Saturday, April 29, 2017

Canada planning for war with North Korea

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By Roger Jordan

As the Trump administration continues to recklessly escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula, Canada’s Liberal government has given its strongest indication yet that Canadian troops would join a war with North Korea—a war that could result in the deaths of millions and trigger a nuclear clash between major powers.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan revealed April 21 that in the event of a US conflict with North Korea, Washington might well use the US-led United Nations Korea Command to mobilize troops and materiel from its allies. Korea Command, which includes Canada, was established at the onset of the 1950-53 Korean War.
While Sajjan maintained that Ottawa was focused on “diplomacy” first, he stressed that military plans for crisis situations on the Korean peninsula have been developed. According to the Canadian Press, policy documents prepared for former Defence Minister Peter MacKay in 2010 stated that if fighting broke out, the UN Command (UNC) “structure would be used as a means of force generating, and receiving and tasking any contributions that UNC sending states may choose to contribute.”
Sajjan’s remarks followed bellicose anti-North Korean remarks from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. While in France earlier this month to commemorate the Battle of Vimy Ridge, a First World War battle in which 10,000 Canadians were killed or injured, Trudeau denounced the “dangerous and unstable North Korean regime.” Siding fully with Washington’s provocative actions, which have included sending an aircraft carrier strike group to the region and the deployment of the THAAD missile defence system to South Korea, he continued, “This rogue regime in North Korea is a danger not only to the immediate region but the entire world.”
Speaking on CTV’s “Question Period” broadcast April 16, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland refused to rule out Canadian support for a US-led military attack on North Korea under the pretext of targeting its nuclear weapons arsenal. “What I will say is we unequivocally condemn the missile testing that North Korea has done. North Korea is breaking international law and its own commitments,” she noted, echoing the Trump administration’s line.
Freeland also hailed China’s decision to abstain from a UN Security Council resolution on Syria, suggesting that this marked a shift by Beijing away from Russia. She urged China to intercede with Pyongyang to bring about a solution to the current political and military standoff.
The readiness of the Liberal government to line up squarely behind the Trump administration’s aggressive actions in Korea—which are primarily aimed at bullying China and legitimizing the further militarization of northeast Asia—is in keeping with Canada’s role as a close partner of US imperialism in all its major military-strategic offensives around the world. In the 18 months since the Trudeau government came to power, it has ramped up Canada’s support for the US Mideast war coalition, deploying more Special Forces to Iraq and military personnel, including strategic planners, to the region. Liberal-led Canada is also playing a substantial role in the strategic encirclement of Russia in Eastern Europe by extending a Canadian Armed Forces training mission in Ukraine and dispatching hundreds of troops to Latvia to lead one of four new “forward deployed” NATO battalions to be stationed on Russia’s borders.
Taken together with these aggressive steps, the Liberals’ Korea policy underscores once again the essential continuity between the Harper Conservatives and Trudeau Liberals in ruthlessly asserting Canadian imperialism’s global geopolitical interests. In 2013, in conjunction with the Obama administration’s “Pivot to Asia,” an economic, geopolitical and military strategy aimed at isolating and preparing for military conflict with China, the Harper government concluded a secret military agreement with the United States for increased collaboration in the Pacific. It included provisions for joint military operations in the Asia-Pacific region and came as Canada finalized deals with Singapore and South Korea to enable Ottawa to establish forward military bases in these two countries when needed.
The Canadian military is a frequent participant in US-led military exercises in South Korea and the Asia-Pacific, including a major naval exercise last summer. Trudeau has also agreed to closer security cooperation with Japan, Washington’s chief imperialist ally in the region.
Canada’s alliance with US imperialism in the Asia-Pacific goes back much further. During World War II, the US supplanted Britain as the Canadian ruling elite’s principal military-security partner, and by the war’s end Canada was preparing to send tens of thousands of troops and an armada of 60 ships to join the war between the US and Japan for domination of the Asia-Pacific.
Canada was an early and important US ally in the Korean War, a conflict that wrought death and destruction on a vast scale, sealed the partition of the Korean peninsula, and laid the basis for the bitter conflicts that today threaten to plunge the region into another catastrophic war.
In the wake of the 1949 Chinese Revolution and under conditions of deepening Cold War conflict with the Soviet Union, the US abandoned its commitment to unite Korea after ending nearly a half-century of Japanese colonial occupation. Instead Democrats, Republicans and the burgeoning military-intelligence apparatus came together as one in declaring that in Korea, Asia and around the world, the overriding objective of American foreign policy had to be thwarting “world communism.”
Some 26,000 Canadian military, naval and air force personnel served in the Korean War, initially under the overall command of the arch-reactionary and imperialist, General Douglas MacArthur. The Korean War pitted the armed forces of the US-sponsored South Korean state, the US, Britain, Canadian and other western and allied states against the North Korean-led Korean People’s Army and Chinese troops. Sections of the American military command demanded a much more aggressive intervention, with some, including MacArthur, advocating airstrikes on China and the use of nuclear weapons.
On 7 August, 1950, Liberal Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent announced the creation of the Canadian Army Special Force (CASF) to deploy soldiers to Korea. So as to encourage young recruits to join up for the war, the Canadian Army lowered its recruiting standards. A total of 516 Canadians died in the conflict.
Reflecting the overwhelming support within Canadian ruling circles for Washington’s drive to force North Korea to bow to US domination, even if that means provoking all-out war, the CBC article that reported Sajjan’s comments about possible Canadian participation in such a conflict prompted no debate within the corporate media. Only one other news organization, and clearly so for its own political reasons, the far right US publication the Daily Caller, saw fit to even take note of the defence minister’s comments and the revelation that Canada has been involved in planning for war in Korea.
Macdonald-Laurier Institute deputy editor, David McDonough, did however pen an April 18 article in which he described the mounting war tensions between Washington and Pyongyang as an “opportunity” to push for Canada to join the US antiballistic missile shield, hike military spending, and develop its cyberwar capabilities.
The Liberals’ readiness to align Canada with the Trump administration’s reckless military escalation in Korea demonstrates the politically criminal role played by all those political forces that, in one way or another, promoted Trudeau as a “progressive” alternative to the Conservatives in the 2015 election. The trade union bureaucracy, which is peddling ever more virulent Canadian nationalism as economic protectionism rises internationally, spent millions on “Anyone but Conservative” advertising campaigns, while the NDP announced that it was ready to form a coalition government with the Liberals.
Within days of Trudeau’s election, the Canadian Labour Congress leadership met with him to offer their support and assistance, and Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, gave Trudeau a rousing standing ovation at its August 2016 convention.
The Trudeau government’s warmongering, whether over Korea, in the Middle East or in Eastern Europe, has not prompted a word of criticism from these layers. This is because they are in fundamental agreement with the need to uphold the global interests of Canadian capitalism by serving up Canadian workers as cheap labour for big business, while at the same time playing them off against their class brothers and sisters internationally with the poison of Canadian nationalism.
The NDP, which has supported every Canadian imperialist military intervention since the late 1990s, has not issued a single statement on the imminent threat of war with North Korea. This is in keeping with its role in defending Canadian imperialist foreign policy interests and supporting the ruling-class agenda of austerity and war.

America’s War-Fighting Footprint in Africa

Secret U.S. Military Documents Reveal a Constellation of American Military Bases Across That Continent 

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By Nick Turse

General Thomas Waldhauser sounded a little uneasy.  “I would just say, they are on the ground.  They are trying to influence the action,” commented the chief of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) at a Pentagon press briefing in March, when asked about Russian military personnel operating in North Africa.  “We watch what they do with great concern.”
And Russians aren’t the only foreigners on Waldhauser’s mind.  He’s also wary of a Chinese “military base” being built not far from Camp Lemonnier, a large U.S. facility in the tiny, sun-blasted nation of Djibouti.  “They’ve never had an overseas base, and we’ve never had a base of... a peer competitor as close as this one happens to be,” he said.  “There are some very significant... operational security concerns.”

At that press conference, Waldhauser mentioned still another base, an American one exposed by the Washington Post last October in an article titled, “U.S. has secretly expanded its global network of drone bases to North Africa.”  Five months later, the AFRICOM commander still sounded aggrieved.  “The Washington Post story that said ‘flying from a secret base in Tunisia.’  It’s not a secret base and it’s not our base... We have no intention of establishing a base there.”
Waldhauser’s insistence that the U.S. had no base in Tunisia relied on a technicality, since that foreign airfield clearly functions as an American outpost. For years, AFRICOM has peddled the fiction that Djibouti is the site of its only “base” in Africa. “We continue to maintain one forward operating site on the continent, Camp Lemonnier,” reads the command’s 2017 posture statement.  Spokespeople for the command regularly maintain that any other U.S. outposts are few and transitory -- “expeditionary” in military parlance. 
While the U.S. maintains a vast empire of military installations around the world, with huge -- and hard to miss -- complexes throughout Europe and Asia, bases in Africa have been far better hidden.  And if you listened only to AFRICOM officials, you might even assume that the U.S. military’s footprint in Africa will soon be eclipsed by that of the Chinese or the Russians. 
Highly classified internal AFRICOM files offer a radically different picture.  A set of previously secret documents, obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act, offers clear evidence of a remarkable, far-ranging, and expanding network of outposts strung across the continent.  In official plans for operations in 2015 that were drafted and issued the year before, Africa Command lists 36 U.S. outposts scattered across 24 African countries.  These include low-profile locations -- from Kenya to South Sudan to a shadowy Libyan airfield -- that have never previously been mentioned in published reports.  Today, according to an AFRICOM spokesperson, the number of these sites has actually swelled to 46, including “15 enduring locations.”  The newly disclosed numbers and redacted documents contradict more than a decade’s worth of dissembling by U.S. Africa Command and shed new light on a constellation of bases integral to expanding U.S. military operations on the African continent and in the Middle East.

 A map of U.S. military bases -- forward operating sites, cooperative security locations, and contingency locations -- across the African continent in 2014 from declassified AFRICOM planning documents (Nick Turse/TomDispatch).
A Constellation of Bases
AFRICOM failed to respond to repeated requests for further information about the 46 bases, outposts, and staging areas currently dotting the continent.  Nonetheless, the newly disclosed 2015 plans offer unique insights into the wide-ranging network of outposts, a constellation of bases that already provided the U.S. military with unprecedented continental reach.
Those documents divide U.S. bases into three categories: forward operating sites (FOSes), cooperative security locations (CSLs), and contingency locations (CLs).  “In total, [the fiscal year 20]15 proposed posture will be 2 FOSes, 10 CSLs, and 22 CLs” state the documents.  By spring 2015, the number of CSLs had already increased to 11, according to then-AFRICOM chief General David Rodriguez, in order to allow U.S. crisis-response forces to reach potential hot spots in West Africa.  An appendix to the plan, also obtained by TomDispatch, actually lists 23 CLs, not 22.  Another appendix mentions one additional contingency location.
These outposts -- of which forward operating sites are the most permanent and contingency locations the least so -- form the backbone of U.S. military operations on the continent and have been expanding at a rapid rate, particularly since the September 2012 attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.  The plans also indicate that the U.S. military regularly juggles locations, shuttering sites and opening others, while upgrading contingency locations to cooperative security locations in response to changing conditions like, according to the documents, “increased threats emanating from the East, North-West, and Central regions” of the continent.
AFRICOM’s 2017 posture statement notes, for example, a recent round of changes to the command’s inventory of posts.  The document explains that the U.S. military “closed five contingency locations and designated seven new contingency locations on the continent due to shifting requirements and identified gaps in our ability to counter threats and support ongoing operations.”  Today, according to AFRICOM spokesman Chuck Prichard, the total number of sites has jumped from the 36 cited in the 2015 plans to 46 -- a network now consisting of two forward operating sites, 13 cooperative security locations, and 31 contingency locations.
Location, Location, Location
AFRICOM’s sprawling network of bases is crucial to its continent-wide strategy of training the militaries of African proxies and allies and conducting a multi-front campaign aimed at combating a disparate and spreading collection of terror groups.  The command’s major areas of effort involve: a shadow war against the militant group al-Shabaab in Somalia (a long-term campaign, ratcheting up in the Trump era, with no end in sight); attempts to contain the endless fallout from the 2011 U.S. and allied military intervention that ousted Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi (a long-term effort with no end in sight); the neutralizing of “violent extremist organizations” across northwest Africa, the lands of the Sahel and Maghreb (a long-term effort with no end in sight); the degradation of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin nations of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad (a long-term effort -- to the tune of $156 million last year alone in support of regional proxies there -- with no end in sight); countering piracy in the Gulf of Guinea (a long-term effort with no end in sight), and winding down the wildly expensive effort to eliminate Joseph Kony and his murderous Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa (both live on, despite a long-term U.S. effort). 
The U.S. military’s multiplying outposts are also likely to prove vital to the Trump administration’s expanding wars in the Middle East.  African bases have long been essential, for instance, to Washington’s ongoing shadow war in Yemen, which has seen a significant increase in drone strikes under the Trump administration.  They have also been integral to operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, where a substantial (and deadly) uptick in U.S. airpower (and civilian casualties) has been evident in recent months.
In 2015, AFRICOM spokesman Anthony Falvo noted that the command’s “strategic posture and presence are premised on the concept of a tailored, flexible, light footprint that leverages and supports the posture and presence of partners and is supported by expeditionary infrastructure.” The declassified secret documents explicitly state that America’s network of African bases is neither insignificant nor provisional.  “USAFRICOM’s posture requires a network of enduring and non-enduring locations across the continent,” say the 2015 plans.  “A developed network of FOSes, CSLs, and non-enduring CLs in key countries... is necessary to support the command’s operations and engagements.”
According to the files, AFRICOM’s two forward operating sites are Djibouti’s Camp Lemonnier and a base on the United Kingdom’s Ascension Island off the west coast of Africa.  Described as “enduring locations” with a sustained troop presence and “U.S.-owned real property,” they serve as hubs for staging missions across the continent and for supplying the growing network of outposts there. 
Lemonnier, the crown jewel of America’s African bases, has expanded from 88 acres to about 600 acres since 2002, and in those years, the number of personnel there has increased exponentially as well. “Camp Lemonnier serves as a hub for multiple operations and security cooperation activities,” reads AFRICOM’s 2017 posture statement.  “This base is essential to U.S. efforts in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.”  Indeed, the formerly secret documents note that the base supports “U.S operations in Somalia CT [counterterrorism], Yemen CT, Gulf of Aden (counter-piracy), and a wide range of Security Assistance activities and programs throughout the region.”
In 2015, when he announced the increase in cooperative security locations, then-AFRICOM chief David Rodriguez mentioned Senegal, Ghana, and Gabon as staging areas for the command’s rapid reaction forces.  Last June, outgoing U.S. Army Africa commander Major General Darryl Williams drew attention to a CSL in Uganda and one being set up in Botswana, adding, “We have very austere, lean, lily pads, if you will, all over Africa now.” 
CSL Entebbe in Uganda has, for example, long been an important air base for American forces in Africa, serving as a hub for surveillance aircraft.  It also proved integral to Operation Oaken Steel, the July 2016 rapid deployment of troops to the U.S. Embassy in Juba, South Sudan, as that failed state (and failed U.S. nation-building effort) sank into yet more violence. 
Libreville, Gabon, is listed in the documents as a “proposed CSL,” but was actually used in 2014 and 2015 as a key base for Operation Echo Casemate, the joint U.S.-French-African military response to unrest in the Central African Republic.
AFRICOM’s 2015 plan also lists cooperative security locations in Accra, Ghana; Gaborone, Botswana; Dakar, Senegal; Douala, Cameroon; Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; and Mombasa, Kenya.  While officially defined by the military as temporary locales capable of being scaled up for larger operations, any of these CSLs in Africa “may also function as a major logistics hub,” according to the documents.
Contingency Plans 
The formerly secret AFRICOM files note that the command has designated five contingency locations as “semi-permanent,” 13 as “temporary,” and four as “initial.”  These include a number of sites that have never previously been disclosed, including outposts in several countries that were actually at war when the documents were created.  Listed among the CLs, for instance, is one in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, already in the midst of an ongoing civil war in 2014; one in Bangui, the capital of the periodically unstable Central African Republic; and another in Al-Wigh, a Saharan airfield in southern Libya located near that country’s borders with Niger, Chad, and Algeria.
Officially classified as “non-enduring” locations, CLs are nonetheless among the most integral sites for U.S. operations on the continent.  Today, according to AFRICOM’s Prichard, the 31 contingency locations provide “access to support partners, counter threats, and protect U.S. interests in East, North, and West Africa.”
AFRICOM did not provide the specific locations of the current crop of CLs, stating only that they “strive to increase access in crucial areas.” The 2015 plans, however, provide ample detail on the areas that were most important to the command at that time.  One such site is Camp Simba in Manda Bay, Kenya, also mentioned in a 2013 internal Pentagon study on secret drone operations in Somalia and Yemen.  At least two manned surveillance aircraft were based there at the time. 
Chabelley Airfield in Djibouti is also mentioned in AFRICOM’s 2015 plan.  Once a spartan French Foreign Legion post, it has undergone substantial expansion in recent years as U.S. drone operations in that country were moved from Camp Lemonnier to this more remote location.  It soon became a regional hub for unmanned aircraft not just for Africa but also for the Middle East.  By the beginning of October 2015, for example, drones flown from Chabelley had already logged more than 24,000 hours of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions and were also, according to the Air Force, “responsible for the neutralization of 69 enemy fighters, including five high-valued individuals” in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 
AFRICOM’s inventory of CLs also includes sites in Nzara, South Sudan; Arlit, Niger; both Bamako and Gao, Mali; Kasenyi, Uganda; Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles; Monrovia, Liberia; Ouassa and Nema, Mauritania; Faya Largeau, Chad; Bujumbura, Burundi; Lakipia, the site of a Kenyan Air Force base; and another Kenyan airfield at Wajir that was upgraded and expanded by the U.S. Navy earlier in this decade, as well as an outpost in Arba Minch, Ethiopia, that was reportedly shuttered in 2015 after nearly five years of operation.
A longtime contingency location in Niamey, the capital of Niger, has seen marked growth in recent years as has a more remote location, a Nigerien military base at Agadez, listed among the “proposed” CSLs in the AFRICOM documents.  The U.S. is, in fact, pouring $100 million into building up the base, according to a 2016 investigation by the Intercept.  N'Djamena, Chad, the site of yet another “proposed CSL,” has actually been used by the U.S. military for years.  Troops and a drone were dispatched there in 2014 to aid in operations against Boko Haram and “base camp facilities” were constructed there, too. 
The list of proposed CLs also includes sites in Berbera, a town in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, and in Mogadishu, the capital of neighboring Somalia (another locale used by American troops for years), as well as the towns of Baidoa and Bosaso.  These or other outposts are likely to play increasingly important roles as the Trump administration ramps up its military activities in Somalia, the long-failed state that saw 18 U.S. personnel killed in the disastrous “Black Hawk Down” mission of 1993.   Last month, for instance, President Trump relaxed rules aimed at preventing civilian casualties when the U.S. conducts drone strikes and commando raids in that country and so laid the foundation for a future escalation of the war against al-Shabaab there.  This month, AFRICOM confirmed that dozens of soldiers from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, a storied light infantry unit, would be deployed to that same country in order to train local forces to, as a spokesperson put it, “better fight” al-Shabaab.
Many other sites previously identified as U.S. outposts or staging areas are not listed in AFRICOM’s 2015 plans, such as bases in DjemaSam Ouandja, and Obo in the Central African Republic that were revealed, in recent years, by the Washington Post.  Also missing is a newer drone base in Garoua, Cameroon, not to mention that Tunisian air base where the U.S. has been flying drones, according to AFRICOM’s Waldhauser, for quite some time.”  
Some bases may have been shuttered, while others may not yet have been put in service when the documents were produced.  Ultimately, the reasons that these and many other previously identified bases are not included in the redacted secret files are unclear due to AFRICOM’s refusal to offer comment, clarification, or additional information on the locations of its bases.    
Base Desires
“Just as the U.S. pursues strategic interests in Africa, international competitors, including China and Russia, are doing the same,” laments AFRICOM in its 2017 posture statement. “We continue to see international competitors engage with African partners in a manner contrary to the international norms of transparency.” 
Since it was established as an independent command in 2008, however, AFRICOM itself has been anything but transparent about its activities on the continent.  The command’s physical footprint may, in fact, have been its most jealously guarded secret.  Today, thanks to AFRICOM’s own internal documents, that secret is out and with AFRICOM’s admission that it currently maintains “15 enduring locations,” the long-peddled fiction of a combatant command with just one base in its area of operations has been laid to rest.
“Because of the size of Africa, because of the time and space and the distances, when it comes to special crisis-response-type activities, we need access in various places on the continent,” said AFRICOM chief Waldhauser during his March press conference.  These “various places” have also been integral to escalating American shadow wars, including a full-scale air campaign against the Islamic State in Libya, dubbed Operation Odyssey Lightning, which ended late last year, and ongoing intelligence-gathering missions and a continued U.S. troop presence in that country; drone assassinations and increased troop deployments in Somalia to counter al-Shabaab; and increasing engagement in a proxy war against Boko Haram militants in the Lake Chad region of Central Africa.  For these and many more barely noticed U.S. military missions, America’s sprawling, ever-expanding network of bases provides the crucial infrastructure for cross-continental combat by U.S. and allied forces, a low-profile support system for war-making in Africa and beyond.
Without its wide-ranging constellation of bases, it would be nearly impossible for the U.S. to carry out ceaseless low-profile military activities across the continent.  As a result, AFRICOM continues to prefer shadows to sunlight.  While the command provided figures on the total number of U.S. military bases, outposts, and staging areas in Africa, its spokespeople failed to respond to repeated requests to provide locations for any of the 46 current sites.  While the whereabouts of the new outposts may still be secret, there’s little doubt as to the trajectory of America’s African footprint, which has increased by 10 locations -- a 28% jump -- in just over two years. 
America’s “enduring” African bases “give the United States options in the event of crisis and enable partner capacity building,” according to AFRICOM’s Chuck Prichard.  They have also played a vital role in conflicts from Yemen to Iraq, Nigeria to Somalia.  With the Trump administration escalating its wars in Africa and the Middle East, and the potential for more crises -- from catastrophic famines to spreading wars -- on the horizon, there’s every reason to believe the U.S. military’s footprint on the continent will continue to evolve, expand, and enlarge in the years ahead, outpost by outpost and base by base.

11 Reasons Why U.S. Economic Growth Is The Worst That It Has Been In 3 Years

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By Michael Snyder

Those that were predicting that the U.S. economy would be flying high by now have been proven wrong.  U.S. GDP grew at the worst rate in three years during the first quarter of 2017, and many are wondering if this is the beginning of a major economic slowdown.  Of course when we are dealing with the official numbers that the federal government puts out, it is important to acknowledge that they are highly manipulated.  There are many that have correctly pointed out to me that if the numbers were not being doctored that they would show that we are still in a recession.  In fact, John Williams of has shown that if honest numbers were being used that U.S. GDP growth would have been consistently negative going all the way back to 2005.  So I definitely don’t have any argument with those that claim that we are actually in a recession right now.  But even if we take the official numbers that the federal government puts out at face value, they are definitely very ugly
Economic growth slowed in the first quarter to its slowest pace in three years as sluggish consumer spending and business stockpiling offset solid business investment. Many economists write off the weak performance as a byproduct of temporary blips and expect healthy growth in 2017.
The nation’s gross domestic product — the value of all goods and services produced in the USA — increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.7%, the Commerce Department said Friday, below the tepid 2.1% pace clocked both in the fourth quarter and as an average throughout the nearly 8-year-old recovery. Economists expected a 1% increase in output, according to a Bloomberg survey.
Even if you want to assume that it is a legitimate number, 0.7 percent economic growth is essentially stall speed, and this follows a year when the U.S. economy grew at a rate of just 1.6 percent.
So why is this happening?
Of course the “experts” in the mainstream media are blaming all sorts of temporary factors
Economists blamed the weather. It was too warm this time around, rather than too cold, which is the usual explanation for Q1 debacles.
And they blamed the IRS refund checks that had been delayed due to last year’s spectacular identity theft problem. Everyone blamed everything on these delayed refund checks, including the auto industry and the restaurant industry. But by mid-February, a veritable tsunami of checks went out, and by the end of February, the IRS was pretty much caught up. So March should have been awash in consumer spending. But no. So we’ll patiently wait for that miracle to happen in second quarter.
They always want us to think that “boom times” for the U.S. economy are right around the corner, but those “boom times” have never materialized since the end of the last financial crisis.
Instead, we have had year after year of economic malaise and stagnation, and it looks like 2017 is going to continue that trend.  The following are 11 reasons why U.S. economic growth is the worst that it has been in 3 years…
#1 The weak economic growth in the first quarter was the continuation of a long-term trend.  Barack Obama was the only president in history not to have a single year when the U.S. economy grew by at least 3 percent, and this is now the fourth time in the last six quarters when economic growth has been less than 2 percent on an annualized basis.  So essentially this latest number signals that our long-term economic decline is continuing.
#2 Consumer spending drives the U.S. economy more than anything else, and at this point most U.S. consumers are tapped out.  In fact, CBS News has reported that three-fourths of all U.S. consumers have to “scramble to cover their living costs” each month.
#3 The job market appears to be slowing.  The U.S. economy only added about 98,000 jobs in March, and that was approximately half of what most analysts were expecting.
#4 The flow of credit appears to be slowing as well.  In fact, this is the first time since the last recession when there has been no growth for commercial and industrial lending for at least six months.
#5 Last month, U.S. factory output dropped at the fastest pace that we have witnessed in more than two years.
#6 We are in the midst of the worst “retail apocalypse” in U.S. history.  The number of retailers that has filed for bankruptcy has already surpassed the total for the entire year of 2016, and at the current rate we will smash the previous all-time record for store closings in a year by nearly 2,000.
#7 The auto industry is also experiencing a great deal of stress.  This has been the worst year for U.S. automakers since the last recession, and seven out of the eight largest fell short of their sales projections in March.
#8 Used vehicle prices are falling “dramatically”, and Morgan Stanley is now projecting that used vehicle prices “could crash by up to 50%” over the next several years.
#9 Commercial bankruptcies are rising at the fastest pace since the last recession.
#10 Consumer bankruptcies are rising at the fastest pace since the last recession.
#11 The student loan bubble is starting to burst.  It is being reported that 27 percent of all student loans are already in default, and some analysts expect that number to go much higher.
And of course some areas of the country are being harder hit than others.  The following comes from CNBC
Four states have not yet fully recovered from the Great Recession. As of the third quarter of last year, the latest data available, the economies of Louisiana, Wyoming, Connecticut and Alaska were still smaller than when the recession ended in June 2009.
Other states that have recovered have seen their economic recoveries stall out. Those include Minnesota, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and West Virginia.
We should be thankful that we are not experiencing a full-blown economic meltdown just yet, but it is undeniable that our long-term economic decline continues to roll along.
And without a doubt the storm clouds are building on the horizon, and many believe that the next major economic downturn will begin in the not too distant future.

A new stage in the repudiation of international law

US bombings in Syria and Afghanistan

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By Mike Head 

The Trump administration’s unprovoked April 7 cruise missile attack on Syria, followed closely by the dropping of the largest non-nuclear weapon in its arsenal on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, signals a new period of breakdown in international law.
Since the first Gulf War of 1990–91, the ever-greater assertion of US militarism by successive presidents—George H. W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama and Trump—has brought humanity to the point where the rules of war adopted after the massive casualties and horrors of the last world war are being nakedly flouted.
The Trump administration has made no attempt whatsoever to provide legal pretexts for its bombardments. As made explicit by the statements of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, the primary purpose of the Syrian and Afghanistan attacks was to demonstrate that there is no limit to the level of violence that the United States is prepared to unleash, completely unilaterally, in pursuit of the interests of American imperialism.
Blatant aggression
The Pentagon’s attack on Syria clearly defied international law. The UN Charter adopted in 1945, after two world wars, provides for only two justifications for the use of military force: authorisation by the UN Security Council or self-defence after an armed attack has occurred. No Security Council resolutions sanctioned the US attacks, and Washington did not try to claim they were necessary for self-defence.
At the UN Security Council meeting called to discuss the US attack, Washington and its allies flatly dismissed the Syrian government’s denial of responsibility for the alleged use of chemical weapons, along with the fact that US-backed forces inside Syria have used such weapons in the past. Without any evidence, the US blamed the Syrian government, as in Ghouta in 2013.
Syria’s ambassador to the UN called the missile strikes a “flagrant act of aggression,” in violation “of the charter of the United Nations as well as all international norms and laws.” In response, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley contemptuously declared: “When the international community consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action.”
In other words, the US insists it has the right to wage aggressive war against any country it chooses, unless the “international community” agrees to carry out “its duty”—in other words, US diktats.
Article 2(4) of the UN Charter prohibits “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” Article 51 exempts only “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”
Even then, Article 2(7) specifies: “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorise the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.” That would include an internal gas attack by a government, even if proven.
Marjorie Cohn, professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, wrote: “Syria had not attacked the United States or any other country before Trump ordered the missile strike... So, Trump committed an illegal act of aggression against Syria when he lobbed his missiles.”
Even if the Syrian government did carry out a chemical weapons attack, that would not legally justify the US missile strike. Notre Dame law professor Mary Ellen O’Connell noted: “The use of chemical weapons within Syria is not an armed attack on the United States.”
The US president and his officials are guilty of the primary crime for which leading Nazis were tried at the Nuremberg tribunal in 1946: conducting a war of aggression. Article 6(a) of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, upon which the Nuremberg prosecution was based, defined as “crimes against peace” the “planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing.”
Equally significant is the ready acceptance of US war crimes by other imperialist powers—including Germany, France and Britain. This signals their readiness to follow the US precedent in pursuit of their own interests.
Illegal weapon
Just as illegal was dropping the huge 22,000-pound Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb (referred to by the US military as the “Mother Of All Bombs”), supposedly on tunnels built by “Islamic State forces” near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
The use of the largest explosive device America has utilised since demolishing Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs in World War II was in blatant disregard for civilian casualties.
Under international humanitarian law (IHL), any military operations, even if sanctioned by the UN, must obey the rules of “necessity” and “proportionality.” First, the scale of the military force must be necessary to deal with the purported threat.
Second, the rule of proportionality prohibits “an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”
Third, IHL forbids the use, or threat of use, of any weapon or tactic when the primary purpose of the operation is to terrorise the civilian population.
Clearly, the use of the MOAB was disproportionate to any threat posed by the relatively small number of ISIS fighters claimed to be in the region. It was designed to terrorise the people of Afghanistan and the world.
This is a war crime despite the fact that in Afghanistan, the US operates militarily under the cloak of the fraudulent “war on terror” that was rubberstamped by the UN in 2001 following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in America. UN Security Council resolution 1373 required states to combat terrorism “by all means,” effectively giving the US a licence to pursue its predatory bid to take control of the resource-rich and strategically vital regions of the Middle East and Central Asia.
A quarter century of criminal wars
The Trump administration’s belligerent “America First” doctrine takes to a new level the drive by US imperialism to use its global military supremacy to claw back the hegemony that it established in the wake of its victories over its main rivals—Germany and Japan—in World War II.
Over the past quarter century, in the wake of the liquidation of the Soviet Union, the US and other imperialist powers have already arrogated to themselves the so-called right to militarily attack, invade or overturn governments in other countries.
In the first Gulf War assault on Iraq, the George H. W. Bush administration obtained an initial fig leaf for its invasion of Iraq on the fraudulent pretext of defending “little Kuwait.” Assisted by Russia’s complicity and China’s abstention, Washington secured a UN Security Council resolution that empowered states to use “all necessary means” to force Iraq out of Kuwait. This rapidly became a green light for a murderous assault that went far beyond that remit, leading to the partial dismemberment of Iraq by a US-led coalition.
The UN Security Council, a cabal dominated by the major imperialist powers, proved itself to be a clearinghouse for war. Nevertheless, in order to free themselves from any, even formal, legal constraints, the US and its allies brought forward two doctrines to justify overturning the post-World War II prohibition of aggressive wars: “humanitarian” interventions and “preemptive self-defence.”
During the NATO attacks in Kosovo and other parts of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the Clinton administration operated illegally outside the UN, via the NATO alliance. Having helped foment the breakup of Yugoslavia, the US adopted a phony “humanitarian” mask, claiming to be protecting minorities from Serbian aggression, yet was unable to push an authorising resolution through the UN Security Council.
In 2005, an attempt was made to legalise such “humanitarian” military operations and override Article 2(7) of the UN Charter banning domestic interventions. The US and its allies, notably Britain, orchestrated a UN General Assembly “responsibility to protect” resolution, nominally to prevent governments committing “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” However, the use of force for such purposes must still be approved by the UN Security Council.
In the latest attack in Syria, for all President Trump’s claim to be motivated by the plight of “beautiful babies,” the US acted alone, without even bothering to seek a UN rubber stamp.
The doctrine of “preemptive war,” which is explicitly excluded by the UN Charter, was promulgated by the Bush White House in 2002. The criminality of this credo was underscored in March 2003 with the invasion of Iraq, based on lies about “weapons of mass destruction.”
The Bush doctrine overturned the UN Charter’s insistence that self-defence was confined to responding to an armed attack that had already occurred. The US claimed the right to attack any state that it considered to have the potential to pose a danger at some point in the future.
The invasion of Iraq resulted in the deaths of countless thousands of innocent people and set in motion catastrophic processes that have engulfed the Middle East ever since. It was conducted by the US and its closest allies (“the coalition of the willing”) in defiance of their inability to obtain a prior UN Security Council vote of authorisation. The war was launched despite the protests of millions of people, including hundreds of lawyers and legal academics who denounced it as an illegal war of aggression.
The bipartisan nature of this criminality was demonstrated by President Obama’s December 2009 speech—given, ironically, in acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize—in which he embraced the Bush doctrine. Obama declared the exclusive right of the US to conduct “preventative wars” against any identified “threats” to Washington’s interests. In effect, Obama sought to enunciate a wider doctrine to sanctify wars of aggression. He declared: “Nations will continue to find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”
In carrying out the latest attack on Syria, the Trump administration cast aside any pretence of self-defence against a threat by the Syrian regime—either at the time or in the future—and thus did not bother to appeal to the doctrine of pre-emptive war used by Bush and Obama.
Trump’s presidency represents both a continuation and a qualitative deepening of the illegal use of military force by US imperialism. All pretences of abiding by international law have been swept aside in order to assert Washington’s untrammeled right to use its military arsenal wherever and whenever it chooses.
With the breakdown of the post-World War II legal framework, the danger of another world war is growing. The WSWS warned in a Perspective on the attack on Syria: “In the effort to reverse the long-term decline of American capitalism, the US ruling class has bombed or invaded one country after the next in regional conflicts that are rapidly developing into a confrontation with its larger rivals, including China and Russia.”
As Leon Trotsky forewarned in 1934, writing in the wake of the collapse of the UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations, the irresolvable contradictions of the global capitalist nation-state system are again “bringing humanity face to face with the volcanic eruption of American imperialism.”

Trump’s FCC chairman issues plan to overturn 2015 “net neutrality” rules

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By Kevin Reed

The Trump administration’s Federal Communication Commission (FCC) chairman, Ajit Pai, released a draft proposal on Thursday for overturning net neutrality regulations that the agency adopted in 2015. Net neutrality is the principle that the transmission of data over the Internet must be treated equally, without regard to content, purpose or originating source.
Under the terms of the 2015 Obama-era FCC “Open Internet Order,” companies that own the infrastructure and provide broadband Internet cable and wireless services cannot slow, block or prioritize online content. Additionally, they cannot provide faster delivery of content from companies that are willing to pay more for it.
In its notice of rule changes entitled “Restoring Internet Freedom,” the FCC draft proposal calls for an end to the 2015 “regulatory approach that gives government control of the Internet and to restore the market-based policies necessary to preserve the future of Internet Freedom …” In other words, for the Trump administration a “free and open Internet” is synonymous with removing any restrictions on corporations and has nothing to do with the access and privacy issues confronting the public.
At the heart of the draft proposal is elimination of what is known as Title II public utility-style regulation of broadband Internet Service Providers (IPSs). Under Title II rules, telecommunications giants like Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner, Charter/Spectrum and Comcast are regulated as “common carrier services.” This means that their policies and practices are subject to FCC review based on “just and reasonable” and “public good” considerations.
The FCC’s new draft proposal is the antithesis of such considerations and amounts to a brief for the corporate interests of the telecom monopolies that control more than three-quarters of all Internet connections in the United States. Through their mouthpiece, Ajit Pai, the corporations that control public access to information are planning to “throttle” Internet content, increase monthly service fees, sell consumer data and engage in the content creation business as they see fit.
By attacking the Title II framework of the 2015 regulations, the Republican-controlled FCC is exploiting the contradiction between the regulatory framework of the US government and the vast expansion of the Internet and telecommunications infrastructure of the past twenty-five years. Title II dates back to the 1930s and the Roosevelt era, and is based on the land-line telephone technology of that period.
With the convergence of the content and delivery systems of the Internet—embodied in the emergence of companies like Netflix, Apple, Google and Amazon—as well as the merger of cable companies like Comcast and AT&T with media organizations like NBC and CNN, there is ferocious corporate competition for control of both digital content and streaming delivery as both are displacing the traditional broadcast and cable television models.
Another aspect of FCC chairman Pai’s plan calls for the transfer of policing of telecom industry privacy practices from the FCC to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulatory jurisdiction, a move widely recognized as essentially ending oversight. Net neutrality experts have pointed out that enforcement and prevention of privacy violations without FCC oversight is an absurdity, since the FTC regime only pursues criminal activity after it has already occurred.
In preparation for the release of the FCC draft, Pai gave a speech on Wednesday at the Newseum in Washington, DC where he unabashedly spoke as a representative of telecom corporate interests. Pai resorted to McCarthyite-style accusations by claiming that the 2015 framework—in fact a very weak set of government regulations—was based on a plan “to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.”
Kevin Werbach, an expert on Internet issues from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, responded, telling Fortune, “Pai is clearly trying to throw some red meat to the right-wing base in order to counter the broad popular support for open Internet protections. … That’s not the job for the head of an independent administrative agency.”
The attack on net neutrality comes on the heels of the passage by Congress of a joint resolution ending restrictions on the ability of ISPs to sell consumer privacy data to marketing companies. These measures are further evidence that the American government—the Trump administration and the Democrats as well as Republicans—are committed to removing any restriction on the profitmaking endeavors of the banks, big businesses and wealthy elite and returning society to conditions that existed prior to the 1930s.

Ex-NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg: 'Clean Coal' Is BS, but Feds Should 'Stay Out of the Way' on Climate

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By Sharon Kelly

At a Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) summit in New York City this week, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg was blunt about the prospects for so-called “clean coal.”
“Carbon capture is total bullshit,” he told the crowd of several hundred top energy industry executives and financiers. “This is a figment of imagination.”
“It's just not possible,” Bloomberg added, describing the string of failures, setbacks, and allegations of cover-ups at Southern Company's Kemper plant in Mississippi, which launched to great fanfare as a model for capturing carbon emissions from coal plants and pumping them into older oil wells with the goal of pushing more oil out of the ground. The Kemper plant, company officials admitted in February, is not economically viable as a coal-fired power plant.

Picking Fossil Fuel Favorites

But while Bloomberg, a billionaire recently ranked as the ninth-wealthiest man in the world, has long fought against the pollution from coal-fired electrical plants, personally pouring $80 million into the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign, he has also pushed for acceptance of another fossil fuel, natural gas. Scientists have warned natural gas could be even worse for the climate because of the country's leaky pipeline infrastructure and the carbon emissions from burning natural gas, which though lower than coal, remain significant.
“If we’re going to win the war on coal, we need to have natural gas in our arsenal,” Bloomberg writes in his new book, Climate of Hope. “Using the best practices and done correctly, most of the negative effects of gas extraction can be dramatically minimized.”
That's been a favorite position of politicians, like former President Obama, who say they support an “all of the above” approach to energy.

Limits of Natural Gas

However, as ThinkProgress' Joe Romm pointed out last year, natural gas not only competes against coal, it also competes against renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
“That means even a very low leakage rate wipes out the climate benefit of fracking,” Romm wrote. “Indeed, researchers confirmed in 2014 that  —  even if methane leakage were zero percent  —  'increased natural gas use for electricity will not substantially reduce U.S. GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions, and by delaying deployment of renewable energy technologies, may actually exacerbate the climate change problem in the long term.'”
The problem is, leakage rates have not been very low, they've been quite high, researchers warn. In a peer-reviewed paper published last year, Cornell professor Robert Howarth found that methane leaks from shale gas extraction were triple or quadruple the 3.2 percent leak rates that would make natural gas worse than coal for the climate.
Controlling those methane leaks requires federal or state regulation — and the prospects for federal regulation just got a lot more slim with the arrival of the Trump administration, which announced last month that it would no longer even ask gas companies to report exactly how much gas might be leaking from their equipment and properties.

Climate Regulations?

Asked at the BNEF The Future of Energy summit what the federal government can do to combat climate change, Bloomberg suggested that it could encourage people in the U.S. and abroad to be more fuel efficient but primarily he had one suggestion — and it wasn't regulating emissions.
“Stay out of the way,” he said.
Bloomberg's Climate of Hope co-author, Carl Pope, spoke alongside Bloomberg at The Future of Energy Summit. Pope, who ran the Sierra Club from 1992 to 2010 and was embroiled in a major scandal after Time revealed in 2012 that he had secretly accepted $26 million for the group from the natural gas drilling company Chesapeake Energy and its then-CEOAubrey McClendon, rejected the notion that Bloomberg's approach was too easy on the feds.
“We don't let the federal government off the hook in the book,” said Pope.

Frack Freely

While the co-authors see little role for federal regulations, Bloomberg has also previously decried state efforts to police the natural gas industry.
“It's a misguided policy,” Bloomberg told The Wall Street Journal after New York state governor Andrew Cuomo announced he would ban fracking for shale gas in the state. “To keep coal-fired power plants in upstate New York and not frack doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Three U.S. states have banned fracking as of April, when Maryland's law was signed. But state environmental regulators have struggled to keep pace with the shale gas rush and the drilling industry's cycles of boom and bust.
In Climate of Hope, Bloomberg continues his support for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas, arguing that it should only be off limits in a few, vulnerable places.
“Fracking, like any extraction technique, requires safeguards, and drilling shouldn’t be allowed everywhere, including sensitive areas like watersheds,” he writes. “But fracking allows for the most efficient extraction of natural gas, and as long as we need natural gas, it makes sense to frack.”
Bloomberg adds that “gas companies haven’t — and on their own won’t — uniformly adopt these best practices” to control methane leaks. However, other than saying that his foundation has funded an environmental group to “develop a regulatory framework” — one that hasn't been implemented in the real world — to control emissions, the book is silent on what role state or federal regulators might have on controlling methane leaks or policing the drilling and fracking industry.
And that hands-off approach leaves an open question: Whether “clean burning natural gas,” as drilling companies like to call it, is like “clean coal” — a figment of the imagination.