Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mosaic News - 5/28/08: World News from the Middle East

Mosaic News - 5/27/08: World News from the Middle East

Lifelong illnesses feared for children in Katrina trailers

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By John Moreno Gonzales

FEMA and CDC criticized on delay in moving tenants

BAY ST. LOUIS, MISS. - The anguish of Hurricane Katrina should have ended for Gina Bouffanie and her daughter when they left their FEMA trailer. But with each hospital visit and each labored breath her child takes, the young mother fears it has just begun.

more stories like this"It's just the sickness. I can't get rid of it. It just keeps coming back," said Bouffanie, 27, who was pregnant with her now 15-month-old daughter, Lexi, while living in the trailer. "I'm just like, Oh God, I wish like this would stop.' If I had known it would get her sick, I wouldn't have stayed in the trailer for so long."

The girl, diagnosed with severe asthma, must inhale medicine from a breathing device.

Doctors cannot conclusively link her asthma to the trailer. But they fear she is among tens of thousands of youngsters who may face lifelong health problems because the temporary housing supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency contained formaldehyde fumes up to five times the safe level.

The chemical, used in interior glue, was detected in many of the 143,000 trailers sent to the Gulf Coast in 2006. But a push to get residents out of them, spearheaded by FEMA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did not begin until this past February.

Members of Congress and CDC insiders say the agencies' delay in recognizing the danger is being compounded by studies that will be virtually useless and the lack of a plan to treat children as they grow.

"It's tragic that when people most need the protection, they are actually going from one disaster to a health disaster that might be considered worse," said Christopher De Rosa, assistant director for toxicology and risk assessment at the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an arm of the CDC. "Given the longer-term implications of exposure that went on for a significant period of time, people should be followed through time for possible effects."

Formaldehyde is classified as a probable carcinogen, or cancer-causing substance, by the Environmental Protection Agency. There is no way to measure formaldehyde in the bloodstream. Respiratory problems are an early sign of exposure.

Young children are at particular risk. Thousands who lived in trailers will be in the prime of life in the 10 to 15 years doctors believe it takes cancer to develop.

FEMA and CDC reports so far have drawn criticism.

A CDC study released May 8 examined records of 144 Mississippi children, some of whom lived in trailers and others who did not. But the study was confined to children who had at least one doctor's visit for respiratory illness before Katrina.

It was largely inconclusive, finding children who went to doctors before the August 2005 storm were still visiting them two years after.

A bigger, five-year CDC study will include up to 5,000 children in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas, and CDC officials said it should begin next year. But members of Congress point to the decade or longer it could take for cancer to develop and say a five-year look is inadequate.

"Monitoring the health of a few thousand children over the course of a few years is a step in the right direction, but we need commitment," said Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi.

Thompson has introduced legislation to force FEMA and CDC to provide health exams for trailer residents who believe formaldehyde made them ill.

The bill is similar to $108 million legislation for workers who labored at the World Trade Center site.

Bush administration uses IAEA report to make new demands and threats to Iran

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By Peter Symonds

The latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran’s nuclear programs, handed to member states on Monday, has already prompted a new round of criticisms, demands and threats on the part of the US and its allies. The report will be released publicly only after it has been discussed at next week’s meeting of the IAEA board of governors.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declared the report to be “very troubling”, claiming it demonstrated Iran was “willfully withholding” information about “potential weaponisation”. Implying Iran was actively involved in weapons research, he added: “There are a number of different questions out there about the military’s involvement in this nuclear program, about Iran’s efforts to fabricate hemispheres of uranium. And I’m not sure other than for a weapon why you would do that.”

Even before receiving the report, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Milliband last week mooted a new round of UN sanctions on Iran over its failure to shut down its Natanz uranium enrichment plant and end construction of a heavy-water research reactor at Arak. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned on Tuesday of increased international pressure, including through the UN Security Council, if Iran failed to provide “reasonable answers to our questions”.

Yesterday Rice declared that Iran “had a lot of explaining to do about the IAEA report, which essentially sees them as not cooperating on some very important dark questions that the international community has about their programs.” An article in the Jerusalem Post article reported that Israel, which has repeatedly hinted at a military attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, was “pleased” with the IAEA. An Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson declared that the report “reaffirms that Iran continues to flout UN Security Council resolutions”.

The mounting pressure on Iran is being fuelled by selective media leaks from the report, highlighting Iran’s supposed failure to provide adequate explanations to the IAEA on aspects of its past activities. The BBC headlined its story: “Iran withholds nuclear details”; the Associated Press said: “Iran may be withholding info in nuke probe”; and Agence France Press: “IAEA report turns heat up on Iran”.

The New York Times claimed the report was “unusually blunt and detailed”, pointing to documents supplied by Western intelligence agencies indicating that Tehran had ventured into explosives, uranium processing and missile warhead design. The article cited Iran’s installation of more sophisticated gas centrifuges at its Natanz plant and the military’s involvement in their manufacture.

Once again an attempt is being made to ramp up a climate of fear on the basis of misleading or false statements. None of the allegations about “potential weaponisation” related to Iran’s current activities. As the Los Angeles Times noted, the IAEA report provided no evidence that any weapons program continued after 2004. Last December, a National Intelligence Estimate drawn up jointly by 16 US intelligence agencies found that Iran had abandoned research into nuclear weapons in 2003.

Moreover, the claims that Iran had previously tested high explosives, had plans to modify its Shabab missile to carry a nuclear device and possessed a document on the fabrication of uranium hemispheres are not new. All these allegations relate to documents allegedly found on a laptop purportedly smuggled out of Iran in 2004. Up until February, the US administration provided details to the IAEA but refused to formally release the intelligence, thus preventing the body from discussing the claims with Iranian authorities.

The US finally released the data in an attempt to undermine efforts by IAEA director general Mohammed ElBaradei to clarify all outstanding issues related to Iran’s nuclear activities. The decision was also part of the Bush administration’s campaign to discredit the NIE findings and to create the conditions for pushing through another UN Security Council resolution in early March strengthening sanctions against Iran.

Iran has declared the documents to be forgeries and insisted that all its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes. It has rejected UN Security Council resolutions as illegal, pointing to its rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to pursue all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium enrichment and the building of research reactors. Iran’s IAEA ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh declared that the latest report showed that “Iran’s entire nuclear activities are peaceful”.

The full story on the mysterious laptop is yet to emerge. In his 2006 book Target Iran, former American weapons inspector Scott Ritter pointed to possible Israeli involvement in concocting the documents. “The link between the laptop data and Israel’s earlier intelligence could be viewed as a coincidence, but some European intelligence officials believe there is a link, and that link is Israel, and as such the whole package of intelligence that is included in the laptop is questionable in terms of its overall veracity,” he wrote.

“The Iranians, for their part, called the laptop intelligence ‘total fabrication’. However, in private meetings with the IAEA, the Iranians did indicate that there were aspects of reality woven throughout the entire laptop story. Some point to these Iranian admissions as proof that the laptop story is credible; others say it only reinforces their concern that the Israelis built an overall story about military involvement in a nuclear weapons program using as seed-stock a few verifiable facts” (Target Iran, Scott Ritter, p.184).

Threat of US military strike

Even if all of the documents were authentic, they would offer no conclusive proof that Iran had a nuclear weapons program in the past, let alone that it has continued to the present day. As the Los Angeles Times noted, the IAEA asked Tehran to respond to 11 issues to clarify the nature of its nuclear programs. The reply sent on May 23 was not included in the latest report.

If all the documents proved to be forgeries, it would not halt the Bush administration’s campaign to vilify the Iranian regime. Other “evidence” would be found or concocted to justify Washington’s demands, in open contravention of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, that Iran shut down all enrichment activity. Or other pretexts would be brought to the fore: allegations of Iranian “meddling” in Iraq or support for so-called terrorist organisations such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian party Hamas.

On Sunday, former US President Jimmy Carter mentioned the unmentionable by putting a figure on the size of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. In response to a question, he dismissed a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat, declaring that Iran would face overwhelming odds against the huge number of nuclear weapons held by the US, Britain, France and Israel, which he said had “150 or more”. His comments underscore the hypocrisy of the Bush administration, which has no objections to Israel’s atomic bombs but condemns Iran despite the lack of conclusive proof that it is seeking to build any.

Washington’s real objective in its propaganda against Iran is to undermine a regime that it regards as a barrier to American ambitions to assert economic and strategic dominance throughout the oil-rich regions of the Middle East and Central Asia. The Bush administration has never relinquished its ambition for “regime change” in Tehran and has continued to declare that all options—including a new war of aggression—remain on the table.

There continues to be a steady stream of leaks in the media indicating that Bush may attack Iran before leaving office early next year. The latest, published on the Asia Times web site yesterday and entitled “Bush plans Iran air strike by August”, was based on a high-level source described as a retired US career diplomat and former assistant secretary of state. Rather than using Iran’s nuclear programs as the casus belli, “the source said that the White House views the proposed air strike as a limited action to punish Iran for its involvement in Iraq”.

“Details provided by the administration raised alarm bells on Capital Hill, the source said. After receiving secret briefings on the planned air strike, Senator Diane Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, said they would write a New York Times op-ed piece ‘within days’, the source said last week, to express their opposition. Feinstein is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Lugar is the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee,” the article explained.

The Bush administration has not commented on the article. Spokesmen for Feinstein and Lugar denied the story in comments to the Raw Story web site. No further corroboration of the claims has been published. Whatever the exact truth of the article, it does point to continuing sharp divisions within the American political establishment over the wisdom of attacking Iran. There is a distinct nervousness that Bush may be committed to a new military adventure that has potentially devastating consequences for the global interests of American capitalism.

The Washington Post featured a comment on Tuesday entitled “A sensible path on Iran” by former national security adviser Zbigniew Brezinski and former National Security Agency director William Odom. The article was scathing in its dismissal of the Bush administration’s strategy, declaring: “[A] heavy-handed ‘sticks’ and ‘carrots’ may work with donkeys but not with serious countries. The United States would have a better chance of success if the White House abandoned its threats of military action and calls for regime change.”

Brezinski and Odom warned that the US would have “to pay a price from likely Iranian reactions” to air strikes by either the US or Israel. “These would almost certainly involve destabilising the Middle East, as well as Afghanistan, and serious efforts to disrupt the flow of oil, at the very least generating a massive increase in its already high cost. The turmoil in the Middle East resulting from a preemptive attack on Iran would hurt America and Israel, too.”

The comment proposes that the US enter into negotiations with Iran to “accommodate its security interests and ours” with a long-term view to “bring Iran back into its traditional role with the United States in stabilising the Gulf Region”. Such a strategy is rejected out of hand by the Bush administration, particularly its most militarist sections led by Vice President Dick Cheney, who regard all diplomatic efforts, including the current push for tighter UN sanctions, as a waste of time.

As far as the proponents of war are concerned, any lessening of the tensions with Iran runs the danger of allowing America’s major rivals for influence in the region to gain the upper hand. These include not only Russia and China, but also Washington’s allies in Europe and Asia, which already have considerable economic ties with Tehran, including options to exploit its huge gas and oil reserves. While Brezinski and Odom’s proposal might have appeared reasonable in a bygone period of US dominance, a reckless new war of aggression against Iran has a certain logic when US power is increasingly under challenge.

Low pay leads to poverty in British Army

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By Harvey Thompson

A report on the state of the British Army released this month revealed considerable resentment amongst ordinary soldiers over low pay, leading many into financial difficulties, under-nourishment and the quitting of the armed forces altogether.

The findings are contained in a briefing team report prepared for the head of the British Army, Chief of the General Staff Richard Dannatt, and are based on months of interviews with thousands of soldiers and their families between July 2007 and January 2008.

Much of the report is concerned with manning levels in the armed forces in light of the increased military engagement, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. But new light is also thrown on the levels of poverty suffered by many frontline soldiers.

In a section entitled Pace of Life, the report says:

“It is viewed that the ‘pace of life’ has been compounded by undermanning, the amount of change being implemented and the lack of support and expertise to deliver that change. COs [Commanding Officers] are concerned at the impact this is having on the moral component.”

The report goes on to say that undermanning is “having a serious impact on the retention in infantry battalions.”

Almost half of all troops are unable to take their entitled annual leave as they are forced to cover gaps.

The brief section on pay then reveals:

“More and more single income soldiers in the UK are now close to the UK Gov’t definition of poverty. Thus many married junior soldiers feel that they are being forced to leave because they cannot afford to raise a family on current pay.”

The study also states:

“A number of soldiers were not eating properly because they had run out of money by the end of the month.”

Army COs now enforce “hungry soldier schemes,” whereby destitute soldiers are loaned money in order to enable them to eat sufficiently.

A scheme known as Pay as You Dine (PAYD) requires soldiers not on active duty to pay for their meals. COs have reported being inundated with angry complaints from soldiers due to the quality of the food and the large amount of paperwork involved. Such schemes are a break from the past when the army provided, as a bare minimum, a staple of three square meals a day, free of charge to all serving soldiers.

According to the Independent newspaper, “Now hard-up soldiers have to fill out a form which entitles them to a voucher. The cost is deducted from their future wages, adding to the problems of soldiers on low pay.”

The report contains warnings from senior officers that “there is a duty of care issue” involved. Also the “core meal” on offer “is often not the healthy option.”

Despite the obvious alarm among senior ranks, General Dannatt has made clear that he intends to persist with the current food schemes. He said recently, “I am determined that PAYD must be made to work to both the financial and physical well-being of those who are fed.”

Along with millions of workers, rising costs have made buying a home impossible for many serving soldiers. “The ability to purchase a property was a major area of concern across all ranks. Discussion included an increase in... Buy to Let legislation and the cost of moving from one private home to another private home near their new appointment.”

Also cited as growing concerns amongst soldiers and their families were children’s school fees and the lack of medical support for families, especially dentists.

Previous studies show that, due to their hours of service, UK soldiers are actually paid well below the national minimum wage. Most serving soldiers earn only £16,000 a year, with a “new entrant rate of pay” of just £13,012.

According to the Armed Forces Pay Review Board, a 2007-08 pay increase of 2.6 percent has to be measured against an estimated net increase in charges of 3.9 percent.

The report also touched on the increasing resentment felt amongst the ranks towards the governments’ cap on the amount of compensation received by the families of wounded soldiers, as well as the growing incidents of “accidental deaths.”

Dannatt said, “I am concerned at the comments from the chain of command, some elements of which clearly believe that they will lose influence over their soldiers and that this will impact on unit cohesion.”

Douglas Young of the British Armed Forces Federation was one of a number of military figures who utilised the report to demand an increase in funding for the Army, in line with the demands of fighting wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

He told the Independent, “People are leaving the armed forces for financial reasons. There’s no question about it.”

Patrick Mercer, a Conservative MP and former army colonel said, “I’ve been talking to some very senior officers recently, all of whom privately have said to me that the Army is running on empty; the money has run out. The manpower situation is in crisis, and the so-called Military Covenant is abused at every turn. The thing that really worries them is that the MoD [Military of Defence] seems to be in denial about it.”

Colonel Bob Stewart, a former commander of British forces in Bosnia, said that the British Army was “woefully imbalanced, badly equipped, particularly for training, and quite honestly I’m afraid to say it is losing its edge as a top-rate army in the world because it cannot maintain it.”

Major Gen Patrick Cordingley, who led the “Desert Rats” into Iraq during the first Gulf War in 1991, said, “I would be very concerned about the strain on the armed forces remaining at this level of deployment in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It cannot be sustained for longer than perhaps another two years.”

Colonel Clive Fairweather, former deputy commander of the elite SAS, commented, “I really do think the Army is heading for the rocks and I don’t say this lightly.”

There has been a concerted campaign, sanctioned by the government, orchestrated by the military, and aided by the press and the monarchy to “rehabilitate” the British Army which is now associated with the brutal video and photographic images of detainee abuse in Iraq.

The government is, for example, proposing a new law making it a criminal offence to “discriminate” against anyone wearing a military uniform in public. The hostility toward soldiers from members of the public, which the law is supposedly directed against, was largely concocted by the media and the government by amplifying a few isolated cases.

It is one of 40 proposals contained in a report, “National Recognition of Our Armed Forces,” ordered by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and drawn up by Quentin Davies, the former Tory MP who switched to Labour last year. Davies has called for a “new era of greater openness and public involvement of the [armed] services.”

A new Armed Forces and veteran day is under consideration as a public holiday, as well as more media-friendly parades for regiments returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, secondary schools are being strongly urged to set up cadet forces. At present only 260 grammar and independently maintained schools have them.

The current report into the actual conditions faced by soldiers in the British Army goes some way to unmasking this grotesque propaganda campaign, whereby princes and aristocrats born into privilege and plenty parade at the head of an ill-fed, poverty-waged army prosecuting wars of imperialist aggression.

Iran: Inflation, privatization lead intensify working class struggles

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By Sina Mazdak

Working class struggles are intensifying in Iran as a consequence of inflation and the privatization of many industries. Several recently-privatized manufacturing companies have declared bankruptcy in recent months, leading to job losses and social conflicts.

Workers in some factories have not received their wages for months and are totally hopeless of any response from the government They are resorting to more confrontational actions like road blockades and demonstrations.

Independent actions by workers have been very rare since the 1980s crackdown on working class organizations following the 1979 revolution. That such actions are again emerging underscores the assault on the living standards of workers in Iran.

One example of these developments is the confrontations at the government-owned Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane agro-industrial company in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, which has 5,000 workers. The company has accumulated debts amounting to US$90 million. For the past two years the company has been unable to pay wages to its workers on a regular basis.

The workers have reacted angrily to the decision to privatize the company and sell its 15,000 hectares of fertile lands. Currently the struggle, which was started two years ago, is escalating as the workers are entering the fourth week of a recent strike. The strike began after some of the outspoken representatives of the workers, along with a local journalist, were summoned to the revolutionary court on charges of acting against “national security.”

On May 17 workers, some with their families, gathered outside the municipal building in Shush city and marched all the way to the main road that crosses the city, linking the northern parts of the province to the provincial capital, Ahvaz. They chanted slogans against the arrest of their representatives. They managed to block the main road for the second consecutive day. There have been reports of violent clashes with anti-riot police.

Based on the latest reports form the region, workers gathered outside the court complex at the first session of the trial to showed their support for those arrested. Security police began arresting protesting workers on May 21. Protests have continued through this week, and police have responded with more arrests and intimidation.

Closer to the capital, Tehran, workers of Alborz Tire Company, which used to be one of the major producers of tires, initiated a sit-in in February. They had not received wages for four months. The company owner had decided to close the complex and lay off the workers. That protest lasted 20 days until the city governor of Islam Shahr, a small poor city south of Tehran, finally intervened. It was agreed that the owner of the company, who had used a shortage of cash as a pretext for halting operations, would receive a loan and resume production, giving workers their unpaid wages.

However, one month later there was still no loan and no wages. On April 12, when workers were to start a demonstration at the factory, the factory was sealed off because of indebtedness to bank and social welfare organizations. The workers were left helpless by the fact that they had not only lost their earnings for eight months, but were also going to lose their factory. Several set tires ablaze on Tehran-Islam Shahr road, blocking that road. Police came and workers were forced to escape into the factory, hoping that inside the complex they would be safe.

At dusk, after most passersby had left the area, fire machines and bulldozers were brought in. The machines were used to breach the factory walls, allowing a a police invasion. Shortly after, 140 workers were rounded up and transferred to a nearby prison complex. Others managed to escape. The workers were released several days after the arrest, on the pledge that they would never again engage in such protests.

Alborz Workers in several interviews during the past several months have pointed to the fact that the private owner of the company sold its huge inventory without paying workers any benefits or purchasing raw materials. He is now determined to demolish the factory and build housing apartments in its place, which is much more profitable.

According to Fars news agency, Mesbahi Moqadam a member of parliament, has recently criticized factory owners for channeling their capital toward housing construction projects instead of increasing industrial production. He blamed high inflation on creating a hostile situation for production facilities.

These are only two examples of increasing social tensions in Iran. An activist living in Tehran recently spoke to the WSWS about the situation in his country. “The economic situation is highly critical in Iran,” he said. “Food prices have risen dramatically in the past several months. Two or three weeks ago, in one of the municipalities in South Tehran, there were riots over the high price of rice, the staple food among Iranians. The price of land and housing has also gone up dramatically recently, which has added to the upheaval in the country.

“Because of the economic situation, many companies, many factories, have cut their employees, many workers have lost their jobs,” he added. “There is a broad assault. The rate of strikes and protests is increasing dramatically.”

One of the factors behind the growing problems facing Iranian manufacturing is the move by Iran to develop ties with China, India and other countries in response to US sanctions and threats. In exchange for energy contracts and the export of oil, Iran has opened up its market to relatively cheap manufacturing goods from abroad. Hundreds of companies particularly in manufacturing sector have been declared bankrupt and many are on the verge of bankruptcy, leading to unprecedented social discontent among the working class.

Despite the historical rise in oil prices, the Iranian working class and the majority of the population are being constantly pushed toward poverty. No faction of the Iranian bourgeoisie—including those so-called “reformists,” who are more closely aligned with American imperialism—has any solution to the conditions facing Iranian workers. Instead, sections of the political establishment have resorted to demagogy and, in an increasing number of cases, brute force.

During the past two years, Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s speeches on the economy have been dominated by a populist attack on a vague entity called the “economic mafia”. Recently he declared that this “mafia” has threatened to use its power over Iran’s economy to nullify government measures. Occasionally, there have been show trials publicized by the government-owned media as a struggle against corruption, in which some low-level rent-seekers and middlemen have been sentenced to short-term prison terms.

This demagogy is designed to obscure the fact that the basic interests of Iranian workers are coming into ever sharper conflict with the social interests represented by the political establishment. In recent months, the government has initiated a major crackdown on left-wing groups, including the arrest and torture of students involved in protesting the political establishment and US war plans. The greatest fear of the Iranian government is that the social anger in the working class could take on a much more overtly political form.

Plan Mexico: Plan Colombia Heads for Mexico

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By Stephen Lendman

It’s called "Plan Mexico," or more formally the "Merida Initiative," and here’s the scheme. It’s to do for Mexicans what Plan Colombia has done to that nation since 1999, and, in fact, much earlier. Since then, billions have gone for the following:

-- to establish a US military foothold in the country;

-- mostly to fund US weapons, chemical and other corporate profiteers; it’s a long-standing practice; in fact, a 1997 Pentagon document affirms that America’s military will "protect US interests and investments;" in Colombia, it’s to control its valuable resources; most importantly oil and natural gas but also coal, iron ore, nickel, gold, silver, emeralds, copper and more; it’s also to crush worker resistance, eliminate unions, target human rights and peasant opposition groups, and make the country a "free market" paradise inhospitable to people;

-- it funds a brutish military as well; already, over 10,000 of its soldiers have been trained at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) - aka the School of the Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning, Georgia; its graduates are infamous as human rights abusers, drugs traffickers, and death squad practitioners; they were well schooled in their "arts" by the nation most skilled in them;

-- it lets Colombia arm and support paramilitary death squads; they’re known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC); for more than a decade, they’ve terrorized Colombians and are responsible for most killings and massacres in support of powerful western and local business interests;

-- it funds drug eradication efforts, but only in FARC-EP and ELN areas; government-controlled ones are exempt; trafficking is big business; laundering drugs money reaps huge profits for major US and regional banks; the CIA has also been linked to the trade for decades, especially since the 1980s; after Afghanistan’s invasion and occupation, opium harvests set records - mostly from areas controlled by US-allied "warlords;" the Taliban’s drug eradication program was one reason it was targeted; Colombia’s drug eradication is horrific; it causes ecological devastation; crop and forest destruction; lives and livelihoods lost; large areas chemically contaminated; bottom line of the program - record amounts of Colombian cocaine reach US and world markets; trafficking is more profitable than ever; so is big business thanks to paramilitary terror;

-- it’s to topple the FARC-EP and ELN resistance groups; Latin American expert James Petras calls the former the "longest standing (since 1964), largest peasant-based guerrilla (resistance) movement in the world;" it’s also to weaken Hugo Chavez, other regional populist leaders and groups, and destabilize their countries; and

-- it supports the "Uribe doctrine;" it’s in lockstep with Washington; its policies are hard right, corporate-friendly and militarized for enforcement.

Plan Colombia turned the country into a dependable, profitable narco-state. Business is better than ever. Violence is out of control and human rights abuses are appalling.

It gets worse. Two-thirds of Columbians are impoverished. Over 2.5 million peasant and urban slum dwellers have been displaced. Thousands of trade unionists have been murdered (more than anywhere else in the world), and many more thousands of peasants, rural teachers, and peasant and indigenous leaders have as well. Paramilitary land seizures are commonplace. Colombian latifundistas profit hugely. Wealth concentration is extreme and growing. Corruption infests the government. Many thousands in desperation are leaving. Colombia’s "democracy" is a sham. So is Mexico’s. Plan Mexico will make it worse. That’s the whole idea, and it’s part of the secretive Security and Prosperity Partnership - aka the North American Union.

It’s planned behind closed doors - to militarize and annex the continent. Corporate giants are in charge, mostly US ones. The idea is for an unregulated open field for profit. The Bush administration, Canada and Mexico support it. Things are moving toward implementation. Three nations will become one. National sovereignty eliminated. Worker rights as well. Opposition is building, but moves are planned to quash it. That’s the militarization part.

Business intends to win this one. People are to be exploited, not helped. That’s why it’s kept secret. The idea is to agree on plans, inform legislatures minimally about them, get SPP passed, then implement it with as few of its disturbing details known in hopes once they are they’ll be too late to reverse.

SPP is ugly, ominous and hugely people destructive. Hundreds of millions in three countries will be affected. Others in the region as well. Plan Mexico is a contribution to the scheme. Below is what we know about it.

Plan Mexico - Exploitation Writ Large

The plan was first announced in October 2007 as a "regional security cooperation initiative." It’s to provide $1.4 billion in aid (over three years) for Mexico and Central America on the pretext of fighting drugs trafficking and organized crime linked to it. FY 2008 calls for $550 million for starters with about 10% of it for Central America.

In fact, Plan Mexico is part of SPP’s grand scheme to militarize the continent, let corporate predators exploit it, and keep people from three countries none the wiser. Most aid will go to Mexico’s military and police forces with its major portion earmarked back to US defense contractors for equipment, training and maintenance. It’s how these schemes always work.

This one includes a menu of security allocations, administrative functions, and special needs like software, forensics equipment, database compilations, plus plenty more for friendly pockets to keep our Mexican cohorts on board.

After failing on May 15, House passage will likely follow the Senate’s approval on May 22 - below the radar. It’s one of many appropriations tucked into the latest Iraq/Afghanistan supplemental funding request, and its purpose is just as outlandish. It will militarize Mexico without deploying US troops. It will also open the country for plunder, privatize everything including state-owned oil company PEMEX, give Washington a greater foothold there, and get around the touchy military issue by allowing in Blackwater paramilitaries instead to work with Mexican security forces.

Only privatizing PEMEX is in doubt thanks to immense citizen opposition. Thousands of "brigadistas" were in the streets, protesting outside the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, as lawmakers considered ending PEMEX state-control. They paralyzed debate and brought it to a halt - temporarily putting off a final resolution of this very contentious issue. Big Oil wants it. Most Mexicans don’t. The battle continues. Mexico’s military may get involved.

The US State Department describes them as follows:

-- ...."impunity and corruption (in Mexico’s security forces are) problems, particularly at the state and local levels. The following human rights problems were reported: unlawful killings; kidnappings; physical abuse; poor and overcrowded prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detention; corruption, inefficiency, and lack of transparency in the judicial system; (coerced) confessions....permitted as evidence in trials; criminal intimidation of journalists leading to self-censorship; corruption at all levels of government; domestic violence against women (often with impunity); violence, including killings, against women; trafficking in persons; social and economic discrimination against indigenous people; and child labor."

Mexico’s military fares little better with promises Plan Mexico will worsen it. President Calderon now deploys troops around the country. People fear them when they come. They’re purportedly against drugs traffickers, but that’s mostly cover. Their real purpose may be sinister - a possible dress rehearsal for martial law when SPP is implemented.

Mexican soldiers are hard line. Their reputation is unsavory. People justifiably fear them. They commit flagrant human rights abuses and get away with them. The major media even report them. The New York Times, CNN, BBC, USA Today and others cite evidence of rape, torture, killings, other human rights abuses, corruption, extortion, and ties to drugs traffickers. Little is done to stop it. Government and military spokespersons often aren’t available for comment. They’re part of the problem, not the solution. Plan Mexico promises more of the same and then some. Billions from Washington back it.

Social protests in the country already are criminalized. Hundreds are filling prisons. Many languish there for years. Labor and social activists are most vulnerable. Injustice and grinding poverty motivate them. Plan Mexico ups the ante. Things are about to get worse.

Militarizing society is toxic. Police state enforcement follows. Accountability disappears. The rule of law no longer applies. Plan Mexico assures it. So does SPP for the continent. In classic doublespeak, the White House claims it will "advance the productivity and competitiveness of our nations and help to protect our health, safety and environment." Its real purpose is to annex a continent, destroy its democratic remnants, lock in hard line enforcement, and secure it for capital.

SPP Backdrop of Plan Mexico

A detailed SPP explanation can be found on the 2007 article link. It’s titled The Militarization and Annexation of North America -

Plan Mexico is part of SPP. It will militarize and annex the continent. It was formerly launched at a March 23, 2005 meeting in Waco, Texas attended by George Bush, Mexico’s President Vincente Fox, and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. They forged a tripartite partnership for greater US, Canadian and Mexican economic, political, social and security integration. Secretive working groups were formed to accomplish it - to devise non-negotiable agreements to be binding on all three nations.

Details are hidden. No public input is permitted. Pro forma legislative voting is approaching. It will try to avoid a NAFTA-type battle. Legislatures aren’t being fully informed. The worst of SPP is secret. It’s not a treaty, and the idea is to pass it below the radar and avoid a protracted public debate.

What’s known so far is disturbing, and considerable opposition has arisen but thus far too inadequate to matter. SPP, Plan Mexico, and a final continent-wide plan amount to a corporate coup d’etat against three sovereign states and hundreds of millions of people. It’s to erase national borders, merge three nations into one under US control, and remove all barriers to trade and capital flows. It’s also to militarize the continent, create a fortress-North America security zone, and have in place police state laws for enforcement. Billions will fund it. All for corporate gain. Nothing for public welfare.

SPP takes NAFTA and the "war on terrorism" to the next level en route to extending it further for more corporate plunder. It’s based on outlandish notions - that doing business, protecting national security, and securing "public welfare" require tough new measures in a very threatening world.

SPP bolsters US control. It enhances corporate power, quashes civil liberties, erases public welfare, and creates an open field for plunder free from regulatory restraints. It’s being plotted behind closed doors. A series of summits and secret meetings continue with the latest one in New Orleans from April 22 to 24.

Three presidents attended and were met by vocal street protests. They convened a "People’s Summit" and also held workshops to:

-- inform people how destructive SPP is;

-- strengthen networking and organizational ties against it;

-- maintain online information about their activities;

-- promote their efforts and build added support; and

-- affirm their determination to continue resisting a hugely repressive corporate-sponsored agenda. Opponents call it Nafta on steroids.

Business-friendly opposition also exists. Prominent is a "Coalition to Block the North American Union." The Conservative Caucus backs it. It has a "NAU War Room." It’s the "headquarters of THE national campaign to expose and halt America’s absorption into a ’North American Union (NAU)’ with Canada and Mexico." It opposes building "a massive, continental ’NAFTA Superhighway.’ "

It has congressional allies, and on January 2007 Rep. Virgil Goode and six co-sponsors introduced House Concurrent Resolution 40. It expresses "the sense of Congress that the United States should not engage in (building a NAFTA) Superhighway System or enter into a North American Union with Mexico and Canada."

The April summit reaffirmed SPP’s intentions - to create a borderless North America, dissolve national sovereignty, put corporate giants in control, and assure big US ones get most of it. Militarism is part of it. It’s the reason for fortress-North America under US command. The US Northern Command (NORTHCOM) was established in October 2002 to do it. It has air, land and sea responsibility for the continent regardless of Posse Comitatus limitations that no longer apply or sovereign borders easily erased.

Homeland Security (DHS) and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) also have a large role. So does the FBI, CIA, all US spy agencies, militarized state and local police, National Guard forces, and paramilitary mercenaries like Blackwater USA. They’re headed anywhere on the continent with license to operate as freely here as in Iraq and New Orleans post-Katrina. They’ll be able to turn hemispheric streets into versions of Baghdad and make them unfit to live on if things come to that.

SPP maintains a web site. It’s "key accomplishments" since August 2007 are updated on it as of April 22, 2008. Its details can be accessed from the following link:

It lists principles agreed to; bilateral deals struck; negotiations concluded; study assessments released; agreements on the "Free Flow of Information;" law enforcement activities; efforts related to intellectual property, border and long-haul trucking enforcement; import licensing procedures; food and product safety issues; energy (with special focus on oil); water as well; infrastructure development; emergency management; and much more. It’s all laid out in deceptively understated tones to hide its continental aim - enhanced corporate exploitation with as little public knowledge as possible.

Militarization will assure it, and consider one development up North. On February 14, 2008, the US and Canada agreed to allow American troops inside Canada. Canadians were told nothing or that the agreement was reached in 2002. Neither was it discussed in Congress or the Canadian House of Commons. It’s for "bilateral integration" of military command structures in areas of immigration, law enforcement, intelligence, or whatever else the Pentagon or Washington wishes. Overall, it’s part of the "war on terror" and militarizing the continent to make it "safer" for business and be prepared for any civilian opposition.

Congress may soon pass SPP, but with no knowledge of its worst provisions kept secret. It’s to assure enough congressional support makes it law. Nonetheless, federal, state and local opposition is building. It ranges from private activism to vocal lawmakers. In 2008, a dozen or more states passed resolutions against SPP. Around 20 others did it in 2007. Congress began debating it last year with opposition raised on various grounds - open borders, unchecked immigration, a NAFTA Superhighway System, and the idea of giving unregulated Mexican trucks free access to US roads and cities.

There’s also talk of replacing three national currencies with an "Amero." Unfortunately, little is heard about trashing the Constitution or giving corporate bosses free reign. There’s even less talk about a militarized continent against dissent. SPP is a "new world order." Companies are plotting to get it. People better hope they don’t. Disruptive opposition might derail them. It’s building but needs more resonance to matter. Time is short and slipping away. These schemers mean business. They want our future. We can’t afford to lose it.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM to 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening any time.

Bank of America decides not to retain Countrywide's No. 2 executive

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By E. Scott Reckard and Kathy M. Kristof

The choice of David Sambol to run home lending after the acquisition had been criticized. BofA veteran Barbara Desoer is tapped for the job.

Bank of America Corp., stressing its intent to change the culture at Countrywide Financial Corp. after acquiring it, said Wednesday that -- on second thought -- it wouldn't keep on the mortgage lender's No. 2 executive to run the companies' combined home-loan operations.

When it agreed in January to buy the struggling lender, Bank of America said Countrywide President David Sambol, the lender's top executive after founder and Chairman Angelo Mozilo, would stay on to run the combined companies' mortgage operations. Now that role will go instead to longtime BofA executive Barbara J. Desoer, who currently is chief technology and operations officer. She is also a member of the company's management operating committee.

The announcement underscored Bank of America's oft-repeated insistence that it would complete its acquisition of the nation's largest home-loan company for stock currently valued at $3.6 billion. Countrywide stock surged 8.5% on the news, but its price still reflected significant doubt on Wall Street that the deal would go through.

As a consequence of Bank of America's temporary attachment to Sambol, he will get $8 million in restricted stock in addition to $20 million in cash. Had BofA not acted to retain him, he would have received only $20 million.

Critics have complained that aggressive lending practices at Calabasas-based Countrywide contributed to the worst downturn in the housing and mortgage markets since the Great Depression, and they have singled out large pay packages awarded to Mozilo, Sambol and others as inappropriate given the company's near-collapse.

Among the critics was U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of Congress' Joint Economic Committee, who had asked Bank of America to reconsider the decision to put Sambol in charge of home lending.

In a statement Wednesday, Schumer said Ken Lewis, chief executive of Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America, had "done the right thing" in cutting Sambol out of BofA's future.

"Countrywide did more to contribute to the sub-prime mortgage crisis than anyone else," Schumer said. "It always amazed me that Bank of America, which has a fine reputation, would want to keep someone who was in effect Countrywide's chief cook and bottle washer on the scene."

Lewis reiterated Wednesday the company's plan to replace Countrywide's approach to home lending, which racked up billions of dollars in losses on risky mortgages, with a more conservative approach.

"Current economic and business conditions have highlighted the need for strong and focused executive leadership with a deep understanding of the Bank of America culture and operating model," Lewis said in a statement.

Bank of America spokesman Robert Stickler said it was important to Lewis to have "someone deeply immersed in our culture" heading the mortgage operation "effective the day of the transaction."

Stuart Plesser, bank analyst at Standard & Poor's Equity Research, said letting Sambol go was an attempt by Bank of America to "disassociate itself from the Countrywide brand."

Bank of America initially had said it would consider retaining the Countrywide name but more recently has indicated it would drop it and put all of its mortgage operations under the Bank of America brand.

Countrywide's financial condition has deteriorated since January, with the company posting an $893-million loss for the first quarter of this year after a loss of $1.6 billion in the second half of 2007.

On a down day for financial stocks in general, Bank of America shares fell 30 cents Wednesday to a five-year low of $33.87, giving the acquisition a value of $6.17 for each Countrywide share.

But Countrywide shares remained 19% below that figure after jumping 39 cents Wednesday to $4.98.

That discount, reflecting doubt that Bank of America will proceed with the transaction, narrowed from 26% on Tuesday. It has fluctuated from 7% to as much as 38% since the deal was announced.

A potential legal obstacle to the combination was cleared Wednesday when lawyers said Countrywide had agreed to settle three shareholder lawsuits challenging the sale of the company.

Lewis has said the deal is important because it would make his bank the largest player in all three key aspects of consumer banking -- credit cards, deposits and mortgages -- giving it an unparalleled opportunity to sell financial services to individuals and small businesses.

As the head of one of those three segments, Desoer would report directly to Lewis.

Desoer, 55, has roots in California, having been a retail banking executive for San Francisco-based BankAmerica Corp. before it was acquired by NationsBank Corp. in 1998 in the transaction that created the current Bank of America. She will move from North Carolina to run the mortgage business from Calabasas, the company said.

Sambol, 48, was among several Countrywide executives who were awarded hefty bonuses to stay on after the Bank of America acquisition, which is set to close early in the third quarter.

Under an agreement with Countrywide, he was entitled to receive about $20 million if he was let go after a takeover. In March, Bank of America agreed to give him that amount plus $8 million in restricted stock if he would stay.

Sambol's retention package had also extended his fringe benefits at Countrywide, including "use of a company-provided car or car allowance, country club dues and financial consulting services" through the end of 2009, according to a regulatory filing.

He also was to continue to have access to a company-provided plane for business and personal travel, although the filing says "the number of hours available for personal use would be limited."

Sambol now will get some but not all of those perks, BofA spokesman Stickler said, declining to elaborate.

Sambol couldn't be reached for comment.

Expanding on another front, Bank of America said Tuesday that it would pay $1.9 billion to increase its stake in China Construction Bank Corp., the second-largest bank in China, to 10.8% from 8.2%.

The Capitalist Ground Shaken by the Earthquake in China

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By Li Onesto

Author’s website

A huge earthquake, registering 8.0 on the Richter scale, struck Sichuan Province in southwest China. The violent shaking lasted more than a minute, leaving towns and small cities flattened. On Sunday, May 25, a powerful aftershock struck, causing thousands more buildings to collapse.

The death toll now stands at over 62,000 people. 160,000 have been injured. Five million left homeless. More than 200,000 homes completely collapsed and four million were damaged.

The quake hit in the middle of the day when schools were in session—children were napping, sitting at their desks, and playing in schoolyards. Some reports say 30-40 percent of the dead were schoolchildren. In the town of Mianzhu alone, seven schools, including two nursery schools, collapsed—burying more than 1,700 students.

What happens when such a natural disaster occurs is profoundly affected by how a society is organized. And many things about the nature of China have been revealed by this catastrophe. Most people around the world watching this heartbreaking tragedy think China is a socialist country, run by a communist government. But in fact, since the reactionary coup led by Deng Xiaoping after Mao Tsetung’s death in 1976, China has been a capitalist country, dependent on and subordinate to global imperialism. And some stark things about the exploitative and oppressive nature of capitalist China have been revealed in the aftermath of this devastating earthquake.

“Tofu” Schools Became Death Traps

Close to 7,000 schools, a disproportionately high number of buildings, were destroyed. In some towns, an entire generation has virtually been wiped out.

Town after town, grief has turned to anger as parents accuse the government of shoddy construction to save money. Pu Changxue, whose son died, crushed in a classroom, said: “This was a tofu dregs project and the government should assume responsibility. We all know that earthquakes are natural disasters. But what happened to our children also has human causes, and they’re even more frightening.”

In Juyuan, a middle school collapsed. As many as 900 children were buried in the rubble, while nearby buildings remained standing. One resident said: “Look at the building materials they used. The cement wasn’t mixed with water in the right proportion. There are not enough steel beams. The sand isn’t clean.”

There are supposed to be seismic regulations and requirements for different types of buildings. But lack of money for education has meant old buildings have not been replaced. And many times, even when new schools are built, shoddy material is used and building codes are ignored in order to save money.

The bodies of kids pulled from the rubble have revealed an ugly truth about class society in China: That schools for kids from the bottom layers of society are very different than schools for students from well-off families. Children from the upper strata get a better education. They also get safer schools. And when the earthquake hit, this became a question of life or death.

According to a New York Times article, in Dujiangyan, the Xinjian Primary School had been poorly built and “never got its share of government funds for reconstruction because of its low ranking in the local education bureaucracy and the low social status of its students.” The parents who sent their children to Xinjian are poor. Many had lost their jobs when a local cement plant shut down—some collect small welfare payments and hold down odd jobs to support their families, others had left their children behind to look for work somewhere else. Hundreds of children died at Xinjian when the earthquake hit. Meanwhile, another local primary school, Beijie, suffered hardly any damage and students survived. Beijie was set up for the elite with the best facilities and finest teachers. (NY Times, “Chinese Are Left to Ask Why Schools Crumbled,” May 25, 2008)

Western media, as well as news reports in China, have suggested that developers tried to maximize profits by using inferior materials, cutting back on necessary work and paying off corrupt officials. The Chinese government has announced there will be investigations into whether sloppy work linked to corruption is to blame. And there will, no doubt, now be official accusations of bribery, scapegoats, and a campaign to “clean up corruption.”

But the fundamental problem here is NOT corruption, inept administrators, or bribery in the building of schools. Yes, that is truly horrible and resulted in the deaths of thousands of children. But targeting this doesn’t get to the root of the problem. The real problem here is the dynamics of capitalism—how the drive for profit trumps everything else, how economic growth is driven by intensifying exploitation, short-term gain, and cost minimization. And how these capitalist economic relations get reflected in and played out in the social and political relations in society and the thinking of people. Corruption is very real, but it is an outgrowth of capitalist development.

Some people say the problem is that there is not enough transparency in China. They pose the problem as: China being open or shut; listening or not; censoring the Internet or leaving it alone, etc., etc. But all this begs the fundamental question: What kind of society is China? What is its relationship to global capitalism? What does it mean that China has become a vast sweatshop for the world; that the gap between rich and poor in China is growing; that peasants in the countryside are desperate and impoverished—and that the lives of millions who were already desperately poor because China is subordinate to imperialism have been suddenly thrown into an even greater hell by this earthquake?

Widening Inequality Gap

Sichuan is one of China’s poorest areas and does not have a lot of manufacturing. But this province is an important grain and pork producer and has China’s largest reserves of natural gas.

Over the last decade there has been a burst of construction in rural, inland areas like Sichuan. But the huge inequality gap between urban and rural areas remains. And this gap has been further imprinted in the whole way that these smaller towns and cities are being developed.

Many in the areas most affected by the earthquake are poor peasants. In Wenchuan, at the epicenter of the quake, the average annual income was around 1,600 yuan in 2002 (latest available statistics), which is less than a fifth of the average income in the province’s capital city of Chengdu. The death, damage and suffering from the earthquake reflect this income gap. Living in more impoverished conditions to begin with resulted in greater devastation and now more ongoing hardship. And inequality between the city and countryside also impacts things. For example, people in rural areas have access to much less health care than those who live in the cities. This means they are less healthy to begin with and now have less access to desperately needed medical attention.

When China was truly a socialist country, a conscious goal of the government and society was to continually narrow (and eventually get rid of) inequalities in society—between different classes, between men and women, between different nationalities, and between the cities and countryside. But now, through the workings of capitalism, such differences are being widened.

Time magazine has written about how “economic reforms” have chipped away at the medical treatment available when China was socialist—health care that was often rudimentary but widely available to all citizens: “China’s famed ‘barefoot doctors,’ usually middle school graduates trained in first aid, hiked through hamlets offering prenatal examinations and setting broken limbs. The service, essentially free, helped to almost eradicate sexually transmitted diseases in China and nearly doubled the country’s life expectancy from 35 to 65 between 1949 to the mid-1970s. But in the early 1980s, the mainland began shifting from communism to capitalism, and peasants had to dig into their own tattered pockets to pay for health care. At the same time, cash-strapped local governments cut subsidies to rural hospitals and clinics, essentially privatizing them... City dwellers remain better-off, mostly because six in 10 of them have some form of health insurance. Only 10% of rural residents do, and most of them are government employees or live in wealthy coastal areas, where many work in factories.” (China’s Failing Health System, Time, May 12, 2003)

This kind of deepening economic and social inequality now exists in many different aspects of Chinese society—which can mean the difference between life and death when an earthquake hits.

Get-Rich-Quick Development

Over the last several decades China has become more integrated into and subordinate to the world capitalist system. Foreign investments have poured into China. Fortune 500 companies with investments in Sichuan include Pepsico, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, United Technologies, McDonalds, Lufthansa, Sony, Intel, Cisco Systems, and Archer Daniels Midland.

There has been all kinds of fast-paced “get rich quick” economic development. This has mainly been concentrated in the country’s eastern coastal areas where there are concentrated pools of cheap labor and access to shipping. But in recent years, this kind of rapid economic growth has branched out into interior areas, including into the cities and towns hit by the May 12 earthquake.

In many cases, such expansion has meant people being forcibly relocated. This push for rapid growth forces builders to move fast. And this has led companies and the government to trample on the rights of residents and ignoring building safety requirements. Policemen have been sent in to enforce evictions. And there have been several reports of people protesting demolitions and evictions by setting themselves on fire and committing suicide.

Five years ago, these massive renovations were mainly happening in large cities. Now they are going on in more medium and smaller cities—like Sichuan’s capital of Chengdu, about 145 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake. City officials there had announced plans to spend 10 billion yuan (US$1.4 billion) to build a new town in its northern suburbs.

Thousands of smaller cities are sprouting up on formerly uninhabited pastureland. This rapid urbanization has transformed Sichuan into one of China’s biggest provinces with a population of 82 million. It is this kind of demolition and quick construction that has created conditions for rampant corruption, leading to the kind of slipshod building that people are now pointing to in the wake of the earthquake. It is these rural areas and smaller towns that suffered the greatest destruction from the earthquake.

This kind of economic development—driven by short-term gains, rapid growth, and cost minimization—has also factored into the building of dams in China. And now, in the wake of the earthquake, there is an extremely dangerous situation where shoddily-built dams are damaged, putting millions in harm’s way of potential flood waters—especially given continuing aftershocks.

There have been reports that hundreds of dams have been damaged by the earthquake. For example, the Zipingpu Dam, completed in 2006, was built over the objections of seismologists who were concerned about its proximity to major geological faults. After the earthquake, soldiers rushed to the dam after reports that it was developing cracks.

Crocodile Tears Covering Up a Criminal System

Some news commentators have said this earthquake is a “godsend” for the Chinese government—pointing to the fact that world political opinion has not been going well for China. Its brutal repression in Tibet captured headlines for weeks, just as China was getting ready for its mega-PR campaign around the Olympics. There were numerous protests as the Olympic torch made its way around the world.

Now the earthquake has given China an opportunity to turn public opinion more favorable to China’s reactionary regime. Top government officials quickly flew to the devastated areas, crying crocodile tears and putting on a show of concern for TV cameras—knowing this would be beamed not only throughout China but around the world. The Chinese government is highly aware that, especially in the wake of the cyclone in Myanmar, its handling of this disaster is being closely watched, throughout the country and internationally. The storyline has been how competent, compassionate, and in control the rescue and relief efforts have been.

The rulers of China face a lot of necessity here—both domestically and internationally. They need to keep social control in the face of growing disparity and discontent. And they face a complex and changing economic and political polarization in the world as they try to press forward with their international ambitions. From the very beginning, the Chinese government has seen the Olympics as a way to create more favorable political conditions, both domestically and internationally.

The crocodile tears being shed by government officials after the earthquake only serve to cover up the real truth: The Chinese economy is deeply integrated into and subordinated to the global capitalist system. The development of capitalism in China has been and continues to be a living nightmare for hundreds of millions of people. And what China really needs is another revolution aimed at overthrowing the new capitalist ruling class, re-achieving national independence, and creating a genuine and truly liberating socialist society.

McClellan Suggests Plame Cover-up

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By Jason Leopold

Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan says George W. Bush’s political guru Karl Rove arranged a private meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby in 2005 when the two men were under mounting suspicion for leaking the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson.

Calling the scene “one moment during the leak episode that I am reluctant to discuss,” McClellan writes in his new memoir that “in 2005, during a time when attention was focusing on Rove and Libby, [the meeting] sticks vividly in my mind. …

“Following [a meeting in Chief of Staff Andy Card’s office], Scooter Libby was walking to the entryway as he prepared to depart when Karl turned to get his attention. ‘You have time to visit?’ Karl asked. ‘Yeah,’ replied Libby.”

In the new book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and the Culture of Washington Deception, McClellan doesn’t offer substantive evidence that Rove and Libby used the meeting in 2005 to coordinate their cover stories.

“I have no idea what they discussed, but it seemed suspicious for these two, whom I had never noticed spending any one-on-one time together, to go behind closed doors and visit privately,” McClellan writes.

“At least one of them, Rove, it was publicly known at the time, had at best misled me by not sharing relevant information, and credible rumors were spreading that the other, Libby, had done at least as much,” McClellan said. “I don’t know what they discussed, but what would any knowledgeable person reasonably and logically conclude was the topic?”

For more than a year in three separate appearances before a federal grand jury, Rove had insisted he was not a source for columnist Robert Novak and Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, two journalists who were told about Plame’s CIA identity when it was still secret.

On July 14, 2003, Novak wrote the first story exposing Plame’s CIA identity in the context of discrediting her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had challenged Bush’s bogus claims that Iraq had purchased yellowcake uranium from Niger.

Rove told the grand jury that he first learned that Plame worked for the CIA when he read it in Novak’s column, according to Rove’s attorney Robert Luskin. But the truth was Rove had been an unnamed source for both Novak and Cooper.

McClellan’s Role

Press secretary McClellan was dragged into the middle of the Plame controversy in September 2003, after the CIA – angered by the blowing of Plame’s cover – got the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into the leaking of her classified identity.

It fell to McClellan to steer reporters – and the public – away from suspicions that Bush’s inner circle was implicated in exposing an undercover CIA officer, an act that Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, once had likened to treason.

In early fall 2003, the White House tried to make it appear that the younger George Bush held the same standards.

“The President has set high standards, the highest of standards, for people in his administration,” McClellan said on Sept. 29, 2003. “If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.”

President Bush then announced that he was determined to get to the bottom of the matter.

“If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is,” Bush said on Sept. 30, 2003. “I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true.”

Yet, even as Bush was professing his curiosity and calling for anyone with information to step forward, he was withholding the fact that he had authorized the declassification of some secrets about the Niger uranium issue and had ordered Cheney to arrange for those secrets to be given to reporters.

In other words, though Bush knew a great deal about how the scheme to discredit Wilson got started – since he was involved in starting it – the President uttered misleading public statements that obscured the White House role.

Also, since the leakers knew that Bush already was in the know, they might well have read his comments as a signal to lie, which is what they did. In early October, McClellan said he could report that political adviser Rove and National Security Council aide Elliott Abrams were not involved in the Plame leak.

That comment riled Libby, who feared that he was being hung out to dry. Libby went to his boss, Vice President Cheney, complaining that “they want me to be the sacrificial lamb,” Libby’s lawyer Theodore Wells said later.

Cheney scribbled down his feelings in a note to press secretary McClellan: “Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy the Pres that was asked to stick his head in the meat grinder because of incompetence of others.”

In the note, Cheney initially ascribed Libby’s role in going after Joe Wilson to Bush’s orders, but the Vice President apparently thought better of it, crossing out “the Pres” and putting the clause in a passive tense.

Cheney has never explained the meaning of his note, but it suggests that it was Bush who sent Libby out on the get-Wilson mission to limit damage from Wilson’s criticism of Bush’s false Niger-yellowcake claim.

Special Prosecutor

In those early days of the leak investigation, it appeared that the Plame case wouldn’t go very far with Attorney General John Ashcroft in charge, but Ashcroft recused himself from the Plame case in December 2003.

Deputy Attorney General James Comey then selected Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald as a special prosecutor to conduct the investigation. Fitzgerald proved to be more aggressive than his predecessors.

In late January 2004, Fitzgerald sent a letter to Comey, seeking confirmation that he had the authority to investigate and prosecute individuals for obstruction of justice, perjury and destroying evidence – as well as willful disclosure of an undercover CIA officer.

On Feb. 6, 2004, Comey responded in writing, confirming that Fitzgerald had the authority to prosecute those crimes.

By April 2004, Fitzgerald had begun focusing on contradictions between White House documents and sworn statements by Rove and other White House officials. The prosecutor also grew suspicious that Rove and Libby were trying to hinder his investigation.

Fitzgerald’s suspicions may have been on target. An e-mail that Rove had sent to then Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley in early July 2003 revealed that Rove had spoken to Time reporter Cooper about Plame – a fact that Rove had omitted when he was first interviewed by the FBI.

Rove didn’t reveal to the grand jury that he had spoken with Cooper until Oct. 15, 2004, around the same time that a federal court judge compelled Cooper to testify about the identity of his source.

At the time of the Rove-Libby meeting in 2005 that was recalled by McClellan, Fitzgerald’s investigation was zeroing in on Libby, who was indicted in October 2005 on five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice.

When Libby went on trial in 2007, Libby’s attorney Wells told the jury that the White House had decided that Libby must be “sacrificed” to protect Rove whose criminal exposure in the leak was so great that the White House feared it could cost the Republicans badly in Election 2004.

In his opening statement, Wells told the jurors that “the person ... who was to be protected was Karl Rove … President Bush’s right-hand person in terms of political strategy. Karl Rove was the person most responsible for making sure the Republican Party stayed in office.”

As the trial proceeded, however, Wells never presented evidence backing up his “scapegoat” claim. Libby was convicted on four of five counts and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. (Bush later commuted the sentence, sparing Libby jail time and dangling the possibility of a full pardon later.)

One of Libby’s jurors, Denis Collins, said after the verdict that he and other jurors often asked “where’s Rove?”

Renewed Interest

Now, McClellan’s memoir is stoking renewed interest in the Bush administration’s handling of the Plame leak. On Wednesday, Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Florida, called for McClellan to give sworn testimony to Congress.

Wexler described McClellan’s admissions and allegations as “earth-shattering” regarding both the cover-up of the Plame leak and the administration’s deceptive case for invading Iraq.

"Scott McClellan must now appear before the House Judiciary Committee under oath to tell Congress and the American people how President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, and White House officials deliberately orchestrated a massive propaganda campaign to sell the war in Iraq to the American people,” Wexler said.

Anne Weismann, chief counsel for the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said McClellan’s book reveals that a “conspiracy” of sorts did take place.

Weismann, whose group represents Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson in a civil suit against White House officials, said the disclosures show why the case requires a discovery order from the courts.

“This was an outrageous conspiracy by top White House officials to attack and discredit a high-level CIA operative, which is exactly what we have said and the Wilsons have said,” Weismann said about the case, which was dismissed by a lower court and is now on appeal.

An aide to Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the California Democrat continues to negotiate with Fitzgerald and Attorney General Michael Mukasey about obtaining documents that the special prosecutor uncovered during his investigation.

So far, Fitzgerald has turned over to Waxman’s committee “FBI 302 reports” of interviews with CIA and State Department officials and other individuals involved in the leak, according to a letter the congressman sent to Attorney General Mukasey in December.

But Waxman added that “the White House has been blocking Mr. Fitzgerald from providing key documents to the Committee," including transcripts of Fitzgerald’s interviews with Bush and Cheney about the leak.

British PM warns of global oil 'shock' as fuel price protests spread

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British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned Wednesday that the world faced an era-defining oil "shock" that required urgent action, as European leaders argued how best to contain protests over soaring fuel prices.

"It is now understood that a global shock on this scale requires global solutions," Brown wrote in The Guardian newspaper.

Record oil prices of around 135 dollars a barrel have contributed to protests worldwide over the rise in fuel and food costs, with fishermen and truck drivers taking the lead in Europe, blocking ports and road access to oil depots.

"However much we might wish otherwise, there is no easy answer to the global oil problem without a comprehensive international strategy," Brown said, adding that the problem should be made a "top priority" at the EU summit next month and the gathering of G8 leaders in July.

"The way we confront these issues will define our era," he said.

Brown's warning came a day after French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged a Europe-wide cut in consumer taxes on fuel

French consumers pay about 19.6 percent VAT on the price of fuel and Sarkozy renewed his reduction proposal on Wednesday during a visit to Warsaw.

"Should we really apply the same tax rate when the price of a barrel of oil has doubled in one year and tripled in three years? I don't think this is a crazy question to be asking," Sarkozy told reporters in the Polish capital.

But Austrian Finance Minister Wilhelm Molterer gave the idea short shrift.

"What will you do when prices fall again, reintroduce the tax? I'd like to hear the political discussions then," said Molterer.

Portugal's economy minister Manuel Pinho called on Slovenia, as current head of the European Union, to hold an emergency debate on the crisis, but Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa said it would have to wait for the scheduled EU summit next month.

"There's no sense in calling an urgent meeting since we'll discuss the issue at our regular June session," Jansa said, while adding that the issue would be placed high on the agenda.

While fishermen called off strikes in key French ports on Wednesday, lifting a week-long blockade of the country's largest oil refinery, truckers and farmers stepped up their own protests over soaring fuel prices.

A group of 300 farmers used their cars to block the entry to a Total fuel depot near Toulouse, while around 40 protesting truck drivers slowed traffic to a near-halt on Bordeaux's main ring road.

And a policeman and a protestor were slightly injured when riot police using tear gas battled farmers blocking an oil depot near Sete on France's Mediterranean coast.

In Bulgaria, where annual monthly salaries are among the lowest in the EU and inflation rates among the highest, around 150 trucks drove slowly along capital Sofia's ring road, disrupting traffic.

Bulgarian bus companies were preparing to launch a nationwide one-hour strike on Friday.

In Spain, the main trucking union has called for an indefinite strike beginning June 8.

At a meeting Tuesday of EU agriculture ministers in Slovenia, France and Spain led the call for direct EU economic assistance to the fishing industry.

EU member states can currently give their fishermen a subsidy of up to 30,000 euros (47,167 dollars) over a three-year period without seeking the European Commission's approval.

But French and Spanish fishermen consider this too low and have demanded additional help from their governments to be able to cope with the sharp increase of diesel prices.

Italian, Greek and Portuguese fishermen have threatened to strike later this week.

The Netherlands and Portugal however expressed scepticism, arguing for a long-term solution for the fishermen, including modernising their fleets and increasing competitiveness.

"Short-term solutions are the most popular in political terms, but they have no lasting effect," said Portuguese Agriculture Minister Jaime Silva.

War spending furthers al-Qaida goal of undermining U.S. economy

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As the Congress takes up the latest Bush administration "supplemental" appropriation of another $160 billion for the war in Iraq, the impact of the war on families has been enormous. Montana now has the highest number per capita of killed or wounded in the country - 26.09 per 100,000 population - and a total of 250 deaths or injuries as of May 10.

In fact, the Congress should consider whether the funding - almost a trillion dollars to date - helps al-Qaida more than us. The question of whom the war funding actually helps and its draining of our own needs should be a major issue in the June 3 Montana primary.

In his audio addresses, Osama bin Laden has underscored the importance of hitting economic targets, threatening the United States with financial ruin. Bleeding the U.S. economy is an explicitly stated and oft-repeated aim of al-Qaida. In 2004, soon after the war began, bin Laden stated clearly: "The Mujahedeen have finally forced Bush to have recourse to an emergency budget in order to continue the fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, which indicates the success of the plan to exhaust (them) to the point of bankruptcy, God willing." Bin Laden emphasized the economic nature of the targets chosen in New York City for the Sept. 11 attacks, proclaiming it to be "very important to concentrate on striking the American economy by every possible means."

Draining our economy

He must be thrilled we've continued the emergency supplemental war funding, draining our economy for more than five years and counting. The U.S. economy is spiraling into crisis with the costs of oil and gas, college education, food doubling and tripling since 2001, drugs and other staples not far behind and home foreclosures at all-time highs.

Al-Qaida continues this objective right to the present.

The war in Iraq has been the economic disaster for the United States that bin Laden, without even having to deploy many resources, wished for (our own intelligence agencies confirm that al-Qaida is no more than 2 percent of the Iraq insurgents; the remainder is the civil strife that has persisted there for centuries).

With just the amount of our Iraq budget in 2007, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi points out, our government could instead have repaired 70,000 bridges across the U.S. rated deficient; rebuilt the New Orleans levees; covered all children in the State Children's Health Insurance Plan; equipped U.S. agencies with interoperable communications equipment not available on Sept. 11, 2001; enrolled 1.4 million more children in Head Start; doubled the budget for the National Cancer Institute; screened all air cargo for 10 years; and hired 51,000 more police officers. Instead, Bush has vetoed programs like CHIP and insisted on war dollars. All the while, al-Qaida has regrouped and strengthened outside Iraq - in Afghanistan and around the world.

Fewer jobs created

While the Clinton administration created 23 million new jobs, Bush has created 6 million - the worst jobs record since Herbert Hoover. The Bush administration chose to sink taxpayers' money into Iraq over public investment.

It is counterproductive to our own security that we paradoxically give al-Qaida exactly what it wants. The CIA's National Intelligence Estimate - now suddenly blocked from public view by the Bush administration likely because the document has spoken too much truth - stated on Jan. 13, 2005, that the war in Iraq "provides terrorists with a training ground" and "opportunity," and "the Jihadists will disperse to other countries" and "merge with local movements."

As to the president's objective to "fight them over there so we don't have to over here," the real question is whether it's al-Qaida keeping us bottled up in Iraq instead of the other way around. It's the classic strategy - divert the enemy to another location away from you, so that they will lose time, troops and effort - while you conduct your own priorities with no interference. Is al-Qaida beating us at our own game?