it’s sad that these instances happen, and they are occurring and it has to do with how we conduct ourselves in this conflict – clearly there are things that need to be done for soldiers to adhere to the Geneva Conventions.”

Reppenhagen doubted the media uproar caused by the leaked video would change how soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan conduct themselves. “I still doubt enough support will be garnered to change how we operate in theater. Eventually I hope there’ll be a critical mass of people coming out and telling their stories about these things.”

Bryan Casler, a corporal in the Marines, who served both in Iraq and Afghanistan, has also spoken out publicly about atrocities committed by US soldiers he’d witnessed in Iraq.

“First, my response to the video is utter disgust,” Casler told Truthout, “You watch it and the first thing you see is them blow away a group of men who are obviously not hostile – obviously breaking any ROE they had. Then you watch them blow away a van coming to rescue the wounded people … a van that happens to have kids in it.”

Casler admitted that he has experienced some frustration in not having had mainstream media coverage when he has spoken out about what he witnessed in Iraq. “You have to share this, because as an Iraq veteran, and talking with other vets, we know this is happening all the time. This is damning video for a propaganda machine trying to say we’re over there trying to save the Iraqi people. But this isn’t happening just in Iraq, but anywhere the military is engaged in fighting with the local population.”

The US military’s response to the WikiLeaks video has been to claim that it was an isolated incident, and the soldiers were properly following their ROE.

In an interview on the ABC News “This Week” program on Sunday, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the soldiers were operating in “split second situations,” and that, “It’s unfortunate. It’s clearly not helpful. But by the same token, I think – think it should not have any lasting consequences.”

Casler begs to differ with Gates’ response.

“The argument about this being just a few bad apples – pilots are known for keeping their cool in tough environments, but the whole time you have to remind yourself, it’s not these pilots committing the atrocities – these guys had years of training and practice to do this, and loads of money making it happen,” Casler told Truthout, “This is what they are trained to do. American taxpayer money was paid to make them into this. This is not a few bad apples.”

In a response similar to Steiber’s, Casler added, “I don’t think anybody is murderous by nature – this is why the military trains you every day, both when you’re deployed or not, because people are not naturally killers – so the training is to have no barrier to killing. And that’s what you see in the video.”

When asked how he felt about the incident getting the coverage it has, Casler said he was pleased.

“I’m happy the average person might see this,” he told Truthout, “So I’m happy this is finally getting the coverage it deserves, and every vets story coming back needs this type of coverage. The military is censoring what is happening over there – but this video blows this apart. I hope more videos like this get leaked to the media, because people need to know about this.”

Casler may not have to wait long.

WikiLeaks.org is now poised to post another damning video of US forces slaughtering civilians - this time in Afghanistan.

On May 5, 2009, US aircraft bombed a number of homes in the Afghan village of Abdul Basir Khan in Farah Province. According to Afghan officials, the death toll was upwards of 140 civilians. The Pentagon initially claimed the entire incident was fabricated, but then later conceded that people were killed by the airstrike, but that “no one will ever” know the exact number. They also claimed that the pilots had no idea civilians were in the area.

More recently, on April 12, four Afghan civilians were killed in Kandahar when US troops fired on a bus in Afghanistan. The slaughter sparked furious protests and an expression of “regret” from the military. The Afghan government said a woman and child were among the dead, and that at least 18 others were wounded in the shooting.

After serving a tour in Iraq, Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia became the first conscientious objector to the Iraq war.

Mejia claimed that he left his post in order to avoid duties that he considered to be war crimes, particularly citing the torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers. He was court-martialed and listed as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International while serving his prison sentence.

“It was sad,” Mejia said of his reaction to the WikiLeaks video from Iraq, “You talk to other people, and they are shocked and can’t believe it. The fact that people are surprised and it’s getting so much coverage like it’s isolated and new – this is stuff we’ve been talking about for a long time, we know this is happening.”

Mejia, in addition to talking with people about atrocities he committed and witnessed in Iraq, told Truthout he was surprised at the reaction to the video, given that he and others had shared similar information at the Winter Soldier hearings two years ago.

“We’re talking a couple of years from when we talked about this stuff and exposed it – and here it is getting coverage … it’s like we live in a twilight zone where people don’t pay attention to when things actually happen, but then longer after the fact, when somebody else says the same thing, it’s huge news,” Mejia added.

Two of the Iraqis shown being murdered in the WikiLeaks video were employees of the Reuters news agency: photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saeed Chmagh.

While most mainstream media in the US has reported on the Pentagon’s statements saying that two internal investigations have cleared the soldiers of any wrongdoing, and that they were following the ROE, international media like Al-Jazeera English have reported on reactions from the families of the victims of the attack.

In particular, the families of the slain Iraqi civilians are seeking justice for the deaths, and want the military personnel responsible for the deaths to be taken to court.

Two young children, whose father was killed in the attack, could not understand why they were targeted. “We were coming back and we saw an injured man,” said Sajad Mutashar, whose father was killed in the attack while he and his sister were wounded, “My father said, let’s take him to hospital. Then I heard only the bullets … Why did they shoot us? Didn’t they see we were children?”

His uncle, Satar, is demanding that the pilot be taken to court. “Nobody gave the children anything, their rights are gone and the Americans didn’t even compensate for the destroyed car. I sold it for $500 to spend the money treating them,” Satar told Al Jazeera.

The family of Saeed Chamgh, one of the Reuters employee killed in the attack, is also demanding justice for his death. “The pilot is not human, he’s a monster,” Safa Chmagh, Saeed’s brother, said, “What did my brother do? What did his children do? Does the pilot accept his kids to be orphans?”

Salwan Saeed, Saeed’s son, said, “The American has broken my back by killing my father. I will not let the Americans get away with it. I will follow the path of my father and will hold another camera.”

Mark Taylor, an international law expert and a director at the Fafo Institute for International Studies in Norway, told reporters the evidence so far “indicated that there’s a case to be made that a war crime may have been committed.”

Taylor said US authorities, and especially the US military, have to take a closer look at this investigation. “There are questions about the way the investigation was conducted and whether or not it was done in a proper manner,” he said, adding, “There are precedents of US soldiers being prosecuted for crimes in Iraq, for crimes of murder, rape and manslaughter. So it’s not unprecedented that this could go forward both in military courts as well as in civilian criminal courts in the US.”

Taylor believes the case raises larger questions about the laws of war, and added, “I think what this video shows is really a case that challenges whether the laws of war are strict enough.”

Marjorie Cohn is a former president of the National Lawyer’s Guild, a professor of law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and co-author of the book “Rules of Disengagement: The Politics of Honor and Military Dissent.” She spoke with Truthout about possible war crimes committed by the soldiers in the WikiLeaks video.

“I think there’s clearly enough there to warrant an investigation,” Cohn said, referring to the need for an investigation of war crimes committed by US soldiers in the video, “I’m distraught and disappointed the US government refuses to launch an investigation about whether or not there’ve been violations of the law.”

Cohn cited the three possible violations to Truthout. “What I thought after watching the video, is that it looks like there were three possible violations of the Geneva Conventions. There were civilians standing around, there was no one firing at the US soldiers, and at least two people with cameras … there may have been people armed, like there are many people armed in the US, but this does not create the license to fire on people. That’s one violation of the Geneva Conventions – targeting people who are not a military necessity who do not pose a threat.”

Cohn said that the second and third possible violation of the laws of war are evident in the scene on the tape when the van attempts to rescue the wounded and a later scene of a US tank rolling over a body on the ground. “The soldiers shot him and those in the van, another possible violation of the Geneva Conventions – preventing the rescuers,” she added, “Third, when the wounded or dead man was lying on the ground, and a US tank rolled over him, effectively splitting him in two – and if he was dead, that was disrespecting a body – another violation of the Geneva Conventions.”

In that scene that occurs at 18:50 into in the full version of the WikiLeaks video, a soldier is heard saying, “I think they just drove over a body.” To this another soldier is heard laughing before he respond, “Really?”

Shortly thereafter, a soldier is heard saying, “Well, they’re dead, so.”

Cohn concluded, “So I see several possible violations, certainly enough to warrant an investigation by the US military.” 

—————

View Coverage of Winter Soldier:

Camilo Mejia speaks on a panel at Winter Soldier titled “Racism and War: the Dehumanization of the enemy.”

Garret Reppenhagen discusses the evaporation of the Rules of Engagement upon his arrival to Iraq. 

Bryan Casler on his experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

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El 10 de Abril una de las más importantes estaciones de radio alternativas de la costa oeste (cercana a Vancouver) de Canadá me entrevistó con relación a la actual campaña de los medios en contra de Cuba y en este contexto acerca de la última declaración de Hillary Clinton. El moderador del programa “Ondas Latinas”,  (Latin Waves) Stuart Richardson, leyó a los oyentes parte de los comentarios de la Secretaria de Estado  realizados el 9 de Abril, en los cuales ella dice que “los hermanos Castro” “no quieren ver el fin del embargo y que no quieren tampoco ver la normalización de las relaciones con los Estados Unidos debido a que perderían todas las excusas por todo lo que no ha pasado en Cuba en estos últimos 50 años”. Quisiera señalar que esta es la última en una cadena de mentiras y desinformación acerca de Cuba. El hecho es que los líderes de Cuba siempre se han esforzado y se empeñan en la actualidad en promover la normalización de las relaciones con los EEUU. Justo en este período desde el arribo de Obama a la presidencia, estos objetivos han sido explicitados y planteados con fuerza en diversas ocasiones por el Presidente del Consejo de Estado y de Ministros,  Raúl Castro. Por otra parte Fidel Castro en muchas de sus Reflexiones acerca del tema de las relaciones entre Cuba y EEUU y acerca de Obama, ha escrito de modo muy elocuente y abierto con el objetivo de atraer a la Administración de Obama a dar pasos significativos que contribuyan a normalizar las relaciones con la isla.

Si las condiciones impuestas por Washington para la normalización de  las relaciones son las expresadas por la Clinton el 9 de Abril, que exigen el cambio del sistema político en Cuba, ello no puede ser considerado como una etapa hacia la regularización de las interacciones. ¿Por que debe Cuba estar de acuerdo con la normalización de las relaciones sobre la base de estas precondiciones impuestas, me pregunto? El derecho a la autodeterminación y soberanía es un derecho inalienable de todos los pueblos del mundo, sean grandes o pequeños, ricos o pobres. ¿Debe Cuba establecer que los EEUU tengan que cambiar su sistema político y económico antes de que ambos países se sienten a conversar? No. Por el contrario los líderes cubanos han  reiterado una y otra vez en declaraciones públicas, que están dispuestos a discutir “todo, todo, todo”, pero sobre la base de la igualdad entre los dos estados  y el respeto mutuo. Si los EEUU han rechazado el interactuar sobre estas bases, la responsabilidad de ello es absolutamente de los EEUU y no de Cuba.

El moderador del programa de radio planteó la cuestión de las mentiras que rodean la más reciente campaña mediática contra Cuba,  específicamente lo relacionado y repetido constantemente acerca del controvertido tema de los considerados “presos políticos y de conciencia” en Cuba. El tema fue discutido exhaustivamente, explicando como fueron arrestados, juzgados y encarcelados en Marzo del 2003. Se presentaron pruebas irrefutables que demuestran como estas personas de muy buena voluntad aceptaron dinero y materiales suministrados por la Sección de Intereses de los EEUU en La Habana, para ser utilizados con el objetivo expreso de desestabilizar la situación política en Cuba. Estas actividades violan las leyes cubanas como se considerarían violadas las leyes de los EEUU en similares circunstancias.

También se abundó en detalles al entrar en la discusión de lo que se ha dado en llamar la represión a las Damas de Blanco. Por ejemplo se insistió en comparar con cuanta gentileza ellas fueron tratadas por las autoridades, en comparación al trato que se le brindó a los manifestantes que fueron brutalmente reprimidos y finalmente arrestados en Copenhague, Pittsburgh y más recientemente en California. El propio moderador dio un ejemplo de manipulación por los medios, en su propia ciudad de Vancouver. En dicha ciudad se realizaron importantes manifestaciones en contra de la celebración de los recientes juegos olímpicos de invierno a causa de los enormes costos que los mismos implican a la ciudad, mientras que en ella existe un alto índice de desempleo y personas sin hogar. Los medios seleccionaron cuidadosamente para usar en sus transmisiones escenas de unos pocos anarquistas que parecían más interesados  en la destrucción arbitraria y el vandalismo que en fines de verdadero contenido político, al mismo tiempo que ignoraron completamente los miles de manifestantes que pacíficamente y con mucha lucidez participaban expresando sus demandas. ¿Con qué propósito?, preguntó el moderador. Y él mismo respondió, que evidentemente fue hecho con el objetivo de desacreditar los manifestantes y las demandas que presentaban, el verdadero contenido de las protestas.

La entrevista volvió sobre el tema de la más reciente declaración de Clinton. Aparte de todo lo que se puede decir al respecto en cuanto a que se trata de una abierta injerencia en los asuntos internos de una nación soberana como Cuba una vez más, se habló acerca de la acusación de que el sistema cubano obtiene beneficios del bloqueo, usándolo como pretexto para justificar los problemas económicos que sufre la población cubana. Fue en este momento que yo desafié a la Sra. Clinton planteándole: “¡Haga la prueba!”. Es decir, ¡levante el bloqueo! Someta a prueba sus propias palabras. Vea por sí misma si el orden constitucional cubano pierde su credibilidad al verse ya, según la teoría de Washington, sin “excusas” para sus problemas económicos. Se confirmaría entonces que la Sra. Clinton estaba en lo cierto, y aún más  la Revolución Cubana resultaría mostrar su incapacidad  y estaría  eventualmente derrotada.

Se remarcó a la audiencia que los líderes cubanos han declarado de modo franco y sistemático que muchos de sus problemas económicos y otros aparecidos de modo más reciente, como son algunas indisciplinas sociales, han sobrevenido como resultado de conductas negativas por las que no se puede culpar al bloqueo. El bloqueo que se ha mantenido durante cincuenta años ha causado tanto daño que puede ser considerado  como un acto de genocidio. Los líderes cubanos han siempre planteado  que los principales problemas que enfrenta Cuba son aquellos que los  cubanos deben resolver por si mismos. De hecho, el liderazgo de la revolución cubana ha declarado que si los cubanos no son capaces de realizar los cambios que sean necesarios, la revolución podría autodestruirse, sin tener que intervenir para ello en nada el hecho de la existencia del bloqueo.

Es realmente una vergüenza que con todos los fondos de que disponen, tanques pensantes, Cubanólogos y otros medios a su disposición, Washington no sepa realmente qué está pasando en Cuba ni tengan conocimiento de como su líderes, a los que ellos llaman “los hermanos Castro”, actúan  ni piensan. Levanten el bloqueo contra Cuba, Washington, y miren por si mismos. Hagan la prueba.

Kirguizistán y la batalla por Asia Central

April 13th, 2010 by Rick Rozoff

El Presidente kirguiz Kurmanbek Bakiyev fue depuesto cinco años después y de la misma manera en la que llegó al poder: mediante un levantamiento sangriento.

Elegido presidente dos meses después de la denominada Revolución de los Tulipanes de 2005, que ayudó a fraguar, fue desde entonces el jefe de estado de la principal nación de tránsito en la guerra de EEUU y la OTAN en Afganistán.

El Pentágono aseguró la Base Aérea de Manas (conocida a partir del año pasado como el Centro de Tránsito de Manas) en Kirguizistán poco después de haber invadido Afganistán en octubre de 2001, y en todo ese período, según una publicación de las fuerzas armadas estadounidenses del pasado junio: “Más de 170.000 integrantes de la coalición han pasado por la base en su camino de ida o vuelta de Afganistán; Manas era también el punto de tránsito para 5.000 toneladas de carga, incluidas piezas de repuesto y equipamiento, uniformes y diversos artículos destinados a apoyar al personal y las necesidades de la misión.

“En la actualidad, alrededor de mil soldados estadounidenses, junto con algunos cientos de España y Francia, están asignados en la base”. [1]

El Representante Especial de la Casa Blanca para Afganistán y Pakistán, Richard Holbrooke, visitó Kirguizistán en febrero en su primer viaje en el puesto –y también las otras tres ex repúblicas soviéticas de Asia Central que la bordean: Kazajstán, Tayikistán y Uzbekistán- y declaró que: “35.000 soldados pasaban en tránsito por allí cada mes en su camino de ida y vuelta a/de Afganistán” [2]. Al ritmo que mencionó, unos 420.000 soldados al año.

EEUU y la OTAN establecieron también bases militares en Tayikistán y Uzbekistán para la guerra en el Sur de Asia, pero a menor escala. (A las fuerzas del ejército estadounidense se les ordenó salir del segundo país cuando el gobierno uzbeco afirmó que se había producido un levantamiento armado, tipo Revolución de los Tulipanes, en su provincia de Anidjan, menos de dos meses después del precedente kirguiz. Alemania mantiene una base cerca de la ciudad uzbeca de Termez utilizada para tránsito de tropas y equipamiento militar hacia la provincia afgana de Kunduz, donde se concentra el grueso de sus 4.300 soldados).

En febrero de 2009, el gobierno kirguiz anunció que iba a desalojar también de su país a las fuerzas de EEUU y de la OTAN, pero acabó cediendo en junio cuando Washington ofreció 60 millones de dólares para que revocara su decisión.

Kirguizistán es fronteriza con China.

No sólo bordea China, Kazajstán, Tayikistán y Uzbekistán, sino que está separada de Rusia por una única nación, Kazajstán. Para poder valorar las preocupaciones rusas y chinas por los cientos de miles de soldados estadounidenses y de la OTAN pasando a través de Kirguizistán, imaginen que una cantidad parecida de soldados chinos y rusos pasaran regularmente a través de Méjico y Guatemala, respectivamente. Durante casi nueve años y a un ritmo acelerado.

El papel que para Occidente juega Kirguizistán supone para Rusia y China no sólo un “poder militar duro” sino también una amenaza de “poder suave”.

La nación forma parte de la post-soviética Organización del Tratado de Seguridad Colectiva (CSTO, por sus siglas en inglés) junto con Rusia, Armenia, Bielorrusia, Kazajstán, Tayikistán y Uzbekistán –visto por muchos como la único homóloga de la OTAN en el antiguo espacio soviético- y de la Organización para la Cooperación de Shanghai (SCO, por sus siglas en inglés) junto a China, Rusia y las tres naciones centro-asiáticas anteriormente mencionadas.

Según oficiales estadounidenses, durante y después de la Revolución de los Tulipanes de 2005, no se canceló, ni siquiera se retrasó, un solo vuelo de EEUU o de la OTAN. Pero sí se cancelaron unos ejercicios de las seis naciones de la CSTO que iban a tener lugar unos días después.

El levantamiento y el derrocamiento del presidente Askar Akayev en marzo de 2005, fue la tercera autodenominada “revolución de color” en la antigua Unión Soviética en dieciséis meses, tras la Revolución de las Rosas en Georgia, a finales de 2003, y la Revolución Naranja en Ucrania, a finales de 2004 y principios de 2005.

Cuando la versión kirguiz estaba en marcha, los medios de comunicación occidentales se estaban haciendo ya la pregunta, “¿Quién es el siguiente?”. Entre los candidatos figuraban otros estados ex soviéticos como Armenia, Azerbaiyán, Bielorrusia, Kazajstán, Moldavia y Uzbekistán. Y Rusia. Junto con Georgia, Ucrania y Kirguizistán, esas naciones suponían diez de los doce miembros de la Comunidad de Estados Independientes (CIS, por sus siglas en inglés) ex soviéticos.

Como la Agence France Presse detallaba a primeros de abril de 2005: “La CIS se fundó en diciembre de 1991, el mismo día en que desapareció la Unión Soviética… Pero en el año y medio último, tres fieles aliados del Kremlin fueron derrocados por… revoluciones: Eduard Shevardnadze en Georgia, Leonid Kuchma en Ucrania y, la pasada semana, Askar Akayev en Kirguizistán… Aunque los nuevos dirigentes interinos de Kirguizistán hayan hecho votos por continuar con las políticas de amistad de su depuesto predecesor hacia Moscú, el veloz derrocamiento del gobierno ha generado que se empezara a especular con que la CIS se vendría pronto abajo”. [3]

Mijail Saakashvili, de Georgia, el dirigente del prototipo de las “revoluciones de color”, se regodeó con el “cambio de régimen” kirguiz, atribuyendo las “valientes” acciones de la oposición en Ucrania y Kirguizistán al “factor Georgia”, y añadió: “No vamos a esperar el desarrollo de los acontecimientos, sino que vamos a hacer cuanto podamos para destruir el imperio en la CIS”. [4]

Poco después del levantamiento, el ex diplomático y analista político indio M. K. Bhadrakumar escribió del entonces al parecer inexorable momentum de las revueltas de “color” en la ex Unión Soviética:

“Todos y cada uno de esos tres países [Georgia, Ucrania, Kirguizistán] están estratégicamente situados en el espacio post-soviético. Conforman el ‘extranjero cercano’ de Rusia.

“Washington ha estado en los últimos años ampliando su influencia en el arco de las antiguas repúblicas soviéticas –en el Báltico… el Cáucaso y Asia Central- con una tenacidad que preocupa en Moscú.

“Desde 2003, cuando el Sr. Akayev decidió permitir que Rusia estableciera una base militar de pleno derecho en Kant, sabía que estaba en la ‘lista de observación’ estadounidense. La temperatura política en Kirguizistán empezó a subir.

“Los estadounidenses dejaron bien claro en muchos sentidos que deseaban un cambio de régimen en Bishkek… La ‘revolución’ en el estado centroasiático de Kirguizistán ha revelado diversas sorpresas. Un buen punto de partida será compararla con las dos “revoluciones de color” anteriores acaecidas en Georgia y Ucrania.

“En primer lugar, deben señalarse debidamente las sorprendentes similitudes entre las tres ‘revoluciones’. Se quiere hacer creer que las tres vienen a significar la imparable propagación del fuego de la libertad encendido por Estados Unidos en Afganistán e Iraq tras el 11-S.

“Pero detrás de toda esa retórica, la verdad es que EEUU quería cambios de régimen en Georgia, Ucrania y Kirguizistán debido a sus dificultades con el liderazgo existente. Los dirigentes de los tres países –Eduard Shevardnadze en Georgia, Leonid Kuchma en Ucrania y Askar Akayev en Kirguizistán- contaron con el apoyo de EEUU durante la mayor parte de su gobierno.

“Washington les había venido citando repetidamente como faros de esperanza para la democracia y globalización en los territorios de la ex Unión Soviética.

“Sus problemas empezaron cuando empezaron gradualmente a inclinarse hacia una renaciente Rusia bajo Vladimir Putin”. [5]

Siete semanas después de que apareciera la columna de Bhadrakumar, su análisis iba a ser confirmado nada menos que por una autoridad en la materia como era el Presidente estadounidense George W. Bush.

Al visitar la capital de Georgia año y medio después de su “Revolución de las Rosas”, fue acogido por su homólogo Mijail Saakashvili, ex becario del Departamento de Estado y residente en EEUU, quién se había hecho con el poder en lo que sólo puede describirse como un golpe de estado, quien, sin embargo, dijo:

“Georgia se convertirá en el principal socio de Estados Unidos en la expansión de la democracia y la libertad en el espacio post-soviético. Ese es nuestro objetivo. Siempre estaremos con Vds. para proteger la libertad y la democracia”.

Bush reflejó la inflada estimación sobre sí mismo de Saakashvili: “Vd. está haciendo muchas contribuciones importantes a la causa de la libertad, pero la aportación más importante es su ejemplo. Cambios espectaculares se suceden en lugares desde Bagdad y Beirut hasta Bishkek [Kirguizistán]. Pero antes de que hubiera una Revolución Púrpura en Iraq o una Revolución Naranja en Ucrania o una Revolución de los Cedros en Líbano, hubo una Revolución de las Rosas en Georgia”. [6]

Pocos días después del golpe kirguiz, Bush dio la bienvenida al presidente “naranja” de Ucrania Viktor Yushchenko –quien, en enero pasado, sólo recogió el 5,45% de los votos para su reelección- y aplaudió su ascenso al poder, con ayuda estadounidense, diciendo que “podría considerarse que aunque fuera sólo una parte de la historia de Ucrania, la Revolución Naranja representaba también a las revoluciones por todas partes… Compartimos el objetivo de extender la libertad a otras naciones”. [7]

Más allá de la amenaza de disolución de la CIS y de la CSTO, en abril de 2005, Der Spiegel publicó un informe titulado: “Las revoluciones aceleran la desintegración de Rusia”. Revelaba en parte quienes eran las personas influyentes principales tras los acontecimientos en Kirguizistán. Según Der Spiegel (4 abril 2005):

“Ya en febrero”, Roza Otunbayeva –ahora el presunta jefa del gobierno provisional- “prometió lealtad a un pequeño grupo de socios y patrocinadores de la revolución kirguiz, a ‘nuestros amigos estadounidenses’ en Freedom House (que donaron una imprenta a la oposición en Bishek)…

“En un intento de ayudar al proceso democrático, los estadounidenses vertieron unos 12 millones de dólares en Kirguizistán a través de becas y donaciones, y eso sólo durante el pasado año. El Departamento de Estado de Washington financió incluso el equipamiento de una cadena de televisión de la provincia sureña rebelde de Osh”. [8] [9].

Este proceso de transformación geoestratégica, desde los Balcanes a la antigua Unión Soviética y Oriente Medio estuvo también apoyado por la Freedom House, el National Endowment for Democracy, el National Democratic Institute, el International Republican Institute y otras organizaciones no gubernamentales.

Una semana después de que los “tulipanes” se hicieran con el poder, el director del proyecto de Freedom House, Mike Stone, resumió el papel de su organización con dos palabras: “Misión cumplida”. [10]

Un periódico británico que le entrevistó añadió: “La implicación estadounidense en el pequeño y montañoso país es mayor, proporcionalmente, que lo fue en la revolución de las ‘rosas’ en Georgia o en el levantamiento ‘naranja’ de Ucrania”. [11]

También se proveyó de ayuda a través de “jóvenes activistas” financiados y formados por Occidente, siguiendo el modelo quienes se organizaron en Yugoslavia en el año 2000 para derrocar al gobierno de Slobodan Milosevic:

Comparen los nombres:

Yugoslavia: Otpor! (Resistencia)

Ucrania: Pora! (¡Ya es hora!)

Georgia: Kmara! (¡Basta!)

Kirguizistán: Kelkel! (¡Levántate y anda!)

Detrás de todos ellos, el depuesto presidente kirguiz Askar Akayev identificó a los verdaderos arquitectos de su expulsión. El 2 de abril afirmó: “Hubo organizaciones internacionales que apoyaron y financiaron la Revolución de los Tulipanes en Kirguizistán.

“Una semana antes de esos acontecimientos vi una carta en Internet firmada por el embajador estadounidense en Kirguizistán. Contenía un plan detallado para la revolución”. [12]

La Revolución kirguiz de los Tulipanes (antes llamada del Limón, Rosa y del Narciso) fue tan inconstitucional y tan perjudicial para la nación como fueron sus predecesoras georgiana y ucraniana, pero mucho más violenta. Hubo muertos y heridos en las ciudades sureñas de Osh y Jalalabad y en la capital de Bishkek.

Fue también la primera revuelta de “color” en una nación fronteriza con China. No sólo Rusia y China manifestaron serias preocupaciones por los desarrollos en Kirguizistán, también Irán, al ver cómo se desarrollaba la trayectoria del “cambio de régimen”.

Durante las cuatro décadas de la Guerra Fría, los cambios políticos mediante elecciones o de otro modo en cualquier nación del mundo –no importa cuán pequeña, empobrecida, aislada e insignificante pueda parecer- adquirieron una importancia que excedía con mucho a sus efectos internos. Los analistas políticos y los responsables políticos mundiales se hacían siempre una cuestión clave: ¿Con quién iba a alinearse el nuevo gobierno, con EEUU o con la Unión Soviética?

En el período posterior a la Guerra Fría, la pregunta ya no es de filosofía política u orientación socio-económica, sino ésta: ¿Cómo apoyará, o se opondrá, la nueva administración a los planes estadounidenses para su dominio regional y global?

Con Roza Otunabayeva como portavoz jefe, cuando no al frente de un nuevo “gobierno popular” kirguiz, hay razones para creer que Washington no se va a sentir muy disgustado por el derrocamiento de su antiguo socio “tulipán” Bakiyev. Ella ha confirmado ya que no se va a cerrar la base estadounidense de Manas.

Menos de dos meses después del golpe de 2005, Otunbayeva, que entonces era ministra de asuntos exteriores, celebró una reunión con su homóloga estadounidense Condoleeza Rice en Washington, durante la cual la última aseguró que “la administración estadounidense continuará ayudando al gobierno kirguiz a fomentar procesos democráticos en el país”. [13]

Poco después de la “transformación democrática” de marzo, su santo patrón, Mijail Saakashvili de Georgia, se jactó de que “Roza Otunbayeva trabajó en Tbilisi en años recientes y fue la directora de la oficina de Naciones Unidas en Abjazia. Durante la Revolución de las Rosas, ella estaba en Georgia y sabía todo lo que estaba sucediendo… el factor georgiano fue un catalizador de muchas de las cosas que estaban allí sucediendo [en Kirguizistán]”. [14]

Desde la perspectiva estadounidense, ella parece tener fiables y buenas referencias.

Rusia ha puesto su base aérea en Kirguizistán en alerta máxima, aunque los comentarios de los principales dirigentes del gobierno ruso –especialmente del Primer Ministro Vladimir Putin- indican una aceptación del levantamiento que ha causado ya 65 muertos y cientos de heridos.

Pero Rusia intentó poner su mejor cara también en la revuelta de hace cinco años.

La dirección que adopte el próximo gobierno kirguiz repercutirá más allá del pequeño tamaño y población de esa nación (apenas por encima de los cinco millones de habitantes):

Podría afectar a los planes de EEUU y la OTAN para la mayor ofensiva militar de la guerra afgana, cuyo comienzo está fijado dentro de dos meses en la provincia de Kandahar.

Podría determinar el futuro de la Organización del Tratado de Seguridad Colectiva y de la Organización de Cooperación de Shanghai, las dos principales barreras a la potencial penetración militar de Occidente en vastas extensiones de Eurasia.

Las apuestas no podrían estar más altas.

Notas:

1) Stars and Stripes, 16 de junio de 2009
2) Agence France-Presse, 4 de marzo de 2010
3) Agence France-Presse, 3 de abril de 2005
4) The Messenger, 31 de marzo de 2005
5) The Hindu, 28 de marzo de 2005
6) Civil Georgia, 10 de mayo de 2005
7) Associated Press, 4 de abril de 2005
8) Der Spiegel, 4 de abril de 2005
9) Russian Information Agency Novosti, 16 de junio de 2005
10) The Telegraph, 2 de abril de 2005
11) Ibid
12) Associated Press, 2 de abril de 2005
13) Interfax, 15 de junio de 2005
14) Civil Georgia, 30 de marzo de 2005

Texto original : At the Geopolitical Crossroads of China and Russia: Kyrgyzstan And The Battle For Central Asia, 8 de Abril de 2010.

Traducido del inglés para Rebelión por Sinfo Fernández

WHO Appoints H1N1 Cover-Up Committee

April 13th, 2010 by James Corbett

Reports that the WHO is appointing an ‘independent’ committee to investigate its own conduct in the H1N1 panic of 2009 has been tempered by the fact that one of the committee’s members, John Mackenzie, was in fact one of the advisors who urged the WHO to declare a pandemic in the first place. He also has ties to vaccine manufacturers, making him part of the very charge being investigated: that the WHO relied on advisors with a financial interest in declaring a pandemic regardless of the facts on the ground.

Evidence continues to mount that the WHO declared a pandemic for the relatively mildH1N1 outbreak last year in order to trigger billions of dollars of automatic vaccine contracts for the benefit of WHO advisers with connections to Big Pharma. In the face of growing opposition and a loss of credibility due to the conflicts of interests among key WHO advisors, WHO Director Margaret Chan called Monday for a “frank, critical, transparent, credible and independent review of our performance” before entering a closed-door meeting with the “independent experts.” No photographers were allowed inside and press was allowed only occasional access to the meeting.

Hopes for a genuinely independent investigation into the scandal were quickly dashed, however, when it was discovered that one of the group’s members, Professor John Mackenzie of Curtin University in Australia, was a member of the very panel that advised the WHO to declare the H1N1 pandemic. In fact, Mackenzie is already on record with his assessment of his own actions: “I think we did everything right,” he toldDer Spiegel earlier this year.

Clues to the likely findings and recommendations of the group in Geneva can be derived from other comments Mackenzie made to the German paper: “The system of pandemic levels needs to be revised,” he was quoted as saying. “We need to fine-tune phase 6 so that the severity of the disease is also taken into account.” Analysts are expecting the review to find that the WHO was a victim of fog of war and loose definitions for a pandemic and that no individual will be held responsible for the billions of dollars that have been spent around the world on vaccines that governments are now giving awayand may ultimately have to throw out.

Also at issue is why the WHO changed its definition of a pandemic virus just as it was considering whether the emerging swine flu may fit that critera. A definition available on the website before the panic specifically listed “enormous numbers of deaths and ilness” as a criterion for declaring a pandemic. By April, the definition had been changedto specifically allow for “mild” pandemics.

The cover-up committee is being formed ahead of the final report of the ongoing Council of Europe investigation into the scandal. Just last month, the Council released a draft report of its investigation into the affair, delivering a blistering critique of the WHO and its motives for declaring the H1N1 pandemic:

Some members of these advisory bodies evidently have professional links to certain pharmaceutical groups – notably through receiving extensive research grants from the big pharmaceutical groups – so that the neutrality of their advice could be contested. To date, WHO has failed to provide convincing evidence to counter these allegations and the organisation has not published the relevant declarations of interest taking such a reserved position, the Organisation has joined other bodies, such as the European Medicines Agency (EMEA), which likewise, have still not published such documents. -”The handling of the H1N1 pandemic: more transparency needed“ 

The Council of Europe committee inquiry was spearheaded by Wolfgang Wodarg, the former chair of the Council’s health committee who made waves last year for saying that the WHO faked the pandemic to make money for vaccine manufacturers. The committee is expected to be quite critical of the WHO, leading many to speculate that the WHO-sanctioned group in Geneva is an attempt to get ahead of the damage and issue a limited hangout on the issue.

The independent group is expected to finish its meeting on Wednesday. No word yet if they will address the fact that flu vaccines actually increase the risk of contracting H1N1, or what the effect might be if a vaccine-pushing WHO ignores this information.

The H1N1 panic started last March, with the WHO estimating as many as two billion infections and millions of deaths. Newly released data shows that the 2009 flu season was actually much less deadly than the regular flu season.

The economic crisis precipitated by the crash of Lehman Brothers in 2008 is entering a new stage, as European states hastily organise their first-ever bailout of a member of the European Union. The frantic efforts at the weekend to cobble together a European rescue package for Greece in collaboration with the International Monetary Fund came after intense pressure from rating agencies and intensified speculation by traders betting that the Greek government would default on its debt obligations.

The European emergency plan for Greece represents a substantial reversal of the deal agreed at the EU summit just two weeks ago. At their meeting in Brussels at the end of March, European heads of state agreed to a proposal pushed by the German government aimed at avoiding a bailout of the Greek economy. At the summit, the German delegation, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, offered a guarantee to the Greek government on condition that it pay punitive rates of interest for the repayment of its debt, while making clear that any assistance would be given only as a “last resort.”

The position imposed by Germany was tantamount to declaring that Europe would not offer Greece terms any more favourable than those currently available on the international financial markets.

The object of the harsh conditions demanded by Germany was to maximise pressure on the Greek government to continue its program of severe spending cuts and austerity measures, aimed at convincing the banks to offer Athens credit at a more favourable rate. Germany also wanted to send a clear signal to other highly indebted European countries—Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Italy—that there would be no easy money from Brussels.

These calculations have been blown apart in the space of two weeks by the intensification of the crisis, which has forced European finance ministers to come up with an emergency package designed to appease the international banks and hedge funds. Faced with the collapse of the Greek economy and the potential breakup of the European currency, the German government has reluctantly signalled its acquiescence to the European plan.

Last week, Greek financial officials travelled to Washington to urge US banks to buy Greek bonds. The social democratic government of Prime Minister George Papandreou appealed for help as an “emerging market,” stressing that it could rely on the country’s trade unions to suppress working class resistance and help impose the austerity measures.

It got a cold shoulder from Wall Street. Papandreou then held a series of meetings with European officials aimed at developing a safety net for the Greek economy.

Following an explosive rise in interest rates on Greek government bonds, peaking at well over 7 percent on April 8, the Greek stock exchange suffered a panic selloff, with Greek bank stocks falling precipitously. One Greek newspaper spoke of the Athens market’s “Black Thursday,” while theIndependent newspaper declared that the Greek financial crisis had gone “nuclear.”

Thursday’s selloff extended to most European stock markets. Fearing a full-scale financial panic and a concerted attack on the euro currency, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet declared that the EU would not allow Greece to default.

The stock market decline was accompanied by an emerging run on Greek banks by worried depositors. This was on top of a growing movement of funds out of Greece by the country’s wealthiest layers.

At the same time, the Fitch rating agency cut Greece’s long-term foreign and local currency ratings to BBB- from BBB+. It also slashed its credit rating for five banks, including the National Bank of Greece. According to one commentator, the downgrading of Greece on international money markets now puts it on a par with Iraq.

France and Italy issued a call for an emergency package to head off a Greek default. After talks with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Friday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that the EU was ready to implement an aid plan for Greece.

In a manner reminiscent of the flurry of meetings that occurred on the eve of the Lehman collapse in September of 2008, government heads, finance ministers and bankers worked frantically to come up with something that could be announced prior to the opening of global markets Monday morning.

The main details of the plan as reported to date involve a loan of €30 billion by the EU at interest rates of around 5 percent. Such a rate is below the 7 percent currently being demanded by banks for long-term Greek bonds, but much more than the rate paid by Europe’s biggest economy, Germany (3 percent).

Pointing out that the future of the euro was at stake, billionaire investor George Soros told Bloomberg Radio on April 9 that the Greeks “have to be given some help from Europe or the IMF at concessional rates.… It is a make or break time for the euro and it’s a question whether the political will to hold Europe together is there or not.”

The decision to bail out Greece has far-reaching economic and political implications. First, it sets a precedent for other European economies in a similar situation to appeal for financial assistance from Europe’s stronger economies.

The fact is, however, that all European nations, including the biggest economies, Germany and France, are saddled with huge state debts and are seeking to impose their own harsh austerity programs in order to recoup the huge sums spent bailing out their respective banking systems. The banks, which received trillions in public funds, are now dictating the terms by which the European working class is to pay for the crisis.

The emergency plan for Greece will bring no relief to the working population. A similar EU-IMF plan has already been imposed on the small EU member state of Latvia. The Latvian government has imposed the harshest austerity program in Europe, consisting of cuts amounting to ten percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The state has slashed the wages of public servants by up to 45 percent, raised taxes, cut pensions and child allowances, and now has the highest level of unemployment in Europe at over 20 percent.

The ruling elite throughout Europe are united in their determination to ensure that the entire burden of the crisis is shifted onto the backs of the working class, but as the economic crisis increasingly spirals out of control, national state interests and rivalries are increasingly coming to the fore. Commenting on the growing divisions between Germany and its European neighbours,Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf commented recently: “Is there a satisfactory way out of the dilemma? Not as far as I can see. That is really frightening.”

Two things, in particular, have become clear from the developments in Europe of the past two weeks. First, the talk of a global recovery from the crisis that erupted in 2007-2008 is without serious foundation. The world economy remains poised on the knife-edge of a new financial panic and even deeper recession.

Nothing has been resolved. Instead, the insolvency of major banks has been offloaded onto national governments, producing an unprecedented sovereign debt crisis that can easily spread from so-called peripheral countries such as Greece to major powers, including France, Britain and the US.

Second, there is no prospect for a coherent internationally agreed strategy to manage the crisis in a non-disruptive and peaceful manner. Instead, the fundamental contradiction between world economy and the nation-state system—a contradiction intrinsic to capitalism—is asserting itself with increasing virulence. Germany’s aggressive stance and the growing divisions within Europe are among the most acute expressions of this global development.

These developments underline the urgency for the progressive unification of Europe through the united, revolutionary mobilization of the working class, based on a socialist program for the nationalisation of the banks and major industries under the democratic control of the working class. 

Doctors in Fallujah are witnessing unprecedented numbers of birth defects, miscarriages and cancer cases. According to gynaecologists, paediatricians and neurologists in Fallujah the numbers of these cases have been increasing rapidly since 2005 – less than 1 year after the bombing campaign by the occupying forces in 2004.

The most common birth defects are defects that involve the heart and the nervous system other defects witnessed by doctors include babies with two heads, upper and lower limb defects and eye abnormalities.

What is more disturbing is that pregnant women are completely unaware that they are carrying an abnormal child until the day they give birth – Traumatizing the mother and the rest of the family.

Preliminary data based on cases documented in January of this year shows the rate of heart defects in Fallujah to be 13 times the rate found in Europe. And for birth defects involving the Nervous System based on data reported for February of this year the rate was calculated to be 33 times that found in Europe for the same number of births.

A significant number of babies die because doctors in Fallujah do not have the necessary training to carry out certain life saving operations. There are a number of babies that have TOF’s and other complex cardiac defects that cannot be operated on by Iraqi doctors and therefore the result is the needless death of the child. Babies who suffer from NTD’s are also in need of urgent assistance.

How Can You Help?

1.      We are asking for doctor(s) or a hospital from a foreign country to accept and operate on a child from Fallujah carrying the types of birth defects mentioned above. Due to the extent of the problem this program would be needed on regular bases if possible.

2.      To send doctors to Fallujah to train Iraqi doctors or/and to conduct operations in Fallujah itself, if possible.  

Climate Bill or Nuclear Bailout?

April 13th, 2010 by Nuclear Information and Resource Service

SENATE CLIMATE BILL TO BE UNVEILED SOON

EARLY REPORTS ARE THAT IT WILL BE A BONANZA FOR GIANT NUCLEAR COMPANIES

ACT NOW: SEND A CLEAR MESSAGE TO EVERY SENATOR; NO NUCLEAR POWER IN THE CLIMATE BILL!

April 8, 2010

Published reports indicate that Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) will unveil their new climate bill not long after their Spring recess ends April 12–probably the week of April 19. And these published reports also indicate that the bill will be larded with taxpayer giveaways to the nuclear power industry. In other words, taxpayers would be subsidizing giant companies like General Electric, NRG Energy, Electricite de France, Exelon, Areva, Westinghouse and more.

We need to send a clear message to every Senator, with as many of your voices as possible: No Nuclear Power in the Climate Bill. Send your message here today.

Wasting taxpayer money on nuclear power–which is both ineffective at reducing carbon emissions (its carbon footprint is 6 times greater than wind power for the same amount of electricity, 2-3 times greater than solar, and far higher than energy efficiency programs) and remains the most dangerous and expensive electricity source available–is no way to fight climate change. In fact, it would be counterproductive.

We need to begin making our case now, before the climate bill is introduced. But we will also need to take more actions once it is introduced. NIRS will be issuing a press statement when we finally see the language of the bill and we’ll also be setting up a letters to the editor campaign and new Senate actions. We will keep you posted.

At this point, we don’t know if a climate bill of any kind can pass the Senate. There is going to be a lot of backroom activity and a lot of pressure to pass a bill. We can’t rely on climate change deniers to do our work for us and kill a bad climate bill. We want a strong climate bill–but it can’t include corporate bailouts like tens of billions of your taxpayer dollars for nuclear power and coal along with expanded offshore oil drilling! If that’s the price of a “climate” bill–no thanks.

It’s going to be more important than ever for us all to do as much outreach and mobilization as we can. Please ask your family members, friends, colleagues, and members of your organizational lists to weigh in with their Senators too. Just send them to this address:http://org2. democracyinactio n.org/o/5502/ p/dia/action/ public/?action_ KEY=2255

The nuclear industry has spent more than $650 million over the past decade to get to this point. Just today, Mother Jones reported that my counterpart at the Nuclear Energy Institute is paid more than $3 million a year–nearly 6 times our entire annual budget! It’s going to take all of us, working and acting together and reaching out to as many people as possible, to counter that kind of influence. 

We thank everyone who has contributed in recent weeks to Michael Mariotte’s 25th anniversary outreach and mobilization fund. You’ve enabled us to reach hundreds of thousands of people with our message. But we can’t let up now. Please make a tax-deductible donation–of whatever size you can, whether it be $5 or $500–to this fund today.

Again, let’s stop the climate bill from becoming just another taxpayer gift to huge energy companies! Send your letter to your Senators here and tell them to reject nuclear power in a climate bill, and instead to come up with real climate solutions.

Thank you for all you do.

Michael Mariotte, Executive Director, Nuclear Information and Resource Service

nirsnet@nirs. org , www.nirs.org

Alice Slater, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, NY, 446 E. 86 St., New York , NY 10028

212-744-2005, 646-238-9000( cell), aslater@rcn. comwww.wagingpeace. org

Canada Post Issues Stamp Commemorating Canada-Israel Relations, Despite Long-Standing Diplomatic Differences

April 13th, 2010 by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East

Toronto – Canada Post has announced that it will be issuing a stamp commemorating 60 years of diplomatic relations between Canada and Israel on April 14. According to an article in the Jewish Tribune, the name of the persons or organizations that proposed that such a commemorative stamp be issued are “secret.”  The theme of the stamp is apparently “friendship.” Canada has previously issued joint stamps with Japan, China, Mexico, France and the US; with some of those countries, it has done so on more than one occasion. Canada Post’s announcement comes amid rising international criticism of Israel for its plans to build more illegal colonies (settlements) in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Traditionally Canada Post jointly issues stamps with other nations to celebrate joint achievements or historical events, for example the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, or environmental treaties. It is clear that the Canada-Israel stamp does not meet those criteria. While Canada and Israel have indeed maintained diplomatic relations for six decades, the relationship has been strained at many key junctures. Importantly, Israel has ignored Canada’s diplomatic opposition to all of the following:   

-Israel’s military occupation since 1967 of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, which are Palestinian territory under the 1949 Armistice Agreement.

-Israel’s ongoing construction of further colonies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which totaled 285,800 and 193,700, respectively, as of the end of 2008.  Over the years, Canada has frequently reproached Israel for its ongoing colonization of occupied Palestinian territory, most recently in March, 2010.

-Israel’s construction of a wall through and around Palestinian communities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. 

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) questions the appropriateness of the joint issue of the Canada-Israel stamp at this time. “Announcing such a stamp now – on the heels of Israel’s brutal 22-day assault on Gaza last year and its recent declarations that it will construct more colonies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem despite strong international opposition – sends an entirely wrong signal to the Israeli government,” says CJPME President Thomas Woodley. He adds that the joint stamp announcement undermines the Canadian government’s own stated policies concerning Israel’s obligations.

“Canada should hold off on issuing a joint stamp until Israel has signed a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians – one in accordance with the Canadian value of respect for international law,” Woodley urged, noting “such a peace agreement, between Israelis and Palestinians – facilitated by Canadian diplomacy – would truly be something to celebrate.” CJPME also notes with disappointment that while the Israeli stamp of the joint issue is marked with both the Hebrew and Arabic version of “Israel,” as is typical with Israeli stamps, the Canadian version will only be printed with the Hebrew (and Canadian) name for Israel.

For more information, please contact: Grace Batchoun,
Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East
CJPME Email - CJPME Website

Mossad Operation Threatens Israeli Journalist

April 13th, 2010 by Jonathan Cook

Nazareth — An Israeli journalist who went into hiding after writing a series of reports showing lawbreaking approved by Israeli army commanders faces a lengthy jail term for espionage if caught, as Israeli security services warned at the weekend they would “remove the gloves” to track him down.

The Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police, said it was treating Uri Blau, a reporter with the liberal Haaretz daily newspaper who has gone underground in London, as a “fugitive felon” and that a warrant for his arrest had been issued.

Options being considered are an extradition request to the British authorities or, if that fails, a secret operation by Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, to smuggle him back, according to Maariv, a right-wing newspaper.

It was revealed yesterday that Mr Blau’s informant, Anat Kamm, 23, a former conscript soldier who copied hundreds of classified documents during her military service, had confessed shortly after her arrest in December to doing so to expose “war crimes”.

The Shin Bet claims that Mr Blau is holding hundreds of classified documents, including some reported to relate to Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s attack on Gaza in winter 2008 in which the army is widely believed to have violated the rules of war.

Other documents, the basis of a Haaretz investigation published in 2008, concern a meeting between the head of the army, Gabi Ashkenazi, and the Shin Bet in which it was agreed to ignore a court ruling and continue carrying out executions of Palestinian leaders in the occupied territories.

Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet, who has said his organisation was previously “too sensitive with the investigation”, is now demanding that Mr Blau reveal his entire document archive and take a lie-detector test on his return to identify his sources, according to Haaretz. The newspaper and its lawyers have recommended that he remain in hiding to protect his informants.

Haaretz has also revealed that, in a highly unusual move shortly before Israel’s attack on Gaza, it agreed to pull a printed edition after the army demanded at the last minute that one of Mr Blau’s stories not be published. His report had already passed the military censor, which checks that articles do not endanger national security.

Lawyers and human rights groups fear that the army and Shin Bet are trying to silence investigative journalists and send a warning to other correspondents not to follow in Mr Blau’s path.

“We have a dangerous precedent here, whereby the handing over of material to an Israeli newspaper … is seen by the prosecutor’s office as equivalent to contact with a foreign agent,” said Eitan Lehman, Ms Kamm’s lawyer. “The very notion of presenting information to the Israeli public alone is taken as an intention to hurt national security.”

The Shin Bet’s determination to arrest Mr Blau was revealed after a blanket gag order was lifted late last week on Ms Kamm’s case. She has been under house arrest since December. She has admitted copying hundreds of classified documents while serving in the office of Brig Gen Yair Naveh, in charge of operations in the West Bank, between 2005 and 2007.

Under an agreement with the Shin Bet last year, Haaretz and Mr Blau handed over 50 documents and agreed to the destruction of Mr Blau’s computer.

Both sides accuse the other of subsequently reneging on the deal: the Shin Bet says Mr Blau secretly kept other documents copied by Ms Kamm that could be useful to Israel’s enemies; while Mr Blau says the Shin Bet used the returned documents to track down Ms Kamm, his source, after assurances that they would not do so.

Haaretz said Mr Blau fears that they will try to identify his other informants if he hands over his archive.

Mr Blau learnt of his predicament in December, while out of the country on holiday. He said a friend called to warn that the Shin Bet had broken into his home and ransacked it. He later learnt they had been monitoring his telephone, e-mail and computer for many months.

In a move that has baffled many observers, the Shin Bet revealed last week that Mr Blau was hiding in London, despite the threat that it would make him an easier target for other countries’ intelligence agencies.

Amir Mizroch, an analyst with the right-wing Jerusalem Post newspaper, noted that it was as if Israel’s security services were “saying to Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian, Hizbullah and Iranian intelligence agents in London: ‘Yalla, be our guests, go get Uri Blau’.” He added that the real goal might be to flush out Mr Blau so that he would seek sanctuary at the Israeli embassy.

Ms Kamm is charged with espionage with intent to harm national security, the harshest indictment possible and one that could land in her jail for 25 years. Yesterday another of her lawyers, Avigdor Feldman, appealed to Mr Blau to return to Israel and give back the documents to help “minimise the affair”.

“The real question is whether this exceptionally heavy-handed approach is designed only to get back Kamm’s documents or go after Blau and his other sources,” said Jeff Halper, an Israeli analyst. “It may be that Kamm is the excuse the security services need to identify Blau’s circle of informants.”

Mr Blau has already published several stories, apparently based on Ms Kamm’s documents, showing that the army command approved policies that not only broke international law but also violated the rulings of Israel’s courts.

His reports have included revelations that senior commanders approved extra-judicial assassinations in the occupied territories that were almost certain to kill Palestinian bystanders; that, in violation of a commitment to the high court, the army issued orders to execute wanted Palestinians even if they could be safely captured; and that the defence ministry compiled a secret report showing that the great majority of settlements in the West Bank were illegal even under Israeli law.

Although the original stories date to 2008, the army issued a statement belatedly this week that Mr Blau’s reports were “outrageous and misleading”. No senior commanders have been charged over the army’s lawbreaking activities.

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, said its research had shown that “in many cases soldiers have been conducting themselves in the territories as if they were on a hit mission, as opposed to arrest operations”.

It added that the authorities had “rushed to investigate the leak and chose to ignore the severe suspicions of blatant wrongdoings depicted in those documents”.

A group of senior journalists established a petition this week calling for Mr Blau to be spared a trial: “So far, the authorities have not prosecuted journalists for holding secret information, which most of us have had in one form or another. This policy by the prosecution reflects, in our view, an imbalance between journalistic freedom, the freedom of expression and the need for security.”

However, media coverage of the case in Israel has been largely hostile. Yuval Elbashan, a lawyer, wrote in Haaretz yesterday that Mr Blau’s fellow military reporters and analysts had in the past few days abandoned their colleague and proven “their loyalty to the [security] system as the lowliest of its servants”.

One, Yossi Yehoshua, a military correspondent with the country’s largest-circulation newspaper, Yedioth Aharonoth, who is said to have been approached by Ms Kamm before she turned to Mr Blau, is due to testify against her in her trial due next month.

Chat forums and talkback columns also suggest little sympathy among the Israeli public for either Ms Kamm or Mr Blau. Several Hebrew websites show pictures of Ms Kamm behind bars or next to a hangman’s noose.

A report on Israel National News, a news service for settlers, alleged that Ms Kamm had been under the influence of “rabidly left-wing“ professors at Tel Aviv University when she handed over the documents to the Haaretz reporter.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

 

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

Stolen Docs Expose Israel War Crimes

April 13th, 2010 by Global Research

Former Israeli soldier Anat Kam says she has taken secret military documents as evidence of war crimes committed by Tel Aviv in the occupied West Bank. 

Kam, 23, is indicted for espionage over stealing 2,000 classified military documents during her compulsory military service and leaking them to Ha’aretz reporter Uri Blau. 

According to new details released of a court hearing held two months ago, Kam claimed that she took the military documents to present as evidence “if and when the war crime the IDF was and is committing in the West Bank” were to be investigated, Israeli media reported Monday. 

“I didn’t have the chance to change some of the things that I found important to change during my military service, and I thought that by exposing these [materials] I would make a change,” Ha’aretz quoted Kam as saying. 

“It was important for me to bring the IDF’s policy to public knowledge,” she added. 

Israel has decided to prosecute Kam on espionage charges, which carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. 

Her lawyers, however, said they have started negotiations over a plea bargain and called on the Ha’aretz reporter to hand over the documents he had received from Kam. 

In December 2007, the Palestinian National Authority (PA), in close consultation with donor states and institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, proposed the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan (PRDP), a program based on “rebuilding the Palestinian national institutions” and “developing the Palestinian public and private sectors.”[1] To augment this plan, the PA further presented in August of 2009 a program titled Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State, this latter program was much more explicit about a time frame for the declaration of a Palestinian state.[2] Salam Fayyad, current unelected PA Prime Minister and former World Bank employee, put forward this document (henceforth the Fayyad Plan) insisting that, despite the occupation, Palestinians need to be building the “infrastructure for a future state.” The report calls upon “our people, including all political parties and civil society, to realize this fundamental objective and unite behind the state-building agenda over the next two years.” Fayyad’s intention is to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state in 2011 based on the June 4, 1967 borders.

The importance of the PRDP is signaled by the fact that international aid to the PA is contingent on implementation. A specific bank account under the control of the World Bank was set up for this purpose. In the Canadian context, the Canadian International Development Aid (CIDA) website explains that “programming for the West Bank and Gaza is aligned with the requirements identified in the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan for 2008-2011.”[3]

Essentially, Fayyad’s PA must follow the dictates of the World Bank and Western powers to assure access to funds and, so far, they seem extremely willing to do so. The boycott of Hamas by Western powers (the Canadian state being the first to cut aid) and the siege on Gaza serve as an example to the West Bank PA leadership of what would await them if they stray from this model of state-building.

In an interview with Ma’an news in July 2009, Fayyad explained:

“The basic and fundamental objective is that two years from now, anyone, looking at us from any corner of the world … it will be very difficult for him or her not to conclude that Palestinians are indeed ready for statehood, and if the occupation is still around then, that will be the only thing that is abnormal and that needs to end.” 

Understanding the logic of the Fayyad Plan is critical to assessing the current state of the Palestinian struggle. Often the analytical emphasis is placed on Israeli action, while internal Palestinian politics are ignored. However, the shifts taking place within the Palestinian Occupied Territories such as the increased power of a Palestinian elite class, and the hand-picking of Fayyad to implement neoliberal reforms, are vital to understand because they pose significant obstacles to Palestinian prospects for self-determination.

‘Economic Development First’, Statehood Later

Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State is a 54 page report explaining Fayyad’s vision, peppered with every World Bank catch-phrase imaginable from “institution-building” to “efficiency” leading all the way to “human development.” Once the various layers of rhetoric are cleared, the basic idea is to have a fully functioning, neoliberal state apparatus in place before a Palestinian state is declared. Fayyad’s program completely adheres to the World Bank paradigm of fiscal austerity, open markets for foreign investment and an emphasis on export-led development.

The neoliberal vision espoused by Fayyad works in tandem with the Israeli government’s plans for Palestinians and integrates the Occupation in the planning for a future Palestinian state. It was Netanyahu who announced in 2008 his intention to “weave an economic peace alongside the political process which will give a stake in peace for the moderate elements in the Palestinian society.”[4] This “economic peace” is one that guarantees security and access to Palestinian markets to Israel – without the need to take any responsibility for the population.

It is important to note Salam Fayyad is not an elected Prime Minister, but was appointed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas (whose own term in office has been extended without elections). Fayyad’s first appointment, on 15 June 2007, was justified on the basis of “national emergency” after Hamas took over the Gaza strip. He has not been confirmed by the Palestinian Legislative Council, the Palestinian Authority’s Parliament. The neoliberal logic of the World Bank is not foreign to Fayyad. He was a World Bank employee from 1987–1995. He later was the IMF representative to the Palestinian National Authority until 2001. A good gauge of Fayyad’s popularity among Palestinians is the 2006 Palestinian Legislative elections where he ran for a new Party that he helped found called The Third Way. At the time he received less than 3% of the vote. Although many have challenged the legality of his position, he is the individual that Western powers have chosen to implement their plan for Palestinian ‘statehood.’ He has been showered with praise from various leaders, including Israeli President Shimon Peres who called him a “Palestinian Ben Gurion.”

The Fayyad Plan has gained tremendous support from the Western powers. Shortly after the plan’s publication the Obama Administration announced a $20-million grant to back the effort. Congress approved a $200-million deposit into the PA treasury. Since the treasury falls under Fayyad’s direct control he now has effective control over the West Bank economy and the political process. It is increasingly evident he is being groomed to take over from PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Fayyad is certainly a creative thinker. He has come up with a one-of-a-kind model for achieving statehood: instead of resisting the occupation, the focus is placed on building state institutions and a functional neoliberal economy. This will somehow make the occupying power grant Palestinians independence because they will realize that the colonized are civilized enough to have ‘good fiscal policy’ and an ‘efficient public sector.’

This of course begs the simple question: a state over what territories? With the continued building of settlements, with the apartheid wall and its network of Israeli-only roads – all that is left are Palestinian Bantustans. Fayyad’s plan does envision development in areas of the West Bank that Israel fully controls: how this will be achieved without Israeli approval is not explained. But, for the sake of argument, let us suspend the reality on the ground, pretend that there isn’t an occupation, and analyze the logic of this Fayyad PA vision.

Less Public Welfare, More ‘Security’

The Palestinian economy has been devastated by the continued Israeli occupation. Israeli control over borders and restriction on movement means that a viable Palestinian economy cannot grow. Israel has also worked diligently to replace Palestinian labour in its own markets with migrant labour so it could sever any reliance on Palestinian workers (as strikes were an effective form of resistance in the first Intifada). The PA, as it emerged after the Oslo Accords in 1994, was not designed to achieve economic independence from Israel by any means; rather, the agreements cemented Israeli control over the West Bank. In the 1994 Paris Protocol, for example, an economic agreement signed between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, the PA agreed to cede ultimate control over imports and exports to Israel. After the election of Hamas and the cutting of aid from donor countries – it became glaringly apparent that as an entity the PA is fully reliant on outside funding for its survival.

Any talk of economic development for the West Bank that enables Palestinians to survive the reality of Israeli closures and to become self-reliant in order to sustain the resistance and remain on the land, would be more than welcome. However, the Fayyad Plan has nothing to do with developing a sustainable Palestinian economy. The economic development model put forward in his program is a normalization model reliant upon persuading Israel and the international community that Palestinians could be both good trade partners and cheap labour.

More specifically, the Fayyad’s Plan is designed to cut-back public-sector spending on welfare and social needs, while simultaneously strengthening the security apparatus of the PA. One need only look at the economic reforms Fayyad’s PA has implemented thus far.

To illustrate, the World Bank presented in 2009 a progress report on the implementation of the PRDP titled, “A Palestinian State in Two Years: Intuitions for Economic Revival.” The report explains that one of the most important reforms the PA has implemented is to “control the public sector wage bill.” This component is essentially a wage freeze and slashing of the public sector, designed to “maintain the 2009 public sector wage bill in line with the 2009 annual budget and reduce the wage bill to less than 22 percent of GDP.”[5]

Another ‘reform’ is to “institute measures to increase collection of electricity bills from users and to continue to distribute at least 20,000 pre-paid electricity meters and reduce net lending to 6 percent of GDP.” This shift is designed to force a population – already impoverished due to the occupation – to live without electricity if they do not pay their bills. It is worth noting that the West Bank depends on the Israeli Electric Company (IEC) to supply the majority of its power through three substations located in the Ariel settlement, the Atarot industrial settlement and the area C region near Hebron.[6] Essentially, the PA is collecting the bills for the Israeli company. The fact that the power stations are also located inside illegal settlements, means that the program is de facto accepting that settlements will exist in the future Palestinian state.

The PA has also introduced pension reform, where they will adopt “an action plan to reduce PA short term pension liabilities and begin to implement the plan by including measures in the 2010 budget that will reduce PA pension liabilities and put the PA pension schemes gradually back on a path to ensure their financial sustainability.” This measure is designed to reduce the pensions they are paying out to people who used to work for the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority. Not only does this have a financial impact, but an accompanying political aim. The Fayyad government is forcing many members of the different factions (mainly Fatah with the largest share of PA jobs) to take their pensions in lump sums and leave their current posts. This is a political cleansing of the old guard of Fatah from the public sector, to be replaced by a younger generation of technocrats more in tune with World Bank standards.

The neoliberal program that the PA is pursuing thus promises severe cut backs to the social provisions of the authority. But, as with similar neoliberal programs around the world, this should not be interpreted as a cutback to the state itself. Concurrent with the slashing of social spending, the budget for the repressive arm of the state is skyrocketing. As the donors poured money into Fayyad’s plan, $109-million was committed in 2009 to finance an expanded training program for the PA security forces. These security forces have been under Fayyad’s control since 2005, supervised by U.S. Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton. To make the point that what’s being created is by no means an independent security force for a future sovereign state, all the new personnel are vetted by the Israeli secret security apparatus, the Shin Bet, before being able to join the force.

According to the World Bank report, of the 2,790 increase in employment in the Palestinian Authority in 2009, there was a 1,325 increase in members of the security forces. In other words, nearly half of the number of jobs created in the Palestinian Authority were in the security sector. Over the same period of time, the Ministry of Health lost 94 workers.

The same report stressed:

“Undoubtedly, one most important recent developments in the West Bank has been the continued improvement in the security situation. There have been few acts of large-scale violence in the past year and the PA is pushing forward with its efforts to professionalize its security forces and expand their operations throughout the West Bank. With the help of the office of the U.S. Security Coordinator under the leadership of Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, the PA has trained and equipped three new battalions of security forces and is currently training a fourth. These new forces have been deployed in cities like Jenin, Nablus, Bethlehem, Ramallah, and parts of Hebron.”[7]

In a speech to the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, Dayton explained:

“What we have created are new men … [men who] believe that their mission is to build a Palestinian state … Upon the return of these new men of Palestine, they have shown motivation, discipline and professionalism, and they have made such a difference – and I am not making this up – that senior IDF commanders ask me frequently: ‘how many more of these new Palestinians can you generate, and how quickly, because they are our way to leave the West Bank’.”[8]

In short, the Dayton-led security plan is designed to assist the Israeli military in controlling the population without a direct physical presence in Palestinian towns and villages. The training for this force includes a four-month program at the Jordanian International Police Training Center, staffed by U.S. and Jordanian personnel (interestingly Jordan has become a base for training different security forces across the region, the main one being the Iraqi security forces). Dayton explained that “the U.S.-developed curriculum focuses on human rights, proper use of force, riot control, civil disturbances, unit cohesion, and leadership.”

There have been numerous reports of full security cooperation between the Israeli military and Fayyad’s Dayton-trained forces. Recently, when there were calls for demonstrations in the West Bank against settlement activities in Jerusalem, the PA police warned that no demonstrations would be allowed without permits. The idea of a population under occupation seeking permits from its own (non-elected) authorities to demonstrate against the occupiers speaks volumes to the nature and function of the PA.

The main security challenge Dayton boasts about in his speech though is Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s brutal war against the population in Gaza. Hamas had called for ‘days of rage’ across the West Bank during the war, but “the professionalism and competence of the new security forces guaranteed a measured and disciplined approach. They allowed demonstrations but prevented them from becoming violent, keeping the protesters away from Israelis.” Dayton continues that “the IDF even felt comfortable enough to deploy major units away from the West Bank in order to help in Gaza.” Dayton, was frank when speaking to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, that it is an international team leading the effort to build these security forces. He explained that “its ongoing work in the Israeli-Palestinian arena has been shaped by significant contributions from Canada, the United Kingdom, and Turkey.” The Canadian role, in particular, is disturbing, aside from recently shifting aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to the Palestinian Authority for the purpose of strengthening the PA position, according to Dayton “the Canadian contingent – which includes highly proficient Arabic linguists – travels about the West Bank freely” and their work is invaluable to the mission.

Trade Cooperation and Border Management

Explicit in Fayyad’s economic development program is an emphasis on setting up the West Bank infrastructure for trade with Israel. The World Bank report on the Fayyad Plan is very clear about this point, noting that “for the recent upturn in the West Bank economy to translate into a sustained economic recovery, the relaxation of movement and access restrictions within the West Bank must be supplemented by further opening that allows a vigorous revival of Palestinian trade with Israel and the rest of the world.”[9]

From its side, Israel has completed construction of six commercial crossings between Israel and the West Bank. Almost all Palestinian commercial goods are required to be shipped through these crossings using a ‘back-to-back system.’ The World Bank goes on to say that “cooperation between the Government of Israel and the PA is critical in order for the PA to establish a presence at the borders of the West Bank and Gaza to ensure that it captures a high proportion of what is owed in value added tax and import duties.”[10] Part of increasing ‘fiscal sustainability,’ according to the report, is the PA’s ability to collect domestic tax revenues for the future Palestinian state.

The absurdity of the situation becomes even clearer. The World Bank continues on to say that the “PA is currently moving to establish a competent border management system that can be put in place at the commercial crossings and the borders of the future state.” The PA has even formed a border management authority. As a dependent economy, the Palestinian Authority will be reliant on imports from Israel in order to sustain itself. The role of the PA will not be to control its borders, but to ‘manage’ them. At the same time – because once a state is declared and ‘peace’ is achieved, normal trade relations would commence between Israel, the PA and the rest of the Arab World – the PA-controlled West Bank state becomes an entry point for Israeli goods into the rest of the Arab world.

In this way, the Fayyad Plan is nothing but a normalization mechanism, that evades the political and social conditions of the Occupation. It is a preparatory stage for establishing proper trade routes between Israel and the rest of the Arab world.

What Kind of State?

There is a growing consensus among the major powers around establishing a Palestinian state. In his speech in Cairo in June 2009, Obama was clear about his objectives:

“the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. That is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest, and the world’s interest…now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people.”[11]

Money has been dedicated to this project and ‘moderate’ Palestinians have been chosen in order to achieve this goal. While Israel has spoken out against unilateral declaration of a state, they, too, are happy to see an ‘economic peace’ with Palestinians that guarantees them the territories and their resources without having to govern the people.

The real issue is what kind of state is being put forward? Looking at any other Arab dictatorship gives a strong indication of what awaits Palestinians if such a state is declared: failed economies, mired in debt to western powers and the World Bank, with enormous security apparatuses to keep the ‘peace.’

The Fayyad Plan, instead of challenging the occupation, seeks to integrate its policies and infrastructure into a future state. Fayyad’s effort to create normal economic life in the West Bank compliments the vision of the Israeli state. It is aimed at silencing Palestinians with employment in a setting of economic desperation (within joint Israel/PA industrial zones) and no real national self-determination.

The Palestinian struggle for liberation, however, has never been an issue of simply statehood. The Palestinian struggle is an anti-colonial, anti-racist one seeking justice for an indigenous population that was ethnically cleansed from their land in 1948. In all these discussions about a state, the right of return of Palestinian refugees is sidelined. In PA documents, there is now only a referral to a ‘just solution,’ and not a ‘right of return.’ Any proposed state or entity for Palestinians that actually ignores the majority of the Palestinian population, namely the refugees, cannot be a basis for a just peace. This proposed state also does not address the discrimination that is faced by Palestinian citizens of Israel. Some will claim that demanding the right of return or equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel is utopian, and that Palestinians should accept whatever they are being offered because of the so-called ‘consensus of the international community.’ What fuels anti-colonial movements though is not an acceptance of what colonizers have to offer – rather a defiance to demand the seemingly impossible and to fight for it.

While there is an attempt to narrow the Palestinian struggle to an issue of building state-institutions in the West Bank (while Gaza remains under a brutal siege), the Palestinian-led Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement speaks to the unity of the Palestinian nation. The BDS campaign demands rights for Palestinian refugees, those living under occupation in the WB and Gaza, and Palestinian citizens of Israel. We are witnessing the emergence of a Palestinian alternative to the failed paradigm of normalization and neoliberal development that has come to animate the PA. It will take some time for this new vision to crystallize, especially when the traditional Palestinian left is at its weakest point historically and seemingly more invested in being the go-between for Hamas and Fatah than in being an alternative voice in the Palestinian political arena. However, slowly but surely, new political formations are emerging calling for a return to the basic tenets of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.

The normalization process embedded in the Fayyad Plan stand in stark contrast to the growing BDS movement. On the one hand, Palestinian grassroots movements are asking the world to boycott Israel until it complies with international law. On the other, Fayyad promotes the normalization of relations with Israel. It is important to stress here that the BDS campaign did not come out of thin air – there is a strong history of anti-normalization activity within Palestinian society. The BDS campaign is not ‘leaderless’ – it has a basis and structures within the Occupied Territories in the Boycott National Committee (BNC). It is certainly a young movement attempting to build some coherence within Palestinian ranks after the utter confusion of the so-called Oslo peace process. It must be supported, not simply from a solidarity framework, but as part of the global struggle against neoliberal hegemony.

The Fayyad Plan for ‘economic development’ currently faces the same problem Israel has faced for years: the Palestinian people. No matter how hard the Palestinian Authority has tried, it is difficult to sell Palestinians this idea of a truncated state. It is easy for Palestinians living in the West Bank to understand, just from looking out their windows, that Israel is creating facts on the ground that make a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders impossible.

Of course, there are those benefiting from neoliberal changes to the economy who will say that under Fayyad there is ‘order’ and he is building ‘infrastructure for a future state.’ They will boast about the drivers on the streets of Ramallah now wearing seat belts. Yes, our Bantustan warden comes in World Bank garb and insists on ‘order’ within the confines of our ever-shrinking ghetto. But he remains an appointed prison warden, there to manage the implementation of Apartheid. And if Palestinian history tells us anything – it is that those who give up on basic Palestinian rights have a tendency to be ousted by the people. •

Rafeef Ziadah is a founding member of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA) in Toronto and an organizer of Israeli Apartheid Week. Her latest CD, “Hadeel,” can be heard and purchased at www.rafeefziadah.ca.

 
 

Notes

1. For the full report see: www.mop-gov.ps/issues_details.php?pid=17

2. Wafa Palestinian News Agency published full report at: english.wafa.ps/?action=detail&id=12943

3. CIDA, West Bank Page: www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/acdi-cida/acdi-cida.nsf/eng/JUD-124144933-R9J

4. In the article “Netanyahu: Economics, not politics, is the key to peace” Raphael Ahren. Haaretz Nov 21, 2008.

5. World Bank Report: A Palestinian State in Two Years: Institutions for Economic Revival Economic Monitoring Report to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee. September 22, 2009. p.15.

6. For a good overview on this and other joint PA/Israel initiatives see Stop the Wall, “Development or normalization? A critique of West Bank development approaches and projects” at www.stopthewall.org.

7. World Bank Report: A Palestinian State in Two Years. p. 21

8. Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, Michael Stein Address on U.S. Middle East Policy, Program of the SOREF Symposium, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 7 May 2009.

9. World Bank Report: A Palestinian State in Two Years. p. 25

10. World Bank Report: A Palestinian State in Two Years. p. 25

11. Full speech at www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-at-Cairo-University-6-04-09

Kyrgyzstan: Another Colour Revolution Bites the Dust

April 13th, 2010 by Eric Walberg

The pretense that a president of a modest country like Kyrgyzstan can play in big league politics is shed with the ouster of the tulip revolutionary president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, after last week’s riots in the capital Bishkek that left 81 dead and government buildings and Bakiyev’s various houses trashed. 

Bakiyev tried to have the best of both big power worlds, last year brashly threatening to close the US airbase, vital to the war in Afghanistan, after signing a cushy aid deal with Russia, and then reversed himself when the US agreed to more than triple the rent to $60 million a year and kick in another $100m in aid. As a result he lost the trust of both, and found himself bereft when the going got tough last week, as riots exactly like those that swept him to power erupted.

It was the US that was there in 2005 to help him usher in a new era of democracy and freedom, the “Tulip Revolution”, but this time, it was Russia who was there to help the interim government coalition headed by opposition leader and former foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva pick up the pieces. As Otunbayeva looks to Kyrgyzstan’s traditional support for help extricating itself from a potential failed-state situation, cowed and frightened US strategists are already advocating trying to convince the Russians that the US has no long-term plans for the region, and that they can work together. Recognising the obvious, writes Eric McGlinchey in the New York Times, “ Kyrgyzstan is in Russia’s backyard, and the fact that we depend on our airbase there for our Afghan war doesn’t change that. Presenting a united front with Russia, however, would help Washington keep its air base and avoid another bidding war.”

This coup follows the same logic as the more dignified rejection of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in February, and has given a new lease on life to Georgian opposition politicians, who vow they will follow the Kyrgyz example if their rose revolutionary president continues to persecute them and spout his anti-Russian venom. Indeed, the whole US strategy in ex-Sovietistan seems to be unraveling, with Uzbekistan still out in the cold for its extreme human rights abuses, and the recent inauguration in February of Turkmenistan’s new gas pipeline to China.

Reversing Bakiyev’s flip-flop, Otunbayeva first indicated the US base would remain open, then hours later, sent shock waves through the US political establishment by reversing herself and saying it would be closed “for security reasons”. The agreement was renewed last June and is due for renewal in July this year. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton immediately telephoned Otunbayeva and sent Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake to Bishkek, who announced with relief that the base would remain open after all.

But, unlike Bakiyev, Otunbayeva is no crafty politician out to fill her and her family’s pockets. While the former put his son Maxim in charge of negotiating the lucrative rental deal with the Americans last year (just where did the $160m go?) and set him up as head of the new national Central Agency for Development, Investment, and Innovation, Otunbayeva is above the corrupt clan-based politics of her predecessors. A graduate of Moscow State University and former head of Kyrgyz State National University philosophy faculty, she was foreign minister under both Askar Akayev and Bakiyev. She served as the first Kyrgyz ambassador to the US and Canada, and later the UK, and in 2007, was elected to parliament on the candidate list of the Social Democratic Party, becoming head of the opposition SDP in October 2009.

She visited Moscow twice this year, in January and March, and has forged close links with the United Russia Party. Her first formal talks as interim president were with Putin. Her flop-flip rather reflects the serious strain that the pushy US has put on Kyrgyz society, which until 9/11 was a sleep backwater which admired and was grateful to Russia for its security and economic well-being. There can be no doubt that the Kyrgyz people would much prefer good relations with Russia than the US. The base has provided nothing to the surrounding community except for the transitting soldiers’ purchase of alcohol and their soliciting of prostitutes.

For all his antidemocratic behaviour, Bakiyev’s threat to close the base last year was in response to public pressure. Locals were furious that a US solider killed an unarmed Kyrgyz outside the base and was whisked back to the US without any repercussions, much like the recently exposed case of US soldiers in a helicopter who gunning down two unarmed Reuters news staff in Baghdad, but who were cleared by a military investigation. This resentment and the instability it encourages are what Otunbayeva was alluding to in her terse phrase “security reasons”.

So, the question on everyone’s lips: did Russia pull the strings this time, tit for tat? True, there was little love lost between Putin and Bakiyev after the latter reneged on his promise to close the American base last year. Bakiyev’s erratic behaviour in the past two years certainly irritated the Russians. Apart from the issue of the US base, ties between the Kremlin and Bakiyev’s government had deteriorated sharply in recent months, in part because of the government’s increasingly anti-Russian stance, including the blocking of Russian-language websites and increased discrimination facing Russian businessmen. Coincidentally, Russia imposed duties on energy exports to Kyrgyzstan on 1 April.

When Otunbayeva suggested the base would be closed, there were cries that the Kremlin was behind the coup. But this speculation was nixed by Obama himself. “The people that are allegedly running Kyrgyzstan … these are all people we’ve had contact with for many years. This is not some anti-American coup, that we know for sure,” assured Michael McFaul, Obama’s senior director for Russian affairs, as Obama and Medvedev were smiling for the cameras in Prague in their nuclear disarmament moment. He also dismissed the immediate assumption that it was “some sponsored-by-the-Russians coup,” claiming — appropriately for the occasion — that cooperation over Kyrgyzstan was another sign of improved US-Russia relations.

Diligence LLC analyst Nick Day, “Russia is going to dominate Kyrgyzstan and that means problems for the US.” Yes, and so what? Russia is just a heart-beat away from events throughout the ex-Soviet Union by definition. Russians and Russian-sympathisers come with the territory. In early March, a member of the Council of Elders and head of the Pensioners’ Party, Omurbek Umetaliev, said, “We believe it is unacceptable to allow the existence on this limited territory of military bases from two leading world powers, which have conflicting positions on many issues of international politics. Although the presence of a Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan is historically justified, the military presence of the US and NATO countries is a threat to our national interests.”

True, even the threat to close the base is a blow to US imperial strategy in Eurasia, especially its surge in Afghanistan, which would be seriously jeopardised without its Manas air base. The US resupplies 40 per cent of forward operating bases in Afghanistan by air because the Taliban control the main roads. 1,500 US troops transit Manas each day — 50,000 in the past month, with 1,200 permanently stationed there. Because of attacks on its supply convoys travelling through Pakistan, the Pentagon wants to shift much of its resupply effort to its new Northern Distribution Network, which runs through Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Paul Quinn-Judge, Central Asia director of the International Crisis Group — reporting from Manas — said the fear was that such stepped-up US shipping will lead to attacks by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Islamic Jihad Union, groups which have a loyal following in the restive Ferghana valley, which is divided among those very Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and has witnessed more than one uprising in the recent past.  “The problem with the Northern Distribution Network is obvious,” Quinn-Judge says. “It turns Central Asia into a part of the theatre of war.”

Confusion over the status of the US base will be top on United States President Barack Obama’s crammed agenda now and he would do well to look further than the next wilted flower coup. “In Kyrgyzstan there should be only one base — Russian,” a senior Russian official told reporters icily in Prague. “Russia will use this as a lever in negotiations with America,” frets Day.

But another way to look at this is that this is a golden opportunity for Obama to definitively reverse the cowboy politics of Bush and the neocons, to build some real bridges with Russia, the country which will remain vital to Kyrgyzstan whatever geopolitical phantasms Washington has in mind. The delicious irony in the Kyrgyz coup is that as Medvedev and Obama were posing in Prague, where Russia basically acceded to US missile defence diktat, geopolitical inertia in Kyrgyzstan was doing Russia’s work for it, scuttling US Eurasian plans, and putting the cards back in Russia’s hands.

And what is this nonsense about how “vital” this base is to the US? It’s been there ten years. Just how long does it expect to stay? Could the answer be “For ever”? The current Kyrgyz line is that the agreement will be reviewed to make sure it isn’t “against the interests of the people or for bribes”, government spokesman Almazbek Atambayev said after a visit to Moscow. “The United States plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan next year. We will approach the transit centre issue in a civilised way and resolve it with the US leadership.” So the US probably has another year there with grudging Russian approval. 

Voluntarily leaving next summer would be the best advertisement to the world, and Russia in particular, that Obama represents a new, less belligerent US. The writing is on the wall: it is only a matter of months, a year at most, till Manas becomes a Russian base, and the sooner the US accepts the obvious, the better. Both Moscow and Washington have a common goal to preserve stability in the region, and given Moscow’s acquiesence to US-NATO transit of its territory to service the war in Afghanistan, this would automatically extend to a now-respectful US’s use of the soon-to-be Russian base in Manas.  

Already the echoes of post-Vietnam realism in US politics, detente with the “enemy”, can be detected in McFaul’s words. This was the last period when a subdued US pursued sensible, even peaceful, foreign policies, having accepted defeat in its criminal war against Vietnam, culminating in the push by Carter to force the Israelis to withdraw from Sinai and make peace, however grudging, with at least one neighbour. The world could do with more Kyrgyz coups.

Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/ You can reach him athttp://ericwalberg.com/

Latvia’s Cruel Neoliberal Experiment

April 13th, 2010 by Michael Hudson

Latvia is being devastated by two global wars. On the geopolitical front is the Cold War’s coup de grâce. Neoliberals have managed to de-industrialize Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union, persuading parliaments to dismantle government support for economic renewal. The “Washington Consensus” has backed a policy of giving away public enterprises and land to a newly minted oligarchy of insiders, and helped them sell shares to Western investors. The ensuing economic wreckage has helped avert future military rivalry to U.S. hegemony.

Western investors are waging their own social war of finance and property against labor. Initiated by the Chicago Boys in Chile in 1973, sponsored in Britain by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives after 1979 and by Ronald Reagan’s Republicans in the United States after 1980, this class war was capped by “Rubinomics” under Bill Clinton and the Democrats after 1992. Rejecting the classical distinction between earned income (wages and profits) and unearned income (economic rent, financial charges and land-price gains or other asset-price gains), this global war seeks to rationalize privatization of the land and key resources of the former Soviet Union and China as well as those in Third World debtor countries. Its aim is to roll back a century of Progressive Era regulatory reforms and taxation of rentier wealth. So over and above being on the losing side in this victory over Communism, Latvia has been swept up in this war of oligarchy against democracy.

Western Europe has viewed the post-Soviet economies as markets for its surplus exports (especially those subsidized by the Common Agricultural Policy) and bank credit. The last thing the West wants is to help potential competitors develop in the way that it has developed itself – by protectionist tariffs, public subsidy of industry and agriculture, infrastructure spending, social-democratic regulation, and progressive taxation. The strategy is for global conglomerates to buy up property (with tax-deductible credit), while European banks extend loans to fuel debt bubbles. This policy has left the Baltics and other post-Soviet countries economically dependent beyond their ability to pay down the debts they have run up so rapidly over the past decade.

From time immemorial, wealth has borne an obligation to support overall social welfare. But over the past few decades the vested interests have refined their strategy for reversing this principle. Led by financial lobbyists, they have sponsored a campaign to shift the tax burden off real estate and monopolies onto labor, privatize the public domain and break free of public regulation to extract rents and fees without constraint. The result is a change in the direction in which Western civilization has been moving for centuries.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Union (EU) are key players in this about-face. They demand that governments impose austerity plans, scaling back employment and public spending on such basic necessities as schools and hospitals, and selling off public assets and enterprises to pay creditors. This extractive effort has polarized economies. Creditors have backed politicians pledged to rewrite the tax laws, deregulate government oversight, and to bail out banks (even foreign banks) with public funds when loans go bad, as they must do as the debt overhead shrinks economies.

Latvia and its Baltic neighbors are victims of this counter-revolution. Since dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 they have been used as a laboratory to break from liberal European tradition. For starters, a radical tax policy (a heavy flat tax on labor, almost none on property) has replaced the tradition of progressive taxation. A philosophy of privatization with no recapture of the rental value created by public investment and general prosperity has replaced the tradition of a mixed economy, while financial policy encourages borrowing in foreign currency despite local income being in domestic currency.

Finally, there is no “public option” in the form of basic infrastructure, banking or other natural or legal monopolies. Nor is there public regulation to keep prices in line with actual costs of production. Instead, neoliberals have disabled Latvia’s government and turned the economy over to foreign owners, creditors and suppliers. This policy drains the economic surplus, while foreign economies also receive Latvia’s labor and flight capital unable to find employment at home.

As a result of this policy, the nations that dominated Latvia in past centuries by military power are now doing so financially, as illustrated by its recent capitulation to European Union and IMF loan conditions. This war against the post-Soviet economies imposes economic austerity similar to the dictates the IMF has imposed on Third World countries for the past half-century. The result is debt peonage and neofeudal privileges creating dependent “tollbooth economies.”

No countries outside of the post-Soviet sphere have tried such an experiment. It aims at testing how far an economy can be depressed before its population dies off or emigrates. What is so remarkable is that this is being done in the name of free markets, and even in the name of Adam Smith. Yet Smith and other classical economists defined free markets as ones free of land rent, monopoly rent and financial overhead. They developed classical value and price theory as a tool to endorse taxing this unearned income, which they deemed to be unnecessary charges in excess of cost-value, headed by land rent.

Economic rent is the proverbial free lunch: income without a corresponding cost of production. Instead of taxing away this “empty” pricing without cost value, the flat tax is levied on labor, and the value-added tax to the sale of consumer goods. These taxes raise the cost of living and doing business, making Latvia’s labor and industry uncompetitive. Rather than taxing the land’s site rent to minimize the cost of living and doing business by holding down property prices, and rather than limiting the prices that monopolies can charge, “neoliberal” policy has forced the economy into deepening trade and debt dependency on foreign countries to finance the chronic structural trade deficit that this policy has caused.

Latvian faces the problem of how to earn the foreign exchange to pay the foreign-currency debts it has taken on, and how to pay for the imports on which its open economy, high flat tax on employment and dismantling of government support have left it dependent.

What has financed Latvia’s trade deficit and rising foreign debt service has been mortgage credit borrowed in foreign currency. Some 87 percent of real estate mortgages are reported to be in euros and other foreign currencies, mainly from Swedish banks and their affiliates. These lenders have not asked how this debt can be repaid. The price of this irresponsibility no doubt will be to suffer defaults that threaten to wipe out their own capital.

Latvia’s neoliberal planners also have been remiss. Their policy of financing a trade deficit by borrowing against property already in place (rather than to invest in new means of production to increase exports or displace imports) could last only as long as property prices kept on rising and sufficient rental income remained unpledged to pay debt service. Mortgage borrowers turned over this currency to the central bank, which used it to cover domestic spending on imports. But this situation could last only as long as the real estate bubble was expanding. But since the financial and real estate bubble burst, foreign bank lending has dried up. The currency is now being supported by borrowing from foreign official agencies – on destructive terms that direct Latvia to shrink its economy even more! This shrinkage makes Latvia even more dependent on foreigners for its imports, and indeed for employment.

So how is the economy to recover? Neoliberals have no answer. The culmination of what they call “free market” doctrine (a travesty of what “free markets” meant to Adam Smith) is to centralize planning in the hands of creditors: the European Union, IMF and Scandinavian bank lobbyists on behalf whose creditor interests the prime minister and central bank heads have represented as against those of indebted Latvians. This is the function of neoliberal policy, after all: to shift planning out of the hands of elected officials (economic democracy) into those of the financial sector (oligarchy), mediated by international financial agencies (dollar hegemony).

This cruel experiment must end. Latvia must escape the economic and demographic death spiral into which its politicians have steered it. By indebting Latvia to foreign creditors beyond its ability to pay – and crippling its competitiveness with a regressive flat tax – neoliberal “reform” (more accurately, a reaction against the 20th century’s Progressive Era reforms) is causing emigration and social collapse. It is time for Latvia to rejoin the course along which Western civilization has been traveling for the past eight centuries and reject the road to debt peonage and neoserfdom.  

Latvia’s radical flat-tax experiment

Every Western economy has financed in public education, transportation and other infrastructure investment first and foremost by a property tax, followed by a progressive income tax that initially fell on the highest wealth brackets. In the United States the original 1913 income tax required only the wealthiest 1 percent of the population to file tax returns. Capital gains were taxed at the same rate as wages and profits, on the logic that the effect of a capital gain is the same as earning income: both served to increase net worth.

Fighting back, the rentier classes have spent nearly a century trying to reverse progressive taxation. The fiscal shift onto labor has been promoted by financial investors and property owners seeking to avoid their traditional fiscal obligations. Capital gains in the United States (mainly price increases for land sites) are now taxed at only half the rate levied on earned income. Many countries do not collect such taxes at all, or enable them to be easily avoided. Labor pays a regressive concealed tax in the form of paycheck withholding for Social Security and medical insurance, whose costs are removed from the general budget where they would fall on the higher tax brackets. (Higher-earning managers are exempted from these taxes.)

At the state and local level, property taxes have been gradually but steadily replaced by income and sales taxes falling on labor and consumers. This has caused a tax squeeze that has forced cutbacks in public services, reversing the funding of local prosperity. Counter-intuitive as it may seem, high tax rates and protective tariffs tend to go hand in hand with high growth rates – as long as the tax revenue is invested in infrastructure and other economic support. In recent American and British economic history, periods of relatively high income tax rates have also been those with the highest-growth rates and least finally polarized imbalance.

The reason is easy to understand. Whatever rental revenue the tax collector relinquishes is available to be pledged to banks as debt service on loans to buy property. Homeowners thus end up paying the bankers the income that they used to pay in taxes. But the government for its part still have has to raise tax revenue, which is levied on wage income and consumption. Housing prices rise in proportion to the tax burden being shifted off property onto employees.

Until the 1990s no economy ever had sought so radical a counter-reform as to abolish the property tax. It would seem at first glance that no democracy would vote for an anti-labor tax as extreme as that with which Latvia and other post-Soviet economies have saddled themselves. In the United States in 2000 a billionaire right-wing Republican candidate, Steve Forbes, was laughed out of the presidential primaries for proposing a flat tax. In Western Europe such a tax would run against democratic tradition. But it is no laughing matter in the Baltics. This seemingly anti-democratic situation has been maintained by misrepresenting the tax as efficient rather than destructive of the domestic market.

So the first Latvian experiment was how to persuade the country to adopt this tax policy and keep it in place, while leaving real estate and wealth virtually untaxed. In the face of the rising tide of indebtedness and emigration, the second stage of this experiment was to see how far this policy could shrink the economy without voters demanding a change. No one can know the answer until voters actually push back by electing a party or coalition with a less corrosive policy.

  

The American Economy of High Wages doctrine vs. Latvia’s low-wage policy

Latvia’s high tax on labor is averse to the rise labor productivity that requires rising living standards, educational levels and health as a precondition. The nation’s anti-labor policy is antithetical to that of every economy that has achieved world-class industrial status. The U.S. economy, for example, built itself up not by grinding down its wages to compete with Britain and other industrial nations, but by just the opposite strategy. The American System of Political Economy, wrote E. Peshine Smith in 1852, rests “upon the belief, that in order to make labor cheap, the laborer must be well-fed, well-clothed, well-lodged, well instructed, not only in the details of his handicraft, but in all general knowledge that can in any way be made subsidiary to it. All these cost money to the employer and repay it with interest.”[1]

This became U.S. development policy after the Civil War (1861-65) freed the nation from Southern anti-industrial trade policy. Undertaking a study of international wage and productivity comparisons in 1884, the U.S. Deptartment of Labor concluded: “It is not by reducing wages that America is making her conquests, “but by her superior organization, greater efficiency of labor consequent upon the higher standard of living ruling in the country. … High-priced labor countries are everywhere beating ‘pauper-labor’ countries.”[2]

Latvia has achieved the worst of both worlds. It has raised the price of its labor by levying a higher flat tax on employment than is found in any other country (over 50% from the combination of social tax, employer tax an wage tax), while leaving employees with too little disposable income to raise their productivity to Western European standards. Cutbacks in public spending on education and public health shift the economic burden further onto labor, leaving an economy in which only the very rich are able to survive. This is why so much of Latvia’s working-age population has emigrated or plans to leave. Without reversing this austerity policy toward its labor force and improving workplace conditions, Latvia will suffer further capital flight and emigration, and its trade deficit will deepen.

  

Latvia’s radical privatization policy

Western Europe’s and North America’s investment in public infrastructure has provided their economies with a head start. Failure to invest – or to do so on a privatized basis – results in higher costs. Neoliberal privatization thus put the post-Soviet economies at a cost disadvantage. The Washington Consensus has had the effect of “pulling up the ladder,” preventing Central Europe and other post-Soviet regions from catching up to become serious competitors with the West.

Latvia’s leaders have told voters that public enterprise is antithetical to private enterprise. But what they are criticizing is Soviet bureaucratic planning. They miss the more successful American and Western European social democratic tradition of public enterprise, and indeed leave out the long sweep of the history of civilization itself. It is now recognized that every commercial and entrepreneurial practice known today, ranging from the development of money and coinage, standardized quality, weights and measures, pricing and the charging of interest to profit-sharing commercial contracts and partnership arrangements, were developed in the temples and palaces of Sumer, Babylonia and their Near Eastern neighbors as early as the Bronze Age, 3200-1200 BC. The private sector adopted these techniques, starting with members of the palace bureaucracy acting on their own account. Privatization of credit and other basic infrastructure – and governorship of provinces under the Romans – created social imbalance as creditor oligarchies gained power and disabled royal checks and balances.[3]

Near Eastern rulers proclaimed Clean Slates to annul the overgrowth of debts that polarized society between creditors and debtors. These royal debt cancellations contained three basic dimensions: a wipeout of personal and consumer debts (but not commercial business debts); liberation of individuals pledged as bondservants to creditors; and a return of land and crop rights to the debtors, to free the land from creditor claims on its usufruct.[4]

Every successful economy in history has been a mixed public/private symbiosis. America’s first professor of economics at the nation’s first business school – Simon Patten at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business – explained that public infrastructure and enterprise is a “fourth” factor of production. It differs from labor, capital and land in that its aim is not to obtain income. Labor earns wages, capital earns profits and land receives rent, but the aim of public enterprise is to minimize the economy’s cost structure – the price of living and doing business. Public enterprise operates on a break-even level to provide essential services at cost (in the case of the post office), at subsidized rates (health care, research and development patents, and phone and broadcasting systems) or even freely (roads, public education, police and fire departments). Likewise, a classical tax system is levied on the land’s site rent so as to avoid avoiding taxes that raise the price of labor and capital, while preventing this rent from being capitalized into bank mortgages that raise the price of housing and commercial real estate.

Privatization raises the price of doing business, by charging fees to cover the payout of profits and dividends, interest and other financial fees, soaring management salaries and bonuses, and stock options. The aim of privatizers is to make gains by rent extraction, turning the economy into a conglomeration of tollbooths charging access fees. Outsiders borrow money from banks to buy the privatized infrastructure and raise access fees all the more – gaining support from the financial lobby by becoming one of the largest markets, inasmuch as public infrastructure is the largest capital investment in most economies and hence the largest bank market.

Appropriators of natural monopolies and other public enterprises translate their economic gains into political influence to free themselves from taxes and disable price regulation and anti-monopoly laws. Their idea of a “free market” is to shift the tax burden onto labor, off themselves and their special privileges – and off the interest charges paid to banks for the purchase of such privileges. The aim is to leave the maximum amount of revenue “free” to be paid to high finance.

History’s greatest fortunes have been carved out of the public domain, often by military conquest and more peacefully by political insider dealing. What distinguishes recent privatization is the role played by the financial sector, acting internationally. Revenue from privatized property rights is capitalized into financial securities and bank loans, on a scale large enough to drive a global stock market boom highlighted by post-Soviet stock markets and real estate. The tragedy of our time is that this financing and debt leveraging has been managed in a predatory and extractive way – by loading existing assets down with debt and financial claims without creating new means of production, export earnings or other means to pay.

From the 1950s through the 1970s the World Bank headed financial consortia lending to Third World governments to build roads and ports, power plants and other infrastructure – mainly the “external” costs of foreign-owned raw materials production. The financial sector and its clients got rich on extending credit for these projects. Then, in the 1980s, they made yet bigger fortunes selling off this public capital. From Britain to Latin America, public infrastructure and government enterprises were the largest asset category apart from real estate. Global bankers and financial institutions made money twice, first by funding this investment and then transferring it into public hands on credit, mainly by leveraged buyouts and the subsequent flurry of mergers and acquisitions.

For many decades privatization was imposed mainly on debt-strapped Third World economies forced to relinquish their policy-making power to the IMF and World Bank. But the Baltics had no debt at all when they emerged from the Soviet Union. All the post-Soviet economies were debt free – and had no property claims. Yet instead of becoming the most competitive economies in the world, they succumbed voluntarily to Western European bankers loading their economies down with debt, and to investment advisors telling them to create and give away property rights to insiders. The latter then were advised as to how to sell large chunks to Western money managers, turning the subject post-Soviet economies into the world’s leading stock market vehicles. Instead of advising these economies to build themselves up the way that North America and Western Europe had done, by public investment in infrastructure to minimize the cost of living and doing business, the Washington Consensus dictated the creation and sell-off of rent extraction privileges.

This was by applied with almost religious fervor – or more accurately, a superstitious enthusiasm best characterized as neoliberal cultism. Russia’s central bank even paid 100% interest for U.S. dollar loans to needlessly back its own domestic currency issue – only to have this borrowing siphoned off and dissipated subsidizing capital flight to the West, in a flood estimated at $25 billion annually for over a decade! The myth that domestic currency had to be backed by foreign exchange – as under the old gold standard – was bought as if it were a religious teaching from on high, not a ploy to stymie and stifle Russian development.

Latvia’s experiment in free-trade dependency

All the leading industrial and financial economies, from Britain in the 17th century to the United States after 1860 (when its Civil War freed the country from Southern anti-industrial trade policy), Germany and France, Japan and modern China have built up their industry and agriculture – and hence their foreign trade, which in turn has made them financial powerhouses – by means of protective tariffs, subsidies and public infrastructure.

Agricultural protectionism has been particularly successful in the United States (based on the Agricultural Adjustment Acts of 1933 and 1938, supported by import quotas and systemic opposition to Third World food independence) and the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Price supports for crops have enabled farmers to invest in capital and increase farm productivity as sustained as that in manufacturing. This protectionist policy has made crop exports the mainstay of the U.S. trade balance, while European protectionism likewise has produced rising farm surpluses.

Rolling back tariffs and other taxes makes countries less competitive by slowing capital investment, blocking their rise in living standards and productivity. Their lead in protectionist policy has enabled the most developed nations to benefit from capital flight and emigration from countries that have failed to achieve a mixed economy. The resulting fiscal deficits have forced governments into debt, increasingly to foreigners. Their loss of autonomy has enabled the industrial, agricultural and creditor bloc to operate via the IMF and EU and demand austerity that makes indebted “free market” economies even less competitive, locking them into an economic and even demographic death spiral of debt and poverty.

This is the prospect facing Latvia today. It has bought into an anti-government faith that specializing in banking and transport services – while becoming more industrially, agriculturally and financially dependent on foreign suppliers – is the way to make it richer most rapidly. The reality is that by increasing dependency on (and payments to) foreign bankers and international financial institutions, this policy leaves less opportunity for most Latvians to make a living.

  

Policy conclusion

Fifty years ago Stalin dispersed some 50,000 members of Latvia’s propertied middle class by force, seizing their property and arresting many, exiling some to Siberia and driving others to emigrate to save their lives. Latvians understandably recoil from this destructive behavior and go to the opposite extreme, only to discover that this produces a similar effect. Latvia and the other Baltic nations have been caught in the backwash of the Cold War. “Market forces” have replaced military force, but the effect is equally harsh: to dismantle post-Soviet industry and drive labor – especially skilled labor – and capital out of these countries.

The U.S. logic was that any industrial capability was potentially military in character. It followed that manufacturing and high technology should be dismantled throughout the former Soviet Union. Russia’s economy was rolled back to make it more of a Third World country – what the Americans long called “a hewer of wood and drawer of water” in Biblical language. In Russia’s case this meant living off oil and gas, along with nickel, aluminum, platinum and other metals. But the Baltic States do not enjoy this fallback position.

Western self-interest was predatory in promoting the economic regime that led to today’s financial disaster. The West has subdued the post-Soviet population and appropriated the economic surplus from the property it had built up, along almost identical lines that had occurred in Latin America in the 16th and 17th centuries, and Africa in the 19th century, replete with client chieftains, tax “freedom” for the predators and debt peonage for the local labor force.

Latvia’s radical neoliberal experiment is testing the degree to which this kind of destruction of labor, public enterprise and government policy can be wielded by non-military means. The question is, how long will Latvia succumb to the Stockholm syndrome, identifying with the parties that have captured its economy and self-imposed anti-labor, anti-industrial and anti-agricultural policies democratically. The effect is to reduce the population to a state of debt peonage to foreigners, and indeed to Latvia’s old feudal master, Sweden.

What keeps Latvians in this subservient position is the travesty they have been taught regarding the tax policy, wage and labor policy and trade policy that has guided the most successful nations. Europe and America have told Latvia, “Do what we say, not what we do.”

Latvia could have become a low-cost producer by transferring housing and office sites freely to their occupants and users at the time of independence or soon thereafter. It could have provided public infrastructure at cost. Its manufacturing and other enterprise was free of debt, and could have used productive credit to expand operations. The post-Soviet economies had no debt at all when they obtained their political independence from Russia in 1991 –no property claims for rent or interest. Yet over the past decade they have become the world’s most debt-ridden countries. Having borrowed against real estate, public enterprises, natural monopolies and mineral deposits, they now have to beg from the IMF and EU for loans to stabilize their teetering exchange rates.

This borrowing is mainly to serve foreign bankers, not Latvians, just as Latvia’s tax system is designed to serve these bankers. The effect of Latvia’s bank borrowing has been to enable – indeed, oblige – buyers to bid up prices for housing and other assets. Latvia’s perverse tax system, insider property dealings, failure to tax economic rent, and relinquishing credit creation to foreign institutions have made it a high-cost economy. Its real estate bubble, applauded for turning it into a “Baltic Tiger,” was achieved by taking on foreign-currency debt for loans to bid up the prices that homebuyers and businesses have to pay for the space they need to live in and conduct business. The World Bank endorsed the Baltic Miracle as insiders and other appropriators got rich by selling off the assets inherited from Soviet times.

The flat tax, dismantling of state support for industrial and agricultural employment, withdrawal of public subsidies for production that every European Union nation enjoys under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and centuries of industrial protectionism, the dismantling of public budgets to serve a new rentier class such as the Physiocrats, Adam Smith and other classical liberals sought to free industrial capitalism from – all this was designed to dismantle Russian industry and thereby end its potential Cold War threat to NATO.

Lacking a raw-materials base to support them even at Latin American standards, Latvia needs to end the neoliberal experiment and adopt the policies that made Western Europe and America rich. Fortunately, this can be done with the stroke of a pen. Just as the neoliberal dismemberment of Latvia was bloodless, so the recovery of markets does not require a revolution. It can be done by rewriting the nation’s tax law and financial law along more progressive lines.

To make this start, Latvia needs to free itself from the anti-industrial, anti-labor tax system that neoliberal managers have imposed, and from the foreign-currency debt burden with which foreign banks have loaded the country down. The problem is that income that is not taxed will end up being pledged for debt – and paid out as interest charges. Contrary to what bank lobbyists and neoliberal propagandists argue, land taxes reduce the price of real estate. It is taxes on labor and capital that add to the cost of living and doing business.

  

The post-classical road to neofeudalism and debt peonage

Designed to serve the creditor nations, inter-governmental loans tend to be injurious to the countries. These sacrifice policy-making autonomy to the International Monetary Fund and, in Latvia’s case, to the European Union bureaucracy. The EU and IMF view debtor countries as vehicles to extend credit to their own banks and exporters. Over the past two years they have “helped” the post-Soviet countries maintain their exchange rates by sacrificing their domestic economies in order to sustain the payment of mortgages to European banks that otherwise would have to take heavy losses on their loans to real estate debtors unable to pay the higher domestic-currency carrying charge that would result from their local revenue falling against the euro.

The EU has made it clear that its credit is not to finance domestic investment or spending, but just the opposite. It requires debtor governments to impose austerity and even run budget surpluses to squeeze out foreign exchange by limiting the population’s ability to afford imports and presumably “free” output for export. (This never works.) This policy of economic shrinkage is just the opposite of Keynesian counter-cyclical spending such as Mr. Obama’s Stimulus Plan to help pull the United States out of its own downturn. Austerity plans are only for export to economic dependencies – and make them even more dependent on the financial core.[5]

Latvia’s GDP fell by 18 percent in 2009, and is forecast to shrink altogether by nearly 30 percent from the crisis’ onset in autumn 2008 until the end. More people already are out of work (the yearend 2009 unemployment rate is reported to be 16.8 percent), so default rates are rising. Housing and other real estate prices have plunged by about 50 to 70 percent in most markets, and new construction has all but stopped.

In the public sector where shrinkage is most drastic, Latvia had over 150 hospitals and clinics when the Soviet period ended in 1991. It now has only around 40, and the IMF and World Bank demand that it close down half of them. Many needed services were closed, including trauma centers and ambulance services. Public health standards have worsened and life spans shortened by several years for men, as has been the case in Russia. There has been an exodus of doctors and health specialists, especially to the richer neighboring Scandinavian countries – part of a serious emigration of highly skilled and unskilled workers alike. According to a recent poll, about a quarter of the male population aged between 20 and 35 years old plans to emigrate during the next five years. And as for the training of new professionals, formerly free universities are now charging tuition, so money rather than talent now obtains higher education. This is the result of financialization as Latvia shrinks its economy to pay foreign creditors.

One motive for emigration is to avoid a lifetime of debt peonage. Homeowners find themselves frozen into their homes almost as serfs as property prices plunge below the amount of their mortgage debt. They cannot move out, because they would have to pay banks the balance due on their negative equity. They, not the banks, must absorb the loss on the bad loan. Unable to find a buyer at a price that covers their mortgage, debtors remain personally liable to save the Swedish bankers from taking a loss, by making up the difference out of their own future earnings. And the situation is getting worse as rents fall in the shrinking economy. There is no way to find renters to cover the mortgage debt. Many debtors are deciding that it is easier to leave the country. This is what many parents are urging their children to do today.

So the economy seems to be in a death spiral – not only economic death but a demographic crisis as well. Matters threaten to worsen if Latvia’s trade deficit forces the currency to be devalued. Carrying charges on the 87 percent of Latvian mortgages denominated in foreign currency would soar. But the only way to stave off devaluation is to keep on borrowing from the EU and IMF. And their financial dictate calls for rolling back wages and living standards, taxing labor all the more and slashing public spending and investment even further! Instead of coming up with a plan to extricate the economy from this debt peonage, Latvia’s neoliberal government can only repeat its faith in “restoring equilibrium” by tightening the fiscal and financial screws.

An economic program to renew Latvian development

Banks must share responsibility for keeping loans within the debtor’s ability to pay. This basic rule has been violated throughout the world in recent years. This has been largely a result of the banks’ greed in making loans more than limited to 70 percent of the property’s value, as was long the rule in the United States. In view of the fact that Latvia’s currency is under pressure to be devalued – with 87 percent of mortgage debts being denominated in foreign currency – banks should only able to take the house itself when they foreclose. This is the collateral that was supposed to back the loan, and it is what makes mortgage loans different from personal loans. Personal liability should not be permitted for mortgage debtors. There is no better way to prevent banks from making irresponsible loans, and then trying to make the debtor’s pay.

Second, all loans and obligations should be re-denominated in domestic currency. This is similar to what U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt did in the in 1932 when he overruled the gold clause in most loan contracts. (The clause stated that if the price of gold changed, the debt had to paid in gold equivalence.) This was intended to prevent creditors from obtaining a windfall gain and indeed, a gain beyond the ability of debtors to pay and hence at the expense of economic recovery. The economy comes first, not the bankers. This is especially important in today’s world, where there is no longer a constraint on the banking system’s ability to monetize credit.

A third plank of the program to renew Latvia is designed to cope with the problem of abandoned housing, squatters and crime that has plagued foreclosures in the United States. Upon insolvency or foreclosure of residential and commercial property, the foreclosing bank must put it up for auction within one month, to be sold at a market price. The current occupant (either the indebted owner or renter) will have the right to match the bid. Our plan is for the government to set up a bank to lend the occupant funds to buy the property, converting its current rental value into mortgage debt service. At current prices, the new mortgage may be about 30 percent of the existing debt – and it will be denominated in domestic currency. The oligarchs seem happy with this, because loans on the large public utilities and other assets they have taken over and borrowed against also will be redenominated in domestic currency.

In October 2009, Latvia’s Prime Minister endorsed the first plank of this program, saying that there should be no more personal liability for mortgage debt. The Swedish finance minister became furious and said that this would break all tradition. The Harmony Centre (“Concord”) Party replied that the tradition to which Sweden seemed to be referring was feudalism, and reminded Sweden that Latvia threw off the Swedish yoke back in the 17th century – and threw out the German land barons in 1905.

There is a case of cognitive dissonance when it comes to structural financial and fiscal reform. Most people are not aware that a workable alternative exists, one that was viewed for a century as being the free market alternative – a market free of unearned income and “empty” pricing. Students no longer are taught that economic thinkers have spent the last seven centuries discussing better modes of taxation, banking and pricing, based on the ability to distinguish between economically necessary costs and income, and unnecessary costs.

The classical reformers sought to complete what they viewed as the economic program of industrial capitalism: to throw off the remaining legacy of feudalism, above all the landlord aristocracy that used to be called the idle rich, and also predatory bankers – a cosmopolitan interest typically working with absentee owners, monopolists and other rent-extracting parties. Landowners, privatizers and monopolists are now backed by their international bankers, joining forces to become a new aggressive power as financial speculators. Their activities are not necessary for the industrial economy to operate, but are a rentier overhead that slows it down.

The most important plank of our program concerns the tax system. Like most other post-Soviet economies that have been neoliberalized, Latvia has a dysfunctional flat tax on employment – a total tax burden (labor, employer, and social tax) of over 50%. This is the major factor pricing Latvian labor out of global markets. We urge that the tax be shifted off labor and its employers onto where the classical economists urged it to be placed: on the land and natural resources, presently taxed at less than 1% of their value.

This would “reform the reformers.” We expect that the EU and its commercial bankers will fight against this tax shift, fearing that it might spread to other countries. That ultimately is the economic and financial war in which Latvia is caught up as prime victim. Fiscal reform must be a key element in financial reform, because the two prongs of reform are symbiotic. Taxing the land will save its rental value from being capitalized into bank loans. Our aim is to limit bank credit to the financing of creating new means of production, not merely to bolster the price of unproductive, extractive privileges and property claims.

Our recommendations are those of centuries of classical liberal economics, from the French Physiocrats through Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill to America’s Progressive Era reformers. In rejecting their classical economic and fiscal logic, Latvia’s neoliberal planners are much like fundamentalist believers in Genesis were offended when Thomas Huxley defended the theory of evolution. “Respectable churchgoers were appalled. ‘Let us hope it is not true,’ cried one horrified lady upon hearing that humans were descended from apes, ‘but if it is, let us pray that it will not become generally known.’”[6]

This is the attitude taken today by Latvia’s neoliberal taliban. They would like to hope that the ideas of the men they cite as their intellectual patron saints – Adam Smith, et al. – did not really say what they did. But facts are facts. The dysfunctional tax system, financial system and dismantling of public enterprise and a public banking option run counter to the idea of free markets held for centuries by the classical liberals. Their idea of a free market was a market free of unearned income, free of land rent and predatory financial charges. Latvia’s neoliberal rulers have been busy loading down the economy with these charges during their entire time of office. The result has been an economic and demographic death spiral for Latvia.

Latvia’s financial and economic problems are not natural, nor are they inevitable. Latvia can still become a highly competitive industrial and agricultural producer with a high standard of living. All it needs to do is end the radical neoliberal experiment – an experiment which, after all, was designed to destroy Russian Soviet military power, sweeping up Latvia’s unfortunate economy in the backwash.

Notes 

[1] E. Peshine Smith, “The Law of Progress in the Relations of Capital and Labor,” Hunt’s Merchants’ Magazine, XXVI (1852), p. 42.

[2] U.S. Labor Secretary Jacob Schoenhof, Wages and Trade in Manufacturing Industries in America and in Europe (New York, 1884), p. 19. I discuss both the above authors in America’s Protectionist Takeoff, 1815-1914: The Neglected American School of Political Economy (ISLET, 2010).

[3] Michael Hudson, “Entrepreneurs: From the Near Eastern Takeoff to the Roman Collapse,” in David S. Landes, Joel Mokyr, and William J. Baumol, eds., The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010):8-39.

[4] Readers of the Bible will recognize this as the essence of the Jubilee Year of Leviticus 25, which Jewish religion took out of the hands of rulers and placed at the center of their religion as a covenant under Mosaic law. And when Jesus gave his first sermon in the synagogue, Luke 4 describes him as unrolling the scroll of Isaiah and saying that he had come to proclaim “the Year of our Lord,” that is, the Jubilee Year, deror. This Hebrew word that the prophets and Leviticus used was cognate to Babylonian andurarum. I describe the details in “Reconstructing the Origins of Interest-Bearing Debt and the Logic of Clean Slates,” in Debt and Economic Renewal in the Ancient Near East (ed. Michael Hudson and Marc Van De Mieroop, CDL Press, Bethesda, 2002):7-58.

[5] I provide a history of theorizing along these lines – and of alternatives – in Trade, Development and Foreign Debt (1992; new ed. ISLET 2009).

[6] Cited in Brian Fagan, Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans (2010, Bloomsbury Press), p. 44.

The alternative media in countries such as the USA and Canada are trying their utmost to further break the silence regarding the Cuban Five. One such media is Radio-Montréal in Quebec. The host of the weekly program in French, Le Monde, cette semaine (the World this Week), André Pesant, invited me once again to exchange views with him about this case and inform the listeners of this popular radio station. André has consistently offered his program to allow guests to tell the truth about the Cuban Five.

He opened the show by outlining some of the history of the case, complemented by my input.

Together we provided the following information. The five Cubans were sent to south Florida in the 1990s in order to infiltrate terrorist organisations operating for decades with impunity against Cuba from that area in the USA. Over 3,000 Cubans were killed and 2,000 seriously maimed by terrorists activities in Cuba since the revolution of January 1, 1959. The Cuban authorities have continuously pressed upon Washington to stop this action emanating from their territory, but to no avail. The only choice open to Cuba was to gather the information and provide it to the US authorities so that action is taken against those responsible. This is what the five Cuban citizens did. However, when all the evidence was presented to the FBI representatives in Havana, instead of arresting the perpetrators of these crimes, they arrested the five Cubans.

André showed a great deal of interest in the kangaroo courts proceedings held in Miami despite the objections of their lawyer to the impossibility of having a free, fair and impartial trial in that city. Miami is the hot-bead for violent anti-Cuban action. The Five were also held in solitary confinement (the “hole”) for 17 months after their arrest in Miami on September 12, 1998, unable to communicate with each other or their families. Their confinement prevented them from properly preparing for their defence.

The result:

Gerardo Hernández: 2 life sentences and the continued refusal for over 11 years to receive the visit of his wife Adriana Perez.

Rene Gonzales: 15 years and the continued refusal for over 10 years to receive the visit of his wife Olga Salanueva,

Antonio Guerrero: Life sentence plus 10 years, subsequently reduced in the fall of 2009 to 22 years.

Ramón Labañino: Life sentence later reduced to 30 years.

Fernando González: 19 years subsequently reduced to 17 years and 9 months.

  

The families of Antonio, Ramón and Fernando have to overcome one obstacle after another to visit the prisoners. In addition all five have been kept in the worst conditions in an obvious attempt to break their spirit: Gerardo, Antonio and Ramon are kept in high security prisons, while Fernando and Rene are in FDC (Federal Detention Facilities). The original trial coupled with the double punishment which consists of refusing appropriate family visits, violates US laws, jurisprudence and penitentiary rules. André was interested in the violation of international law regarding the holding of the jury trial in Miami. This law consists, amongst others of article 14 of the The United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states in part that all persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

  

Those who have taken a stand from around the globe: Parliamentarians (such as 56 members of the Canadian Parliament from Quebec and Canada), heads of states, trade unions (such as the most of the main unions in Canada and Quebec), student associations such as the Canadian Federation of Students, 10 Nobel Prize laureates, human rights organizations and innumerable personalities. On May 27, 2005 the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also took a stand in favour of the Five. A record number of 12 prestigious “Friends of the Court” petitioned the US Supreme Court to revise the case which was brought to this highest court in the land by the Cuban 5 lawyers. However, despite the world-wide condemnation, the US Supreme Court refused to review the case in 2009. To add insult to injury, the Supreme Court did not give any reason for its denial.

  

André asked why the Cuban Five committee in Quebec is called the Comité Fabio di Celmo pour les 5. I explained that Fabio di Celmo was one of the victims of the terrorist attacks in Cuba, the very type of activity that the Cuban Five were trying to halt. In 1997 the Miami-based terrorists organized a program to disrupt the tourist industry on the island. Fabio di Celmo was in a Havana hotel when a bomb placed in the lobby exploded and killed him. Fabio di Celmo was a young Italian, living at the time in Italy as well as in Montreal. He had been granted residence status in Canada. At the time of his assassination he was awaiting Canadian citizenship. And so the Table de concertation de solidarite Québec-Cuba (the Concertation Table of Quebec-Cuba Solidarity) decided to name its special committee in honour of Fabio di Celmo. Some of his family, André noted, lives in Montreal. This is a fact, notably his brother Livio di Celmo. The self-admitted assassin of Fabio di Celmo and author of  others actions such as the blowing up the Cubana de Aviación airline flight in 1976 which killed 76 Cuban civilians is Luis Posada Carriles. André read out portions of a New York Times interview with Carriles in which he actually takes credit for these activities. Carriles and others like him presently walk the streets in Miami, free as a bird. He even actively takes part at this time in the current media campaign against Cuba.

And so the discussion invariably turned to the double standards on human rights and terrorism practiced by Washington. How is it that 5 Cubans are in prison for opposing terrorism, while avowed terrorists such as Carriles are in liberty? This and other similar examples, I stated, show the double standard and hypocritical policy of the USA. The family of Fabio di Celmo is understandably outraged by this double standard on terrorism and human rights, demanding that justice be carried out: Carriles should be tried for his crimes. This frustrating lack of justice is all the more reason to support the work of Committees such as the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five which have organized a massive post card campaign. Tens of thousands of post cards are being sent from all continents in dozens of languages directly to Obama. In Quebec, the Fabio di Celmo committee organizes monthly pickets in front of the US consulate in Montreal and is circulating a petition. These actions and similar ones in Canada such as in Vancouver and Toronto all have one main goal: to force president Obama to use his constitutional right to grant pardon and free the Cuban Five. With the stroke of a pen Obama can do so. In the meantime, all the committees, organizations and personalities around the world are demanding the granting of visas on a humanitarian basis to Adriana Perez and Olga Salanueva so that they can visit their respective husbands imprisoned in the USA.

Arnold August is a member of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five and the Comité Fabio di Celmo pour les Cinq of the Table de concertation de solidarité Québec-Cuba.

Iraq Killings and Media Indifference

April 12th, 2010 by Global Research

A leaked videotape of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed a dozen Iraqis was unveiled on April 5 by the website WikiLeaks. To much of the corporate media, though, it was either not worth reporting at all, or an unfortunate incident to be defended.

The graphic and disturbing video includes audio of the helicopter pilots cheering their attacks. Two journalists working for Reuters–photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saed Chmagh–were killed in the assault, which U.S. military officials had claimed was a response to insurgent activity. WikiLeaks says it acquired the video from whistleblowers within the military.

The release of the video, though, got only cursory treatment in the mainstream press. The New York Times (4/5/10) ran a relatively thorough piece, which summarized the video this way:

But the video does not show hostile action. Instead, it begins with a group of people milling around on a street, among them, according to WikiLeaks, Mr. Noor-Eldeen and Mr. Chmagh. The pilots believe them to be insurgents, and mistake Mr. Noor-Eldeen’s camera for a weapon. They aim and fire at the group, then revel in their kills.

“Look at those dead bastards,” one pilot says. “Nice,” the other responds.

A wounded man can be seen crawling and the pilots impatiently hope that he will try to fire at them so that under the rules of engagement they can shoot him again. “All you gotta do is pick up a weapon,” one pilot says.

The helicopters also fire on a van that appears on the scene to carry away some of the victims. The Times had two follow-up stories on April 7.

A leaked video that seems to show the U.S. military killing and wounding civilians should be a big news story. But most of the media seemed to think otherwise, with a search of the Nexis news database showing scant pick-up.

CBS Evening News (4/5/10) reported on the video, with anchor Harry Smith opening the segment, “In the heat of battle, things are not always as they might seem.” Correspondent Bob Orr closed by offering something of a justification: “Now, it appears from the tapes that at least some of those hit on the ground were unarmed, but a journalist who was in the general area that same day says it’s important for all of us to remember it was a hectic, violent and uneasy day.”

On CNN’s Situation Room (4/5/10), the network decided not show any of the shots that were fired “out of respect for the families of the two Iraqi employees of the Reuters news organization that were killed,” explained Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. (The photographer’s father was quoted in the April 7 Times: “God has answered my prayer in revealing this tape to the world…. I would have sold my house and I all that I own in order to show this tape to the world.”) Starr went on to claim:

There was an investigation of this incident. The Army found no one at fault, that the units in the air–the helicopters in the air had no reason to believe that there were journalists there on the ground with the insurgents. They say that nearby U.S. troops had come under attack and that this shooting, which we are not showing the specifics of, was justified.

While it is correct that the military conducted some sort of investigation, it is unclear how Starr could know that any of the victims were “insurgents.”

And there has been little discussion of the relevant history of U.S. forces firing on and killing journalists working in Iraq, including a tank firing on journalists at the Palestine Hotel and attacks on the Baghdad offices of Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV (FAIR Media Advisory, “Is Killing Part of Pentagon Press Policy?,” 4/10/03). While those who defend the helicopter attacks in the video say that the U.S. forces could not have known there were journalists on the ground, these earlier incidents suggest that knowledge of the whereabouts of media workers does not necessarily prevent attacks.

There has been other coverage of the video. MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan (4/5/10), for example, hosted a lengthy discussion with former military officials, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald and Julian Assange from WikiLeaks. Democracy Now! (4/6/10) hosted a discussion with Assange and Greenwald as well. National Public Radio aired two reports on April 6. But where is the rest of the media on this story?

This news comes on the heels of the revelation that a Special Forces raid in Afghanistan killed five civilians, including three women, in a house raid in February. NATO forces had originally claimed that the three women were found dead at the scene; the London Times reported (4/5/10) that according to Afghan investigators, “U.S. special forces soldiers dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath of a botched night raid, then washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened.”

Both incidents, of course, demand more scrutiny. So far, U.S. corporate media are mostly ignoring them.

To view the WikiLeaks video:

Full version with transcript
Edited version

MOSCOW —  Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has warned Israel against a military attack on Iran, saying it might lead to nuclear war and global disaster.

The United States and Israel have refused to rule out military action against Iran if diplomacy fails to resolve the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program.

In an interview with the ABC News, the Russian leader said an attack on Iran would be “the worst possible scenario” in the Middle East, because “everyone is so close over there that nobody would be unaffected.”

“And if conflict of that kind happens, and a strike is performed, then you can expect anything, including use of nuclear weapons. And nuclear strikes in the Middle East, this means a global catastrophe. Many deaths,” Medvedev said.

He added that he was uncertain on whether Israel would decide to carry out an airstrike against Iran.

“The Israelis are directing their own policy. I do have a good relationship with the president and prime minister of Israel. But those are independent people. And I would say that on many questions they are defending stubborn positions. Very tough,” he said.

“The US has seen the proof of that lately,” he added, in a reference to the issue of the Israeli settlement construction in East Jerusalem,

Hopes for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict were dealt a serious blow by Israel’s recent decision to build 1,600 houses for Jewish families in East Jerusalem, considered occupied territory under international law. East Jerusalem is also claimed by the Palestinians as the capital of their future state.

BISHKEK — Kyrgyzstan’s interim government will take a close look at the agreement under which the Central Asian country hosts a U.S. transit center serving Afghanistan, a first deputy prime minister said on Monday.

“We are a civilized country and we will fulfill our international obligations, but we will investigate whether several agreements were concluded against the interests of the people or for bribes,” Almazbek Atambayev said at a news conference.

The military base on the territory of Bishkek’s Manas airport was built in 2001 as a part of U.S.led international military operations in nearby Afghanistan. In early 2009, the Kyrgyz government announced that all U.S. troops would have to leave the country, but later agreed a deal with the Pentagon on improved terms under which the facility was turned into a transit center.

“We are interested in common action for stability and security in the world, but it seems the United States plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan next year. We will approach the transit center issue in a civilized way and resolve it with the U.S. leadership,” Atambayev said.

The Kyrgyz opposition took power in the former Soviet country last week after anti-government protests in several cities turned violent, particularly in the capital, Bishkek.

Moscow has been broadly supportive of the new government, and Atambayev was in the Russian capital for talks over the weekend. He said on his return that the interim government expected to receive Russian aid of more than $150 million.

Ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev struck a deal in February 2009 to write off Kyrgyzstan’s $180 million debt to Moscow, and the promise of a $2 billion discounted loan and $150 million in financial aid, shortly before the closure of the U.S. base was announced.

Both Kyrgyzstan and Russia said at the time that the financial aid and the base closure were unrelated. 

MOSCOW — Any airstrike against Iran by the United States or Israel would be “unacceptable,” the chief of the Russian General Staff Nikolai Makarov said on Monday.

“This is a last resort that exists in the plans of both the United States and Israel,” Nikolai Makarov said.

Western powers suspect that Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at making weapons, while Tehran claims it is pursuing nuclear technology for its civilian energy needs.

Makarov said that the Iranian leadership should also take into account that “the whole world is concerned about the [nuclear] problem.”

“We should hear Iran and Iran should hear us and the global community, and undertake measures,” Makarov added.

He also said that other states are likely to follow suit if Iran develops nuclear weapons.

“If Iran gets nuclear weapons, it might become an impetus for other states, and lead to further expansion of the nuclear club,” he said, adding the Russian military department was against such a scenario.

He added that Russia’s decision on whether to deliver S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Iran should be made by the country’s leaders.

“This decision should be made at state level. We, the military, will follow the leadership’s commands,” Makarov said.

Russia signed a contract with Iran on the supply of at least five S-300 air defense systems to Tehran in December 2005. However, Moscow has not so far honored the contract, which many experts say is due to pressure from Washington and Tel Aviv.

Both the United States and Israel have not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program and have expressed concern over S-300 deliveries, which would significantly strengthen Iran’s air defenses.

British Aerospace (BAE) World’s Biggest Weapons Firm

April 12th, 2010 by Global Research

STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Britain’s BAE Systems topped an international ranking of the world’s biggest arms groups, becoming the first non-American company to hold the spot, a leading defense think tank said April 12.

The British group knocked defense giant Boeing out of the top position in 2008, according to the ranking of biggest defense groups worldwide tallied by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

“The main reason that BAE became the largest arms-producing company in the world in 2008 is the increase in its U.S. sales, which outpaced decreases elsewhere, including in the U.K.,” the think tank said in the study.

With arms sales in 2008 of $29.2 billion (21.6 billion euros), Boeing fell from first place in 2007 to third, following BAE Systems ($32.4 billion) and Lockheed Martin ($29.4 billion).

It was followed by three U.S. firms – Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon. Others in the top 10 included EADS (7th place), Italian firm Finmeccanica (8th), L-3 Communications (9th) and France’s Thales (10th).

The biggest Russian group on the list, air defense systems maker Almaz-Antei, was 18th on the list.

In 2008, the 100 biggest defense groups had arms sales of $385 billion, up 11 percent from the previous year, according to SIPRI.

“This is more than three times the size of the total development aid of OECD countries in 2008,” SIPRI said, noting that such aid reached $120 billion.

Putting the data in perspective, SIPRI said that arms sales of Lockheed Martin alone topped U.S. development aid by $4 billion, and that BAE Systems’ sales were greater than the gross domestic product of 105 countries.

SIPRI’s rankings focus on companies’ arms sales, which make up only 48 percent of Boeing’s turnover and 70 percent of Lockheed Martin’s revenues. In BAE’s case, arms sales make up a far larger share of its sales, with 95 percent of the total.

Born out of the merger of Marconi and British Aerospace in 1999, BAE Systems counts among its products the Eurofighter combat aircraft, the Bradley tank and the Astute submarine.

With 59 percent of BAE Systems’ sales coming from the U.S. arms market, the group has major production operations in the country as well as in Britain, Sweden, South Africa and Sweden.

“BAE really shows the increasing internationalization of the arms industry and the attractiveness of the U.S. market,” SIPRI arms industry expert Susan Jackson said.

The group has benefitted from sales of mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles to the U.S. government for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

America’s ABMs in Europe Could Trigger New Arms Race

April 12th, 2010 by Global Research

The Russian military warns that American ABMs in Europe could trigger another spiral of the costly arms race, which would probably also involve countries other than the United States and Russia  and prompt some of them to backtrack from their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.     

Appearing before the media in Moscow Monday, Chief of Staff General Nikolai Makarov also said such deployments would destroy mutual confidence  and force Russia to consider a strategic response to them.     

On insistence by Russia, the new Russian-American arms reduction deal signed at the Prague summit last Thursday  contains provisions that explicitly link ABMs to strategic arsenals. The new START treaty itself limits the nuclear warheads to 1,550, and the strategic delivery vehicles, to 700 on each side.   

GRDELICA — Monday marks eleven years since the Grdelički Bridge, which had a passenger train on it at the time, was bombed by NATO in 1999.

The international train was hit with four missiles as it was traveling from Belgrade to Thessaloniki, Greece, and the exact number of victims was never determined.

Authorities said that more than 30 people perished, while scores of others were injured. NATO at the time said their deaths were “collateral damage”.

Wreaths will be placed at the monument built to honor the victims of train 393, who were killed on April 12, 1999.

Family members of the victims, Serbian Railway officials, as well as those from the nearby town of Leskovac, and various party and union representatives will attend the ceremony today, it was announced.

Is Canada Fighting an Imperialist War in Afghanistan?

April 12th, 2010 by John W. Warnock

Recently a small group of professors at the University of Regina suggested that Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan was an act of imperialism and should not be glorified. The professors were vigorously attacked by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, a number of Conservative Members of Parliament, and a long list of editorial writers, columnists and directors of news in the mainstream Canadian media.

On this subject, a new group of scholars argues that the United States is a major imperial power, dominating the world, and this is a good thing. These would include Antonia Negri, Michael Hardt, Deepak Lal and Naill Ferguson. Canadian Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, is often seen as part of this group. Samuel P. Huntington, the eminent U.S. scholar, writes that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are part of the “war of civilizations” between Christianity and Islam, and there is no question who we should support.

The American empire

Chalmers Johnson reminds us that the United States is much more than just a major military power. It  has 735 known bases in 38 countries, five Central Commands which cover the world, 12 aircraft carrier strike groups, a fleet of strategic bombers which strike anywhere in the world, an arsenal of nuclear missiles and 1.5 million active military personnel. The official U.S. policy of Full Spectrum Dominance includes military devices in space, the ability to carry out surveillance of entire populations, monitoring everyone’s telephone calls, faxes, emails, internet communications, telegrams, cell phones and the books you take out at the local library. There are also a good number of secret bases around the world used for holding “suspects” indefinitely and subjecting them to “aggressive interrogation.” The most important one is at Bagram Air Force Base near Kabul.

The world is the U.S. sphere of influence. President Barrack Obama has intervened in Pakistan, Honduras, Haiti, Columbia, Yemen and Somalia, greatly increased the number of U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan, and has produced the largest military budget in history.

The U.S. Petroleum Institute and the Anglo and American oil corporations strongly supported the war on Iraq as Saddam Hussein was cutting them out of the second largest oil resource in the world. They also supported the war in Afghanistan, a necessary part of gaining control over the oil and gas resources around the Caspian Sea. This has been the official U.S. geopolitical strategy in Central Asia since the declaration of the Carter Doctrine in January1980.

What is imperialism? Imperialism has been around at least since 2500 B.C. It has always been the imposition of the rule or authority of a more powerful country or state over a weaker one. It takes the form of the domination of another country’s political, economic, religious and cultural systems. It is the denial of a weaker country’s right to democracy and self determination.

Regime change and creating a puppet government

On October 7, 2001 the U.S. government launched a massive air and missile attack on Afghanistan. The U.S. allies on the ground were the Northern Alliance warlords, the remnants of the horrendous Islamist government (1992 to 1996) that had been driven out of Kabul by the Taliban. With the U.S. bombing, it was not long before the Taliban fled and the Northern Alliance forces captured Kabul. U.S. and NATO forces arrived on the ground and they are still occupying the country after nine years. Michael Ignatieff has referred to the U.S. invasion as “necessary imperialism.”

How did the U.S. government and its NATO allies create the present puppet government? On November 27, 2001 the United States brought together a group of Afghans at Bonn, Germany to create an interim government. Five new broad-based Afghan democratic political parties and alliances asked to be represented at this conference, but the U.S. government said no. The representatives chosen were mainly from the Islamist Northern Alliance.

When it came time to select an interim leader, the “representatives” voted for Abdul Satar Sirat of the Rome group which wanted the restoration of the constitutional monarchy established in 1964. Hamid Karzai received no votes. But the U.S. government made it clear that Karzai had to be their choice. The interim government established by this process was mainly composed of Islamist war lords.

An Emergency Loya Jirga (or Grand Council) was held in June 2002. Around 1500 delegates were selected, although the new democratic parties were almost completely excluded. Nevertheless, 900 delegates signed a petition calling for the restoration of the constitutional monarchy. The U.S. government, Hamid Karzai and the Northern Alliance warlords rejected this demand.

The U.S. government made it clear that they were not going to allow the Afghans to reinstate their liberal democratic Constitution of 1964. They insisted on a new constitution with a very strong, centralized presidential system. They rejected the creation of a federal state. Canadian officials supported and assisted the U.S. government in this process. The Afghan people had no role in drafting the new constitution. There was no public debate on the draft, which was kept secret.

A Constitutional Loya Jirga was convened in December 2003. The 500 delegates were carefully selected by the political allies of the U.S. government. Nevertheless, there was strong opposition to the proposed constitution. At one point 48% of the delegates walked out in protest. No vote was taken, yet interim president Hamid Karzai declared that the constitution was adopted “unanimously.”

Backing the narco warlords

The new constitution allows for the formation of political parties. Around 80 have registered, and 50 are considered to be strongly committed to democracy. Yet the U.S. government and President Karzai have refused to allow them to participate in any election. They prefer the present system, where warlords, drug lords and radical Islamists control the legislature and hold prominent positions in the Karzai government, beginning with the two Vice Presidents. It is no surprise that at least 65% of eligible voters refused to participate in the last presidential election.

Afghanistan is a very poor country and it has not yet developed a capitalist class. Therefore, past governments followed the model created by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Turkey, which relied on the state for important and necessary developments. The U.S. government and its NATO allies, especially Canada, have rejected this Afghan model and imposed a free market free trade model of development, emphasizing foreign ownership and control, especial in the resource area.

Today US/NATO forces continue to expand the war, killing thousands of innocent Afghan men, women and children. Canadian troops specialize in the night raids in towns and villages, kicking in the doors of people’s homes, assaulting and arresting “suspects.” All recent polls indicate that the Afghans strongly want a negotiated end to the war. Who stands in their way?

The U.S. and Canadian governments, and their NATO allies, have imposed on the people of Afghanistan a corrupt and detested government. Many Canadians are fully behind this project, just as many Canadians strongly supported British imperialism and colonialism. But other Canadians are not at all proud of the role of their government and military in this poor country. The latest Ekos Research poll shows 34% of Canadians support the mission in Afghanistan and 49% oppose.


John W. Warnock
is retired from teaching political economy and sociology at the University of Regina. He is author of Creating a Failed State: the U.S. and Canada in Afghanistan (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2008).

How the nation’s biggest banks are ripping off American cities with the same predatory deals that brought down Greece

If you want to know what life in the Third World is like, just ask Lisa Pack, an administrative assistant who works in the roads and transportation department in Jefferson County, Alabama. Pack got rudely introduced to life in post-crisis America last August, when word came down that she and 1,000 of her fellow public employees would have to take a little unpaid vacation for a while. The county, it turned out, was more than $5 billion in debt — meaning that courthouses, jails and sheriff’s precincts had to be closed so that Wall Street banks could be paid.

As public services in and around Birmingham were stripped to the bone, Pack struggled to support her family on a weekly unemployment check of $260. Nearly a fourth of that went to pay for her health insurance, which the county no longer covered. She also fielded calls from laid-off co-workers who had it even tougher. “I’d be on the phone sometimes until two in the morning,” she says. “I had to talk more than one person out of suicide. For some of the men supporting families, it was so hard — foreclosure, bankruptcy. I’d go to bed at night, and I’d be in tears.”

Homes stood empty, businesses were boarded up, and parts of already-blighted Birmingham began to take on the feel of a ghost town. There were also a few bills that were unique to the area — like the $64 sewer bill that Pack and her family paid each month. “Yeah, it went up about 400 percent just over the past few years,” she says.

The sewer bill, in fact, is what cost Pack and her co-workers their jobs. In 1996, the average monthly sewer bill for a family of four in Birmingham was only $14.71 — but that was before the county decided to build an elaborate new sewer system with the help of out-of-state financial wizards with names like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase. The result was a monstrous pile of borrowed money that the county used to build, in essence, the world’s grandest toilet — “the Taj Mahal of sewer-treatment plants” is how one county worker put it. What happened here in Jefferson County would turn out to be the perfect metaphor for the peculiar alchemy of modern oligarchical capitalism: A mob of corrupt local officials and morally absent financiers got together to build a giant device that converted human shit into billions of dollars of profit for Wall Street — and misery for people like Lisa Pack.

And once the giant shit machine was built and the note on all that fancy construction started to come due, Wall Street came back to the local politicians and doubled down on the scam. They showed up in droves to help the poor, broke citizens of Jefferson County cut their toilet finance charges using a blizzard of incomprehensible swaps and refinance schemes — schemes that only served to postpone the repayment date a year or two while sinking the county deeper into debt. In the end, every time Jefferson County so much as breathed near one of the banks, it got charged millions in fees. There was so much money to be made bilking these dizzy Southerners that banks like JP Morgan spent millions paying middlemen who bribed — yes, that’s right, bribed, criminally bribed — the county commissioners and their buddies just to keep their business. Hell, the money was so good, JP Morgan at one point even paid Goldman Sachs $3 million just to back the fuck off, so they could have the rubes of Jefferson County to fleece all for themselves.

Birmingham became the poster child for a new kind of giant-scale financial fraud, one that would threaten the financial stability not only of cities and counties all across America, but even those of entire countries like Greece. While for many Americans the financial crisis remains an abstraction, a confusing mess of complex transactions that took place on a cloud high above Manhattan sometime in the mid-2000s, in Jefferson County you can actually see the rank criminality of the crisis economy with your own eyes; the monster sticks his head all the way out of the water. Here you can see a trail that leads directly from a billion-dollar predatory swap deal cooked up at the highest levels of America’s biggest banks, across a vast fruited plain of bribes and felonies — “the price of doing business,” as one JP Morgan banker says on tape — all the way down to Lisa Pack’s sewer bill and the mass layoffs in Birmingham.

Once you follow that trail and understand what took place in Jefferson County, there’s really no room left for illusions. We live in a gangster state, and our days of laughing at other countries are over. It’s our turn to get laughed at. In Birmingham, lots of people have gone to jail for the crime: More than 20 local officials and businessmen have been convicted of corruption in federal court. Last October, right around the time that Lisa Pack went back to work at reduced hours, Birmingham’s mayor was convicted of fraud and money-laundering for taking bribes funneled to him by Wall Street bankers — everything from Rolex watches to Ferragamo suits to cash. But those who greenlighted the bribes and profited most from the scam remain largely untouched. “It never gets back to JP Morgan,” says Pack.

If you want to get all Glenn Beck about it, you could lay the blame for this entire mess at the feet of weepy, tree-hugging environmentalists. It all started with the Cahaba River, the longest free-flowing river in the state of Alabama. The tributary, which winds its way through Birmingham before turning diagonally to empty out near Selma, is home to more types of fish per mile than any other river in America and shelters 64 rare and imperiled species of plants and animals. It’s also the source of one of the worst municipal financial disasters in American history.

Back in the early 1990s, the county’s sewer system was so antiquated that it was leaking raw sewage directly into the Cahaba, which also supplies the area with its drinking water. Joined by well — intentioned citizens from the Cahaba River Society, the EPA sued the county to force it to comply with the Clean Water Act. In 1996, county commissioners signed a now-infamous consent decree agreeing not just to fix the leaky pipes but to eliminate all sewer overflows — a near-impossible standard that required the county to build the most elaborate, ecofriendly, expensive sewer system in the history of the universe. It was like ordering a small town in Florida that gets a snowstorm once every five years to build a billion-dollar fleet of snowplows.

The original cost estimates for the new sewer system were as low as $250 million. But in a wondrous demonstration of the possibilities of small-town graft and contract-padding, the price tag quickly swelled to more than $3 billion. County commissioners were literally pocketing wads of cash from builders and engineers and other contractors eager to get in on the project, while the county was forced to borrow obscene sums to pay for the rapidly spiraling costs. Jefferson County, in effect, became one giant, TV-stealing, unemployed drug addict who borrowed a million dollars to buy the mother of all McMansions — and just as it did during the housing bubble, Wall Street made a business of keeping the crook in his house. As one county commissioner put it, “We’re like a guy making $50,000 a year with a million-dollar mortgage.”

To reassure lenders that the county would pay its mortgage, commissioners gave the finance director — an unelected official appointed by the president of the commission — the power to automatically raise sewer rates to meet payments on the debt. The move brought in billions in financing, but it also painted commissioners into a corner. If costs continued to rise — and with practically every contractor in Alabama sticking his fingers on the scale, they were rising fast — officials would be faced with automatic rate increases that would piss off their voters. (By 2003, annual interest on the sewer deal had reached $90 million.) So the commission reached out to Wall Street, looking for creative financing tools that would allow it to reduce the county’s staggering debt payments.

Wall Street was happy to help. First, it employed the same trick it used to fuel the housing crisis: It switched the county from a fixed rate on the bonds it had issued to finance the sewer deal to an adjustable rate. The refinancing meant lower interest payments for a couple of years — followed by the risk of even larger payments down the road. The move enabled county commissioners to postpone the problem for an election season or two, kicking it to a group of future commissioners who would inevitably have to pay the real freight.

But then Wall Street got really creative. Having switched the county to a variable interest rate, it offered commissioners a crazy deal: For an extra fee, the banks said, we’ll allow you to keep paying a fixed rate on your debt to us. In return, we’ll give you a variable amount each month that you can use to pay off all that variable-rate interest you owe to bondholders.

In financial terms, this is known as a synthetic rate swap — the spidery creature you might have read about playing a role in bringing down places like Greece and Milan. On paper, it made sense: The county got the stability of a fixed rate, while paying Wall Street to assume the risk of the variable rates on its bonds. That’s the synthetic part. The trouble lies in the rate swap. The deal only works if the two variable rates — the one you get from the bank, and the one you owe to bondholders — actually match. It’s like gambling on the weather. If your bondholders are expecting you to pay an interest rate based on the average temperature in Alabama, you don’t do a rate swap with a bank that gives you back a rate pegged to the temperature in Nome, Alaska.

Not unless you’re a fucking moron. Or your banker is JP Morgan.

In a small office in a federal building in downtown Birmingham, just blocks from where civil rights demonstrators shut down the city in 1963, Assistant U.S. Attorney George Martin points out the window. He’s pointing in the direction of the Tutwiler Hotel, once home to one of the grandest ballrooms in the South but now part of the Hampton Inn chain.

“It was right around the corner here, at the hotel,” Martin says. “That’s where they met — that’s where this all started.”

They means Charles LeCroy and Bill Blount, the two principals in what would become the most important of all the corruption cases in Jefferson County. LeCroy was a banker for JP Morgan, serving as managing director of the bank’s southeast regional office. Blount was an Alabama wheeler-dealer with close friends on the county commission. For years, when Wall Street banks wanted to do business with municipalities, whether for bond issues or rate swaps, it was standard practice to reach out to a local sleazeball like Blount and pay him a shitload of money to help seal the deal. “Banks would pay some local consultant, and the consultant would then funnel money to the politician making the decision,” says Christopher Taylor, the former head of the board that regulates municipal borrowing. Back in the 1990s, Taylor pushed through a ban on such backdoor bribery. He also passed a ban on bankers contributing directly to politicians they do business with — a move that sparked a lawsuit by one aggrieved sleazeball, who argued that halting such legalized graft violated his First Amendment rights. The name of that pissed-off banker? “It was the one and only Bill Blount,” Taylor says with a laugh.

Blount is a stocky, stubby-fingered Southerner with glasses and a pale, pinched face — if Norman Rockwell had ever done a painting titled “Small-Town Accountant Taking Enormous Dump,” it would look just like Blount. LeCroy, his sugar daddy at JP Morgan, is a tall, bloodless, crisply dressed corporate operator with a shiny bald head and silver side patches — a cross between Skeletor and Michael Stipe.

The scheme they operated went something like this: LeCroy paid Blount millions of dollars, and Blount turned around and used the money to buy lavish gifts for his close friend Larry Langford, the now-convicted Birmingham mayor who at the time had just been elected president of the county commission. (At one point Blount took Langford on a shopping spree in New York, putting $3,290 worth of clothes from Zegna on his credit card.) Langford then signed off on one after another of the deadly swap deals being pushed by LeCroy. Every time the county refinanced its sewer debt, JP Morgan made millions of dollars in fees. Even more lucrative, each of the swap contracts contained clauses that mandated all sorts of penalties and payments in the event that something went wrong with the deal. In the mortgage business, this process is known as churning: You keep coming back over and over to refinance, and they keep “churning” you for more and more fees. “The transactions were complex, but the scheme was simple,” said Robert Khuzami, director of enforcement for the SEC. “Senior JP Morgan bankers made unlawful payments to win business and earn fees.”

Given the shitload of money to be made on the refinancing deals, JP Morgan was prepared to pay whatever it took to buy off officials in Jefferson County. In 2002, during a conversation recorded in Nixonian fashion by JP Morgan itself, LeCroy bragged that he had agreed to funnel payoff money to a pair of local companies to secure the votes of two county commissioners. “Look,” the commissioners told him, “if we support the synthetic refunding, you guys have to take care of our two firms.” LeCroy didn’t blink. “Whatever you want,” he told them. “If that’s what you need, that’s what you get. Just tell us how much.”

Just tell us how much. That sums up the approach that JP Morgan took a few months later, when Langford announced that his good buddy Bill Blount would henceforth be involved with every financing transaction for Jefferson County. From JP Morgan’s point of view, the decision to pay off Blount was a no-brainer. But the bank had one small problem: Goldman Sachs had already crawled up Blount’s trouser leg, and the broker was advising Langford to pick them as Jefferson County’s investment bank.

The solution they came up with was an extraordinary one: JP Morgan cut a separate deal with Goldman, paying the bank $3 million to fuck off, with Blount taking a $300,000 cut of the side deal. Suddenly Goldman was out and JP Morgan was sitting in Langford’s lap. In another conversation caught on tape, LeCroy joked that the deal was his “philanthropic work,” since the payoff amounted to a “charitable donation to Goldman Sachs” in return for “taking no risk.”

That such a blatant violation of anti-trust laws took place and neither JP Morgan nor Goldman have been prosecuted for it is yet another mystery of the current financial crisis. “This is an open-and-shut case of anti-competitive behavior,” says Taylor, the former regulator.

With Goldman out of the way, JP Morgan won the right to do a $1.1 billion bond offering — switching Jefferson County out of fixed-rate debt into variable-rate debt — and also did a corresponding $1.1 billion deal for a synthetic rate swap. The very same day the transaction was concluded, in May 2003, LeCroy had dinner with Langford and struck a deal to do yet another bond-and-swap transaction of roughly the same size. This time, the terms of the payoff were spelled out more explicitly. In a hilarious phone call between LeCroy and Douglas MacFaddin, another JP Morgan official, the two bankers groaned aloud about how much it was going to cost to satisfy Blount:

LeCroy: I said, “Commissioner Langford, I’ll do that because that’s your suggestion, but you gotta help us keep him under control. Because when you give that guy a hand, he takes your arm.” You know?

MacFaddin: [Laughing] Yeah, you end up in the wood-chipper.

All told, JP Morgan ended up paying Blount nearly $3 million for “performing no known services,” in the words of the SEC. In at least one of the deals, Blount made upward of 15 percent of JP Morgan’s entire fee. When I ask Taylor what a legitimate consultant might earn in such a circumstance, he laughs. “What’s a ‘legitimate consultant’ in a case like this? He made this money for doing jack shit.”

As the tapes of LeCroy’s calls show, even officials at JP Morgan were incredulous at the money being funneled to Blount. “How does he get 15 percent?” one associate at the bank asks LeCroy. “For doing what? For not messing with us?”

“Not messing with us,” LeCroy agrees. “It’s a lot of money, but in the end, it’s worth it on a billion-dollar deal.”

That’s putting it mildly: The deals wound up being the largest swap agreements in JP Morgan’s history. Making matters worse, the payoffs didn’t even wind up costing the bank a dime. As the SEC explained in a statement on the scam, JP Morgan “passed on the cost of the unlawful payments by charging the county higher interest rates on the swap transactions.” In other words, not only did the bank bribe local politicians to take the sucky deal, they got local taxpayers to pay for the bribes. And because Jefferson County had no idea what kind of deal it was getting on the swaps, JP Morgan could basically charge whatever it wanted. According to an analysis of the swap deals commissioned by the county in 2007, taxpayers had been overcharged at least $93 million on the transactions.

JP Morgan was far from alone in the scam: Virtually everyone doing business in Jefferson County was on the take. Four of the nation’s top investment banks, the very cream of American finance, were involved in one way or another with payoffs to Blount in their scramble to do business with the county. In addition to JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns paid Langford’s bagman $2.4 million, while Lehman Brothers got off cheap with a $35,000 “arranger’s fee.” At least a dozen of the county’s contractors were also cashing in, along with many of the county commissioners. “If you go into the county courthouse,” says Michael Morrison, a planner who works for the county, “there’s a gallery of past commissioners on the wall. On the top row, every single one of ‘em but two has been investigated, indicted or convicted. It’s a joke.”

The crazy thing is that such arrangements — where some local scoundrel gets a massive fee for doing nothing but greasing the wheels with elected officials — have been taking place all over the country. In Illinois, during the Upper Volta-esque era of Rod Blagojevich, a Republican political consultant named Robert Kjellander got 10 percent of the entire fee Bear Stearns earned doing a bond sale for the state pension fund. At the start of Obama’s term, Bill Richardson’s Cabinet appointment was derailed for a similar scheme when he was governor of New Mexico. Indeed, one reason that officials in Jefferson County didn’t know that the swaps they were signing off on were shitty was because their adviser on the deals was a firm called CDR Financial Products, which is now accused of conspiring to overcharge dozens of cities in swap transactions. According to a federal antitrust lawsuit, CDR is basically a big-league version of Bill Blount — banks tossed money at the firm, which in turn advised local politicians that they were getting a good deal. “It was basically, you pay CDR, and CDR helps push the deal through,” says Taylor.

In the end, though, all this bribery and graft was just the table-setter for the real disaster. In taking all those bribes and signing on to all those swaps, the commissioners in Jefferson County had ­basically started the clock on a financial time bomb that, sooner or later, had to explode. By continually refinancing to keep the county in its giant McMansion, the commission had managed to push into the future that inevitable day when the real bill would arrive in the mail. But that’s where the mortgage analogy ends — because in one key area, a swap deal differs from a home mortgage. Imagine a mortgage that you have to keep on paying even after you sell your house. That’s basically how a swap deal works. And Jefferson County had done 23 of them. At one point, they had more outstanding swaps than New York City.

Judgment Day was coming — just like it was for the Delaware River Port Authority, the Pennsylvania school system, the cities of Detroit, Chicago, Oakland and Los Angeles, the states of Connecticut and Mississippi, the city of Milan and nearly 500 other municipalities in Italy, the country of Greece, and God knows who else. All of these places are now reeling under the weight of similarly elaborate and ill-advised swaps — and if what happened in Jefferson County is any guide, hoo boy. Because when the shit hit the fan in Birmingham, it really hit the fan.

For Jefferson County, the deal blew up in early 2008, when a dizzying array of penalties and other fine-print poison worked into the swap contracts started to kick in. The trouble began with the housing crash, which took down the insurance companies that had underwritten the county’s bonds. That rendered the county’s insurance worthless, triggering clauses in its swap contracts that required it to pay off more than $800 million of its debt in only four years, rather than 40. That, in turn, scared off private lenders, who were no longer ­interested in bidding on the county’s bonds. The banks were forced to make up the difference — a service for which they charged enormous penalties. It was as if the county had missed a payment on its credit card and woke up the next morning to find its annual percentage rate jacked up to a million percent. Between 2008 and 2009, the annual payment on Jefferson County’s debt jumped from $53 million to a whopping $636 million.

It gets worse. Remember the swap deal that Jefferson County did with JP Morgan, how the variable rates it got from the bank were supposed to match those it owed its bondholders? Well, they didn’t. Most of the payments the county was receiving from JP Morgan were based on one set of interest rates (the London Interbank Exchange Rate), while the payments it owed to its bondholders followed a different set of rates (a municipal-bond index). Jefferson County was suddenly getting far less from JP Morgan, and owing tons more to bondholders. In other words, the bank and Bill Blount made tens of millions of dollars selling deals to local politicians that were not only completely defective, but blew the entire county to smithereens.

And here’s the kicker. Last year, when Jefferson County, staggered by the weight of its penalties, was unable to make its swap payments to JP Morgan, the bank canceled the deal. That triggered one-time “termination fees” of — yes, you read this right — $647 million. That was money the county would owe no matter what happened with the rest of its debt, even if bondholders decided to forgive and forget every dime the county had borrowed. It was like the herpes simplex of loans — debt that does not go away, ever, for as long as you live. On a sewer project that was originally supposed to cost $250 million, the county now owed a total of $1.28 billion just in interest and fees on the debt. Imagine paying $250,000 a year on a car you purchased for $50,000, and that’s roughly where Jefferson County stood at the end of last year.

Last November, the SEC charged JP Morgan with fraud and canceled the $647 million in termination fees. The bank agreed to pay a $25 million fine and fork over $50 million to assist displaced workers in Jefferson County. So far, the county has managed to avoid bankruptcy, but the sewer fiasco had downgraded its credit rating, triggering payments on other outstanding loans and pushing Birmingham toward the status of an African debtor state. For the next generation, the county will be in a constant fight to collect enough taxes just to pay off its debt, which now totals $4,800 per resident.

The city of Birmingham was founded in 1871, at the dawn of the Southern industrial boom, for the express purpose of attracting Northern capital — it was even named after a famous British steel town to burnish its entrepreneurial cred. There’s a gruesome irony in it now lying sacked and looted by financial vandals from the North. The destruction of Jefferson County reveals the basic battle plan of these modern barbarians, the way that banks like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs have systematically set out to pillage towns and cities from Pittsburgh to Athens. These guys aren’t number-crunching whizzes making smart investments; what they do is find suckers in some municipal-finance department, corner them in complex lose-lose deals and flay them alive. In a complete subversion of free-market principles, they take no risk, score deals based on political influence rather than competition, keep consumers in the dark — and walk away with big money. “It’s not high finance,” says Taylor, the former bond regulator. “It’s low finance.” And even if the regulators manage to catch up with them billions of dollars later, the banks just pay a small fine and move on to the next scam. This isn’t capitalism. It’s nomadic thievery.

JALAL-ABAD, Kyrgyzstan — U.S. personnel flights in and out of Afghanistan are being diverted from a key air base in Kyrgyzstan to Kuwait, while resupply flights out of the central Asian base are taking place only on a “case-by-case” basis, a U.S. military official said Saturday.

Normal flight operations out of Manas air base, a key transit point for the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, had resumed Friday afternoon following a 12-hour shutdown imposed by Kyrgyz authorities that ended Thursday night in Kyrgyzstan, said the official, who spoke on background because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the situation.

The subsequent decision to divert personnel flights was “security-related” and made by the U.S. base leadership at Manas, the official said. The precise basis of the security concerns, however, remains unclear. The base, which the U.S. shares with civilian airlines, is about 20 miles from the downtown Bishkek area where the past week’s opposition uprising was centered.

Resupply flights out of Manas have been made only on a case-by-case basis since the shutdown ended Thursday. The U.S. official did not know what factors enter into allowing each flight.

The delays have not caused a freeze in troop rotations in and out of Afghanistan, the official said. But about 1,300 in- and outbound U.S. troops remain in limbo at Manas while awaiting the resumption of normal flights, which will be a “conditions-based” call by U.S. base officials.

The Kuwait diversion is expected to last only a few more days, the official said.

Meanwhile, in the stronghold of Kyrgyzstan’s deposed president, residents clustered on the streets Saturday, holding intense discussions on whether to follow the figures who claim to be the new government.

Some said Kurmanbek Bakiyev did a lot of good for the country and dismissed the complaints of the opposition members who drove him out, but many other appeared weary of the country’s turmoil and were willing to support anyone who can bring them a measure of stability and comfort.

Bakiyev fled the capital, Bishkek, on Wednesday after a protest rally against corruption, rising utility bills and deteriorating human rights exploded into police gunfire and chaos that left at least 79 people dead and sparked protesters to storm government buildings. He was believed to be in his home Jalal-Abad region on Saturday.

“He built the economy. He built schools, roads and kindergartens. The protesters were just a minority,” said Aizat Zupukharova, a health worker in Jalal-Abad.

But, she added, “People are afraid to come out.”

“Bakiyev did some good things, but his family led him astray,” said another resident, Sapar Usmonov, referring to widespread allegations that Bakiyev’s relatives profited hugely and improperly from his nearly five years in office. Those claims echo those made against Bakiyev’s predecessor, Askar Akayev, who was driven out of office in protests in 2005.

The interim rulers say they have offered Bakiyev safe passage out of the country if he steps down, but he has made no public sign of capitulation. That stalemate leaves Kyrgyzstan’s near-term stability in doubt, a strategic worry for the West because of the air base’s importance to the U.S. and allied war effort.

Kyrgyzstan’s society is strongly clannish, but there are few overt signs that Bakiyev’s fellow southerners would coalesce into support for him against the self-declared opposition interim government even though they think well of him.

Jalal-Abad is on the southern side of the soaring mountain massifs that divide Kyrgyzstan into often-rival sections. Usmonov expressed fatigue with such jockeying for power.

“It doesn’t matter where the president comes from — he just has to be a fitting man,” he said.

Across the mountains in the capital, hundreds of people gathered in one of Kyrgyzstan’s most prestigious cemeteries for the burial of some of those who died Wednesday. The interments tacitly conferred national hero status on the dead.

“For the sake of the future, for the power of the people, young people gave their lives,” Roza Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister and onetime Bakiyev ally who heads the interim government, said at the Ata-Beit cemetery. “The people who came into power five years ago on the wave of revolution turned out to be criminals.”

“We won’t let Bakiyev come back; the people won’t let him back into Bishkek,” vowed mourner Mehlis Usubakanov.

Otunbayeva said Friday the base agreement will be continued at least for the near future. Opposition figures in the past have said they wanted to close the U.S. base, located at the international airport serving the capital.

Russia, which also maintains a military base in Kyrgyzstan, had pushed Bakiyev’s government to evict the U.S. military. But after announcing that American forces would have to leave the Manas base, Kyrgyzstan agreed to allow them to stay after the U.S. raised the annual rent to about $63 million from $17 million.

The status of the base has been a significant strategic question since the uprising Wednesday.

“We have no intentions whatsoever to deal with the American base now. Our priority is the lives of the people who suffered. A top priority is to normalize the situation, to secure peace and stability,” Otunbayeva said Friday as she visited a Bishkek hospital that had treated many wounded.

Staff writer William H. McMichael and Associated Press Writers Yuras Karmanau in Bishkek and Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.

Barack Obama: The Cowboy President

April 12th, 2010 by Yvonne Ridley

The United States of America has reached a new level in its discredited War on Terror just when we thought it could not sink any lower.

And what makes this even more tragic is that the new depths being plumbed are on the express orders of Barack Obama … a US President who promised the world so much and has delivered on so little.

That he is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient makes this all the more shocking.

President Obama has authorized the assassination of a Muslim scholar by the name of Anwar al-Awlaki. But what is really breath-taking is that Al-Awlaki is an American citizen, born in Las Cruces in the state of New Mexico of Yemeni parents.

He has now become the first US citizen placed on a targetted killing list. His nationality should not really be an issue because in the eyes of most right minded people extra-judicial killing is wrong, it is an action which puts the killer above the law – and no one, not even the President of the United States should think himself above the law.

Wasn’t Obama supposed to be more principled than his predecessor?

I can almost hear the laughter ringing out loud from the Texan village of Crawford now that its idiot has been returned.

George W Bush brought us the War on Terror and during a bloody decade he brought us a new language with words like rendition and waterboarding becoming commonplace.

He quickly squandered the good will of the rest of the world after the horrific events of 9/11 by carpet bombing freedoms and liberties along with hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children who got in the way of his military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When he left the White House it marked the end of an era and those of us who believe in equality, justice and human rights for all breathed a sigh of relief.

A new man was at the helm … a man who promised transparency, the closure of Guantanamo and an end to torture among many other things.

Yes, we all placed our trust in the new man sitting in the Oval Office. He had, after all, come from an honourable background as an ambitious civil rights lawyer. Such a man would have convulsed at the thought of anyone imposing an extra-judicial death penalties on anyone, let alone a US citizen who hasn’t had the chance of a trial.

What happened to that lawyer? On his journey to Washington what changed in him that he could squander the freedoms and liberties as set out in the American Constitution?

Surely the correct and honourable way of dealing with Imam Anwar al Awlaki would be to charge him in his absence and then ask the Yemeni government to arrest him and extradite him. This is the legal thing to do, this is the right thing to do and it is the civilized thing to do.

I have read rumours that al Awlaki is supposed to be an al-Qaida recruiter but like all of these rumours they are short on fact and evidence. I know that he has inspired a generation of converts around the world by his tapes. I have listened to one series and I can tell you that those tapes sound completely different to the ones released on the web today.

But I digress – we are not putting him on a trial by media for the truth is none of us has any concrete evidence although there’s lots of hearesay in the usual minor league blogs and chatrooms.

If the evidence was out there, he would have been charged – and extradited. The Yemeni authorities did have him locked away at the request of the US for a some time in 2007.

So we are now entering the world of secret evidence … a process so flawed and discredited in Britain already although there are still men in British jails who are being held without trial or charge because of it.

Could it be that Obama has simply signed off the Imam’s execution because there isn’t enough solid evidence to indict him and he doesn’t want to go down the embarrassing route of opening yet another Guantanamo?

And it seems he has signed off the order in the same casual manner that Bill Clinton signed off permission for the bombing of the aspirin factory in Khartoum, Sudan.

Who remembers that one? I’ve walked through the rubble of that factory where a night watchman, a family man, paid the ultimate price for merely doing his job.

Clinton boasted to the world that US missiles had taken out an al-Qaida chemicals factory. There’s that noun again al-Qaida … which has essentially become a rubber stamp for the US doing whatever it likes.

Call it al-Qaida and no one will ask questions.

Yes, it seems the rules of the game are changing yet again, but what makes it more sinister is that the rules are now being written by an intelligent lawyer and not some monsyllabic Republican with the IQ of a baked bean.

The President’s men will no doubt justify the assassination of al-Awlaki by claiming that international law allows the killing of individuals who pose an imminent threat to a country.

You see, when it suits, international law is cited even though the US has run rough shod over it with alarming regularity since 9/11. However, I believe it is debatable if such an assassination would be legitimate under international law and it is certainly not permissible under the US Constitution.

Both the Sixth and 14th Amendments clearly require due process of law. The Fifth Amendment includes this: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger . .”

Apart from those ordinary decent Americans who will be appalled at what is being done in their name, what sort of message will Obama’s actions send to the rest of the world?

Islam Karimov, a leader who routinely boils alive pious Muslims in vats of scalding water, has already justified the work of those who torture for the Uzbekistan state by citing the actions of the Bush torturers and interrogators from Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

The US President has, like Islam Karimov and other vile little tinpot dictators, set himself above the law and the American courts can not do a thing because judges will never be called upon to decide if such an extra-judicial killing is legal or not. Why? Because as I write this, al-Awlaki has not been indicted and charged and most certainly never will be.

And just in case you’re in any doubt that the US President has signed off his death warrant without realizing the full consequences, a few weeks ago Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence told a congressional panel that there were certain counterterrorism cases that could involve killing an American citizen.

Then he emphasized that it would require a special process through the National Security Council — for safeguards after saying: ”We take direct actions against terrorists in the intelligence community. If we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that.”

For decades, the CIA was suspected of covertly plotting political assassinations, but the practice was stopped by President Gerald Ford.

No one would have been really surprised had George W Bush resurrected such a policy but the fact that the Obama Administration has just sanctioned state sponsored assassinations has left some human rights groups reeling.

This is not about the rights and wrongs of the alleged actions of some Muslim cleric in Yemen this has far wider repercussions like the moral issue of political assassination as official US policy for dealing with those perceived to be enemies.

Now that Obama has decided to dispense with judge and jury he is returning the US to the days of the Wild West … which could make him more of a cowboy president than Bush ever was.

British journalist and author Yvonne Ridley is also a patron of the London-based human rights NGO Cageprisonerswww.cageprisoners.com

Iran has said it will file a formal complaint with the UN against the US, citing what it calls President Barack Obama’s threat to use “nuclear attack” against it.

Obama’s implicit threat to use nuclear weapons against Iran was a “threat to global peace and security”, Ramin Mehmanparast, a foreign  ministry spokesman, was quoted by Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency as saying.

He said that members of the Iranian parliament had asked the government to take the issue to the US.

The US said on Tuesday it would use atomic weapons only in “extreme circumstances” and would not attack non-nuclear states, but singled out “outliers” Iran and North Korea as exceptions.

The US defence secretary said in a television interview on Sunday that Washington was making exceptions of Tehran and Pyongyang because they had defied repeated UN Security Council ultimatums over their nuclear programmes.

“Well, because they’re not in compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. So for them all bets are off. All the options are on table,” Robert Gates said.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, for her part, argued that Washington’s “patience” had helped build international support for sanctions against Iran.

Clinton told NBC that “what we have found over the last months, because of our strategic patience, and our willingness to keep on this issue, is that countries are finally saying, ‘You know, I kind of get it … they’re the ones who shut the door, and now we have to do something’”.

‘Disgraceful statements’

The US statements on the nuclear issue were condemned on Sunday by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who described Obama’s language a proof that the US cannot be trusted.

Khamenei, who is also the commander-in-chief of Iran’s armed forces and final decision maker on crucial policy issues, told a meeting of the military’s top brass to be more “alert” about such threats.

“He [Obama] has implicitly threatened Iranians with nuclear weapons,” Iran’s state television quoted Khamenei as saying.

“These comments are very strange and the world should not ignore them because in the 21st century … the head of a state is threatening a nuclear attack.

“The US president’s statements are disgraceful. Such comments harm the US and they mean that the US government is wicked and unreliable.”

Ali Akbar Salehi, the Iranian atomic chief, said on Saturday that Tehran would in the coming months begin mass-producing centrifuges capable of enriching uranium three times faster than existing systems.

Uranium enrichment lies at the heart of Western concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme as the sensitive process can produce fuel for a reactor or, in highly extended form, the fissile core of an atomic bomb.

The US secured China’s agreement on Thursday to further  talks among the major powers on new UN sanctions against Tehran.

An important trade partner of Iran, China had previously been the  leading obstacle to adoption of a fresh sanctions package by the  Security Council among its five veto-wielding permanent members.

Venezuela: Coup and Countercoup, Revolution

April 12th, 2010 by Eva Golinger

Venezuela commemorated the eighth year anniversary of the coup d’etat backed by Washington that changed the bolivarian revolution forever

In just 47 hours, a coup d’etat ousted President Chavez and a countercoup returned him to power, in an extraordinary showing of the will and determination of a dignified people on a revolutionary path with no return. The mass media played a major role in advancing the coup and spreading false information internationally in order to justify the coup plotters’ actions. CIA documents revealed US government involvement and support to the coup organizers

When Hugo Chavez was elected President in 1998, the Clinton administration maintained a « wait and see » policy. Venezuela had been a faithful servant to US interests throughout the twentieth century, and despite the rhetoric of revolution spoken by President Chavez, few in Washington believed changed was imminent.

But after Chavez followed through on his first and principal campaign promise, to initiate a Constitutional Assembly and redraft the nation’s magna carta, everything began to change.

The new Constitution was written and ratified by the people of Venezuela, in an extraordinary demonstration of participatory democracy. Throughout the nation in early 1999, all Venezuelans were invited to aid in the creation of what would become one of the most advanced constitutions in the world in the area of human rights. The draft text of 350 articles, which included a chapter dedicated to indigenous peoples’ rights, along with the rights to housing, healthcare, education, nutrition, work, fair wages, equality, recreation, culture, and a redistribution of the oil industry production and profit, was ratified by national referendum towards the end of 1999 by more than 70% of voters.

Elections were immediately convened under the new constitutional structure, and Chavez won again with an even larger majority, around 56%. Once in office in 2000, laws were implemented to guarantee the new rights accorded in the Constitution, and interests were affected. Venezuela assumed the presidency of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), with oil at approximately $7 USD a barrel. Quickly, under Venezuela’s leadership, which sought to benefit oil producing nations and not those supplied, oil rose to more than $25 USD a barrel. Washington was uneasy with these changes, but still was « waiting to see » how far the changes would go.

Changes Washington Disapproved

In 2001, the Bolivarian Revolution proposed by President Chavez began to take form. The oil industry was in the process of being restructured, hydrocarbons laws were passed that would allow for a redistribution of oil profits and Chavez was recuperating an industry – nationalized in 1976 – that was on the path to privatization. An opposition began to grow internally in Venezuela, primarily composed of the economic and political elite that ruled the country throughout the prior 40 years, now unhappy with the real changes taking effect. Aligned with those interests were the owners of Venezuela’s media outlets – television, radio and print, which belonged to the old oligarchy in the country.

In early 2001, President Chavez attended the Summit of the Americas meeting in Quebec, Canada. By now, Washington had undergone its own changes and George W. Bush had moved into the White House. President Bush also was present at the meeting in Quebec, and there announced the US plan to expand free trade throughout the Americas – the Free Trade of the Americas Act (FTAA). Hugo Chavez was the only head of state at the summit to oppose Washington’s plan. It was the first showing of his « insubordination » to US agenda.

Later that year, after the devastating and tragic attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, Washington began a bombing campaign in Afghanistan. President Chavez publicly declared the bombing of Afghanistan and the killing of innocent women and children as an act of terror. « This is fighting terror with more terror » he declared on national television in October 2001. The declaration produced Washington’s first official response.

US Ambassador to Caracas at the time, Donna Hrinak, paid a visit to Chavez in the presidential palace shortly after. During her encounter with the Venezuelan President, she proceeded to read a letter from Washington, demanding Chavez publicly retract his statement about Afghanistan. The Venezuelan head of state declined the request and informed the US Ambassador that Venezuela was now a sovereign state, no longer subordinate to US power.

Hrinak was recalled to Washington and a new ambassador was sent to Venezuela, an expert in coup d’etats.

Washington Organizes the Coup

As Washington’s concern grew over the changes taken place in Venezuela, and the insubordination of the Venezuelan President, business groups and powerful interests inside Venezuela began to contemplate Chavez’s removal. Those running the state-owned oil company, PDVSA, were adament to defend their positions and control over the company, as well as their mass profits, which instead of being invested in the country were being coveted in the oil executives’ pockets.

A US entity, created by US Congress in 1983 and overseen by the State Department, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), began to channel hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups inside Venezuela to help consolidate the opposition movement and make plans for the coup. School of the Americas-trained Venezuelan military officers began to coordinate with their US counterparts to organize Chavez’s ouster. And the US Embassy in Caracas, with the recently arrived Ambassador Charles Shapiro, was helping to put the final touches on the coup d’etat.

« The right man for the right time » in Venezuela, said an Embassy cable sent to Washington in December 2001, referring to Pedro Carmona, the head of Venezuela’s Chamber of Commerce, Fedecamaras. Carmona was signaled out as the « president-to-be » after the coup succeeded. That December 2001, oil industry executives led a strike, and called for Chavez’s resignation. Their furor began to grow in early 2002 and by March, the strikes and protests against President Chavez were almost a daily occurrence.

The NED quadrupled its funding to Venezuelan groups, such as Fedecamaras and the CTV labor federation, along with a series of NGOs plotting Chavez’s ouster. A State Department cable from the first week of March 2002 claimed « Another piece falls in to place » and applauded the opposition’s efforts to finally create a plan for a transitional government : « With much fanfare, the Venezuelan great and good assembled on March 5 in Caracas’ Esmeralda Auditorium to hear representatives of the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), the Federation of Business Chambers (Fedecamaras) and the Catholic Church present their ‘Bases for a Democratic Accord’, ten principles on which to guide a transitional goverment ».

Soon after, a March 11, 2002 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) top secret brief, partially desclassifed by Jeremy Bigwood and Eva Golinger through investigations using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), revealed a coup plot underway in Venezuela. « The opposition has yet to organize itself into a united front. If the situation further deteriorates and demonstrations become even more violent…the military may move to overthrow him ».

Yet another CIA top secret brief from April 6, 2002, just five days before the coup, outlined the detailed plans of how the events would unravell, « Conditions Ripening for Coup Attempt…Dissident military factions, including some disgruntled senior officers and a group of radical junior officers, are stepping up efforts to organize a coup against President Chavez, possibly as early as this month…The level of detail in the reported plans…targets Chavez and 10 other senior officials for arrest…To provoke military action, the plotters may try to exploit unrest stemming from opposition demonstrations slated for later this month… ».

A Corporate-Media-Military Affair

National papers in Venezuela headlined on April 10-11, 2002 that the « Final battle will be in Miraflores », the Venezuelan presidential palace, hinting that the media knew the coup was undeway. That April 11, a rally began at the PDVSA headquarters in Eastern Caracas. The rally turned into a march of several hundred thousand people protesting against President Chavez and calling violently for his ouster. Those leading the rally, the presidents of the CTV, Fedecamaras and several high level military officers who had already declared rebellion just a day before, directed the marchers towards the presidential palace, despite not having authorization for the route.

Meanwhile, outside the presidential palace, Chavez supporters had gathered to support their President and protect the area from the violent opposition marchers on the way. But before the opposition march even reached the palace or the area near the pro-Chavez rally, shots were fired and blood began to spill in both the pro- and anti-Chavez demonstrations. Snipers had been placed strategically on the buildings in downtown Caracas and had open fired on the people below.

Pro-Chavez supporters on the bridge right next to the palace, Puente Llaguno, fired back at the snipers, and the metropolitan police forces, who were firing at them. A Venevision camera crew, positioned near the pro-Chavez rally, took images of the firefight and quickly returned to the studio to edit the material and produce a breaking news story showing the pro-Chavez supporters firing guns with a voice-over stating they were firing on « peaceful opposition protestors ». The images were rapidly reproduced and repeated over and over again on Venezuelan national television to justify calls for Chavez’s removal. The manipulated images were later shown around the world and used to blame President Chavez for the dozens of deaths that occured that April 11, 2002. The truth didn’t come out until after the dust had settled and the coup was defeated. The television crew had been told to take the footage and manipulate it, under direct orders from Gustavo Cisneros, owner of Venevision and a variety of other media conglomerates and companies, and also the wealthiest man in Venezuela.

The high military command turned on President Chavez and took him into custody. He was taken to a military base on an island off Venezuela’s coast, where he was either to be assassinated or sent to Cuba. Meanwhile, the « right man for the right time » in Venezuela, Pedro Carmona – designated by Washington, swore himself in as President on April 12, 2002, and proceeded to read a decree dissolving all of Venezuela’s democratic institutions.

Counter-Coup and Revolution

As the Venezuelan people awoke to television networks claiming « Good morning Venezuela, we have a new president » and applauding the violent coup that had occured a day ealier, resistance began to grow. Once the « Carmona Decree » was issued, Venezuelans saw their worst fears coming true – a return to the repressive governments of the past that excluded and mistreated the majority of people in the country. And Chavez was absent, no one knew where he was.

Between April 12-13, Venezuelans began pouring into the streets of Caracas, demanding a return of President Chavez and an ouster of the coup leaders. Meanwhile, the Bush administration had already issued a statement recognizing the coup government and calling on other nations to do the same.

But the coup resistance grew to millions of people, flooding the areas surrounding the presidential palace, and the presidential guard, still loyal to Chavez, moved to retake the palace. Word of the resistance reached military barracks throughout the country, and one in Maracay, outside of Caracas, acted quickly to locate and rescue Chavez and return him to the presidential palace.

By the early morning hours of April 14, Chavez had returned, brought back by the will and power of the Venezuelan people and the loyal armed forces.

These events changed Venezuela forever and awoke the consciousness of many who had underestimated the importance and vulnerability of their Revolution.

What could be a significant legal victory in the on-going battle against blanket surveillance transpired March 31 in district court in San Francisco, along with a stinging rebuke of the Obama administration.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled that the government had violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and that the National Security Agency’s warrantless spying program was illegal.

In Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation v. Obama, Walker found that the government employed extralegal means in 2004 to wiretap the now-defunct Islamic charity’s phone calls, as well as those of their attorneys. Ruling that the plaintiffs had been “subjected to unlawful surveillance,” Walker declared that the government was liable to pay them damages.

The court’s decision is a strong rejection of administration assertions that an imperious Executive Branch, and it alone, may determine whether or not a case against the government can be examined by a lawful court, merely by invoking the so-called “state secrets privilege.”

The Justice Department has not decided whether it will appeal the decision; it appears likely however given the stakes involved, that the case will be remanded back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Like their Bushist predecessors, the Obama administration has heartily embraced the dubious state secrets theory, a dodgy legalistic invention manufactured to conceal criminal policies and illegal acts authored by the government and their agents.

The March 31 decision is all the more remarkable, in light of Judge Walker’s dismissal of a series of lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) over the explosive issues of driftnet surveillance and the CIA’s kidnapping and torture program that disappeared alleged terrorist suspects into Agency “black sites.”

The latter case, Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., was dismissed by Walker in 2008 after Justice Department attorneys successfully argued that the “state secrets privilege” applied.

The appeals court rejected those arguments and ruled last year that “the state secrets privilege has never applied to prevent parties from litigating the truth or falsity of allegations, or facts, or information simply because the government regards the truth or falsity of the allegations to be secret.”

The court added, “According to the government’s theory, the judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law.”

Several other cases dismissed by Walker challenged the secret state’s authority to spy on the American people in a profitable arrangement with the nation’s giant telecommunications firms, internet service providers and a host of shadowy private security corporations.

In late January, Antifascist Calling reported that Walker dismissed EFF’s Jewell v. NSA lawsuit challenging the agency’s targeting of the electronic communications of millions of U.S. citizens and legal residents.

As AT&T whistleblower Marc Klein told Wired earlier this year, internal AT&T documents suggest that the on-going NSA spy program “was just the tip of an eavesdropping iceberg.”

According to Klein, these programs are not “targeted” against suspected terrorists but rather “show an untargeted, massive vacuum cleaner sweeping up millions of peoples’ communications every second automatically.”

Despite overwhelming evidence that the state acted illegally, Walker dismissed Jewell claiming that driftnet spying by the government was not a “particularized injury” but instead a “generalized grievance” because almost everyone in the United States has a phone and internet service. Chillingly, Walker asserted that “a citizen may not gain standing by claiming a right to have the government follow the law.”

What prompted Walker’s change of heart in the Al-Haramain case?

During the course of litigation objecting to the government’s characterization that Al-Haramain was a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist Organization,” U.S. attorneys inadvertently turned over a classified document from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) that revealed a broad pattern of illegal surveillance.

Based on that document, the charity’s lawyers filed a lawsuit under the FISA provision that “an aggrieved person … shall be entitled to recover … actual damages, but not less than liquidated damages of $1,000 or $100 per day for each day of violation, whichever is greater” along with “reasonable attorney’s fees.”

The Bushist DOJ moved to squash the lawsuit, claiming that it would jeopardize “privileged state secrets” and “national security,” a position upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. That court, the World Socialist Web Site reported April 6, “issued a truly Orwellian ruling that, due to the states secret doctrine, ‘the [classified document], its contents, and any individuals’ memories of its contents, even well-reasoned speculation as to its contents, are completely barred from further disclosure in this litigation’.”

Once back in the district court, Bush administration lawyers moved to dismiss the case because the charity had “no standing” without the classified document. The Ninth Circuit’s ruling was both poison pill and Catch 22 because, as socialist critic John Andrews wrote, without a document “which no one was allowed to remember [Al-Haramain] could not prove that it had actually been spied upon.” How’s that for circular reasoning and Kafkaesque logic!

When Al-Haramain’s attorneys listed 28 publicly available sources to bolster their claims, Walker rejected the government’s motion to dismiss and the case went forward.

And when the “change” administration blew into town on January 19, 2009, the Obama regime decided it was time to “look forward, not backward,” refusing to open any inquiries or investigations into a host of illegal practices, from waging aggressive war to torture and blanket surveillance, carried out by the previous government.

Once in power, Obama’s Justice Department replicated the Star Chamber atmospherics of the Bush administration, arguing that spy operations against the charity were lawful because the President’s “wartime powers” allowed him to override FISA.

This too, was a legal fiction crafted by Bush torture-enablers John C. Yoo and (current) U.S. Ninth Circuit Court Judge Jay Bybee when they worked at the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The pair, along with Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, David Addington, were chief architects of the Bush regime’s criminal policies enacted in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Jon Eisenberg, one of the attorneys who represented Al-Haramain, told The New York Times that “Judge Walker is saying that FISA and federal statutes like it are not optional. The president, just like any other citizen of the United States, is bound by the law.”

In a follow-up report April 1, Eisenberg told the Times, “If Holder wanted to be really aggressive, he could go into the Justice Department’s files and pick out some of the people who were wiretapped and prosecute those cases,” Mr. Eisenberg said. “But do they want to do that? No. The Obama administration made a decision a long time ago that they are not going to prosecute Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program.”

Walker also rejected arguments made by the government that the charity’s lawsuit should be dismissed “without ruling on the merits” the Times reported, because allowing the case to go forward could reveal “state secrets.”

The judge rejected those arguments out of hand and characterized Obama administration assertions of a “state secrets privilege” as amounting to “unfettered executive-branch discretion” that had “obvious potential for governmental abuse and overreaching.”

Additionally, Walker ruled that the government arguments amounted to a demand that the Executive Branch ignore FISA, even though Congress had enacted the statute “specifically to rein in and create a judicial check for executive-branch abuses of surveillance authority.”

The constellation of programs now known as the President’s Spying Program (PSP) and specifically NSA’s Stellar Wind program, which monitored Americans’ email messages and phone calls without court approval, as stipulated by FISA, was first revealed by The New York Times in 2005.

Since those disclosures, the severity of the state’s illegal activities against the American people have escalated and now pose a far-greater threat to a functioning democracy then at any time in our history.

Why the Ruling Matters

FISA is a 1978 law that was the result of earlier, illegal programs such as the FBI’s COINTELPRO, the CIA’s Operation CHAOS and the NSA’s Operation SHAMROCK during the 1960s and 1970s. When those programs were exposed by investigative journalists and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (the Church Committee), the secret state was thrown into crisis.

Similar to today’s driftnet surveillance and infiltration operations that rely on informants and agents provocateurs to gin-up “national security” and “counterterrorism” cases against official enemies, those earlier programs targeted domestic political dissidents and “suspect” racial and ethnic groups, in full-on counterinsurgency-type “neutralization” actions that all but destroyed the vibrant social movements of the Johnson and Nixon years.

A Justice Department spokeswoman, Tracy Schmaler, told the Times that the Obama administration had “overhauled” procedures for invoking the states secrets privilege and that it would be invoked only when “absolutely necessary to protect national security.”

This is a rank mendacity.

Under new guidelines in place since September 2009, as I reported last November, Justice Department officials are supposed to reject the request to deploy the state secrets privilege to quash lawsuits if the Executive Branch’s motivation for doing so would “conceal violations of the law, inefficiency or administrative error” or to “prevent embarrassment.”

Despite strong legal grounds for allowing surveillance and torture cases to go forward, the Obama administration, like the discredited Bush regime before it, continues to stonewall, obfuscate and obstruct.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder claims that a DOJ “high-level committee” has reviewed relevant material in the Al-Haramain and other cases equally relevant to charges that the secret state, specifically the nexus of programs known as the PSP, violated the law. The guidelines further stipulate that lawbreaking by a specific agency, the FBI and NSA in the Al-Haramain case, must be reviewed by those agency’s inspectors general.

This is supposed to occur whenever “invocation of the privilege would preclude adjudication of particular claims,” particularly when a specific “case raises credible allegations of government wrongdoing.” If such a review has taken place, the results have never be publicly disclosed.

Commenting on the ruling, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald wrote April 1 that while news reports have focused on the illegality of Bush’s NSA spy program, “the bulk of Judge Walker’s opinion was actually a scathing repudiation of the Obama DOJ.”

“In fact” Greenwald avers, “the opinion spent almost no time addressing the merits of the claim that the NSA program was legal. That’s because the Obama DOJ–exactly like the Bush DOJ in the case before Judge [Ann Diggs] Taylor–refused to offer legal justifications to the court for this eavesdropping.”

“Instead” Greenwald writes, the Obama administration advanced “the imperial and hubristic position” that the court, indeed any court, “had no right whatsoever to rule on the legality of the program because (a) plaintiffs could not prove they were subjected to the secret eavesdropping (and thus lacked ‘standing’ to sue) and (b) the NSA program was such a vital ‘state secret’ that courts were barred from adjudicating its legality.”

In further comments to the media, Eisenberg stated: “The Obama Administration stepped right into the shoes of the Bush Administration, on national security generally and on this case in particular,” adding, “even though I have the security clearance, I don’t have the ‘need to know,’ so I can’t see anything. This is Obama. Obama! Mr. Transparency! Mr. Change! It’s exactly what Bush would have done.”

As this writer has argued many times, while the color of the drapes in the Oval Office may have changed since Obama took office, on every substantive issue, from warrantless wiretapping, to indefinite detention and preemptive wars of imperialist aggression, the current regime has recapitulated, indeed expanded, the onerous policies of his predecessor.

Illegal Programs Proliferate Under Obama

Despite pledges from candidate Obama and his acolytes that illegal activities by the secret state would be reined-in, the Obama administration has sought to embellish the Executive Branch’s lawless policies as the “War on Terror” metastasizes on a planetary scale.

Both The New York Times and The Washington Post have confirmed that the Obama administration “has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.”

Whether or not al-Awlaki is an operative of the Afghan-Arab database of disposable Western intelligence assets known as al-Qaeda, or whether the dodgy cleric’s targeting is part of a CIA clean-up operation that would preempt disclosure of the Agency’s foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks is besides the point.

What is significant is that the administration is now standing-up a presidential assassination program that would target American citizens far from any battlefield, solely on the basis of unchecked accusations by the Executive Branch that they’re involved in terrorism.

No warrant, no arrest, no trial: in place of a lawful conviction by a “jury of his peers,” “justice” will come in the form of a Hellfire missile or a bullet in the back of the head!

In November, I wrote of a suggested plan published by the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) to create a secretive “National Manhunting Agency.”

In that piece I said while the text was not an “official” report, the fact that the monograph, Manhunting: Counter-Network Organization for Irregular Warfare, was written by retired Air Force Lt. Colonel George A. Crawford and published by JSOU, lends added weight to arguments by critics that the United States Government has “gone rogue” and is preparing a planet-wide Operation Condor network to capture or kill imperialism’s enemies.

In light of last week’s reports, does such an entity now exist, either as an official, though compartmented, code-word protected secret operation, or as a privatized Murder, Inc.?

On the domestic surveillance front, as The New York Times revealed in several investigative pieces in 2009, NSA, despite assurances from the Obama administration, continued to intercept “private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year.”

According to journalists Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, the “intelligence officials” said that the agency “had been engaged in ‘overcollection’ of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic.”

In a follow-up piece, the Times’ reporters disclosed, that a former NSA analyst “described being trained in 2005 for a program in which the agency routinely examined large volumes of Americans’ e-mail messages without court warrants. Two intelligence officials confirmed that the program was still in operation.”

Indeed, as a heavily-redacted 38-page report released last year by the inspectors general of five federal agencies found, most “intelligence officials” interviewed “had difficulty citing specific instances” when the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program contributed to successes against “terrorists.”

But as a means for monitoring the communications of dissident and activist groups, lawless surveillance programs have been a boon to America’s political police as they zero-in on anarchists, Muslims, environmentalists, indeed any group perceived to be a “threat” to the capitalist order.

The report goes on to state that when President Bush authorized the illegal warrantless wiretapping operation, he also signed off on a host of other surveillance programs that the secret state has never publicly disclosed. According to multiple published reports, those programs include a massive data-mining operation of the email, internet searches, blog posts, GPS locational data of American citizens.

Security researcher Chris Soghoian, the publisher of the web site Slight Paranoia, discovered at the secretive Intelligent Support Systems (ISS) wiretapping conference last October in Washington, that a niche security outfit, Packet Forensics was marketing internet spying boxes to the federal government.

In December, Soghoian revealed that a Sprint Nextel executive disclosed at ISS that the firm provided law enforcement agencies with its customers’ (GPS) location information “over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009″ and that this new “tool” for tracking our every move “was made possible due to the roll-out by Sprint of a new, special web portal for law enforcement officers.”

According to Soghoian and researcher Sid Stamm, Packet Forensics has developed technology designed to intercept communications without breaking encryption, by deploying forged security certificates instead of real ones that websites use to verify connections.

SSL certificates are the tiny lock symbol that appears in your web browser when you make a “secure” connection for online banking or to purchase a book or video game.

In a paper published March 24, Certified Lies: Detecting and Defeating Government Interception Attacks Against SSL, Soghoian and Stamm reveal that “a new attack” on individuals’ privacy rights is “the compelled certificate creation attack, in which government agencies compel a certificate authority to issue false SSL certificates that are then used by intelligence agencies to covertly intercept and hijack individuals’ secure Web-based communications. We reveal alarming evidence that suggests that this attack is in active use.”

According to a marketing brochure handed out by Packet Forensics at the ISS conclave, “Users have the ability to import a copy of any legitimate key they obtain (potentially by court order) or they can generate ‘look-alike’ keys designed to give the subject a false sense of confidence in its authenticity.” In other words, secret state agencies, with or without the legal niceties one generally expects in a democracy, can forge security keys “for reasons of state.”

Soghoian and Stamm aver that the product is recommended for government investigators and that Packet Forensics stated that “IP communication dictates the need to examine encrypted traffic at will,” therefore “your investigative staff will collect its best evidence while users are lulled into a false sense of security afforded by web, e-mail or VOIP encryption.”

In blunt terms, all your communications belong to us! And if you don’t like it, well, there’s a jail cell waiting for you in some quiet, out-of-the-way “secure location” otherwise known as a black site!

How has the “change” administration responded to these, and a raft of other reports? The Washington Post reported April 9, that congressional grifters and privacy advocates “are stepping up the pressure on the Obama administration to fill the five vacant seats on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a panel created in 2004 to ensure that executive branch counterterrorism policies protect Americans’ civil liberties.”

Post journalist Ellen Nakashima disclosed that the “board has been vacant since the end of the last administration.”

On and on it goes.

The securitization and militarization of daily life in the “greatest democracy money can buy” proceeds apace. As anthropologist and social critic David Price revealed in a new piece for CounterPunch, America’s military-industrial-intelligence-academic-complex has pressured U.S. universities to welcome the CIA and other secret state agencies back onto campuses with open arms.

“After 9/11″ Price writes, “the intelligence agencies pushed campuses to see the CIA and campus secrecy in a new light, and, as traditional funding sources for social science research declined, the intelligence community gained footholds on campuses.”

These programs, managed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s (ODNI) Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) “use universities to train intelligence personnel by piggybacking onto existing educational programs.”

“Even amid the militarization prevailing in America today,” Price writes, “the silence surrounding this quiet installation and spread of programs … is extraordinary.”

Not so extraordinary however, if one considers America’s rapid transformation into a police state even as the capitalist Empire runs aground.

A war can be won without being waged. Victory can be attained when an adversary knows it is vulnerable to an instantaneous and undetectable, overwhelming and devastating attack without the ability to defend itself or retaliate.

What applies to an individual country does also to all potential adversaries and indeed to every other nation in the world.

There is only one country that has the military and scientific capacity and has openly proclaimed its intention to achieve that ability. That nation is what its current head of state defined last December as the world’s sole military superpower. [1] One which aspires to remain the only state in history to wield full spectrum military dominance on land, in the air, on the seas and in space.

To maintain and extend military bases and troops, aircraft carrier battle groups and strategic bombers on and to most every latitude and longitude. To do so with a post-World War II record war budget of $708 billion for next year.

Having gained that status in large part through being the first country to develop and use nuclear weapons, it is now in a position to strengthen its global supremacy by superseding the nuclear option.

The U.S. led three major wars in less than four years against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq from 1999-2003 and in all three cases deployed from tens to hundreds of thousands of “boots on the ground” after air strikes and missile attacks. The Pentagon established military bases in all three war zones and, although depleted uranium contamination and cluster bombs are still spread across all three lands, American troops have not had to contend with an irradiated landscape. Launching a nuclear attack when a conventional one serves the same purpose would be superfluous and too costly in a variety of ways.

On April 8 American and Russian presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) agreement in the Czech capital of Prague to reduce their respective nation’s nuclear arsenals and delivery systems (subject to ratification by the U.S. Senate and the Russian Duma). Earlier in the same week the U.S. released its new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) which for the first time appeared to abandon the first use of nuclear arms.

The dark nuclear cloud that has hung over humanity’s head for the past 65 years appears to be dissipating.

However, the U.S. retains 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 2,200 (by some counts 3,500) more in storage and a triad of land, air and submarine delivery vehicles.

More ominously, though, Washington is forging ahead with a replacement for the nuclear sword and shield – for blackmail and for deterrence – with a non-nuclear model that could upset the previous “balance of terror” arrangement that has been a criminal nightmare for six decades, but for sixty years without a massive missile war.

The new sword, or spear, entails plans for conventional first strike weapon systems employing the same triad of land, air and sea components – with space added – and the shield is a worldwide network of interceptor missile deployments, also in all four areas. The Pentagon intends to be able to strike first and with impunity.

The non-nuclear arsenal used for disabling and destroying the air defenses and strategic, potentially all major, military forces of other nations will consist of intercontinental ballistic missiles, adapted submarine-launched ballistic missiles, hypersonic cruise missiles and bombers, and super stealthy strategic bombers able to avoid detection by radar and thus evade ground- and air-based defenses.

Any short-range, intermediate-range and long-range missiles remaining in the targeted country will in theory be destroyed after launching by kinetic, “hit-to-kill” interceptor missiles. Should the missiles so neutralized contain nuclear warheads, the fallout will occur over the country that launches them or over an adjoining body of water or other nation of the U.S.’s choosing.

A Russian commentary of three years ago described the interaction between first strike and interceptor missile systems as follows:

“One can invest in the development of a really effective ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] system and first-strike weapons, for example, in conventional high-accuracy systems. The final goal is to create a capability for a disarming first strike (nuclear, non-nuclear or mixed) at the enemy’s strategic nuclear potential. ABM will finish off whatever survives the first blow.” [2]

The long-delayed Nuclear Posture Review Report of earlier this month asserts the Pentagon’s plans for “maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent and reinforcing regional security architectures with missile defenses….” [3]

It also confirms that the addition of “non-nuclear systems to U.S. regional deterrence and reassurance goals will be preserved by avoiding limitations on missile defenses and preserving options for using heavy bombers and long-range missile systems in conventional roles.”

At an April 6 press conference on the Nuclear Posture Review with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Navy Admiral Michael Mullen, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Gates said “we will maintain the nuclear triad of ICBMs [Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles], nuclear-capable aircraft and ballistic-missile submarines” and “we will continue to develop and improve non-nuclear capabilities, including regional missile defenses.” Mullen spoke of “defend[ing] the vital interests of the United States and those of our partners and allies with a more balanced mix of nuclear and non-nuclear means than we have at our disposal today.” [4]

The Pentagon’s Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report of February 1 stated “The United States will pursue a phased adaptive approach to missile defense” and “develop capabilities that are mobile and relocatable.”

Furthermore, “the Administration is committed to implementing the new European Phased Adaptive Approach within a NATO context. In East Asia, the United States is working to improve missile defenses through a series of bilateral relationships. The United States is also pursuing strengthened cooperation with a number of partners in the Middle East.” [5]

The Quadrennial Defense Review Report of February spoke of similar plans.

The Review “advances two clear objectives. First, to further rebalance the capabilities of America’s Armed Forces to prevail in today’s wars, while building the capabilities needed to deal with future threats.”

It states “The United States remains the only nation able to project and sustain large-scale operations over extended distances” with “400,000 U.S. military personnel…forward-stationed or rotationally deployed around the world,” and which is “enabled by cyber and space capabilities and enhanced by U.S. capabilities to deny adversaries’ objectives through ballistic missile defense….”   

One of its key goals is to “Expand future long-range strike capabilities” and promote the “rapid growth in sea- and land-based ballistic missile defense capabilities.” [6]

The U.S. is also intensifying space and cyber warfare programs with the potential to completely shut down other nations’ military surveillance and command, control, communications, computer and intelligence systems, rendering them defenseless on any but the most basic tactical level.

The program under which Washington is developing its conventional weapons capacity to supplement its previous nuclear strategy is called Prompt Global Strike (PGS), alternately referred to as Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS).

Global Security Newswire recently wrote of the proposed START II that “Members of Russia’s political elite are worried about what the agreement says or does not say about U.S. ballistic missile defense and ‘prompt global strike’ systems….” [7]
   
In fact the successor to START I says nothing about American interceptor missile or first strike conventional attack policies, and as such says everything about them. That is, the new treaty will not limit or affect them in any manner.

After the signing ceremony in Prague on April 8 the U.S. State Department issued a fact sheet on Prompt Global Strike which stated:

“Key Point: The New START Treaty does not contain any constraints on current or planned U.S. conventional prompt global strike capability.”

By way of background information and to provide a framework for current U.S. military strategy it added:

“The growth of unrivaled U.S. conventional military capabilities has contributed to our ability to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks….The Department of Defense (DoD) is currently exploring the full range of technologies and systems for a Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS) capability that could provide the President more credible and technically suitable options for dealing with new and evolving threats.” [8]

Describing the constituent parts of PGS, the State Department press release also revealed:

“Current efforts are examining three concepts: Hypersonic Technology Vehicle, Conventional Strike Missile, and Advanced Hypersonic Weapon. These projects are managed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Center, and Army Space and Missile Defense Command respectively….[The START II] warhead ceiling would accommodate any plans the United States might develop during the life of this Treaty to deploy conventional warheads on ballistic missiles.”

In language as unequivocal as the State Department has been known to employ, the statement added:

“New START protects the U.S. ability to develop and deploy a CPGS capability. The Treaty in no way prohibits the United States from building or deploying conventionally-armed ballistic missiles.”

The Department of Defense “is studying CPGS within the context of its portfolio of all non-nuclear long-range strike capabilities including land-based and sea-based systems, as well as standoff and/or penetrating bombers….” [9]

The non-nuclear missiles referred to are designed to strike any spot on earth within sixty minutes, but as the main proponent of PGS, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine General James Cartwright, recently boasted, “At the high end,” strikes could be delivered in “300 milliseconds.” [10]

Speaking of the air force third of the GPS triad – nuclear-armed cruise missiles fired from B-52 bombers, X-51 unmanned aircraft that can fly at 5,000 miles per hour, the Blackswift “spaceplane” – Cartwright has also said that current conventionally armed bombers are “too slow and too intrusive” for many “global strike missions.” [11]

On January 21 Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn called for placing the Pentagon “on a permanent footing to fight both low-intensity conflicts to maintaining air dominance and the ability to strike any target on Earth at any time….The next air warfare priority for the Pentagon is developing a next-generation, deep-penetrating strike capability that can overcome advanced air defenses….” [12] 

In a Global Security Network analysis titled “Cost to Test U.S. Global-Strike Missile Could Reach $500 Million,” Elaine Grossman wrote:

“The Obama administration has requested $239.9 million for prompt global strike research and development across the military services in fiscal 2011….If funding levels remain as anticipated into the coming years, the Pentagon will have spent some $2 billion on prompt global strike by the end of fiscal 2015, according to budget documents submitted last month to Capitol Hill.” [13]

The land-based component of PGS, Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles with a conventional payload, will “initially boost into space like a ballistic missile, dispatch a ‘hypersonic test vehicle’ to glide and maneuver into a programmed destination, which could be updated or altered remotely during flight.” [14]

Last month Defense News featured an article with the title “U.S. Targets Precision Arms for 21st-Century Wars,” which included this excerpt:

“To counter…air defenses, the Pentagon wants to build a host of precision
weapons that can hit any target from thousands of miles away. Known as a family of systems, these weapons could include whatever the Air Force chooses as its next bomber, a new set of cruise missiles and even, someday, hypersonic weapons developed under the Pentagon’s Prompt Global Strike program that would give the speed and range of an ICBM to a conventional warhead.” [15]

A recent Washington Post report on PGS quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warning that “World states will hardly accept a situation in which nuclear weapons disappear, but weapons that are no less destabilizing emerge in the hands of certain members of the international community.” [16]

The same source added “the Obama administration…sees the missiles as one cog in an array of defensive and offensive weapons that could ultimately replace nuclear arms,” and quoted the Pentagon’s Cartwright as affirming: “Deterrence can no longer just be nuclear weapons. It has to be broader.” [17]

The following day Britain’s Independent ran a story the following quotes from which should disabuse anyone hoping that Washington’s “post-nuclear world” will be any safer a one.

Referring to PGS intercontinental ballistic missiles with (at least in theory) conventional warheads, the newspaper warned that:

“Once they are launched, there could be difficulty in distinguishing their conventional payloads from nuclear ones. That in turn could accidentally trigger a nuclear retaliation by Russia or another similarly-armed power.

“Another danger is that if nuclear weapons are no longer at issue, there would be a bigger temptation for American military commanders to become more cavalier about ordering strikes. And unless intelligence can be fully relied upon, the chances of striking mistaken targets are high.” [18]

U.S. officials have discussed the prospect of launching such missiles at a lower altitude than nuclear ICBMs would travel, but it would take an almost limitless degree of trust – or gullibility – on behalf of Russian or Chinese military officials to depend upon the assurance that ICBMs heading toward or near their territory were in fact not carrying nuclear weapons at whatever distance from the earth’s surface they were flying.

In 2007, the year after the Pentagon first announced its Prompt Global Strike plans, a Russian analyst wrote that “the Americans are not particularly worried about their nuclear arsenal” and “have been thoroughly calculating the real threats to their security to be ready to go to war, if need be, in real earnest,” adding “The 20th century saw two world wars and a third one is looming large.”

“Despite the obvious threat to civilization the United States may soon acquire orbital weapons under the Prompt Global Strike plan. They will give it the capacity to deal a conventional strike virtually anywhere in the world within an hour.” [19]

Elaine Grossman wrote last year:

“Once it is built, the Conventional Strike Missile is expected to pair rocket boosters with a fast-flying ‘payload delivery vehicle’ capable of dispensing a kinetic energy projectile against a target. Upon nearing its endpoint, the projectile would split into dozens of lethal fragments potentially capable against humans, vehicles and structures, according to defense officials….” [20]

A comparably horrifying scenario of the effects of a PGS attack, this one from the sea-based version, appeared in Popular Mechanics three years ago:

“In the Pacific, a nuclear-powered Ohio class submarine surfaces, ready for the president’s command to launch. When the order comes, the sub shoots a 65-ton Trident II ballistic missile into the sky. Within 2 minutes, the missile is traveling at more than 20,000 ft. per second. Up and over the oceans and out of the atmosphere it soars for thousands of miles.

“At the top of its parabola, hanging in space, the Trident’s four warheads separate and begin their screaming descent down toward the planet.

“Traveling as fast as 13,000 mph, the warheads are filled with scored tungsten rods with twice the strength of steel.

“Just above the target, the warheads detonate, showering the area with thousands of rods – each one up to 12 times as destructive as a .50-caliber bullet. Anything within 3000 sq. ft. of this whirling, metallic storm is obliterated.” [21]

This April 7 former Joint Chief of Staff of the Russian Armed Forces General Leonid Ivashov penned a column called “Obama’s Nuclear Surprise.”

Referring to the U.S. president’s speech in Prague a year ago – “The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War” – and his signing of the START II agreement in the same city this April 8, the author said:

“No examples of sacrificial service of the US elites to mankind or the peoples of other countries can be discovered in US history over the past century. Would it be realistic to expect the advent of an African-American president to the White House to change the country’s political philosophy traditionally aimed at achieving global dominance? Those believing that something like that is possible should try to realize why the US – the country with a military budget already greater than those of all other countries of the world combined – continues spending enormous sums of money on preparations for war.” [22]

Specifically in reference to PGS, he detailed that “The Prompt Global Strike concept envisages a concentrated strike using several thousand precision conventional weapons in 2-4 hours that would completely destroy the critical infrastructures of the target country and thus force it to capitulate.

“The Prompt Global Strike concept is meant to sustain the US monopoly in the military sphere and to widen the gap between it and the rest of the world. Combined with the deployment of missile defense supposed to keep the US immune to retaliatory strikes from Russia and China, the Prompt Global Strike initiative is going to turn Washington into a modern era global dictator.

“In essence, the new US nuclear doctrine is an element of the novel US security strategy that would be more adequately described as the strategy of total impunity. The US is boosting its military budget, unleashing NATO as a global gendarme, and planning real-life exercises in Iran to test the efficiency of the Prompt Global Strike initiative in practice. At the same time, Washington is talking about a completely nuclear-free world.” [23]

Notes

1) Obama Doctrine: Eternal War For Imperfect Mankind
  Stop NATO, December 10, 2009
  http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/12/11/obama-doctrine-eternal-war-for-imperfect-mankind
2) Alexander Khramchikhin, The MAD situation is no longer there
   Russian Information Agency Novosti, May 29, 2007
3) Nuclear Posture Review Report
   United States Department of Defense
   April 2010
   http://www.defense.gov/npr/docs/2010%20Nuclear%20Posture%20Review%20Report.pdf
4) United States Department of Defense
   American Forces Press Service
   April 6, 2010
5) United States Department of Defense, February 1, 2010
   http://www.comw.org/qdr/fulltext/1002BMDR.pdf
6) United States Department of Defense, February 2010
   Quadrennial Defense Review Report, February 2010
   http://www.defense.gov/qdr/QDR%20as%20of%2026JAN10%200700.pdf
7) Global Security Newswire, April 2, 2010
8) U.S. Department of State, April 9, 2010
9) Ibid
10) Defense News, June 4, 2009
11) Ibid
12) Defense News, January 22, 2010
    U.S. Extends Missile Buildup From Poland And Taiwan To Persian Gulf
    Stop NATO, February 3, 2010
    http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2010/02/03/u-s-extends-missile-buildup-from-poland-and-taiwan-to-persian-gulf
13) Global Security Network, March 15, 2010
14) Ibid
15) Defense News, March 22, 2010
16) Washington Post, April 8, 2010
17) Ibid
18) The Independent, April 9, 2010
19) Andrei Kislyakov, Defense budget: nuclear or conventional?
    Russian Information Agency Novosti, November 20, 2007
20) Global Security Newswire, July 1, 2009
21) Noah Shachtman, Hypersonic Cruise Missile: America’s New Global Strike
    Weapon
    Popular Mechanics, January 2007
22) Strategic Culture Foundation, April 7, 2010
23) Ibid

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Media coverage of Cuban medical cooperation following the disastrous recent earthquake in Haiti was sparse indeed.  International news reports usually described the Dominican Republic as being the first to provide assistance, while Fox News sang the praises of U.S. relief efforts in a report entitled “U.S. Spearheads Global Response to Haiti Earthquake”-a common theme of its extensive coverage.  CNN also broadcast hundreds of reports, and in fact one focused on a Cuban doctor wearing a T-shirt with a large image of Che Guevara–and yet described him as a “Spanish doctor”.

In general, international news reports ignored Cuba’s efforts.  By March 24, CNN for example, had 601 reports on their news website regarding the earthquake in Haiti-of which only 18 (briefly) referenced Cuban assistance. Similarly, between them the New York Times and the Washington Post had 750 posts regarding the earthquake and relief efforts, though not a single one discusses in any detail any Cuban support.  In reality, however, Cuba’s medical role had been extremely important-and had been present since 1998.

Cuba and Haiti Pre-Earthquake

In 1998, Haiti was struck by Hurricane Georges. The hurricane caused 230 deaths, destroyed 80% of the crops, and left 167,000 people homeless.[1] Despite the fact that Cuba and Haiti had not had diplomatic relations in over 36 years, Cuba immediately offered a multifaceted agreement to assist them, of which the most important was medical cooperation.

Cuba adopted a two-pronged public health approach to help Haiti. First, it agreed to maintain hundreds of doctors in the country for as long as necessary, working wherever they were posted by the Haitian government. This was particularly significant as Haiti’s health care system was easily the worst in the Americas, with life expectancy of only 54 years in 1990 and one out of every 5 adult deaths due to AIDS, while 12.1% of children died from preventable intestinal infectious diseases.[2]

In addition Cuba agreed to train Haitian doctors in Cuba, providing that they would later return and take the places of the Cuban doctors (a process of “brain gain” rather than “brain drain”). Significantly, the students were selected from non-traditional backgrounds, and were mainly poor.  It was thought that, because of their socio-economic background, they fully understood their country’s need for medical personnel, and would return to work where they were needed. The first cohort of students began studying in May, 1999 at the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM).

 By 2007, significant change had already been achieved throughout the country. It is worth noting that Cuban medical personnel were estimated to be caring for 75% of the population.[3]  Studies by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) indicated clear improvements in the health profile since this extensive Cuban medical cooperation began.

Improvements in Public Health in Haiti, 1999-2007[4]

Health Indicator

1999

 2007

Infant Mortality, per 1,000 live births

80

 33 

Child Mortality Under 5 per 1,000

135

59,4 

Maternal Mortality per 100,000 live births

 523

285 

Life Expectancy (years)

54

61

Cuban medical personnel had clearly made a major difference to the national health  profile since 1998, largely because of their proactive role in preventive medicine-as can be seen below.

Selected Statistics on Cuban Medical Cooperation 
Dec. 1998-May 2007[5]         

Visits to the doctor            10,682,124         
Doctor visits to patients       4,150,631         
Attended births                     86,633         
Major and minor surgeries     160,283         
Vaccinations                       899,829         
Lives saved (emergency)      210,852

By 2010, at no cost to medical students, Cuba had trained some 550 Haitian doctors, and is at present training a further 567. Moreover, since 1998 some 6,094 Cuban medical personnel have worked in Haiti. They had given over 14.6 million consultations, carried out 207,000 surgical operations, including 45,000 vision restoration operations through their Operation Miracle programme, attended 103,000 births, and taught literacy to 165,000. In fact at the time of the earthquake there were 344 Cuban medical personnel there. All of this medical cooperation, it must be remembered, was provided over an 11-year period before the earthquake of January 12, 2010.[6]

Cuba and Haiti Post-Earthquake

The earthquake killed at least 220,000, injured 300,000 and left 1.5 million homeless.[7] Haitian PrimeMinister Jean-Max Bellerive described it as “the worst catastrophe that has occurred in Haiti in two centuries”.[8]

International aid began flooding in. It is important to note the type of medical aid provided by some major international players. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), for example, an organization known for its international medical assistance, flew in some 348 international staff, in addition to the 3,060 national staff it already employed. By March 12 they had treated some 54,000 patients, and completed 3,700 surgical operations.[9]

Canada’s contribution included the deployment of 2,046 Canadian Forces personnel, including 200 DART personnel. The DART (Disaster Assistance Response Team) received the most media attention, as it conducted 21,000 consultations-though it should be noted they do not treat any serious trauma patients or provide surgical care. Indeed, among the DART personnel, only 45 are medical staff, with others being involved in water purification, security, and reconstruction. In total, the Canadians stayed for only 7 weeks.[10]

The United States government, which received extensive positive media attention, sent the USNS “Comfort”, a 1,000-bed hospital ship with a 550-person medical staff and stayed for 7 weeks, in which time they treated 871 patients, performing 843 surgical operations.[11]  Both the Canadian and US contributions were important-while they were there.

Lost in the media shuffle was the fact that, for the first 72 hours following the earthquake, Cuban doctors were in fact the main medical support for the country. Within the first 24 hours, they had completed 1,000 emergency surgeries, turned their living quarters into clinics, and were running the only medical centers in the country, including 5 comprehensive diagnostic centers (small hospitals) which they had previously built.  In addition another 5 in various stages of construction were also used, and they turned their ophthalmology center into a field hospital-which treated 605 patients within the first 12 hours following the earthquake.[12]

Cuba soon became responsible for some 1,500 medical personnel in Haiti. Of those, some 344 doctors were already working in Haiti, while over 350 members of the “Henry Reeve” Emergency Response Medical Brigade were sent by Cuba following the earthquake.  In addition, 546 graduates of ELAM from a variety of countries, and 184 5th and 6th year Haitian ELAM students joined, as did a number of Venezuelan medical personnel.   In the final analysis, they were working throughout Haiti in 20 rehabilitation centers and 20 hospitals, running 15 operating theatres, and had vaccinated 400,000. With reason Fidel Castro stated, “we send doctors, not soldiers”.[13]

A glance at the medical role of the various key players is instructive.

Comparative Medical Contributions in Haiti by March 23[14]

MSF

Canada

United States

Cuba

No. of Staff

1,504

3,408

45

550

No. of Patients Treated

54,000

21,000

871

227,143

No. of Surgeries

6,499

3,700

0

843

These comparative data, compiled from several sources, are particularly telling as they indicate the significant (and widely ignored) medical contribution of the Cubans. In fact, they have treated 4.2 times the number of patients compared with MSF (which has over twice as many workers, as well as significantly more financial resources), and 10.8 times more than the Canadian DART team. (As noted, Canadian and US medical personnel had left by March 9).  Also notable is the fact that the Cuban medical contingent was roughly three times the size of the American staff, although they treated 260.7 times more patients than U.S. medical personnel. Clearly, there have been significant differences in the nature of medical assistance provided.

It is also important to note that approximately one-half of the Cuban medical staff was working outside the capital, Port-au-Prince, where there was significant damage as well. Many medical missions could not get there, however, due to transportation issues. Significantly, the Cuban medical brigade also worked to minimize epidemics by making up 30 teams to educate communities on how to properly dispose of waste, as well as how to minimize public health risks.  Noted Cuban artist Kcho also headed a cultural brigade made up of clowns, magicians and dancers, supported by psychologists and psychiatrists, to deal with the trauma experienced by Haitian children.

Perhaps most impressively, following the growing concern for the health of the country, due to a poor and now largely destroyed health care system Cuba, working with ALBA (the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América) countries, presented to the WHO an integral program to reconstruct the health care system of Haiti. Essentially, they are offering to rebuild the entire health care system.   It will be supported by ALBA and Brazil, and run by Cubans and Cuban-trained medical staff. This is to include hospitals, polyclinics, and medical schools. In addition, the Cuban government has offered to increase the number of Haitian students attending medical school in Cuba.   This offer of medical cooperation represents an enormous degree of support for Haiti.[15]  Sadly, this generous offer has not been reported by international media.

While North American media might have ignored Cuba’s role, Haiti has not. A pointed remark was made by Haitian President Mr. René Préval, who noted, “you did not wait for an earthquake to help us”.[16] Similarly, Haiti’s Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has also repeatedly noted that the first three countries to help were Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

Sadly (but not surprisingly), while Cuba’s efforts to assist Haiti have increased, international efforts have continued to dwindle. The head of the Cuban medical mission, Dr. Carlos Alberto García, summed up well the situation just two weeks after the tragedy: “many foreign delegations have already begun to leave, and the aid which is arriving now is not the same it used to be. Sadly, as always happens, soon another tragedy will appear in another country, and the people of Haiti will be forgotten, left to their own fate”.  Significantly, he added “However we will still be here long after they have all gone.”[17] This in fact has been the case.  Canadian forces, for example, returned home and the USNS Comfort sailed several weeks ago. By contrast, Cuban President Raúl Castro noted: “we have accompanied the Haitian people, and we will continue with them whatever time is needed, no matter how many years, with our very modest support”.[18]

A representative of the World Council of Churches to the United Nations made the telling comment that “humanitarian aid could not be human if it was only publicized for 15 days”.[19] Today Cuba, with the support of ALBA and Brazil, is working not to build a field hospital, but rather a health care system. And, while international efforts have been largely abandoned, the Cuban staff and Cuban-trained medical staff will remain, as they have done for the past 11 years, for as long as necessary.  This is a story that international media have chosen not to tell-now that the television cameras have gone. Yet it is an extraordinary story of true humanitarianism, and of great success in saving lives since 1998.  Moreover, in light of Cuba’s success in providing public health care (at no cost to the patients) to millions of Haitians, this approach to preventive, culturally sensitive, low cost and effective medicine needs to be told.  That significant contribution to this impoverished nation, and Cuba’s ongoing commitment to its people, clearly deserve to be recognized.  Until then it will sadly remain as one of the world’s best- kept secrets.

Emily J. Kirk will be an M.A. student in Latin American Studies at Cambridge University in September.

 

John Kirk is a professor of Latin American Studies at Dalhousie University, Canada. Both are working on a project on Cuban medical internationalism sponsored by Canada’s Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).  Professor Kirk co-wrote with Michael Erisman the 2009 book “Cuba’s Medical Internationalism: Origins, Evolution and Goals” (Palgrave Macmillan).  He spent most of February and March in El Salvador and Guatemala, accompanying the Henry Reeve Brigade in El Salvador, and working with the Brigada Medica Cubana in Guatemala.

Notes

[1] “Audit of USAID/HAITI Hurricane Georges Recovery Programme”. USAID. 15 May, 2001. Retrieved 10 March, 2010 from <http://www.usaid.gov/oig/public/fy01rpts/1-521-01-005-p.pdf>

[2] See entry for “Haiti” on the Pan American Health Organization website, found at http://www.paho.org/english/dd.ais/cp_332.htm.  Accessed February 2, 2010.

[3] William Steif, “Cuban Doctors Aid Strife-Torn Haiti.” The State. April 26, 2004, and found athttp://havanajournal.com/culture/entry/cuban_doctors_aid_strife_torn_haiti/Accessed June 21, 2007.

[4] See entry for “Haiti” on the Pan American Health Organization website, found at http://www.paho.org/english/dd/ais/cp_332.htm. Accessed February 2 2010.

[5] Anna Kovac, “Cuba Trains Hundred of Haitian Doctors to Make a Difference,” August 6, 2007. Located on the MEDICC website athttp:www.medicc.org/cubahealthreports/chr-article.php?&a=1035. Accessed February 2, 2010.

[6] Ibid., “Haitian Medical Students in Cuba”. Medical Education Cooperation With Cuba. 12 January, 2010. Retrieved 12 January, 2010 from <http://www.mwdicc.org/ns/index.php?p=4&s=33>, “La colabaración cubana permanecerá en Haití los años que sean necesarios”, Cubadebate. 24 February, 2010. Retrieved 9 March, 2010 from <http://www.cubadebate.cu/opinion/2010/02/24/cuba-estara-en-haiti-anos-que sean-necesario>, “Fact Sheet: Cuban Medical Cooperation With Haiti”. Medicc Review. 15 January, 2009. Retrieved 2 February, 2010 fromhttp://www.medicc.org/ns/index.php?s=104.

[7] “Haiti Earthquake: Special Coverage”. CNN. 20 March, 2010. Retrieved 22 March, 2010 from  <http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2010/haiti.quake/>

[8] Tyler Maltbie, “Haiti Earthquake: The Nations That Are Stepping Up To Help”, The Christian Science Monitor, Posted January 14, 2010 onhttp://www.csmonitor.com/layout/set/print/content/view/print273879. Accessed January 28, 2010.

[9] “Two Months After the Quake, New Services and New Concerns”. MSF. 12 March, 2010. Retrieved 17 March, 2010 from <http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/news/article_printcfm?id=4320>

[10] “Canada’s Response to the Earthquake in Haiti: Progress to Date”. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. March 17, 2010. Retrieved 17 March, 2010 from <http://www.internaitonal.gc.ca/humanitarian-humanitaire/earthquake_seisme_h aiti_effort>

[11] “USNS Comfort Completes Haiti Mission, March 9, 2010″. American Forces Press Service. 9 March, 2010. Retrieved 11 March, 2010 from <http://www.trackpads.com/forum/defenselink/928304-usns-comfort-completes-ha ti-mission>

[12] John Burnett, “Cuban Doctors Unsung Heroes of Haitian Earthquake”, National Public Radio report, January 24, 2010, and found athttp://www.npr.org/templates/story.ph?storyID=122919202. Accessed 28 January, 2010.

[13] José Steinsleger. “Haiti, Cuba y la ley primera,” La Jornada, February 3, 2010., Data in this section came from the address given by Ambassador Rodolfo Reyes Rodríguez on January, 27, 2010 in Geneva at the 13th Special Session of the U.N. Human Rights Council on Haiti. It can be accessed at “Cuba en Ginebra: ‘Ante tan difícil situación humanitaria en Haití no puede haber titubeos ni indiferencia,” on the Cubbadebate website: <http://www.cubadebate.cu/especiales/2010/01/27/cuba-en-ginebra-sobre-recons truccion-haiti>

[14] Connor Gorry. “Two of the 170,000 + Cases”. Medicc Review. March 8, 2010. Retrieved 10 March, 2010 from  <http://mediccglobal.wordpress.com/>, “Cooperación con Haití debe ser a largo plazo.” Juventud Rebelde. 23 March, 2010. Retrieved March 23, 2010 from <http://juventudrebelde.cu/internacionales/2010-03-23/cooperacion-con-haiti- debe-ser-a-largo-plazo>, “Haiti: Two Months After The Quake, New Services and New Concerns”. MSF. 12 March, 2010. Retrieved 17 March, 2010 from http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/news/article_print.cfm?id=4320>, “Haiti-USNS Comfort Medical And Surgical Support”. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 11 March, 2010. Retrieved 11 March, 2010 from <http:www.hhs.gov/Haiti/usns_comfort.html>, Brett Popplewell. “This Haitian Town Is Singing Canada’s Praise”. The Star. 26 January, 2010. Retrieved 17 March from <http://www.thestar.com/printarticle/755843>, “USNS Comfort Leaves Haiti”. 13 News. 11 March, 2010. Retrieved 11 March, 2010 from <http://www.wvec.com/internaternalz?st=print&id=87243182&path=/home>

[15] In a March 27, 2010 meeting in Port-au-Prince between President Préval and the Cuban and Brazilian ministers of health (José Ramón Balaguer and José Gomes), details were provided about what Balaguer termed “a plot of solidarity to assist the Haitian people”.  Gomes added “We have just signed an agreement-Cuba, Brazil and Haiti-according to which all three countries make a commitment to unite our forces in order to reconstruct the health system in Haiti.  An extraordinary amount of work is currently being carried out in terms of meeting the most basic and most pressing needs, but now it is necessary to think about the future  [.] Haiti needs a permanent, quality healthcare system, supported by well-trained professionals [.]  We will provide this, together with Cuba-a country with an extremely long internationalist experience, a great degree of technical ability, great determination, and an enormous amount of heart.  Brazil and Cuba, two nations that are so close, so similar, now face a new challenge: together we will unite our efforts to rebuild Haiti, and rebuild the public health system of this country”.  See “Cuba y Brasil suman esfuerzos con Haití,” Juventud Rebelde, March 28, 2010 (Translation to English provided  by authors).

[16] “Presidente Preval agradece a Fidel y Raúl Castro ayuda solidaria a Haití”. 8 February, 2010. Retrieved 9 February, 2010 from <http://www.cubadebate.cu/noticias/2010/02/08presidente-preval-agradece-fidel -raul-castro>

[17] María Laura Carpineta, “Habla el jefe de los 344 médicos cubanos instalados en Haití desde hace doce años”. Página 12 [Argentina]. February 4, 2010, found at [email protected] [18] Ibid. [19] “Press Conference on Haiti Humanitarian Aid,” held at the United Nations on March 23, 2004 and found at htto://----escape_autolink_uri:2649b6bced45d10c22f945ba34669c2b----. Accessed November 21, 2008.

This commentary was written for Cuba-L Analysis and CounterPunch.

Iran Accuses NATO Chief Rasmussen Of Warmongering

April 11th, 2010 by Global Research

The Iranian embassy in Copenhagen has responded to the NATO chief’s recent claims about Tehran’s nuclear program, calling them “misleading false assumptions”. 

“The former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s Wednesday article, which raised some issues about Iran, was full of misinterpretations, ill-intent, and false accusations about Tehran’s peaceful nuclear and missile activities,” the embassy said in a statement. 

“He, like others who seek any opportunity to spread their warmongering views, has one again resorted to preconceptions, lies and deception,” it added. 

The embassy also said that the NATO chief was making such accusations against Iran, because of his close relationship with former US and British leaders, George W. Bush and Tony Blair, “the architects of the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.” 

In his article, which was published on April 1, the secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization accused Iran of concealing its nuclear facilities. 

He also claimed that Iran has rejected “all offers of co-operation from the US, European Union, and others,” while announcing “plans to enrich its uranium to levels that appear incompatible with civilian use.” 

In its statement, the embassy responded to the points raised by Rasmussen, arguing that “constantly, and especially during the past seven years,” the Iranian nuclear program had been under the supervision of UN nuclear watchdog inspectors. 

“As these inspectors have not reported any concealed facilities, then how has Rasmussen allowed himself to make such allegations with such conviction?” 

The embassy also pointed out what Rasmussen meant by “plans to enrich its uranium to levels that appear incompatible with civilian use” had to be Iran’s recent announcement that it was reprocessing nuclear material to a level of 20 percent. 

Iran has started 20 percent enrichment to provide fuel for the Tehran Reactor which produces radioisotopes for medical purposes. Nuclear weapon proliferation would require reprocessing to a level of over 80 percent. 

According to the embassy, Rasmussen has “deliberately” omitted that fact in his article to “sway public opinion.” 

“In his point of view, is medical usage not a peaceful purpose? All these activities are being carried out under the watchful eyes of the International Atomic Energy Agency and its cameras,” the statement said. 

The embassy also noted offers made to Tehran had so far been nothing but demands for full “surrender” of Iran’s legitimate nuclear rights in return for permission to purchase “specified” goods and services from “specified” US and European companies. 

We have exciting news to report.

On April 3, at a meeting of over 150 lawyers, legal scholars and human rights campaigners, Ramsey Clark, founder of Indict Bush Now, was chosen to be the chairperson of an international campaign to investigate war crimes committed by officials from the Bush administration.

Representatives at the meeting held in Beirut, Lebanon, came from all over the world. The campaign will investigate the lies, deceit and manipulation leading up to the Iraq war; the conduct of the war itself against an essentially defenseless country; and the horrors of the continued occupation.

Lawyers and judges in several countries are exploring prosecution.

Ramsey Clark emphasized that it is the imperative responsibility of the American people to relentlessly pursue this investigation, and to seek prosecution and indictment inside of the United States.

The culture of criminal conduct started at the top in the White House itself and seeped far down the chain of command. The White House is responsible for these crimes—from the hideous torture scenes at Abu Ghraib prison to the shockingly grotesque, cold-blooded murder of innocent civilians by U.S. helicopter pilots in Baghdad in 2007, as shown in a video released this week.

The chilling video came to light because two of the killed Iraqis happened to be Reuters journalists, and because of the heroic effort of a whistleblower inside the Pentagon who leaked the video posted by WikiLeaks. The Pentagon undoubtedly has hundreds or thousands of similar videos that are kept under lock and key.

Prosecuting only a few low-level people would be a calculated effort to deflect away from those in high places who are ultimately responsible.

Ramsey Clark made the point that all the war crimes and crimes against humanity flow from the commission of the most supreme crimes which he identified as the Crimes against Peace. This was the finding at the Nuremberg trial, and it is enshrined in the Nuremberg Principles.

This now galvanized international movement will also conduct independent inquiries in several countries to review the conduct of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Rove, Yoo and other Bush-era officials.

We want to thank you and the hundreds of thousands of people who are unflagging in their pursuit of justice and government accountability. People around the world—including right here in the U.S.—are encouraged by these efforts. This is a struggle that will be defining not only for this but for future generations. The outcome will send a message to current and future leaders that criminal conduct will never be tolerated or condoned.

Please show your continuing support for this effort by making an urgently needed donation.

From all of us atIndictBushNow

Washington — About 1,300 U.S. troops have been stuck at the Manas airfield in Kyrgyzstan because of the civil unrest there.

A U.S. military spokesman, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the security situation, said the troops have been unable to move because of the suspension of U.S. military operations at the airfield.

The airfield in the former Soviet republic has been a transit point for troops and supplies moving in and out of the war zone in Afghanistan.

The spokesman said there are some refueling flights being run out of Manas but said that any decisions on future passenger flights will be made on a case-by-case basis.

The stranded troops include those coming home from Afghanistan and others going into the war zone. The spokesman said it is not known when the airfield will reopen and it is not yet certain how the troops will be moved out.

Earlier this week, anti-government riots in Kyrgyzstan killed 76 people and forced the county’s president to flee the capital, Bishkek.

Russia Mulls Sending Peacekeepers to Kyrgyzstan

April 11th, 2010 by Natalya Kovalenko

Russia may send peacekeepers to Kyrgyzstan but only if it is asked to, by either of the country’s conflicting sides, the head of the Federation Council’s defense and security committee said on Saturday.

Even though what is now going on in Kyrgyzstan is a strictly internal affair of this former Soviet Central Asian republic, Russia might send in peacekeepers as part of an OSCE or UN mission, Viktor Ozerov added. 

The Federation Council upper house of the Russian parliament has the final say on issues related to deploying Russian peacekeepers abroad. Any such authorization, however, must be preceded by a top-level request from a country which needs peacekeepers to prevent further bloodshed or a humanitarian disaster. Because Kyrgyzstan is part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Russian peacekeepers can be dispatched there as part of a CSTO mission. Or as part of a UN mission if Kirgiz authorities make a formal request to the UN Security Council and the UN Secretary General gives a pertinent mandate to countries – members of the Security Council.

At present, there are neither legal nor political  reasons for such deployments though now that life in Bishkek is gradually returning to normal and military checkpoints set up and  Interior troops and volunteer units enforcing law and order in the capital.

Meanwhile, funeral processions are currently being held across the republic as part of a two-day period of national mourning declared by the interim government.

The number of deaths resulting from the unrest in Kyrgyzstan has reached 79, and more than 1,500 were injured in the protests that began in the northwestern town of Talas on Tuesday and quickly spread to other parts of the country.

Russia will pull out of the new START Treaty if it finds that the US missile defense plans encroach upon its strategic interests. Speaking on national television on Saturday, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said what matters is not the location of the American missile defense shield but the threat coming from it. Under the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty the two presidents signed in Prague on Thursday, the two countries’ nuclear warheads will be cut by one third, and both sides pledge not to deploy strategic armaments beyond their territories. Preliminary work to ratify the agreement is already underway.

Freedom Rider: Obama’s Lies About Iran

April 11th, 2010 by Margaret Kimberley

The Peace Prize winner in the White House continues to beat the drums of war with Iran, in perfect synch with the corporate media orchestra. “The New York Times was made privy to what has been called a ‘parlor game,’ of ‘Imagining an Israeli Strike on Iran’” – apparently in the spirit of the old motivational slogan, “If you can conceive it, you can achieve it.” 

“It is Obama who will instigate a conflict that the much-hated Bush would not.”

Threats both subtle and not so subtle were constantly made against Iran during the presidency of George W. Bush. Beginning with the infamous “Axis of Evil” speech, a campaign of threats began and a bevy of lies were told claiming that Iran threatened Americans’ very lives.

Iran’s nuclear power capability is used to keep us frightened beyond all reason. That nation’s domestic turmoil wrought by last year’s disputed presidential election has also been used as proof that Iran is a terrorist state, or a “state sponsor of terror” or whatever new terms can be invented to make Americans believe that war is a necessity.

The Obama administration has once again taken up where the Bush administration left off, but in a far more clever way. In September 2009, with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy by his side, Obama announced that the Iranians had a nuclear enrichment facility in the city of Qum. Brown and Sarkozy played their roles perfectly, exclaiming in equally hysterical tones that Iran is up to something nefarious and must be stopped. What the press didn’t reveal was that the Iranians themselves, not the United States government, announced the facility’s existence just a few days earlier.

“The ties between corporate media and the highest levels of government have never been clearer.” 

The corporate media have joined in on the side of our government, guaranteeing access for their reporters and Pulitzer prizes in their future. The New York Times was made privy to what has been called a “parlor game,” of “Imagining an Israeli Strike on Iran.” The ties between corporate media and the highest levels of government have never been clearer. This game, this plan for the death of thousands of human beings, is clearly on the drawing board for the Obama administration and the New York Times and its ilk will be among the biggest cheer leaders.

The drum beat of lies continue on a daily basis. Shahram Amiri is an Iranian nuclear scientist who disappeared while on pilgrimage to Mecca in June 2009. Iran accused the United States of abducting him, a claim which was vehemently denied for months but which was very recently confirmed as being true. Now the CIA admits that Amiri is in United States custody and claim that he defected willingly. The degree of willingness which resulted in his presence in the United States should be accepted with the same grain of salt as any other claims about his country. So far it appears that Iran tells the truth and our own government tells lies.

The latest administration claim is that the members of the United Nations Security Council are united in applying more sanctions against Iran. China has so far been reluctant to bend to America’s will. Now the Obama administration claims to have Chinese support in applying even more sanctions against Iran. Like the claims of non-involvement in the “defection” of Amiri, these claims may yet prove to be specious. Even if true, the degree of arm-twisting from Obama must be considerable if the Chinese reverse course.

“China has so far been reluctant to bend to America’s will.”

Nearly ten years ago the Bush administration went through the same awful game, with Iraq as its target. Now the Peace Prize administration is engaging in the same tactics. Iran is blamed for everything except bad weather. Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, blames Iran for “providing some assistance to insurgents in Afghanistan.” Iran has nukes, helps insurgents and wants to steal your first-born child, too.

Barack Obama appears to be more intent on making good on threats against Iran than George W. Bush ever was. Bush did not make the same efforts of applying pressure on European governments and on the Security Council to back additional sanctions, the first precursor to war. He didn’t invite New York Times reporters to take part in war game simulations. No, it is Obama who will instigate a conflict that the much-hated Bush would not.

When it happens, when Barack Obama appears on television speaking in the most serious tones about why Iranians have to die, what will we say? What will black Americans, formerly in the vanguard of every antiwar movement, say about the slaughter? What will all progressives say about an awful crime against humanity?

We can only hope that the United States and Israel have under estimated the Iranians ability to defend themselves. If they or anyone else on this earth, is expecting an outcry from the American people or its media, they will be sorely disappointed.

Margaret Kimberley‘s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgandaReport.com.

As Washington and Moscow sign a new arms reduction treaty, skepticism arises in Turkey as to whether those cuts will include US atomic warheads stored in the country. 

US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in Prague on Thursday, which requires both sides to reduce their nuclear arsenals to 1,550, or about one-third below current levels. 

This is while the Obama administration has revised US policy on atomic weapons, as part of a new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) that, among other things, is said to be aimed at reducing the US stockpile. 

But silence over anticipated US plans to withdraw nuclear bombs deployed in the Incirlik Air Base in southern Anatolia, has left many speculating on whether Washington has any intentions to remove the weapons at all. 

When asked about a possible US move to withdraw its nuclear weapons from five European countries, including Turkey, Turkey’s Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said that Ankara had no information about such plans. 

“No information has been officially announced,” Gonul told reporters on Wednesday. 

The US has positioned a total of 200 B61 thermonuclear gravity bombs in Turkey, Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Germany since the Cold War. Turkey is believed to be hosting 90 bombs at Incirlik Air Base. 

On April 2, The Times reported that the United States may remove tactical nuclear weapons deployed in five NATO member European countries, including Turkey. 

However, the possibility of the White House seriously considering a decision to withdraw the B61 gravity bombs seems unlikely, as it has not consulted Ankara on the issue so far. 

In the latest NPR, while the Obama Administration has reduced the threat of using nuclear weapons against signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it has excluded NPT signatory Iran from threat reduction.

During the release of the current NPT today, the US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, “the NPR has a very strong message for both Iran and North Korea, because whether it’s in declaratory policy or in other elements of the NPR, we essentially carve out states like Iran and North Korea that are not in compliance with NPT.” 

“Basically, all options are on the table when it comes to countries in that category,” he elaborated. 

Washington, which accuses Iran of having the “intention” of developing nuclear weapons, is leading a push for a fourth round of sanctions against Tehran at the United Nations Security Council in a bid to hinder the nation’s drive for a nuclear energy program. 

Iran, as a signatory of NPT, insists that it neither believes in atomic weapons, nor, as a matter of religious principles, does it intend to acquire nuclear or other weapons of mass-destruction. 

NAIROBI. Amid a surge in big oil strikes in Africa and the threat of growing al-Qaida penetration in the north and east, President Barack Obama is expanding U.S. military involvement across the continent.

This has given weight to the U.S. Africa Command inaugurated Oct. 1, 2008, which is viewed with growing suspicion by many in Africa who consider its primary mission is to secure oil supplies that America considers vital as it cuts its reliance on the Middle East.

As of 2008, Africa reportedly surpassed the Middle East as the main oil supplier to the United States. By 2020, Washington expects one-quarter of its oil imports will be from Africa.

“When President Obama took office in January 2009, it was widely expected that he would dramatically change, or even reverse, the militarized and unilateral society policy that had been pursued by the George W. Bush administration toward Africa and other parts of the world,” Africom critic Daniel Volman noted in an April 2 report for Inter Press Service.

“After one year in office, however, it is clear that the Obama administration is following essentially the same policy that has guided the U.S. military toward Africa for more than a decade.

“Indeed, the Obama administration is seeking to expand U.S. military activities on the continent even further,” wrote Volman, director of the African Security Research Project.

Many in Africa note that U.S. concern about Africa more or less coincided with major oil discoveries in West Africa.

They fear what one commentator described as “creeping U.S. militarism” as has taken place in the Middle East and Asia and America’s history of supporting African tyrants to bolster Western influence during the Cold War.

The expansion of U.S. military activity has spawned fears that Africa was in line to become the next battleground in the conflict with al-Qaida and its jihadists.

The Obama administration’s fiscal 2011 budget request for security assistance programs in Africa includes $38 million for arms sales to African states under the Foreign Military Financing program.

It also wants $21 million for training African officers in the United States plus $24 million for anti-terrorism programs.

In June 2009 Obama approved the delivery of 40 tons of arms and ammunition to the Western-backed Transitional Federal Government in war-torn Somalia to fight Islamist militants linked to al-Qaida.

The United States is also providing military aid to Ethiopia, which helped install the TFG by invading Somalia in December 2006 and defeating the Islamists.

The spread of African groups linked to al-Qaida, such as al-Shebab of Somalia and the Algeria-based al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb, is viewed with growing concern by the Americans, particularly as the oil factor assumed great importance.

In this regard, Africom has taken over U.S. security assistance programs with states grappling with jihadists in North Africa and the Sahara region, such as Mali, Niger, Chad and Senegal, where military forces are ill-equipped and led and hard put to counter Islamist encroachment in their vast, ungoverned spaces.

These are only some of the military projects opening up in Africa.

Africom has stressed that its mission is not combat-oriented. But there is concern that this will inevitably develop.

Last December U.S. military officials confirmed that the Defense Department was considering the formation of a 1,000-strong Marine rapid deployment force for the continent.

One of those could well be Nigeria, which is grappling with a 5-year-old insurgency in its southern oil-producing zone, the country’s economic backbone, Christian-Muslim bloodletting in the north and a deepening political crisis over the presidency.

The religious fighting has raised fears that al-Qaida will find Nigeria, one of Africa’s main oil producers and an important supplier to the United States, fertile ground for infiltration.

The collapse of Africa’s most populous nation would threaten U.S. oil imports and could, according to some analysts, bring down much of oil-rich West Africa with it.

A 2005 Central Intelligence Agency assessment of Africa’s long-term prospects predicted that “most of Africa will become increasingly marginalized as many states struggle to overcome sub-par economic performance, weak state structures and poor governance.”

China’s growing encroachment on the continent in Beijing’s ever-growing drive for oil, gas and raw materials for its expanding economy is also seen as a potential threat since the West also wants them. This could lead to power struggles in a score of African states.

Latin American Criminals Find a Home in the United States

April 11th, 2010 by Global Research

Some of Latin America’s most notorious criminals have found new homes in the United States.

As the US has been fighting the War on Terror against Muslim extremists, it has also been a haven for individuals with outstanding warrants in Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia. Many of those now living freely in the US worked as operatives for the CIA or other US-sponsored organizations hoping to unseat Latin American leaders unpopular with the United States.

In 1976, Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch blew up a Cuban airliner, causing the death of all 73 people on board. Both Posada and Bosch admitted their guilt, but have lived out the remainder of their lives in the US.

Former Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who is facing charges relating to government suppression of a protest in February 2003 resulting in the death of 30 people, fled to the US later that same year and American authorities have refused to extradite him. 

“The [US] government feels it’s necessary to ally itself with people in power, and a lot of times those people are dictators,” said Dave Kane of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

The reason for supporting certain leaders over others is often a question of economics. Sanchez de Lozada was influential in arranging transport of Bolivian natural gas to the United States. 

“While he was here in the 1990s, he was an example of what a president should do in terms of modernizing the economy and natural resources,” Kane said. 

In other cases, those being harbored may know too much. The School of the Americas, hosted by the US military in Georgia, has long been known as a training place for Latin American soldiers and leaders. 

“In the case of Posada Carriles, he has a long history of working with the CIA that has been well documented. In that case, the US doesn’t want a case against him because a lot of information would come out,” Kane said.

Genocide ideology” became a crime in Rwanda in 2003, the same year President Paul Kagameo fficially became Rwanda’s president, with that year’stratification of the new Rwandan Constitution, which includes Article 13:

The crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes do not have a period of limitation.

Revisionism, negationism and trivialisation of genocide are punishable by the law.”

Today, 62 percent of the people packed into Rwanda’s prisons have been charged or convicted of genocide-related crimes and some of the country’s most admired leaders are being accused of the “genocide ideology” thought crime. Most prominent are Victoire Ingabire, Kagame’s strongest competitor for the presidency, and Paul Rusesabagina, the hero portrayed in the film “Hotel Rwanda,” who is charged with “Double Genocide Theory.”

Article 13 criminalizes not only genocidal violence but also disagreement with the received history of the Rwanda Genocide, which has become a major issue in Rwanda’s 2010 presidential election. Many academics, journalists and human rights investigators, the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda and Judge Fernando Andreu of Spain’s National Court now disagree with the received history of who and how many died, who killed whom, who was most responsible and how the tragedy unfolded, but Rwandan citizens who disagree must take care not to do so publicly.

University of Michigan Professor Allan Stam concluded, with University of Notre Dame Professor Christian Davenport, that the vast majority of people who died in the 1994 Rwanda Genocide were Hutus. Stam presented his findings last year at the University of Michigan in a speech entitled “Coming to a NewUnderstanding of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide.” Professor Stam’s passport to Rwanda has been revoked, but he remains safe in the United States.

An additional 2008 statute, named the “genocide ideology law,” was passed by Rwanda’s Parliament and published in Kinyarwanda, English and French in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Rwanda.

This enthusiastic article, “Rwanda: New Law to Fight Genocide Ideology,” published in the New Times and then republished on allAfrica.com, says:

“Kigali – Recently, lawmakers voted in a new law aimed to tackle cases of genocide ideology. The draft law was last Friday forwarded to the Senate for scrutiny. Legislators said the law was necessary to help fight the deadly ideology which plunged the country into the 1994 Genocide. The bill is introduced months after damning revelations that showed cases in which school children demonstrated predisposition to the genocide ideology. The Senate had also found rampant genocide ideology in families, schools and some individuals, which sparked the House to react immediately to stop the vice.

“The damning revelations of genocide ideology in schools by the lower chamber of Parliament caused an uproar in the House, which decided to uproot the vice and save the young generation from contamination.

“Under the new law, children under 12 years found guilty will be sent to rehabilitation centres for not more than 12 months.”

This highly critical Oct. 13, 2009, Human Rights Watch report, “You will be punished,” says:

“Largely aimed at the Hutu population, such offenses permit, among other measures, the government to send away children of any age to rehabilitation centers for up to one year – including for the teasing of classmates – and for parents and teachers to face sentences of 15 to 25 years for the child’s conduct. The government has repeatedly accused the Voice of America, the British Broadcasting Corporation and other media outlets, as well as Human Rights Watch, of promoting genocide ideology; accusations these organizations deny.”

Rwanda’s rate of incarceration, which is the third highest per capita in the world, is second only to that of the United States and Russia, according to the King’s College 2009 World Prison Population List. The report includes a brief with a summary chart saying that Rwandan prisons hold 59,311 people, 593 per 100,000 people in Rwanda’s population, and that roughly 37,000 of these are “awaiting trial or serving sentences for crimes associated with the genocide of 1994.” (Gitarama Prison, pictured above, is described on Akorra.com, on March 10, 2010, as one of the “Top 5 Most Horrible Prisons on Earth.”)

Didas Gasana, editor of Umuseso, Rwanda’s independent Kinyarwanda language newspaper, made inquiries as to how many of the 62 percent of Rwandan prisoners incarcerated for “genocide related crimes” are accused of speech crime – disputing the received history of the Rwanda Genocide – but said that this statistic is not available and that his sources are “tight lipped.”

Gasana’s own prison sentence, for publishing a story on an elected official’s affair with a bureaucrat, is now on appeal and is being protested by Reporters without Borders.

Rwanda accuses Hotel Rwanda hero of ‘Double Genocide Theory’

Rwanda’s government has accused Paul Rusesabagina, the Rwandan exile played by actor Don Cheadle in the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” of being a “revisionist” who “harbors the Double Genocide Theory.”

Paul Rusesabagina’s autobiography, “An Ordinary Man,” became the movie, “Hotel Rwanda.” He is acclaimed worldwide as a hero for saving 1,268 people during the 1994 genocide. – Photo: Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation

A “revisionist” in Rwanda is someone who dares to challenge the received history of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide. The “Double Genocide Theory” is the belief that Hutus as well as Tutsis were victims of genocidal violence in 1994.

The Rwanda New Times reported on March 12 that the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda had ruled that Paul Rusesabagina’s testimony was “not an absolute necessity” at the trial of former ruling party official Joseph Nzirorera.

The New Times also reported: “Deogene Bideri, a senior official at the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), equated Rusesabagina’s actions to those of the accused. ‘Rusesabagina’s actions have made it clear that he is a revisionist and he harbors the Double Genocide Ideology.’

The report continues: “Theodore Simburudari, the president of Ibuka, an umbrella organization of Genocide survivors’ associations, said that for Nzirorera to ask Rusesabagina to be his witness is evidence in itself that both men have in their agenda spreading the Double Genocide Ideology.”

Much of the world’s emotional response to the 1994 Rwanda Genocide has been shaped by the Hollywood movie “Hotel Rwanda.“ At its end, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) Army, led by Gen. Paul Kagame, appear as heroes to end the bloodshed, as the movie’s hero, Paul Rusesabagina, departs from a Rwandan refugee camp with his family.

The movie makes no mention of the many political and legal scholars, journalists and human rights investigators contesting the received history of the genocide, including University of Notre Dame Professor Christian Davenport and University of Michigan Professor Alan Stam, who, after many years of study, interviews with survivors and statistical analysis, concluded that :

a million people died,

the vast majority of those who died were not Tutsi, but Hutu,

American, French and Belgian leaders, including Bill Clinton and the CIA, knew what was happening every day as the massacres continued and

current Rwandan President Paul Kagame, a U.S. ally trained at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, is guilty of war crimes of an extraordinary scale.

Professors Stam and Davenport’s Rwandan visas have been revoked.

Nor does the movie mention Kagame’s training at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the Pentagon arming his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) army, or the victory of the U.S., U.K. and Anglophone interests over those of France, won by the RPF, as described by Professor Michel Chussodovsky in his Global Research report “Rwanda: Installing a U.S. Protectorate in Central Africa.”

Indeed, the movie ends with this message: “The genocide ended in July 1994, when the Tutsi rebels [Kagame’s RPF militia] drove the Hutu army and the interahamwe militia across the border into the Congo. They left behind almost a million corpses.”

It might therefore seem like good public relations for Kagame and his ruling RPF Party to remain on good terms, at least publicly, with Paul Rusesabagina, the real life hero of “Hotel Rwanda,” which is based on his autobiography, “An Ordinary Man.”

Instead, they have accused him of “revisionism” and “harboring the Double Genocide Theory.”

Kagame and the RPF are coming under more and more international pressure to hold a real presidential election this year, as reported by the London Independent on March 15 in “Rwanda’s Democratic Credentials Under Fire.”

Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights Watch, the Campaign to Protect Journalists, the Global Greens, theEuropean Green Free Alliance, the African Faith and Social Justice Network and U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Africa, have all called for civil and political rights and a free and fair election, but authorities continue to deny two of the three major opposition parties permits to convene, register or field candidates.

On March 12, the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation joined the list, issuing a press release that “condemns election related violence in Rwanda and calls for real democratic activity to be allowed.”

Authorities nevertheless continue to threaten the FDU-Inkingi Party’s candidate, Victoire Ingabiré Umuhoza, and the Parti Social-Imberakuri’s embattled leader, Bernard Ntaganda, with incarceration for the same offenses that Kagame’s government accuses Paul Rusesabagina of: “revisionism” and the “Double Genocide Theory.”

Both are speech crimes under the Rwandan Constitution ratified in 2003 and Rwanda’s “genocide ideology” statutes passed in 2008.

Meet Paul Rusesabagina, Foundation President and inspiration for the film Hotel Rwanda from Paul Rusesabagina on Vimeo.

San Francisco writer Ann Garrison writes for the San Francisco Bay ViewDigital JournalExaminer.com,OpEdNewsGlobal ResearchColored Opinions and her Youtube Channel. This story first appeared on Colored Opinions. She can be reached at [email protected].

Although final figures will not be known until April 24, the results of Bolivia’s April 4 regional elections have ratified the continued advance of the “democratic and cultural revolution” led by the country’s first indigenous President Evo Morales. However, it also highlights some of the shortcomings and obstacles the process of change faces.

Initial results from the election for governors, mayors and representatives to municipal councils and departmental assemblies have confirmed the Morales-led Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) as the sole political force with strong support across the nation. It follows the historic 64% vote to re-elect Morales and the two-thirds majority MAS obtained in the Plurinational Assembly last December.

MAS was formed in the mid-1990s by key Bolivian indigenous and peasant organizations in order to create their own political instrument. Many of these organizations are at the heart of the indigenous-led revolutionary movement that overthrew two presidents between 2000-05, before electing one of their own in December 2005.

The Morales government has implemented key demands of the indigenous and peasant organizations by nationalizing gas reserves, allowing the people to participate in the rewrite of a new constitution that dramatically expands indigenous rights, and stimulating an increased sense of pride and dignity among the long-oppressed indigenous majority.

All this in the face of stiff right-wing opposition that, with its stronghold in the east, used its control over a majority of governorships to attack the Morales government – climaxing with a failed coup attempt in September 2008.

Electoral Advances

Of the nine governorships, current results show MAS winning in six, with a seventh too close to call. This is an increase from the three it won in 2005. This means MAS has not only strengthened its hold on the west and centre (consolidating its hold on La Paz and Cochabamba after revoking previous opposition governors), but also further weakened the decomposing right-wing opposition in the east.

MAS looks set to capture the eastern department of Pando, and possibly Beni. The opposition has held onto the eastern departments of Santa Cruz and Tarija, but MAS’s all-out campaigning in the east (home to much of Bolivia’s natural resources and a sizeable white middle class) meant it penetrated deep into opposition heartland – increasing its vote in the region.

MAS also won a strong presence in the departmental assemblies. These are the first elected regional bodies to have the power to legislate within the bounds of the regional autonomy outlined in the new constitution approved in January 2009.

MAS also increased the number of mayoralties it controls nationally to around 200-220 out of the 337 – up from the 101 won in the 2004 poll.

Another feature of the elections was the introduction – although limited – of traditional indigenous customs for selecting representatives from Bolivia’s 36 indigenous nations to departmental assemblies. Using rights enshrined in the new constitution, indigenous nations selected between two to five representatives for each departmental assembly.

Five of the 11 municipalities that voted in favour of indigenous autonomy in local referendums last December elected their own mayors and councillors according to traditional customs in the lead up to regional elections. The decisions were then ratified at the ballot box on April 4. The other six decided to elect candidates directly.

Bittersweet Victory

Highlighting MAS’s impressive numerical victory, Morales said that elections “are like soccer, the goals are what matter.” Yet the result was a bittersweet one that throws into sharp relief some of the internal challenges the process of change faces. MAS’s national vote was 51% – less than the 64% it obtained in December and well short of the 70% Morales spoke of in his speech to close MAS’s campaign in La Paz.

The impressive showing in the east, the result of both a concerted campaign and some dubious alliances, was dampened by the loss in Tarija, which sits on 80% of Bolivia’s gas.

Having won the vote in Tajira in December, MAS was certain it could defeat the incumbent governor, a fierce foe of Morales.

Alliances formed by MAS with local elites, such as the MAS candidate for Santa Cruz city, a business owner and ex-member of the right-wing Podemas party, and the recent recruitment of ex-militants of the fascist Santa Cruz Youth Union failed to net goals. Instead, MAS paid a political and ideological cost for its alliances, losing in urban poor areas such as Plan Tres Mil in Santa Cruz. Rejection of such deals led people in these areas to vote for other candidates.

In Pando, a decision to stand candidates that did not belong to the MAS allowed it to win the governorship and 10 of the 15 mayoralties. However, it means MAS will now have to contend with “MAS mayors” that came from the old traditional parties.

Most significantly, the belief that Morales’ overwhelming popularity could be automatically transferred to MAS candidates, many of whom were imposed from above, and the disregard for alliances with other progressive forces or social movements, led to something unthinkable only a few months ago: the emergence of a new opposition, the centre-left Movement of Those Without Fear (MSM).

Within months, MAS went from having a solid alliance with the MSM, headed by former La Paz mayor Juan Del Granado, to breaking all ties with the MSM and accusing them of being “neoliberal,” “conspirators” and “corrupt.”

The special attention paid by Morales to the campaign for the mayor of La Paz, and the ferocious attack on the MSM (viewed by many MAS supporters as unnecessary) was not enough to secure victory in the capital, a MAS stronghold.

The MSM also won a surprise victory against the MAS in the race for the mayor of Oruro, confirming the trend in urban areas of voting for non-MAS candidates.

The MSM stood MAS dissidents angered by the imposition of non-MAS members as MAS candidates. This policy allowed it to win mayoralties in mining areas with an indigenous majority in the north of Potosi and even Achacachi – a heartland of Aymaran indigenous radicalism where Morales scored 98% in December.

Formerly considered a party restricted to the middle-class areas of La Paz, the MSM now has a presence in more than 100 municipalities.

Discontent among MAS-aligned social movements and supporters led to defeats in other areas where Morales has near unanimous support. A newly created party, led by a coca growers’ union leader and former MAS senator Lino Villca, won in six municipalities in the coca growing regions and the altiplano (high plain area) of La Paz department.

The MAS won in the combative million-strong city of El Alto, but its vote dropped from more than 80% to below 40%.

The surprise was the relatively unknown outsider Soledad Chapeton, whose vote of 30% represented a rejection of the impositions by local union leaders.

Dangers

La Paz based journalist Pablo Stefanoni said the comments of a local woman on Radio Erbol, that the “vote on Sunday in La Paz is a warning sign to the process of change,” summed up the feelings of many Bolivians.

An April 7 editorial in the pro-government daily Cambio said the results showed:

“the necessity to strengthen the process of structural change … consolidate the direct participation of the organised people in the definition of affairs of the Plurinational State and in doing so eradicate improvisation, internal problems and the personal ambitions of some militants in the process of transformation underway.”

On April 6, Morales commented on the MAS’s defeat in areas that only months ago voted overwhelmingly for him. Morales blamed internal problems and the personal ambitions of some party leaders “that drag with them a colonial heritage due to which they believes their turn has come to stand for an executive position.”

Dionisio Condori, a leader of the powerful United Union Confederation of Campesino Workers of Bolivia, said: 

“Our candidates where not taken into consideration because some leaders fell into the game of removing them and imposing others who were not known in the municipality.”

But it is not just the problem of questionable figures from outside the MAS being imposed as candidates. The MAS is dominated by the specific interests of the different indigenous and peasant unions that make it up. Its role in local governments has traditionally been characterised by resisting neoliberal governments and strengthening the position of their organizations.

However, today these same unions are part of the governing party and these practices have often been replaced by inefficiency and improvisation rather than promotion of new participatory forms of local governance.

The challenge of converting MAS from more than a sum of unions into a collective force for change that can nurture the growth of new cadres and participatory forms of local democracy is more pressing than ever.

The rise of a new opposition may open up space for something that has been sorely lacking: an open public debate on how to deepen the transformation of Bolivian society. Through such a battle of ideas, as opposed to the type of denunciations and unconvincing slanging matches seen so far, the process will be able to solidify and extend its support base. In this way, it can open itself up to new sectors and pave the way for the kind of broad alliances with all sectors genuinely committed to change that are vital to safeguarding and deepening the process.

Raul Prada, the vice-minister for strategic state planning, argued this requires drawing up a:

“critical balance sheet with the grassroots, with our organizations, with the movements, with the neighbourhood committees, a balance sheet of what has occurred … and to listen to criticism.

“We need to return to the practice of something we have not done for some time: self-criticism and carrying out a deep and objective reflection.” •

Federico Fuentes is the editor of the Bolivia Rising blog.

A draconian Internet censorship bill that has been long looming on the horizon finally passed the house of commons in the UK yesterday, legislating for government powers to restrict and filter any website that is deemed to be undesirable for public consumption.

The “Digital Economy Bill” was rushed through parliament in a late night session last night after a third reading.

In the wake of the announcement of a general election on May 6, the government has taken advantage of what is known as the “wash-up process”, allowing the legislative process to be speeded up between an election being called and Parliament being dissolved.

Only a pitiful handful of MPs (pictured below) were present to debate the bill, which was fully supported by the “opposition” Conservative party, and passed by 189 votes to 47 keeping the majority of its original clauses intact.

The bill will now go back to the House of Lords, where it originated, for a final formal approval.

The government removed a proposal in clause 18 of the bill, which openly stated that it could block any website, however it was replaced with an amendment to clause 8 of the bill which essentially legislates for the same powers.

The new clause allows the unelected secretary of state for business, currently Lord Mandelson, to order the blocking of “a location on the internet which the court is satisfied has been, is being or is likely to be used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright”.

Opposing MPs argued that the clause was too broad and open ended, arguing that the phrase “likely to be used” could be used to block websites without them ever having been used for “activity that infringes copyright”. Other MPs argued that under the bill, whistleblower websites, such as Wikileaks, could be targeted.

The legislation will also allow the Home Secretary to place “a technical obligation on internet service providers” to block whichever sites it wishes.

Under clause 11 of the proposed legislation “technical obligation” is defined as follows:

A “technical obligation”, in relation to an internet service provider, is an obligation for the provider to take a technical measure against particular subscribers to its service.

A “technical measure” is a measure that — (a) limits the speed or other capacity of the service provided to a subscriber; (b) prevents a subscriber from using the service to gain access to particular material, or limits such use; (c) suspends the service provided to a subscriber; or (d) limits the service provided to a subscriber in another way.

In other words, the government will have the power to force ISPs to downgrade and even block your internet access to certain websites or altogether if it wishes.

The legislation is part of an amplified effort by the government to seize more power over the internet and those who use it.

For months now unelected “Secretary of State” Lord Mandelson has overseen government efforts to challenge the independence of the of UK’s internet infrastructure.

The Digital Economy Bill will also see users’ broadband access cut off indefinitely, in addition to a fine of up to £50,000 without evidence or trial, if they download copyrighted music and films. The plan has been identified as “potentially illegal” by experts.

The legislation would impose a duty on ISPs to effectively spy on all their customers by keeping records of the websites they have visited and the material they have downloaded. ISPs who refuse to cooperate could be fined £250,000.

As Journalist and copyright law expert Cory Doctrow has noted, the bill also gives the Secretary of State the power to make up as many new penalties and enforcement systems as he likes, without Parliamentary oversight or debate.

This could include the authority to appoint private militias, who will have the power to kick you off the internet, spy on your use of the network, demand the removal of files in addition to the blocking of websites.

Mandelson and his successors will have the power to invent any penalty, including jail time, for any digital transgression he deems Britons to be guilty of.

Despite being named the Digital Economy Bill, the legislation contains nothing that will actually stimulate the economy and is largely based on shifting control over the internet into government hands, allowing unaccountable bureaucrats to arbitrarily hide information from the public should they wish to do so.

Mandelson began the onslaught on the free internet in the UK after spending a luxury two weekholiday at Nat Rothschild’s Corfu mansion with multi-millionaire record company executive David Geffen.

Over 20,000 members of the public have written to their MPs in the last week to lobby against the bill being rushed through, however, their concerns have fallen on deaf ears and the government has been allowed to deal a devastating blow to the last real vestige of free speech in this country.

The Wider Agenda Of Internet Control

The Digital Economy Bill is intrinsically linked to long term plans by the UK government to carry out an unprecedented extension of state powers by claiming the authority to monitor all emails, phone calls and internet activity nationwide.

IN 2008, the government announced its intention to create a massive central database, gathering details on every text sent, e-mail sent, phone call made and website visited by everyone in the UK.

The programme, known as the “Interception Modernisation Programme”, would allow spy chiefs at GCHQ, the government’s secret eavesdropping agency, the centre for Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) activities (pictured above), to effectively place a “live tap” on every electronic communication in Britain in the name of preventing terrorism.

Following outcry over the announcement, the government suggested that it was scaling down the plans, with then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith stating that there were “absolutely no plans for a single central store” of communications data.

However, as the “climbdown” was celebrated by civil liberties advocates and the plan was “replaced” by new laws requiring ISPs to store details of emails and internet telephony for just 12 months, fresh details emerged indicating the government was implementing a big brother spy system that far outstrips the original public announcement.

The London Times published leaked details of a secret mass internet surveillance project known as “Mastering the Internet” (MTI).

Costing hundreds of millions in public funds, the system is already being implemented by GCHQ with the aid of American defence giant Lockheed Martin and British IT firm Detica, which has close ties to the intelligence agencies.

A group of over 300 internet service providers and telecommunications firms has attempted to fight back over the radical plans, describing the proposals as an unwarranted invasion of people’s privacy.

Currently, any interception of a communication in Britain must be authorised by a warrant signed by the home secretary or a minister of equivalent rank. Only individuals who are the subject of police or security service investigations may be subject to surveillance.

If the GCHQ’s MTI project is completed, black-box probes would be placed at critical traffic junctions with internet service providers and telephone companies, allowing eavesdroppers to instantly monitor the communications of every person in the country without the need for a warrant.

Even if you believe GCHQ’s denial that it has any plans to create a huge monitoring system, the current law under the RIPA (the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) allows hundreds of government agencies access to the records of every internet provider in the country.

In publicly announced proposals to extend these powers, firms will be asked to collect and store even more vast amounts of data, including from social networking sites such as Facebook.

If the plans go ahead, every internet user will be given a unique ID code and all their data will be stored in one place. Government agencies such as the police and security services will have access to the data should they request it with respect to criminal or terrorist investigations.

This is clearly the next step in an incremental program to implement an already exposed full scale big brother spy system designed to completely obliterate privacy, a fundamental right under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Death Of The Internet In Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.

Similar efforts to place restrictions on the internet are unfolding in Australia where the government is implementing a mandatory and wide-ranging internet filter modeled on that of the Communist Chinese government.

Australian communication minister Stephen Conroy said the government would be the final arbiter on what sites would be blacklisted under “refused classification.”

The official justification for the filter is to block child pornography, however, as the watchdog group Electronic Frontiers Australia has pointed out, the law will also allow the government to block any website it desires while the pornographers can relatively easily skirt around the filters.

Earlier this year, the Wikileaks website published a leaked secret list of sites slated to be blocked by Australia’s state-sponsored parental filter.

The list revealed that blacklisted sites included “online poker sites, YouTube links, regular gay and straight porn sites, Wikipedia entries, euthanasia sites, websites of fringe religions such as satanic sites, fetish sites, Christian sites, the website of a tour operator and even a Queensland dentist.”

The filter will even block web-based games deemed unsuitable for anyone over the age of fifteen, according to the Australian government.

In neighbouring New Zealand, the government has quietly implemented an internet filter and is urging the leading ISPs in the country to adopt the measure, in a move that would give the authorities the power to restrict whichever websites they see fit.

The New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) reportedly turned on the internet filter on February 1st without making any announcement, prompting critics to charge that the measure had been activated in stealth.

It was no coincidence that around the same time the government’s Internet filter went live, Infowars began receiving notification from readers in New Zealand that their access to Alex Jones’ flagship websites Infowars.com and Prisonplanet.com had been suddenly blocked.

The broad attack on the free internet is not only restricted to the UK, New Zealand and Australia.

The European Union, Finland, Denmark, Germany and other countries in Europe have all proposed blocking or limiting access to the internet and using filters like those used in Iran, Syria, China, and other repressive regimes.

In 2008 in the U.S., The Motion Picture Association of America asked president Obama to introduce laws that would allow the federal government to effectively spy on the entire Internet, establishing a system where being accused of copyright infringement would result in loss of your Internet connection.

In 2009 the Cybersecurity Act was introduced, proposing to allow the federal government to tap into any digital aspect of every citizen’s information without a warrant. Banking, business and medical records would be wide open to inspection, as well as personal instant message and e mail communications.

The legislation, introduced by Senators John Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) in April, gives the president the ability to “declare a cybersecurity emergency” and shut down or limit Internet traffic in any “critical” information network “in the interest of national security.” The bill does not define a critical information network or a cybersecurity emergency. That definition would be left to the president, according to a Mother Jones report.

During a hearing on the bill, Senator John Rockefeller betrayed the true intent behind the legislation when he stated, “Would it have been better if we’d have never invented the Internet,” while fearmongering about cyber attacks on the U.S. government and how the country could be shut down.

Watch the clip below.

The Obama White House has also sought a private contractor to “crawl and archive” datasuch as comments, tag lines, e-mail, audio and video from any place online where the White House “maintains a presence” – for a period of up to eight years.

Obama has also proposed scaling back a long-standing ban on tracking how people use government Internet sites with “cookies” and other technologies.

Recent disclosures under the Freedom Of Information Act also reveal that the federal government has several contracts with social media outlets such as Youtube (Google), Facebook, Myspace and Flickr (Yahoo) that waive rules on monitoring users and permit companies to track visitors to government web sites for advertising purposes.

The U.S. military also has some $30 Billion invested in it’s own mastering the internet projects.

We have extensively covered efforts to scrap the internet as we know it and move toward a greatly restricted “internet 2″ system. All of the above represents stepping stones toward the realisation of that agenda.

The free internet is under attack the world over, only by exposing the true intentions of our governments to restrict the flow of data can we defeat such efforts and preserve what is left of the last vestige of independent information.

Is America ‘Yearning for Fascism’?

April 11th, 2010 by Chris Hedges

The language of violence always presages violence. I watched it in war after war from Latin America to the Balkans. The impoverishment of a working class and the snuffing out of hope and opportunity always produce angry mobs ready to kill and be killed. A bankrupt, liberal elite, which proves ineffectual against the rich and the criminal, always gets swept aside, in times of economic collapse, before thugs and demagogues emerge to play to the passions of the crowd. I have seen this drama. I know each act. I know how it ends. I have heard it in other tongues in other lands. I recognize the same stock characters, the buffoons, charlatans and fools, the same confused crowds and the same impotent and despised liberal class that deserves the hatred it engenders.

“We are ruled not by two parties but one party,” Cynthia McKinney, who ran for president on the Green Party ticket, told me. “It is the party of money and war. Our country has been hijacked. And we have to take the country away from those who have hijacked it. The only question now is whose revolution gets funded.”

The Democrats and their liberal apologists are so oblivious to the profound personal and economic despair sweeping through this country that they think offering unemployed people the right to keep their unemployed children on their nonexistent health care policies is a step forward. They think that passing a jobs bill that will give tax credits to corporations is a rational response to an unemployment rate that is, in real terms, close to 20 percent. They think that making ordinary Americans, one in eight of whom depends on food stamps to eat, fork over trillions in taxpayer dollars to pay for the crimes of Wall Street and war is acceptable. They think that the refusal to save the estimated 2.4 million people who will be forced out of their homes by foreclosure this year is justified by the bloodless language of fiscal austerity. The message is clear. Laws do not apply to the power elite. Our government does not work. And the longer we stand by and do nothing, the longer we refuse to embrace and recognize the legitimate rage of the working class, the faster we will see our anemic democracy die. 

The unraveling of America mirrors the unraveling of Yugoslavia. The Balkan war was not caused by ancient ethnic hatreds. It was caused by the economic collapse of Yugoslavia. The petty criminals and goons who took power harnessed the anger and despair of the unemployed and the desperate. They singled out convenient scapegoats from ethnic Croats to Muslims to Albanians to Gypsies. They set in motion movements that unleashed a feeding frenzy leading to war and self-immolation. There is little difference between the ludicrous would-be poet Radovan Karadzic, who was a figure of ridicule in Sarajevo before the war, and the moronic Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin. There is little difference between the Oath Keepers and the Serbian militias. We can laugh at these people, but they are not the fools. We are.

The longer we appeal to the Democrats, who are servants of corporate interests, the more stupid and ineffectual we become. Sixty-one percent of Americans believe the country is in decline, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, and they are right. Only 25 percent of those polled said the government can be trusted to protect the interests of the American people. If we do not embrace this outrage and distrust as our own it will be expressed through a terrifying right-wing backlash.

“It is time for us to stop talking about right and left,” McKinney told me. “The old political paradigm that serves the interests of the people who put us in this predicament will not be the paradigm that gets us out of this. I am a child of the South. Janet Napolitano tells me I need to be afraid of people who are labeled white supremacists but I was raised around white supremacists. I am not afraid of white supremacists. I am concerned about my own government. The Patriot Act did not come from the white supremacists, it came from the White House and Congress. Citizens Uniteddid not come from white supremacists, it came from the Supreme Court. Our problem is a problem of governance. I am willing to reach across traditional barriers that have been skillfully constructed by people who benefit from the way the system is organized.”

We are bound to a party that has betrayed every principle we claim to espouse, from universal health care to an end to our permanent war economy, to a demand for quality and affordable public education, to a concern for the jobs of the working class. And the hatred expressed within right-wing movements for the college-educated elite, who created or at least did nothing to halt the financial debacle, is not misplaced. Our educated elite, wallowing in self-righteousness, wasted its time in the boutique activism of political correctness as tens of millions of workers lost their jobs. The shouting of racist and bigoted words at black and gay members of Congress, the spitting on a black member of the House, the tossing of bricks through the windows of legislators’ offices, are part of the language of rebellion. It is as much a revolt against the educated elite as it is against the government. The blame lies with us. We created the monster.

When someone like Palin posts a map with cross hairs on the districts of Democrats, when she says “Don’t Retreat, Instead—RELOAD!” there are desperate people cleaning their weapons who listen. When Christian fascists stand in the pulpits of megachurches and denounce Barack Obama as the Antichrist, there are messianic believers who listen. When a Republican lawmaker shouts “baby killer” at Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak, there are violent extremists who see the mission of saving the unborn as a sacred duty. They have little left to lose. We made sure of that. And the violence they inflict is an expression of the violence they endure.

These movements are not yet full-blown fascist movements. They do not openly call for the extermination of ethnic or religious groups. They do not openly advocate violence. But, as I was told by Fritz Stern, a scholar of fascism who has written about the origins of Nazism, “In Germany there was a yearning for fascism before fascism was invented.” It is the yearning that we now see, and it is dangerous. If we do not immediately reincorporate the unemployed and the poor back into the economy, giving them jobs and relief from crippling debt, then the nascent racism and violence that are leaping up around the edges of American society will become a full-blown conflagration.

Left unchecked, the hatred for radical Islam will transform itself into a hatred for Muslims. The hatred for undocumented workers will become a hatred for Mexicans and Central Americans. The hatred for those not defined by this largely white movement as American patriots will become a hatred for African-Americans. The hatred for liberals will morph into a hatred for all democratic institutions, from universities to government agencies to the press. Our continued impotence and cowardice, our refusal to articulate this anger and stand up in open defiance to the Democrats and the Republicans, will see us swept aside for an age of terror and blood.

AUDIO: The Myth of a Free Press

April 10th, 2010 by Bonnie Faulkner

Kristina Borjesson is editor of “Into the Buzzsaw: Leading Journalists Expose The Myth of a Free Press” and “Feet to the Fire: The Media After 9/11: Top Journalists Speak Out”. 

Charlotte Dennett is author of “The People v Bush: One Lawyer’s Campaign to Bring the President to Justice and the Grassroots Movement She Encountered Along the Way” and co-author with her husband, Gerard Colby, of “Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil”. 

Peter Dale Scott is author of “The War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11 and the Deep Politics of War”, “The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire and the Future of America”, “Deep Politics and the Death of JFK”, and Crime and Cover-Up: The CIA, the Mafia and the Dallas-Watergate Connection” among many other books. 

Guns and Butter – April 7, 2010 at 1:00pm

Click to listen (or download)

Occupied Washington DC

April 10th, 2010 by Stephanie Westbrook

As a visitor to our nation’s capital, I cannot tell you how disconcerting it is to step off the metro and find yourself face to face with a F-35 fighter jet. Where you would normally expect to find ads for cell phones or museum exhibitions, Washington’s subway, the second busiest in the country, instead displays full color backlit billboards for some of the most deadly – and expensive – weapons systems ever produced.

The ads for such companies as Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest weapons producer, Goodrich, KBR, AGI, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman can be found in many of the metro stations in the Washington metropolitan area. Not surprisingly, the heaviest concentration is at Pentagon City and near government offices at the Federal Center and Capitol South stations. Undoubtedly, the ads aim to influence key decision-makers, but they also serve the purpose of selling to the general public the concept that only our superior military prowess can protect us from a hostile world.

The billboards range from explicit ads for attack helicopters and combat vehicles to more subtle billboards for companies such as little-known DRS, owned by Italian weapons maker Finmeccanica and 26th among the top 100 Pentagon contractors, or for “rugged” Dell computers designed to meet Defense Department specifications for military-use.

Far from subtle is Northrop Grumman’s marketing approach in the Capitol South metro station, the closest to Congress. In an all out assault on the visual senses, the station has been literally festooned by the country’s third largest military contractor. Apparently considering the usual ad space along the tracks to be insufficient, Northrop Grumman ads can also be found on all four sides of columns installed near the turnstiles, on banners strung up along the railings upstairs and even on the floor just before the escalators. CBS Outdoor, responsible for the ad space in DC metro stations, claims that “Capitol Hill Station Domination is an impactful way to get your message in front of the Congress and decision-makers in DC.”

An estimated 17,000 Capitol South metro passengers are confronted daily with Northrop Grumman Global Hawks and X-47 Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles, which boast a 4500-pound weapons bay, E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes, Viper Strike-armed Fire Scout unmanned helicopters and E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar Systems (STARS), all designed “for an unsafe world.” According to the centrist Brookings Institute, 90% of drone casualties in “targeted” strikes in Pakistan have been innocent civilians. Yet ads for these systems, which carry price tags ranging hundreds of millions of dollars when factoring in development costs, are on full display.

Perhaps most startling of all the Capitol South billboards is the ominous scene of a bombed out apartment building above the slogan “By the time you find the threat, we’ve already taken it out of the picture.” Northrop Grumman fails to fill us in on what happened to the people living in those apartments.

Following the trend of major defense companies wishing to cozy up to powerbrokers in Congress and at the Pentagon, Northrop Grumman recently announced plans to relocate its California headquarters to the DC area. Officials from Washington, Virginia and Maryland have been falling over themselves trying to influence the decision of the $34 billion company. The District of Columbia has gone as far as offering a $25 billion incentive package for what Northrop Grumman estimates to be a measly 300 jobs, which will be filled primarily by company executives moving from Los Angeles!

The defense contractor presence on the DC metro is but one example of the ubiquitous signs of militarism in Washington. Standing out like sore thumbs, military personnel dressed in camouflage can be seen everywhere from the food court at the shopping mall to the line at the bank. Combat fatigues were ordered everyday wear for all service members, including those with desk jobs, following the September 11, 2001 attacks. I asked several camouflaged service members the reason behind the combat uniforms and all sheepishly replied that is was in support of the “troops in the field.” One woman told me, “That’s a good question. You feel kind of funny wearing this.” Looking down at her desert boots, she said, “It’s not exactly office wear.” But it is a clear and constant reminder that the nation continues to be on a war footing.

Signs calling for support of the troops can be found on everything from restaurant walls to dump trucks. Cheering on the “troops in the field” is also the Liberty gas station on Columbia Pike in Arlington. Directly above the gas pumps is a red, white and blue sign that reads “Support Our Troops.” This is either the result of disturbingly twisted logic or an astonishingly candid call for protecting U.S. access to Middle East oil reserves.

Walking the halls of Congress, you will find memorials at the offices of many representative and senators for the fallen troops from their district or state. What you will not find are any memorials for the 2,200 veterans who died in 2008 as a result of a lack of health insurance.

At Union Station, Amtrak passengers should not be surprised if a soldier or two cut in line. Signs in the station invite uniformed military personnel to skip to the head of the ticket line. According to Amtrak, which is the only Department of Defense approved rail passenger carrier in the US, it is a way for the company to “extend their thanks.” That’s all and good but why wouldn’t Amtrak want to do the same for teachers, healthcare professionals, firefighters, librarians or non-profit volunteers?

Much of this is not necessarily new; the militarization of our society has been progressing for decades, permeating our schools, research and development programs, law enforcement and culture. And despite the heavy concentration in Washington DC, the phenomenon is certainly not limited to the nation’s capital. The signs of militarism in our country are ever-present to the point of becoming virtually invisible, while subconsciously persuading us to accept violence and war as not only a suitable solution to conflict, but the only one.

The fighter jets and missile-firing drones are anything but invisible to the people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Let’s rebel against their apparent “normalcy” here in the US. As a start, contact Dan Langdon, CBS Outdoor’s Vice President and Regional Manager letting him know that ads for deadly weapons systems have no place on the DC metro, or anywhere else for that matter! [email protected]

Stephanie Westbrook is a U.S. citizen who has been living in Rome, Italy since 1991. She is active in the peace and social justice movements in Italy and spent the month of March in Washington DC participating in anti-war activities. She can be reached at[email protected]

Indispensable IslamOnline Must Not Fail

April 10th, 2010 by Ramzy Baroud

A widely popular Islamic website has been, until very recently, an undisputed success story. IslamOnline arrived at a time that millions of Muslims needed a common platform and a unifying outlet. Here was a website that neither shunned nor alienated. Its influence was upbeat and positive, rather than destructive or divisive. While it wasn’t an apologetic outlet, it reached out to patiently and progressively present Islam and Muslim issues to the world. These were understood and communicated by hundreds of scholars and qualified journalists, who toiled day and night from their Cairo offices.

Then something happened to abruptly bring the noble mission to an end. The success story suddenly became a terrible nightmare for hundreds of IslamOnline’s principled employees. The website (IslamOnline.net) remained online, but it was barely updated. Instead, videos were circulated on youtube, showing tired-looking IslamOnline staff chanting in the lobby of their building in Cairo. They were demanding the return of their editorial freedom and rights. They were calling for justice. These bright journalists, some of the finest in the region, should have been sitting behind their computers screens writing, editing and managing ‘live dialogues’ between inquisitive readers and learned scholars. Instead they were seated on the floor with signs and banners, shouting in coarse voices.

Something had gone horribly wrong.

Hadeel al-Shalchi tried to explain in a recent Associated Press report: “The Qatari government has forced out the moderate leadership of a popular Islamic Web site and plans to reshape it into a more religiously conservative outlet, former employees of the site said.”

According to the AP report, “The site was thrown into turmoil…when the owners attempted to change its approach, prompting 350 of its workers in Cairo to go on strike. Management in Doha then cut off their access to the site and have been updating it with news articles but not the diverse content IslamOnline is known for, said the former employees.”

IslamOnline is funded by al-Balagh, a Doha-based company. Al-Balagh was headed by well-respected Sheik Youssef al-Qaradawi, a most sensible and judicious religious authority. He is known, and much liked, for his progressive views on Islam. Al-Qaradawi is also very popular among Muslims around the world, not least because of his daring political views, his strong anti-war, pro-resistance stances and moral clarity on many issues. In short, al-Qaradawi is the antithesis of religious clerics who would do as they are told.

A striking IslamOnline editor described to me how the crisis developed. It sounded something similar to a coup: the Sheik was removed from al-Balagh, the site’s directors were relegated, a new management was installed (in fact imposed), and even the website passwords were changed so that employees could no longer access it. Devastated and enraged by the unwarranted moves, about 350 employees went on strike – only to find themselves subject to legal investigation by some company lawyers for exercising what is universally accepted as a fundamental right. The editor tells me that they were harshly criticized in particular for their uncompromisingly courageous coverage on Palestine and Gaza. Indeed, IslamOnline had worked tirelessly to bring greater awareness of the struggle in Palestine, to Muslim and non-Muslim readers alike. 

Following the tragic events of September 11, few websites have played the vital role that IslamOnline has. Its editors did not serve the cause of fanatics, with their dreadful interpretation of the world and themselves, and nor did they adopt the mouthpiece position in favor of Arab governments. Equally important, they did not try to falsify a ‘moderate’ position to please any government – Arab or any other. Instead, they truly reflected and genuinely expressed the views of mainstream Muslims from all walks of life, and from all over the world. It was truly an impressive feat to see such an independent editorial line emerging from one Arab capital and largely funded by another.

But it seemed too good to be true – thus the terrible, chaotic and devastating changes that brought this vital to a standstill. The very means of presenting an eloquent Muslim voice to the world has been threatened.

The story of IslamOnline is being presented as that between rival Arabs: governments, groups and individuals. Reductionist terminologies– such as conservatives vs. moderates – are once again permeating the often predictable Middle East discourse. Many questions still remain unanswered.

In fact, the story of IslamOnline pertains more to media freedom and editorial independence in Arab countries than much of the above. The struggle is between the self-serving politicking few, and hundreds of media professionals – brilliant and inspiring young women and men who made up the staff at IslamOnline. For them, IslamOnline was not just another job. It was a mission, a calling even, and millions of readers around the world appreciated their work, every word of it.

One can only hope that IslamOnline will find its way back, with its current employees and current editorial line intact. The success story must not be allowed to end. Individual ambitions cannot stand in the way of this rare generational mission that is now simply indispensable.

Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London), now available on Amazon.com.

As I have repeatedly pointed out, the economy cannot stabilize unless the fraud which led to the crisis (see thisthisthis and this) is openly discussed.

As Shahien Nasiripour notes today today, Alan Greenspan didn’t think regulators should even pay any attention to fraud:

He didn’t believe that fraud was something that needed to be enforced or was something that regulators should worry about, and he assumed she [Brooksley Born] probably did. And of course she did. I’ve never met a financial regulator who didn’t feel that fraud was part of their mission, but that was her introduction to Alan Greenspan.”

But, this week, Greenspan admitted in testimony to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commissioner that regulators do need to crack down on fraud:

This week, in response to a question from Financial Crisis Inquiry Commissioner Heather Murren, who asked Greenspan whether subprime lenders should now be supervised by the Federal Reserve, Greenspan said:

“Well, first of all, remember you have to distinguish between supervision and enforcement. A lot of the problems which we had in the independent issuers of subprime and other such mortgages, the basic problem there is that, if you don’t have enforcement, and a lot of that stuff was just plain fraud, you’re not coming to grips with the issue.”

In a paper on the financial crisis he presented last month at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Greenspan did not mention the word “fraud”, in any of its forms, even once in the 66-page presentation.

His prepared remarks this week, though, mentioned it three times.

“[I]t is one thing to promulgate rules, and quite another to successfully implement them. Rules to prevent fraud and embezzlement have failed as often as not. Parenthetically, in the years ahead, we will need far greater levels of enforcement against misrepresentation and fraud than has been the practice for decades,” he told the investigatory panel.

Greenspan also called for “enhanced” enforcement against “misrepresentation and fraud” going forward as one desired part of the government’s arsenal in trying to avoid future crises in which taxpayers are forced to bail out private companies.

And the Wall Street Journal is running an important story showing that all of the big bank primary dealers – not just Lehman – have engaged in fraudulent accounting for years:

Major banks have masked their risk levels in the past five quarters by temporarily lowering their debt just before reporting it to the public, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

A group of 18 banks—which includes Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc.—understated the debt levels used to fund securities trades by lowering them an average of 42% at the end of each of the past five quarterly periods, the data show. The banks, which publicly release debt data each quarter, then boosted the debt levels in the middle of successive quarters.

The fact that the existence of widespread fraud is finally being addressed in polite company is a good first step.

But where are the prosecutions?

Neither happy talk nor propaganda will fix the economy. The governments of the world have spent trillions trying to wallpaper over the fraud, and have becomeinsolvent doing so.

But it’s not working. Indeed, polls show that people no longer trust our economic “leaders”. See this and this.

Only honest talk – and holding the people who committed fraud accountable - will stabilize the economy.

PTSD and its effects on U.S. soldiers and their families is a ghastly story with no end. PTSD is, in large part, though, an entirely Pentagon, or American war machine, inflicted wound.

Boot camp and combat is bad enough; and such forced inhumanity as committing war crimes against civilians causes soldiers to suffer the mental trauma of PTSD. In addition, there is an unseen agent or disease vector at work here as well.

There, on the battlefield, the happy boys sent off to war by Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Fleet Week – an event responsible for a big chunk of the enlistments in the U.S. Navy and Marines – will probably come in deadly contact with another San Francisco Bay Area product: depleted uranium, aka DU, and weaponized ceramic uranium oxide gas and aerosols, UO.

Iraq and virtually all the rest of the Middle East and Central Asia have been continually dosed for almost 20 years with thousands of tons of weaponized ceramic uranium oxide gas, also known as “depleted uranium.”

When used as directed, the depleted uranium bullets, shells and bombs become a lethal uranium gas or aerosol. The poison uranium oxide gas aerosols last for billions of years and never stop indiscriminately maiming and killing, which is a war crime in itself.

The deadly radioactive poison was developed by the Manhattan Project in 1945 when they were making the first atomic bombs. The Manhattan Project became the Bay Areas’ two nuclear weapons labs.

San Francisco’s Rep. “Nuclear Nancy” Pelosi and her friends at San Francisco-based Bechtel are all set to make more atomic bombs, too. Bechtel is a nuclear capable corporation and manages the Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab.

Depleted uranium is called “depleted” only because less than one half of 1 percent of the uranium isotope 235, the bomb making isotope, is removed when the U.S. government makes atomic bombs. The currently remaining billion and a half pounds of uranium isotopes are often given free to politically connected arms manufacturers. That radioactive uranium is then used to make bullets, shells, missiles, mines and bombs to sell to the U.S. government a second time.

San Francisco based lawyer Karen Parker is an expert in the International Law of Armed Conflict, commonly called “war crimes” law. The law and treaties require that weapons can be “turned off” after the battle is over.

Simple as that. Anything else is a war crime, punishable by hard labor in prison or death by hanging.

Army and civilian researchers have shown that uranium oxide (UO) poison gas particles migrate right up the olfactory nerve to the brain. This is when the uranium poison gas weapons are used by soldiers as directed by arms manufacturers and military regulations.

In addition, UO particles are small enough to go through combat uniforms and penetrate the skin of soldiers. Once inside their bodies, the poison uranium gas is drawn to their brains, bones, and testicles or ovaries. Of course, this applies to civilians and animals as well.

Over a million U.S. soldiers have been on the ground in Iraq and Central Asia. The medical disability rate is over 60 percent and “PTSD” is a common diagnosis. Soldiers from the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy report similar medical problems as well.

One milligram (mg) of uranium oxide poison gas is about the size of one of the periods at the end of these sentences. When soldiers can absorb UO through their skin, there is nothing to limit their exposure to one milligram or a thousand. That goes for civilians too.

Each tiny milligram shoots about 1,251,000 powerful radioactive bullets a day with a range of about 20 cells of the human body for thousands or even billions of years. This is according to noted mathematician and radiation expert, Rosalie Bertell, Ph.D., GNSH.

She should know, Dr. Bertell serves on several Pentagon radiation committees and has for decades.

Uranium munitions, containing weaponized uranium oxide gas and aerosols, are used by presidential order in U.S. war zones. Privates and corporals do not decide to use these poisonous uranium gas weapons on their own. No, that order comes from the American president.

Uranium oxide gas weapons are called “genocidal weapons.” They maim and kill millions of people, their animals and their land. The actual targets by the U.S. Expeditionary Forces are the populations of Central Asia and the Middle East, about a billion people.

The U.S. Expeditionary Forces are quite successful in targeting and dosing these large populations. In so doing the soldiers poison themselves with depleted uranium too. The American presidents don’t care. Should we care if the president doesn’t?

There is a Middle Eastern country that requires all 18-year-olds to join national service for several years. This country even has a roughly comparable health care system to America for a population of 7,233,701, according to the CIA World Factbook. The country is Israel.

All Israeli soldiers donate a sperm sample that is immediately frozen in liquid nitrogen and stored in a sperm bank at University Hospital in Jerusalem. Recent professional analysis shows Israeli sperm concentration has declined by 40 percent in less than 10 years.

This is a dangerous and precipitous collapse in human sperm concentration. While opinions differ as to the causes, Israel is swimming in a sea of uranium oxide gas partly from its own and American uranium oxide weapons. The DU attacks the sperm and eggs of male and female soldiers. Civilians and animals too.

In addition, Israel borders the Mediterranean Sea, as do 21 other countries. For 20 years, a branch of the Italian Mafia called ‘Ndrangheta in the South of Italy, next door to Sicily, have grown a thriving nuclear waste disposal business into an estimated 2007 US$65 billion a year “legal illegal business,” as Mafia operations are called in Italy.

The infamous “EcoMafia” load derelict cargo ships with high level nuclear wastes and used reactor cores, then sink them in the Mediterranean and along the African coasts. As a result, Israelis swim in a radioactive sea.

Since 20 percent live sperm is considered to be the beginning of infertility, Israel will be sterile in less than 10 years at this rate of decline. The estimated 7 million Israeli Jews will have no more children soon after that. This catastrophic development has already occasioned legislative hearings in Israel’s Knesset. The hearings were covered by Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Israeli sperm concentration is just an example of what is happening to human sperm all over the Middle East and Central Asia, by the choice and force of will of successive U.S. presidents.

The American war machine has consequences. PTSD is just one of them. The poison gas cannot be contained, undone or recalled. There is no antidote; there is no cure. There is no escape.

 

Bob Nichols is a Project Censored Award winning writer and a San Francisco Bay View correspondent. A former bomb maker in a U.S. government factory in rural Oklahoma, he reports on the two nuclear weapons labs in the Bay Area. He can be reached at [email protected].

 Sources

CNN, “Who Are the ‘Ndrangheta?

Dr. Ronit Haimov-Kokhman cited by Ofri Ilani, “Study: Quality of Israeli sperm down 40 percent in past decade,” Haaretz, 11/05/2009

Google: Mafia + “nuclear waste” + Mediterranean for an up-to-date listing of thousands of articles on this crime against humanity.

Ann Garrison, “San Francisco recruits; Blue Angels over the Bay

Central Intelligence Agency World FactBook

Caleb E. Finch, “The Biology of Human Longevity

In Prague yesterday the presidents of Russia and the United States signed the long-awaited strategic arms reduction treaty. It is no doubt a very important event politically but the same can not be said militarily, because it makes no provisions for any cuts in offensive arms.

The new document replaces the START I treaty, which was concluded by the U.S.S.R. and the United States in 1991 and which expired in December 2009. The new treaty caps the number of warheads at 1,550, deployed delivery vehicles at 700 and non-deployed delivery vehicles at 100. In a separate statement Russia says that it will withdraw from the treaty if U.S. missile defenses reach a level threatening the potential effectiveness of Russia’s nuclear forces.

The sides have to make practically no cuts, says Mikhail Barabanov, editor of Moscow Defense Brief. The real number of Russian delivery vehicles is already below 700 and their number, as well as that of warheads, will significantly fall as a series of missiles which have passed their expiry date are removed from combat duty in the next few years. Therefore, if Russia plans to maintain parity with the United States under this treaty it will, on the contrary, have to increase production of ballistic missiles several-fold, the expert says.

The United States on the other hand, only has to keep the number of its delivery vehicles at the existing level, as planned. The treaty’s authors have misled the public by counting one bomber as one warhead: it is common knowledge that both American and Russian bombers are capable of carrying six or more cruise missiles, each of which is equipped with one nuclear warhead, Barabanov says.

On the other hand, the signing of the new START treaty offers trump cards to Russia and America ahead of a May review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The previous two conferences essentially failed: the treaty has a provision saying that acknowledged nuclear powers must conduct constant negotiations on the reduction of their nuclear weapons and their total elimination, not something that Russia or the United States has done. The new treaty also eliminates a number of arguments advanced by Iran, which wants to become a nuclear power. Overall, reaching agreement on such a complex and neglected issue opens up the opportunity for an improved partnership between Russia and the United States on other political and economic issues.

Georgian Opposition Threatens to Repeat Kyrgyz Uprising

April 9th, 2010 by Global Research

TBILISI — Georgian opposition leaders warned the authorities on Thursday that the country could see a Kyrgyz scenario if opposition activists continue to be arrested.

Earlier in the day, police detained eight protesters for blocking a road in the capital, Tbilisi.

The warning came from Zurab Nogaideli, former prime minister and current leader of the For a Fair Georgia public movement; and Koba Davitashvili, the leader of the People’s Party.

“A revolution took place in Kyrgyzstan following the arrest of political [opposition] leaders. If [President Mikheil] Saakashvili or [Interior Minister Vano] Merabishvili dare touch any representative of the opposition again, this will be followed by what happened in Kyrgyzstan, and it will be the end of their rule,” Davitashvili said.

At least 75 people have been killed and more than 1,400 injured during public protests in Kyrgyzstan. The opposition formed a provisional government and claimed it had the support of the country’s armed forces, border guards and police.

The protests began in the northwestern Kyrgyz town of Talas on Tuesday and spread to other regions of the country, including Bishkek, on Wednesday. 

The new START 2 nuclear arms reduction treaty will not affect the planned US missile shield in Europe, said PM Donald Tusk following a meeting with President Barack Obama in Prague, Thursday.

“I came with some concerns, I leave with confidence,” Tusk said after the working dinner attended by 11 central and eastern European nations and Barack Obama in the Czech capital, after America had signed a new nuclear reduction treaty with Russian president Dimitry Medvedev.

The new treaty sets a limit of 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads for each side, down from 2,200.

“From the perspective of [President Obama] and the U.S. the signing of the START 2 treaty has no influence on the work on the SM3 anti-missile shield,” Tusk said, referring to the new anti-missile shield announced by Washington last September.

Around the table for the dinner in Prague sat leaders from Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovenia, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Latvia, Estonia, Romania and the Czech Republic.

PM Tusk said that the dinner was dominated by Poles’ and Czechs’ concerns that the New START II will hamper the construction of an anti-missile shield and will weaken NATO. “American defence policy in Europe needs to be consistent,” said Tusk.

He also said he had not spoken with Obama about the stationing of Patriot missiles in Poland, with the addition of 100 American troops, scheduled to arrive this year.

Not a zero sum game

A White House official told Reuters that a better working relationship with Moscow did not mean a weaker relationship with Poland and other countries in the region.

“This notion that somehow working with Russia is to the disadvantage of our allies, […] is absolutely absurd,” Michael McFaul, a senior Russia adviser to Obama, said.

“I think if you looked at where things are today in terms of European security and Russia generally, they have advanced since we’ve been in office. And that the president can come here to Prague and sign a major arms control agreement with the Russian president and have dinner with 11 NATO allies that night underscores the fact that these relationships in no way come at the expense of the others,” he said. (pg)

The Coming European Debt Wars

April 9th, 2010 by Michael Hudson

Government debt in Greece is just the first in a series of European debt bombs that are set to explode. The mortgage debts in post-Soviet economies and Iceland are more explosive.  Although these countries are not in the Eurozone, most of their debts are denominated in euros. Some 87% of Latvia’s debts are in euros or other foreign currencies, and are owed mainly to Swedish banks, while Hungary and Romania owe euro-debts mainly to Austrian banks. So their government borrowing by non-euro members has been to support exchange rates to pay these private-sector debts to foreign banks, not to finance a domestic budget deficit as in Greece.

All these debts are unpayably high because most of these countries are running deepening trade deficits and are sinking into depression. Now that real estate prices are plunging, trade deficits are no longer financed by an inflow of foreign-currency mortgage lending and property buyouts. There is no visible means of support to stabilize currencies (e.g., healthy economies). For the past year these countries have supported their exchange rates by borrowing from the EU and IMF. The terms of this borrowing are politically unsustainable: sharp public sector budget cuts, higher tax rates on already over-taxed labor, and austerity plans that shrink economies and drive more labor to emigrate.

Bankers in Sweden and Austria, Germany and Britain are about to discover that extending credit to nations that can’t (or won’t) pay may be their problem, not that of their debtors. No one wants to accept the fact that debts that can’t be paid, won’t be. Someone must bear the cost as debts go into default or are written down, to be paid in sharply depreciated currencies, but many legal experts find debt agreements calling for repayment in euros unenforceable. Every sovereign nation has the right to legislate its own debt terms, and the coming currency re-alignments and debt write-downs will be much more than mere “haircuts.”

There is no point in devaluing, unless “to excess” – that is, by enough to actually change trade and production patterns. That is why Franklin Roosevelt devalued the US dollar by 75% against gold in 1933, raising its official price from $20 to $35 an ounce. And to avoid raising the U.S. debt burden proportionally, he annulled the “gold clause” indexing payment of bank loans to the price of gold. This is where the political fight will occur today – over the payment of debt in currencies that are devalued.

Another byproduct of the Great Depression in the United States and Canada was to free mortgage debtors from personal liability, making it possible to recover from bankruptcy. Foreclosing banks can take possession of collateral real estate, but do not have any further claim on the mortgagees. This practice – grounded in common law – shows how North America has freed itself from the legacy of feudal-style creditor power and the debtors’ prisons that made earlier European debt laws so harsh.

The question is, who will bear the loss? Keeping debts denominated in euros would bankrupt much local business and real estate. Conversely, re-denominating these debts in local depreciated currency will wipe out the capital of many euro-based banks. But these banks are foreigners, after all – and in the end, governments must represent their own home electorates. Foreign banks do not vote.

Foreign dollar holders have lost 29/30th of the gold value of their holdings since the United States stopped settling its balance-of-payments deficits in gold in 1971. They now receive less than a thirtieth of this, as the price has risen to $1,100 an ounce. If the world can take that, why shouldn’t it take the coming European debt write-downs in stride?

There is growing recognition that the post-Soviet economies were structured from the start to benefit foreign interests, not local economies. For example, Latvian labor is taxed at over 50% (labor, employer, and social tax) – so high as to make it noncompetitive, while property taxes are less than 1%, providing an incentive toward rampant speculation. This skewed tax philosophy made the “Baltic Tigers” and central Europe prime loan markets for Swedish and Austrian banks, but their labor could not find well-paying work at home. Nothing like this (or their abysmal workplace protection laws) is found in the Western European, North American or Asian economies.

It seems unreasonable and unrealistic to expect that large sectors of the New European population can be made subject to salary garnishment throughout their lives, reducing them to a lifetime of debt peonage. Future relations between Old and New Europe will depend on the Eurozone’s willingness to re-design the post-Soviet economies on more solvent lines – with more productive credit and a less rentier-biased tax system that promotes employment rather than asset-price inflation that drives labor to emigrate. In addition to currency realignments to deal with unaffordable debt, the indicated line of solution for these countries is a major shift of taxes off labor onto land, making them more like Western Europe. There is no just alternative. Otherwise, the age-old conflict-of-interest between creditors and debtors threatens to split Europe into opposing political camps, with Iceland the dress rehearsal.

Until this debt problem is resolved – and the only way to resolve it is to negotiate a debt write-off – European expansion (the absorption of New Europe into Old Europe) seems over. But the transition to this future solution will not be easy. Financial interests still wield dominant power over the EU, and will resist the inevitable. Gordon Brown already has shown his colors in his threats against Iceland to illegally and improperly use the IMF as a collection agent for debts that Iceland doesn’t legally owe, and to blackball Icelandic membership in the EU.

Confronted with Mr. Brown’s bullying – and that of Britain’s Dutch poodles – 97% of Icelandic voters opposed the debt settlement that Britain and the Netherlands sought to force down the throat of Allthing members last month. This high a vote has not been seen in the world since the old Stalinist era.

It is only a foretaste. The choice that Europe ends up making will likely drive millions into the streets. Political and economic alliances will shift, currencies will crumble and governments will fall. The European Union and indeed, the international financial system will change in ways yet to be seen. This will be especially the case if nations adopt the Argentina model and refuse to make payment until steep discounts are made.

Paying in euros – for real estate and personal income streams in negative equity, where the debts exceed the current value of income flows available to pay mortgages or for that matter, personal debts – is impossible for nations that hope to maintain a modicum of civil society. “Austerity plans” IMF and EU style is an antiseptic, technocratic jargon for life-shortening and killing impact of gutting income, social services, spending on health on hospitals, education and other basic needs, and selling off public infrastructure for buyers to turn nations into “tollbooth economies” where everyone is obliged to pay access prices for roads, education, medical care and other costs of living and doing business that have long been subsidized by progressive taxation in North America and Western Europe.

The battle lines are being drawn regarding how private and public debts are to be repaid. For nations that balk at repayment in euros, the creditor nations have their “muscle” waiting in the wings: the credit rating agencies. At the first sign a nation is balking in paying in hard currency, or even at the first hint of it questioning a foreign debt as improper, the agencies will move in to reduce a nation’s credit rating. This will increase the cost of borrowing and threaten to paralyze the economy by starving it for credit.

The most recent shot was fired n April 6 when Moody’s downgraded Iceland’s debt from stable to negative. “Moody’s acknowledged that Iceland might still achieve a better deal in renewed negotiations, but said the current uncertainty was hurting the country’s short-term economic and financial prospects.”[1]

The fight is on. It should be an interesting decade.

 

Prof. Micheal Hudson is Chief Economic Advisor to the Reform Task Force Latvia (RTFL). His website is michael-hudson.com.

[1] THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, “Moody’s Downgrades Iceland Outlook,” The New York Times, April 7, 2010.

Già si sapeva – da un rapporto dell’associazione ambientalista americana Natural Resources Defense Council (v. il manifesto, 10 febbraio 2005) – che gli Stati uniti mantengono in Italia 90 bombe nucleari: 50 ad Aviano (Pordenone) e 40 a Ghedi Torre (Brescia). Altre circa 400 sono dislocate in Germania, Gran Bretagna, Turchia, Belgio e Olanda. Sono bombe tattiche B-61 in tre versioni, la cui potenza va da 45 a 170 kiloton (13 volte maggiore di quella della bomba di Hiroshi-ma).

Le bombe sono tenute in speciali hangar insieme ai caccia pronti per l’attacco nucleare: tra questi, i Tornado italiani che sono armati con 40 bombe nucleari (quelle tenute a Ghedi Torre). A tal fine, rivela il rapporto, piloti italiani vengono addestrati all’uso delle bombe nucleari nei poligoni di Capo Frasca (Oristano) e Maniago II (Pordenone). 

Ora ciò viene confermato ufficialmente, per la prima volta, nel Nuclear Posture Review 2010, dove si afferma che «i membri non-nucleari della Nato posseggono aerei specificamente configurati, capaci di trasportare armi nucleari». Lo conferma anche il governo italiano, ammettendo così di violare il Trat-tato di non-proliferazione? Oppure dichiara che il Pentagono dice il falso?

La roadmap della strategia nucleare Usa

April 9th, 2010 by Manlio Dinucci

La roadmap della nuova strategia nucleare Usa è dunque tracciata: lo annuncia nella prefazione al Nuclear Posture Review Report 2010 il segretario alla Difesa Robert Gates, anche lui rinnovatosi passando dall’amministrazione Bush a quella Obama. Che cosa è cambiato? Anzitutto la situazione internazionale: «L’Unione sovietica e il Patto di Varsavia sono scomparsi e tutti gli ex membri non-sovietici del Patto di Varsavia sono ora membri della Nato». La Russia «non è un nemico», ma un partner degli Stati uniti nell’affrontare «altre minacce emergenti». Il presidente Obama ha infatti chiarito che «il più immediato ed estremo pericolo è oggi il terrorismo nucleare».

Qui niente di nuovo rispetto alla strategia dell’amministrazione Bush, che al comunismo (nemico numero uno nella guerra fredda) aveva sostituito il terrorismo, «il nemico oscuro che si nasconde negli angoli bui della Terra».  Oggi, si afferma nel rapporto del Pentagono, «Al Qaeda e i loro alleati estremisti cercano di procurarsi armi nucleari». Quindi, «anche se la minaccia di una guerra nucleare globale è divenuta remota, è aumentato il rischio di attacco nucleare». Si agita così lo spettro di un 11 settembre nucleare, collegato all’«altra pressante minaccia»: la proliferazione nucleare. Altri paesi, soprattutto quelli «in contrasto con gli Stati uniti», possono dotarsi di armi nucleari. Si accusa quindi l’Iran, e in subordine la Corea del nord, di perseguire ambizioni nucleari, violando il Trattato di non-proliferazione (Tnp), accrescendo l’instabilità della propria regione e spingendo i paesi limitrofi a prendere in considerazione «proprie opzioni di deterrenza nucleare»  (espressione diplomatica per giustificare, senza nominarlo, il fatto che Israele possiede armi nucleari e non aderisce al Tnp).

Su questo sfondo sono chiari gli obiettivi della nuova strategia: anzitutto mantenere la supremazia nucleare statunitense, stabilendo con il nuovo Start (firmato ieri a Praga) uno status quo con la Russia, l’altra maggiore potenza nucleare. Il trattato non limita il numero delle testate nucleari operative nei due arsenali, ma solo le «testate nucleari dispiegate», ossia pronte al lancio su vettori strategici con gittata superiore ai 5.500 km: il tetto viene stabilito in 1.550 per parte, ma è in realtà superiore poiché ciascun bombardiere pesante viene contato come una singola testata anche se ne trasporta venti o più.  Siamo ben lungi dal disarmo nucleare. Ciascuna delle due parti non solo manterrà pronto al lancio un numero di testate nucleari in grado di spazzare via la specie umana dalla faccia della Terra, ma potrà continuare a potenziare qualitativamente le proprie forze nucleari.

Nel Nuclear Posture Review si precisa che gli Stati uniti, pur non sviluppando nuovi tipi di testate nucleari, rinnoveranno il proprio arsenale attraverso sostituzioni di componenti. Sarà quindi «rafforzata la base scientifica e tecnologica, vitale per la gestione dell’arsenale». A tal fine sono previsti «accresciuti investimenti nel complesso degli impianti e del personale  addetti alle armi nucleari». Lo stesso, ovviamente, potrà fare la Russia, pur disponendo di minori mezzi economici. Gli Usa cercheranno però di acquisire un ulteriore vantaggio, sviluppando nuovi tipi di vettori strategici (non limitati dal nuovo Start) e realizzando in Europa lo «scudo» anti-missili (restato fuori dell’accordo): un sistema che, una volta messo a punto, permetterebbe loro di neutralizzare almeno in parte la capacità delle forze nucleari strategiche russe. Riguardo alla Cina, gli Usa si dichiarano «preoccupati per i suoi sforzi di modernizzazione militare, compresa quella qualitativa e quantitativa dell’arsenale nucleare».

Allo stesso tempo gli Stati uniti, con il summit del 12 aprile sul Tnp, si prefiggono di rafforzare il regime di «non-proliferazione» così come è concepito a Washington: mantenere immutato l’attuale «club nucleare» di cui sono membri, oltre alle due maggiori potenze, Francia, Gran Bretagna, Cina, Israele (in incognito), India e Pakistan. Gli Stati uniti, mentre si impegnano a non usare armi nucleari contro gli stati che non le posseggono e si attengono al Tnp, lasciano intendere che si riservano il diritto del first strike per impedire che un paese come l’Iran possa costruirle. Ben diverso l’atteggiamento verso gli alleati. Nel Nuclear Posture Review si conferma che «rimane in Europa un piccolo numero di armi nucleari Usa» (stimato in circa 500, di cui 90 in Italia), precisando che «i membri non-nucleari della Nato partecipano alla pianificazione nucleare e posseggono aerei specificamente configurati, capaci di trasportare armi nucleari». Si ammette così, in un documento ufficiale, che i primi a violare il Tnp sono gli Stati uniti, i quali forniscono armi nucleari a paesi non-nucleari, e i loro alleati, Italia compresa, i quali violano l’art. 2 del Tnp: «Ciascuno degli stati militarmente non-nucleari si impegna a non ricevere da chicchessia armi nucleari, né il controllo su tali armi, direttamente o indirettamente».

The Dark Underbelly of Israel’s Security State

April 9th, 2010 by Jonathan Cook

What is misleadingly being called in Israel the “Anat Kamm espionage affair” is quickly revealing the dark underbelly of a nation that has worshipped for decades at the altar of a security state.

Next week 23-year-old Kamm is due to stand trial for her life — or rather the state’s demand that she serve a life sentence for passing secret documents to an Israeli reporter, Uri Blau, of the liberal Haaretz daily. She is charged with spying.

Blau himself is in hiding in London, facing, if not a Mossad hit squad, at least the stringent efforts of Israel’s security services to get him back to Israel over the opposition of his editors, who fear he will be put away too.

This episode has been dragging on behind the scenes for months, since at least December, when Kamm was placed under house arrest pending the trial.

Not a word about the case leaked in Israel until this week when the security services, who had won from the courts a blanket gag order — a gag on the gag, so to speak — were forced to reverse course when foreign bloggers began making the restrictions futile. Hebrew pages on Facebook had already laid out the bare bones of the story.

So, now that much of the case is out in the light, what are the crimes committed by Kamm and Blau?

During her conscription, Kamm copied possibly hundreds of army documents that revealed systematic law-breaking by the Israeli high command operating in the occupied Palestinian territories, including orders to ignore court rulings. She was working at the time in the office of Brig Gen Yair Naveh, who is in charge of operations in the West Bank.

Blau’s crime is that he published a series of scoops based on her leaked information that have highly embarrassed senior Israeli officers by showing their contempt for the rule of law.

His reports included revelations that the senior command had approved targeting Palestinian bystanders during the military’s extra-judicial assassinations in the occupied territories; that, in violation of a commitment to the high court, the army had issued orders to execute wanted Palestinians even if they could be safely apprehended; and that the defence ministry had a compiled a secret report showing that the great majority of settlements in the West Bank were illegal even under Israeli law (all are illegal in international law).

In a properly democratic country, Kamm would have an honorable defence against the charges, of being a whistle-blower rather than a spy, and Blau would be winning journalism prizes not huddling away in exile.

But this is Israel. Here, despite a desperate last-stand for the principles of free speech and the rule of law in the pages of the Haaretz newspaper today, which is itself in the firing line over its role, there is almost no public sympathy for Kamm or even Blau.

The pair are already being described, both by officials and in chat forums and talkback columns, as traitors who should be jailed, disappeared or executed for the crime of endangering the state.

The telling comparison being made is to Mordechai Vanunu, the former technician at the Dimona nuclear plant who exposed Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal. Inside Israel, he is universally reviled to this day, having spent nearly two decades in harsh confinement. He is still under a loose house arrest, denied the chance to leave the country.

Blau and Kamm have every reason to be worried they may share a similar fate. Yuval Diskin, the head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police, which has been leading the investigation, said yesterday that they had been too “sensitive to the media world” in pursuing the case for so long and that the Shin Bet would now “remove its gloves”.

Maybe that explains why Kamm’s home address was still visible on the charge sheet published yesterday, putting her life in danger from one of those crazed talkbackers. 

It certainly echoes warnings we have had before from the Shin Bet about how it operates.

Much like Blau, Azmi Bishara, once head of a leading Arab party in Israel, is today living in exile after the Shin Bet put him in their sights. He had been campaigning for democratic reforms that would make Israel a “state of all its citizens” rather than a Jewish state.

While he was abroad in 2007, the Shin Bet announced that he would be put on trial for treason when he returned, supposedly because he had had contacts with Hizbullah during Israel’s attack on Lebanon in 2006.

Few experts believe Bishara could have had any useful information for Hizbullah, but the Shin Bet’s goals and modus operandi were revealed later by Diskin in a letter on its attitude to Bishara and his democratisation campaign. The Shin Bet was there, he said, to thwart the activities of groups or individuals who threatened the state’s Jewish character “even if such activity is sanctioned by the law”.

Diskin called this the principle of “a democracy defending itself” when it was really a case of Jewish leaders in a state based on Jewish privilege protecting those privileges. This time it is about the leaders of Israel’s massive security industry protecting their privileges in a security state by silencing witnesses to their crimes and keeping ordinary citizens in ignorance.

Justifying his decision to “take the gloves off” in the case of Kamm and Blau, Diskin said: “It is a dream of every enemy state to get its hands on these kinds of documents” — that is, documents proving that the Israeli army has repeatedly broken the country’s laws, in addition, of course, to its systematic violations of international law.

Diskin claims that national security has been put at risk, even though the reports Blau based on the documents — and even the documents themselves — were presented to, and approved by, the military censor for publication. The censor can restrict publication based only on national security concerns, unlike Diskin, the army senior command and the government, who obey other kinds of concerns.

Diskin knows there is every chance he will get away with his ploy because of a brainwashed Israeli public, a largely patriotic media and a supine judiciary.

The two judges who oversaw the months of gagging orders to silence any press discussion of this case did so on the say-so of the Shin Bet that there were vital national security issues at stake. Both judges are stalwarts of Israel’s enormous security industry.

Einat Ron was appointed a civilian judge in 2007 after working her way up the ranks of the military legal establishment, there to give a legal gloss to the occupation. Notoriously in 2003, when she was the chief military prosecutor, she secretly proposed various fabrications to the army so that it could cover up the killing of an 11-year-old Palestinian boy, Khalil al-Mughrabi, two years earlier. Her role only came to light because a secret report into the boy’s death was mistakenly attached to the army’s letter to an Israeli human rights group.

The other judge is Ze’ev Hammer, who finally overturned the gag order this week — but only after a former supreme court judge, Dalia Dorner, now the head of Israel’s Press Council, belatedly heaped scorn on it. She argued that, with so much discussion of the case outside Israel, the world was getting the impression that Israel flouted democratic norms.

Judge Hammer has his own distinguished place in Israel’s security industry, according to Israeli analyst Dimi Reider. During his eight years of legal study, Hammer worked for both the Shin Bet and Israel’s Mossad spy agency.

Judge Hammer and Judge Ron are deeply implicated in the same criminal outfit — the Israeli security establishment — that is now trying to cover up the tracks that lead directly to its door. Kamm is doubtless wondering what similar vested interests the judges who hear her case next week will not be declaring.

Writing in Haaretz today, Blau said he had been warned “that if I return to Israel I could be silenced for ever, and that I would be charged for crimes related to espionage”. He concluded that “this isn’t only a war for my personal freedom but for Israel’s image”.

He should leave worrying about Israel’s image to Netanyahu, Diskin and judges like Dorner. That was why the gag order was enforced in the first place. This is not a battle for Israel’s image; it’s a battle for what is left of its soul.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Limited military flight operations have resumed at the air base in embattled Kyrgyzstan that serves as a key resupply hub for the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, a Pentagon official says.

Flights in and out of the Transit Center at the Manas airport, outside the capital of Bishkek, were suspended for 12 hours Wednesday, according to a military spokesman at the base. U.S. Air Force Maj. Rickardo Bodden was evasive when asked if flights had resumed, but the Pentagon’s Bryan Whitman said Thursday, “Currently there are limited operations at the Manas airfield.” He subsequently indicated he was referring to flight operations.

Whitman added that support for U.S. warfighters in Afghanistan “has not been seriously affected” and that “we hope we will be able to resume full operations soon.”

In the meantime, officials said they are using alternate means to get that support into Afghanistan. “As prudent planning dictates, we will make use of options to ensure that support continues to those conducting operations in Afghanistan,” said Tampa, Fla.-based Central Command spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bill Speaks.

The center, overseen by the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing, is the No. 1 air mobility hub for the International Security Assistance Force and coalition military forces operating in Afghanistan, officials say. In March, about 50,000 U.S. troops passed through Manas on their way in and out of Afghanistan, said Maj. John Redfield of Central Command.

An opposition coalition proclaimed a new interim government Thursday in Kyrgyzstan and said it would rule until elections are held in six months. It urged the president to resign and said there were no immediate plans to change the U.S. lease for a strategic airfield.

The new interim defense minister said the armed forces have joined the opposition and will not be used against protesters.

China on Thursday said it was “deeply concerned” about the violent uprising in its small western neighbor, echoing comments by Russia and the U.S. The impoverished Central Asian nation hosts the Manas U.S. military air base, a key facility supporting the war in Afghanistan, and also hosts a Russian military base.

Opposition leader Roza Otunbayeva, the former foreign minister, said parliament was dissolved and she would head the interim government. She said the new government controlled four of the seven provinces and called on President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who has fled the capital of Bishkek, to resign.

“His business in Kyrgyzstan is finished,” she said.

Although the opposition has previously voiced objection to Manas, Otunbayeva said there were no plans yet to review the current one-year lease agreement with the U.S. She said her government would meet U.S. diplomats for talks in Bishkek.

“Give us time, it will take time for us to understand and fix the situation,” Otunbayeva said.

Kyrgyzstan, which shares a 533-mile border with China, is also a gateway to other energy-rich Central Asian countries where China, Russia and the U.S. are competing fiercely for dominance. It is a predominantly Muslim country, but it has remained secular.

The U.S. Embassy denied reports in the Kyrgyz media that U.S. citizens were being evacuated to the Manas air force base, where about 1,200 U.S. troops are stationed. Americans in civilian clothing were seen entering the base Thursday morning.

Russia sent in 150 paratroopers to its base to ensure the safety of the 400 military personnel and their families there, Russian state media reported.

By Thursday afternoon, there was no sign of Bakiyev. Otunbayeva said he had fled to the central region of Jalal-Abad, the heart of his political stronghold, to seek support. This raised some concerns that Bakiyev could try to exploit the country’s traditional north-south split to secure his own survival.

Thousands of protesters have clashed with security forces throughout the country in the last two days, driving out local governments and seizing government headquarters in Bishkek. Elite riot police shot into crowds of protesters in Bishkek on Wednesday and hospitals were overwhelmed with the dead and wounded.

The country’s new defense chief, however, said Thursday that the nation’s 5 million people now have nothing to fear from the security forces.

“Special forces and the military were used against civilians in Bishkek, Talas and other places,” Ismail Isakov said. “This will not happen in the future.”

In Bishkek, residents nervously went about their business on a clear spring morning Thursday, the snowcapped mountains visible in the distance. There were no police on the streets.

Most of the government buildings in the capital, as well as Bakiyev’s houses, have been looted or set on fire and two major markets were burned down. A paper portrait of Bakiyev at government headquarters was smeared with red paint. Obscenities about him were spray-painted on buildings nearby.

Otunbayeva blamed Bakiyev for the week’s violent clashes.

“Yesterday’s events were a response to aggression, tyranny and a crackdown on dissenters,” she said. “All the people who were killed and wounded are victims of this regime.”

The Health Ministry said at least 74 people were killed and 400 people hospitalized in clashes nationwide Wednesday.

Almaz Bakibayev, a 30-year-old cook who was among the wounded, said the bloodshed would be worthwhile if it brought in a better government.

“The blood was not shed in vain,” he said at Bishkek’s Hospital No. 4. “What I can’t understand is why they started shooting at people.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for calm and said he would immediately send an envoy to Kyrgyzstan, which he had criticized in a visit Saturday for its human rights violations.

“I could feel the tension in the air,” he said Thursday in Vienna. “The pressure has been building for months.”

Since coming to power in 2005 amid street protests known as the Tulip Revolution, Bakiyev had ensured a measure of stability, but the opposition said he did so at the expense of democratic standards while enriching himself and his family.

He gave his relatives, including his son, top government and economic posts and faced the same accusations of corruption and cronyism that led to the ouster of his predecessor, Askar Akayev.

The interim government brings together a wide spectrum of opposition leaders whose differences have undermined them in the past.

One area of consensus was on the decision to repeal the recent sharp increases to utility taxes that provoked widespread anger. Beyond that, the new team of ministers — who range from the socialist Ata-Meken party leader Omurmbek Tekebayev, whose portfolio will include drawing up proposed constitution reforms, to the technocratic interim Finance Minister Temir Sariyev — may have trouble forging a united platform.

“We have kicked out Bakiyev, the people have taken power into their own hands, but we have no plans for the future,” said Abdykerim Sadykov, a 42-year-old teacher, as he stood with thousands of others outside the ransacked government headquarters.

“We will wait until the opposition hatches a plan,” he said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. deplored the violence and urged all to respect the rule of law.

In 2009, Kyrgyzstan said U.S. forces would have to leave Manas, a decision made shortly after Russia granted Kyrgyzstan more than $2 billion in aid and loans. The government later reversed its stance and agreed to a one-year deal with the U.S. that raised the rent to about $63 million a year from $17 million.

The U.S. is also paying $37 million for airport improvements, another $30 million for new navigation systems, and giving the government $51.5 million to combat drug trafficking and terrorism and promote economic development.

Staff writer William H. McMichael and Associated Press writers Leila Saralayeva and Yuras Karmanau in Bishkek, Anita Chang in Beijing, Lynn Berry, Mansur Mirovalev and David Nowak in Moscow contributed to this report.

While President Barack Obama speaks overseas of his vision of a world without nuclear weapons, his military commanders at home are quietly accelerating a programme to develop and deploy a new class of conventional intercontinental ballistic missiles which will have the capacity to strike targets anywhere in the world within an hour.

While the effort to develop the new missile capability, called Prompt Global Strike, began in the late 1990s and through the Bush years, President Obama has expanded its budget with hopes that it can be added to US military’s array of options by the middle of this decade. First prototype tests will be carried out by the Air Force next month.

  

American commanders envisage a missile that will travel at hypersonic speeds, in part outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, with the ability to strike a target anywhere around the globe within one hour from launch with a conventional but still potentially devastating explosive payload.

Even as Moscow has agreed to the arms control treaty signed yesterday, it has become increasingly loud in warning of the dangers of the new global missiles under development by the Pentagon. “World states will hardly accept a situation in which nuclear weapons disappear, but weapons that are no less destabilising emerge in the hands of certain members of the international community,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier this week.

Nuclear deterrence has been the key plank of US defence policy for six decades but while Washington views the new conventional weaponry as key to protecting America in a post-Cold War world where the threats may come not just from nations but also from terror networks, critics argue that they present new and important risks. Most commonly cited is the danger that other countries, including China and Russia, could mistake one of them for a nuclear missile unless they are fired at sufficiently low altitude. Once they are launched, there could be difficulty in distinguishing their conventional payloads from nuclear ones. That in turn could accidentally trigger a nuclear retaliation by Russia or another similarly-armed power.

Another danger is that if nuclear weapons are no longer at issue, there would be a bigger temptation for American military commanders to become more cavalier about ordering strikes. And unless intelligence can be fully relied upon, the chances of striking mistaken targets are high.