Thursday, March 27, 2008

Global Pulse - 3/26/08: Tibet: China Strikes Back

China launched a propaganda war as the Olympic torch was kindled. Tibetans were shown beating up Han Chinese and looting shops, juxtaposed with picturesque features on Chinese guarantees of freedom for Buddhists. Chinese nationalism has been stoked, but the path of the Olympic torch is already rife with dissent.

Mosaic News - 3/26/08: World News from the Middle East

White America Victimized by Black Anger About Racism?

When Barack Obama spoke in Philadelphia, PA at Constitution Center, on matters not just of race and recent remarks but on the fundamental path by which America can work together to pursue a better future, I shouldn't have been surprised to see some on the right and in the corporate media continue to focus on what divides us as I show in this video.

Inside Story - Iraq's militias

Iraq's army vows to crush and disarm the country's militias.

West Bank faces toxic waste crisis

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By Mel Frykberg in Ramallah

The West Bank has become a dumping site for hazardous waste - which is making residents sick, say Israeli and Palestinian environmental groups.

Several weeks ago, villagers from Jima'in in the Nablus district complained that Israeli trucks were again dumping waste on Palestinian land.

Ayman Abu Thaher, the deputy director-general of the Palestinian Authority's Environmental Awareness Directorate said such dumping has been going on for years.

"The Israelis are using the West Bank as a cheap and easy alternative for dumping their waste at the expense of the health of Palestinians," he said.

According to Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), a joint Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian environmental group, improper dumping of contaminants and waste has over time become a threat to the region's drinking water.

Toxic percolation

In 2006, FoEME published a report, "A Seeping Time Bomb, Pollution of the Mountain Aquifer by Solid Waste," which found that the unsustainable disposal of solid waste has resulted in the percolation of toxic substances including chloride, arsenic and heavy metals such as cadmium, mercury and lead into the groundwater.

Since the 2006 report was released, the German government has built a new solid waste disposal project near Ramallah and the World Bank and the EU have also completed another solid waste landfill facility near Jenin.

But Mira Epstein, a spokeswoman for FoEME, said that despite the improvements, the threat to drinking water and the environment persist today.

Over three million people reside in the recharge area of the aquifer, which falls under both the West Bank and parts of Israel. The population includes 2.3 million Palestinians, 235,000 Israeli settlers and 500,000 Israelis living within Israel's internationally recognized borders.

Bassem Abu Mahdi, the director of primary health services in Salfit, which is located near a dump site in the northern West Bank, said an "increasing number of people have been diagnosed with cancer, amoebic dysentery, diarrhea and other related diseases".

He cited the dumping of hazardous waste as a cause of the increase.

Accusing Israel

Abu Thaher, told Al Jazeera that some Israeli companies were dumping waste in the Palestinian territories rather than resorting to the official hazardous waste treatment site, Ramot Havav, in southern Israel.

In 1985, Israeli pesticide company Geshuri closed operations in Kfar Sava and relocated to Tulkarem in the northern West Bank after Israeli residents petitioned for and obtained a court order for the company to move.

They had accused the company of being responsible for an increase in pollution-related health issues.

"A number of Israeli companies have relocated to the West Bank to avoid the strict environmental laws governing the disposal of waste, particularly hazardous waste in Israel," Abu Thaher told Al Jazeera.

Palestinians burning garbage

But Tzali Greenberg, a spokesman for Israel's Environment Ministry, told Al Jazeera that the country's strict environmental laws are also enforced on Israeli companies operating in the Palestinian territories.

"There is no difference to us between Israeli and Palestinian waste," Greenberg said.

"It all gets treated the same and we follow perpetrators who break the law equally and we think people who are serious about this should contact us with the necessary evidence."

"We will be happy to follow up and take legal action."

Zecharya Tagar, from the Israeli division of FoEME, said most of the waste produced in the West Bank came from Palestinians, who comprise the majority of the population in the area.

He added that the biggest threat to both the environment and health in the region was the continual burning of waste by Palestinians.

"This is causing the air to be filled with carcinogenic particles which Palestinians are breathing in on a daily basis," Tagar said.

"Furthermore, Israel does not have a policy of dumping in the West Bank and to the best of our knowledge, this is complied with by the public sector."

Security trumps

But the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ), a NGO dedicated to promoting sustainable development in the occupied Palestinian territories, says waste from illegal Israeli settlements is the major problem.

"Wastewater from the settlements is not restricted to domestic effluent but includes pesticides, asbestos, batteries, cement and aluminum which contain carcinogenic and hazardous compounds," ARIJ recently reported.

It also accused Israeli authorities of being lenient on settlers who broke the law.

The faltering peace process has also contributed to the problem. The joint Israeli-Palestinian Environmental Experts Committee, established under the Oslo Accords, has not met since 1999, forcing coordination on the issue of solid waste to be done in an ad hoc manner.

The dumping of untreated medical waste, including used syringes randomly discarded in garbage dumps, continues largely because of restrictions on movement that the Israeli army argues is necessary for security reasons.

The extensive closures and roadblocks have also made it hard for wastewater tankers to reach the many Palestinian communities that are not connected to main sewage systems and are dependent on cesspits and these tankers for disposal of waste.

Colombian Union Leader Builds Opposition to Free Trade Deal

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By Barb Kucera

Minneapolis - Edgar Paez considers himself fortunate to be able to campaign across the United States this month against the proposed U.S.-Colombia free trade deal. Twenty-two members of his union - assassinated for their activism - weren't so lucky.

Employees of Coca-Cola, Nestle and other multinational corporations, "they were killed because they were fighting for workers to be paid better - and that would have resulted in the companies not making as much profit," he said.

Paez, a leader of Sinaltrainal, the National Food Industry Workers Union, spoke in Minneapolis and Rochester last week in programs sponsored by the United Steelworkers, Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition and Witness for Peace. He is touring the country before an upcoming Congressional vote on the free trade agreement with Colombia.

Under pressure, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe agreed to insert some pro-labor provisions into the trade pact's text. But unions and lawmakers say they're not good enough to overcome Colombia's notorious track record of more than 2,000 unionists murdered by Right Wing paramilitaries - some paid off by U.S. multinationals - over the last 15 years, or Uribe's lack of prosecution of perpetrators.

Opponents, which include the labor movement in the United States and all three labor federations in Colombia, said the agreement also would continue the failed policies of NAFTA that have led to massive job loss and lower wages throughout the Americas.

Since 1991, a total of 2,283 Colombian trade unionists have been murdered and many more have been subject to violence and death threats, according to the International Labor Organization.

Not only workers, but also students, farmers, indigenous communities and many others have been subject to violence, Paez said. The Uribe administration often uses the war on drugs as an excuse, but in fact has been heavily implicated in drug trafficking, he said.

"What's happening in Colombia is the worst-case example of what happens when companies are allowed to do whatever they want,' said Tara Widner, United Steelworkers staff representative who spoke at the programs with Paez. The Steelworkers have sued a number of multinationals for their actions in Colombia, she noted.

The union is leading efforts to oppose the U.S.-Colombia free trade deal in Congress. The Bush administration hopes to submit its proposal by March 31 under "fast track," meaning an up-or-down vote with no amendments or changes allowed.

Paez and Widner, as well as exiled Colombian union activist Gerardo Cajamarca who also spoke at the programs, emphasized they support trade between countries - but it must include meaningful labor, environmental and human rights protections.

Earlier this month, Colombian workers conducted demonstrations in opposition to the proposal and to demand an end to state-sponsored violence. They also plan a series of tribunals in Bogota in late July to put Chiquita Brands, Drummond, Monsanto and other multinationals "on trial" for violations of human rights. Workers from other countries are invited to attend.

"Despite these atrocities, despite these crimes, the Colombian people continue to resist, to dream and to build other alternatives," Paez told the audience in Minneapolis. "We'd like for you to help us create a different Colombia."

New Record: Wind Powers 40 Percent of Spain

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Wind power is breaking new records in Spain, accounting for just over 40 percent of all electricity consumed during a brief period last weekend. As heavy winds lashed Spain on Saturday evening wind parks generated 9,862 megawatts of power which translated to 40.8 percent of total consumption. Between Friday and Sunday wind power accounted for an average of 28 percent of all electricity demand in Spain. Spain's wind power generation equaled that of hydropower for the first time in 2007.

In July the government approved legislation that will allow offshore wind parks to be set up along the nation's vast coastline in an effort to boost the use of renewable energy sources. While more expensive than land-based wind farms, offshore wind parks can take advantage of stronger, steadier coastal breezes.

Spain, which along with Germany and Denmark, is among the three biggest producers of wind power in the 27-nation European Union, is aiming to triple the amount of energy it derives from renewable sources by 2020.

Fast and Loose With the Facts

How Two Leading Journalists Played the Public to Help Bush Sell His War

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By Spencer Ackerman

"The danger," said President George W. Bush on Sept. 25, 2002, "is that Al Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam's madness and his hatred and his capacity to extend weapons of mass destruction around the world." He proceeded to build on a lie that finally died last week -- but only after nearly 4,000 U.S. troops and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqis did as well. "The war on terror," Bush said, "you can't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror."

Only if you're a liar. For the CIA knew that Saddam Hussein had no ties of any significance to Al Qaeda. Richard A. Clarke, the long-time counterterrorism director at the National Security Council, knew that Saddam Hussein had no ties of any significance to Al Qaeda. Michael Scheuer, the CIA's original bin Laden analyst, knew that Saddam Hussein had no ties of any significance to Al Qaeda. Eventually, the 9/11 Commission would know that Saddam Hussein had no ties of any significance to Al Qaeda.

But by the time the U.S. invaded Iraq, five years ago today, much of the public thought that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda were tightly allied to strike the United States. And the public believed this because the Bush administration constantly intimated it in order to launch its long-desired war.

Donald H. Rumsfeld called the evidence linking Saddam and Al Qaeda "bulletproof." (He would later say, "To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two" -- and then walk that statement back.) CIA Director George J. Tenet, carrying the administration's water by misrepresenting what his CIA knew, said there were ties going back a decade. (He meant that they were a decade old.) Vice President Dick Cheney went on "Meet The Press" again and again to say that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an agent of Iraqi intelligence. (In early 2002, the FBI and the CIA debunked this claim.)

But the public also believed it because the press amplified the lie. The major networks and papers uncritically recycled what these administration officials said. The elite media was no exception -- and played a major role in convincing less-expert journalists that the administration was on to something. Two writers in particular, though very different, stand out: Jeffrey Goldberg, then of The New Yorker and now of The Atlantic, and Stephen F. Hayes, of the neoconservative Weekly Standard.

Goldberg, in The New Yorker, wrote two pieces -- one in March 2002 and the other on the eve of the invasion -- backing the Saddam/Al Qaeda claim. Bush praised his work publicly, if inelegantly: "Evidently, there's a new article in the New York magazine or New Yorker magazine--some East Coast magazine--and it details about [Saddam's] barbaric behavior toward his own people." Asked about Goldberg by Tim Russert, Cheney called Goldberg's 2002 piece, which breathlessly recycled the second-hand claims of prisoners of the Kurds that Saddam and bin Laden were allied, "devastating."

Hayes, in the Standard, has made a career out of pretending Saddam and Al Qaeda were in league to attack the United States. He published a book -- tellingly wafer-thin and with large type in its hardcover edition -- called "The Connection." One infamous piece even suggested that Saddam might have aided the 9/11 attack. Hayes can be relied on to provide a farrago of speciousness every time new information emerges refuting his deceptive thesis. Unsurprisingly, Cheney has repeatedly praised Hayes's work, telling Fox News, "I think Steve Hayes has done an effective job in his article of laying out a lot of those connections."

The Bush administration will leave office with the legacy of a disastrous and unnecessary war, which threatens to undermine the Republican Party for a second straight election. Bush and Cheney will probably leave office distrusted and loathed by a large majority of the electorate, and if they ever travel to Europe they might even face indictment as war criminals.

By contrast, Goldberg and Hayes have seen their careers flourish. Goldberg traded his New Yorker post for a lucrative spot at The Atlantic. Hayes wrote a lengthy hagiography of Cheney for major New York publisher, HarperCollins. Publicity for the book got him a special spot on "Meet The Press," befitting his status as a high-profile television pundit who is never treated as the conspiracy theorist he is.

Every single inquiry into the Saddam/Al Qaeda link has revealed it to be untrue. First, in 2004, the 9/11 Commission's definitive study found "no collaborative operational ties" between the two. (Hayes' response was first to attack the commission, and then to claim that this was a legalistic way of saying that Saddam and Al Qaeda were actually in league.) Then, in 2006, the Senate intelligence committee rejected it. Then, in 2007, the Pentagon inspector general -- albeit in a more circuitous way -- rejected it. Now, in a report released last week, the U.S. military's Joint Forces Command rejects it.

The Joint Forces Command study combed through 600,000 pages of captured documents about Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism throughout the years. It documents, in great detail, precisely that. But the label "terrorism" is a misleading category. The study refutes the idea that there was any "direct connection" between Saddam and Al Qaeda. Saddam's support for terrorism was largely limited to Palestinian, anti-Kurdish and anti-Gulf state terrorist groups. (See the JFC's Executive Summary here, another excerpt here and conclusions.)

About as close as anything could come to linking Saddam to Al Qaeda was a memo from one Saddam's intelligence services "written a decade before Operation Iraqi Freedom." It says: "In a meeting in the Sudan we agreed to renew our relations with the Islamic Jihad Organization in Egypt." That organization would eventually merge with Al Qaeda in the late 1990s, long after the apparent meeting in Sudan. It also says that for a time in the mid-1990s, Saddam and Al Qaeda had "indirect cooperation" by offering "training and motivation" to some of the same terror organizations in that country.

Out of this thin gruel, Hayes attempted to make a meal in the Standard's pages this week. He lifted as many bullet points from the report as he could that, out of context, seemed to bolster his theory. He then went about attacking reporters who accurately wrote that the study found no direct connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda. Hayes tacitly promised his readers that history will ultimately vindicate him, writing that "as much as we have learned from this impressive collection of documents, it is only a fraction of what we will know in 10, 20 or 50 years." And he expressed puzzlement that an administration with an obvious credibility problem had not "done anything to promote the study."

Hayes's boss, New York Times columnist Bill Kristol, criticized the administration's silence in an editorial, lamenting that "most Americans will assume there was no real Saddam-terror connection." The phraseology is telling. Not even Kristol, a supreme propagandist, could bring himself to write of a "real Saddam-Al Qaeda connection," preferring the sleight-of-hand approach to discussing Saddam's ties to undifferentiated "terror" groups.

At the risk of belaboring the point, it should be obvious that if Saddam Hussein was as important to Al Qaeda as Hayes has erroneously and deliberately written for years, then Al Qaeda should be reeling years after the destruction of his regime. Instead, according to a mid-2007 warning from the National Counterterrorism Center, Al Qaeda is "Better Positioned to Strike the West." Never once has Hayes, in all the thousands of words he has written on the "connection," reckoned with this basic strategic problem. In essence, he asks every U.S. soldier and Marine in Iraq to be the last man to die for a debater's point.

Goldberg's approach has been rather different. He has simply kept quiet about what he did. In his March 2002 piece, he credulously recycled the claims of "Kurdish intelligence officials" that a Kurdish terror group called Ansar al-Islam was "shielding Al Qaeda members, and... doing so with the approval of Saddam's agents." (In a parody of a concession to reality, he caveated the claim by saying "they have no proof that Ansar al-Islam was ever involved in international terrorism or that Saddam’s agents were involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.") Never once did he indicate to his readers -- The New Yorker has a circulation of more than a million -- that the Kurds, sworn enemies of Saddam Hussein, had an obvious motive to peddle lies to American reporters.

A subsequent piece baselessly asserted that "the relationship between bin Laden and Saddam’s regime was brokered in the early nineteen-nineties by the then de-facto leader of Sudan, the pan-Islamist radical Hassan al-Tourabi." Needless to say, not a single investigation into Iraq or Al Qaeda has ever substantiated what Goldberg wrote.

Goldberg further pimped the assertions of "senior officials" that "an Al Qaeda operative--a native-born Iraqi who goes by the name Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi -- was dispatched by bin Laden to ask the Iraqis for help in poison-gas training." (It's possible that this piece of information came from Abu Sheikh al-Libi, who was tortured into telling the Bush administration about Saddam giving Al Qaeda chemical and biological weapons training, before subsequently recanting.) And he again wrote of "another possible connection early last year," gleaned -- once again -- from "Kurdish intelligence officials."

Goldberg, perhaps chastened, largely stopped writing about the war after the occupation proved to be a disaster. Unlike Hayes, if he still believes that Saddam and Al Qaeda were indeed in league, he has not publicly said so. His beat at The New Yorker changed from the Iraq war to domestic politics. Yet even then, he could not resist the urge to lionize the architects of the Saddam-Al Qaeda connection. In 2005, he authored a puffy profile of former Pentagon official Douglas J. Feith. ("His glasses magnify his eyes, making him appear owlish, and his mouth is set in an expression of bemusement that can slip into impatient condescension when he hears something that he thinks is foolish, which is often.")

All the while, he has neglected to correct the record. The closest Goldberg has come to acknowledging what he did in 2002 and 2003 was in an interview with New York magazine to promote a book he published in 2006. When the reporter, Boris Kachka, gently asked about his earlier reporting, Goldberg snapped, "Is that part of the interview? Okay, fine, if you really want to go into it, the specific allegations I raised have never been definitively addressed by the 9/11 Commission."

Yet Goldberg enjoys a sterling reputation. The Atlantic's wealthy owner, David Bradley, reportedly sent Goldberg's children ponies in order to convince the reporter to leave The New Yorker for the prestigious magazine. "He's incredibly persistent and makes you feel like you're God's gift to journalism," Goldberg said of Bradley. The Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz approvingly referred to Bradley's pursuit of "top talent."

But it seems as though, despite Goldberg's ability to escape accountability for his journalistic malpractice, he can't help smirking to attentive readers. The cover story of the January/February edition of The Atlantic featured Goldberg's meditations on the post-Iraq Middle East. It featured, of all things, a discursion into "a decrepit prison in Iraqi Kurdistan" where "a senior interrogator with the Kurdish intelligence service" tortured an Arab prisoner.

Goldberg mentioned not a word of what his last dalliance with Kurdish intelligence yielded. To anyone who read his 2002 and 2003 pieces, it appeared that The Atlantic writer was returning to the scene of the crime.

Nearly 4,000 Americans and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and counting, will not have the same opportunity.

The Audacity of Hypocrisy

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By Joe Mowrey

Enough already. I can hardly stand to read the relentless insipid back and forth about Barak Obama's recent speech on race. Somebody writes a clever bit of clichéd rhetoric for him and the Right can't quit hosing it while at the same time the Left can't quit drooling over it. What a slippery mess. I keep waiting for some one, somewhere, PLEASE, to point out the giant pimple on Barak Obama's rhetorical nose. But no one seems to get it. No one seems to want to say what the real problem is with "The Speech."

I won't quote any of the wonderful sound bites he uses. It's tough to argue against that kind of pablum. Race is bad. Americans are good. And who in their right minds would criticize cute little Ashley and the Martin Luther King references? One sentence (and a bit of a run on sentence at that) provides all the basis we need for analysis of Mr. Obama's breathtaking moment of historical pandering. In reference to remarks critical of the United States made by his pastor (which, by the way, were accurate assessments of historical fact) Obama says, "They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam."

Right. First of all, who actually believes that white racism is not "endemic" in this country? And who doesn't get it that most of what is "right with America" is in fact little more than a series of flowery myths which obscure our deep-seated narcissism and rampant history of imperialist war mongering? But the most "audacious" hypocrisy in the entire speech is the implication that the conflicts in the Middle East emanate from "the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical islam." Of course, European and Western colonialism and imperialism have no bearing on the discussion and our stalwart ally, Israel, has nothing to do with the situation. Radical islam just popped up out of the fertile sands of the cradle of civilization with no provocation or rational historical context.

Praising Israel in a speech about racism is like praising the history of White South Africa in a speech about civil rights. Has the fact that Israel is a Zionist state completely escaped the minds of all the Obamakins?

For a brief update: Zionism is the political ideology which promotes the exclusivity of Jews in Israel over any other racial, religious or ethnic group. Zionism, by definition, is racism. Israel, with the full support and funding of the United States, flagrantly violates international law and engages in the systematic ethnic cleansing and oppression of the Palestinian people as well as in the establishment of an apartheid system, not just in the West Bank and Gaza, but in Israel proper. The illegal colonization of Palestinian lands is an international crime and a model of institutionalized racism which is without equal any where in the world in that it is so widely ignored and even encouraged by the majority of so-called civilized nations. More importantly, what is largely forgotten in the little discussion there is of illegal settlement activities being practiced by Israel, is that the settlements themselves are racially exclusive. Jews only need apply. Palestinians aren't even allowed to drive on the same roads as the Israelis in the Palestinians' own territory. I wonder how Mr. Obama would respond if Canada decided to build huge whites-only cities in U.S. territory. I wonder if he would be willing to refrain from driving on a series of Canadians-only roads connecting those illegal colonies. It would only be a security precaution, after all, and Canada is such a stalwart ally or ours.

So-called liberals should examine their consciences before they bow down at the alter of Obamakinism. He has a lot of wonderful, albeit vapid things to say on the subject of race. Indeed, he has a unique platform and perspective from which to address this and other issues. Unfortunately, he is too busy selling out to the Israel lobby and a vast array of corporate interests to actually rise to the occasion in any substantive fashion.

On the surface Barak Obama may constitute one of the more palatable lesser of two evils we have been offered in quite some time. But he is still only the lesser of two evils. He offers us nothing more than a continuation of the United States' corporate militarism and imperialist policies as well as the unquestioning support of a racist regime in Israel. For the last 60 years (at least) we have "lesser-of-two-evilled" ourselves into the position we are currently in on this planet. If we want actual "change" in our country and the world, we must move toward a true social revolution and not accept more of the same sound-bite political rhetoric. No matter what color the candidate may be on the outside, and no matter how inspiring his speeches and slogans may be, it is an honest examination of what is in his head, his heart and his bank account (and who put it there) that matters.

Obama represents the same old wine in a brand new bottle. And the bottle is too opaque to see into, even if "progressives" were willing to take off their rose colored glasses long enough to have a look inside. To quote one more line from Obama's speech: "But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now." I couldn't agree more. Too bad Obama doesn't have the courage to include Israel's state-sponsored bigotry against the Palestinian people in his definition of racism.

Bailout For The MBAs

A Working-Class Perspective on the Current Market Crisis

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By Alex Mohammed Krishnan

On Sunday, February 23, the New York Times reported on a confidential memo being circulated around Congress, by the global banks with the most to lose in this mess of their own making. It was a proposal for a public bailout of private investment houses, who are worried for their survival amid the massive subprime losses and credit crisis already roiling Wall Street.

This rescue, to be disguised as a plan to save homeowners at risk of default over the next several years, would set up a new public corporation to purchase from the banks a large part of the mind-boggling $739 billion in mortgages at “moderate to high risk” of defaulting within 5 years, thus transferring the risk to taxpayers. Versions of this scheme were discussed by liberal groups like the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and the New America Foundation in a bid to avoid a complete collapse, said the report.

Apparently the fear was that the proposal, formally made by Bank of America, the nation's largest mortgage lender after its recent purchase of Countrywide Financial, “will be acceptable only if it is not perceived as a bailout of the bond market.” That's why the new entity was to be packaged for public consumption as the work of a compassionate government trimming the sharp edges off life for an otherwise hapless citizenry.

Within a couple of weeks, the US government, not usually prone to lightning-fast action, had sprung into the service of big capital, with the Federal Reserve Bank providing $200 billion in liquidity to the largest banks in the form of treasury notes, and allowed these loans to be backed by guess what-- “mortgage-backed securities.” Now, as it becomes increasingly clear this measure is not sufficient to deter the downward spiral, the FDIC has announced large increases in staffing at the department which manages bank collapses, even bringing out of retirement people with experience during the S&L crisis in the late 1980s. At the same time, whispers have begun of a much larger and more direct bailout- possibly up to $1 trillion- with the government actually purchasing at taxpayer expense much of the toxic securities which so enriched the big boys, and which threaten to so impoverish the rest of us.

However, if the prevailing mantra of the bankers over the last few decades- the one which has brought many a developing economy to its knees by enforcing the strictest “market discipline”- is to be taken at face value, the prudent action would be to allow the invisible hand of the market to take its course. Let the dust settle with a minimum of government interference, leading probably to a number of Wall Street flagships going under completely. This is only fair.

Being pragmatic however, one can see that because the banks are tied in so intrinsically to the global economic system, this would mean misery for many millions around the world and entire economies grinding to a halt in a very short time. Without having prepared viable alternatives to the capitalist system on the ground, we would be grossly irresponsible to wish this catastrophe on our neighbors (though herein lies a pointer to what it will take to overthrow the global octopus of capital). Also, there's little doubt that many of the foreclosures are due to predatory lending practices, targeting likely low-income defaulters by using unethical methods, and that these victims deserve relief.

Thus it seems there is no practical alternative to another multi-billion dollar bailout for the MBAs, who have shown little remorse in sentencing others to a lifetime of poverty so the “market” can prevail- but no shame in holding their hats out to the taxpayer when their own rash bets go sour.

Well alright, fine. But this time, unlike the S&L and other bailouts, it's going to cost something.

There is little prevailing appetite for another freebie, certainly not for the self-absorbed brats who wield chunks of the economy like others brandish bunker-busting nukular weapons. So even here in such a fortified stronghold of capital, we can achieve some major gains in the bargain. Seems to me this unprecedented handout should not come to pass without a minimum of four clearly defined conditions being enforced by the people who will be paying for all this largesse-- us:

1. Pay back the ill gotten gains. Yes, this is America and private money is sacrosanct, but what about fat profits made from complicity in the swindling of an entire generation? Large, painful fines- not just on the banks, but on the individual profiteers who amassed obscene fortunes as they watched the ship go down with everyone else on it- and large-scale funding of affordable housing initiatives.

2. Jail time. If an unemployed single mother can get years in jail for shoplifting, then highly-educated, elite professionals deserve significantly higher penalties for recklessly endangering the security of millions.

3. Fundamental changes in the way the markets are allowed to operate, and a complete overhaul of the regulatory bodies (Fed, SEC, etc.) to prevent future incestuousness between public and private actors.

4. Stop evangelizing free market capitalism at gunpoint around the world. This is not a problem of a few bad apples- it's evident this is a systemic flaw. Either regulation works or it doesn't- can't have it both ways.

Other conditions may well emerge as the scale of this crisis and accompanying bailout becomes clearer. Without seeing at least some wins for the home team, we will have rewarded unmitigated plunder, and encouraged its proliferation. The political climate is shifting to where radically different economic ideas will have traction, and we can achieve significant goals in the midst of this capitalist catastrophe, but only by thinking fast and refusing to compromise our principles for the crooks behind it.

It would be a gross miscalculation to expect the street to stand idly by (and I don't mean Wall Street), not when millions of pensions and homes and dreams are evaporating. If we fail to ensure that this horrifying greed is not met with the most serious consequences, then let us read the writing clearly friends: There Will Be Blood.

Sami Al-Arian's Long Ordeal

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By Stephen Lendman

Sami Al-Arian is a political prisoner in Police State America. This article reviews his case briefly and updates it to the present.

Because of his faith, ethnicity and political activism, the Bush administration targeted Al-Arian for supporting "terrorism." In fact, he's a Palestinian refugee, distinguished professor and scholar, community leader and civil activist.

Nonetheless, the FBI harassed him for 11 years, arrested him on February 20, 2003, and falsely accused him of backing organizations fronting for Palestinian Islamic Jihad - a 1997 State Department-designated "Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO)."

A week later, in spite of his many awards, impeccable credentials and tenured status, University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft fired him under right wing pressure.

Since February 20, 2003, Al-Arian has been imprisoned - first at Tampa, Florida's Orient Road jail, then on to more than a dozen different maximum and other federal prison facilities. He's currently on hunger strike at Warsaw, Virginia's Northern Neck Regional jail after being transferred back March 18 from Butner, North Carolina's medical prison.

Al-Arian's trial began in June 2005 and was a travesty. It lasted six months, cost an estimated $50 million, and the prosecution called 80 witnesses, including Israeli intelligence agents and victims of suicide bombings to prejudice the jury. It introduced portions of hundreds of wiretapped phone calls from over a half million recorded; "evidence" from faxes, emails and what was seized from his home; quotes from his speeches and lectures; conferences, events and rallies he attended; articles he wrote; books he owned; magazines he edited; and various publications he read - all legal and in no way incriminating unless falsely twisted to appear that way.

After years of effort and millions spent, Al-Arian was exonerated. On December 6, 2005 after 13 days of deliberation, the jury acquitted him of all (eight) "terrorism" charges. They were deadlocked 10 - 2 for acquittal on nine others. All of them were false and unjust.

Nonetheless, within days, the Justice Department said it would re-try him on the lesser charges. His lawyers called it legal but a highly unusual move. At the same time and in secret, a plea bargain deal was struck. It stipulated:

-- Al-Arian neither engaged in or had any knowledge of violent acts;

-- that he would not be required to cooperate further with prosecutors; and

-- that he would be released on time served and deported voluntarily to his country of choice.

In the meantime, Al-Arian remained in custody pending sentencing and deportation on May 1, 2006. He expected to be free and his ordeal ended. Instead, the presiding judge changed the deal. He sentenced Al-Arian to the maximum 57 months, gave him credit for time served, and ordered him held for the remaining 11 months, after which an April 2007 deportation would follow. Now it's extended as explained below.

In October 2006, assistant prosecutor Gordon Kromberg violated plea bargain terms by subpoenaing Al-Arian before a grand jury. His defense attorneys tried to block it by citing his "no-grand jury cooperation" provision to prevent DOJ from springing a perjury-obstruction trap. Defense's motion was denied, and on November 16 Al-Arian refused to testify and was held in contempt.

A month later, the grand jury expired, a new one was convened, and Al-Arian was again subpoenaed to testify. He continued to refuse, was held in contempt, and had his sentence increased without mitigation to April 7, 2008.

On March 3, 2008 Kromberg ordered Al-Arian before still another March 19 grand jury, three weeks before his scheduled release and deportation. On the same day, Al-Arian began a hunger strike against the government's continued harassment. It's his third one but is life-threatening for a man in his condition. He's diabetic and needs regular sustenance to avoid serious health problems. His January through March, 2007 strike depleted one-fourth of his body weight, gravely harmed him, and ended only at the urging of his family.

He's now 20 days into his latest fast, lost 30 pounds, is weakening, and his life is endangered. On March 12, Al-Arian was transferred to the Butner, North Carolina medical facility where treatment is poor, the staff indifferent, and in Al-Arian's case hostile to a designated enemy of the state. On March 18, he was returned to Warsaw, Virginia's Northern Neck Regional jail ahead of his third grand jury appearance. Again, he refused to testify, so he'll likely face new contempt charges and continued confinement.

George Washington University Law School Professor Jonathan Turley heads up Al-Arian's legal team. On March 3, he released the following statement:

"On behalf of Mr. Olson and Mr. Meitl and the entire legal team, (we are greatly disappointed by) the Justice Department('s) continu(ing)....effort to mete out punishment that it could not secure from a jury. Having lost (its) case (it's) openly sought to extend (Al-Arian's) confinement by daisy-chaining grand juries. As in other cases, the government has given Dr. Al-Arian the choice of an obvious perjury trap or a contempt sanction. (Either way assures his imprisonment. This) obnoxious to our legal system and contrary to any standard of decency. The mistreatment of Dr. Al-Arian remains an international symbol of how the Bush Administration has discarded fundamental principles of fairness in a blind pursuit of retribution against this political activist. We stand committed to fighting this great injustice and hopefully reuniting Dr. Al-Arian with his family and friends."

In the meantime, his long ordeal continues at a time lawlessness prevails over justice, and we're all Sami-Al-Arians in America's "war on terrorism."

Truth In War Is Always Subversive.

A tribute to Philip Jones Griffiths, who understood war & peace, & people

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By John Pilger

I would stroll past the Hotel Royale in Saigon and look up at the corner balcony on the first floor and see him there, camera resting on his arm. A greeting in Welsh might drift down. Or his take-off of an insane American colonel we both knew. What was he doing? Best to be patient; but this had gone on for days.

It was 1970 and we were on our first assignment together and at once became friends, talking about the war as surreal, and mostly about the people, whom he loved. He introduced me to "Kim Van Kieu", a deeply touching poem about struggle and sacrifice, with which the Vietnamese as a nation identify:

It matters little if a flower falls
if a tree can keep its leaves green...

I never met a foreigner who cared as wisely for the Vietnamese, or about ordinary people everywhere under the heel of great power, as Philip Jones Griffiths. He was the greatest photographer and one of the finest journalists of my lifetime, and a humanitarian to match. He died on 19 March.

At the end of that first assignment, he handed me a crumpled brown envelope containing just six photographs. I was aghast – where was the bundle of rolls of film, where were the copious sheets of contact prints over which my picture editor in London would pore? I was puzzled that he had seemed to take so few pictures, though his war-weary Leica seldom left his hand. He watched, puckish, eyes twinkling, as I opened the envelope, then enjoyed my reaction as I examined the contents. Each print was exquisite in the power of its symbolism and true to everything we had seen and talked about, especially the destructive relationship between the Vietnamese and the Americans, the invaded and the invaders.

My favourite was of a large GI in a crowd of busy, opaque Vietnamese faces including a young woman photographed in the act of picking his pocket artfully, elegantly, little finger extended. This was the picture for which he had waited days on the balcony at the Royale. Another was Catch-22 in a single frame – spruce US officers peering at IBM computer printouts which "proved" they were winning the war they were demonstrably losing. It might have been Iraq.

No photographer produced such finely subversive work, knowing that truth in war is always subversive. Also in my brown envelope was the Goya-like picture of a captured NLF (Vietcong) soldier, prostrate, wounded and surrounded in the darkness, yet undefeated in his humanity in a manner his captors did not understand. Philip did.

In 2001, I curated an exhibition at the Barbican of pictures by great photographers I had worked with. Philip's six from the brown envelope occupied one wall and on their own made sense of the longest war of the 20th century. He could write as finely. The pared, darkly ironic captions in his classic work Vietnam Inc include this one, beneath those officers rejoicing in their air-conditioned printouts: "This is the computer that proves the war is being won. Data collected for the Hamlet Evaluation System is analysed to see who loves us. Results on the my-wife-is-not-trying-to-poison-me-therefore-she-loves-me pattern are reliably produced, each and every month."

He liked the soldiers whose photographs he took under fire, in the mud, believing they, too, were victims. "My objective," he said, "was not to allow my positive feelings toward them as individuals to cloud the fact that they were prosecuting a genocidal war." Iraq, he said recently, "is only different because every soldier seems to have a digital camera".

He was the antithesis of the anti-journalist who pretends to be objective while ensuring his or her words remain within the undeclared limits set by authority, whose flattery is reciprocated. He believed that no human loss from war or poverty was accidental and that behind each were "those murky forces", as Brecht puts it, of responsible power. His remarkable book on Agent Orange, the chemical that still murders and maims Vietnamese children, shamed those who rarely if ever mention this enduring weapon of mass destruction. His photographs of ordinary people, from his beloved Wales to Vietnam and the shadows of Cambodia, make you realise who the true heroes are. He was one of them.

Is an International Financial Conspiracy Driving World Events?

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By Richard C. Cook

"They make a desolation and call it peace." -Tacitus

Was Alan Greenspan really as dumb as he looks in creating the late housing bubble that threatens to bring the entire Western debt-based economy crashing down?

Was something as easy to foresee as this really the trigger for a meltdown that could destroy the world’s financial system? Or was it done, perhaps, "accidentally on purpose"?

And if so, why?

Let’s turn to the U.S. personage that conspiracy theorists most often mention as being at the epicenter of whatever elite plan is reputed to exist. This would be David Rockefeller, the 92-year-old multibillionaire godfather of the world’s financial elite.

The lengthy Wikipedia article on Rockefeller provides the following version of a celebrated statement he allegedly made in an opening speech at the Bilderberg conference in Baden-Baden, Germany, in June 1991:

"We are grateful to the Washington Post, the New York Times, Time magazine, and other great publications whose directors have attended our meetings and respected their promises of discretion for almost forty years. It would have been impossible for us to develop our plan for the world if we had been subject to the bright lights of publicity during these years. But the world is now more sophisticated and prepared to march towards a world government which will never again know war, but only peace and prosperity for the whole of humanity. The supranational sovereignty of an intellectual elite and world bankers is surely preferable to the national auto-determination practiced in the past centuries."

This speech was made 17 years ago. It came at the beginning in the U.S. of the Bill Clinton administration. Rockefeller speaks of an "us." This "us," he says, has been having meetings for almost 40 years. If you add the 17 years since he gave the speech it was 57 years ago—two full generations.

Not only has "us" developed a "plan for the world," but the attempt to "develop" the plan has evidently been successful, at least in Rockefeller’s mind. The ultimate goal of "us" is to create "the supranational sovereignty of an intellectual elite and world bankers." This will lead, he says, toward a "world government which will never again know war."

Just as an intellectual exercise, let’s assume that David Rockefeller is as important and powerful a person as he seems to think he is. Let’s give the man some credit and assume that he and "us" have in fact succeeded to a degree. This would mean that the major decisions and events since Rockefeller gave the speech in 1991 have probably also been part of the plan or that they have at least represented its features and intent.

David Rockefeller at Harvard in 2006

Therefore by examining these decisions and events we can determine whether in fact Rockefeller is being truthful in his assessment that the Utopia he has in mind is on its way or has at least come closer to being realized. In no particular order, some of these decisions and events are as follows:

The implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement by the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations has led to the elimination of millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs as well as the destruction of U.S. family farming in favor of global agribusiness.

Similar free trade agreements, including those under the auspices of the World Trade Organization, have led to export of millions of additional manufacturing jobs to China and elsewhere.

Average family income in the U.S. has steadily eroded while the share of the nation’s wealth held by the richest income brackets has soared. Some Wall Street hedge fund managers are making $1 billion a year while the number of homeless, including war veterans, pushes a million.

The housing bubble has led to a huge inflation of real estate prices in the U.S. Millions of homes are falling into the hands of the bankers through foreclosure. The cost of land and rentals has further decimated family agriculture as well as small business. Rising property taxes based on inflated land assessments have forced millions of lower-and middle-income people and elderly out of their homes.

The fact that bankers now control national monetary systems in their entirety, under laws where money is introduced only through lending at interest, has resulted in a massive debt pyramid that is teetering on collapse. This "monetarist" system was pioneered by Rockefeller-family funded economists at the University of Chicago. The rub is that when the pyramid comes down and everyone goes bankrupt the banks which have been creating money "out of thin air" will then be able to seize valuable assets for pennies on the dollar, as J.P. Morgan Chase is preparing to do with the businesses owned by Carlyle Capital. Meaningful regulation of the financial industry has been abandoned by government, and any politician that stands in the way, such as Eliot Spitzer, is destroyed.

The total tax burden on Americans from federal, state, and local governments now exceeds forty percent of income and is rising. Today, with a recession starting, the Democratic-controlled Congress, while supporting the minuscule "stimulus" rebate, is hypocritically raising taxes further, even for middle-income earners. Back taxes, along with student loans, can no longer be eliminated by bankruptcy protection.

Gasoline prices are soaring even as companies like Exxon-Mobil are recording record profits. Other commodity prices are going up steadily, including food prices, with some countries starting to experience near-famine conditions. 40 million people in America are officially classified as "food insecure."

Corporate control of water and mineral resources has removed much of what is available from the public commons, and the deregulation of energy production has led to huge increases in the costs of electricity in many areas.

The destruction of family farming in the U.S. by NAFTA (along with family farming in Mexico and Canada) has been mirrored by policies toward other nations on the part of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Around the world, due to pressure from the "Washington consensus," local food self-sufficiency has been replaced by raising of crops primarily for export. Migration off the land has fed the population of huge slums around the cities of underdeveloped countries.

Since the 1980s the U.S. has been fighting wars throughout the world either directly or by proxy. The former Yugoslavia was dismembered by NATO. Under cover of 9/11 and by utilizing off-the-shelf plans, the U.S. is now engaged in the military conquest and permanent military occupation of the Middle East. A worldwide encirclement of Russia and China by U.S. and NATO forces is underway, and a new push to militarize space has begun. The Western powers are clearly preparing for at least the possibility of another world war.

The expansion of the U.S. military empire abroad is mirrored by the creation of a totalitarian system of surveillance at home, whereby the activities of private citizens are spied upon and tracked by technology and systems which have been put into place under the heading of the "War on Terror." Human microchip implants for tracking purposes are starting to be used. The military-industrial complex has become the nation’s largest and most successful industry with tens of thousands of planners engaged in devising new and better ways, both overt and covert, to destroy both foreign and domestic "enemies."

Meanwhile, the U.S. has the largest prison population of any country on earth. Plus everyday life for millions of people is a crushing burden of government, insurance, and financial fees, charges, and paperwork. And the simplest business transactions are burdened by rake-offs for legions of accountants, lawyers, bureaucrats, brokers, speculators, and middlemen.

Finally, the deteriorating conditions of everyday life have given rise to an extraordinary level of stress-related disease, as well as epidemic alcohol and drug addiction. Governments themselves around the world engage in drug trafficking. Instead of working to lower stress levels, public policy is skewed in favor of an enormous prescription drug industry that grows rich off the declining level of health through treatment of symptoms rather than causes. Many of these heavily-advertised medications themselves have devastating side-effects.

This list should at least give us enough to go on in order to ask a hard question. Assuming again that all these things are parts of the elitist plan which Mr. Rockefeller boasts to have been developing, isn’t it a little strange that the means which have been selected to achieve "peace and prosperity for the whole of humanity" involve so much violence, deception, oppression, exploitation, graft, and theft?

In fact it looks to me as though "our plan for the world" is one that is based on genocide, world war, police control of populations, and seizure of the world’s resources by the financial elite and their puppet politicians and military forces.

In particular, could there be a better way to accomplish all this than what appears to be a concentrated plan to remove from people everywhere in the world the ability to raise their own food? After all, genocide by starvation may be slow, but it is very effective. Especially when it can be blamed on "market forces."

And can it be that the "us" which is doing all these things, including the great David Rockefeller himself, are just criminals who have somehow taken over the seats of power? If so, they are criminals who have done everything they can to watch their backs and cover their tracks, including a chokehold over the educational system and the monopolistic mainstream media.

One thing is certain: The voters of America have never knowingly agreed to any of this.

New evidence suggests second shooter killed RFK

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By David Edwards and Nick Juliano

Forty years after Democratic rising star Robert F. Kennedy was killed at a Los Angeles hotel during his presidential run, new evidence suggests the man serving a life sentence for his murder did not fire the shots that killed the charismatic senator.

Forensic scientists met at a conference in Connecticut this week to discuss their independent findings that cast serious doubt on the Kennedy assassination. Sirhan Sirhan is serving a life sentence in Kennedy’s death, but the conference presenters argue he could not have fired the fatal shot that killed Kennedy.

One investigator, Dr. Robert Joling, has studied the Kennedy assassination for nearly four decades. He determined the fatal shot came from behind Kennedy, while Sirhan was four to six feet in front of the senator and never got close enough to shoot him from behind, an NBC affiliate reports.

Analysis by another forensics engineer, Philip Van Praag, of a Canadian journalists tape recording, known as the Pruszynski recording, determined that 13 shots were fired while Kennedy was killed, although Sirhan’s gun only held eight bullets, according to the NBC reporter. This suggests that a second shooter was involved in the assassination.

Van Praag’s analysis led him to conclude that a second gun that was fired matched a type owned by one of the security guards in Kennedy’s entourage.

"When that security guard was asked about owning that gun at first he admitted, ’Yes I owned that kind of gun but I got rid of it two months before the assassination.’" correspondent Amy Parmenter said on MSNBC Wednesday. "It turns out upon further investigation, in fact, he did not get rid of that gun until five months after the shooting. Of course, you can see where we’re going with this. ... That security guard, was in fact behind Senator Kennedy when the fatal shot was fired."

This video is from MSNBC News Live, broadcast March 26, 2008.

Economy Nearly Stalled in Fourth Quarter

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By Jeannine Aversa

Washington - The economy nearly sputtered out at the end of the year and is probably faring even worse now amid continuing housing, credit and financial crises.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that gross domestic product increased at a feeble 0.6 percent annual rate in the October-to-December quarter. The reading - unchanged from a previous estimate a month ago - provided stark evidence of just how much the economy has weakened. In the prior quarter, the economy clocked in at a sizzling 4.9 percent growth rate.

The gross domestic product (GDP) measures the value of all goods and services produced in the United States and is the best barometer of the country's economic health.

Many economists say they believe growth in the current January-to-March quarter will be even weaker than the 0.6 percent figure of the previous quarter. A growing number also say the economy may actually be shrinking now. Under one rough rule, the economy needs to contract for six straight months to be considered in a recession. The government will release its estimate for first-quarter GDP in late April.

"The economy just kept its head above water" in the fourth quarter, said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at Global Insight. "We think that GDP will decline, albeit slightly, during the first half of 2008," he said. "The first half outlook is bleak."

On Wall Street, stocks were down in morning trading.

In another report, fewer people signed up for unemployment benefits last week, although that didn't change the broader picture of a deteriorating jobs market. The Labor Department said jobless claims fell by 9,000 to 366,000, a better showing than many economists were forecasting. Still, unemployment is expected to rise this year given all the problems clobbering the economy.

The newly released fourth-quarter GDP figure matched analysts' expectations.

Thursday's report underscored the damage to the economy from the collapse in the housing market, which has dragged down housing prices, pushed home foreclosures up to record highs and has led to a glut of unsold homes.

Against that backdrop, builders slashed spending on housing projects by a whopping 25.2 percent on an annualized basis in the fourth quarter, the biggest cut in 26 years.

To limit the damage from the crises, the Federal Reserve has taken a number of extraordinary actions. It has slashed a key interest rate over the last two months by the most in a quarter century. And to relieve turmoil on Wall Street, which intensified after the crash of the country's fifth-largest investment firm, Bear Stearns, the Fed has resorted to its greatest expansion of lending authority since the 1930s. Big securities firms will temporarily be allowed to go to the Fed directly for loans - a privilege that had been afforded only to commercial banks.

With the nation's economic woes a top concern for voters, the White House and Democrats in Congress have been scrambling to provide relief. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Thursday called for an overhaul of financial regulations.

Consumers, whose spending is indispensable to the economy's vitality, boosted buying at a 2.3 percent pace in the fourth quarter. That was better than the 1.9 percent growth rate previously estimated but still marked a slowing from the third quarter's 2.8 percent pace.

Businesses - nervous about customers' waning appetite to buy given all the problems in the economy - cut back sharply on their inventories of unsold goods. That shaved 1.79 percentage points off fourth-quarter GDP, the most in more than two years.

Spending by businesses on equipment and software, meanwhile, rose at a pace of 3.1 percent in the final quarter of last year. That was slightly less than previously estimated and marked a slowdown from the prior quarter's 6.2 percent growth rate.

Businesses' profits also took a hit in the final quarter. A measure linked to the GDP report showed that after-tax profits fell 3.3 percent at the end of last year, after being flat in the prior quarter.

There was a bright spot in the mostly gloomy report, however. Sales of U.S. goods and services to other countries grew at a 6.5 percent pace. That was better than the 4.8 percent growth rate previously estimated, although it was down sharply from the prior quarter's blistering 19.1 percent growth rate.

U.S. exports have been helped by the sinking value of the U.S. dollar, which makes U.S. goods less expensive to foreign buyers. The U.S. dollar recently plunged to record lows against the euro and has fallen sharply against the Japanese yen.

The drooping dollar can aggravate inflation pressures.

An inflation measure linked to the GDP report showed that overall prices increased at a rate of 3.9 percent in the fourth quarter. That was not as high as previously estimated but marked a big pickup from the third quarter's 1.8 percent pace.

Another gauge showed that "core" prices - excluding food and energy - grew at a rate of 2.5 percent at the end of last year. That was down from a previous estimate of a 2.7 percent pace but was up from the prior quarter's 2 percent growth rate.

The new core inflation figure is above the Fed's comfort zone - the upper bound of which is a 2 percent inflation rate.

Although the Fed's No. 1 job is trying to save the economy from a deep and prolonged recession, it is also keeping close tabs on inflation and soaring energy prices.

Oil prices are topping $105 a barrel. Gasoline prices have marched higher, too. High energy prices can spread inflation if lots of companies boost prices charged to customers for a wide range of goods and services. High energy prices also can be a drag on overall economic growth by crimping consumer spending.

The combination of slowing economic growth and rising inflation make the Fed's job more difficult. It also has raised fears the country may be headed for a bout of stagflation, a scenario the U.S. hasn't experienced since the 1970s. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, however, has said that's not the case.

The Fed's rate reductions along with the government's $168 billion stimulus package of tax rebates for people and tax breaks for businesses should help revive economic growth in the second half of this year, economists said.

The Little Administration That Couldn't

Rebuilding the American Economy, Bush-style

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By Tom Engelhardt

No one was prepared for the storm when it hit. The levees meant to protect us had long since been breached and key officials had already left town. The well-to-do were assured of rescue, but for everyone else trapped inside the Superdome in a fast-flooding region, there was no evacuation plan in sight. The Bush administration, of course, claimed that it was in control and the President was already assuring his key officials that they were doing a heck of a job.

No, I'm not talking about post-Katrina New Orleans. That was so then. I'm talking about the housing and credit crunches, as well as the Bear Stearns bailout, that have given the term "bear market" new meaning.

Now, don't get me wrong -- when it comes to the arcane science of economics, like most Americans, I'd benefit from an "Economics for Dummies" course. What I do know something about, though, is history, a subject that hasn't been on the Bush administration's course curriculum since the President turned out not to be Winston Churchill and conquered Iraq refused to morph into occupied Germany ‘n Japan 1945.

History may not repeat itself, but the administration's repetitive acts these past seven years make an assessment of our economic situation possible, even if you are an economics dummy.
Just consider the record: Administration officials proved incapable of rebuilding two countries that their military occupied and damaged. In Afghanistan and Iraq, while talking up the President's "freedom agenda," they were the equivalent of a natural disaster, a whirlwind of destruction.

In the case of Iraq, in disbanding its military, its government, and even its economy, they were literal nation-wreckers. On taking Baghdad, their first act of omission was to let the capital be looted. ("Stuff happens," commented Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the time.) Soon after, the administration's new viceroy in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer III, promptly plunged the country into the equivalent of the Great Depression -- without a Bear Stearns bailout in sight.
In the case of Afghanistan, only a staggering boom in opiate growing -- the country now supplies an estimated 93% of the global market in illegal opiates, bringing about four billion dollars into the country -- has slightly offset the disaster of "liberation." By just about any other measure, Afghanistan is a wreck.

In the case of New Orleans, the Bush administration not only couldn't rebuild an American city that nature (and the Army Corps of Engineers) damaged, but turned a natural disaster into a man-made catastrophe that has yet to end.

Despite a reputation for being the most disciplined, tough, and focused administration in memory, Bush's men and women couldn't even secure their fondest inside-the-Beltway dream: constructing a generation-long Pax Republicana in Washington. In fact, it looks suspiciously as if Republicans in the House and Senate, fleeing Congress as if it were New Orleans -- it's politely called "retirement," not cutting and running -- could even be swept into minority status for a generation.

And now, with a mere ten "lame duck" months to go, comes the American economy…

You don't faintly need to understand economics to grasp the immediate danger. The people overseeing the handling of this crisis have done little these last years but hand money over to the rich, while running American power into the dirt.

Let me review our history lesson for a moment: No to nation-rebuilding, no to city-rebuilding, no to Congressional majority-building…

Who dares imagine that the people who brought you Iraq, the war, could begin the rebuilding of an economy, or even successfully caulk the cracks in the levees of a system that, in its complexity, puts Iraq's feeble economy to shame?

In some ways, an administration -- whatever its periodic changes of personnel -- can be compared to an individual. At a certain age, its urges become predictable, its habits set, its limits largely known. While change may be possible, you wouldn't want to bet your house on it.

So what exactly has the Bush administration proven itself good at? The twin skills of destruction and looting would stand at the top of any list. Perhaps that's because it chose to put its "eggs" in only two baskets -- those of the U.S. military and crony corporations.

Awed by the shock-and-awe force of forces that fell into their hands, administration officials moved to transfer as many powers of civil governance as possible to the Pentagon. From diplomacy to disaster relief, nation-building to intelligence gathering, an organization built only to destroy was designated as the go-to outfit for activities normally associated with those who have building in mind.

At the same time, the government was being staffed, top-to-bottom, with ill-prepared political pals, while a small set of crony corporations, of which Halliburton is certainly the best known, was given the nod in every rebuilding situation. It really didn't matter where you looked, they were the ones camped out, making money, on the landscape of destruction. With their no-bid, cost-plus contracts, these companies ran up the hours and then tended to jump ship when the going got bad. The same corporations that had essentially looted Iraq -- it was labeled "reconstruction" -- were the first ones called in when New Orleans went down. (Of the initial six contracts the Bush administration offered for the reconstruction of the city, five went to companies previously involved in Iraq's reconstruction program.)

Unsurprisingly, the Bush administration has proved serially incapable of building anything, even -- in the long run -- their own machine. And, from the Enron moment to the Bear Stearns one, whenever it looked like the Titanic might have hit an iceberg, it was a lock that those passengers assigned to the limited places in the lifeboats wouldn't be from steerage (or be weighed down with subprime mortgages).

So rebuilding. No. Saving people who aren't already friends. No. Doing a heck of a job in a crisis. No. Now, our latest and greatest crisis is upon us, the sort that, in a matter of weeks, has sent media commentators and pundits from reluctant discussions of whether we might be heading into a recession straight to references to the "d" word, "1929," and the Great Depression. And they're not alone. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll indicates that a startling 59% of Americans already believe we're heading for a long-term depression, not a recession (and 79% are worried about the possibility). Leave the definitional details to the experts. Most Americans have undoubtedly assessed the Bush administration's proven incapacity in perilous times and drawn the logical conclusions.

Ten months is a long, long time when only their hands are near the pilot's wheel of the ship of state and water's already seeping through the hull. It's an eon for an administration capable of sinking New Orleans in a matter of days, and Iraq in little more than months. Or, thought of another way, it's plenty of time if your expertise happens to lie in deconstruction. After all, barring a miracle, you're talking about the little administration that couldn't, no matter how hard Ben Bernanke may try.

So, even if you, like me, know next to nothing about economics, you already know enough to be afraid, very afraid.

Iraq implodes as Shia fights Shia

Another tragedy as the Shia majority turn on each other

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By Patrick Cockburn

A new civil war is threatening to explode in Iraq as American-backed Iraqi government forces fight Shia militiamen for control of Basra and parts of Baghdad.

Heavy fighting engulfed Iraq's two largest cities and spread to other towns yesterday as the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, gave fighters of the Mehdi Army, led by the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, 72 hours to surrender their weapons.

The gun battles between soldiers and militiamen, who are all Shia Muslims, show that Iraq's majority Shia community – which replaced Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime – is splitting apart for the first time.

Mr Sadr's followers believe the government is trying to eliminate them before elections in southern Iraq later this year, which they are expected to win.

Mortars and rockets launched from Mehdi Army-controlled districts of Baghdad struck the Green Zone, the seat of American power in Iraq, for the third day yesterday, seriously wounding three Americans. Two rockets hit the parking lot of the Iraqi cabinet. The mixed area of al-Mansur in west Baghdad, where shops had begun to reopen in recent months, was deserted yesterday as Mehdi Army fighters were rumoured among local people to be moving in from the nearby Shia stronghold of Washash. "We expect an attack by the Shia in spite of the Americans being spread over Sunni districts to defend them," said a Sunni resident.

Forty people have been killed and at least 200 injured in Basra in the last two days of violence. In the town of Hilla, south of Baghdad, 11 people were killed and 18 injured yesterday by a US air strike called in support of Iraqi forces following street battles with Shia militia members in the city's Thawra neighbourhood. In Baghdad, 14 have been killed and 140 wounded.

The supporters of Mr Sadr, who form the largest political movement in Iraq, blame the Americans for giving the go-ahead for Mr Maliki's offensive against them and supporting it with helicopters and bomber aircraft. US troops have sealed off Sadr City, the close-packed slum in the capital with a population that is the main bastion of the Sadrists, while the Mehdi Army has taken over its streets, establishing checkpoints, each manned by about 20 heavily armed men. It is unlikely that the militiamen in Basra will surrender as demanded by the government. Sadiq al-Rikabi, an adviser to Mr Maliki, said those who kept their weapons would be arrested. "Any gunman who does not do that within three days will be an outlaw."

Streets were empty in Basra and Baghdad as people stayed at home to avoid the fighting. The Mehdi Army is enforcing a strike in Baghdad with mosques calling for the closure of shops, businesses and schools.

In the Shia city of Kut, on the Tigris south of Baghdad, local residents say that black-clad Mehdi Army militiamen have taken over five districts and expelled the police.

At the same time, Mr Sadr is clearly eager to continue the truce which he declared on 29 August last year after bloody clashes in Kerbala with Iraqi police controlled by the rival Shia political movement, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and their well-organised militia, the Badr organisation.

He renewed this ceasefire in February, saying he wanted to purge its ranks of criminals. "The freeze that Sadr has ordered is still ongoing," said one of his chief lieutenants, Luwaa Smaism.

Mr Sadr has sought to avoid an all-out military confrontation with American troops or Badr backed by American forces since he fought two ferocious battles for Najaf against US marines in 2004.

Mr Sadr has sent emissaries to Mr Maliki asking him to remove his troops, numbering some 15,000 men from Basra, and to resolve problems peacefully. But his aides say there will be no talks until the Iraqi army reinforcements are withdrawn. The offer of talks is in keeping with Mr Sadr's past behaviour, which is to appear conciliatory but in practice to make few real concessions. The US is claiming that the Sadrists are not being singled out, only Iran-supported militia factions, but this will find few believers in Iraq.

"This is not a battle against the [Mehdi Army] nor is it a proxy war between the United States and Iran," said a US military spokesman, Major General Kevin Bergner. "It is [the] government of Iraq taking the necessary action to deal with criminals on the streets."

The Sunni population is pleased to see the government and the Americans attacking the Mehdi Army, which they see as a Shia death squad. "Before, the Shia were arresting and killing us and forcing us to leave Iraq for Jordan and Syria where we lived in misery," said Osama Sabr, a Sunni in west Baghdad.

The fighting is threatening to disrupt Iraq's oil production, most of which comes from the Basra area, because workers in the oilfields dare not leave their homes.

The militia

The Mehdi Army

Armed wing of the Sadr movement. Muqtada al-Sadr's militia is divided, with one wing supporting the radical cleric's ceasefire while another has rejected it and continued attacks on Iraqi government forces and the British base at Basra aiport.

The Badr Brigade

Armed wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. The Badr Brigade has been involved in numerous clashes with the Mehdi Army and appears not to be the target of the current offensive by the Iraqi government forces. The group has organised "spontaneous" demonstrations against General Mohan and General Jalil.

The Fadhila

A political party and armed group with a localised powerbase. The governor of Basra is a member of the party, and it controls a significant proportion of the region's oil supply.

Secret Cells

Said to be armed and trained by Iran and allegedly carrying out attacks ordered by Tehran.

Paulson warns Wall Street of possible new oversight

Investment banks that have long-term access to Federal Reserve 'liquidity' should open their books, the Treasury chief says.

Go to Original
By Maura Reynolds

WASHINGTON — Signaling a willingness by the Bush administration to expand its oversight of Wall Street, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. said Wednesday that investment banks should submit to greater supervision if they want regular access to Federal Reserve loans.

With Congress increasingly inclined to consider additional regulation of the mortgage industry -- including Wall Street firms -- Paulson's statement, though limited, marks a significant shift from the position the administration held before the current credit crisis.

The Treasury chief spoke amid fresh congressional scrutiny of the government's role in JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s agreement last week to acquire troubled brokerage Bear Stearns Cos.

The Fed underwrote the Bear Stearns deal by agreeing to lend JPMorgan $30 billion. The central bank then said it was temporarily allowing other major Wall Street firms to also borrow directly from the Fed via its "discount window," which since the 1930s has been restricted to banks that accept traditional deposits.

Two leading senators sent a letter Wednesday to Paulson, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the chief executives of JPMorgan and Bear Stearns asking for detailed information on the arrangement agreed to by the two financial giants and the Fed.

"It's the Finance Committee's responsibility to pin down just how the government decided to front $30 billion in taxpayer dollars for the Bear Stearns deal," Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said in a statement. "Economic times are tight on Main Street as well as on Wall Street, and we have a responsibility to all taxpayers to review the details of this deal."

The letter was cosigned by the committee's top Republican, Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa).

Meanwhile, Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, scheduled hearings on the transaction for next week.

When it opened the discount window to non-banks, the Fed said it would continue to make such loans available for six months. In a speech Wednesday before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Paulson insisted that if investment banks wanted the right to borrow from the Fed after that six-month period, they should open their books.

"Access to the Federal Reserve's liquidity facilities traditionally has been accompanied by strong prudential oversight of depository institutions," Paulson said. speech"Certainly, any regular access to the discount window should involve the same type of regulation and supervision."

Paulson heads an administration task force that is expected soon to release recommendations for regulating the financial markets, which have been unsettled by the credit crunch and housing downturn.

Because bank deposits are insured by the federal government, traditional banks submit to federal regulation so taxpayers are not unfairly exposed to risk from irresponsible business practices. Similarly, Paulson argued, if investment banks want the backing of the Federal Reserve, the central bank needs to "protect its balance sheet and ultimately protect U.S. taxpayers."

"The Federal Reserve should have the information about these institutions it deems necessary for making informed lending decisions," he said.

The Fed's discount window makes loans to banks that face short-term needs for liquidity. The discount rate is generally higher than the federal funds rate, which banks charge one another for overnight loans to meet reserve requirements. The Fed last week cut the discount rate to 2.5% and the federal funds rate to 2.25%.

Paulson, who used to head Wall Street investment house Goldman Sachs Group, said he considered the Fed's move to lend to non-banks temporary.

"Despite the fundamental changes in our financial system, it would be premature to jump to the conclusion that all broker-dealers or other potentially important financial firms in our system today should have permanent access to the Fed's liquidity facility," he said. "Recent market conditions are an exception from the norm."

The turmoil in the financial markets has spurred debate in Washington over new regulations to prevent a repeat of incautious lending practices that inflated and eventually popped a speculative bubble in the housing market.

"A correction was inevitable, and the sooner we work through it, with a minimum of disorder, the sooner we will see home values stabilize, more buyers return to the housing market, and housing will again contribute to economic growth," Paulson said.

Paulson reiterated the Bush administration's opposition to permitting homeowners who owe more than their houses are worth to have their debts reduced.

"Negative equity does not affect borrowers' ability to pay their loans," he said. "Homeowners who can afford their mortgage payment should honor their obligations, and most do."

Paulson noted that negative equity has become common because recent lending practices permitted borrowers to get mortgages with small or no down payments. He said that people who lived in their homes for the long term would eventually make up the lost equity.

"Any homeowner who can afford his mortgage payment but chooses to walk away from an underwater property is simply a speculator," he said. "Washington cannot create any new mortgage program to induce these speculators to continue to own these houses, unless someone else foots the bill."

Police want children routinely put on DNA database

Go to Original
By Richard Tyler

Britain’s police want to routinely put children as young as five on the National DNA Database (NDNAD), even when no crime has been committed.

Gary Pugh, the DNA spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and director of forensic sciences at Scotland Yard, recently told the press, “The number of unsolved crimes says we are not sampling enough of the right people.”

According to Pugh, who was interviewed by the Observer, “If we have a primary means of identifying people before they offend, then in the long-term the benefits of targeting younger people are extremely large.”

Pugh’s words are a sinister echo of the film Minority Report, in which a specialist “pre-crime” police department routinely arrests people who have not committed any offence.

Describing it as a “step towards a police state,” National Primary Headteachers’ Association representative Chris Davis said it was tantamount to condemning children “at a very young age for something they have not yet done. They may have the potential to do something, but we all have the potential to do things. To label children at that stage and put them on a register is going too far.”

Action on Rights for Children and GeneWatch, a not-for-profit group that monitors developments in genetic technologies, have produced evidence to show that by March 2009, some 1.5 million children aged 10-17 will be recorded on the National DNA Database, a figure they say is far higher than admitted by government.

The organisations estimate that at least 1.1 million children have already had their DNA recorded between 1995 (when the NDNAD was established) and April 2007, with more than half a million being aged between 10 and 16.

Helen Wallace from GeneWatch said, “Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the police should not keep records of people, including 100,000 under 18s, who have been found not guilty or have had the charges dropped.”

Terri Dowty from Action on Rights for Children said, “These children will be on the database for the rest of their lives. We are turning thousands of innocent children into lifelong suspects. No other country in Europe criminalises children at such a young age.

“The Home Office has shown repeated reluctance to release figures for children on the DNA database, presumably realising how shocked the public would be,” Dowty said.

Mass genetic surveillance

Pugh’s call for the routine sampling of DNA from children as young as five is only the latest in a number of statements by senior police officers and judges advocating the extension of powers to take and keep DNA samples from wholly innocent individuals, setting up a system of mass genetic surveillance.

Following two recent high-profile murder convictions where the culprits had been implicated by DNA found at the scene, calls were again made to establish a national DNA register containing samples from everyone in the UK. Last year, one of Britain’s most senior judges, Lord Justice Sedley, also called for DNA records to be kept on all UK residents.

The government has not ruled out such a move, merely saying that it would raise “significant practical and ethical issues.”

Last year, the Home Office launched a consultation to examine the possible expansion of the DNA database to cover all those arrested, even for such minor offences as begging or speeding. According to the Observer, a Home Office document initiating the consultation had promoted the merits of massively expanding the database.

Home Office Minister Meg Hiller told the home affairs select committee in February that information on the identity register, which will underpin new biometric passports and the ID cards soon to be routinely issued, would be shared with authorities in the European Union and United States “in specific cases.”

And at a recent pan-European conference on serious organised crime, London’s Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, said DNA records should be extended throughout the EU.

Roger Smith, director of human rights organisation Justice, said granting police the power to compel samples without having to show reasonable suspicion was “a substantial and unwarranted intrusion on the rights of personal privacy.” He called for a return to the position prior to 1995, when police were only allowed to keep the samples of those convicted.

Under legislation introduced in 2001 and 2004, the Labour government has considerably extended police powers to take and keep DNA samples from anyone arrested on suspicion of having committed a “recordable offence.” This includes any offence punishable by imprisonment, but also extends to relatively minor offences such as tampering with a motor vehicle, poaching and drunkenness.

Under the 2004 legislation, police can take a DNA sample from any person arrested aged 10 or more, in the case of a child, without the parent’s consent.

This legislation currently only applies to those arrested in England and Wales. In Scotland, which has a different judicial system, most samples are destroyed if the person is not charged or is later acquitted. However, senior Scottish police officers are lobbying hard for similar powers to their English and Welsh counterparts.

The UK now has the world’s largest DNA database, containing information on at least 4.5 million individuals, equivalent to some 7 percent of the population. According to the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, only 1.13 percent of the population in the EU have their DNA documented, with records being held on just 0.5 percent in the US.

In what constitutes a major breech of civil liberties—overturning the fundamental legal norm of the presumption of innocence—records can be kept indefinitely on NDNAD even if a person is never formally charged, or is later acquitted of the offence for which he or she was arrested.

The call for DNA samples to be routinely taken from those below the age of 18 continues a major escalation in the process of criminalising children ongoing since Labour came to power in 1997.

Labour’s 1998 Crime and Disorder Act reduced the age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 10. The act also introduced so-called ASBOs—Anti Social Behaviour Orders—a measure that has been largely aimed against young people. It means that once an ASBO has been granted, which can be for relatively minor misdemeanours or behaviour that is causing a nuisance, breaching the ASBO can result in a criminal record.

There is also strong evidence to show that such routine recording of DNA samples unfairly discriminates against individuals from ethnic minorities. According to Black Mental Health UK, black people are three time more likely to have their DNA recorded than white people.

The organisation says government figures show that 77 percent of young black men will soon have their details held on NDNAD, “despite evidence that black people are no more likely to have committed a crime than white people.”

Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil liberties group Liberty said establishing a DNA database for everyone in the UK “ignores the extremely intimate nature of DNA and the massive scope for error and abuse” — one report has revealed that serious flaws have been found in the data, with up to 14 percent of the entries being duplicates, stored under different names.

Such concerns are well founded in light of recent scandals in which government computer disks have been lost containing millions of sensitive personal records—in one case affecting 25 million people, covering 7.25 million families overall—including names, dates of birth, and bank and address details.

Legal Challenge

The European Court of Human Rights heard a case at the end of February in which two innocent people are seeking to have their records removed from the National DNA Database.

Legal representatives for the two—40-year-old Michael Marper and a youth named only as “S”—argue that retention of such records for innocent people is a breach of Articles 8 (respect for the privacy of the individual) and 14 (prohibiting discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In both cases, the police have refused to destroy fingerprints and DNA records taken when the two individuals, one only a teenager, were originally arrested. The police subsequently dropped the case against Marper, while the youth “S” was acquitted.

It is thought that NDNAD could hold the records of up to 1 million innocent people, with GeneWatch estimating that up to 10 percent of these could be from children—records that would have to be destroyed should the legal challenge succeed.

In February, the Economist magazine reported a Home Office spokesperson saying that innocent people “have nothing to fear from providing a sample,” since retaining such evidence was “no different from recording other forms of information such as photographs and witness statements.”

However, DNA provides a wide range of other information about an individual, such as their parentage, or a susceptibility to particular diseases or disabilities. Some insurance companies have already raised the possibility of introducing “genetic screening” as a means of lowering premium charges since the information could be used to deny cover for individuals with certain genetic markers.

The body operating the NDNAD, the Forensic Science Service, a government-owned company, is a prime candidate for privatisation, which could open up the use of the database for purely commercial purposes.

It also allows an almost unlimited possibility of police frame-ups.

The thread-bare argument that if people have “nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear” is clearly not borne out by the record of Labour. The governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have trampled on long-standing democratic and legal norms, constantly eroding the rights of the individual in favour of the right of the state to monitor and control its citizens.