Illegal tax scheme gives $140 billion to biggest US banks

Dandelion Salad

By Bill Van Auken
http://www.wsws.org
13 November 2008

An extra-legal measure quietly enacted by the Treasury Department in the shadow of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout package will hand the country’s biggest banks another $140 billion windfall, the Washington Post reported this week.

In a five-sentence memo issued on September 30, on the eve of the first House vote on the bailout bill, the Treasury Department unilaterally overturned a two-decade-old tax law passed by Congress. The measure denied profitable companies the ability to shield their profits from taxation by buying up bankrupt firms as shell companies and using their losses as a tax dodge.

The law, section 382 of the tax code, was enacted by Congress in 1986. It was aimed at curtailing what was seen as an egregious corporate scamming of the tax system. The Republican right and corporate lobbyists have been pushing for the measure’s repeal or amendment ever since.

Treasury Department spokesman Andrew DeSouza defended the action, telling the Post that the administration had the power to overturn a law passed by Congress as part of its mandate to interpret the tax code. He further insisted that the action was a necessary means of rescuing the banks from the financial meltdown.

“This is part of our overall effort to provide relief,” he said.

[…]

via Illegal tax scheme gives $140 billion to biggest US banks

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

see

Bailouts for banks: Layoffs for workers

A Credit Crisis or a Collapsing Ponzi Scheme?

Paulson the Bungler By Mike Whitney

Crisis Is Beyond The Reach of Traditional Solutions By Paul Craig Roberts

Towards a Common Standard Benchmark for evaluating all Monetary Reform Proposals

Why The Bailout Isn’t Working by Josh Sidman

The New World Order Monetary System

Sign Petition for a Monetary System That Puts People First – Open Letter to G-20

The Economy Sucks and or Collapse

The Wall Street bailout and the threat of dictatorship

Dandelion Salad

By Bill Van Auken, Socialist Equality Party vice presidential candidate

http://www.wsws.org

2 October 2008

Recriminations have continued to reverberate internationally over the vote in the US House of Representatives Monday to reject a $700 billion bailout package for the Wall Street banks.

Much of the opposition in the 228-to-205 vote to defeat the bailout was attributed to representatives—Democratic and Republican alike—who face tight races for their seats in November and fear being tarred by their opponents as shills for Wall Street who handed over hundreds of billions in taxpayers’ money to the CEOs and speculators who are responsible for the crisis.

[…]

The Wall Street bailout and the threat of dictatorship.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

see

The Economy Sucks and or Collapse

US Federal Reserve announces $85 billion bailout of insurance giant AIG

Dandelion Salad

By Bill Van Auken
http://www.wsws.org
17 September 2008

Following emergency consultations between the Federal Reserve, the US Treasury and the Democratic leaders of both houses of Congress, the Federal Reserve on Tuesday night announced a bailout of the Wall Street insurance giant American International Group AIG.

According to reports posted by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, under the emergency plan the Fed will provide the failing firm with an $85 billion loan in exchange for 80 percent of its assets.

The reported bailout is a reversal of the policy adopted by the federal government just last weekend, when it failed to intervene to stop the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the country’s fourth largest investment bank. According to the Journal, government officials believed “it would be ‘catastrophic’ to allow AIG to fail.”

[…]

US Federal Reserve announces $85 billion bailout of insurance giant AIG.

see

Who Is A.I.G. And Why Should You Care? By Mike Ruppert (2001)

The U.S. Financial System in Serious Trouble by Prof. Rodrigue Tremblay

How the Masters of the Universe ran amok and cost us the earth

Fed nears a deal to take over ailing AIG

S Economy: Rudderless and Reeling From Direct Hits – A raid on private pensions? By Paul Craig Roberts

The Wall Street crisis and the failure of American capitalism

Lehman, Bear, Freddie, Fannie: What Does It All Mean??? by Josh Sidman

The Economy Sucks and or Collapse

Georgia imposes martial law as violence continues + US-Russian tensions in Caucasus erupt into war + photos

Dandelion Salad

08/09/2008
TBILISI, August 9
(RIA Novosti)

Georgia’s parliament accepted President Mikheil Saakashvili’s declaration of martial law on Saturday, as the country battled with Russia for control over breakaway South Ossetia.

Russia sent tanks and hundreds of troops into Georgia on Friday after Tbilisi launched ground and air strikes in a major operation to seize control over the rebel region, devastating the province’s main city, and killing around 1,500 civilians according to Russian reports.

Saakashvili told the national Security Council in a televised statement: “Georgia is now being subjected to Russian military aggression.”

…continued

***

US-Russian tensions in Caucasus erupt into war

By Bill Van Auken
http://www.wsws.org
9 August 2008

Long-escalating tensions between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia erupted into full-scale war Friday, leaving hundreds if not thousands of civilians dead and turning thousands more into refugees, forced to flee for their lives.

The immediate focus of the fighting is the attempt by Georgia to militarily seize control of the enclave of South Ossetia, which has existed as a de facto independent entity for the past 16 years, and Russia’s armed intervention to counter this assault.

Underlying this military confrontation, however, are far broader conflicts. Feeding the bloody confrontation in South Ossetia is US imperialism’s drive to establish hegemony over the vast energy resources of Central Asia and the Caucasus through the assertion of American military power in the region. The Russian ruling elite, for its part, is seeking to reassert its grip over a region that was ruled by Moscow for two centuries before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

…continued

***

In photos: ‘Georgia South Ossetia Conflict – August 9th’

Warning

.

These photos contain images depicting the reality and horror of war/violence and should only be viewed by a mature audience.

By James Wray
http://www.monstersandcritics.com
Aug 9, 2008, 13:15 GMT

photos

h/t: ICH

***

Georgia and Russia go toe-to-toe over S Ossetia

AlJazeeraEnglish

Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili has called for an immediate ceasefire to the conflict raging in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia, adding that Russia has launched, quote a “fullscale military invasion of its country”.

Russia says its just trying to protect its people, and described the situation there as a humanitarian catastrophe.

Jonah Hull has the latest on the outskirts of South Ossetia.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

see

South Ossetia: The War has Begun! by Andrei Areshev

Russia-Georgia fighting escalates in South Ossetia + UN stalemated

Obama outlines policy of endless war + Obama’s Speech

Dandelion Salad

by Bill Van Auken
Global Research, July 18, 2008
www.wsws.org, 16 July 2008

Any misconception that Barack Obama is running in the 2008 election as an “antiwar” candidate should have been cleared up Tuesday in what was billed by the Democratic presidential campaign as a “major speech” on national security and the US war in Iraq.

Speaking before a backdrop of massed American flags at the Reagan Building in Washington, Obama made it clear that he opposes the present US policy in Iraq not on the basis of any principled opposition to neo-colonialism or aggressive war, but rather on the grounds that the Iraq war is a mistaken deployment of power that fails to advance the global strategic interests of American imperialism.

What emerges from the speech by the junior senator from Illinois is that the November election will not provide the American people with the opportunity to vote for or against war, but merely to choose which of the two colonial-style wars that US forces are presently fighting should be escalated.

As in his op-ed piece published in the New York Times on Monday, his call on Tuesday for the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq was linked to the proposal to dispatch as many as 10,000 troops to Afghanistan to escalate the war there.

The thrust of Obama’s speech was a critique of the Bush administration’s incompetence in pursuing an imperialist strategy, combined with an implicit commitment to advance the same basic strategy in a more rational and effective manner once he enters the White House.

He summed up his policy as “a responsible redeployment of our combat troops that pushes Iraq’s leaders toward a political solution, rebuilds our military, and refocuses on Afghanistan and our broader security interests.”

Obama reiterated his campaign pledge to bring US “combat brigades” out of Iraq within 16 months of his inauguration. After this “redeployment,” however, a “residual force” would remain in Iraq carrying out counter-insurgency operations, protecting US facilities and training and supporting Iraqi puppet forces—tasks that would undoubtedly keep tens of thousands of American troops occupying the country indefinitely.

Obama stressed that he would make “tactical adjustments” to his plan based upon consultations with “commanders on the ground and the Iraqi government,” suggesting that even the partial withdrawal he proposes would unlikely unfold as quickly as promised.

The speech was scheduled in advance of a “fact-finding” tour that Obama is set to embark upon in the next week, visiting both Iraq and Afghanistan and conducting meetings with US military commanders in both countries.

Obama began his speech by invoking the legacy of US imperialism’s strategy in the aftermath of World War II, when it acted to “foster new international institutions like the United Nations, NATO and the World Bank” and rebuilt shattered European capitalism through the Marshall Plan. He contrasted that six-decade policy with what he presented as the squandered opportunity for Washington to again seize global leadership following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

“The world, too, was united against the perpetrators of this evil act, as old allies, new friends and even long-time adversaries stood by our side,” said Obama. “It was time—once again—for America’s might and moral suasion to be harnessed; it was time to once again shape a new security strategy for an ever-changing world.”

The starting point for seizing this golden opportunity, according to Obama, was to “have deployed the full force of American power to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and all of the terrorists responsible for 9/11, while supporting real security in Afghanistan.”

Instead, he charged, the Bush administration diverted these military resources into the war against Iraq, “a country that had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.” He continued: “By any measure, our single-minded and open-ended focus on Iraq is not a sound strategy for keeping America safe.”

This presentation is a gross and deliberate distortion of the motives underlying both the war in Afghanistan and the one in Iraq. Neither of them was launched with the aim of “keeping America safe,” but rather to advance definite strategic interests of American imperialism.

The central aim of the war in Afghanistan—planned well before the attacks of 9/11—was to take advantage of the power vacuum in Central Asia created by the Soviet Union’s dissolution to assert US domination over a region containing the second largest proven reserves of petroleum and natural gas in the world.

As for the supposed targets of this operation—Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the Taliban—all of them are, in the final analysis, the products of US imperialism’s own bloody history of intervention in the region, particularly in the 1980s, when Washington poured billions of dollars into funding the Mujahedin forces fighting the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan and the Soviet army when it intervened there. Among these forces were bin Laden and those who went on to set up both Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The legacy of this CIA-directed war was the devastation of Afghanistan and protracted political chaos, which Washington sought to curb by supporting the Taliban’s coming to power.

Now, nearly seven years after the US invaded Afghanistan, Obama proclaims, “As president, I will make the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban the top priority that it should be. This is a war that we have to win.”

To that end, Obama vowed to send “two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan” and to press Washington’s NATO allies to make “greater contributions—with fewer restrictions” in terms of deploying their own troops.

He continued by vowing to expand the intervention in Afghanistan into neighboring Pakistan.

“The greatest threat to that security lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where terrorists train and insurgents strike into Afghanistan,” he warned. “We cannot tolerate a terrorist sanctuary, and as president, I won’t. We need a stronger and sustained partnership between Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO to secure the border, to take out terrorist camps and to crack down on cross-border insurgents. We need more troops, more helicopters, more satellites, more Predator drones in the Afghan border region. And we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights.”

There is no evidence that US forces are fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan or that the bulk of those attacking American and NATO forces are following orders issued by the remnants of the Taliban. The Pentagon has not reported the capture of Al Qaeda operatives in the stepped-up fighting that has claimed the lives of 69 US and NATO soldiers in the months of May and June.

The reality is that the resistance to the US-led occupation has grown dramatically as a direct product of the escalating slaughter of civilians, as seen in the July 6 US air strike that killed 47 members of a wedding party, the vast majority of them women and children. Anger has also been generated by the arbitrary detention and frequent torture of those picked up by US units and Afghan puppet troops, as well as by the gross corruption of the US-backed regime of President Hamid Karzai.

In the attack on a US base last Sunday that claimed the lives of nine US soldiers, local villagers reportedly participated, providing direct support to the insurgents who carried out the assault.

With “more troops, more helicopters, more satellites, more Predator drones,” Obama is proposing to escalate this slaughter, which will generate greater resistance and an expanded war involving more US troops and, inevitably, their deployment across the border into Pakistan.

Obama vowed to beef up the US military for a war that threatens to prove far more intense than the one in Iraq. He called for an overall increase of American ground forces by 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 marines, and “investing in the capabilities we need to defeat conventional foes and meet the unconventional challenges of our time.”

Much of the media reaction to Obama’s speech centered on speculation over whether it was aimed at reassuring his Democratic base that he is still committed to effecting a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, or if it indicated a further “move to the center” by stressing his willingness to use force as the US commander-in-chief.

In reality, the speech reflected what is becoming a consensus position within much of the American political establishment, Democratic and Republican alike. There is a growing conviction that the US can secure its strategic interests in Iraq with fewer troops and without expending the more than $10 billion a month that is compounding the deepening economic crisis of American capitalism.

To underscore this message, Obama was introduced Tuesday by former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, who, together with Republican ex-Secretary of State James Baker, chaired the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan panel that called for a revamped US military and diplomatic policy aimed at salvaging the American intervention in Iraq.

Both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, have expressed concern that there are insufficient troop levels in Afghanistan to secure US domination of the country. They have indicated that they would like to deploy another 10,000 there—the same number proposed by Obama.

Even Bush, in a White House press conference Tuesday morning, sounded this theme, claiming that Washington and its NATO allies were already initiating a “surge” in Afghanistan.

As for the speech signaling a shift to the right, the reality is that Obama has sounded the same themes repeatedly since initiating his run for the presidency. While in the Democratic primaries he stressed his opposition to the 2002 Senate vote to grant Bush authorization to launch the Iraq war—a resolution that was supported by his principal rivals Hillary Clinton and John Edwards—he always made it clear that he embraced the ideological framework of the “global war on terrorism” used to justify both the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions.

Given this position and his subsequent votes to fund the war once he entered the Senate in 2005, there is little reason to believe that he would not have joined his rivals in giving Bush a blank check for an Iraq invasion had he been a US senator at the time.

Writing in Foreign Affairs a year ago, Obama stressed that the lesson of the Iraq debacle was the necessity to prepare for new US wars. “We must use this moment both to rebuild our military and to prepare it for the missions of the future,” he stressed. “We must retain the capacity to swiftly defeat any conventional threat to our country and our vital interests. But we must also become better prepared to put boots on the ground in order to take on foes that fight asymmetrical and highly adaptive campaigns on a global scale.”

While Obama’s “left” apologists will no doubt excuse the blatant militarism and warmongering in the candidate’s speech as a mere political device aimed at winning over “centrist” voters, the reality is that the candidate is spelling out what can be expected from an incoming Democratic administration in 2009.

Its policies will be determined not by the hollow campaign rhetoric about “change” that has been Obama’s specialty, but rather by the deepening economic and social crisis of American capitalism and the determination of the American ruling elite to continue using military force as a means of offsetting its economic decline.

© Copyright Bill Van Auken, Global Research, 2008 The url address of this article is: www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=9616

***

Obama Speech on Iraq and Bush/McCain Foreign Policy

VOTERSTHINKdotORG

http://cspanjunkie.org/
July 15, 2008 MSNBC

see

Memo to Obama, McCain: No One Wins in a War By Howard Zinn

Obama’s Brave New World + Ex-CIA Ray McGovern on Obama’s ‘new world’

Nader on Obama and Israel (video)

Worse than McCain By Mike Whitney

Amid mounting food crisis, governments fear revolution of the hungry

Dandelion Salad

by Bill Van Auken
Global Research, April 30, 2008
wsws.org – 2008-04-15

Last week’s meetings in Washington of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Group of Seven were convened in the shadow of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. While Wall Street’s turmoil and the deepening credit crunch dominated discussions, leaders of the global financial institutions were forced to take note of the growing global food emergency, warning of the threat of widespread hunger and already emerging political instability.

The seven major capitalist powers in the G-7—the US, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada—made virtually no mention of the global food crisis, referring in only one brief reference to the risk of “high oil and commodity prices.” Instead, they focused on the stability of the financial markets, promising measures to shore up investor confidence.

The IMF and World Bank, however, felt compelled to acknowledge the emerging worldwide catastrophe, in part because while these agencies are instruments of the main imperialist powers, they must posture as responsive to the needs of all countries. It would be too revealing for them to focus exclusively on the fate of major finance houses, while ignoring the fact that hundreds of millions across the planet are being threatened with starvation.

More decisive, however, is the realization that this crisis confronting the most impoverished countries and poorest sections of the world’s population is threatening to unleash a revolution of the hungry that could topple governments across large parts of the world.

Even as the IMF and World Bank were meeting, the government of Haiti was forced out in a no-confidence vote passed in response to several days of demonstrations and protests against rising food prices and hunger that swept all the country’s major cities. Clashes between protesters and United Nations occupation troops left at least five people dead and scores wounded and saw crowds attempt to storm the presidential palace.

Food prices in Haiti had risen on average by 40 percent in less than a year, with the cost of staples such as rice doubling.

The same essential story has been repeated in country after country, from Africa to the Middle East, south Asia and Latin America.

* In Bangladesh, on Saturday, some 20,000 textile workers took to the streets to denounce soaring food prices and demand higher wages. The price of rice in the country has doubled over the past year, threatening the workers, who earn a monthly salary of just $25, with hunger. Scores were injured in clashes with police, who used gunfire in an attempt to disperse the crowds.

* In Egypt, protests by workers over food prices rocked the textile center of Mahalla al-Kobra, north of Cairo, for two days last week, with two people shot dead by security forces. Hundreds were arrested, and the government sent plainclothes police into the factories to force workers to work. Food prices in Egypt have risen by 40 percent in the past year.

* Unions and shopkeepers staged a two-day general strike in the West African nation of Burkina Faso last week to protest high prices. The strikers demanded a “significant and effective” cut in the price of rice and other staples.

* Several hundred demonstrators marched on parliament in Phnom Penh, Cambodia April 6 to protest food price hikes. The cost of a kilogram of rice has risen to $1 in a country where the average income is barely 50 cents a day. Police armed with cattle prods broke up the protest.

* Earlier this month, in the Ivory Coast, thousands marched on the home of President Laurent Gbagbo, chanting “we are hungry” and “life is too expensive, you are going to kill us.” The country has seen food prices soar by between 30 percent and 60 percent from one week to the next. Police broke up the protest with tear gas and batons, injuring over a dozen people.

Similar demonstrations, strikes and clashes have taken place in Bolivia, Peru, Mexico, Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Yemen, Ethiopia, and throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa.

With terrifying rapidity, hundreds of millions of people all over the planet have been confronted with the inability to obtain the basic necessities of life. The global capitalist market is dictating intolerable conditions for masses of people on every continent, provoking a worldwide eruption of class struggle.

It is the concern that this struggle will spin out of control that found expression in the statements of concern issued by the IMF and World Bank leaders together with finance ministers and central bank chiefs gathered in Washington.

“If food prices go on as they are today, then the consequences on the population in a large set of countries, including Africa, but not only Africa, will be terrible. Hundreds of thousands of people will be starving. Children will suffer from malnutrition, with consequences all of their lives,” Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the International Monetary Fund managing director, told an April 12 press conference in Washington.

He warned that governments “will see what they have done totally destroyed and their legitimacy facing the population destroyed also.” Strauss-Kahn added: “So it’s not only a humanitarian question. It is not only an economic question. It is also a democratic question. Those kind of questions sometimes end into war.”

“In just two months,” World Bank President Robert Zoellick said in an opening speech to the meeting of finance ministers, “rice prices have skyrocketed to near historical levels, rising by around 75 percent globally and more in some markets, with more likely to come.

“In Bangladesh, a 2-kilogram bag of rice,” he said, holding up such a bag, “now consumes about half of the daily income of a poor family.”

He added that wheat prices had increased by 120 percent, more than doubling the cost of a loaf of bread.

“If food prices go on as they are today, then the consequences on the population in a large set of countries … will be terrible,” said Zoellick.

The “international community will also need to take urgent and concerted action in order to avoid the larger political and security implications of this growing crisis,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told international finance and trade officials at a UN meeting following the weekend talks in Washington.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Jean Ziegler offered among the bleakest prognoses for the continuing crisis. “We are heading for a very long period of rioting, conflicts (and) waves of uncontrollable regional instability marked by the despair of the most vulnerable populations,” he told the French daily Liberation Monday.

He pointed out that, even before the present crisis, hunger claimed the life of a child under the age of 10 every 5 seconds, and 854 million people in the world were seriously undernourished. What was now posed, Ziegler warned, is “an imminent massacre.”

While finance ministers from the US and Europe indicated agreement that the crisis was severe, there was no indication that the major capitalist powers have any plan to mount the kind of effort needed to stave off a humanitarian catastrophe.

The White House announced Monday that it is releasing $200 million in emergency food aid in response to a World Bank appeal for funding to make up for the shortfall in food assistance caused by soaring prices. The amount—roughly what the US spends in half a day on its war to conquer Iraq—is less than a drop in the bucket in the face of the looming global catastrophe.

In the end, the crisis is a product of the capitalist market itself. It is not a matter of too many mouths to feed or too little food to supply human needs. Food is available, but the market has driven prices to a level out of reach for a growing portion of humanity in the most oppressed countries, and at the same effectively slashing the living standards of workers in the more advanced capitalist world.

This process is driven by a number of factors, including climatic ones, such as the impact of a drought in Australia on wheat production and a flood in Bangladesh on rice. There is also the rise in demand, particularly from growing middle class layers in India and China.

But more fundamental is the effect of speculation in food as a commodity—like oil and precious metals. It has become a haven for financial investors fleeing from paper assets tainted by subprime mortgages and other toxic credit products. The influx of buyers drives prices and makes food unaffordable for the world’s poor.

“Fund money flowing into agriculture has boosted prices,” Standard Chartered Bank food commodities analyst Abah Ofon told the media. “It’s fashionable. This is the year of agricultural commodities.”

Speculation in food as a commodity has been sharply accelerated by the decline in the value of the dollar, soaring oil prices and the promotion of biofuel production in the US and elsewhere. This attempt to generate a new investment “bubble,” based on the fraud that somehow turning corn into ethanol represents a “green” alternative to fossil fuels, has driven up the price not only of corn, but other grains, while diverting a major share of food production into a more profitable venture.

Subsidized by the US government, American farmers have diverted fully 30 percent of corn production into the ethanol scheme, driving up the cost of other, more expensive, grains that are being bought as substitutes for animal feed.

“When a biofuel policy is launched in the United States, thanks to subsidies of $6 billion, of bio-fuels that drains 138 million tons of corn from the market, the foundation is laid for a crime against humanity to satisfy one’s own thirst for fuel,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Jean Ziegler told Liberation.

This assessment was repeated by India’s finance minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, who declared, “When millions of people are going hungry, it’s a crime against humanity that food should be diverted to biofuels.”

US officials dismissed the charges, insisting that biofuel production was only one factor among many and indicating that there is no plan to change Washington’s policy.

Country after country has been left vulnerable to the global commodity price surge by “free market” policies implemented at the demands of Washington and the international financial agencies such as the IMF and World Bank over the past quarter century.

The closer integration of the economies of the oppressed countries into the world market has been accompanied by their increasing concentration on specialized export crops, while tariff barriers have been demolished, opening the way to subsidized agricultural staples from the more advanced countries capturing local markets.

Now, attempts by individual national governments to remedy the problem within their own borders—often taking the form of commodity producers erecting barriers on exports—have served to exacerbate the crisis internationally, driving food prices even higher, while triggering protests by farmers in countries stretching from India to Argentina. According to a recent World Bank survey, at least 58 countries have implemented at least some form of food-trade protectionism.

What is emerging in the crisis over food prices is a tumultuous manifestation of a breakdown of the global capitalist order. The catastrophe facing billions of people around the globe cannot be resolved within the confines of a system based on private profit and the nation state.

The revolutionary implications of this crisis are beginning to dawn on elements within the ruling establishment itself. In an article published Monday, the influential US magazine Time noted: “The idea of the starving masses driven by their desperation to take to the streets and overthrow the ancien regime has seemed impossibly quaint since capitalism triumphed so decisively in the Cold War… And yet, the headlines of the past month suggest that skyrocketing food prices are threatening the stability of a growing number of governments around the world.”

The CRG grants permission to cross-post original Global Research articles on community internet sites as long as the text & title are not modified. The source and the author’s copyright must be displayed. For publication of Global Research articles in print or other forms including commercial internet sites, contact: crgeditor@yahoo.com

www.globalresearch.ca contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to our readers under the provisions of “fair use” in an effort to advance a better understanding of political, economic and social issues. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than “fair use” you must request permission from the copyright owner.

For media inquiries: crgeditor@yahoo.com
© Copyright Bill Van Auken, wsws.org, 2008
The url address of this article is: www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=8846

see

out of frustration…and in weakness…

Global Famine: The Lords of Capital Decree Mass Death by Starvation

Food Fights: Predation vs Protection by The Other Katherine Harris

FOOD CRISIS: The greatest demonstration of the historical failure of the capitalist model

Fueling Food Shortages by Ralph Nader + Harry Chapin: Cats In The Cradle

High prices & less land keep Haiti hungry (vid) + The Black Hole of Debt

Food

The sieges of Basra & Sadr City: another US war crime in Iraq

Dandelion Salad

By Bill Van Auken
wsws.org
29 March 2008

US fighter planes and helicopter gunships struck the southern Iraqi city of Basra and the teaming slums of Baghdad’s Sadr City with bombs and missiles Friday as the offensive launched by Iraqi puppet troops against the Mahdi Army, the Shia militia loyal to Muqtada al Sadr, faltered badly.

These air attacks, carried out in densely populated cities, represent another war crime in the five-year-old campaign of aggression and colonial-style occupation carried out by Washington in pursuit of US strategic interests in the region.

Fighting raged for a fourth straight day Friday, with US helicopters firing HHellfire missiles into Sadr City, a vast and impoverished area of Baghdad that is home to some 2 million people. US military sources said the attack killed four “terrorists.” Film from the area, however, showed dead and wounded children and there were reports that attacks caused dozens of civilian casualties.

The night before, US and British fighter planes bombed neighborhoods in Basra, the port city in southern Iraq, with a population of 1.5 million.

The US military reported Friday morning that American troops had fought running battles with Iraqi militiamen across six neighborhoods of Baghdad the day before. The Pentagon claimed that US forces killed 42 people in the fighting in the Iraqi capital, labeling all of the dead as “terrorists.”

According to some Iraqi estimates, the dead in Basra alone now number over 400, with hundreds more wounded. Fighting is also raging across much of Iraq, with fierce battles reported in Kut, Hilla, Amara, Kirkuk, and Baquba. US sources put the death toll Friday at 170.

American occupation forces have clearly stepped up their role in the crackdown, as Iraqi puppet forces have failed to achieve their objectives. In Basra, some 30,000 Iraqi troops and police have apparently been unable to wrest control from the Mahdi Army over at least three quarters of the city.

While Maliki had initially given a 72-hour ultimatum for the Sadrists in Basra to lay down their arms, he extended it Friday until April 8. The date coincides with scheduled testimony by Gen. David Petraeus, the US military commander in Iraq, and US Ambassador Ryan Crocker to Congress on proposals for continued troop deployments in the occupied country. The eruption of fighting has already led to speculation that Petraeus and the administration may well call for a suspension of the withdrawals that were to have reduced US forces to 140,000—still above the “pre-surge” levels—by this summer.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, the Washington Post reported: “US forces in armored vehicles battled Mahdi Army fighters Thursday in Sadr City, the vast Shiite stronghold in eastern Baghdad, as an offensive to quell party-backed militias entered its third day. Iraqi army and police units appeared to be largely holding to the outskirts of the area as American troops took the lead in the fighting. “Four US Stryker armored vehicles were seen in Sadr City by a Washington Post correspondent, one of them engaging Mahdi Army militiamen with heavy fire. The din of American weapons, along with the Mahdi Army’s AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, was heard through much of the day. US helicopters and drones buzzed overhead.”

Baghdad, like Basra before it, has been placed under a 24-hour curfew that began Thursday night and will run at least until Sunday morning. The effect is to turn the city’s streets into a free-fire zone for occupation troops and their Iraqi puppet allies.

Speaking at the White House Friday, President George W. Bush called the bloody clashes a “defining moment in the history of a free Iraq” that demonstrated the Iraqi regime’s commitment to “even-handed justice” and Maliki’s “leadership.”

The American president added: “There’s going to be violence. And that’s sad. But this situation needed to be dealt with, and it’s now being dealt with — just like we’re dealing with the situation up in Mosul.”

Referring to Maliki, Bush declared: “This was his decision. It was his military planning. It was his causing the troops to go from point A to point B. And it’s exactly what a lot of folks here in America were wondering whether or not Iraq would even be able to do in the first place.”

There is no reason to believe the official story coming out of the White House and the Pentagon that the sieges being laid to Basra and Sadr City are the result of some independent decision made by the Maliki regime. Whatever differences may exist over the timing or execution of this operation, it has clearly been carried out to fulfill definite US objectives.

The operation comes barely one week after Vice President Dick Cheney’s surprise visit to Baghdad for talks that centered on provincial elections scheduled for October, the future of Iraq’s oil industry and plans for the continued and long-term occupation of Iraq by US forces.

The bloodbath that is now being carried out is in all likelihood the practical outcome of these discussions.

While claiming that Maliki is upholding the rule of law against “gangs, militias and outlaws,” Washington has deliberately instigated what amounts to a civil war between rival political factions and militias within Iraq’s majority Shia population in order to advance its own predatory interests in the country.

The crackdown has not been launched against militias in general, but at Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Its aim is to severely weaken the Sadrists to the benefit of their political rivals, Maliki’s Dawa party and its principal government ally, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), led by Shia cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, whose own militia, the Badr Brigade, is well represented in the government’s security forces.

In an analysis prepared last November, the International Crisis Group described the conflict between the Shia factions as taking “the form of a class struggle between the Shiite merchant elite of Baghdad and the holy cities, represented by ISCI (as well, religiously, by [Grand Ayatollah] Sistani), and the Shiite urban underclass,” which is the principal base of support for the movement led by Sadr.

The determination to suppress the Sadrist movement is driven in part by the electoral calendar. Those now holding power in the Maliki government—who have little in the way of mass support—fear that the Sadrists could sweep provincial elections set for October.

It is worth recalling that the last major urban siege conducted in Iraq—the razing of the predominantly Sunni city of Fallujah in November of 2004 in which thousands of Iraqi civilians died—was also carried out in preparation for US-organized elections scheduled three months later.

The US interest in this conflict is clear. While the Sadrists have repeatedly demanded the withdrawal of US forces, Maliki’s Dawa Party and the ISCI have made clear that they are prepared to support an indefinite occupation.

While the ISCI supports the carving out of an autonomous Shia region in the south in order to lay hold of the region’s oil wealth—it includes 60 percent of the country’s known reserves—the Sadrists have rejected regionalism in favor of a centralized federal government. To realize their objectives, the ISCI must oust the Sadrists and other rivals from positions of control in Basra and elsewhere.

As the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, “The battle for Basra marks the latest clash over the region’s biggest source of wealth: its oil reserves, comprising 9.5% of the world’s total.”

The Journal reported that during his recent visit, Cheney “held one-on-one meetings with Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders in Iraq to speed passage of a law opening Iraq’s enormous petroleum reserves to more efficient production by global oil companies.”

While the passage of a national law opening Iraq’s oil wealth to foreign exploitation has been held up, the Journal noted, “Kurdish officials in Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern enclave have passed an oil law of their own and are signing deals with foreign firms without waiting for permission from Baghdad.”

Washington may well be seeking to forge similar relations in the south of Iraq, with even larger oil reserves, and would certainly be prepared to spill considerable amounts of blood to secure such a prize.

Those who point to the eruption of violence in Iraq as a manifestation of the “failure of the surge” are missing the point. The Bush administration has deliberately provoked this violence in pursuit of the objective that has driven the Iraq intervention from its outset: the cementing of semi-colonial US control over the country and its oil wealth.

US actions have compelled the Sadrist movement to renounce, at least in practice, the cease-fire that it initiated last August. This began not just with this week’s military offensive, but with a prolonged campaign by US occupation forces, the Maliki government and the Badr Brigade to use the cease-fire as a cover for arresting and killing thousands of Sadrists. It is this campaign that produced the so-called “rogue” elements that have fought back, providing a pretext for intensifying the repression.

These actions, however, have only underscored the failure of five years of American occupation to either install a reliable puppet regime or quell the resistance of the Iraqi people. The US military’s sealing off of Sadr City, the air and ground attacks against the Mahdi Army militia and the imposition of the round-the-clock curfew have all failed to halt the mortar and rocket attacks on the heavily fortified Green Zone, which was hit more than 20 times on Friday, with the US Embassy compound, the United Nations offices and the offices an Iraqi vice president all suffering direct hits.

The principal result of the US strategy is the unleashing of barbarism against millions of people living in two major cities—Baghdad and Basra.

Residents of Basra told the BBC Friday that the level of violence being inflicted on the city is the worst in memory, surpassing even that of the repression carried out by the Iraqi military against the 1991 Shia uprising that followed Iraq’s defeat in the first Persian Gulf War. It should be recalled that one of the pretexts incessantly repeated by the Bush administration for its 2003 invasion was that Saddam Hussein had “killed his own people.” But now, with ample backing from the US military, Washington’s Iraqi puppet Maliki is doing the same thing.

Aside from those killed and wounded, the entire population has been locked in their homes under conditions of rising early summer heat and dwindling water and food supplies. Both electricity and water supplies have been cut off to Basra.

“This is a catastrophe that could lead to a huge problem as we are entering summer and, of course, if it continues like this, it will lead to waterborne diseases including diarrhea,” Mahdi al-Tamimi, head of the Basra’s Human Rights Office told the United Nations news agency, IRIN. “All aspects of life have been paralyzed with the closure of schools, government offices and markets due to clashes that have forced people indoors with not enough food as there was no prior notice for this operation.”

“The humanitarian situation is getting worse by the minute — not the hour or the day — due to clashes taking place in the streets; as a result, the humanitarian effort has been severely hampered and paralyzed,” Salih Hmoud, head of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society’s office in Basra, told IRIN on Thursday.

Lack of clean water has led to outbreaks of diarrhea in Basra. “Some of these people with diarrhea have somehow managed to defy the curfew and reach nearby hospitals on foot but the majority is still in their houses,” said Hmoud. “This is very dangerous because they can die if they are not treated.”

Reporting on Baghdad, Patrick Cockburn of the British Independent noted that Sadr City’s two million residents have been encircled by the US military and ordered to stay indoors. He quoted a Sadr City resident named Mohammed, who said, “We are trapped in our homes with no water or electricity since yesterday. We can’t bathe our children or wash our clothes.” Temperatures in both Baghdad and Basra have risen into the upper 90s (30s Celsius).

Both Maliki (who has vowed to “fight until the end”) and US military sources have indicated that the sieges being waged against Basra and Sadr City have only just begun. The strategy of “clearing” the crowded slum neighborhoods will take many more days if not weeks of combat. It threatens a bloodbath that could easily eclipse the one that was inflicted upon Fallujah more than three years ago.

See Also:
Iraqi government offensive in Basra threatens to trigger Shiite uprising
[28 March 2008]
Iraqi regime launches assault on Basra
[26 March 2008]
Cheney’s “peace” trip to Middle East prepares new wars
[21 March 2008]
Five years after the invasion of Iraq: a debacle for US imperialism
[19 March 2008]

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Latin American crisis triggered by an assassination “Made in the USA”

Dandelion Salad

By Bill Van Auken
wsws.org
7 March 2008

Nearly a week after Colombia’s cross-border raid against an encampment of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrilla movement in neighboring Ecuador, Latin America continues to confront its worst regional diplomatic and military crisis in decades. The US government and mass media have weighed in with unsolicited judgments and advice, attributing the tense standoff between Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela to the threat of terrorism to Colombia, the complicity in terrorism on the part of Venezuela and overheated animosities between the respective heads of state of these three countries.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey declared that “it’s important to recognize that the events that took place were, in fact, a response to the presence of terrorists.” Similarly, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino affirmed that Colombia “was defending itself against terrorism.”

This official reaction extends to Colombia—Washington’s principal client state in South America and the recipient of some $600 million annually in American military aid—the mantle of the Bush Doctrine, which holds that in the “global war on terrorism” such niceties as respect for sovereign borders and international law no longer apply.

…continued

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Escobar: Colombian attack on FARC in Ecuador (video) + Plan Colombia

The attack on Ecuador – Underestimating Rafael Correa By Fidel Castro Ruz

Uribe’s Illegal Cross-Border Raid – Colombian Deaths in Ecuador

Bush’s last State of the Union speech overshadowed by deepening crisis By Bill Van Auken

Dandelion Salad

By Bill Van Auken
wsws.org
29 January 2008

George W. Bush used his eighth and final State of the Union speech Monday night to outline an agenda of continuing wars of aggression abroad together with social reaction and political repression at home that is certain to continue well past his leaving office a year from now, no matter which party wins the 2008 election.

Yet the ritualistic annual affair—marked by obscene applause and cheering from both Democratic and Republican legislators for a man who should be standing trial as a war criminal—was overshadowed by the deepest crisis confronting US and world capitalism since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The entire affair was dominated by the most pervasive feature of American political life—the immense disconnect between the masses of American working people and the thin financial aristocracy that controls and whose interests are represented by both major political parties.

Bush began his address with a salute to the “collective wisdom of ordinary citizens” and an affirmation of his supposed conviction that government must “trust in the ability of free people to make wise decisions.”

…continued

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Bush’s Final State of the Union Speech 01.28.08 (video; transcript)

One Bush Left Behind by Greg Palast

State of the Union Reaction from Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) (vid link)

Biden, Webb, McCain & Obama respond to Bush’s SOTU (vids)

Olbermann: SOTU + The Florida Factor + Worst + Bushed!

Pentagon chief says US ready to deploy combat troops in Pakistan By Bill Van Auken

Dandelion Salad

By Bill Van Auken
wsws.org
26 January 2008

The United States is “ready, willing and able” to deploy American combat troops in Pakistan for joint military operations in the country’s troubled border region, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.

The public statement about an American intervention in Pakistan appeared aimed at pressuring the regime of President Pervez Musharraf into accepting a more direct US role in the suppression of internal opposition, which is linked to the growing resistance to the American-led occupation of neighboring Afghanistan.

According to media reports, the Bush administration has conducted extensive top-level discussions on the crisis in Pakistan and drawn up plans for a US intervention in the wake of last month’s assassination of Pakistan Peoples Party leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The administration reportedly sees the political crisis in the aftermath of the political killing as an opportunity to expand its influence in the country.

…continued

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Italian judge seeks trial of 140 over Operation Condor repression by Bill Van Auken

Dandelion Salad

by Bill Van Auken
Global Research, January 18, 2008
wsws.org – 2008-01-15

An Italian judge has issued orders for the preventive arrest pending deportation of at least 140 former officials of military dictatorships that ruled seven Latin American countries between the 1960s and 1980s. They are charged with responsibility for the deaths of 25 Italian citizens, who were among the tens of thousands of opponents of these regimes murdered, tortured and illegally imprisoned under a US-backed campaign of repression known as Operation Condor.

Continue reading

US agency OKs slashing of health benefits for over-65 retirees By Bill Van Auken

Dandelion Salad

By Bill Van Auken
World Socialist Web Site
28 December 2007

Using the slow period between Christmas and New Year’s as cover, the US federal agency charged with enforcing laws against discrimination issued a controversial new ruling that allows employer and union-run health-care plans to reduce costs by slashing or totally eliminating benefits for retirees once they turn 65.

The ruling by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission affects some 10 million American retirees who rely on health plans sponsored by their former employers. It marks a significant step in further shifting the burden imposed by spiraling health-care costs from the corporations to working people.

In reporting the ruling, the New York Times Thursday cited a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation showing that premiums for employer-run health insurance have risen by 78 percent since 2001.

Wednesday’s announcement of the new ruling follows a lengthy court battle over the issue. In 2000, the US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia held that the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act barred employers from spending less on health benefits for older retirees than for younger ones.

It has long been common practice for employer-run health plans to factor in benefits available to those over 65 under Medicare, often providing supplemental benefits to make up for costs not covered by this government-run program. The 2000 ruling would have compelled health care plan administrators to demonstrate that the benefits—taking Medicare into account—were equal for those over and under 65.

In 2004, after the EEOC first attempted to issue a ruling that exempted employer-run retiree health plans from the age discrimination act, AARP (American Association for Retired People) took the agency to court, charging that the action flouted the anti-discrimination law.

The same appeals court reversed the thrust of its earlier decision, ruling last June that the EEOC could issue an exemption on the grounds that a strict reading of the age discrimination act would run counter to “public interest.”

“We recognize with some dismay that the proposed exemption may allow employers to reduce health benefits to retirees over the age of 65 while maintaining greater benefits for younger retirees,” the court declared, but nonetheless found that the exemption represented a “proper exercise” of the EEOC’s authority.

EEOC Chairwoman Naomi Earp issued a statement in defense of the agency’s ruling, claiming that by opening the door to the slashing of retiree benefits, the EEOC was protecting retirees. “Implementation of this rule is welcome news for America’s retirees, whether young or old,” she said. “By this action, the EEOC seeks to preserve and protect employer-provided retiree health benefits, which are increasingly less available and less generous.”

The logic underlying this Orwellian statement is that, without the exemption, employers would scrap retiree health benefits altogether. As it is today, only one out of every three large US companies—and one out of ten small ones—provide such benefits. This compares to about 70 percent of US companies offering such benefits in the 1980s.

“Employers are not legally obligated to provide retiree health benefits, and many do not,” the EEOC noted. Its new rule states that retirees’ health benefits may be “altered, reduced or eliminated” once they are eligible for Medicare.

The agency continued: “In order to ensure that all retirees have access to some health care coverage, the ADEA will not prohibit employers and unions from providing retiree health coverage only to those retirees who are not yet eligible for Medicare. They also may supplement a retiree’s Medicare coverage without having to demonstrate that the coverage is identical to that of non-Medicare eligible retirees.” In other words, the ruling provides explicit approval for the creation of two-tier retiree health plans in which older retirees would be forced to accept inferior benefits.

AARP denounced the action. “This rule gives employers free rein to use age as a basis for reducing or eliminating health-care benefits for retirees 65 and older,” the group’s lawyer, Christopher Mackaronis, told the Times. “Ten million people could be affected—adversely affected—by the rule.”

The EEOC statement on the ruling repeatedly cited the support for the agency’s reactionary measure from “labor unions.” The unions, the agency said, had expressed the opinion that any attempt to enforce the age discrimination act would only provide “an additional incentive to reduce or eliminate employer-sponsored retiree health benefits.”

Gerald Shea, assistant to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, told the Times: “Given the enormous cost pressures on employer-sponsored health benefits, we support the flexibility reflected in the rule as a way to maximize our ability to maintain comprehensive coverage for active and retired workers.”

Aside from the American labor bureaucracy’s concern about providing US corporations the “flexibility” to boost profits by slashing the benefits of retired workers, the unions have a far more immediate interest in the new ruling.

Most private sector unions run the health plans covering retirees, and therefore the bureaucracy has a direct—and often thoroughly corrupt—stake in the “flexibility” provided by the EEOC decision.

These union-run health insurance funds provide the union officialdom with the ability to hand out patronage jobs to friends and relatives, obtain second careers for themselves and receive perks and, not infrequently, direct kickbacks from health-care providers.

The latest union to join this racket is the United Auto Workers. As a result of concessions agreements negotiated with the Big Three US automakers earlier this year, the UAW has become the largest provider of health-care benefits in America, outside of the US government.

Under the sellout contracts with GM, Chrysler and Ford, the UAW has been given control over an under-funded health-care trust known as the Voluntary Employees’ Beneficiary Association (VEBA).

With the Big Three having provided funding that accounts for barely half of their health-care liabilities—and thereby writing off tens of billions in obligations—the UAW has essentially been handed a huge pile of cash—an estimated $54.4 billion— along with the job of sharply slashing benefits.

The EEOC ruling provides the UAW, as well as other unions, with another instrument for cutting benefits and jacking up costs for the workers on second-rate health-care plans, while boosting the already considerable income of the bureaucrats and their associates.

See Also:
Details of General Motors contract underscore UAW betrayal
[28 September 2007]

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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Get real, Americans! You have been ripped off! By Mary Pitt

New York Times bows to White House pressure over CIA tapes story by Bill Van Auken

Dandelion Salad

by Bill Van Auken
Global Research, December 23, 2007
wsws.org

The decision by the New York Times to bow to White House pressure and publish a correction of the sub-head on its December 19 story linking senior Bush advisors to the destruction of CIA torture tapes has been hailed by the Republican right—echoed by large sections of the media—as a major political victory.

Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, for example, headlined its story on the correction, “White House Slams New York Times Piece on Destroyed CIA Tapes,” while Murdoch’s main American print outlet, the New York Post, published a story with the headline “Times suffers a ‘head’ wound over CIA story.”

In interviewing Mark Mazzetti, one of the reporters who wrote the story for the Times, CNN’s John Roberts declared, “The White House tried to beat the stuffing out of you.”

At least for the moment, the cowardly climbdown by the Times has tended to overshadow the substance of the story itself, which points to the administration’s role in a criminal coverup of acts of torture that amount to war crimes.

The Times story established that at least four senior lawyers and White House advisors—Alberto Gonzales, Bush’s White House counsel and then attorney general; Harriet Miers, his successor in the counsel position; David Addington, counsel and then chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney; and John Bellinger III, the National Security Council’s top lawyer—had participated in discussions on the tapes and their destruction.

The story also cited one former senior intelligence official, who stated that “there had been ‘vigorous sentiment’ among some top White House officials to destroy the tapes.”

Given their political record, there is every reason to believe that Gonzales and Addington were directly involved in the decision to destroy the tapes, in what amounted to criminal obstruction of justice, under conditions in which a federal court had ordered that all such evidence be preserved. They are both identified with the Bush administration’s contempt for the law and assertion of the most extreme interpretation of unilateral executive power.

Moreover, given that all four worked as the closest advisors to the president and vice president, it strains credulity to claim that Bush and Cheney were kept in the dark about the criminal action that they were discussing with the CIA.

This is the basis of the extreme sensitivity of the White House to the Times story. There is a potential—given a sharp shift in the political situation—that these revelations could lead to an unraveling of the administration and criminal prosecution of its leading figures, including Bush himself.

So a campaign was mounted to change the story by focusing on the offending second deck of the Times headline, which read, “White House Role Was Wider Than It Said.”

White House press secretary Dana Perino issued a written statement Wednesday morning claiming that the eight-word subhead implied “that the White House has been misleading in publicly acknowledging or discussing details related to the CIA’s decision to destroy interrogation tapes.”

The statement insisted that the White House press secretary, acting on the advice of the White House general counsel, had refused to comment publicly on the issue because of an ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice and the CIA Inspector General. In other words, the role of the White House could not be wider “than it said,” because Perino had refused to say anything.

“The New York Times’ inference that there is an effort to mislead in this matter is pernicious and troubling, and we are formally requesting that NYT correct the sub-headline of this story,” the statement declared.

It went on to criticize the paper for its “reliance on un-named sources and individuals lacking a full availability of the facts,” comparing this method unfavorably to what it portrayed as the more sensible method favored by the White House, the CIA and the Justice Department, “where facts can be gathered without bias or influence and later disseminated in an appropriate way.”

Later on Wednesday, the better part of the White House press briefing by Perino was given over to an exchange on the matter that frequently descended to the level of the absurd. Much of it consisted of Perino taking umbrage over what she claimed was the newspaper’s suggestion that she personally had “misled the American public.”

Her argument consisted of the assertion that only she could speak formally for the White House, and therefore to publish the subhead “White House Role Was Wider Than It Said” constituted a direct charge that she had either lied or changed her story. Instead, she insisted, she had refused to comment on the destruction of the tapes, as she continued to do during the press conference.

“I speak for the President and the White House,” Perino said at one point. “This says that I was misleading, and I was not.”

“It doesn’t say you,” a reporter responded. “It doesn’t say you at all…They didn’t specifically say its you. It’s talking about the White House, the administration in general.”

“I speak for the White House,” Perino reiterated. “I represent the White House.”

Asked why she was “taking it personally,” Perino responded: “It’s not a personal thing. The White House asked for a correction. And I would remind you, the New York Times is going to do one.” Thus ended the discussion.

As anyone with even a passing acquaintance with American politics knows, the phrase “White House” is routinely used—particularly in the enforced shorthand of newspaper headlines—to refer to the executive branch of the US government.

Whatever the intellectually challenged Ms. Perino did or did not say from her podium in the White House briefing room, administration officials had assured reporters that the White House had no significant involvement in the discussions that led to tapes’ destruction. That had now been exposed as a lie.

Therefore, there was nothing to retract in relationship to the headline, and instead of printing a correction, any newspaper genuinely committed to upholding its independence and defending first amendment rights in general would have told the administration to get lost and denounced the demand from Perino as a blatant attempt at political intimidation and censorship.

Instead, the Times quickly caved in to the White House’s attack, publicly announcing that it would print the retraction. In its Thursday edition, it stated that the headline referred “imprecisely to the White House’s position thus far on the matter.” The newspaper accepted the specious argument that “the White House itself has not officially said anything on the subject, so its role was not ‘wider than it said.’”

This revealing episode is only the latest in a long series of actions that have exposed the so-called “paper of record” as a willing and servile accomplice of the Bush administration.

It is worth recalling that in August 2002, precisely when Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were being waterboarded and subjected to other forms of torture at Guantanamo—acts filmed on the videotapes that we now know were destroyed—the Times published a feature article by its national security correspondent Eric Schmitt under the sarcastic headline, “There are ways to make you talk.” The article, based entirely on the assurance of US officials, told the Times’ readers that the interrogation methods being employed by the American military, CIA and FBI were all in strict compliance with the Geneva Conventions and that “torture is not an option.”

Needless to say, the Times’ editors felt no compunction to retract or correct this article, which has since been revealed as false and a whitewash of war crimes.

The incestuous relationship between the Times, known as the voice of America’s erstwhile liberal establishment, and the right-wing Republican administration was revealed most clearly in the newspaper’s handling of a story exposing the illegal warrantless wiretapping carried out by the National Security Agency against American citizens under Bush’s orders.

The Times reported the massive NSA spying operation in December 2005, acknowledging that it had—at the urging of the Bush administration—suppressed the story “for a year.” Only later did the newspaper’s public editor reveal that the discussions on squelching the exposé had actually unfolded in the weeks leading up to the November 2004 election.

The effect of the Times editors’ decision to stop the story’s publication was to deny American voters as they went to the polls the knowledge that the incumbent president was carrying out a massive abuse of power by spying on US citizens in violation of the law and the Constitution. It could well be argued that this act of self-censorship played a decisive role in Bush’s re-election.

It should be noted that the publication in the Times earlier this month of the original article on the destruction of the CIA videotapes came only after discussions with the government, the contents of which are unknown. The newspaper’s forewarning allowed CIA director Michael Hayden to have the first word on the destruction of the tapes, in which he sought to frame the decision as an entirely legal and necessary act.

There is no telling how long the Times sat on this story, but leading Democrats were aware of the tapes’ destruction at least as early as November 2006. They knew of the existence of the tapes themselves in 2003. There is every reason to suspect that the Times, which its myriad ties to the political establishment, had at least some knowledge of the story as well.

Then there is the paper’s long record of promoting the illegal war against Iraq, both in the disseminating false information about non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” by its former senior correspondent, the ideologically driven Judith Miller, and in the noxious opinion columns of its foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman.

The Times, as with the American media as a whole, has done everything it can to cover up the real brutality of the American occupation of Iraq. It helped to bury the story of the estimated number of Iraqi civilians killed as a result of the US invasion—655,000 through June 2006—produced by the medical journal Lancet. It did not even report on a subsequent estimate by the British polling agency ORB, which put the number at 1.2 million.

This latest capitulation over the headline of the CIA tapes story is only one more verification of a fundamental trend: the disappearance of anything that could legitimately be described as a “fourth estate,” a genuinely independent media committed to the exposure of abuses of state power and the defense of the democratic rights of the population.

Instead the mass media, itself run by massive capitalist corporations, serves largely as a propaganda arm of the government and the ruling elite, suppressing and distorting information as needed and seeking to shape public opinion to conform to their interests.

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see

9/11 Panel Study Finds That CIA Withheld Tapes By Mark Mazzetti

Former CIA analyst says evidence abounds for impeachment

Congress votes to fund war, bows to Bush on domestic policy by Bill Van Auken

Dandelion Salad

by Bill Van Auken
Global Research, December 19, 2007
wsws.org

The Democratic-led US Senate voted by a wide margin Tuesday night to approve $70 billion to continue funding the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, without seeking to impose any conditions or pass any proposals for withdrawing a single soldier from either country. The vote came as the body also approved a $516 billion domestic budget bill passed a day earlier by the House.

With just days to go until Congress begins its holiday recess, the Democratic leadership has once again orchestrated a legislative capitulation to the White House that will ensure that the war in Iraq—which they claim to oppose—continues, while making no major substantive changes in the domestic agenda set by the Bush administration.

The House on Monday passed the domestic spending bill by a comfortable margin of 253 to 154, despite charges by the Republican leadership that the measure contained an excessive amount of “earmarks,” specific funding mandates for pet projects sought by legislators for their home districts.

While the Republicans, echoed by the mass media, have denounced the budget as “bloated,” the package, which encompasses spending plans for every federal agency outside of the Defense Department, fails to even keep up with inflation. The total amount included in the so-called omnibus bill is only slightly more than the $506.9 billion approved last week for the Pentagon (this does not count another $189.4 billion approved for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) and the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons programs. That measure passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, with only three “no” votes in the Senate and by a margin of 370 to 49 in the House. Virtually nothing was said on either side of the aisle about a “bloated” Pentagon or excessive arms spending.

In a second measure drafted by the House Democratic leadership, $31 billion was provided for the US military operations in Afghanistan. While the measure included a proviso that this money should not be spent on the Iraqi occupation, it also provided for some of the money to be used for body armor and “force protection items” for troops in Iraq, which could have provided a significant loophole for money to be spent there. This bill was narrowly approved in a largely party-line vote, with 206—predominantly Democrats—in favor and 201 against.

The bill, which was crafted as a symbolic show of opposition to the war, in reality provided a guarantee that the money would be there to continue the colonial-style repression in Iraq. As the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, “Army operations accounts would benefit from an infusion of about $17.8 billion in new funds, enough money to avoid major disruptions through April and allow time for a fuller debate in the spring on the future of the US commitment in Iraq.”

All but five House Republicans opposed the measure, however, because it did not include money explicitly budgeted for the Iraq war. Bush had vowed to veto any spending legislation that failed to include funds for Iraq.

After getting only 43 votes to end debate on a motion to approve the House legislation (60 are required), the Senate went through the motions Tuesday night of debating two resolutions linking the Iraq war spending to calls for troop withdrawals.

The first, offered by Senator Russell Feingold (Democrat, Wisconsin) would have required the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, with the rather considerable exception of those deployed to protect US “infrastructure,” to train Iraqi forces, to carry out “counter-terrorism” operations or to protect any of these other forces. These provisions would mean tens of thousands of American soldiers and marines continuing to occupy the country indefinitely. This amendment went down to defeat by a margin of 71-to-24, getting four less votes than when it was last brought before the Senate.

A second amendment, offered by Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin, proposed no timetable, but merely a non-binding “goal” of beginning to reduce US forces in Iraq—something that has already happened as a result of the “surge” running out of units to replace those whose deployments are coming to an end. Levin stressed in his speech to the Senate that there was “no inconsistency whatsoever” in voting for his amendment and also voting to continue funding the war. This toothless “sense of the Senate” bill, which had several Republican sponsors, received 50 votes, with 45 voting against. Having failed to clear the 60-vote hurdle needed to close debate, it was effectively killed.

This left the final measure, which had been promised to the White House, an amendment sponsored by Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and “Independent Democratic” Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, providing $70 billion for the military interventions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill included neither any conditions nor restrictions on where the money would be spent, providing the Bush administration with the “blank check” that Democrats had previously forsworn. This amendment passed by a vote of 70 to 25, meaning that only half of the Senate’s Democrats opposed unconditional funding of the Iraq war.

The funding, which would pay for the wars until May or June, brings the total amount spent on both US interventions to $670 billion.

Based on the tacit understanding with the Congressional Democrats that this measure would indeed be passed, Bush gave an upbeat assessment of the budget process Monday that was starkly at odds with his repeated previous threats to veto any legislation that failed to meet his conditions on war funding and spending restraints.

“I’m pleased to report that we’re making some pretty good progress toward coming up with a fiscally sound budget—one that meets priorities, helps on some emergencies and enables us to say that we’ve been fiscally sound with the people’s money,” Bush declared in a speech on the economy delivered to a Rotary Club in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

House Republican leaders had initially condemned the domestic spending bill and called upon Bush to veto it. House Minority Leader John Boehner (Republican, Ohio) accused the Democrats of trying to “pile billions in worthless pork onto the backs of our troops.”

In addressing their own supporters, however, the Republicans were more candid. “This bill is a bigger disappointment to the Democrats than we would have expected, given that they do control both the House and the Senate,” Minority Whip Roy Blunt (Republican, Missouri) told a group of right-wing bloggers at the Heritage Foundation. “This Congress has spent more time in Washington, voted more times, and produced less, than any Congress in decades.”

This assessment was confirmed by a number of Democrats. Representative David Obey (Democrat, Wisconsin), the head of the House Appropriations Committee, called the budget “totally inadequate to meet the long-term investment needs of the country.” Saying that the voters who gave the Democrats majorities in both houses of Congress in the 2006 elections had delivered a mandate to end the Iraq war and shift domestic priorities, Obey acknowledged that “we’ve failed” on both counts.

The web site “Politico” quoted a senior Democratic Senate aide as asking, “Where is everything we fought for? Where is our backbone? What’s the point of being in charge and spending months writing these bills if we just end up folding to the administration?”

The Wall Street Journal estimated that the Democrats had given up 80 percent of the funding that they had originally sought to add to the budget, bowing to Bush’s threat to veto any bill that exceeded his spending cap. They succeeded only in adding on various amounts by declaring them “emergency funding.” The largest of these included $3.7 billion for veterans care and $2.7 billion to fund a stepped up crackdown on immigrants through border security and worksite enforcement.

Capitulating to the White House, the Democrats abandoned their bid to amend reactionary legislation barring US aid for international family planning programs that offer abortions. They also shelved promised changes in the draconian measures barring US travel and trade with Cuba and a provision demanding that federal contractors pay union-scale wages on disaster relief projects, such as those on the Gulf Coast.

The Democrats also abandoned their proposal to roll back massive tax breaks for the profit-swollen US energy conglomerates. Included in the domestic spending plan is a provision which allows the US Energy Department to guarantee loans to energy companies for nuclear projects and the development of liquid coal production. Also jettisoned was a plan to fund an expansion of children’s health care programs with a hike in tobacco taxes.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat, Nevada) took exception to Republican claims of victory in the much-publicized budget showdown. “Who’s winning?” Reid asked. “Big oil, big tobacco…The American people are losing.” This unarguable conclusion is ultimately an expression of the firm corporate control exercised over both major parties.

With the Senate having carried through its part of the bargain with Bush by adding the $40 billion to continue the carnage in Iraq, the two separate pieces of legislation—domestic spending and war funding—will go back to the House. In this elaborately choreographed charade, the bulk of the Democrats will then be able to vote against the money for Iraq—thereby attempting to boost their sagging antiwar pretenses—while the measure would be assured passage by a solid Republican “yes” vote backed by an adequate Democratic minority.

Once completed, this cynical arrangement will mark the third time since assuming control of Congress nearly a year ago that the Democrats will have provided the votes to continue funding the war in Iraq after proclaiming their determination to bring it to a halt.

What has emerged in this denouement of the so-called budget showdown is the fundamental unity of both major parties, whatever their tactical differences, on a policy of continuing war abroad and attacks on the conditions of life and basic rights of working people at home.

Bill Van Auken is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Bill Van Auken

www.globalresearch.ca contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to our readers under the provisions of “fair use” in an effort to advance a better understanding of political, economic and social issues. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than “fair use” you must request permission from the copyright owner.

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© Copyright Bill Van Auken, wsws.org, 2007
The url address of this article is: www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=7657

US steps up plans for military intervention in Pakistan by Bill Van Auken

Dandelion Salad

by Bill Van Auken
Global Research, November 22, 2007

In the midst of public statements of support for “democracy” in Pakistan and the recent visit to Islamabad by the American envoy John Negroponte, Washington is quietly preparing for a stepped-up military intervention in the crisis-ridden country.

According to the New York Times Monday, plans have been drawn up by the US military’s Special Operations Command for deploying Special Forces troops in Pakistan’s frontier regions for the purpose of training indigenous militias to combat forces aligned with the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Citing unnamed military officials, the newspaper reports that the proposal would “expand the presence of military trainers in Pakistan, directly finance a separate tribal paramilitary force that until now has proved largely ineffective and pay militias that agreed to fight Al Qaeda and foreign extremists.”

American military officials familiar with the proposal said that it was modeled on the initiative by American occupation forces in Iraq to arm and support Sunni militias in Anbar province in a campaign against the Al Qaeda in Iraq group there.

According to the Times report, skepticism that the same strategy can be adapted to the deteriorating situation in Pakistan centers on “the question of whether such partnerships can be forged without a significant American military presence in Pakistan.” The newspaper adds that “it is unclear whether enough support can be found among the tribes.”

While the Pentagon admits to only about 50 US troops currently stationed in Pakistan as “advisors” to the Pakistani armed forces, that number would swell substantially under the proposed escalation. The Times cites a briefing prepared by the Special Operations Command that claims the beefed-up US forces would not be engaged in “conventional combat” in Pakistan. It quotes unnamed military officials as acknowledging, however, that they “might be involved in strikes against senior militant leaders, under specific conditions.”

In other words, American Special Forces units would be used to carry out targeted assassinations and attacks on strongholds of Islamist forces.

In addition to the plan to recruit and train new paramilitary militias in the frontier region, Washington has developed a $350 million program to train and equip the existing 85,000-member Frontier Corps, a uniformed force recruited from among tribes in the Pakistan border region.

There is also considerable skepticism about the prospects for this program. “The training of the Frontier Corps remains a concern for some,” the Times reports: “NATO and American soldiers in Afghanistan have often blamed the Frontier Corps for aiding and abetting Taliban insurgents mounting cross-border attacks. ‘It’s going to take years to turn them into a professional force,’ said one Western military official. ‘Is it worth it now?’”

There are growing concerns in Washington that the martial law regime imposed by the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, at the beginning of this month might unleash revolutionary convulsions that could topple the military regime, which has served as a lynchpin for American interests in the region.

The Bush administration has repeatedly demanded that Musharraf take action against Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the areas bordering Afghanistan. Residents on both sides of the border are ethnic Pashtuns. The latest US National Intelligence Estimate released last July charged that Al Qaeda had reestablished “safe havens” in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Taliban-aligned forces have been able to extend their influence from the Waziristan region along the Afghan border further into Pakistan, establishing control to the north over a large portion of the Swat valley in the North West Frontier Province.

According to press reports, over 1,000 civilians, members of the security forces and Islamist fighters have been killed in fighting in the region over the past five months.

Senior Pakistani military officials announced over the weekend that the army had massed nearly 20,000 troops backed by tanks and artillery for a major offensive in the Swat district aimed at wresting control from militias loyal to Mullah Maulana Fazlullah, a pro-Taliban cleric.

Such offensives have proven ineffectual in the past, however, in no small part due to the support that the Islamists enjoy within influential sections of the Pakistani military and intelligence apparatus, a relationship that was solidified during the CIA-backed war against the Soviet-supported regime in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

These forces have also gained strength as a result of popular hostility to the slaughter unleashed by the US occupation in neighboring Afghanistan, combined with resentment over the poverty and social inequality produced by the economic policies of the Pakistani regime.

A clear indication of the depths of concern in Washington over the unraveling of its client regime in Pakistan came Sunday in the form of an op-ed piece published by the New York Times under the bylines of Fred Kagan and Michael O’Hanlon. Kagan, a member of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, is a longstanding supporter of the US war in Iraq and was a signatory of the Project for a New American Century letter in 2001 demanding that the Bush administration invade the country in response to 9/11. He drafted a document that served as a blueprint for the recent “surge” that sent 35,000 more US troops into Iraq.

O’Hanlon, a member of the supposedly more liberal and Democratic-oriented Brookings Institute, has also emerged as a prominent supporter of the “surge” in Iraq and last April co-authored a paper with Kagan setting out a “grand strategy” for US imperialism. This envisioned a war against Iran as well as interventions in North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. The document urged “finding the resources to field a large-enough standing Army and Marine Corps to handle personnel-intensive missions.”

The Times piece, entitled “Pakistan’s Collapse, Our Problem,” advocates the immediate consideration of “feasible military options in Pakistan.”

It states: “The most likely possible dangers are these: a complete collapse of Pakistani government rule that allows an extreme Islamist movement to fill the vacuum; a total loss of federal control over the outlying provinces, which splinter along ethnic and tribal lines; or a struggle within the Pakistani military in which the minority sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda try to establish Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism.”

The article cautions against complacency that the Pakistani military command and the country’s ruling elite will manage to maintain stability. “Americans felt similarly about the shah’s regime in Iran until it was too late,” it warns.

The two military analysts lay out alternate “scenarios” for US interventions. The first, consisting of a full-scale intervention and occupation, would, they say, require more than a million troops, making it politically and militarily unfeasible.

Instead, they suggest a possible Special Forces operation aimed at seizing control of Pakistani warheads and nuclear materials.

They put forward an additional “broader option” that would involve the deployment of “a sizable combat force” with the mission of propping up the Pakistani military and waging war on the pro-Taliban forces in the border regions.

“So, if we got a large number of troops into the country, what would they do?” the article asks. “The most likely directive would be to help Pakistan’s military and security forces hold the country’s center—primarily the region around the capital, Islamabad, and the populous areas like Punjab Province to its south.”

It adds: “If a holding operation in the nation’s center was successful, we would probably then seek to establish order in the parts of Pakistan where extremists operate. Beyond propping up the state, this would benefit American efforts in Afghanistan by depriving terrorists of the sanctuaries they have enjoyed in Pakistan’s tribal and frontier regions.”

Whatever limited lip service the US State Department gives to the call for ending the martial law regime imposed by Musharraf in Pakistan, the real aims and methods of the American ruling establishment—Democratic and Republican alike—emerge clearly in the Kagan-O’Hanlon article.

What is now being seriously contemplated is yet another colonial-style war in a region that stretches across the Middle East and Central and South Asia, from Iraq to Pakistan, with the objective of salvaging, with or without Musharraf, the Pakistani military—the corrupt and repressive instrument with which Washington has been aligned for decades.

The crisis in Pakistan is symptomatic of the ever-widening instability created by the two wars—in Afghanistan and Iraq—which Washington has waged to tighten the US grip over the region’s energy resources.

Now, with open and simultaneous discussions of possible military interventions in Iran and Pakistan, what is emerging is the growing threat of a global military conflagration.

Bill Van Auken is a frequent contributor to Global Research.  Global Research Articles by Bill Van Auken
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