Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Personification of Self-righteousness

By Alan Hart

November 30, 2012 “Information Clearing House” – In the song Mack the Knife there’s a line about a body on the sidewalk “oozing” life. Last night there was a body, a living one, oozing self-righteousness. It was not on the sidewalk. It was at the speaker’s podium in the General Assembly. It was that of His Excellency Mr. Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, presenting lies as truth before the vote which overwhelmingly recognized Palestine as a non-member observer state.

Peace, he asserted, “is a central value of Israeli society.” He went on: “The bible calls on us, ‘seek peace and pursue it’. Peace fills our art and poetry. It is a taught in our schools. It has been the goal of the Israeli people and every Israeli leader since Israel was re-established 64 years ago.”
What crap! (Dictionary definition – “excrement, rubbish, dirt, worthless nonsense”).
But am I being fair to Prosor? There’s a case for saying that I am not and it’s this. The Zionist (not Jewish) states doeswant peace, has always wanted peace. The problem is that it wants peace on its own terms, terms which require the surrender of the occupied and oppressed Palestinians to Zionism’s will; terms which give the them the choice of accepting a few crumbs from Zionism’s table or being removed from it in a final ethnic cleansing.
Until last night I thought that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was the personification of self-righteousness, but Prosor is above even him in this field. Prosor’s self-righteousness is not only in his words as he speaks them, it’s in his eyes and his whole body language.
The message I got from watching and listening to him was this: “I know I’m a self-righteous son-of-a-bitch, and I know you know I am, but I don’t care. My country is the nuclear-armed superpower of its region. We don’t give a damn about this UN General Assembly. Only the Security Council matters and we – our leaders in Israel and our lobby here in the U.S – have the ability and the means to see to it that every American president vetoes any proposal that comes before the Security Council which is not to our liking.”
But still I found myself applauding Prosor for his performance, especially his concluding assertion that Israel wants peace and the Palestinians are “avoiding” it. Why?
The short answer was put into words by Yehoshafat Harkabi, Israel’s longest serving Director of Military Intelligence. In his book, Israel’s Fateful Hour, published in English in 1986, he wrote:
“No factor endangers Israel’s future more than self-righteousness, which blinds us to reality, prevents a complex understanding of the situation and legitimizes extreme behaviour.”
 
So I say to Prosor, Netanyahu, Lieberman and others – bring it on. Let’s have more and more of your self-righteousness.
Footnote
 
In response to the post above a very dear Jewish-American friend, Rich Forer, e-mailed me with this comment. “I saw Prosor on CNN last night. I could barely watch. I was filled with revulsion for the very reasons you describe. I hope others who watched his Goebbels-like performance also saw through his sleazy lies and phony claims that Israel has always wanted peace.”

(video on the following link)

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Palestinian Status Upgraded At The UN, What Difference Will It Make?

Video

Now that the Palestinians have had their international legal status upgraded at the UN, what difference will it make? What will now happen with the so-called “peace process”? Will we see an end to the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands any time soon? And, how will this UN resolution make Israel more isolated? CrossTalking with Norman Finkelstein, Raanan Gissin and Rami Almenghari.

Posted November 30, 2012

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Julian Assange Vs Erin Burnett The Mass Surveillance State

Video

“Now we have all been intercepted permanently. This is a state change. This is not matter of simply a change to any individual. This is a sea change in politics and we are going to have to do something about it. If we don’t do something about it, we run the risk of losing the democracy we have treasured for so long.”

Julian Assange appeared on CNN’s “OutFront with Erin Burnett” on November 28, 2012. He discusses his new book “Cypherpunks”, the mass surveillance state, and Bradley Manning

Julian Assange on CNN’s OutFront (28 Nov 2012) – Posted November 30, 2012

Assange to RT: Entire nations intercepted online, key turned to totalitarian rule
  
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says all the necessary physical infrastructure for absolute totalitarianism through the internet is ready. He told RT that the question now is whether the turnkey process that already started will go all the way.
RT: So you’ve written this book ‘Cypherpunks. Freedom and the Future of the Internet’ based on one of the programs that you’ve made for RT. In it, you say that the internet can enslave us. I don’t really get that, because the internet it’s a thing, it’s a soulless thing. Who are the actual enslavers behind it?
Julian Assange: The people who control the interception of the internet and, to some degree also, physically control the big data warehouses and the international fiber-optic lines. We all think of the internet as some kind of Platonic Realm where we can throw out ideas and communications and web pages and books and they exist somewhere out there. Actually, they exist on web servers in New York or Nairobi or Beijing, and information comes to us through satellite connections or through fiber-optic cables.
 
So whoever physically controls this controls the realm of our ideas and communications. And whoever is able to sit on those communications channels, can intercept entire nations, and that’s the new game in town, as far as state spying is concerned – intercepting entire nations, not individuals.

‘intercepting entire nations, not individuals’

RT: This sounds like a futuristic scenario, but you are saying that the future is already here.
JA: The US National Security Agency has been doing this for some 20-30 years. But it has now spread to mid-size nations, even Gaddafi’s Libya was employing the EAGLE system, which is produced by French company AMESYS, pushed there in 2009, advertised in its international documentation as a nationwide interception system.
 


So what’s happened over the last 10 years is the ever-decreasing cost of intercepting each individual now to the degree where it is cheaper to intercept every individual rather that it is to pick particular people to spy upon.

‘it is cheaper to intercept every individual rather that it is to pick particular people to spy upon’

RT: And what’s the alternative, the sort of utopian alternative that you would put forward?
JA: The utopian alternative is to try and gain independence for the internet, for it to sort of declare independence versus the rest of the world. And that’s really quite important because if you think what is human civilization, what is it that makes it quintessentially human and civilized, it is our shared knowledge about how the world works, how we deal with each other, how we deal with the environment, which institutions are corrupt, which ones are good, what are the least dumb ways of doing things. And that intellectual knowledge is something that we are all putting on to the internet – and so if we can try and decouple that from the brute nature of states and their cronies, then I think we really have hope for a global civilization.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange talking to RT′s Laura Smith at the embassy of Ecuador in London, UK (video still)WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange talking to RT’s Laura Smith at the embassy of Ecuador in London, UK (video still)
If, on the other hand, the mere security guards, you know, the people who control the guns, are able to take control of our intellectual life, take control of all the ways in which we communicate to each other, then of course you can see how dreadful the outcome will be. Because it won’t happen to just one nation, it will happen to every nation at once. It is happening to every nation at once as far as spying is concerned, because now every nation is merging its society with internet infrastructure.
RT: And in what way are we, as sort of naïve internet users, if you like (and I exclude you from that, obviously), kind of willingly collaborating with these collectors of personal data? You know, we all have a Facebook account, we all have telephones which can be tracked.
JA: Right. People think, well, yeah, I use Facebook, and maybe the FBI if they made a request, could come and get it, and everyone is much more aware of that because of Petraeus. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that all the time nearly everything people do on the internet is permanently recorded, every web search.
Do you know what you were thinking one year, two days, three months ago? No, you don’t know, but Google knows, it remembers.

‘Google knows, it remembers’

The National Security Agency who intercepts the request if it flowed over the US border, it knows.
So by just communicating to our friends, by emailing each other, by updating Facebook profiles, we are informing on our friends.

‘by updating Facebook profiles, we are informing on our friends’

And friends don’t inform on friends. You know, the Stasi had a 10 per cent penetration of East German society, with up to 1 in 10 people being informants at some time in their life.
Now in countries that have the highest internet penetration, like Iceland, more than 80 per cent of people are on Facebook, informing about their friends. That information doesn’t [simply] go nowhere. It’s not kept in Iceland, it’s sent back into the US where it IS accessed by US intelligence and where it is given out to any friends or cronies of US intelligence – hundreds of national security letters every day publicly declared and being issued by the US government.
 
RT: So do we risk kind of entering a scenario where there are almost two castes of people: a safe minority who are very savvy about the workings of the internet and the things that you described, and just people who go online for kicks?
JA: We have this position where as we know knowledge is power, and there’s a mass transfer as a result of literally billions of interceptions per day going from everyone, the average person, into the data vaults of state spying agencies for the big countries, and their cronies – the corporations that help build them that infrastructure. Those groups are already powerful, that’s why they are able to build this infrastructure to intercept on everyone. So they are growing more powerful, concentrating the power in the hands of smaller and smaller groups of people at once, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s extremely dangerous once there is any sort of corruption occurring in the power. Because absolute power corrupts, and when it becomes corrupt, it can affect a lot of people very quickly. 
Bill Binney, National Security Agency whistleblower, who was the research head of the National Security Agency’s Signals Intelligence Division, describes this as a ‘turnkey totalitarianism’, that all the infrastructure has been built for absolute totalitarianism

‘all the infrastructure has been built for absolute totalitarianism’

It’s just the matter of turning the key. And actually the key has already been turned a little bit, and it is now affecting people who are targeted for US drone strikes, organizations like WikiLeaks, national security reporters who are having their sources investigated. It is already partly turned, and the question is, will it go all the way?
RT: But has it been built really by corporations and kind of unwittingly subscribed to by people, in order to advertise products to make money, or has it been built deliberately by governments for the sole purpose of surveillance?
JA: It’s both. I mean the surveillance infrastructure, the bulk surveillance infrastructure – there are hundreds of companies involved in that business. They have secret international conferences, they have prospectuses that they give to intelligence agencies that we have obtained and published this year together with Privacy International and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Also, The Wall Street Journal has done some good work on this. They are building devices that they advertise to intercept entire nations, to install the data from those intercepts permanently – strategic interception, because it’s cheaper.
 
So it’s a combined corporate/government amalgam. That’s one of the problems, one of the reasons it’s so unaccountable is that it crosses boundaries. Companies don’t just sell to their home country, they sell to companies overseas. There are shareholdings held in BVI, and the company might be British-registered, like BIA, but actually a lot of research and development is done in Sweden, etc.
 
And then you also have Google and Facebook, who started up predominantly serving the public, but also have developed side projects to service the US intelligence complex. And individuals are constantly pushing their thoughts into Google as each thing that they want to research; it is pushed via emails, and on Facebook, through their social relationships. That’s an undreamt of spy database.

‘That’s an undreamt of spy database’

Facebook is completely undreamt of even by the worst spying nation, given the richness and sophistication of relationships expressed.
RT: And willingly contributed to.
JA: Well, no. But not with informed consent. People don’t actually know. When on Facebook it says “share this to your friends,” that’s what it says. It doesn’t say “share this to state agencies,” it doesn’t say “share this to friends and cronies of state agencies.”
RT: Who do you think has the organized power to stop these things that you are talking about?
JA: If there is political will, everything is possible. So if we get the political will, then of course those agencies can be dismantled. Very aggressive legislation, policing can be pushed upon them. In some regions of the world, such as Latin America, perhaps that’s a possibility. There is a certain democratic tendency, which Ecuador is part of that might do that. But in general I think the prognosis is very grim. And we really are at this moment where it can go one way or the other way.
To a degree, perhaps the best we can be sure, if we work, of achieving is that some of us are protected. It may only be a high-tech elite, hopefully expanded a bit more – people who can produce tools and information for others that they can use to protect themselves. It is not necessary that all of society is covered, all of society is protected. What’s necessary is that the critical accountability components of society that stop it from going down the tubes entirely, that those people are protected. Those include corruption investigators, journalists, activists, and political parties. These have got to be protected. If they are not protected, then it’s all lost.
RT: Is there a way that I can protect myself without knowing all about computers?
JA: Well, a little bit. But the first thing to be aware of is how much you are giving away. The first way to protect yourself is to go, “OK, I’ll discuss that in person, and not over Facebook chat,” or, “OK, I will discuss this using some forms of encrypted chat, like OTR, and not on a Facebook chat.” You can go to torproject.org and download encrypted anonymizing software. It is slower than normal, but for things like internet chat it’s fine, because you are not downloading very much at once. So there are ways of doing this.
What is really necessary, however, for those to be properly developed, there needs to be enough market demand. It’s the same situation as soap and washing your hands. Once upon a time, before the bacterial theory of disease, before we understood that out there invisibly was all this bacteria that was trying to cause us harm – just like mass state surveillance is out there invisible and trying to cause society a large harm.

‘mass state surveillance is out there invisible and trying to cause society a large harm’

 – no one bothered to wash their hands. First process was discovery; second process, education; third process, a market demand is created as a result of education, which means that experts can start to manufacture soap, and then people can buy and use it.
So this is where we are at now, which is we’ve got to create education amongst people, so there can be a market demand, so that others can be encouraged to produce easy-to-use cryptographic technology that is capable of protecting not everyone, but a significant number of people from mass state spying. And if we are not able to protect a significant number of people from mass state spying, then the basic democratic and civilian institutions that we are used to – not in the West, I am no glorifier of the West, but in all societies – are going to crumble away. They will crumble away, and they will do so all at once. And that’s an extremely dangerous phenomenon.
It’s not often where all the world goes down the tube all at once. Usually you have a few countries that are OK, and you can bootstrap civilization again from there.
RT: We just passed the second anniversary of Cablegate, and since then this war on whistleblowers and this state surveillance seems to have got worse. Do you think something as large as Cablegate could ever happen again and it would have a similar impact?
JA: Yes, yes. Hopefully next year.
RT: What sort of time next year?
JA: I won’t go into it, but hopefully earlier rather than later.
RT: Do you feel that when WikiLeaks is making these releases you’re having as large an impact as you’ve had before?
JA: Well, Cablegate was extraordinary. It was published over a period of 12 months. It’s the most significant leak. Our previous leak, on the Iraq war, was also 400,000 documents, showing precisely how over 100,000 people were killed. That was also very significant. But yes, no one has done anything as significant as that since, but yes, hopefully, that will continue.
 
The successes of WikiLeaks shouldn’t be viewed merely as a demonstration of our organization’s virility or the virility of the activist community on the internet. They are also a function of this hoarding of information by these national security [agencies]. The reason there was so much information to leak, the reason it could be leaked all at once is because they had hoarded so much. Why had they hoarded so much? Well, to gain extra power through knowledge. They wanted their own knowledge internally to be easily accessible to their people, to be searchable, so as much power could be extracted from it as possible. WikiLeaks attempts to redress the imbalance of power.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

We Used to Make the Rich Poorer and the Poor Richer

By David Swanson 
November 30, 2012 “
Information Clearing House” – Many of us have heard the current period referred to as a second gilded age.  Or we’ve seen the current inequality in wealth in the United States compared to that of 1929.  But we have not all given sufficient thought to what ended the first gilded age, what created greater equality, what created the reality behind that category our politicians now endlessly pretend we are all in: the middle class.  We have a sense of what went wrong at the turn of each century, but what went right in between?
This is the theme of Sam Pizzigati’s new book, “The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph Over Plutocracy That Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970.”  I take away three primary answers short enough to include in a brief summary. First, we taxed the riches right out from under the rich people.  Second, we empowered labor unions.  And third — and this one came first chronologically as well as logically — we developed a culture that saw it as absolutely necessary for the greater good that the rich be made poorer.
Nowadays, it’s not hard to find people who would like the poor to be richer.  But who wants the rich to be poorer?  It seems so impolite and improper and cruel.  Surely Bill Gates earned, deserves, and needs his $66 billion.  While he might live exactly as comfortably as before if he lost 65 of those billions, how could we expect others to do all the good Gates has done (surely he’s done some) if they can’t expect to also be permitted to hoard $66 billion while other people starve and go homeless.  In fact, without the possibility of hoarding your own $66 billion, nobody will work (will they?) or “create jobs” for others, and in the end if we took $65 billion away from Gates it would vanish into the air leaving the poor even poorer than they’d been.  Or so we like to fantasize.
Pizzigati points to the polling that shows that Americans imagine their nation is much more equal than it is, and that they would like it to be more equal still — would in fact far prefer Sweden’s distribution of wealth to our own.  But what does this tell us about our willingness to do what it takes to get there?  I just saw an article in Mother Jones Magazine claiming that President Obama’s caving in and permitting the continuation of the “Bush” tax cuts for the super wealthy was actually a progressive victory because of other things Obama got in the process.  Such analyses suffer, I think, not just from hero-worship and partisan defensiveness, but from misplaced priorities.  Taxing the rich is absolutely essential to every humanitarian cause and the viability of representative government. 
“We can have democracy in this country,” Louis Brandeis accurately said, “or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
The history that Pizzigati tells demonstrates this.  Democracy and wealth concentration rise and fall in opposition to each other.  Limitations on extreme wealth do nothing to reduce work and initiative.  Extreme wealth impoverishes the poor; it doesn’t enrich them.  Trying to enrich the poor while allowing the rich to grow richer is an uphill if not impossible struggle, as the super-rich rewrite the rules to their own advantage.  Thus “Tax Cuts For Everybody!” is an even worse policy than we commonly understand.  It’s not just that Congress rigs such deals to give the wealthiest the biggest cuts, but beyond that the wealthy will gain the power to quickly enact even worse legislation for the rest of us.
In the decades before World War I, authors and activists built an understanding that survived that horror, an understanding that the rich needed to be brought down if the poor were going to be brought up, that a rising tide doesn’t lift all ships, that voodoo economics doesn’t work just because preaching it can get you elected.  It took decades of struggle, partial victories, and many setbacks.  It took civil disobedience.  It took third political parties.  It took a willingness to spend money on World War II that we have yet to compel our government to spend on green energy or infrastructure or education or health.  It took the alternative of communism competing for the world’s approval.  It took until the 1940s and 1950s for success to come.  It was never a perfect success, and it came under greater threat of reversal the more people came to take it for granted.  The success came after some who had worked for it had died.  It came slowly.
And this is what worries me.  Dave Lindorff speculated the other day that the rich and powerful in the United States may be driving climate disaster forward because they actually think that they and their friends will be able to weather the storms (and the millions who will suffer and die be damned).  If at the start of the last century global warming had been what it is now, the struggle for success by mid-century in bringing down plutocracy would have come too late.  We don’t have a half century to play with.  We can’t leave power in the hands of maniacs willing to destroy the planet for a half century.  “Those who succeed us,” said Senator William Andrews Clark at the turn of the last century as he proposed hacking down the national forests, “can well take care of themselves.”  Many U.S. senators clearly feel the same way today under the cloud of greater dangers.
This is not an argument against reading Pizzigati’s book.  It’s an argument for reading it immediately and acting on it even more swiftly than that.  It’s an argument for building a cultural awareness, not of hatred and vengeance, not of violence, not of counterproductive spasms of rage, but of awareness that aristocracy is incompatible with democracy, that in one form or another 99% of us must join together, undo the status of the 1%, and then welcome them as 1% among equals.  There is much we can learn from the history of how the rich have sometimes lost. 
Is there ought we hold in common with the greedy parasite
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might?
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?
For the union makes us strong.
They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn
that the union makes us strong.
Solidarity Forever (Pete Seeger)
The song Solidarity Forever, which continues to be the anthem of the labor movement, was written by Ralph Chaplin in response to the events in W. Virginia where Mother Jones was organizing in the period, 1912-1915. There was a strike in the Kenawha valley, and Chaplin wrote this song to inspire workers for that strike, but it’s appeal lasted long beyond the particulars, to become the anthem of the labor movement. It is sung to the tune of “John Brown’s Body” from the Civil War period, which also inspired the “Battle hymn of the Republic” 
When the union’s inspiration through the workers’ blood shall run,
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun;
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one,
But the union makes us strong.  
CHORUS:
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
For the union makes us strong. 
Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite,
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might?
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?
For the union makes us strong.
It is we who plowed the praries; built the cities where they trade;
Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid;
Now we stand outcast and starving midst the wonders we have made;
But the union makes us strong.
All the world that’s owned by idle drones is ours and ours alone.
We have laid the wide foundations; built it skyward stone by stone.
It is ours, not to slave in, but to master and to own.
While the union makes us strong.
They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn
That the union makes us strong.
In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies, magnified a thousand-fold.
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the union makes us strong.
David L. Swanson is an American activist, blogger and author. warisacrime.org
See also – Switzerland is the best place to be born in the world (and USA is 16th!) In 1988 America came top of a rank of 50 countries according to where it would be best to be born in the world.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Democracy Is Coming to the U.S.A.

Lyrics from a favorite Leonard Cohen Song:
Video
Sail on, sail on O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need, Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate, Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.
 
It’s coming through a hole in the air,
from those nights in Tiananmen Square.
It’s coming from the feel
that this ain’t exactly real,
or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there.
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It’s coming through a crack in the wall;
on a visionary flood of alcohol;
from the staggering account
of the Sermon on the Mount
which I don’t pretend to understand at all.
It’s coming from the silence
on the dock of the bay,
from the brave, the bold, the battered
heart of Chevrolet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It’s coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin’
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.

It’s coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It’s here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it’s here they got the spiritual thirst.
It’s here the family’s broken
and it’s here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It’s coming from the women and the men.
O baby, we’ll be making love again.
We’ll be going down so deep
the river’s going to weep,
and the mountain’s going to shout Amen!
It’s coming like the tidal flood
beneath the lunar sway,
imperial, mysterious,
in amorous array:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on …

I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene.
And I’m neither left or right
I’m just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I’m junk but I’m still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A


function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

What We Are Told About Ancient America Is Wrong!

Video

A racist paradigm has been created to push native Americans off the land.

Jim Vieira at TEDxShelburneFalls – 3 November 2012

Posted November 30, 2012

Vieira’s research over the last 20 years has led him down a bizarre road of intrigue and mystery surrounding the races and built structures of Ancient America. Vieira has compiled thousands of accounts of giant skeleton reports from the New York Times, Smithsonian Ethnology Reports, American Antiquarian, Scientific American as well as town and county histories to make the case that the history of our past has not only been deliberately covered up, but is vastly different then what we are told.

With passions in writing, researching, ancient stone work, spirituality and metaphysics, Jim is a stone mason and co-owner of North Wind Stonework in Ashfield, Massachusetts, USA doing dry masonry in and around the Berkshire Highlands for 15 years. Jim belongs to the Northeast Antiquities Research Association, a clearinghouse of information regarding mysterious monuments of antiquity. Jim is a regular contributing columnist for the Shelburne Falls & West County Independent and the national publication, Ancient American Magazine.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)


function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Palestine Now What?

Treated Like ‘a Caged Animal’: Manning Breaks Silence in WikiLeaks Hearing

Ninth Circuit Gives the A-OK For Warrantless Home Video Surveillance

Climate Change Is Happening Now – A Carbon Price Must Follow

Egypt’s proposed constitution enshrines dictatorial powers and military rule

By Chris Marsden
30 November 2012

Egypt’s Constituent Assembly began voting on Thursday on a new constitution in an aggressive move by the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohammed Mursi.

While it is designed to head-off a possible legal challenge, the more significant aim is to rally the Brotherhood’s social base against the mass protests that came after Mursi granted himself dictatorial powers last Thursday. It is also aimed at preparing a counter-offensive by the military.

The move seeks to pre-empt a ruling on Sunday by the Supreme Constitutional Court that could have dissolved the assembly and ruled on the legitimacy of parliament’s upper chamber, the Islamist-dominated Shura Council. The court dissolved the lower chamber, the People’s Assembly, in June.

The Brotherhood is pushing for a vote on the constitution that would give a pseudo-democratic façade to efforts to consolidate its power and that of the Egyptian military—collectively representing the dominant forces within the bourgeoisie. Once passed, Mursi must put the constitution to a referendum within 15 days. Elections would follow in early 2013.

In an interview on Egyptian state television Thursday night, Mursi said that if the new constitution is approved, last week’s decree “will no longer apply.” The implication is that if the constitution is not passed, Mursi will continue to assert unlimited executive powers.

While it has received very little attention, by far the most important element of the new constitution is its efforts to preserve the privileges and power of the military. This is aimed at reforging the alliance between the Brotherhood and the army, on which the fate of the bourgeoisie depends if it is to face off the growing popular opposition.

The Constituent Assembly approved articles stipulating that the military budget will still not be subject to parliamentary oversight. This is vital first to conceal the massive involvement of the military in the economy, which controls an estimated 40 percent of GDP. It is also aimed at concealing from the working class the the extent of the military’s repressive apparatus.

The constitution also contains an article allowing the Military Prosecution to try civilians for crimes that “harm the Armed Forces,” as proposed by the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party leader Mohamed al-Beltagy.

It establishes a National Defense Council, headed by Mursi and including the prime minister; the ministers of defense, foreign affairs, finance and interior; the chief of intelligence; the chief of staff of the Armed Forces; the commanders of the Navy, the Air Force and the Air Defense Force; the commander of operations of the Armed Forces; and the chief of military intelligence. The defence minister, according to a related article, must be an army officer and act as the commander in chief of the Armed Forces.

This council will decide on national security issues, the military budget and be consulted on all future laws relating to the military. The article allows for further unspecified powers to be granted to the council.

There could not be a clearer blueprint for a future military dictatorship.

Mursi has in addition attempted to combine efforts to utilise religious prejudice to rally the more backward layers of workers and peasants with a rejection of the more extreme demands of his allies in the Salafist groups. This is so as to make it easier for the United States and the European powers to support his power-grab. The assembly therefore voted to keep sharia, or Islamic law, as the “main source of legislation”—as under the deposed regime of Hosni Mubarak.


However, the constitution does not include calls by the al-Nour Party to have reference to the “principles” of sharia law replaced by “rules.” It also states that Christianity and Judaism will be the “main source of legislation” for Egyptian Christians and Jews. Article 219 defines Islamic law in terms of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence, enshrined in the authoritative role of the Al-Azhar Mosque and University.

Mursi’s declaration last week ruled that there could be no appeal against constitutional decrees made since he came to power, and that he could take any measures to “preserve the revolution” or safeguard national security. In the face of growing opposition involving protests of hundreds of thousands, Mursi pledged to abandon these powers as soon as a new constitution was in place. He reassured senior judges, most with ties to the old regime, that the decrees would be restricted to “sovereign matters” aimed at protecting institutions and would therefore allow them to sleep soundly in their exceedingly comfortable beds. The judiciary nevertheless called an unprecedented strike.

The new constitution makes clear that the Brotherhood has no intention of giving up the powers it has claimed. The Constituent Assembly passed an article giving the Shura Council the power to issue legislation until a new lower house of parliament is elected. Thus the powers accrued by Mursi have simply been transferred to a body dominated by the Islamists.

The Brotherhood was openly contemptuous of its bourgeois opponents. Eleven of the liberal members of the Constituent Assembly that withdrew in protest at Mursi’s earlier decree, along with representatives of Egypt’s three main churches, were summarily replaced. Such contempt is fuelled by the understanding that the overriding concern of the opposition parties is to ensure that hostility to Mursi and the Brotherhood is kept within limits that do not threaten the fundamental interests of the Egyptian bourgeoisie and its imperialist backers.

One of the eleven removed from the panel, former foreign minister under Mubarak and failed presidential candidate Amr Mousa, meekly complained to Reuters, “This is nonsensical and one of the steps that shouldn’t be taken, given the background of anger and resentment to the current constitutional assembly.”

Mohamed Abdel-Alim Dawoud of the Wafd party, who also withdrew, similarly warned, “If the Brotherhood continue this way, it will heat up matters further because there is no intention to reach consensus.”

Mursi bases his calculations on the green light he has been given by the Western powers. Washington and its allies see the Brotherhood first as an important force for order in the Middle East, as has been demonstrated in its role in establishing pro-Western regimes in Tunisia and Libya, in the opposition movement in Syria and in the recent efforts of Mursi to secure a cease-fire in the aftermath of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. They are also looking for the Brotherhood to work with the army in suppressing mounting opposition to austerity measures demanded by the International Monetary Fund, which have already provoked a wave of strikes.

On Wednesday Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr told reporters while attending a meeting in Berlin with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle that political unrest would not affect Egypt’s negotiations with the IMF for a $4.8 billion loan. That same day, the cabinet unveiled its economic reform programme pledging to slash the budget deficit from 11 percent for the 2011/12 fiscal year to less than 5 percent by 2016/17 through brutal cuts.

A mass protest against Mursi takes place today, called by his official opponents. But with a growing threat of military repression, everything now depends upon the mass of workers and poor farmers breaking from such bourgeois forces and taking up a struggle for independent organs of workers power and for a workers’ government.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

UN: Palestinian status bid LIVE

The UN General Assembly is discussing the Palestinian Authority’s bid for n

November 29, 2012
 Status upgraded by UN General Assembly votes: 138 in favor, 9 against and 41 abstentions

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

After the elections: Obama escalates war drive in the Middle East

NATO Preparing Psy-Op in Syria

US fiscal cliff talks target the working class

By Barry Grey 
29 November 2012
As the deadline for the so-called “fiscal cliff” grows nearer, the indications mount that, behind the smokescreen of deficit talks and media hype, the artificial fiscal emergency is the starting point of a process for making deep structural cuts in basic social programs that previously would have been considered politically impossible.
Scattered press reports and statements by some Democrats as well as Republicans make clear that any deal to avert the fiscal cliff will only be a down payment on fundamental attacks on social entitlements. In discussion are such moves as raising the eligibility age for Medicare, the government health insurance program for the elderly, cutting benefits for recipients of Medicare and Medicaid (the health program for the poor), and ending Medicare’s status as a universal program by instituting means-testing.
While the Democrats are proposing that Social Security, the government pension program for the elderly, not be included in a short-term agreement to be reached before the end of the year, they are not excluding structural changes in Social Security further down the road.
At the same time, both parties and the White House are agreed in principle on a revamping of the tax code to cut taxes for corporations and the rich and increase the tax burden on the vast majority of Americans.
On Wednesday, President Obama escalated his public relations campaign to disguise the bipartisan drive for austerity for workers and tax cuts for the rich behind a façade of “balance” and “fairness.” Flanked by a group of what the White House called “average middle-class taxpayers,” he reiterated his call for congressional Republicans to agree to immediately extend the Bush-era tax cuts, due to expire January 1, for households making less than $250,000. At the same time, he repeated his public insistence that any deal to avert the tax increases and automatic spending cuts dubbed the “fiscal cliff” allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for the 2 percent of households earning more than $250,000.
The top Republican congressional leadership has rejected raising tax rates on the rich and instead proposed increasing revenues exclusively by capping tax deductions. At the same time, the Republicans are demanding that Obama and the Democrats spell out their proposals for “reforming” Medicare and Medicaid.
On Friday, Obama will hold a campaign-style PR event at a toy factory in Hatfield, Pennsylvania to posture as the partisan of middle-class taxpayers and warn that failure to agree on the framework of a deficit-cutting deal before Christmas will stunt holiday shopping. Meanwhile, White House spokesmen are reassuring the ruling class that the administration is committed to major cuts in social entitlements along with “comprehensive tax reform.”
While this political theater is being staged for public consumption, corporate CEOs are descending on the White House and Capital Hill for secret meetings with both parties to ensure that any eventual budget deal conforms to their agenda.
White House officials met Monday with leaders of the Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce. On Wednesday, Obama met in the White House with a group of CEOs, including Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs. Blankfein was denounced last year by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations for his role in the sub-prime mortgage racket that triggered the financial meltdown in 2008.
Also present were the CEOs of Caterpillar, Home Depot, Coca Cola, Yahoo, Merck, Pfizer, Deloitte, Macy’s, Comcast, State Farm Insurance, Marriott, AT&T and Archer Daniels Midland.
Blankfein also met Wednesday with House Republicans, alongside other CEOs including Doug Oberhelman of Caterpillar and Thomas Wilson of Allstate.
The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday published an article headlined “‘Cliff’ Wranglers Weigh Medicare Age.” The article quoted North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad, the retiring chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, as calling the raising of the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67 “something we could accomplish.”
NBC Nightly News led its report Wednesday evening with speculation that the Medicare age could be raised to 67 or even higher as part of an eventual budget deal.
The New York Times published an article Tuesday entitled “A Tax Break Once Sacred Is Now Seen As Vulnerable,” noting closed-door discussions on reducing or ending the tax deduction for home mortgage interest payments, a provision that saves tens of millions of homeowners thousands of dollars a year.
Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the number-two Senate Democrat and senior senator from Obama’s home state, signaled in a speech Tuesday before the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank, the readiness of the administration to make major cuts in basic entitlement programs. “We can’t be so naïve to believe that just taxing the rich will solve our problems,” he said, adding, “Put everything on the table. Repeat. Everything on the table.”
Durbin has made clear he is open to raising the Medicare eligibility age and instituting a form of means testing, which would turn the program into a poverty scheme and prepare the way for its dismantling.
Durbin also acknowledged that behind the public façade of fiscal cliff talks, the real decisions were being made in secret. “We’re playing Ping-Pong up here, but they’re rolling bowling balls under the table,” he told the Democratic think tank.
A sure sign of the deeply reactionary character of the budget deal being worked out is the renewed prominence of retired Republican Senator Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles, a former White House chief of staff to Bill Clinton. Simpson and Bowles co-chaired the deficit-reduction commission set up by Obama in 2010.
The two have reemerged to push for brutal austerity measures and sweeping cuts in taxes for corporations and the wealthy. They have initiated a corporate lobby called “Fix the Debt,” with a $60 million war chest, to promote the agenda of big business in the current negotiations.
On Tuesday, Bowles and Simpson, along with CEOs who have joined their group, met privately at the White House with six senior administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. On Wednesday they met with Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate.
The New York Times on Wednesday noted the pair’s seeming omnipresence on television interview programs and reported that they are cashing in on their notoriety, pocketing $40,000 apiece for each appearance before a business group.
The final report of the panel they chaired called for $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade, overwhelmingly weighted—three to one—on the side of spending cuts as compared to tax increases. Their proposals included setting the Social Security retirement age on a course to rise to 69, and imposing tax changes, in the name of “reform,” that would cost the average tax payer $1,700 more per year.
These included the elimination of deductions for home mortgage interest and employer-paid health insurance and a 15-cent rise in the federal gas tax. This would be used to partly offset lower tax rates for capital gains and dividends and sharply lower individual and corporate tax rates.
In addition to slashing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, these key players in the current bipartisan budget talks called for freezing the salaries of federal workers and eliminating 200,000 federal jobs.
The author also recommends:
[27 November 2012]

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Is Hamas Really a ‘Surrogate’ of Iran?

By Robert Wright
November 29, 2012 “The Atlantic” — Is Hamas a puppet of the Iranian regime? An affirmative answer to this question is, from the point of view of Bibi Netanyahu, a dual-use rhetorical technology: (1) It helps justify the recent bombardment of Gaza (since one goal of the operation was to deplete an Iranian-supplied missile stock that Iran could in theory activate against Israel in the event of war). (2) It helps justify Netanyahu’s uncompromising stance toward Iran (since, the more pervasively threatening Iran seems to Israelis, the easier it is to convince them that the Iranian regime is beyond the reach of negotiation).
The Hamas-as-Iranian-puppet narrative gets help from American media. Consider, for example, this week’s New York Times piece by David Sanger and Thom Shanker asking what the recent Israel-Gaza conflict tells us about how a possible war with Iran might play out. Referring to Netanyahu and President Obama, Sanger and Shanker write:
And one key to their war-gaming has been cutting off Iran’s ability to slip next-generation missiles into the Gaza Strip or Lebanon, where they could be launched by Iran’s surrogates, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad, during any crisis over sanctions or an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The confident assertion that Hamas is an Iranian “surrogate”–a claim Sanger and Shanker never get around to substantiating–is oddly out of touch with recent developments in the region.
It’s certainly true that Hamas had, and still has, lots of Iranian-supplied missiles, the product of a close relationship that goes back years. But this past year has seen developments that changed the relationship.
First, Hamas ended its relationship with the Syrian regime and moved its leadership out of Syria–a move that not only strained relations with Syrian ally Iran but may have deeply altered them. In March, a Hamas official said Hamas wouldnot serve as Iran’s retaliatory surrogate in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran and would not get involved in an Israel-Iran war.
Second, the sudden slack in Hamas’s relationship with Iran seems to have been taken up by Qatar, which is now bankrolling Hamas, and, in a different way, by Egypt, which is closer to Hamas under President Morsi than it was under Hosni Mubarek. This shift in Hamas’s source of support–from Iran and Syria toward Qatar and Egypt–could prove constructive in the long run, since both Qatar and Egypt are members of the global establishment and seem to want to stay that way.
None of this means Hamas’s relationship with Iran is over. Indeed, with Hamas now basking in the glow of what it’s calling a victory over Israel, gratitude for the missiles Iran sent to Gaza is on conspicuous display. Still, Hamas’s behaviorduring the conflict with Israel may say more about its relationship with Iran than any niceties emanating from Gaza afterwards. On this point it’s worth reading Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli academic of Iranian descent who teaches a course on Iranian politics. His take:
Apart from supplying weapons, Iran did not have any other influence. If it did, and Hamas was acting as its proxy, the latter would not have agreed to a cease-fire and instead done everything to force Israel to launch a land invasion in Gaza. Such an outcome would have many benefits for Iran and, in fact, this is what Iran’s military and political leaders wanted. They wanted to see Israel stuck in a quagmire in Gaza, with its economy and diplomatic standing suffering heavily while its relations with Egypt reached breaking point. Unfortunately for the Iranian regime, it did not get its wish precisely because Hamas is not its proxy, nor does it have any political influence over Hamas. Otherwise, the story would have been different.
The Hamas-as-Iran’s-surrogate motif has dramatic appeal, and journalists, like the rest of us, like drama. But dramatization often means simplification. And when the prospect of war is real–as it was with Iraq in 2002, as it is with Iran now–journalists have a particular responsibility to resist incendiary oversimplification.
Robert Wright is a senior editor at The Atlantic and the author, most recently, of The Evolution of God, a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Copyright © 2012 by The Atlantic Monthly Group.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

The Humiliation of Bradley Manning

By Ray McGovern
November 29, 2012 “Information Clearing House” — It is a bitter irony that Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, whose conscience compelled him to leak evidence about the U.S. military brass ignoring evidence of torture in Iraq, was himself the victim of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment while other military officers privately took note but did nothing.
That was one of the revelations at Manning’s pre-trial hearing at Ft. Meade, Md., on Tuesday, as Manning’s defense counsel David Coombs used email exchanges to show Marine officers grousing that the Marines had been left holding the bag on Manning’s detention at their base in Quantico, Va., though he was an Army soldier.
At Quantico, Manning, who is accused of giving hundreds of thousands of pages of classified material to WikiLeaks, was subjected to harsh treatment. He was locked in a 6-foot-by-8-foot cell for 23 hours a day and was kept naked for long periods. His incarceration led the U.N. rapporteur for torture to complain that Manning was being subjected to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
According to the email evidence, the controversy over the rough handling of Manning prompted Quantico commander Marine Col. Daniel Choike to complain bitterly that not one Army officer was in the chain of blame. Choike’s lament prompted an email reply from his commander, Lt. Gen. George Flynn, offering assurances that Choike and Quantico would not be left “holding the bag.”
However, concerns about possible repercussions from softening up Manning did little to ease the conditions that Manning faced. His Marine captors seemed eager to give him the business and make him an example to any other prospective whistleblowers. Only after a sustained public outcry was Manning transferred to the Army prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Though his treatment was less harsh there, Manning still has faced 2 and a half years of incarceration without trial and could face up to life imprisonment after a court-martial into his act of conscience, i.e., releasing extensive evidence of wrongdoing by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan and questionable foreign policies carried out by the U.S. State Department.
The release of the documents led to hundreds of news stories, including some that revealed the willful inaction of U.S. military brass when informed of torture inflicted on Iraqi prisoners held by the U.S.-backed Iraqi military.
Manning’s Conscience
As a young intelligence analyst in Iraq, Pvt. Manning grew disgusted with evidence passing through his computer terminal revealing the secretive dark side of the U.S. military occupation, including this pattern of high-level disinterest in Iraqi-on-Iraqi torture, which resulted from a directive known as Frago 242, guidelines from senior Pentagon officials not to interfere with abusive treatment of Iraqi government detainees.
As the U.K. Guardian reported in 2010 based on the leaked documents, Frago 242 was a “fragmentary order” summarizing a complex requirement, in this case, one issued in June 2004 ordering American troops not to investigate torture violations unless they involved members of the occupying coalition led by the United States.
When alleged abuse was inflicted by Iraqis on Iraqis, “only an initial report will be made.… No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ,” the Guardian reported, adding: “Frago 242 appears to have been issued as part of the wider political effort to pass the management of security from the coalition to Iraqi hands. In effect, it means that the [Iraqi] regime has been forced to change its political constitution but allowed to retain its use of torture.”
Some cases of torture were flagrant, according to the disregarded “initial” reports. For instance, the Guardian cited a log report of “a man who was detained by Iraqi soldiers in an underground bunker [and] reported that he had been subjected to the notoriously painful strappado position: with his hands tied behind his back, he was suspended from the ceiling by his wrists.
“The soldiers had then whipped him with plastic piping and used electric drills on him. The log records that the man was treated by US medics; the paperwork was sent through the necessary channels; but yet again, no investigation was required.…
“Hundreds of the leaked war logs reflect the fertile imagination of the torturer faced with the entirely helpless victim — bound, gagged, blindfolded, and isolated — who is whipped by men in uniforms using wire cables, metal rods, rubber hoses, wooden stakes, TV antennae, plastic water pipes, engine fan belts, or chains.
“At the torturer’s whim, the logs reveal, the victim can be hung by his wrists or by his ankles; knotted up in stress positions; sexually molested or raped; tormented with hot peppers, cigarettes, acid, pliers, or boiling water — and always with little fear of retribution since, far more often than not, if the Iraqi official is assaulting an Iraqi civilian, no further investigation will be required.
“Most of the victims are young men, but there are also logs which record serious and sexual assaults on women; on young people, including a boy of 16 who was hung from the ceiling and beaten; the old and vulnerable, including a disabled man whose damaged leg was deliberately attacked. The logs identify perpetrators from every corner of the Iraqi security apparatus — soldiers, police officers, prison guards, border enforcement patrols.
“There is no question of the coalition forces not knowing that their Iraqi comrades are doing this: the leaked war logs are the internal records of those forces. There is no question of the allegations all being false. Some clearly are, but most are supported by medical evidence and some involve incidents that were witnessed directly by coalition forces.”
Possessing such evidence — and knowing that the U.S. high command was systematically ignoring these and other crimes — Manning was driven by a sense of morality to get the evidence to the American people and to the world.
Punishing Morality
For his act of conscience, Manning has become the subject of harsh incarceration himself, as some U.S. pundits and even members of Congress have called for his execution as a traitor. At minimum, however, he has been made an example to anyone else tempted to tell hard truths.
Many in Official Washington find nothing wrong with humiliating Manning with forced nudity and breaking down his psychiatric health through prolonged isolation. After all, they say, his release of classified information might have put the lives of some U.S. allies at risk (although there is no known evidence to support that concern).
There also are legal constraints upon the United States dishing out particularly nasty treatment to Pvt. Manning. Cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners is expressly banned by the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and ratified by the Senate in 1994.
And there are no exceptions for “wartime” whistleblowers like Manning. Here’s what the Convention says: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture” and “an order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture” (Art. 2 (2-3)).”
Personally, when I attended the Tuesday proceeding, I dreaded sitting through another “pre-trial hearing,” having been bored stiff at earlier sessions. But it was a welcome surprise to witness firsthand proof that military courts can still hold orderly proceedings bereft (on Tuesday, at least) of “command influence.”
Most illuminating at Tuesday’s hearing was the central fact that the virtually indestructible nature of email facilitates the kind of documentary evidence that lawyers lust after — whether they be attorneys, FBI investigators, or just plain folks fed up with lies and faux history.
To the Marine Corps’ credit, I suppose, there was no evidence at the hearing that anyone had tried to expunge the email correspondence revealing the fears about being left “holding the bag” on the harsh treatment of Manning.
Email vs. Petraeus
So the availability of email is the major new reality playing out in several major ways. As we have seen, former Gen. David Petraeus is a notable recent victim of the truth that can turn up in email.
I used to call him “Petraeus ex Machina” for the faux success of the celebrated “surge” in Iraq, which cost almost 1,000 additional U.S. troops dead (and many more Iraqis) to buy a “decent interval” for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to get out of town without a clear-cut military defeat hung around their necks.
As it turned out, “Petraeus ex Machina,” after a little more than a year as CIA director, was undone in a sex scandal exposed by the modern “machine” of e-mail.
More to the point, the torrent of email and the “Collateral Murder” video that Manning now acknowledges giving to WikiLeaks as a matter of conscience were, of course, highly illuminating to students of real history. And the emails (and State Department cables) also were rather unflattering regarding the aims of U.S. policy and military actions around the globe.
So how did the White House, the State Department, and military brass respond? There was a strongly felt need to make an object lesson of Bradley Manning to show what happens to people whose conscience prompts them to expose deceit and serious wrongdoing, especially through official documents that can’t be denied or spun.
In Manning’s case, he was delivered to the Marines, famous for their hard-headed determination to follow orders and to get the job done. So his jailers took Manning’s clothes away and made him stand naked, supposedly out of concern that otherwise he might be “a risk to himself.” To further “protect” him, he was kept in a 23-hour lockdown in a tiny cell.
The treatment of Manning at Quantico was too much for State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley, a 26-year Air Force veteran and former colonel. Crowley was of the old school on the treatment of prisoners; his father, a B-17 pilot spent two years in a German POW camp.
On March 10, 2011, Crowley went public, telling an audience that Manning was being “mistreated” by the Defense Department; Crowley branded Manning’s treatment “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”
Three days later, Crowley resigned with this parting shot: “The exercise of power in today’s challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values.”
At Ft. Meade, the pre-trial hearings are continuing, including testimony about how the advice of health professionals regarding Manning was disregarded by the Marine officers and his jailers at Quantico. Later this week, Manning himself is expected to take the stand.
Again, the fair and orderly manner in which Tuesday’s hearing was conducted was a reassuring sign that not everyone is prepared to cave before “command influence.” The judge, Col. Denise Lind, upon whom all depends, listened attentively and asked several good questions at the end.
Let’s hope the kangaroos can be kept at bay.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. In the Sixties he served as an infantry/intelligence officer and then became a CIA analyst for the next 27 years. He is on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
Originally published by ConsortiumNews.com.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

A Professionalised Political Elite

Given how thirsty the electorate is for anything that counters the sterility of Westminster, the rewards for a party that has the courage to speak out will be huge
By Owen Jones
November 29, 2012 “The Independent” — Given that one running joke is that I look like I should be delivering newspapers rather than writing for one, it might jar for me to get dewy-eyed about politicians of the past, but hear me out.
Take a moment to compare the current crop of political “heavyweights” to, say, the leading lights of post-war Britain. In the first majority Labour government, headed by Clement Attlee, there was Nye Bevan (above, with Attlee), ex-miner, fiery orator and founder of the NHS; Ernie Bevin, who started work as a labourer aged 11, became the country’s most powerful trade union leader before ending up as Britain’s representative on the global stage; and Herbert Morrison, an errand boy who became deputy prime minister.
All had lived working-class lives; their experiences had informed and driven their political passion. Bevan, for example, had seen miners stricken by ailments but denied access to decent healthcare. Even Blairites these days pay homage to him, but they would have been among his bitterest critics then: Bevan was a man of uncompromising conviction, resigning when Hugh Gaitskell introduced prescription charges in his beloved NHS.
And look at where we have ended up. An increasingly technocratic, professionalised political elite, who could not fail the “imagine them down the pub” test any more painfully. According to the Sutton Trust, well over a third of new MPs elected in 2010 were privately educated, compared to 7 per cent of the rest of the population. A stunning one in five new MPs already worked in the Westminster Bubble before their election; and only one in 20 MPs hails from any form of manual background. During the expenses scandal, MPs – who are in the top 5 per cent of earners – privately whinged that they were paid less than City bankers or lawyers, as though it was just another upper-middle-class profession, rather than a service or duty to the community.
Despair
The political establishment is not only drawn from increasingly narrow backgrounds. The differences between them have narrowed so much that is often nuance, rather than substantial policies, that divide them. Appearing on Question Time last week with Yvette Cooper, Iain Duncan-Smith and Charles Kennedy, it struck me just how suffocating the political consensus has become. Kennedy – who once courageously spoke out against the obscenity of the Iraq war – could not bring himself to challenge the Government’s line on Israel’s onslaught on Gaza.
When I pointed out that it was Israel that had broken the ceasefire, and asked which people would tolerate decades of occupation, siege and illegal settlements, it was hugely appreciated by the audience – simply because it was a widespread view that no mainstream politician had attempted to articulate. In a frustratingly curtailed debate on welfare with Duncan-Smith, I found myself despairing that I was being forced to do what the Labour leadership was still failing to do. Opposition, I think they call it.
Indeed, on the key questions of our time, many senior politicians are at one. They are committed to devastating cuts, differing only on degree and timing. They believe in the supremacy of market economics, including allowing private profiteers to make a fast buck out of our public services. They oppose challenging the supremacy of the City, or making Britain’s booming wealthy pay a significantly higher share of tax. Mission, belief and passion have been stripped from politics so that – even at a time of crisis – it risks becoming a bland managerial contest. Instead we have politicians with “values” such as “fairness”. Who ever campaigned for unfairness?
Watching David Miliband being interviewed on TV yesterday, I was struck by how he was the epitome of this professionalised, consensus politician. That he is regarded as more effective than his brother has always been – for me, at least – the great mystery of British politics. Before 2010, he was best known as the man who bottled out of challenging Gordon Brown and who was snapped carrying a banana. He has never worked outside of politics. He speaks and writes with often bafflingly vacuous prose; like “meet the needs of tomorrow rather than yesterday”, for example.
Injustice
Reading his entry in the Register of Members’ Interests, it is difficult not to wonder how he finds time to represent his constituents: since being defeated in the Labour leadership contest, he has raked in tens of thousands of pounds advising corporate outfits and through speaking engagements all over the world. If the failures of modern politics were to be summed up in one individual, David Miliband would be a leading candidate.
There are still idealistic young things who have a sense of wanting to rail against injustice. But among them are shamelessly ambitious politicos, too, who’d happily trade an aunt on eBay for a Parliamentary seat. You can see them on Twitter, sending the sort of anodyne tweets in their early 20s that might be expected from a politically generic shadow minister.
No wonder George Galloway stormed to victory in Bradford earlier this year, that the odds on Respect in the upcoming Rotherham and Croydon North by-elections have narrowed, that Ukip have surged in the polls, and Boris Johnson – despite his adherence to Tory dogma – attracts such an unlikely following. All are seen to defy the orthodoxies and woefully uninspiring styles of the political elite. The electorate are thirsty for anything that defies the sterile Westminster consensus.
Historically, it has been Labour’s role to challenge wealth and power. If its leadership is unable to do so – whether it be through lack of courage or conviction – a vacuum will be left. In such turbulent times, that vacuum will be filled. The cosy consensus of the professionalised political elite may be suffocating, but it is not sustainable. A perceptive eye can notice the cracks and observe that – with a bit of a shove – the whole edifice could shatter.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Austerity without end

U.N. Set to Implicitly Recognize Palestinian State, Despite Threats

Sucking Up to the Military Brass

Israeli Terror: The “Final Solution” to the Palestine Question

UK Shielding Israel From War Crimes Prosecutions

What Really Happened in Gaza

2 Minutes Video

On BBC’s Question Time on 22.11.12, journalist Owen Jones described the reality– largely ignored by the mainstream media — of Israel’s brutal attack on Gaza, 14-22 November 2012, that left close to 160 killed, over 30 of them children.
Posted November 28, 2012

 

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

John Pilger : Media And War Conference

Video
Humanitarian interventions reframing the war on terror.
John Pilger addresses ‘Media and War’ conference at Goldsmith’s College, University of London, 17 November 2012
Posted November 28, 2012

 

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Third World America: Drowning in Debt and Choking on Lies

By Janet Tavakoli
November 28, 2012 “Information Clearing House” – If a drunk driver crashed his speeding rental car into your house and killed your spouse, you would be outraged if law enforcers took bribes and refused to give the driver a blood test. If the judge then gave the killer a small fine and ordered you to pay the fine and pay for all the damages, you’d be outraged. If the government then handed the drunk-driver keys to a bigger faster rental car, handed the drunk driver an even bigger bottle of whiskey, and then gave you the rental bill; you’d storm Washington, blizzard elected officials with protests and organize friends and associates to vote these malefactors, the elected officials that betrayed your trust, out of office.
Yet, we’ve remained largely silent in the face of the same sort of behavior by Wall Street and Washington. Bonus-seeking bankers crashed into Main Street’s economy and ran control frauds within banks that would have failed without taxpayer bailouts. Bureaucrats and elected officials bailed them out without demanding consequences. Bankers are revving their engines again in credit derivatives, currency derivatives, and commodities trades. “Financial reform” addresses none of the latter problems.
Arianna Huffington’s Third World America: How Our Politicians are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream explains that the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the bank bailout package also known as TARP, allotted only $72 billion to infrastructure projects. Another feature of the bill was to have banks agree to lend money to medium and small sized businesses to stimulate the economy. That didn’t happen and official unemployment numbers remain above 9%, while unofficial figures for underemployed Americans soar above 20%.
The number one stimulus for any economy is not consumer spending, although that is a powerful secondary effect. The number one stimulus is capital spending, investment in the production of real goods and consumables. As Third World America explains: “There were three flaws with the old economy that has crashed. It favored consumption over production, debt over small savings, and environmental damage over environmental renewal.”
Our ongoing bank bailouts included the mispricing of around $4 trillion of toxic assets that the banks cannot afford to honestly price, since bank capital would be wiped out sparking another global financial meltdown. We continue to provide cheap taxpayer funding through the Fed. New accounting rules allow banks to cover-up the low price of impaired assets, and government debt guarantees provide ongoing subsidies to banks that have a value of trillions of dollars.
Ground Zero for America’s Debt Crisis
Beyond the banks, we have fiscal mismanagement and corruption that plagues middle class taxpayers. I happen to live in Illinois, the best example of this in the nation. Cook County encompasses Chicago and some of its surrounding suburbs. This week, the Cook County Treasurer discovered “stunning” debt. This debt isn’t new, but apparently our officials are now properly terrified. Our total debt for the municipality, education, county, sanitary, park, fire, township, library and special services is now $108 billion. That means the debt per person in Chicago exceeds $23,700 (corrected assuming 2.67 average per household) or more than $63,500 per household, and that is just local debt.
The other problem is that the Illinois economy isn’t growing. Many of those households have no income coming in other than government subsidies, and some have no income at all. Unofficial unemployment numbers top 20%. State of Illinois taxes increased from 3% to 5%, an increase of around 67%. Taxes on real estate, utilities, sales, and more are expected to skyrocket. Businesses like the Chicago Mercantile Exchange are being courted by low income tax states (at least the income taxes are currently low) like Florida.
We’re not doing better on a national level. Americans owe almost $166,600 (corrected assuming 2.69 average per household) per household or around $45,000 per person (Greek citizens owe $44,000 per person). That’s on top of our local debt.
David Walker, the former U.S. comptroller general, says it’s even worse than that. When he takes into account future obligations for Medicare, Social Security, Federal debt, Military retirement, Civil servant retirement, and more, we owe $546,663 per household. That doesn’t even include your local debt — it may not be as bad as if you lived in Illinois, but it’s substantial nonetheless — and personal debt including mortgages and consumer debt that average more than $120,000 per household.
We’re told we are a great country and we can “grow our way out of it.” Exactly how does that occur, when jobs are going overseas, taxes for the wealthiest in our country are uncollectible after exploiting tax breaks, and programs for investment in infrastructure and production are virtually nonexistent?
America’s biggest problem by far is that capital spending in new production facilities that create jobs and real products never occurred, not even after trillions of dollars were thrown at banks in the global financial system.
Chicago Police Superintendent McCarthy’s Cheap Shot: “Government Sponsored Racism”
One would think that our fiscal problems and corruption by local and national officials would unite citizens in a common cause. I’ve been very vocal about predatory lending that targeted vulnerable minorities. A practice called “reverse red lining” targeted people of color and those in minority neighborhoods to get them to sign mortgages that had complicated documentation that hid risks. Yes, there was some fraud by borrowers, but the overwhelming problem in the Chicago area, was fraud on borrowers. I’ve explained this in some detail on The Huffington Post in past years and again recently: “Third World America 2011: Forget ‘Fast Tracking to Anarchy.’ We’ve Arrived.” (June 8, 2011).
I’ve also been vocal about shootings, mob wildings, and muggings in Chicago and the fact that our officials are lying to our population about the causes. It’s true that most of shootings are black-on-black or brown-on-brown and that violence in our poorer neighborhoods is branching out into middle class neighborhoods. In instances where perpetrators are black or brown and the victims are white, it is tempting to say it is all about race, but as I pointed out, this is much bigger than our racial issue:
It’s Not a Race War; It’s a Class War
It’s much too easy to let politicians divide the nation, make this about race, and ignore the underlying causes. It’s true that many of the mobs in downtown Chicago are comprised of African Americans, but Oprah Winfrey isn’t into wilding. Mary McCarthy didn’t get a close up look at the mob outside her window, but they appeared white — definitely not African American.
Last year, I never mentioned race in my post about Chicago violence, but a few commenters brought up race and made unwarranted assumptions. Some commenters assumed “wildings” only involve black youths. Chicago is a city with a lot of diversity and gangs of every race. I mentioned a separate incident of an armed intruder being shot and killed by an off duty police officer; the armed intruder was not African American. I also mentioned three police officers were shot and killed within a two month period. Two were African American, one was not.
I pointed out that our officials have been lying to the public about crime. On June 23, NBC televised a segment on how911 calls on Memorial Day noted gang violence on Chicago’s trendy beaches and the lack of adequate police presence for crowd control.
For example, a 911 caller implored for more police protection. He was selling chairs and umbrellas on the beach that day when he was confronted by thugs: “We have a couple of gentlemen, well, actually a few people, threatening to shoot us, threatening to whoop our ass. They’re unhooking our equipment.” Calls like this belied the story told by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy that the beach was closed due to the heat.
More disturbing, however, were remarks made by Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy to Father Pfleger’s congregation on Sunday June 5, 2011 at St. Sabina’s Catholic Church. I provide the entire transcript along with this video, which has already been pulled from the web once, and was retrieved from the Google cache by a concerned citizen:

The last part of the speech is wrong on many levels. I’m happy to speak up about injustices such as predatory lending and how this practice victimized many neighborhoods in Chicago. In fact, I co-authored an Op-ed for the New York Timeswith the Reverend Jesse Jackson on that topic; it wasn’t published, however, but we gave it a shot.
When it comes to the type of violent crime referred to by the Superintendent, he has his cause and effects all wrong, and he made it all about racism. He equated gun laws to “government sponsored racism.”
If criminals didn’t have guns, they would use knives. The killings in our African American communities have nothing to do with racism. These are black-on-black crimes perpetrated by criminals with no respect for authority and no self-respect. They victimize and terrorize decent members of the black community struggling to survive a devastating economic crisis. The Chicago Police Superintendent’s pandering and misinformation doesn’t make it easy for anyone to respect authority.
Gun control is “government sponsored racism?” Superintendent McCarthy is wrong on many levels. He mentions segregation, Jim Crow and the Black Code. The latter denied African Americans the right to own guns and that left them open to victimization by armed racists. Now they are victimized by armed criminals in their own communities. Only law-abiding citizens aren’t allowed to have guns in Chicago, which seems to be a violation of U.S. citizens’ Second Amendment rights. The chief challenger of this prohibition in Illinois is an African American man who wants to own a gun so he can defend himself. Moreover, Superintendent McCarthy didn’t mention the understaffed and underequipped police officers, many of whom are men and women of color, who have been shot and killed, wounded, or have had guns pointed at them by criminals. How is any of this racism?
Father Pfleger has something to answer for as well. What happened to separation of Church and State? Why does the Catholic Church deserve tax-exempt status if it allows a priest to use the Church pulpit for political rallies?
Politicians divide the nation and try to make these issues about race, and ignore the underlying causes.
In Third World America, Arianna Huffington notes: “the first step toward stopping our relentless transformation into Third World America has to be breaking the choke hold that special interest money has on our politics.” We must also break the choke-hold that politicians in clerical robes and uniforms have on our public discourse.
Endnote: Transcript of Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy addressing the Congregation at St. Sabina’s Church in Chicago, Illinois on June 5, 2011 (from above video):
I feel so inadequate after Father Pfleger speaking, but I would never turn down an opportunity to share a couple of words with the community.
Because there’s only 24 hours in the day, I’m trying to fit that 25th hour in and get out everywhere and talk to everybody all the time. I’ve spent an awful lot of time over the last… tomorrow’s my three week anniversary. And I’m also up for conformation tomorrow, so speak to your alderman; that would be very helpful.
But I’ve spent an awful lot of time speaking to police officers over the last few weeks and I cannot help but be impressed by the sense of pride that they all take in this great agency called the Chicago Police Department. And Father, I’ve gotta…You know what? I’m there.
I’m going to take one second if you’ll forgive me for this. Um, You know I cannot echo or speak as articulate as you did laying out the challenges that we face as a society, but I’m here to tell you one or two quick things. There are no accidents. There are no accidents in this universe and I believe deep down in my soul, I’ve never made a decision in my police career but God has brought me to this place. I’ve never made a decision in my police career, and I jokingly tell people that I lead a Forrest Gump type existence, floating along and ending up where I go.
But I did 20 years in the NYPD, and I was there on 911, so I have my own personal opinions about Osama Bin Laden. Please forgive me for that Father. But I was also there to see a change, a big change in the NYPD and the way we do business. And I want to give you a couple of numbers. In 1990 in NYC, there were 2, 245 people murdered. I’m going to say that again. 2,245 people murdered, and the headlines on the daily news were “Do something, Dave,” talking to David Dinkins, the Mayor at the time. Well we changed the way we did business, and the NYPD has been very successful to the point where last year they reduced that number to 450.
Now that’s certainly progress, but it’s not good enough. Do you realize we’re talking about a 75% reduction, which is a big deal, but we had 450 people murdered. That’s not okay, that’s not okay. And again Father forgive me, I looked at my Blackberry in church, but while we were sitting here, there was another murder in the City of Chicago. It’s not okay, and I’m not willing to accept that it’s okay. And I’m setting the bar higher than anybody ever sets the bar for me. I set it higher than anybody sets it.
And I had a conversation with Father Pfleger, and I told him my vision, and he basically articulated it. But I want to tell you, we used to react to crime, then we used to prevent crime. That’s what we’re doing now; that’s how we reduce crime. Nobody’s ever cured crime. Nobody’s ever cured it. The police cannot arrest their way out of crime. It’s got to be done on a different level. It’s got to be done in recognition of the moral authority of the community to change the behavior of criminals.
Wow, there must be something about this pulpit here, ’cause I’m feelin’ strong. I usually, I, I, [sic] should never mix politics and faith, but since, since the Father mentioned it, I want to talk just one thing, and then I promise you I’m giving up the microphone. It’s, it’s the last time I get invited to speak.
You know I’m going to take a risk here, and I’m gonna give you somethin’. This is definitely the right audience. Father Pfleger talked about gun control, and I wanna, I wanna give a little test here. And this is sensitive. You know, because everybody’s afraid of race. Have you noticed that? Everybody’s afraid of race.
I’m not afraid of race. I was born and raised in the Bronx, NY, and when I was growin’ up, the three biggest problems were gangs, guns, and drugs. Does that sound familiar?
So how, how much have we failed as a society to address this?
I’m 52 years old. I’m 52 years old, and today in 2011, we’re talking about gangs and guns and drugs and what we’re going to do to fix it. Okay? A big component of this has to do with race.
Everybody’s afraid of race. I’m not afraid of race. So here’s what I want to tell you. See, let’s see if we can make a connection here. Slavery. Segregation. Black codes. Jim Crow. What, what did they all have in common? Anybody getting’ scared?
Government sponsored racism. [Long pause.]
I told ya I wasn’t afraid. I told ya I wasn’t afraid.
Now I want you to connect one more dot on that chain of the African American history in this country, and tell me if I’m crazy.
Federal gun laws that facilitate the flow of illegal firearms, into our urban centers across this country, that are killing our black and brown children. [Long pause.]
The NRA does not like me, and I’m okay with that. We’ve got to get the gun debate back to center, and it’s got to come with the recognition of who’s paying the price for the gun manufacturers being rich and living in gated communities.
I, on December 23 in Newark, I was coming from a Christmas Party when we had two back-to-back events. We had five kids who were shot, two of ’em succumbed to their wounds, and then we had two more men who were shot back-to-back within five minutes of each other. I was on my way to one, when I went to the other, and I was walking through shell casings, bullets, spent bullets in the street. They were gettin’ stuck in my shoes and I said “You know what? Sumpin’s wrong. Somethin’s wrong, and I went from one scene to the next, and by the time I got home, probably about 10:30, 11:00 that night, snapped on the TV to relax for a few minutes, and what was on TV? Sarah Palin’s Alaska. And she was caribou hunting, and talking about the right to bear arms.
Why wasn’t she at the crime scene with me?
I’m gonna need some help. Because people don’t want to hear this. Okay? And this is what I’m talking about changing the face of the way we do police in this country starting right here in Chicago. It’s with the recognition of what is going on, and a plan to address it.
I couldn’t be happier. I feel like I’m in a perfect place, the perfect time, with the right people around me.
Thank you very much everybody. This is gonna be great experience.
Janet Tavakoli is the president of Tavakoli Structured Finance, a Chicago-based firm that provides consulting to financial institutions and institutional investors. Ms. Tavakoli has more than 20 years of experience in senior investment banking positions, trading, structuring and marketing structured financial products. She is a former adjunct associate professor of derivatives at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business. Author of: Credit Derivatives & Synthetic Structures (1998, 2001), Collateralized Debt Obligations & Structured Finance (2003), Structured Finance & Collateralized Debt Obligations (John Wiley & Sons, September 2008). Tavakoli’s book on the causes of the global financial meltdown and how to fix it is: Dear Mr. Buffett: What an Investor Learns 1,269 Miles from Wall Street (Wiley, 2009).
This article was originally posted at The Huffington Post

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Hungry For The Holidays: 20 Facts About Hunger In America That Will Blow Your Mind

By Michael Snyder
November 28, 2012 “Information Clearing House” – All over America there are millions of people that will be missing meals and going hungry this holiday season. Even as much of the country indulges in the yearly ritual of unbridled consumerism that we refer to as “the holiday season”, more families in the United States than ever before will be dealing with not having enough food to eat. Food stamp use is at an all-time high. Demand at food banks is at an all-time high. They keep telling us that we are in an “economic recovery” and yet the middle class continues to shrink and the number of Americans living in poverty just continues to grow. We are witnessing unprecedented hunger in America, and this especially seems tragic during the holidays. Much of the country is partying as if the good times will never stop, but families that are living from one meal to the next are facing a completely different reality. How do you tell your children that there isn’t going to be any food to eat for dinner? How do you explain to them that other families have plenty to eat but you don’t? Sadly, many food banks are overstretched at this point. All over the nation, food pantries have actually had to turn people away because of the overwhelming demand. And more Americans used food stamps to buy their Thanksgiving dinners this year than ever before. This is a problem that is not going away any time soon, and when the next major economic downturn strikes the problem of hunger in America is going to get even worse.
For many Americans, hunger has become a way of life. Families that don’t have enough money are often faced with some absolutely heartbreaking choices. Just check out what one Maine official that works with the Emergency Food Assistance Program recently had to say
“One in six people in Maine don’t know where their next meal is coming from, or skip a meal so their kids can eat, or have to choose between paying for prescriptions and food, or fuel for your car and food,” Hall said. “What’s amazing is that food is always the first thing to go from your budget. It’s staggering, the choices people have to make.”
Food banks all over the country try their best to do what they can, especially during the holidays, but it is often not enough. In fact, some food banks ran out of turkeys well in advance of Thanksgiving this year
Three days in advance of Thanksgiving, the Pear Street Cupboard and Café in Framingham, Massachusetts, is out of turkeys. According to organizers, “requests for help are up 400 percent over last year.”
But it isn’t just during the holidays that food banks are having problems keeping up with demand. The truth is that many food banks find themselves out of food and having to turn away hungry families all throughout the year. The following is from a recent Reuters article
Overall, food pantries and soup kitchens reported a 5 percent spike in demand in 2012, according to the survey. More than half of providers said they were forced to turn away clients, reduce portion sizes, or limit their hours.
In Staten Island, all of the agencies that respond to hunger reported not having enough food to meet demand, while in the Bronx that was true for 80 percent of agencies. In Queens and Brooklyn, more than 60 percent of agencies did not have enough food to meet the needs of the populations they serve.
If you are able, please support your local food bank. The needs are great and they are only going to get greater.
The following are 20 facts about hunger in America that will blow your mind…
#1 According to one calculation, the number of Americans on food stamps now exceeds the combined populations of “Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.”
#2 In October 2008, 30.8 million Americans were on food stamps. By August 2012 that number had risen to 47.1 million Americans.
#3 Right now, one out of every seven Americans is on food stamps and one out of every four American children is on food stamps.
#4 It is projected that half of all American children will be on food stamps at least once before they turn 18 years of age.
#5 According to new numbers that were just released by the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Americans living in poverty increased to a new all-time record high of 49.7 million last year.
#6 The number of Americans living in poverty has increased by about 6 million over the past four years.
#7 Today, about one out of every four workers in the United States brings home wages that are at or below the federal poverty level.
#8 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate for children living in the United States is about 22 percent.
#9 Overall, approximately 57 percent of all children in the United States are living in homes that are either considered to be either “low income” or impoverished.
#10 In the United States today, close to 100 million Americans are considered to be either “poor” or “near poor”.
#11 One university study estimates that child poverty costs the U.S. economy 500 billion dollars each year.
#12 Households that are led by a single mother have a 31.6 percent poverty rate.
#13 In 2010, 42 percent of all single mothers in the United States were on food stamps.
#14 According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 36.4 percent of all children in Philadelphia are living in poverty, 40.1 percent of all children in Atlanta are living in poverty, 52.6 percent of all children in Cleveland are living in poverty and 53.6 percent of all children in Detroit are living in poverty.
#15 Since 2007, the number of children living in poverty in the state of California has increased by 30 percent.
#16 Family homelessness in the Washington D.C. region (one of the wealthiest regions in the entire country) has risen 23 percent since the last recession began.
#17 There are 314 counties in the United States where at least 30 percent of the children are facing food insecurity.
#18 More than 20 million U.S. children rely on school meal programs to keep from going hungry.
#19 Right now, more than 100 million Americans are enrolled in at least one welfare program run by the federal government. And that does not even count Social Security or Medicare.
#20 According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, approximately 40 percent of all food in America “is routinely thrown away by consumers at home, discarded or unserved at restaurants or left unharvested on farms.”
This article was originally posted at The Economic Collapse

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Obama II – The Purge And The Pact

Outrage Over Morsi But Not Over Our Dictator

The Osama bin Laden Myth

Breaking Point

Bradley Manning hearing focuses on unlawful pre-trial punishment

By Naomi Spencer 
28 November 2012
The Army’s pre-trial hearing resumed Tuesday against Bradley Manning, the 24-year-old private who is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified military and government documents to the whistleblower organization WikiLeaks.
US Army photograph of Bradley Manning
Manning is expected to speak this week about his nine-month confinement at the Quantico, Virginia Marine Corps prison. There he was held in isolation in a 6-by-8-foot cell more than 23-and-a-half hours a day. He was made to stay awake from 5 in the morning until 10 at night with nothing to do, forbidden even to exercise. Guards ordered him to strip naked and stand in humiliating positions in their presence. He was denied such basic items as eye glasses and bedding.
Manning’s testimony will be the first public comment by the former intelligence analyst in more than two years.
The pre-trial proceeding, known as an Article 32 hearing, is scheduled to run through Sunday, December 2 at Fort Meade, Maryland. It is the last in a long series of hearings before a full court-martial trial scheduled for February 4. Manning elected to be tried by a military judge, rather than by a jury.
Manning faces possible life imprisonment if he is convicted of “aiding the enemy” under the Espionage Act. He faces 22 separate charges for allegedly accessing classified information while stationed in Baghdad in 2009-2010.
Many of the files Manning is accused of leaking document war crimes by the US military, most notably a video published by WikiLeaks under the title “Collateral Murder” that captures a 2007 US helicopter attack on Iraqi civilians that left 12 dead, including children and two Reuters journalists. The military had characterized all of the dead as “enemies killed in action.”
Other documents from Iraq showed tens of thousands of previously unreported civilian deaths and a formal military policy of covering up torture, rape and murder.
Tuesday’s proceedings focused on the testimony of commanders at Quantico. Wednesday will center on the testimony of behavioral health specialists at the brig.
Earlier this month, Manning offered to take responsibility by pleading guilty to certain charges in a legal process known as “pleading by exceptions and substitutions” to some subsets of charges. The soldier’s defense team, led by David Coombs, stressed that this move was not to be confused with a guilty plea or a deal with the government. On his blog, Coombs explained that it “does not change the offenses with which PFC Manning has been charged and for which he is scheduled to stand trial.”
The government on Tuesday formally announced that it would not accept the “conditional plea.”
Coombs contends that Manning has suffered “unlawful pre-trial punishment” during his detention, now running 900 days, and that any sentence should be substantially reduced or waived entirely “due to the government’s abject failure to honor PFC Manning’s fundamental speedy trial rights.”
Denise Lind, the military judge, argued that a plea of guilty waived speedy trial rights for the charges. She declared that the court would not take up the speedy trial motion until a December 10-14 session.
Manning’s detention at Quantico drew condemnations internationally, including from the UN’s rapporteur on torture, Amnesty International, and US legal scholars. Coombs has argued that Quantico commanders disregarded medical advice by military psychologists and doctors and subjected Manning to “prevention of injury” watch not for his own protection, but in order to cause suffering and deprivation. Official records document at least 16 psychiatric evaluations submitted to brig commanders concluding that Manning was not a threat to himself or others.
Questioning of the commander at Quantico, Colonel Daniel Choike, went on for several hours. Among other revelations, the defense examination produced the astounding admission that the commander relied on unqualified mental assessments of a dentist on staff instead of the brig psychiatrists. Choike insisted that the “prevention of injury” order was based on a report that Manning displayed “erratic behaviour, poor judgment in the past and poor family relationships.”
Under questioning by Coombs as to what “erratic behavior” entailed, Choike said, “His acting out, playing peek-a-boo, licking the bars of his cell, dancing, erratic dancing. Those are the ones I recall.” Coombs asked whether he could imagine that someone confined to a 6-by-8-foot cell might dance to keep his mind occupied. “I suppose so,” Choike replied.
Coombs released documents earlier this year in which Lieutenant General George Flynn, a three-star general at the Pentagon, stated that “we will do whatever we want to do” with Manning. The defense team is seeking to establish that orders relating to the young soldier’s mistreatment came from higher up the military chain of command.
Evidence introduced Tuesday revealed the direct role of the Pentagon in Manning’s treatment and the way his case was presented to the public. In one email to brig officials read out during the hearing, Flynn stressed the need as Manning was transported to Quantico in July 2010 “to be proactive and make sure we hold the moral high ground if this issue takes hold in the press.”
An email from Choike to his subordinates emphasized that Flynn was to be informed of any change in Manning’s status “for his consideration,” adding that Flynn “wouldn’t put anything in writing.” In the same email, Choike stated that Flynn “will have to determine the political impact, media interest, legal ramifications and senior leadership reactions—and he can’t do that without us informing him.”
Such communiqués reveal that the abuse was part of a deliberate effort to break Manning’s resolve at the behest of the Obama administration. The White House, which has been carrying out a witch-hunt of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for more than two years and secretly preparing to put him on trial, is seeking to use Manning against Assange and WikiLeaks.
Despite the political magnitude of the case, only a handful of journalists were present Tuesday. The most detailed reports have come from bloggers and independent journalists supportive of Manning.
Kevin Gosztola, writing at firedoglake.com, noted that more reporters were covering the proceedings than before: “For the first time in months, one has to have more than two hands to count media present.” Over the past two years, mainstream US media coverage of the case has been limited almost completely to brief wire reports.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Mass protests against Egyptian President Mursi

By Johannes Stern 
28 November 2012
The crowds at Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Tuesday [Photo: Lilian Wagdy]
Hundreds of thousands protested in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and throughout Egypt yesterday against Islamist president Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).
In scenes recalling the initial days of the Egyptian Revolution, which led to the downfall of former dictator Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, the Egyptian masses are again demanding the ouster of a US-backed despot. Amongst the most popular chants were, “Down, down, Mursi-Mubarak” and “Mursi you coward, you agent of the Americans.”
Unrest has been growing throughout the country since Mursi issued a constitutional decree last Thursday claiming all legislative, constitutional, executive and judicial powers.
Mursi’s bid for dictatorial powers is backed by US-imperialism. It came immediately after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thanked Mursi personally for his reliability to Washington during the brutal Israeli onslaught against Gaza. Mursi is also backing the US war drive against Syria and ultimately Iran.
Throughout the day, mass marches convened on Tahrir Square including protesters from all walks of life. Hundreds of artists marched from the Cairo Opera crossing Qasr al-Nil Bridge chanting “Down with the constitutional declaration.”
In the afternoon, a demonstration by thousands of lawyers entered the square. According to the judges club, 99 percent of Egypt’s courts and prosecutors had stopped work and started a strike against Mursi’s decree, which bars judicial review of his decisions and basically eliminates the judiciary.
The biggest marches, with tens of thousands of protesters, began in the working class neighborhood of Shubra in the north of Cairo, from Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque in Mohandiseen and from Fatah Mosque in Ramsis Square. Thousands traveled from other governorates to Cairo to join the anti-Mursi demonstrations.
In the evening hours, far more than 100,000 protesters gathered in the square and the surrounding streets, with chants of “Irhal, Irhal” (leave, leave) echoing through downtown Cairo.
Throughout the day, heavy clashes took place in Simon Bolivar Square behind the US Embassy where Mursi’s Central Security Forces (CSF) attacked hundreds of youth with tear gas and rubber bullets. The protesters hurled stones back at the hated CSF units, which have been increasing their violent crackdown in recent days.
Since the outbreak of the clashes last Monday, hundreds of protesters have been detained by police and over 400 have been injured. So far, three protesters have been killed. Yesterday, Fatehy Gareb, a member of the Socialist Alliance Party suffocated from tear gas. Before that, 18-year-old Ahmed Naguib and 19-year-old Gaber “Jika” Salah, a member of the April 6 Movement, were gunned down by police.
Marches of students from the capital’s three main universities—Cairo University, Ain Shams and Helwan—arrived in the late evening commemorating the martyrs. “Gaber Jika is dead and the president is responsible,” and “Kill us, no matter what, your tyranny will not affect us,” they chanted. They carried banners demanding: “Down with the supreme guide’s rule.”
Protests took place in all major Egyptian cities. In the coastal city of Alexandria, tens of thousands took to the streets. Protests were also staged in Suez, Mansoura, Aswan, Damietta, Bani Suef, Fayoum, Luxor, Tanta, Zagazig and Mahalla.
The anti-Brotherhood protests were called by various liberal and pseudo-left groups, including El-Baradei’s Constitution Party, the Nasserite Karama Party led by former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi and the liberal Free Egyptians Party founded by billionaire tycoon Naguib Sawiris. Other organizations participating were the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the April 6 Youth Movement, Kifaya, the Tagammu’ Party, the Revolutionary Socialists (RS) and others.
A class gulf separates these parties and the masses of workers and youth who are calling for the ouster of Mursi and the downfall of the regime.
Five months after the election of Mursi, the counterrevolutionary character of his regime is revealed before the Eyptian masses. “Power has exposed the Brotherhood. We discovered their true face,” explained Laila Salah, a housewife, who said she voted for Mursi in the presidential election but is now protesting on Tahrir Square. After Mubarak, she said, “Egyptians will no longer accept being ruled by an autocrat.”
The perspective of the secular and liberal opposition, however, is not to bring down Mursi in a mass revolutionary struggle. Despite their sharp factional conflict with the MB over how to distribute power and wealth inside the state machine, their goal is to reach a compromise with the Islamists. In a statement—presented by leading RS member Haitham Mohammadein at the headquarters of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party in Cairo on Monday—the groups called upon Mursi to cancel his decree and put forward a program ensuring “transitional justice”.
In the last months the RS promoted Mursi to the hilt. They supported Mursi in the elections and sought to promote Mursi and the MB as revolutionary forces. After Mursi was declared president in June, Sameh Naguib, a leading RS member, celebrated his ascendance as “a real victory for the Egyptian masses and a real victory for the Egyptian revolution.”
As workers and youth turn against Mursi’s dictatorship, the pseudo-left groups seek to uphold the illusion that democracy can be achieved under Islamist rule and within the framework of the bourgeois state. The renewed struggles, however, make ever clearer the far deeper tasks facing the Egyptian revolution: the overthrow of the bourgeois state by a socialist revolution, led by the working class, to eliminate capitalist relations and imperialist rule in the Middle East.
Both factions of the Egyptian ruling elite seek to prevent such a struggle by any means and fear a situation which could lead to a massive strike wave of the working class on a scale of the one that brought down Mubarak in February 2011. The last months have already witnessed one of the largest strike waves since the ouster of Mubarak, and yesterday’s protests were joined by textile workers in Mahalla.
Through the night, clashes between anti-Mursi protesters and MB supporters were reported in Mahalla, with over 300 hundred people injured. In Alexandria, the MB’s headquarters was stormed by angry protesters. Another headquarters was set afire in Mansoura. Reportedly, the security forces refused to protect the office. Several FJP headquarters in major cities have been attacked in recent days. The MB reportedly called upon the army to protect its headquarters in the Moqattam district in Cairo.
Having received the backing of Washington, Mursi and the MB are so far unwilling to make any concessions to their secular rivals and are rather preparing for massive repression. The MB accused their opponents of “not caring about the country’s national interests,” and Prime Minister Hisham Kandil threatened that his government will confront saboteurs. Gehad el-Haddad, a senior adviser to the MB, said Mursi would “not rescind the declaration.”

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Australian prime minister defeated on UN vote

No debt reduction for Greece

The brutal face of global capitalism

Separatist parties dominate Catalan election results

By Paul Mitchell 
27 November 2012
The Catalan parliamentary election held November 25 resulted in a significant vote for parties calling for independence from Spain.
The snap election was announced on September 25 by the ruling conservative nationalist Catalan Convergence and Union Party (CiU) led by President Artur Mas, which had ruled the region since the 2010 election as a minority government forming occasional pacts with other parties. The result is likely to increase demands for the new government to hold a referendum on self-determination, which would spark a constitutional crisis. Separation is strongly opposed by the Popular Party (PP) national government headed by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the main opposition Socialist Party (PSOE). They argue that only the Madrid government can legally call a referendum and that it would have to include the entire country.
The PP government has rejected a fiscal pact giving the region more control over taxation. A demonstration held on September 11 under the slogan, “Catalonia, new state of Europe” attracted 1.5 million people—a quarter of the population. There are fears within ruling circles that any move toward independence by Catalonia could be swiftly followed by similar action by the Basque Country and lead to the break-up of Spain.
Catalonia is by far the wealthiest of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions, accounting for some 20 percent of the national gross domestic product. The ruling class in the region has embraced the creation of a new capitalist mini-state in order to end what it complains is a subsidy to the poorer regions. It seeks to obtain a greater share in the exploitation of the working class by the transnational corporations, by cutting taxes on business and slashing social spending.
The CiU has dominated Catalan politics since the end of the Francoist regime and transition to democracy in 1978. It only recently ditched its “policy of national and linguistic identity …within the Spanish framework” in favour of threatening separation. Mas has indicated that he may hold a referendum in 2014 alongside a similar one due in Scotland. The CiU has whipped up nationalism in an attempt to divert attention from its massive €5 billion cuts in education, health care and social services, claiming that separation from Spain would mean such cuts would not be necessary. But it lost 12 seats in Sunday’s election, ending up with 50 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament, as voters punished it for its austerity measures.
Nevertheless, two-thirds of the electorate voted for parties that are in favour of calling an independence referendum, indicating that the claim that separation from Spain would lessen the need for austerity has found significant purchase despite hostility to the CiU. Mas told supporters after the election, “From this result we note that we are clearly the only force that can lead this government, but we cannot lead it alone. We need shared responsibility… The presidency must be taken up, but we will also have to reflect along with other forces”.
The “other forces” he cites are those parties that have made a better attempt to dress up the separatist agenda being pursued by the regional bourgeoisie and upper middle class layers in pseudo-progressive garb. The Catalan Republican Left (ERC) made the most gains—doubling its number of seats to 21 from 10 and its share of the popular vote from 7 percent to 13.7 percent. The two parties alone would have a working majority. There are also talks with the Socialist Party section in Catalonia (PSC).
The ERC advocates separatism on essentially the same terms as the CiU, arguing that Catalonia finances the poor agricultural regions of southern Spain through taxation. In the 2003 regional elections, the ERC saw its share of the vote rise to 16.4 percent, almost doubling its seats to 23, and entered into a coalition government with the PSC. This also involved the ICV-EUiA—a coalition between the Initiative for Catalonia Greens and the United Left in Catalonia—ending 23 years of CiU control. The ERC’s support plummeted in 2010 because it was part of a coalition responsible for the massive June 10, 2010 deficit reduction plan.
The PSC has continued its long-term decline, gaining only 20 seats and 14.4 percent of the vote compared to its high point in 1999 when it had 52 seats and 37.8 percent. Its traditional working class electorate has abandoned the social democrats, because it is seen as having no real differences with the right-wing parties.
The ICV-EUiA comprises middle class “lefts”, Greens and Stalinists, and styles itself as “ecologist”, “socialist” and “feminist”. It also campaigned in favour of the right to “self-determination”. Ignoring its own role in the austerity Catalan coalition and the budget cuts being implemented by its sister parties elsewhere in Spain, the ICV-EUiA campaigned on a manifesto to “defeat the dogmatic policies of austerity.” It recorded its biggest electoral success, increasing its seats by three to 13. The nationalism it promotes serves to politically demobilize workers and to prevent them from advancing their own independent interests in a unified struggle.
Hoping to secure their place in any new regional set-up are a number of other petty bourgeois nationalist groups masquerading as socialist or Marxist, including the separatist party Popular Unity Candidatures (CUP), which won three seats for the first time. Founded in 1986 out of the remnants of various splits from the ERC, the CUP describes itself as a Catalan “independentist”, socialist, green, non-patriarchal and localist movement. It calls for the unification of all the Catalan Countries, which includes the Balearic Islands, the region of Valencia and Pyrénées-Orientales in France and an alliance of the Mediterranean countries (Portugal, Italy and Greece).
Catalan separatism, a programme cast in the interests of a privileged elite, has gained wider popular acceptance by default, as a result of the betrayal by the trade unions and nominally “left” parties of the repeated attempts by the working class to oppose austerity. The trade unions have staged token protests while agreeing to labour “reforms” with the government and employers, and isolated numerous strikes by workers in the public sector. In Catalonia, the unions supported calls for the fiscal pact and backed the September 11 demonstration.
But the lie that any of these parties would oppose austerity measures is exposed by their desperate efforts to secure a place for an independent Catalonia within the European Union, the main instrument through which the European bourgeoisie is presently enforcing its demands for savage cuts in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy. The only demand they really make is for the axe to fall more heavily on the population of these countries as opposed to Catalonia. When the demand for cuts is made nevertheless, within or outside of Spain, the cuts will be dutifully imposed by them all.
None of these fake left outfits make the essential demand for a united struggle of workers against the Spanish state, the European Union and its constituent governments. The unity of the working class presupposes political opposition to separatism. It is not new and smaller states that are needed, but the ending of all national divisions through the unification of the Spanish, European and international working class and the formation of the United Socialist States of Europe.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Hurricane Sandy and the criminal failure of the utility companies

By Philip Guelpa 
27 November 2012
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, popular outrage has grown over the failure of the government and the utility corporations to adequately prepare for and respond to the storm’s devastating impact. The most glaring example of this failure has been the widespread and criminally protracted loss of electric power for millions of residents in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
A total of 8.5 million customers (i.e. individual locations receiving service), representing many millions more individuals, lost power due to Sandy. Many who had their power restored after the hurricane lost it again when the subsequent nor’easter hit the same area. Tens of thousands of customers were still without power over three weeks after the hurricane. Many also have had no heat, with night-time temperatures descending to near or even below freezing. Thousands are in flooded areas and have to wait for repairs to their homes before service can be re-established which in some cases may take months.
Anger boiled over in demonstrations on Long Island against the local utility, with crowds of hundreds carrying home-made signs gathering outside the office of the Long Island Power Authority after going two weeks without electricity as well as heat and hot water. A total of 1.1 million LIPA customers were affected, both in Long Island and in New York City’s Rockaways area in Queens.
While LIPA claims that 99 percent of those who can “safely get power” have had their service restored, another 35,000, mainly in the coastal Rockaways area, may be without power until Christmas.
In an attempt to diffuse anger and divert attention for their own culpability, politicians, including New York State’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, have made public statements denouncing the area’s electric utility companies for their failure to adequately respond to Sandy.
The governor and the state’s attorney general have each launched investigations supposedly aimed at identifying those responsible. Cuomo has cited the utilities’ multiple failures over several years, encompassing hurricanes Sandy and Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, and an ice storm in 2008, all of which left hundreds of thousands to millions of customers without power for one to two weeks, and in some cases even longer, and threatened to revoke their operating licenses.
These statements are hypocritical in the extreme. Electric utilities are publicly regulated monopolies, which are theoretically charged with delivering power to the public safely and efficiently.
The reality is far different. The portions of New York State hardest hit by Sandy—New York City, Westchester County, and Long Island – are serviced by Consolidated Edison (Con Ed), a private corporation, and the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), a nominally public entity. In both cases, a review of recent history reveals that private profit is the paramount concern of these organizations. In repeated instances, over the course of decades, Con Ed and LIPA have placed millions of people in jeopardy, but suffered no significant consequences despite numerous criticisms and recommendations for improvement made by regulatory agencies and government commissions.
The Long Island Power Authority was created in 1985 by the current governor’s father, then-Governor Mario Cuomo, to assume a portion of the assets, primarily the transmission and distribution system T6:11 PMD System), and liabilities of the Long Island Lighting Company LILCO), a private utility company. This was effectively a state bailout of LILCO after the collapse of its project to build the Shoreham nuclear power plant on Long Island left it billions of dollars in debt.
The Shoreham plant was built by the LILCO in Suffolk County on the north shore of Long Island between 1973 and 1984, but never put into operation. The 1979 Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania and the 1986 Chernobyl disaster created strong opposition to the plant among local residents. Among other problems, it became obvious that in case of an accident an effective evacuation of the surrounding population would be impossible due to the geography of Long Island.
The $6 billion cost of construction and an additional $186 million for decommissioning were assumed as a liability by LIPA when it bought the plant from LILCO in 1992 for one dollar. LIPA had been specifically created by the State of New York in 1986 in order to buy the Shoreham plant. Thus, the burden of repaying the cost of this ill-conceived project by a private company was transferred to the utility customers of Long Island rather than being borne by the company and its investors.
Long Islanders have been paying for this deal ever since, burdened with what are among the highest electricity rates in the country. LILCO’s electricity generating facilities and its natural gas supply system were transferred to Keyspan, a separate, private corporation. Keyspan was later acquired by National Grid, a British-based conglomerate whose CEO, Steve Holliday, received over $2 million in compensation last year.
LIPA acts as a retail provider of electricity for 1.1 million customers. It administers, but does not actually undertake day to day utility operations i.e. maintenance and repair of the distribution grid and distribution of power), which are carried out by its current subcontractor, National Grid.
Effectively, LIPA was the product of a state bailout that transferred LILCO’s private debt onto a public entity, thus ensuring the profits of the latter’s investors (as well as multi-million-dollar severance packages for its executives), while privatizing its generating facilities and turning its T&D system over to a private, profit-making subcontractor.
LIPA’s total debt is currently placed at about $7 billion in bonds and another $3 billion in “capital leases”, according to Moody’s Investors Services. Routine maintenance and upgrades of facilities, let alone major investments to protect the system from major storm impacts, have been sacrificed to the burden of debt repayment combined with the need of its subcontractor, National Grid, to maintain profitability.
This has left LIPA’s infrastructure to deteriorate and become increasingly obsolete over decades. In 1985, when LILCO was still the power utility for Long Island, Hurricane Gloria caused the loss of electricity for up to two weeks to most of the area’s more than 1 million customers, almost as long as it has taken LIPA to restore service after Sandy.
A former LIPA executive recently stated that the utility’s infrastructure has remained largely unchanged since Gloria. This includes the maintenance of its database on a 25-year-old mainframe computer, which, a state probe after Hurricane Irene concluded, leaves the company unable “to manage large scale outages.”
The failure to properly maintain and upgrade the system has meant that the total annual storm damage costs for repair of LIPA’s T&D System more than doubled from 2005 to 2009. Last year, Hurricane Irene left 418,000 LIPA customers without power. It was recently revealed that LIPA has underspent its system maintenance budget by $37.5 million during its most recent budget cycle. This includes activities as simple as tree trimming, which would have significantly diminished Sandy’s effects on power lines and electricity distribution.
LIPA has only about 100 employees. It is, essentially, a shell corporation whose purpose is to funnel money to those who hold its debt and to provide profit to its private subcontractor, currently National Grid. The directors of LIPA are appointed by the governor and other officials of the State of New York. These are essentially patronage positions, with members drawn from the social and corporate elite whose allegiance lies primarily with their peers. The interests of their customers are a secondary consideration, at best.
Despite a number of vacancies on LIPA’s board, Governor Cuomo has made only one appointment, a big contributor to his election campaign who has no experience in the energy industry.
The gross problems with LIPA and its predecessor LILCO are not unique, as the performance of Con Ed makes clear. Con Ed, which provides electricity to most of New York City and adjacent Westchester County, is a private corporation. It makes approximately a billion dollars in profit a year. Yet, as with LIPA, it suffered catastrophic damage to its system due to Hurricane Sandy and has been repeatedly criticized for failure to adequately prepare its system for weather-related damage.
For example, in 2007, the Public Service Commission criticized failures that resulted in several large scale service interruptions. It determined that Con Edison failed to adequately maintain, operate and oversee its equipment and that this was the “the overriding cause” of a blackout the preceding year in western Queens County, a borough of New York City, that lasted nine days. The PSC also found that Con Edison had performed poorly in the wake of two powerful windstorms which left tens of thousands of customers in Westchester County without power for up to three days.
The Commission made nearly 50 recommendations for improvements. Despite these recommendations and warnings, massive loss of power due to storms continued to be a regular event. In March 2010, 175,000 Con Ed customers lost service after a powerful nor’easter (a coastal storm named for its strong northeasterly winds). And last year, Hurricane Irene left 121,000 Con Ed customers in New York City without power. During Sandy, 975,000 customers lost service. In each case, the actual number of people affected is much higher, since each “customer” represents a home or business.
In the face criticism of his company’s response to Sandy and its failure to heed prior warnings, Con Ed’s CEO, Kevin Burke, could only say that “excluding such a major storm as this … the system is very reliable” and that Sandy “came in so much greater than we were planning for.” He has stated that, criticisms notwithstanding, Con Ed will push ahead with a planned request for a rate increase. Con Ed has rejected the idea of burying more of its distribution system to protect it from severe weather as too expensive, i.e., too much of a drain on corporate profits, despite the fact that this is done routinely in much of Europe.
Compounding Con Ed’s lack of effective infrastructure investment is the substantial reduction in its workforce. Since 1983, the number of workers at Con Ed has been cut by more than half, boosting its profitability and making it a darling of Wall Street. The PSC, which is supposed to regulate Con Ed and the other public utilities in the state, is composed of political appointees selected by the governor.
In fact, it functions essentially as a rubber stamp for the utilities, consistently granting rate increases and failing to carry through with any real oversight. The latest expressions of outrage by New York governor Cuomo and other politicians as well as the denials of responsibility by utility executives are highly disingenuous. They are all part of a system which is ever more bent on the maximization of profits, regardless of the consequences for the mass of the population.
The devastation and loss of life wrought by hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, as well as many other storms, are not merely natural disasters, they are social catastrophes, caused by the the capitalist system and the criminal misallocation of society’s resources by a tiny elite bent on increasing its own wealth above everything else.
Protection of the lives and well-being of millions of working people from the entirely predictable impacts of the changing climate and the increasing frequency of catastrophic weather events will not be carried out by profit-driven utility companies and the corporate-controlled government. Realizing this vital task requires that the entire network of power generation and distribution be taken out of private hands and transformed into a public utility under control of the working class as part of the socialist transformation of society.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

The “fiscal cliff” fraud

27 November 2012
As the US Congress reconvenes following the Thanksgiving Day holiday, the media is once again ratcheting up its propaganda offensive over the so-called “fiscal cliff.”
Behind the orchestrated wrangling between the Obama administration and congressional Republicans over averting the supposed catastrophe of automatic tax increases and budget cuts due to take effect January 1, the details of plans to impose unprecedented cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are being worked out behind the backs of the American people.
There is bipartisan agreement between the two corporate-controlled parties to slash social programs upon which tens of millions of working people rely for health care and retirement income. The main issue under debate is how to package the cuts so as to best confuse public opinion and obscure what is really happening.
In this, President Obama is taking a leading role. His primary concern is to make the slashing of social programs that keep millions out of poverty seem necessary, while providing this reactionary attack with a fig leaf of “fairness.”
The bipartisan conspiracy against the American people was highlighted by the announcement from Republican House Speaker John Boehner that Republicans would be meeting with Erskine Bowles, the former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton and co-chair of the deficit commission set up by Obama in 2010. Bowles and his Republican counterpart, former senator Alan Simpson, proposed $4 trillion in deficit-reduction measures, mainly in the form of regressive changes to Medicare and Social Security and huge cuts in other social programs, together with a tax “reform” that would slash rates for corporations and the rich.
For his part, Obama has “balanced” his demand for drastic social cuts with a call for the “wealthiest Americans” to “pay a little more in taxes.” The Republicans have said they are willing to accept increases in revenues, but have balked at increasing tax rates.
Obama’s call for a token increase in taxes on the highest earners, whether in the form of an increase in the top tax rate or some lowering of deductions, is nothing but a smokescreen. Any slight tax increase that might initially be imposed on the rich would be more than offset by the “comprehensive tax reform” supported by both parties.
Meanwhile, the Republicans and some Democrats are calling for an increase in the eligibility age for both Social Security and Medicare as well as the introduction of “means testing” for these basic programs.
The latter proposal is particularly insidious. It would initially be justified as a way to save money by reducing benefits for wealthy seniors. But its real purpose would be to transform Medicare and Social Security from universal programs into anti-poverty programs, setting the stage for ever more onerous funding cuts and the eventual dismantling of the programs. Social Security and Medicare would likely go the way of welfare, a means-tested program that was eliminated under another Democratic administration—that of Bill Clinton.
On Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney refused to rule out the Obama administration’s acceptance of this radical transformation of government health care and retirement programs.
The universal claim that there is “no money” for social programs is a lie. US corporations are currently sitting on a cash hoard estimated at between $2 trillion and $9 trillion. They are refusing to use this money to hire workers under the pretext that there is too much “uncertainty” regarding health care costs and business regulations. In plain language, the corporate-financial elite is blackmailing the American people to force through its agenda of destroying all of the social gains achieved in a century of working class struggle.
Trillions in taxpayer funds have been handed over to the banks in government bailouts, and trillions more have been squandered on imperialist wars in the Middle East, Central Asia and north Africa. Corporate profits, CEO pay and the fortunes of the top 1 percent have never been greater.
The official discourse on the “fiscal cliff” is based on a set of unstated assumptions, including:
* The wealth of the ruling class is inviolable. The full burden of the debt piled up by the ruling elite must be imposed on the working class.
* There can be no significant reduction in the hundreds of billions of dollars consumed every year by the massive military/intelligence complex.
The unstated premises behind the “fiscal cliff” are bound up with the fundamental class interests that underlie the austerity drive. The deficit and debt are expressions of the crisis of American and world capitalism. The real issue is which class is to pay for this crisis—the working class through impoverishment and repression, or the ruling class through the abolition of its stranglehold over society’s productive forces.
The working class must advance its own program. It must insist that all people have the right to the necessities of life: a secure and decent-paying job, economic security, food, housing, education and medical care. The realization of these rights, however, is not compatible with the continued rule of the corporate and financial elite.
Between these two conflicting principles—the right of the rich to amass their fortunes and the right of all people to a decent life—there can be no compromise. In the words of Karl Marx, “Between equal rights, force decides.” The question of who will pay for the crisis of capitalism will be decided by the struggle of classes.
If the ruling class succeeds in its efforts to roll back the gains of the preceding century, the working class will be pauperized and reduced to outright industrial slavery.
The strength of the working class, the great mass of mankind, stands in the way of this agenda. But the working class can defend its interests only insofar as it is armed with the program of socialism and led by a revolutionary party. The aim must be the abolition of private ownership of the means of production and the reorganization society on the basis of social need, not private profit.
Andre Damon

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Under threat of bankruptcy, Detroit escalates assault on working class

Mass protest against Mursi set for Egypt’s Tahrir Square

%d bloggers like this: