Monday, April 21, 2008

Oil Running Out as Prime Energy Source: World Poll

Go to Original
By Deborah Zabarenko

Washington - Most people believe oil is running out and governments need to find another fuel, but Americans are alone in thinking their leaders are out of touch with reality on this issue, an international poll said on Sunday.

On average, 70 percent of respondents in 15 countries and the Palestinian territories said they thought oil supplies had peaked. Only 22 percent of the nearly 15,000 respondents in nations ranging from China to Mexico believed enough new oil would be found to keep it a primary fuel source.

"What's most striking is there's such a widespread consensus around the world that oil is running out and governments need to make a real effort to find new sources of energy," said Steven Kull, director of, a global research organization that conducted the poll.

Concerns over climate change, which is spurred by emissions from fossil fuels including oil, also were a factor among respondents, Kull said.

The current tightening of the oil market is not temporary but will continue and the price of oil will rise substantially, most respondents said.

"They think it's just going to keep going higher and a fundamental adaptation is necessary," Kull said in a telephone interview.

In the United States, the world's biggest oil consumer and among the biggest emitters of climate-warming pollution from fossil fuel use, 76 percent of respondents said oil is running out, but most believed the U.S. government mistakenly assumes there would be enough to keep oil a main source of fuel.

US Government "Not Facing Reality"

"Americans perceive that the government is not facing reality," Kull said.

The United States is alone among major industrialized nations in rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to limit greenhouse gas emissions that exacerbate global warming.

Last week, President George W. Bush said U.S. greenhouse emissions, especially carbon dioxide spewed by the burning of fossil fuels like oil, would stop growing by 2025 but gave no details on how this would come about.

The announcement drew sharp criticism from environmental groups. Others pointed out this means emissions will continue to grow for the next 17 years.

Only in Nigeria did a majority - 53 percent - believe enough new oil would be found to keep it a primary energy source, a reflection of its status as a major oil exporter and member of OPEC.

The poll was conducted in China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Nigeria, Russia, Mexico, Britain, France, Iran, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Egypt, Turkey, South Korea and the Palestinian territories.

The margin of error varied from country to country, ranging from plus or minus 3 percentage points to plus or minus 4.5 percentage points, Kull said. involves research centers around the world, and the locations of these centers determined which countries were included in the poll. Kull noted that the poll included countries that make up 58 percent of the global population.

The project is managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland.

Fertilizer Price Hikes Are Pinching Farmers

Go to Original
By Jacob Adelman

Higher produce costs likely for consumers.

Los Angeles - Link Leaven's fertilizer bill has been growing faster than the lemons and avocados on his Ventura County farm.

Every week or so, when he orders another truckload of the nutrients, he's been getting hit with a price hike of up to 20 percent.

"It's like there's no end in sight. It's very scary," said Leaven, who pays $600 for a ton of some fertilizer mixes that he paid half as much for just six months ago.

Farmers across the country are seeing similar price increases caused by several factors, including the booming demand for fertilizer to produce animal feed for rapidly developing nations like India and China, where people are adopting diets richer in meat.

In the United States, high gasoline prices are prompting growers to plant fertilizer-dependent corn for the manufacture of ethanol fuel. High energy prices also have affected the availability of natural gas, which can be sold more profitably as fuel than as a key ingredient in the production of nitrogen-based fertilizers.

California Growers Hit

Midwestern growers of commodities such as corn and grain have been able to absorb the cost hikes as their crops fetched higher prices. But growers in California, the nation's leading agriculture state, have yet to see retail prices increase for the fruits and vegetables that dominate their farms.

In fact, farmers saw the average price of broccoli fall to about 23 cents a pound in February, down from 26 cents a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Lettuce prices also dropped about 3 cents to 13 cents a pound during the same period.

Along with soaring labor, water and fuel costs, increasing fertilizer costs have been draining farmers' savings and will probably lead to higher prices for fruits and vegetables to go with separate increases in meat, poultry and dairy products.

Jim Prevor, editor of Produce Business magazine, said some produce prices are already beginning to creep up due to fertilizer and other costs, but major increases won't be seen until farmers curtail crops that become too expensive to grow.

"Eventually it's going to have to change," Jack Vessey, a lettuce and spinach grower in San Diego County, said of prices.

Vessey said he's currently pushing for a price bump from distributors that buy from his farm.

In the Central Valley, almond, tomato and lettuce grower Mark Borba said the twofold price increase for some nutrients could lead him to cut production.

"At some point, when any manufacturing business finds their raw material costs exceeding the price of what they've produced, they will stop," he said.

U.S. farmers paid about $322 a ton for fertilizer in April 2007, the most recent figures available, up from $291 a ton a year earlier, according to the USDA.

The agency won't release its next set of annual figures until later this month, but its monthly fertilizer pricing index points to even more drastic increases.

Joe Burdullis, co-owner of Oxnard-based fertilizer supplier AG RX, said he's been receiving a constant stream of price-hike notices in recent months from dozens of manufacturers.

"We'll get four or five different price increases in any one day," said Burdullis, who has been supplying growers in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties for about 50 years. "I've never seen anything like this."

Not Enough Capacity

Fertilizer producers have been operating their factories at full bore to meet the growing demand, but there's not enough manufacturing capacity to bring down prices, said Charles Nekvasil, a spokesman for Deerfield, Ill.-based fertilizer producer CF Industries.

"It's supply and demand, and there hasn't been a lot of supply coming on the market," he said. "It's almost a bidding war."

Fertilizer prices also are being nudged higher by the heightened security costs paid by manufacturers to produce and ship ammonium nitrite, a fertilizer ingredient that can be used to make explosives, said Harry Vroomen, chief economist for the Washington, D.C.-based Fertilizer Institute.

California growers are feeling the pain and said it's only a matter of time until shoppers do, too.

"Budgets have to increase in order to keep doing what we're doing, and the hope is that on the retail end we can get it back," said Andy Hooper, who manages a farm that grows strawberries, celery and bell peppers in Ventura County. "The bottom line is the consumer's going to be paying more."

President Is Rebuffed on Program for Children

Go to Original
By Robert Pear

Washington - The Bush administration violated federal law last year when it restricted states' ability to provide health insurance to children of middle-income families, and its new policy is therefore unenforceable, lawyers from the Government Accountability Office said Friday.

The ruling strengthens the hand of at least 22 states, including New York and New Jersey, that already provide such coverage or want to do so. And it significantly reduces the chance that the new policy can be put into effect before President Bush leaves office in nine months.

At issue is the future of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, financed jointly by the federal government and the states. Congress last year twice passed bills to expand the popular program, and Mr. Bush vetoed both.

State officials of both parties say the policy, set forth in a letter to state health officials on Aug. 17, has stymied their efforts to cover more children at a time when the number of uninsured is rising and more families are experiencing economic hardship.

In a formal legal opinion Friday, the accountability office said the new policy "amounts to a marked departure" from a longstanding, settled interpretation of federal law. It is therefore a rule and, under a 1996 law, must be submitted to Congress for review before it can take effect, the opinion said.

But Jeff Nelligan, a spokesman for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said, "G.A.O.'s opinion does not change our conclusion that the Aug. 17 letter is still in effect."

The letter told states what steps they needed to take to be sure the children's health program would not displace or "crowd out" private coverage under group health plans. The White House cited the policy as a justification for rejecting a proposal by New York State to cover 70,000 additional youngsters.

What happens next is not clear. New York, New Jersey and several other states have filed lawsuits challenging the Bush administration policy. In addition, Congress may consider legislation to suspend the directive.

Deborah S. Bachrach, a deputy commissioner in the New York State Health Department, said, "The opinion from the Government Accountability Office vindicates our position that the federal government did not have authority to issue the Aug. 17 directive."

The 1996 law, the Congressional Review Act, was enacted to keep Congress informed about the rule-making activities of federal agencies. If Congress objects to a new rule, it can pass "a joint resolution of disapproval," which the president can sign or veto.

Under the Aug. 17 directive, states cannot expand the Children's Health Insurance Program to cover youngsters with family incomes over 250 percent of the federal poverty level ($53,000 for a family of four) unless they can prove that they already cover 95 percent of eligible children below twice the poverty level ($42,400).

Moreover, in such states, children who lose or drop private coverage must be uninsured for 12 months before they can enroll in the Children's Health Insurance Program, and co-payments in the public program must be similar to those in private plans.

The legal opinion was requested by Senators John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, and Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine. In view of it, they urged the administration to rescind the Aug. 17 directive.

The administration told states they must comply with the directive by August of this year or else they face "corrective action." Compliance could mean cutting back programs.

The Justice Department contends that the letter is "merely a general statement of policy with nonbinding effect," But Gary L. Kepplinger, general counsel of the accountability office, said administration officials had treated it as "a binding rule."

In Sadr City's new wall, shadows of Gaza, Vietnam

Aijaz Ahmad: Wall meant to partition Sadr City's residents is population control ahead of elections

Mugabe lashes out at "puppets" of Britain

Adam Habib: Zimbabwe's president manipulating anti-colonial sentiment to stay in power

Mosaic News - 4/18/08: World News from the Middle East

Inside USA - Rise of hate

We travel to Arkansas and Alabama to look at the rise of race hate groups in America.

Inside Story - Big oil gets bigger

Oil prices exceeding $117 a barrel, we ask how far it is likely to continue soaring.

Biologists join the race to create synthetic life

Go to Original
By Robin McKie

Researchers will gather in London this week to outline plans to promote one of the most audacious, and controversial, scientific ideas of the 21st century - synthetic biology.

The new discipline, established by scientists such as human genome pioneer Craig Venter, involves stripping microbes down to their basic genetic constituents so they can be reassembled and manipulated to create new life forms. These organisms can then be exploited to manufacture drugs and fuels or to act as bio-sensors inside the body.

However, some researchers warn that synthetic biology - which is accelerating at a dramatic pace - also poses dangers. In particular, they fear it may already be possible to create deadly pathogens, such as polio or smallpox viruses, from pieces of synthetic DNA ordered over the internet. In future, completely new - and highly dangerous - microbes could be made this way.

'The major biotechnology companies that sell these DNA segments are careful to try to monitor their sale,' said Dr Philipp Holliger, of Cambridge University's Laboratory of Molecular Biology. 'Nevertheless, it is clear we need to have this field properly monitored.'

The crucial point, said Holliger, who will be speaking at this week's conference, Engineering Life, is that 'scientists are now learning how to design life down to the last letter. We don't know enough to be sophisticated as yet but our knowledge is increasing all the time.'

Most scientists working on synthetic biology projects - including Holliger - say that their research is safe and stress its potential benefits. 'Synthetic biology represents a new approach to engineering,' said Professor Richard Kitney of Imperial College London, another speaker at the meeting, which will debate the risks and ethics of synthetic biology. 'It has brought us to the cusp of a new industrial revolution in which new fuels, drugs, medical treatments and sensors can be created from biological materials.'

One idea is the creation of organisms that could soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn it into hydrocarbon biofuels. In this way, synthetic life forms could play a major role in helping in the battle against global warming, it is claimed.

Engineering life is not new, scientists stress. It is the basis of the biotechnology and GM crop industries. But the technology involved in these disciplines is relatively crude. A single gene is inserted into a bacterium or plant which then churns out proteins made by that gene. By contrast, scientists working in synthetic biology strip down a bacterium's central genome - the DNA that directs its growth and development. Then they add new pieces of DNA to produce a microbe that can be tailored to do all sorts of different tasks. 'Essentially we are exploiting the leaps that have been made in understanding the different systems and processes that go inside an individual cell,' said Kitney.

It is a point backed by Professor John McCarthy, director of the Manchester Interdisciplinary Biocentre, at Manchester University. 'Novel circuitry has already been constructed inside a cell to generate biological devices that can act as sensors or which can help in the treatment of diseases such as malaria or the production of biofuels,' he said.

The Arrogance of the USA

Go to Original
By Enver Masud

The war ended with the toppling of Saddam’s statue, the Iraqis want them out, and now the occupiers, having destroyed much of Iraq, have the arrogance to ask Iraqis to pay for the occupation and reconstruction.

The Iraq war began with lies - weapons of mass destruction, mushroom cloud, Al Qaeda, and it ended with more lies.

Robert Fisk, veteran Middle East correspondent for the Independent, wrote: "a statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down on Wednesday, in the most staged photo-opportunity since Iwo Jima."

David Zucchino, writing in the Los Angeles Times on July 3, 2003, added:

"As the Iraqi regime was collapsing on April 9, 2003, Marines converged on Firdos Square in central Baghdad, site of an enormous statue of Saddam Hussein. It was a Marine colonel - not joyous Iraqi civilians, as was widely assumed from the TV images - who decided to topple the statue, the Army report said. And it was a quick-thinking Army psychological operations team that made it appear to be a spontaneous Iraqi undertaking."

The war ended on April 9, 2003. What followed is a brutal occupation fiercely resisted by Sunnis and Shias alike - as they struggle amongst themselves because of the power vacuum created by the disbanding of the Iraqi army, and the decapitation of Iraq’s government by elimination of its Baath party members.

And Iraqis want the U.S. out of Iraq.

Ibrahim Khalil, who took part in the toppling of Saddam’s statue five years ago, told reporters this Wednesday: "If history can take me back, I will kiss the statue of Saddam Hussein which I helped pull down."

Polls by the State Department and independent researchers show that Iraqis favor an immediate U.S. pullout.

ABC News reported on September 27, 2006 that according to a poll released by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, "Six in 10 Iraqis approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces, . . . Nearly eight in 10 say the U.S. presence in Iraq is provoking more conflict than it’s preventing".

Karen DeYoung, writing for the Washington Post on December 19, 2007, stated:

"Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of "occupying forces" as the key to national reconciliation, according to focus groups conducted for the U.S. military last month."

But the U.S. refuses to leave or even provide a timeline for leaving, and it keeps changing the goal posts.

Following testimony by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, the Bush administration is convinced that "actions by Iran, and not al-Qaeda, are the primary threat inside Iraq" from which Iraq must be protected.

Americans are fed up with this war that has cost the lives of 4000 plus U.S. military men and women, maimed and wounded many more, the final bill for which is estimated to be over $3 trillion (that’s about $10,000 for each U.S. citizen), but the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Senator John McCain, says the U.S. could be in Iraq for a 100 years.

Now after the illegal U.S. invasion - the "supreme international crime," Senator Carl Levin, during the Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on the Situation in Iraq with Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus, said Iraqis should pay for the U.S. occupation and reconstruction.

Anne Penketh, diplomatic editor for the Independent, wrote on October 27, 2006, that the Kuwaitis were still getting payouts for the deaths and destruction caused by the 1990 Iraqi invasion.

"The latest payments, totalling $417.8m (£220m), were made yesterday to governments and oil companies for losses and damages stemming from the Kuwaiti occupation, bringing the total paid out to more than $21bn (£11bn). The total claims that have been approved run to $52bn (£27.5bn) and will take many more years to complete."

Aren’t Iraqis, like the Kuwaitis, owed reparations by the aggressor?

The U.S. should be paying compensation for the 1.2 million Iraqis killed, countless others wounded and maimed, for the 1.6 million who have fled or been made refugees within their own country, and for the destruction it has caused.

And these numbers do not include the "500,000 children and old people killed by the US-UN anti-civilian sanctions in the 10 previous years."

Nor does it include the Iraqis killed during the first Gulf War in which the U.S. enticed Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait, and lied to the American public and the UN to sanction the war.

John R. MacArthur, then publisher of Harper’s magazine, describes the role played in the deception by Representatives Tom Lantos and John Edward Porter.

Retired General William E. Odom, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 2, 2008, said:

"The surge is prolonging instability, . . . nay sayers insist that our withdrawal will create regional instability. This confuses cause with effect. Our forces in Iraq and our threat to change Iran’s regime are making the region unstable. Those who link instability with a US withdrawal have it exactly backwards."

Iraqis are owed reparations by the U.S. It is the height of arrogance to ask them to pay for the continuing U.S. occupation which most Iraqi’s understand is for the purpose of controlling their energy resources, and forestalling a move from dollars to Euros for oil payments.

The U.S. should just get out.

Rice: Muqtada a Coward

Go to Original
By Juan Cole

Najaf Tense; Veterans Depressed, Unemployed

Ned Parker, Raheem Salman and Saad Fakhrildeen get the story in Najaf, the Shiite holy city south of Baghdad. The four grand ayatollahs, pillars of middle and upper class Shiite orthodoxy, are fearful of the influence of young Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the millenarian workers and the poor. The authors do not note the irony, but I thought it amusing that both sides were blaming Iran for their troubles, which suggests that the troubles are indigenous. It is an excellent article; I wish it had said more about the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, from which the governor comes, and the Badr Corps, from which the deputy governor comes; both have strong Iran ties and they are the powers that be in Najaf; it is they the Mahdi Army mainly challenges, not just the four grand ayatollahs. Also, they did not say anything about the rumors that the chief grand ayatollah, Ali Sistani, is in bad health.

Rice has her ’bring’em on moment’ in Iraq, talking trash to the Mahdi Army and calling Muqtada al-Sadr a ’coward.’ Muqtada al-Sadr eluded Saddam Hussein for 4 years after Saddam killed his father and two elder brothers; and in 2004 he twice took on the US military. He may be a lot of things, but he is not a coward. Has Rice ever said anything about Iraq that was true or useful? Even as she was talking up ’improved security’ in Baghdad, mortar shells were falling about her in the Green Zone.

Over the weekend there were clashes in Nasiriya between Mahdi Army militiamen and the Iraqi army. Although this official Iraqi government communique suggests that 40 militiamen were killed and 40 captured and does not mention government casualties, I’d take it all with a grain of salt. What is not apparent from the squib is that the Iraqi government is so weak it is having to fight for a toehold in one of its own cities.

Another mass grave found in Iraq. These sites are evidence of militia activity-- the victims were likely either accused of collaboration with the central government or members of the opposite religious sect.

The American Right is always droning on about the need to support our troops (i.e. to support the Right’s war). But the rich who send poor young men off to foreign wars of course don’t really care about the young men themselves (because they don’t care about the poor in general; right wing politicians are elected by the rich, for the rich and of the rich). Cases in point:

Health care eludes Iraq vet.

Veterans having a hard time finding jobs.

A third of a million veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq are depressed, suffering from PTSD (the proportion suffering is about 1 in five).

The way to support our troops is to get them out of a fruitless and unnecessary war, before more thousands are killed and wounded, whether physically or psychologically or socially.

Tom Engelhardt gives 12 reasons to get out of Iraq.

McClatchy reports political violence in Iraq on Sunday:

’ Baghdad

Around 11:00 pm on Saturday, a mortar shell hit al Qanat Street in east Baghdad. No casualties reported.

Around 1:30 a.m. four mortar shells hit al Husseiniyah area in north Baghdad. No casualties reported.

Seven civilians were wounded when a Katyosha rocket hit a house in Abo Desheer neighborhood ij south Baghdad around 8:00 a.m.

Clashes broke out between Mahdi army militia and the Iraqi national police in New Baghdad area in east Baghdad around 10:00 a.m. No information about the casualties provided on time of publication.

Clashes broke out between Mahdi army militia and the American forces in Kubra al Ghizlan area in the outskirt of Sadr city in east Baghdad around 11:00 am. No casualties reported on time of publication.

2 civilians were killed and 14 others wounded when two mortar shells hit Kadhemiyah neighborhood north Baghdad around 5:00 p.m.

Five people were wounded including two policemen when a road side bomb exploded targeting the police patrol in New Baghdad neighborhood in east Baghdad around 7:00 p.m.

Two policemen were killed and four others wounded by a bombed placed bicycle in Abo Graib area west of Baghdad around 8:30 p.m.

Police found six unidentified bodies throughout Baghdad (2 bodies in Jisr Diyala, 1 body in Zayuna, 1 body in New Baghdad, 1 body in Bayaa and 1 body in Amil)


Gunmen set a fake check point kidnapping three vehicles including a bus carries nine students from the University of Diyala while they were in their way to the university. The incident took place in the area between Muqdadiyah town and Kanan area east of Baquba around 9:00 a.m. The gunmen released the nine students and kept the three drivers.

Around 9:00 a.m. gunmen attacked a car carrying a policeman and his pregnant wife while they were in their way to the hospital. The incident took place in Wajihiyah area east of Baquba. The gunmen killed the policeman and the taxi driver and injured the wife.

The commander of the Diyala operations Major General Abdul Kareem al Ubaidi said that the Iraqi security forces and the Sahwa members found 30 bodies in a mass grave yard in Muqdadiyah town northeast of Baquba. Al Rubaie said that another mass grave yard was found in al Botoma village north of Baquba city confirming that 27 bodies were from the yard moved to the morgue of Diyala hospital.


Gunmen killed two contractors near al Rashad area west Kirkuk on Sunday morning.


Police found the bodies of two members of the local council of Sinjar town west of Mosul city. The two members of the council were kidnapped on Saturday evening.


Gunmen killed a police officer in front of his house in Soleman Beg town east of Tikrit around 10:00 p.m.’

The March to War: Israel Prepares for War against Lebanon and Syria

Go to Original
By Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya

By the start of 2007, reports about major upgrades to the Syrian military, including advances in missile technology, with Iranian help were widespread in Israel. [1] The impression of an imminent war existed across much of the Middle East. Syria, Hezbollah, and Iran were reported in Israel to be preparing for a war to spark in the Levant. [2]

It was also claimed in Israel that Damascus had sent secret messages to Tel Aviv that should Israel continue to reject Syria’s peace overtures, a war would breakout in the Golan Heights and that Syrian reservists were forbidden from leaving Syria because of the possibility of combat. [3]

In June, 2007, an inner circle of the Israeli government that would form a “war cabinet” in a Middle Eastern war scenario was categorically informed that a war with Syria would absolutely involve Iranian military intervention. [4]

It is now 2008 and the spectre of war has remerged in the Middle East. Syrian President Basher Al-Assad revealed that his country is uneasy and prepared for the worst once again. Despite Tehran’s position that the U.S. would not dare launch a war against Iran, the Iranian military is on standby. The Lebanese military and Hezbollah have also been placed on alert.

“While war is not a preferable option, if Israel declares war on Syria and Lebanon or if America declares war on Iran, Syria would be prepared,” the Syrian President told a gathering of Arab intellectuals according to Al-Akhbar, a Lebanese newspaper, on April 16, 2008. [5] “We should analyze the situation from the perspective of American interests, because the last war in Lebanon has shown that at some point Israel wanted to stop the fighting, but was forced by the [Bush Jr. Administration] to pursue it further,” Basher Al-Assad continued. [6] Thus the threat of war lives on in the Middle East in 2008…

“Miscalculations” in the Levant: Setting the Stage for War?

Hereto, Tel Aviv has been deliberately promoting tensions with Syria and Lebanon. In 2007, Major-General Moshe Kaplinsky, the former deputy chief of staff for the Israeli military, stated during a press briefing that war between Syria and Israel was unlikely as an answer to growing rumours of war that started since late-2006 and the commencement of 2007. The Israeli flag officer however did not rule out an eventual Israeli-Syrian conflict. Major-General Kaplinsky along with many other Israeli commanders and officials repeatedly stressed that a “miscalculation on the border” could spark a conflict between Syria and Israel sometime in the future. [7]

Not long after the 2006 Israeli defeat in Lebanon, Tel Aviv started crafting the “justifications” for more wars in its surrounding neighbourhood, the Levant. [8] The Israeli definitions of “miscalculation” have been extremely vague and ominous.

Tel Aviv has been involved in the process of creating a military carte blanche, allowing for “flexibility” in its regional approach towards Lebanon and Syria.

“Miscalculations” in the eyes of Tel Aviv range from the domestic affairs of the Lebanese and the events in the occupied Palestinian Territories to the most audacious and bellicose of definitions, such as the reaction of the Syrians to Israeli hostilities.

The secretive air assault, later revealed by the codename Operation Orchard, made by the 69th Squadron of the Israeli Air Force (IAF) against an unheard of facility in Deir ez-Zoir Governorate of Syria on September 6, 2007 could have become a “miscalculation” on the part of Syria had it responded to Israeli provocations.

The Israeli definition of a “miscalculation” also means any arbitrary fire into Israel. The Jerusalem Post defined a “miscalculation” that could spark a war with Syria as an incident “along the border, in the form of a terrorist attack that escalates into a larger conflict.” [9] Such an incident could easily be sparked through conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

A false flag operation could also bring such an incident about. On July 18, 2007 there was rocket fire from South Lebanon into Israel by an unknown group, something that could have been used as a pretext for war. In Syria, Lebanon, and the Arab World the incident was believed to be the work of the Israelis and their allies in an effort to justify a future war.

Tel Aviv’s Orwellian talk of Peace

In May, 2008 the head of the Mossad, the intelligence service of Israeli, said that talks of peace with Syria would lead to war. [10] Le Nouvel Observateur reported in July 2007 that the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, ruled out the resumption of peace talks with Syria while stressing that she believed Damascus posed a problem that must be tackled on a regional scale. [11] When asked about the prospects of peace with Syria, Tzipi Livni responded, “Absolutely not. Syria is pursuing the dangerous game it plays in the region [Middle East],” and added that Syria “remains a threat” to Israel. [12] These statements reveal the conduct of Tel Aviv and its hidden agenda. Within the context of a public declaration of peace during the summer of 2007, they also reveal Tel Aviv’s duplicity.

While Tzipi Livni stated that there would be no peace between Israel and Syria, Ehud Olmert stated in a televised interview with the Al-Arabiya News Channel, that he personally wanted peace with Syria. Prime Minister Olmert addressed President Basher Al-Assad, the head of Syria, directly, saying “you know that I am ready for direct talks with you” and added that “I am ready to sit with you and talk about peace, not war.” Several days later, Ehud Olmert also stated in Orwellian fashion that he wanted peace with the Syrians, but that peace did not equate to immediate peace negotiations between Syria and Israel and could mean a continuation of the “status quo.”

Olmert’s statement is doublespeak. Hereto, according to the Israelis, the threat of war exists as a result of the status quo between Syria and Israel. This statement is very important to keep in mind because it indicates that Israel did not want to return the Golan Heights, but wanted something else from Syria as the condition of peace. This is where Tehran comes into the picture.

Israeli officials were further incriminated by the fact that in 2007 Prime Minister Olmert also said he was not concerned by an imminent war with Syria, but that he was unhappy with the public discussion about peace between Syria and Israel. One should question the logic behind Ehud Olmert’s “irritation” regarding public overtures of peace between Syria and Israel. [13] Realpolitik is definitely being played by Israel in regards to Damascus in a consorted effort to de-link Syria from Iran and its other allies. In this regard, Damascus publicly insisted that there be no secret talks between Syrian and Israeli officials as to the conditions for peace. [14] The rationale for the Syrian insistence on transparency was to deprive Israeli of any means to covertly try to divide Syria from its Middle Eastern allies by generating suspicions of betrayal.

The international press extensively reported Ehud Olmert’s statements in 2007 about wanting peace with the Syrians. Israeli officials also repeatedly claimed that the Syrians were the ones rejecting peace. [15] These claims are made despite the fact that all public records show exactly the opposite. Syria’s leadership have been calling for peace negotiations between Israel and Syria since the premierships of Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon. Israeli claims of pursing peace for the most part have been part of an international public relations campaign attempting to portray the aggressor as the victim. In the case of Syria peace means that Tel Aviv will not go to war with Damascus if it distances itself from Tehran.

De-linking Syria from Iran: Israel’s Real Condition for Peace with Syria

The return of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, which was was formerly called the “Syrian Heights” in Israel, to Syria was always the recognized condition for establishing Israeli-Syrian peace.

Dr. Alon Liel, a former director-general within the Israeli foreign affairs ministry and a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, who was heavily involved with previous Israeli negotiations with Syria, has indicated the real issue holding Tel Aviv from accepting peace. Dr. Alon Liel went on record: he confirmed that 85% of negotiations between Syria and Israel were agreed upon by both Damascus and Tel Aviv. [16] The major issues for establishing peace between Damascus and Tel Aviv were all resolved in 2000; water rights for Israel from Syrian territory, guaranteed Israeli access to the Golan Heights upon its return to Syria, and security guarantees between both parties. [17]

Peace, in the sense of an agreement by both sides, however was unachievable in 1993, 1995, 1996, and 2000 due to Tel Aviv’s internal politics. The situation became more so after 2001 with the start of an aggressive U.S. policy in the Middle East. “Israel isn’t going to hand over [or return] the Golan [Heights] to an ally of Iran,” Alon Liel has insisted as being the problem in regards to peace between both sides. [18]

Tel Aviv has imposed broader demands on Syria as the price of peace. It is in the strategic interests of the U.S. and Israel to isolate Iran, even at the cost of peace with Syria. [19] In this regard, Syrian internal affairs and foreign relations are decisive factors for Israel in regards to negotiations.

Syria and Iran are part of a strategic alliance in the Middle East resisting the interests of America, Britain, Israel, France, and Germany. Other Middle Eastern players resisting the same foreign interests are additionally allied or associated with Syria and Iran within one tangible bloc, the Resistance Bloc. [20] It is in this context that one understands Israel is not pursuing peace with Syria, but is threatening the Syrians with war if they do not abandon Iran and their allies.

On the eve of major Israeli exercises in which Israel and Syria fought a fictitious war, the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister, Haim Ramon, stated on a radio interview that Syrian anxiety had no basis and that Israel was pursing peace with Damascus, but added “unfortunately Syria is stuck deep in the evil axis of connections with [Hezbollah].” [21] If this is not indicative enough, Haim Ramon also concluded that Damascus has made a strategic choice to preserve its alliance with Iran rather than “pursue peace,” which to Tel Aviv would mean a termination of Syrian-Iranian ties. Furthermore, on March 23, 2003 Shimon Peres stated that “peace talks with Syria cannot begin while it keeps supplying Lebanon with weapons.” [22] This was a reference to the important role of Damascus as a middle man between Tehran and the Levant.

Neutralizing Syria: Prerequisite for Neutralizing Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran

Damascus is pivotal to the framework of resistance in the Middle East against Israeli, Anglo-American, and Franco-German interests. Syria acts as a bridge between Iran and Iraq at one end of the Middle East and the Levant on the other. Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Iraq, and Iran are all tied together through Syria. [23]

In this regard, Damascus serves as the central link that holds together the forces resisting a new regional order in the Middle East, also known as the “Project for the New Middle East.”

What the Israelis have been trying to do, in coordination with the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany is to remove Syria from these alliances and thus splinter or break the link between Iran and the Levant. The main goal is to pressure Syria into making a peaceful political surrender (just as Libya did to Britain and the U.S. in 2003), and to distance itself from Iran and the Arab resistance within Palestine and Lebanon to Israel.

Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, hinted in October 2007 that if Syria would not dissociate itself peacefully from Iran, a military solution was inevitable: “Driving a wedge between Syria and Iran, drying up [Hezbollah] by cutting its lines of arms supply, allowing the vital task of stabilizing Lebanon to succeed [meaning empowering client forces in Beirut], and forestalling what now looks as a most realistic scenario of a triple front war of Israel against Syria, Hamas and [Hezbollah] are the strategic fruits concomitant to a Syrian-Israeli peace.” [24]

Removing Syria from the “Resistance Bloc” is a prerequisite for Israel, America, and their partners for tackling Iran. With Syria removed from Iran’s influence, the entire Levant could be controlled and the resistance in the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon under such players as Hamas and Hezbollah could be significantly weakened. Under such a framework, the Levant could be integrated into the economic order of the so-called “Western Powers” under the Washington Consensus and within the Mediterranean Union: this is where Israeli, Anglo-American, and France-German Middle East interests merge.

In 2006, the ultimate objective of the Israeli attack on Lebanon was to remove Syria from its alliance with Iran and insert Damascus within the orbit of a new regional order. With this understanding in mind, the 2006 Israeli attacks on Lebanon were revealed to have been planned to also target Syria.[25]

War however became a far costlier option for America, Britain, Israel, and their partners and that is why political channels were pursued with Damascus after the 2006 defeat of Tel Aviv in Lebanon. Haaretz released a revealing report in August, 2007 about the true nature of the diplomatic mission of Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, to Damascus. The intentions of her visit to Damascus were stated to help establish peace between Syria and Israel and better ties with America, but the conditions were not fully disclosed.

Syria was being courted to abandon Iran, just as Italy was courted to abandon Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire by London and Paris before the First World War: “The chairman of the [U.S.] House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Tom Lantos, who accompanied Pelosi, said Assad should be given a final opportunity to disengage from the ‘axis of evil.’ According to Lantos, in a few years, Sunni Muslims and not Iran under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be in control in the region, and it is to the advantage of Damascus to know which side to be on.” [26]

For Tel Aviv and its partners, if the goal of removing Damascus from its alliance with Tehran can not be achieved through diplomatic dialogue, economics, threats, or pressure then the original course of action, warfare, within a major three-front confrontation is the other alternative against Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Territories. These hostilities would also be linked to confrontation with the Iranians and could result in an broader conflict in the Middle East and Central Asia. Ehud Olmert declared “I believe that we can expect a calm summer, a calm autumn and a calm winter [which runs from November, 2007 to March, 2008],” when tensions were rising between Syria and Israel in 2007. [27] It is worth noting that tensions began to rise again in the Levant after Olmert’s timeframe of calm.

The threats of war in 2007 were partly scare tactics to pressure Syria into yielding and conceding to the geo-strategic interests of America, Britain, Israel, France, and Germany. [28] Up to now, all efforts to remove the Syrians from their alliances have failed.

Clearly, Israel has been preparing for war on a broader regional level. Simultaneously, Tel Aviv has been preparing to shift blame for any possible outbreak of a regional war on the Syrians, the Lebanese, the Palestinians, even the Russians, and foremost on the Iranians.

Operation Orchard: Fabricating a Syria-Iran-North Korea Nuclear Axis

On September 6, 2007 Israeli warplanes violated Syrian airspace and mysteriously attacked an unheard of facility. The Syrian military reported that Israeli aircraft illegally entered Syrian airspace from over the Mediterranean Sea and headed towards northeastern Syria. “Air defense units confronted [the Israeli warplanes] and forced them to leave [Syria] after they drooped [sic; dropped] some ammunition in deserted areas without causing any human or material damage,” the Syrian military initially claimed. [29] The Syrians immediately also stated that Israel was trying to create pretexts for another war in the Middle East. [30] The U.S. government also entered the commotion by claiming that the White House was aware of the operation and the Pentagon had assisted the Israelis. The White House also claimed that the Israelis had destroyed a facility that was linked to a clandestine nuclear program in Syria. Damascus also maintained that the attacks and the claims about a secretive nuclear program were preludes to U.S. involvement in an Israeli war against Syria. [31]

In this context, Syria restrained itself, fearing that Tel Aviv wanted to entice Damascus into a war. Professor Eyal Zisser, the director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, noted “Any misunderstanding could lead to conflagration. However, the Syrian announcement was surprising in its moderation.” [32] The operation was also reported as being a possible test-run for an Israeli attack on Iran. The U.S. and Israel also asserted that the Russian-made air defence systems in Syria did not function. [33] The attacks could have also been a form of pressure to force the Syrians to go to the Annapolis Conference to detect if a war was intended against their country.

The attack was described as an Israeli success by the Bush Jr. Administration and the mainstream media. A propaganda campaign was launched: Through media disinformation and political statements, efforts were placed on establishing the threat of a “Syria-Iran-North Korea nuclear proliferation axis.” [34]

The alleged nuclear facility was a Syrian project aided by North Korea and Iran according to the U.S. and Israeli governments. Trying to pin Syria for having weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs is not a fresh approach. In fact just barely a month after the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq the U.S. and Britain actively started trying to portray Syria in an Iraq-like manner claiming that Damascus also had hidden weapons of mass destruction (WMD) stockpiles.

In early-April, 2008 it became clear that Israel and the U.S. had been planning on releasing details about Operation Orchard and the alleged nuclear facility attacked by Israel in Syria to further demonize Damascus and to further construct a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) link between Syria, North Korea, and Iran. [35] The Jerusalem Post subsequently reported on April 14, 2008 that Israeli experts suggested that the full disclosure about an Israeli attack in 2007 in the U.S. Congress could even “embarrass” the Syrians to the point of militarily responding against Israel. [36]

The Assassination of Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus: Antecedent to War?

On February 12, 2008 Imad Fayez Mughniyeh, a top Hezbollah security official, was assassinated in Damascus by means of a remote detonated car bomb. The intelligence services of America, Israel, Britain, France, Germany, Jordon, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia were all suspected of some form of involvement. According to The Daily Star, an English-language newspaper based in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia had helped Israel in assassinating Imad Mughniyeh and a Saudi military attaché was arrested in Damascus due to links to a Syrian collaborator in the assassination. [37]

More than a month following the Mughniyeh assassination, U.S. Vice-President Cheney made a regional tour of the Middle East. “We must not, and will not, ignore the darkening shadows of the situations in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Syria and in Iran and the forces there that are working to derail the hopes of the world,” Vice-President Cheney vowed dramatically in a insinuation that conflict was brewing and the U.S. was prepared to aid Israel. [38]

It did not take long for pundits to point toward Mughniyeh’s murder as being used in a ploy to launch war in the Middle East. Israel’s intelligence and information apparatus started exerting themselves in a misinformation campaign to create doubts about the murder of Imad Mughniyeh. Tel Aviv’s aims were to shift the blame on the Syrians in a psychological operation (PSYOP) intended to inseminate doubts and mistrust between Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran, in order to strain their alliance and weaken the Resistance Bloc.

According to Israel’s Channel 10, sometime after the assassination of Mughniyeh, Tel Aviv sent Hezbollah a letter through a third party, threatening another disproportionate war against Lebanon. Tel Aviv also wasted no time in threatening Syria if Hezbollah launched retaliatory attacks on Israel. [39] In this context, Reuters also reported that an unnamed senior Israeli official had spelled out conflict with the Syrians as a reprisal for hostile Lebanese and Palestinian actions against Israel. [40] The root of these so-called hostile actions by Lebanese and Palestinian groups are of retaliatory nature to hostile actions initiated by Tel Aviv. In many cases, these attacks against Israel are invited by Tel Aviv as a means to create the justifications of postponing peace, annexing territory, and launching war.

In mid-April, 2008, Israeli jets and helicopters created insecurity among residents of Haifa when they scrambled across Israel to intercept an unidentified light plane entering Israeli airspace. [41] Tel Aviv’s security and military forces have been on high alert since the Mughniyeh Assassination. [42] On March 18, 2008 an Israeli warship was also dispatched into Lebanese waters, where it was intercepted by an Italian warship, in a move that many in Lebanon saw as a taunt by Israel.

Israel has advertised very publicly that it expects retaliation from Hezbollah. [43] This “retaliation” could also give Israel an excuse for launching another war. The Israeli government also used the opportunity to raise domestic tensions amongst its own citizens. Israeli officials also warned about possible attacks from across the Lebanese border by Iranian-manufactured “explosive-packed drones” or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) sent by Hezbollah. [44]

Creating Pretexts for War in Lebanon

Israel has overtly claimed, as part of a concerted public relations campaign, that Hezbollah increased the range of its rocket arsenal. [45] The public advertisement of the increase in the rocket range of Hezbollah by Tel Aviv stands outside the standardized protocol of Israeli officials who consistently work domestically to keep public confidence in the strength of the Israeli military and security apparatus. Although there was a genuine probability of truth to the Israeli statements, the main objective behind their very publicly advertised declarations were to further build excuses for further Israeli aggression, such as pre-emptive strikes, in Lebanon or the so-called Israeli “Northern Front” and regionally in the Middle East.

In reality, Hezbollah’s rocket range was probably upgraded or already capable of hitting deep into Israeli territory before Tel Aviv decided to divulge its knowledge. Hezbollah had already threatened to strike Tel Aviv in 2006 if Beirut were to be attacked by Israeli bombs. The timing of the information by Israeli officials about Hezbollah’s rocket range is linked to painting the picture of a growing threat amongst its own citizens and to gain their support for combat.

In the case of Hezbollah, like those of the Palestinian Resistance and Syria, the increased range of their projectiles have been attentively linked to Iran, itself the ultimate target. Starting in March, 2008 the mainstream media in Israel and worldwide reported that the Israeli government had warned that most of Israel, up to the city of Dimona in the Negev Desert, was within the striking range of Hezbollah from Lebanon. Haaretz correspondents in addition reported that “Hamas militants who recently returned to the Gaza Strip after training in Iran [held] a detailed plan for upgrading the capabilities of the rockets being developed in the [Gaza] Strip, according to senior Palestinian Authority sources.” [46] As a note, the Palestinian Authority sources being referred to are the unelected Fatah officials in the West Bank who themselves collaborate with Israel. These types of reports have also helped boost the case for war.

The basis for war against Lebanon is an intricate parcel of a broader conflict in the Middle East, which in turn is itself a component of an even larger conflict in Eurasia. The fact that various Palestinian resistance groups have trained in Lebanon, Syria, and Iran is also being used as a justification for war and as a means to tie all three republics closer together as a single enemy axis by Israel. Aside from those in the Palestinian Territories, in the event of a major war the Palestinian groups based in Lebanon and Syria have made it clear that they will fight alongside the Lebanese and Syrians. Palestinians in Egypt and Jordon have also elucidated towards such a course of action too.

With 2008 efforts to implicate Hezbollah in regards to attacks on American and British troops in Iraq have resurfaced. These reports were originally made by London in an effort to link Hezbollah to the roadside bombs in Basra at the start of the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq, but were dismissed. The main British objective of involving Hezbollah as an enemy in Iraq was the foreknowledge that Lebanon would be attacked by Israel in 2006.

On April 8, 2008 General David H. Petraeus, the commander of Coalition troops in Iraq, accused both Iran and Hezbollah of helping the Iraqi forces that attacked the “Green Zone” in Baghdad. [47] He testified to the U.S. Senate about Hezbollah’s alleged involvement in killing American and Coalition troops: “Together with the Iraqi Security Forces, we have also focused on the Special Groups [meaning those forces fighting against American and Coalition forces]. These elements are funded, trained, armed, and directed by Iran’s Qods [Jerusalem] Force, with help from Lebanese Hezbollah.” [48] The allegations by General Petraeus were part of the conscious effort to justify a greater American role in the next conflict against the Lebanese.

The Mediterranean Front

It is clear to the Pentagon, NATO, and Tel Aviv that the Levant stands to ignite a Mediterranean battle-front in the event of a war against Iran. To this end, the marshaling of a relatively invisible NATO war fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean is rigidly tied to war plans against Tehran. [49] The naval build-ups in the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean have been ongoing since 2001 with the strategic aim of preparing the logisitical framework for war against Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestinian resistance, Syria, and Iran.

Paris and Berlin have intense vested interest in the Anglo-American wars in the Middle East. As has been repeatedly uttered by French, German, and E.U. officials the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East are the “eastern borders of the European Union.” [50] To this end Nicolas Sarkozy’s Mediterranean Union is a declaration of these Franco-German interests that are very much tied to the wars in the Middle East and the establishment of a settlement between the Arabs and Israel in the Levant. [51]

The 2006 Israeli siege against Lebanon, with the active support of American military personnel and planners in Israel, was a phase of this military schedule as well as a dress rehearsal by both sides for a larger Middle Eastern war. Both sides were given the opportunity to re-evaluate their tactics and strategies for such an upcoming war, should it spark. History will see what comes to pass.

Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya is a writer and geopolitical analyst based in Ottawa who specializes on the Middle East and is currently Research Associate at the Centre for Research on Globalization.

Also see:
The March to War: Syria Preparing for US-Israeli Attacks

The Homeownership Ideologues

Go to Original
By Dean Baker

The economy is sinking into a recession and faces the worst financial crisis since the depression. The unemployment rate is rising, the foreclosure rate is soaring and home prices are plummeting. It’s time to settle some scores with the people who brought us to this sorry state of affairs.

The identity of some of the villains is already widely known. At the top of the list is Alan Greenspan for his malfeasance in allowing the housing bubble to expand to ever more dangerous levels and ignoring the explosion of predatory mortgages. Then, we have the mortgage brokers who made the predatory loans and the Wall Street wunderkind who repackaged them in complex financial instruments and sold them all around the world. We can also include the builders and the realtors who profited from and promoted the irrational exuberance that fed the housing bubble.

But there is one group that still needs to be singled out for their role in bringing about this disaster: The ideologues of homeownership. These are the folks who push the ideology of homeownership as an end itself. They insist on lavish government subsidies, even in situations where homeownership is not a good solution for the people affected.

To be clear, homeownership is often desirable. It can be a mechanism for providing good secure housing and, also, for accumulating wealth. It is, therefore, reasonable to have policies like a limited mortgage interest deduction or credit that make it easier for low- and middle-income people to become homeowners.

However, homeownership should not be viewed as an end in itself. One of the reasons millions of families face foreclosure and/or the loss of their life’s savings is the ideologues of homeownership continued to promote homeownership even when it was clear buying a home would be financially detrimental.

Recognizing the risks of homeownership in a bubble wasn’t a matter of rocket science - it was simple arithmetic. The ratio of house sale prices to annual rent soared past 20 to 1 in the bubble markets, approaching 30 to 1 in the most inflated markets.

If a homeowner takes out a 7 percent mortgage (very low for a subprime buyer), pays 1 percent of the value in property tax each year, and another 1 percent for insurance and maintenance, then ownership costs are equal to 9 percent of the sale price. If the house sells for 20 times annual rent, then this family is paying 80 percent more in housing costs as homeowners each year than they would pay as renters. If the house was selling for 25 times the annual rent, then the family would be paying 125 percent more as homeowners than they would as renters.

For low- and moderate-income families who are struggling to make ends meet and pay for necessities like health care and child care, how are we helping them by having them pay 80 percent to 125 percent more than necessary for their housing costs? Oh, yeah, but they will accumulate equity in their home.

Right, the housing bubble will keep inflating indefinitely. Maybe the ideologues of homeownership thought housing prices would just keep rising forever, but this was an unbelievably stupid thing to believe.

The homeownership ideologues really screwed over an awful lot of low- and moderate-income families because they didn’t know what they were talking about. If progressives ever advocated policies that were as wrong-headed as pushing homeownership in the middle of a housing bubble, we would be hearing about it for the next 40 years. Real or invented excesses of the 1960s are still a backdrop right wingers use in current political debates.

Incredibly, instead of acknowledging their mistake, the homeownership ideologues want the government to throw even more money at homeownership. (The money is more likely to end up with bankers than homeowners, as I have argued elsewhere.)

In the interest of promoting better housing policy in the future, it is important to have a public acknowledgment of the follies of homeownership ideology. We don’t have a bottomless pit of money to satisfy their perverse ideology. If homeownership does not make economic sense, then we should not tell people to sacrifice health care and other essential needs to make the ideologues happy. It’s time to force some honesty into the discussion of housing policy.

Food Crisis Set to Get Worse - Experts

Go to Original
By Haider Rizvi

The current food crisis causing hunger and starvation for millions of people across the world is not going to end as long as those who dominate the international grain markets remain unwilling to change their behavior, according to experts specializing in international trade and environmental economics.

"Business as usual is no longer a viable option," said Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington, DC-based independent think tank. "Food security will deteriorate further unless leading countries can collectively mobilize to stabilize population and restrict the use of grain to produce automotive fuel."

In his latest research, Brown, an award-winning environmental analyst, points out that the unsustainable use of land and water, as well as trade imbalances among nations, are among the major factors contributing to the present crisis of food shortages coupled with a phenomenal soaring of prices.

"The chronically tight food supply the world is now facing is driven by the cumulative effects of several well established trends that are affecting both global demand and supply, " he told reporters at a recently held tele-press conference.

On the demand side, according to Brown, the trends include the addition of 70 million people every year, while some some 4 billion people are already struggling to move up the food chain and consume more grain-intensive livestock products. At the same time, the amount of grain used for car fuels is also rising immensely.

"Since 2005, this last source of demand has raised the annual growth in world grain consumption from nearly 20 million tons to about 50 million tons," he said. "Meanwhile, on the supply side, there is little new land to be brought under the plow" unless it comes from clearing tropical rain forests in the Amazon and Congo basins, or in Indonesia or the Brazilian Cerrado.

The Institute's research shows that new sources of irrigation water are even more scarce than new land to plow. During the past 50 years, world irrigated land has nearly tripled, expanding from 94 million hectares in 1950 to 276 million hectares in 2000. In other words, for the individual, the amount of cultivable land is shrinking by 1 percent every year.

Experts working with other international institutions, including the United Nations, more or less agree with Brown's analysis of the current food crisis.

Early this week, a report released by the UN's World Food Program (WFP) called for rich countries to contribute $500 million to address the issue of food scarcity that has led to riots in a number of countries in the global South.

The World Bank says at least 33 countries are currently in danger of political destabilization and internal conflicts driven by the rising prices of food. Currently, some of these poor countries are facing food price hikes up to 80 percent.

Like Brown, in a recent statement, Robert Watson, the former head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and chief economist at Britain's Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, said the global production of food has increased, "but not every one has benefited."

Watson blamed governments and private businesses for paying more attention to growth in production than natural resources or food security.

"Continuing with current trends means the Earth's haves and have-nots splitting further apart," he said. "It would leave us facing a world nobody wants to inhabit. We have to make food more available and nutritious without degrading the land."

The 2,500-page WFP report says the world produces enough food for every one, yet over 800 million people go hungry. Its authors say food is cheaper and diets are better than 40 years ago, but malnutrition and food insecurity threatens millions nonetheless.

"The unequal distribution of food and conflict over control of the world's dwindling natural resources presents a major political and social challenge to governments," said the report's authors. "[It is] likely to reach crisis status as climate change advances and world population expands from 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion by 2050."

For his part, Brown is particularly concerned about the impact of U.S. policies on the growing food insecurity worldwide, and he is not convinced Washington has any plans to help mitigate the problem. "I don't think the U.S. has realized the seriousness of the problem we are facing," he told OneWorld.

"I am not sure they have any understanding of what is happening."

Bank of England unveils £50bn mortgage bailout

Go to Original
By Miranda McLachlan

The Bank of England (BoE) launched an unprecedented £50 billion scheme today to bail out Britain’s ailing banking system and help to ease the tightening mortgage market.

The BoE confirmed this morning that it would allow lenders to swap assets for government-backed bonds in an attempt to restore confidence and ease the effects of the credit crunch.

Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, is set to provide further information to MPs at 3.30pm.

The BoE will allow banks principally to swap UK and European mortgage-backed assets for "safer" government bonds, which banks can then use to raise money.

Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank, said today: “The Bank of England’s special liquidity scheme is designed to improve the liquidity position of the banking system and raise confidence in financial markets while ensuring that the risk of losses on the loans they have made remains with the banks.”

However, the City appeared to be underwhelmed by the terms of the bailout this morning.

David Buik of BGC Partners, the inter-dealer broker, said: "The initial reaction to the scheme has been rather luke-warm. It is early days but the cost of these facilities seems to be ... prohibitively expensive in current conditions."

Banks will be required to pay a fee based on the three-month London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor), the rate that banks charge to lend to one another, for the bonds.

The BoE will issue bonds valued at a 10 per cent to 30 per cent discount on the value of the banks' assets.

Richard McGuire, of the investment bank RGC Capital Markets, said that the scheme was "unlikely to do much to inject new life into the UK's troubled mortgage/housing markets ... given the costly nature of the exercise".

Mr McGuire described the discount applied by the BoE to the value of banks' assets as "sizeable".

Under the scheme, banks will need to provide assets of "significantly greater value" than the bonds they have received.

If the value of assets fall or they are downgraded by ratings agencies, they will have to provide more assets or return some of the bonds.

While the BoE said that the scheme was designed to minimise the risk to taxpayers, it confirmed that securities backed by unsecured credit card debt would also be eligible.

"The public sector would be exposed to a loss only in the very unlikely event that a participating bank defaulted and the value of assets it had placed as security with the Bank of England later proved inadequate," it said in a statement.

"Securities backed by credit card debt ... will be high quality."

It is hoped that the rate that banks charge each other will fall, and, as a consequence, homeowners and first-time buyers can secure better and cheaper mortgage deals.

However, there is also no guarantee that the bail-out will lead to cheaper mortgages.

The swaps are available only for assets existing at the end of 2007 and cannot be used to finance new lending.

Each swap is offered for a period of one year and may be renewed for a total of up to three years.

Banks will be able to enter into new asset swaps at any point during a six-month window, starting today.

Usage of the scheme will depend on market conditions. The initial offer is for £50 billion of bonds, but senior Treasury sources have told The Times that further cash injections up to a total of £100 billion were possible.

The scheme will be ring-fenced and independent of the Bank of England’s regular money market operations, so it will not interfere with the Bank’s ability to implement monetary policy.

British banks, uncertain which institution has lost what, have hoarded cash reserves to protect their own positions.

Mr Darling said yesterday that the latest move was intended to “ease” the market.

“We believe that this will be an essential step in trying to get the financial market stabilised. That in turn will help the mortgage market too,” the Chancellor said.

However, he gave warning that in return he expected that the banks would “begin now to disclose the extent of their losses and explain how they are going to rebuild their capital”.

Under the terms of today’s announcement, banks will be allowed to swap hard-to-trade mortgage-backed securities linked to their previous lending for specially issued Treasury bills.

Mr Darling is expected to press for mortgage lenders to ease lending conditions, especially for first-time buyers, when he meets them tomorrow.

“He’s not holding a pistol to their heads, but he wants to do everything he can to help people get on the property ladder,” a Treasury source said.

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats’ Treasury spokesman, said: “We cannot have a situation where the banks are able to privatise their profits and nationalise their losses.

"Since the mortgages from the banks are of inferior quality and higher risk than the government bonds which they are replacing, the implication must be that taxpayers are shouldering the risks and losses of the banks. This cannot be right.”

The British Bankers’ Association commented today: "The banks are participating in this arrangement and expect it to make a significant contribution to alleviating the pressures in the UK money markets.

"Restoring confidence in the wholesale funding market will strengthen the financial system and the stability of our economy."

A BBA spokeswoman denied that the banks were being bailed out. She said: "They are paying commercial rates for the loans offered by the Bank of England.”

Shameless Propaganda Over Gitmo 9/11 Trials

Go to Original
By Andy Worthington

In what appears to be nothing more than propaganda masquerading as news, the U.S. military has announced, as Reuters described it, that it will "televise the Guantánamo trial of accused September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and five other suspects so relatives of those killed in the attacks can watch on the U.S. mainland."

Army Col. Lawrence Morris, the chief prosecutor of Guantánamo’s system of trials by military commission, stated, "We’re going to broadcast in real time to several locations that will be available just to victim families," adding that the footage would be "beamed to closed-circuit television viewing sites on military bases at Fort Hamilton in New York, Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, Fort Meade in Maryland, and Fort Devens in Massachusetts."

While there seems little doubt that Morris is sincere, it’s also apparent that the trial under discussion will not be taking place anytime soon, and announcements of broadcasts designed to appeal to the families of 9/11 victims are premature, to say the least, and more judiciously regarded as attempts to shore up the disputed legitimacy of the commission process.

Conceived by Dick Cheney and his close advisers in November 2001 as an alternative to either the U.S. court system or the U.S. military’s own judicial processes, the military commissions have been heavily criticized for allowing the possibility of withholding evidence from the accused and of using evidence obtained through torture. This latter provision was later dropped, but the possibility of using evidence obtained through coercion remains at the discretion of the government-appointed military judge. It should also be noted that this is an administration that has found it notoriously difficult to differentiate between acts of torture and acts of coercion.

The commissions have also stumbled from one disaster to another. Dismissed as illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006, they were resuscitated by Congress just a few months later, but were then struck down by their own judges in June 2007, on the grounds that the legislation that had revived the process – the Military Commissions Act – had authorized the judges to try "illegal enemy combatants," whereas the process at Guantánamo that had supposedly made the prisoners eligible for trial – the combatant status review tribunals, themselves heavily criticized for relying on secret evidence obtained by dubious means – had only declared that the prisoners were "enemy combatants."

Although this issue was resolved just a few months later, in a hastily-convened appeals court, the commissions have never, even briefly, escaped from the deep shadows cast over their legitimacy by their own government-appointed military defense lawyers, who have maintained, from the moment that they first investigated the new trial system in any detail, that the commissions are, to quote just a few examples, "implements for breaking the law" by concealing evidence of torture (Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, who represented Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden, in the Supreme Court case that threw out the first system of military commissions), and rigged, ridiculous, unjust, farcical, and a sham (Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, who represents the Canadian Omar Khadr).

Currently mired in controversy in the case of Khadr, who was just 15 years old when he was captured – and, it was recently revealed, may not have killed the U.S. soldier whose murder is the key charge against him – the commissions have fared no better in any of the other pre-trial hearings that have taken place recently. Lawyers for Salim Hamdan have fought tenaciously to establish that he had no insider role in al-Qaeda and should therefore have rights as a prisoner of war, and in the last month three other prisoners have resorted to disrupting their pre-trial hearings through a combination of non-cooperation and pleas for justice that have done little to reassure the wider world that the process is either valid or fair.

As I reported last month, the first of the three to boycott the process was Mohamed Jawad, an Afghan who, like Omar Khadr, was also a juvenile when he was seized after allegedly throwing a grenade at a vehicle carrying two U.S. soldiers and an Afghan translator. Dragged from his cell to attend his hearing, he told the judge in his case, Col. Ralph Kohlmann, "My right has not been given to me. I have not violated any international law. There are many accusations against me … they don’t make any sense … I am a human being." He added that he "continued to be treated unjustly and interrogated, and that he wanted the ’whole world’ to know it."

Jawad was followed by Ahmed Mohammed al-Darbi, a Saudi captured in Azerbaijan and rendered to Guantánamo via Afghanistan, who is accused of plotting attacks on shipping for al-Qaeda. After Darbi refused to take part in the commission process, explaining that it lacked legitimacy, his military-appointed lawyer, Army Lt. Col. Bryan Broyles pointed out that he had no choice but to accept his client’s actions, which, as the Associated Press put it, he described as the result of a "reasoned decision."

Although the judges in the commissions attempted to insist that the lawyers "must carry on with their defense even if their clients boycott," Broyles was adamant, as he told reporters, that Darbi’s decision "should mean … that I sit very quietly, answer the judge’s direct questions, and that’s it." He added that his role in Darbi’s forthcoming trial was now equivalent to that of a "potted plant," and that he would "almost certainly" file a challenge against any order demanding that he defend his client against his wishes.

Broyles’ criticism is more significant than it may at first appear, as it highlights a conflict of interest that is genuinely troubling to defense lawyers called upon to defend clients who subsequently refuse their services. Under the terms of their military contracts, they are supposed to follow orders and insist on defending the men, even though they refuse counsel, but as civilian lawyers they could have their licenses revoked if they attempt to defend clients who have fired them.

This conflict of interest has arisen in the commissions before. In their first incarnation, before the Supreme Court ruled that they were illegal, two of those charged – Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a Yemeni whose pre-trial hearing is expected imminently, and Ghassan al-Sharbi, a Saudi who has not yet been charged under the new system – refused to be represented by the lawyers assigned to them, Maj. Tom Fleener and Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, who now represents Omar Khadr.

In an article in GQ last summer, Fleener and Kuebler both explained that they were unable to find any justification for the administration’s insistence that the prisoners were not allowed to represent themselves. As Sean Flynn noted, "The right to self-representation [has] been a codified tenet of American law for 217 years. Under established rules, whether a man can competently defend himself is irrelevant; he need only be competent to make the decision to represent himself." Kuebler believed that Sharbi was competent to make that decision. "Therefore," Flynn continued, "Kuebler believed he had an ethical obligation to step aside. A lawyer can’t force himself upon an unwilling client, and no credible court would ever allow such a thing. To do so would be to replace a vigorous defender with a prop, an actor in a charade that only mimicked a proper trial."

Fleener faced a similar problem in the case of Ali Hamza al-Bahlul. He told Flynn, "The concept of compelled representation has always bothered the crap out of me. You just don’t force lawyers on people. You don’t represent someone against his will. It’s never, ever, ever done." Flynn then explained, "The reason it’s never done is that it undermines the concept of a fair trial. When a man’s life or liberty is at stake, he gets to decide who will speak for him. That’s the way American courts work, have always worked. To eliminate that right is to begin to transform a trial into a pageant."

On April 10, when a third prisoner refused legal representation in his trial by military commission, what appeared to be a trend began to attract the interest of the world’s media. Ibrahim al-Qosi, a Sudanese prisoner accused of working as an al-Qaeda operative, told Air Force Lt. Col. Nancy Paul, the judge at his pretrial hearing, that "he did not want a lawyer and would not attend future hearings because he did not consider the court legitimate," as the AP described it. "I do not recognize the justice or the lawfulness of this court," he said, adding, "What is happening in your courts is in fact a sham, which aims solely that the cases move at the pace of a turtle in order to gain some time to keep us in these boxes without any human or legal rights." As the AP report continued, "He later removed the headphones used to hear the translator and said he would participate no further, declining to answer the judge’s questions," and saying, "I will leave the field and you can play as you want to play."

Although Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, the legal adviser to the commissions’ convening authority, attempted to shore up the ailing process, pointing out that the commissions’ rules "provide for the process to move forward whether or not the accused chooses to participate," and defending the trials as "extraordinarily fair by any norm" and providing "substantial protections," attorney Neal Sonnett, who monitors the commissions for the American Bar Association, explained why proceeding with trials without the defendants being present would be potentially fatal for their perceived legitimacy. "If all these cases are going to proceed with empty chairs," he said, "what has already been called a kangaroo court will just be highlighted as really a kangaroo court."

It later transpired that Qosi’s defense lawyer, Navy Reserves Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier, had not even been able to meet her client. As Carol Rosenberg explained in the Miami Herald, she had asked the judge "to help her gain access to Qosi’s cell to try to persuade him – face to face – to accept her services. The judge refused. Prison camp commanders have said such access is against Pentagon policy."

With the judge insisting that the case proceed as planned, and Lachelier left to consult the California bar to discover whether, as with the concerns of Kuebler, Fleener, and Broyles, her license will be at risk for representing someone who fired her, the time was clearly ripe for a morale-boosting exercise by the authorities, which is where, I presume, the idea for the statement about televising the 9/11 trials arose.

What makes the announcement particularly premature is that those who have been studying the commissions’ recent progress – or lack of it – know that the major obstacle preventing even the pretrial hearings of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his alleged accomplices from proceeding is the fact that they do not yet have the required legal representation. Just last month, Col. Steve David, the commissions’ chief defense lawyer, explained that, unlike the prosecution, which has a full roster of 30 lawyers, he has only nine lawyers on duty, who are already struggling to cope with their caseload.

It was, however, also ironic that the military’s announcement almost immediately backfired when one of the few military lawyers assigned so far – Navy Capt. Prescott Prince, who was recently appointed to defend Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – added his own criticisms of the commission process to the ever-growing list of insider complaints. As Reuters described it, Prince "said he doubts the defendants can get a fair trial in the Guantánamo court because it accepts hearsay evidence that may have been obtained through cruel and dehumanizing means," and also pointed out that the Geneva Conventions ban "acts of violence or intimidation."

He also explained, in Reuters’ words, that, "if the trials are indeed fair, then broadcasting them widely would prove that to the world, but he worried about setting a precedent by televising what he suspects will be show trials," and added, "I can just imagine American soldiers and sailors and airmen being subjected to similar show trials worldwide."

With his talk of show trials – and his fears that members of the U.S. military are liable to be subjected to U.S.-influenced show trials in future – Prince joins an ever-growing list of military defense lawyers who understand that the military commissions are both unjust and counterproductive. It is, as I have stated before, time to shut the system down and move trials to the U.S. mainland.

What if 5.3 Million More Americans Could Vote?

Go to Original
By Erika Wood

This is a big year for American democracy. Hundreds of thousands of new voters are not only registering, but are actually showing up at the polls. States whose primary races have never counted before are suddenly the center of attention. Voters in Wyoming, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Kentucky, who have long gone ignored during primary season, finally find themselves with a voice and a vote. This year they matter.

Despite this, our democracy still falls far short of its promise to be a government that truly represents the will of its citizens. Across the country there are 5.3 million Americans who are denied the right to vote because of a felony conviction in their past. Nearly 4 million of these people are not in prison; they live, work, pay taxes, and raise families in our communities, but remain disenfranchised for years, often for decades, and sometimes for life.

States vary widely on when they restore voting rights to former prisoners. Maine and Vermont do not disenfranchise people with convictions; even prisoners may vote there. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia disenfranchise people only while they are incarcerated; five states disenfranchise those who are incarcerated or on parole, but allow people on probation to vote; 20 states disenfranchise people in prison, on parole, and on probation; and 10 states permanently disenfranchise some categories of people who have completed their correctional supervision. Kentucky and Virginia are the last two remaining states that permanently disenfranchise all people with felony convictions, unless they apply for and receive individual, discretionary clemency from the governor.

Jim Crow Roots

To fully appreciate how these laws compromise our democracy, it is important to understand their deep roots in the troubled history of American race relations. In the late 1800s these laws spread as part of a larger backlash against the adoption of the Reconstruction Amendments -- the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution -- which ended slavery, granted equal citizenship to freed slaves, and prohibited racial discrimination in voting.

Over time, Southern Democrats sought to solidify their hold on the region by modifying voting laws in ways that would exclude African-Americans from the polls. Despite their newfound eligibility to vote, many freed slaves remained effectively disenfranchised.

Violence and intimidation were rampant. The legal barriers employed -- including literacy tests, residency requirements, grandfather clauses, and poll taxes -- while race-neutral on their face, were intentional barriers to African-American voting.

Felony disenfranchisement laws were a key part of this effort. Between 1865 and 1900, 18 states adopted laws restricting the voting rights of criminal offenders. By 1900, 38 states had some type of felon voting restriction, most of which disenfranchised convicted felons until they received a pardon. At the same time, states expanded the criminal codes to punish offenses that they believed targeted freedmen, including vagrancy, petty larceny, miscegenation, bigamy, and receiving stolen goods. Aggressive arrest and conviction efforts followed, motivated by the practice of "convict leasing," whereby former slaves were convicted of crimes and then leased out to work the very plantations and factories from which they had ostensibly been freed. Thus targeted criminalization and felony disenfranchisement combined to produce both practical re-enslavement and the legal loss of voting rights, usually for life, which effectively suppressed the political power of African Americans for decades.

The disproportionate impact of felony disenfranchisement laws on people of color continues to this day. Nationwide, 13 percent of African-American men have lost the right to vote, a rate that is seven times the national average. In eight states, more than 15 percent of African-Americans cannot vote due to a felony conviction, and four of those states -- Arizona, Iowa, Kentucky, and Nebraska -- disenfranchise more than 20 percent of their African-American voting-age population.

These statistics mirror stark racial disparities in the criminal justice system. A recent study by the Pew Center on the States revealed that 1 in 100 Americans is now behind bars. That figure is startling enough, but the study also reports that 1 in 9 African-American men between the ages of 20 and 34 is in prison.

The Ripple Effect of Disenfranchisement

Felony disenfranchisement laws do not only impact those who lose their voting rights. Entire communities lose their political capital when their citizens cannot vote. Denying the vote to one person has a ripple effect, dramatically decreasing the political power of urban and minority communities.

Evidence suggests that disenfranchising the head of a household can discourage his or her entire family from civic participation. Many people’s first experience with voting or political engagement comes through their parents -- by joining them at a town meeting, attending a school board hearing, or accompanying them into the voting booth. A parent can , including such basics as how to register and where to vote. In fact, of the various factors included in the study, the parent’s political participation had the greatest effect on the child’s initial decision to vote.

Andres Idarraga, who recently had his right to vote restored by a recent change to Rhode Island’s law, explained, "coming from a family in which voting had rarely, if ever, been discussed, this was a new beginning."

Throughout the country, minority communities have lost political influence thanks to felony disenfranchisement laws. In the last 25 years, as incarceration rates skyrocketed and African-Americans were sent to prison at a rate seven times that of whites, the political power of minority communities has been decimated. It’s a simple

equation: communities with high rates of people with felony convictions have fewer votes to cast. Consequently, all residents of these communities, not just those with convictions, lose their political influence.

What’s more, even when people with felony convictions are eligible to vote, they are often de facto disenfranchised due to bureaucratic barriers. In 2003, Alabama could not process more than 80 percent of applications within statutory time limits, and completely failed to respond to dozens of applications. And in New York, Brennan Center surveys have repeatedly uncovered widespread confusion and misinformation among elections officials. In 2005, one third of local election boards mistakenly advised that people could not vote while on probation, and many illegally required unnecessary documentation before allowing people to register.

Dispelling Disenfranchisement Myths, Restoring Democracy

Fortunately, there are signs of progress. Advocates, policy-makers, and some unusual allies have made great strides towards restoring voting rights, and have built significant national momentum towards building a more just and inclusive democracy.

Critics of voting restoration argue that disenfranchisement is an appropriate punishment for breaking the law. But in fact, many in law enforcement have come to believe that felony disenfranchisement laws do more harm than good. The American Probation and Parole Association recently released a resolution calling for restoration of voting rights upon completion of prison, finding that "disenfranchisement laws work against the successful reentry of offenders." Many realize that, in terms of public safety, bringing people into the political process makes them stakeholders, helping to steer former offenders away from future crimes. As one Kentucky prosecutor wrote, "Voting shows a commitment to the future of the community." Branding people as political outsiders by barring them from the polls disrupts reentry into the community and does not do anything to keep people from re-offending. There is absolutely no credible evidence showing that continuing to disenfranchise people after release from prison serves any legitimate law enforcement purpose. Disenfranchisement has nothing to do with being "tough on crime."

Since 1997, 16 states have reformed their laws to expand the franchise or ease voting rights restoration procedures. Recent reforms include an executive order signed by then-Governor Tom Vilsack in Iowa which restored voting rights to 80,000 Iowa citizens on Independence Day, 2005. On Election Day 2006, Rhode Island voters were the first in the country to approve a state constitutional amendment authorizing automatic restoration of voting rights to people as soon as they are released from prison. The Rhode Island Department of Corrections became a voter registration agency, and now every individual is handed a voter registration form on the day they leave prison. In April 2007, Florida Governor Charlie Crist issued new clemency rules ending that state’s policy of permanent disenfranchisement for all felony offenders. Also in April 2007, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed a law streamlining the state’s complicated restoration system by automatically restoring voting rights upon completion of sentence.

This law also eliminated the that people in Maryland pay off any court-imposed fees and fines before being able to register to vote.

And just last month, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear eliminated some of the burdensome requirements his predecessor imposed on people trying to get their voting rights restored. People with felony convictions are disenfranchised for life in Kentucky and can only regain their right to vote by receiving clemency from the governor.

Beshear’s predecessor had required all applicants to provide three character references and write an essay explaining why they should get their right to vote back. While Kentucky still has a long way to go, Beshear’s executive action was certainly an important step.

Still, millions of U.S. citizens continue to be denied the right to vote. This year, Congress has decided to address the issue on a national level. Senator Russ Feingold and Representative John Conyers will soon introduce the Democracy Restoration Act, a bill that seeks to restore voting rights in federal elections to all Americans who have been released from prison and are living in the community. In February, Senator Feingold, joined by former Republican Congressman and Bush I cabinet member, Jack Kemp, wrote, "once the criminal justice system has determined that [people] are ready to return to the community, they should receive the rights and responsibilities that come with that status, and should not continue to be relegated to second-class citizenship."

The energy and optimism spreading across our country this election season is palpable. But our democracy stands for nothing if not the fundamental tenet that each citizen is entitled to one vote, and each vote counts the same regardless of who casts it. The promise of our democracy will never be realized if 4 million Americans remain disenfranchised. It is time to end this last blanket barrier to the ballot box.