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What is ObamaCare?

High-Cost Privatized Medicine that Guarantees Billions of Dollars in Profits to Private Insurance Companies

By PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS | CounterPunch | April 11, 2012

Growing up in the post-war era (after the Second World War), I never expected to live in the strange Kafkaesque world that exists today. The US government can assassinate any US citizen that the executive branch thinks could possibly be a “threat” to the US government, or throw the hapless citizen into a dungeon for the rest of his or her life without presenting any evidence to a court or obtaining a conviction of any crime, or send the “threat” to a puppet foreign state to be tortured until the “threat” confesses to a crime that never occurred or dies at the hands of “freedom and democracy” while professing innocence.

It has never been revealed how a single citizen, or any number thereof, could possibly comprise a threat to a government that has a trillion plus dollars to spend each year on security and weapons, the world’s largest navy and air force, 700 plus military bases across the world, large numbers of nuclear weapons, 16 intelligence agencies plus the intelligence agencies of its NATO puppet states and the intelligence service of Israel.

Nevertheless, air travelers are subjected to porno-scanning and sexual groping. Cars traveling on Interstate highways can expect to be stopped, with traffic backed up for miles, while Homeland Security and the federalized state or local police conduct searches.

I witnessed one such warrantless search on Easter Sunday. The south bound lanes of I-185 heading into Columbus, Georgia, were at a standstill while black SUV and police car lights flashed. US citizens were treated by “security” forces that they finance as if they were “terrorists” or “domestic extremists,” another undefined class of Americans devoid of constitutional protections.

These events are Kafkaesque in themselves, but they are ever more so when one considers that these extraordinary violations of the US Constitution fail to be overturned in the Supreme Court. Apparently, American citizens lack standing to defend their civil liberties.

Yet, ObamaCare is before the US Supreme Court. The conservative majority might now utilize the “judicial activism” for which conservatives have criticized liberals. Hypocrisy should no longer surprise us. However, the fight over ObamaCare is not worth five cents.

It is extraordinary that “liberals,” “progressives,” “Democrats,” whatever they are, are defending a “health program” that uses public monies to pay private insurance companies and that raises the cost of health care.

Americans have been brainwashed that “a single-payer system is unaffordable” because it is “socialized medicine.” Despite this propaganda, accepted by many Americans, European countries manage to afford single-payer systems. Health care is not a stress, a trauma, an unaffordable expense for European populations. Among the Western Civilized Nations, only the richest, the US, has no universal health care.

The American health care system is the most expensive of all on earth. The reason for the extraordinary expense is the multiple of entities that must make profits. The private doctors must make profits. The private testing centers must make profits.The private specialists who receive the referrals from general practitioners must make profits. The private hospitals must make profits. The private insurance companies must make profits. The profits are a huge cost of health care.

On top of these profits come the costs of preventing and combatting fraud. Because private insurance companies resist paying and Medicare pays a small fraction of the medical charges, private health care providers charge as much as they possibly can, knowing that the payments will be cut to the bone. But a billing mistake of even $300 can bankrupt a health care provider from legal expenses defending him/her self from fraud accusations.

The beauty of a single-payer system is that it takes the profits out of the system. No one has to make profits. Wall Street cannot threaten insurance companies and private health care companies with being taken over because their profits are too low. No health-provider in a single-payer system has to worry about being displaced in a takeover organized by Wall Street because the profits are too low.

Because a single-payer system eliminates the profits that drive up the costs, Wall Street, Insurance companies, and “free market economists” hate a “socialized” medical care system. They prefer a socialized “private” health care system in which public monies flow into private insurance companies.

To make the costs as high as possible, conservatives and the private insurance companies devised ObamaCare. The bill was written by conservative think tanks and the private insurance companies. What the “socialistic” ObamaCare bill does is to take income taxes paid by citizens and use the taxes to subsidize the private medical premiums charges by private health care providers in order to provide “private” health care to US citizens who cannot afford it.

The extremely high costs of ObamaCare is not “socialistic medicine.” ObamaCare is high-cost privatized medicine that guarantees billions of dollars in profits to private insurance companies.

It remains to be seen whether such a ridiculous health care scheme, nowhere extant on earth except in Romney’s Massachusetts, will provide health care or just private profits.

PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS was an editor of the Wall Street Journal and an Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.  His latest book, HOW THE ECONOMY WAS LOST, has just been published by CounterPunch/AK Press.

April 11, 2012 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Deception, Economics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama Signs a Phony – and Dangerous – “JOBS” Bill

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford | April 10, 2012

President Obama is ramping up his phony progressive campaign rhetoric, trying to once again masquerade as something other than a Wall Street servant. But this time around, he is weighted down by his actual record in office, which shows Obama to have been a savior to the bankers and money speculators. Now, the president has joined with Republicans to create a whole new class of con men and corporate criminals who will further fatten the fees of banksters by blowing up another multi-trillion dollar bubble of doomed and fraudulent hi-tech firms. To add insult to injury, Obama, his congressional Democrats and his Republican soul mates had the nerve to set the stage for this disaster by passing something they called a “JOBS” bill.

Of course, there are no jobs in the bill. The acronym stands for “Jumpstart Our Business Start- Ups Act,” and it’s an invitation to a con game.

The new law, passed by 73 senators with Obama’s enthusiastic endorsement, allows corporations with less than $1billion in revenues – that’s a billion, as in a thousand million – to avoid hiring a professional auditing firm for five years after the company begins selling stock to the public. That means five long years of taking other people’s money without having to tell the truth about how your business is really doing. The scheme is designed to encourage what the money guys call “crowd funding” on the Internet, with little oversight by regulators.

Make no mistake: this is not an opportunity for those of you who want to open up a restaurant or a bar or a bookstore. Companies making less than $75 million can already avoid being subjected to professional audits; this bill extends the privilege to corporations at the billion dollar mark, who can now ensnare investors in their webs for twenty consecutive quarters without backing up a word of their sales pitch.

Of course, the banksters that handle these transactions and the Wall Street gamblers who bet on them will get over like fat rats – for a while. And then it will all come tumbling down, just as President Bill Clinton’s Dot.com bubble did at the end of the roaring Nineties. The collapse destroyed $5 trillion in investments, and led to the first George Bush recession, from which Black folks did not have a chance to recover before being crushed again by the meltdown of 2008.

Where did this phony “JOBS” bill come from? From the bowels of the Obama administration, where the task of creating employment is the purview of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, packed with corporate executives from General Electric, Intel, Citigroup, Xerox, Boeing and American Express. Organized labor was adamantly opposed, seeing no jobs in the bill. But Obama doesn’t listen to unions, because he knows they will take an infinity of abuse rather than fight with a Democratic president. And the Black misleadership class has made itself totally irrelevant.

The lesson here is: late stage capitalism, which is incapable of creating real jobs in the United States, is pinning its hopes on inflating another hi-tech bubble to keep the casino wheels spinning for a few years. When the bubble bursts, they are confident that a bailout will be made available, no matter which party is in office. And the public will pick up the pieces.

Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

April 11, 2012 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Corruption, Deception | , , | 1 Comment

Voices from the Occupation: Settler/soldier violence/detention of 16-year-old

Defence for Children International | April 11, 2012

Name: Izat J.
Date of Incident: 10 March 2012
Age: 16
Location: Hebron, occupied West Bank
Nature of Incident: Settler/soldier violence/detention

On 10 March 2012, a 16-year-old boy from Hebron is attacked by an Israeli border policeman and then detained at Kiryat Arba’s police station after his family’s mule cart is stolen by settlers.

“I live in the old city of Hebron, about 100 metres from the Ibrahimi Mosque [burial site of Abraham],” says 16-year-old Izat. “There is an Israeli checkpoint about 30 metres from us, and the settlers who live in the settlement of Kiryat Arba use the street in front of our house to go to the shrine.”

At around 11:00 am on Saturday, 10 March 2012, “my mother looked out the window and saw around 10 settlers stealing my father’s mule cart,” explains Izat. “There were soldiers at the checkpoint and in the street but they stood by and did not intervene.”

Izat rushed outside and saw that the settlers had left the cart in the street near the soldiers. His father was arguing with the soldiers because he wanted to take the cart back to the house, but the soldiers would not allow him until the settlers were finished with their Saturday prayers. “That could be at around 8:00 pm,” says Izat, “so I started arguing with the soldiers and I told them we would not leave without the mule cart.”

A border policeman standing at the checkpoint suddenly approached and started beating Izat. “Without any prior warning,” says Izat, “he started punching me in the face and knocked me down. Then, he kicked me hard in the head, chest and legs, and called me ‘Arab trash‘ and other names. I was shouting in pain and trying to get up, but he kept kicking me while I was still lying on the ground. [...] My mouth was bleeding.”

Another police officer arrived at the scene and ordered the policeman to stop beating Izat. “Why did you hit the boy? It’s against the rules,’” the officer said to the policeman. “After that they tied my hands behind my back very tightly with two plastic cords. It was very painful. They did the same to my father and my cousin,” says Izat.

Izat, his father and his cousin were taken to the police station inside the settlement of Kiryat Arba. Their hands were untied and they were taken for interrogation. “The interrogator asked me about the incident and I told him about the settlers and the argument we had with the soldiers,” recalls Izat. “I also told him that the policeman had beaten me hard. [...] The interrogator said he had spoken to the border policeman who assaulted me, and that the policeman said that I had pushed and insulted him first. I told him that was not true; that the policeman assaulted me as soon as he arrived at the scene, before we even spoke.”

After interrogating Izat, his father and his cousin, the interrogator told them that the three of them were under arrest until the following day. “He said we were under arrest based on the statement of the border policeman, who accused me of insulting him and pushing him first,” says Izat.

Izat’s father begged the officer to let Izat go so he could go to the hospital. After consulting with his superior, the officer agreed to release Izat on 500 shekels bail. “I was taken to ‘Alia Hospital,” says Izat. “They gave me first aid and treated my wounds. Luckily, I did not have any internal injury. I only sustained bruises to my head and shoulders, and an injury in my mouth.”

Izat’s father filed a complaint against the border policeman who assaulted Izat, and was released later that night. His cousin, however, was detained in Etzion interrogation centre for eight days. Izat’s trial in a military court has been scheduled for September 2012.

April 11, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nukes in the Sky

The Folly of Nuclear Drones and Other Mad Schemes

By KARL GROSSMAN | CounterPunch | April 11, 2012

The crash last week of a U.S. drone on the Seychelles Islands—the second crash of a U.S. drone on Seychelles in four months—underlines the deadly folly of a plan of U.S. national laboratory scientists and the Northrop Grumman Corp. for nuclear-powered drones.

The drone that “bounced a few times on the runway” at Seychelles International Airport on April 4 “before ending” up in the sea, according to a statement from the Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority, was conventionally powered. So was the drone which had a similar accident on Seychelles in December. From the Indian Ocean island nation the U.S. flies drones over Somalia and over waters off East Africa looking for pirates.

But the use of nuclear power on U.S. drones was “favorably assessed by scientists at Sandia National Laboratories and the Northrop Grumman Corp.,” revealed Steven Aftergood of the Project on Government Secrecy of the Federation of American Scientists.

Their report said that “technology and systems designs evaluated… have previously never been applied to unmanned air vehicles” and “use of these technologies” could provide “system performance unparalleled by existing technologies.”  It acknowledged, however, that “current political conditions will not allow use of the results.” Thus “it is doubtful that they will be used in the near-term or mid-term future.”

Just consider if the two drones which crashed on the Seychelles used nuclear power—and the impacts if the radioactive fuel they contained was released. [...] Drones, not too incidentally, have a record of frequently crashing.

The nuclear-powered drone scheme is ostensibly not going anywhere now—because of “current political considerations.” But other schemes to use nuclear power overhead—which  also threaten nuclear disaster—are on the planning table and some are moving ahead.

These include:

  •  A new U.S. Air Force plan which supports “nuclear powered flight.”  Titled Energy Horizons, issued in January, it states that “nuclear energy has been demonstrated on several satellite systems” and “this source provides consistent power…at a much higher energy and power density than current technologies.” It does admit that “the implementation of such a technology should be weighed heavily against potential catastrophic outcomes.”  Indeed, the worst accident involving a U.S. space nuclear system occurred with the fall to Earth in 1964 of a satellite powered by an RTG, the SNAP-9A. It failed to achieve orbit and fell to Earth, disintegrating upon hitting the atmosphere causing its Plutonium-238 fuel to be dispersed as dust widely over the Earth. Dr. John Gofman, professor of medical physics at the University of California, Berkeley, long linked the SNAP-9A accident to a global rise in lung cancer. The Air Force report sees nuclear power as an energy source that would assist it in taking the “ultimate high ground” which would provide it with “access to every part of the globe including denied areas.”
  • “A ground-breaking Russian nuclear space travel propulsion system will be ready by 2017 and will power a ship capable of long-haul interplanetary missions by 2025,” the Russian state news agency, Ria Novosti, reported last week. The April 3 article, headlined “Plutonium to Pluto: Russian nuclear space travel breakthrough,” said, “The megawatt-class nuclear drive will function for up to three years and produce 100-150 kilowatts of energy at normal capacity.” It is “under development at Skolkovo, Russia’s technology innovation hub, where nuclear cluster head Dennis Kovalevich confirmed the breakthrough.” It said, “Scientists expect to start putting the new engine through its paces in operational tests as early as 2014.” Earlier, Ria Novosti reported that the director of Roscosmos , the Russian space agency, believes the “development of megawatt-class nuclear power systems for manned spacecraft was crucial if Russia wanted to maintain a competitive edge in the space race, including the exploration of the moon and Mars.” It also said the Russian rocket company, Energia, is “ready to design a space-based nuclear power station with a service life of 10-to-15 years, to be initially placed on the moon or Mars.” The worst accident involving a Soviet or Russian nuclear space system was the fall from orbit in 1978 of the Cosmos 954 satellite powered by a nuclear reactor. It also broke up in the atmosphere spreading radioactive debris which scattered over 77,000 square miles of the Northwest Territories of Canada.
  • The U.S. is moving again to produce Plutonium-238 for space use. In recent years, the U.S. stopped making Plutonium-238. It is 270 times more radioactive than the more commonly known Plutonium-239, used as fuel in atomic bombs, and thus its manufacture has resulted in significant radioactive pollution.  Instead, it obtained Plutonium-238 from Russia. RTGs powered by Plutonium-238 had been used by the U.S. as a source of electricity on satellites—as the Energy Horizons report noted. But that was until the SNAP-9A accident which caused a turn to generating electricity with solar photovoltaic panels. Now all satellites are powered by solar panels, as is the International Space Station. But RTGs using Plutonium-238 have remained a source of on board electricity for space probes such as Cassini which NASA launched to Saturn in 1999. The Department of Energy plans to produce Plutonium-238 at both Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory. “Over the next two years, Oak Ridge National Laboratory will carry out a $20 million pilot project to demonstrate the lab’s ability to produce and process Plutonium-238 for use in the space program,” reported the Knoxville News Sentinel last month.
  • The U.S. is also developing nuclear-powered rockets. NASA Director Charles Bolden, a former astronaut and U.S. Marine Corps major general, is a booster of a  design of a Houston-based company, Ad Astra, of which another former astronaut, Franklin Chang-Diaz, is president and chief executive officer. “He launched Ad Astra after he retired from NASA in 2005, but the company continues a close association with the U.S. space agency,” the U.S. government’s Voice of America  noted in its article on the project last year.   The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket or VASMIR could be energized by solar power but, the article relates, “Chang-Diaz says replacing solar panels with a nuclear reactor would provide the necessary power to VASMIR for a much faster trip.” It quotes him as saying “we could do a mission to Mars that would take about 39 days, one way.” And, although “such a mission is still many years away, Chang-Diaz says his rocket could be used much sooner for missions to the International Space Station or to retrieve or position satellites in Earth orbit.”

Challenging what is going on is the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space.  Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the group, comments:

“Who can deny that the nuclear power industry isn’t working overtime to spread its deadly product onto every possible military application? The recent disclosure that the Pentagon has been strongly considering sticking nuclear engines on-board drones is dangerously ‘more of the same.’”

“Nuclear-powered devices flying around on drones or on-board rockets that frequently blow up on launch is pure insanity,” says Gagnon. “The people need to push back hard.”

What is happening has deep roots. A key rationale by Sandia and Northrop Grumman for nuclear-powered drones was, as the British newspaper, The Guardian, reported last week, long—very long—flight times. “American scientists have drawn up plans for a new generation of nuclear-powered drones capable of flying over remote regions of the world for months on end without refueling,” it reported.    The same rationale, noted Gagnon, was behind the U.S. development in the 1940s and 50s of nuclear-propelled bombers.

The strategy was for these nuclear-powered bombers to stay up in the air for extensive periods of time. There would thus be no need to scramble crews and have bombers take off to drop nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union—they’d already be airborne waiting for the command.  The Nuclear Energy for the Propulsion of Aircraft or NEPA project was begun in 1946 and involved the conversion of two B-36 bombers for nuclear propulsion.  The first operation of an aircraft engine using nuclear power occurred in 1956. The U.S. national laboratories—a string of facilities that got their start in the crash program to build atomic weapons, the Manhattan Project—were integral to the scheme. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, then run by the since disbanded U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, did much of the research work.  Much of the testing was done at what is now Idaho National Laboratory where today two nuclear aircraft engines are on public display and there is also still remaining a gargantuan hangar built for nuclear aircraft. General Electric was a major contractor.

The plan for nuclear-powered bombers was finally scuttled because of the problem of providing heavy lead shielding to protect the crew from radiation and, as then U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told Congress in 1961, an atomic airplane would “expel some fraction of radioactive fission products into the atmosphere, creating an important public relations problem if not an actual physical hazard.”

A subsequent program linking nuclear power and weapons was the Star Wars program under President Ronald Reagan. It was “predicated,” as Gagnon notes, “on nuclear power in space.” Reactors and also a “Super RTG” to be built by General Electric were to provide the energy on orbiting battle platforms for lasers, hypervelocity guns and particle beam weapons.

In my book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet,” and TV documentary, Nukes in Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens, I noted the 1988 declaration of Lt. General James Abramson, first head of the Strategic Defense Initiative, that “without reactors in orbit [there is] going to be a long, long light cord that goes down to the surface of Earth” bringing up power. He stated: “Failure to develop nuclear power in space could cripple efforts to deploy anti-missile sensors and weapons in orbit.”

As to nuclear-propelled rockets, the U.S. has a long history of seeking to build them from the 1950s onward. There was a program called Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application or NERVA followed by Projects Pluto, Rover and Poodle. And in the 1980s, the Timberwind nuclear-powered rocket was developed to loft heavy Star Wars equipment into space and also for trips to Mars. Most recently, the Project Prometheus program to build nuclear-powered rockets was begun by NASA in 2003. Through the years there have been major concerns over a nuclear rocket blowing up on launch or crashing back to Earth.

The Soviet Union, Russia, conducted a parallel space nuclear program—including nuclear-powered satellites, development of a nuclear bomber and nuclear-powered rockets.

Now, meanwhile, nuclear power above our heads has been shown as unnecessary.

NASA has persisted in using Plutonium-238-powered RTGs on space probes claiming there was no choice. But last year it launched the Juno space probe which is now on its way to Jupiter—getting all its on-board electricity only from solar photovoltaic panels. It’s to arrive in 2016 and make 32 orbits around Jupiter and perform a variety of scientific missions. As NASA stated last week on its website for Juno: “As of April 4, Juno was approximately209 million miles from Earth… The Juno spacecraft is in excellent health.”  This is despite NASA claiming for decades that only nuclear power could provide on-board power in deep space.

Likewise, the European Space Agency in 2004 launched a space probe it calls Rosetta, also using solar energy rather than nuclear power for on-board electricity. It is to rendezvous in 2014 with a comet named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and send out a lander which will investigate the comet’s surface. At that point it will be 500 million miles from the Sun, a small ball in the sky at that distance, yet Rosetta will still be harvesting solar energy.

As to propulsion in space, a highly promising energy source are the ionized particles in space that can be utilized in the frictionless environment with what are being called solar sails.

In May 2010, the Japan Exploration Agency launched an experimental spacecraft, Ikaros, that seven months later reached Venus—propelled only by its solar sail.   The Planetary Society is readying a similar mission using a spacecraft named LightSail-1 powered by solar sails and planning for two more ambitious solar sail flights of LightSail-2 and LightSail-3.

These missions do not present threats to life on Earth—as does the use of nuclear power overhead. And the threats of nuclear power overhead can be enormous.  For example, consider the projection in NASA’s Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission about the impacts if there were an “inadvertent reentry” of Cassini into Earth’s atmosphere during one of its two “flybys”—whips around the Earth but a few hundred miles high to increase its velocity so it could get to Saturn. If it fell to Earth, broke up in the atmosphere and its 72.3 pounds of Plutonium-238 were released, “5 billion… of the world population… could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure,” projected NASA.

Moreover, the production of nuclear fuel on Earth for use in space—or in the atmosphere for drones—constitutes danger, too. Facilities that had been used earlier by the U.S. to produce Plutonium-238, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Mound Laboratory, ended up as hotspots for worker contamination and radioactive pollution.

James Powell, executive director of the organization Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, which has been opposing the restart of Plutonium-238 production at nearby Idaho National Laboratory, comments: “Aside from the looming danger of nuclear powered craft above Earth, we should also realize that the nuclear material is to be produced in our backyards with 1960′s era nuclear reactors and then transported back and forth from [Oak Ridge National Laboratory in] Tennessee to Idaho.  Every single part of this process deeply concerns us.”

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet (Common Courage Press) and wrote and presented the TV program Nukes In Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens (www.envirovideo.com). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.

April 11, 2012 Posted by | Militarism, Nuclear Power, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Small-Scale Miners Face Crackdown as Foreign Companies Set Sights on Colombia

By Leah Gardner | Upside Down World | April 11, 2012

Police arrived at the Santa Isabel mine in Colón-Génova on February 21, 2012. The officers asked these local miners to attend a meeting to see if they could sort out their licensing request; However, when the roughly twenty-five miners arrived, they were read their rights and arrested.

About a week later, a report ran on television stating that police had arrested a group of illegal miners in Colón-Génova who were making over 150 million pesos ($CAD 84,500) per month and using their earnings to fund the FARC and Los Rastrojos, a paramilitary group.

The miners say they were shocked. “It’s ridiculous,” says Ferney Gamboa, one of those arrested. “A person here makes between 320,000 and 480,000 pesos ($CAD 180 -270) per month.” Miners then invest earnings into their farms and families, he adds. “We have no contact with armed groups.”

This assertion has been backed by local officials. Pedro Vincente Obando, the Secretary of the Governor of Nariño, said at a conference on March 27, 2012 that the charges were “false and dangerous.”

A Mining Country

Miners and the Comité de Integración del Macizo Colombiano, (Committee for the Integration of the Colombian Massif – CIMA), a rural social movement allied with the miners, believe that this is part of a federal government strategy to phase out informal mining and pave the way for foreign multinationals.

“We are seeing the criminalization of artisanal mining in this country,” says Luz Mila Ruana, an organizer for CIMA in Nariño. She adds that a subsidiary of the South Africa-based mining company AngloGold Ashanti has begun preliminary exploration activities around the Santa Isabel mine.

Miners say that while being accused of funding illegal armed groups was a shock, the arrival of police wasn’t much of a surprise. They have been waiting for nearly a year to submit their license application, but have been held up by administrative delays.

The Instituto Colombiano de Geología y Minería (Colombian Geology and Mining Institute – Ingeominas), the government body responsible for processing applications, stopped accepting requests for the legalization of traditional mines in 2011 after it reportedly received an overwhelming number of applicants. “Now they are saying we can submit in April,” says Gamboa. He doesn’t seem convinced.

Meanwhile, news of ‘illegal’ miner arrests is common in the Colombian media. Since the adoption of a new mining code in 2001 and new policies meant to crackdown on informal mining, the Colombian government has given unlicensed operations until 2012 to obtain the proper paper work or face arrest.

The national government has made illegal mining a political and military priority, arguing that unlicensed operations cause environmental damage and contribute to the ongoing internal conflict by financing armed groups. In November 2011, officials said they had closed 329 unlicensed gold mines, arresting 1,228 people.

Miners and CIMA organizers are convinced that these policies have little to do with the environment or national security, and much to do with the federal government’s plan to turn the country into a large-scale mining giant by 2019.

The CIMA and Canadian non-governmental organizations focusing on mining are quick to point out that the 2001 mining code was written in consultation with Canadian and Colombian mining companies — a process that was funded in part by a grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Since its adoption, foreign mining company royalty rates have dropped from 10% to .4%. Simultaneously, the number of mining permit requests and concessions have increased dramatically, with Canadian companies making up a large portion of mining exploration investment.

The vision of Colombia as an untapped haven for large-scale mining stands in stark contrast to the reality, in which millions of small and artisanal miners are already working throughout the country.

The nearly one-hundred men and women working at the Santa Isabel mine have been doing so with the permission of the local land owner for nearly forty years. Miners here work in small teams to extract tiny particles of gold from rocks dug out of shallow holes in the mountainside. To do this, they use water and large wooden sluices which hark back to the days of the California gold rush.

They do not use toxic chemicals, but many small-scale operations — and all large-scale ones — in the country do use toxins.  It is no wonder then that Colombia has some of the highest levels of mercury contamination in the world.

Ferney Gamboa argues that compared to his operation, a massive gold mine in the area would be far more detrimental to the environment. “A large-scale mine will have a much larger impact. These companies use cyanide and huge amounts of water.”

A Country in Conflict

As for the funding of armed groups, CIMA organizers believe that large-scale development projects pose the highest risk to empowering illegal actors. In 2007, Chiquita Brands pled guilty to violating US anti-terrorism laws after admittedly making payments to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a right-wing paramilitary group. A civil suit brought by families of the victims of paramilitaries is still ongoing. Drummond Ltd., an American coal mining company is currently facing a trial in the US for the same issue, while British Petroleum (BP) settled out of court with victims of paramilitaries that it allegedly funded in 2009.

Paramilitaries are notorious in Colombia for murdering community leaders and appropriating land through terror tactics. After a deeply flawed demobilization process between 2003 and 2006, these groups are still active today, although under different names. Colombia still contains the second largest internally-displaced population in the world, behind Afghanistan, with 87% of displaced people originating from mining and energy-producing regions.

The Colombian military is also present in extractive zones, with 30%, or 80,000 members, of the country’s public forces dedicated to protecting oil and mining industry infrastructure. This has also created problems for small scale miners and farmers. In 2006, military troops killed Alejandro Uribe and Carlos Mario García, miners who were outspoken critics of foreign extractive companies active in the Bolivar Department, including AngloGold Ashanti. The army claimed that the two men were guerrilla fighters killed in combat, an argument rejected by local communities and dismantled by investigative journalists and rights groups like Amnesty International.

This confusion between civilians and guerrilla fighters is not out of the ordinary in Colombia. The Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos (Colombia Europe United States Coordination – CCEEU) reports that 535 civilians were victims of unlawful killings by Colombian public forces between January 2007 and July 2008. In 2008, the false positive scandal revealed that military troops had murdered scores of poor urban youth and farmers, and then dressed the bodies up to look like guerrilla fighters in order to inflate the military’s combat success rate.

‘False positives’ pervade the Colombian prison system as well. The Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Politicos (Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee – CSPP), a national advocacy group for political prisoners, estimates that 60% of the 7,500 prisoners in the country detained for political crimes associated with the armed conflict are actually social movement and union leaders who have been falsely accused.

Foreign multinationals deny contributing to or benefiting from the conflict in Colombia.  In response to small-scale miners fears of displacement in Colón-Génova, a spokesperson for AngloGold Ashanti Colombia states: “In the Department of Nariño, AngloGold Ashanti Colombia has built a good relationship based on support and collaboration with legal mining cooperatives, such as those established in Cumbitara and Los Andes Sotomayor, for example.”
The Colombian government maintains that it promotes partnerships between small-scale miners and multinationals, and that along with passing new regulations it is providing support to small mining operations to improve their standards.

Although some mining cooperatives have taken advantage of these arrangements, there are still many small-scale miners in Nariño who fail to see how new government policies can benefit them. “It’s hard to tell which is better, having the license or not,” says one owner of a licensed mine in the municipality of Sotomayor. “Once you have the license, the next step is keeping it.”

He argues that even with help from the Colombian government to improve their lighting system, new regulations like requiring owners to pay into workers compensation will be close to impossible to meet.

In Colón-Génova, miners are resolved to peacefully defending their livelihoods despite the challenges ahead.  They are currently working together with movements like the CIMA to fight what they believe was an illegal arrest and to legalize their mine once and for all.

Leah Gardner is an independent journalist focusing on human rights and corporate accountability. She currently lives in Colombia.

April 11, 2012 Posted by | Economics | , , , , | 1 Comment

Obama’s Drones Threaten World Civilization

By Glen Ford | Black Agenda Report | April 11, 2012

When Barack Obama was running for president, in 2008, he vowed to increase the use of drones against al Qaida elements in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His surrogates roamed the talk shows, advocating a “smarter” and cheaper kind of robotic war, allowing the U.S. to avoid pouring more troops into the “Af-Pak” theater of conflict. Vastly increased deployment of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), the argument went, would jettison George Bush’s “dumb” approach to warfare in favor of a cheaper and more humane use of U.S. technological resources, saving both American and South Asian lives.

What the “peace” candidate was actually proposing, was a qualitative leap in the U.S. drive for “full spectrum dominance” over the planet. The U.S. would elevate to a strategic principle its self-arrogated entitlement to use whatever technical means at its disposal – mainly drones – to target and kill designated adversaries at will, anyplace on the globe, at any time, accountable only to itself. It was a declaration of war against international law, as it has evolved over the centuries.

This administration has expanded the Air Force inventory of active drones to at least 7,500. Drones have joined Special Operations forces as the “tip of the spear” of U.S. power projection in the developing world, the “front lines” of the current imperial offensive.

Virtually all of the drones’ lethal missions are, in legal terms, assassinations, with or without “collateral damage.” They are also acts of terror, certainly in the broad sense of the word, and intended to be so.

As Canadian political scientist David Model points out in a recent article “Assassination by Drones”: “It is clearly evident that for a State to launch an attack by a UAV is a violation of international law and those responsible for such acts become suspects of war crimes.” Drone warfare utterly shreds the very concept of the rule of law. In killing those “suspected” of committing or planning actions against the U.S., Washington “precludes the application of due process,” writes Model.

Therefore, in the quest to make the entire world a free-fire (and law-free) zone, drone warfare requires that due process be destroyed everywhere, including within the borders of the United States.The Obama-shaped preventive detention bill signed into law this past New Years Eve is the logical extension of the international lawlessness called forth by drone warfare, and by the larger aims of full spectrum American dominance. Barack Obama is not just another “war president” – he is a destroyer of world civilization, the terms by which humans deal with one another as states, social groupings and individuals. It is not an exaggeration to describe this leap into depravity as a war against humanity at-large, and against the human historical legacy.

Certainly, it is a war against peace, the highest international crime. If a state can kill individuals and designated (or alleged) organizations by fiat, without due process or any shred of accountability to any authority but the president of the superpower, that state can also “execute” other states at will. Under Obama, the U.S. has articulated an alternative notion of global legality that purports to replace the body of international law accrued over centuries and so elegantly codified after World War Two. “Humanitarian” military intervention is the fraudulent doctrine through which the U.S. seeks to justify its current, desperate offensive against all obstacles to its global dominance.

Where George Bush often spoke in unilateralist terms of a U.S. mission to “spread democracy” as justification for his regime-changing aggression in Iraq and elsewhere, Obama invokes the higher calling of “humanitarian intervention” as a universal, pseudo-legal principle of international conduct. It is a doctrine designed for a Final Conflict for American supremacy on the planet, a doomsday construct that conflates perceived U.S. (corporate) geopolitical interests with the destiny of humankind – unbounded imperial criminality posing as the highest bar of justice!

Since the Vietnam War era, the U.S. has traveled from being the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” in Dr. Martin Luther King’s words, to an existential threat to world order, the rule of law, and the security of the Earth’s inhabitants – to civilization itself. The nation’s first Black President has taken us on the final descent into international barbarity with his drone offensive. It is a joy stick to Hell.

Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

April 11, 2012 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Full Spectrum Dominance, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , | Leave a comment

Another Bahraini killed by poisonous tear gas

Press TV – April 11, 2012

Another Bahraini has died due to asphyxia after inhaling poisonous tear gas fired by Saudi-backed regime forces as Manama’s brutal crackdown on protests continue.

The victim, identified as Abdul Rasoul Hassan Ismail, died after inhaling toxic gas fired on his house in the village of Karbabad last week.

Several Bahraini civilians, mostly senior citizens and kids, have died due to the misuse of tear gas against protesters by regime forces.

Meanwhile, Bahraini authorities continue to defy national and international calls to release prominent rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been on hunger strike for over two months and is feared to be on the verge of death.

Khawaja, the co-founder and former president of the Bahrain Center for Human Right, began a hunger strike in early February to protest against the life sentence he received last year and Manama’s ongoing crackdown on peaceful protests.

Bahrainis have held several demonstrations in support of him after his refused to eat, urging the government to release him.

April 11, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , | Leave a comment

Colombia: Obama’s Bloodiest Betrayal?

Obama Poised to Give Presidential Seal of Approval to Gross Labor Rights Violations in Colombia

By DANIEL KOVALIK, GIMENA SANCHEZ-GARZOLI & ANTHONY DEST | CounterPunch | April 11, 2012

On November 9, 2011, the family of Juan Carlos Galvis – a prominent union leader with Sinaltrainal and personal friend of ours – was subjected to a violent home invasion by two presumed paramilitaries.  The intruders entered the Galvis home while Juan Carlos and his son were away and assaulted his wife, Mary, and his two daughters, Jackeline and Mayra.  They grabbed Mayra, a child with Downs Syndrome, and put a gun to her head, threatening to kill her if Mary did not tell them the whereabouts of Juan Carlos and his son.  They then bound and gagged Mary and Jackeline, again asking them to say where Juan Carlos and his son were. The assailants then proceeded to spray paint Mary and Juan’s faces on a wedding photo the family had posted on the wall. Before leaving the home, they stole two laptops, some USB memory drives, documents, and trashed the house. The traumatic attack left Mayra in shock for days and unable to speak.

The family was forced to flee to another town where they are now hiding. Their fears are well founded. Two of Juan Carlos’ Sinaltrainal colleagues, John Fredy Carmona Bermudez and Luis Medardo Prens Vallejo, were killed in recent months.

All in all, 30 unionists were killed in Colombia last year. The National Labor School (ENS) reports that 4 have already been killed this year, and other trade union movements have reported additional murders (e.g., Justice for Colombia has reported 6). Such killings have made Colombia, where around 3,000 unionists have been killed since 1986, the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist, and if the assassination rate this year continues as it has thus far, Colombia will most certainly retain this notorious distinction.

Meanwhile, the Colombian government has done nothing effective to prosecute those responsible for such anti-union violence, with the UN recently reporting that Colombia’s rate of impunity for such crimes remains at 95% – meaning that only 5% of the union killings have ever been successfully prosecuted.

It was these two factors – the unprecedented rate of union killings and the high rate of impunity for these killings – that led Barack Obama in 2008 to declare in his third debate with John McCain that he opposed the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

While being a trade unionist in Colombia is dangerous, those that are unionists are the few that can more freely organize. Under the Alvaro Uribe Velez Administration the “associative labor cooperatives” (CTAs) model proliferated throughout Colombia. This union-busting model that precludes direct contracts between workers and companies gravely debilitates working conditions, salaries, and occupational safety protections. Workers have risked losing their meager livelihoods by holding stoppages to obtain direct contracts that are more likely to guarantee their basic labor rights.

In April 2011, Presidents Obama and Santos presented a Labor Action Plan designed to address anti-union violence, prosecute anti-union crimes, do away with labor inter-mediation, and improve conditions for workers in the port, sugar, oil palm, and other sectors. Since the LAP was signed, Colombia has played the game of appearing to comply with the LAP while at the same time undermining its purpose. It has met surface requirements like setting up the Labor Ministry, passing legislation, and fining abusive companies.

While the number of trade unionists killed has gone down (and of course, as Father Javier Giraldo opined some time ago, there are indeed many less unionists to kill), the security climate and death threats against them have not changed. This leaves the possibility that the number of murders and attacks could flare up once the FTA moves forward. The murder of trade unionists and labor activists is often spun to be unrelated to their labor rights activities—robbery, jealous lovers or links to narcotrafficking are the reasons used to whitewash the murders. For example, Hernan Dario, a lawyer who represented the largest public sector union in Valle del Cauca (Sintraemcali) and several labor activists in the sugarcane sector, was murdered. His name was subsequently dragged through the mud based on unsubstantiated allegations linking him to drug dealers. This tactic was utilized in order to create an environment of confusion and impede actions for justice in this case.

Last year, Colombia passed a law that supposedly banned CTAs, yet the reality is that this only restricts them by name since other forms of labor inter-mediation, including the Simplified Stock Companies, shell companies, and supposed “union contracts,” have replaced them. In the sugar and port sectors, leaders of work stoppages and those affiliated to trade unions are rarely rehired through these new contracts. The Ministry of Labor and the labor inspectors designated by the LAP are not effectively intervening to remedy these situations. Over 70 Afro-Colombian port workers in Turbo who attempted to form a union in October 2011 have been fired. Those workers were given an ultimatum—sign a letter stating they will not affiliate with a trade union or enjoy unemployment.

The Ministry is not even intervening to implement the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) recommendations as mandated by the Labor Action Plan. The case of 51 fired public sector workers of EMCALI is just one of many examples. Rather than implement the ILO’s March 2012 recommendations to rehire the workers, authorities proceeded to evict the workers who held a hunger strike in Cali last week. These victims of Colombia’s unjust labor practices, all of whom have been unemployed since 2004 since they were blacklisted for standing up for labor rights, are not even permitted to protest.

Some of the workers who would most benefit from effective implementation of the Labor Action Plan are Afro-Colombians. Most Afro-Colombian workers, who make up an estimated 25% of Colombia’s population and a disproportionate number of the country’s over 5.2 million internally displaced, work in sectors where labor rights standards are weakest. As such, many are not able to freely exercise their right to unionize, and if they try to do so face death threats or impoverishment. Many Afro-Colombian workers describe their situation as “modern day slavery.”

Afro-Colombian dockworkers in Buenaventura, a key port for the FTA, work in one of Colombia’s most abusive environments. In this port, Afro-Colombians come to work in hazardous conditions for 24 to 48 hours straight, often sleeping on the containers. The demanding environment obligates them to stay inside the port complex for an entire week without the possibility to return home. Healthcare is often reserved for the more privileged individuals working in offices, and workers who are hurt or disabled are often fired. Those attempting to organize are threatened or denied employment. It took a work stoppage in January 2012 for some of these workers to receive direct contracts. The majority of port workers continue to be employed through intermediaries, and those with the direct contracts have low salaries and are prohibited from unionizing. Only today, after months of pressure, has the Ministry of Labor opened up an investigation into some of these abuses.

Still, despite continued anti-union violence, the high rate of impunity, serious impediments to union organizing, and the dire conditions faced by workers, President Obama is now poised to announce at the Summit of the Americas that Colombia has complied with the Labor Action Plan. Working conditions and protection for trade unionists in Colombia do not reflect the U.S. government’s evaluation of the Labor Action Plan. If Obama goes ahead with his plans in Cartagena to green light the FTA, Colombian and U.S. workers will lose their last bit of leverage to stem the tide of anti-union violence and defend the rights of Colombia’s most vulnerable populations.

Daniel Kovalik is general counsel of the United Steelworkers. 

Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli and Anthony Dest work for the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

April 11, 2012 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Civil Liberties, Economics, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , | 1 Comment

Saudi Arabia induces Pakistan to quit IP gas pipeline project

Press TV – April 11, 2012

Riyadh has sent a message to Islamabad offering an “alternative package” to meet Pakistan’s growing energy need so that it can abandon the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project, Press TV reports.

The message from Saudi King Abdullah was conveyed by the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz in his meetings with Pakistani leaders on Tuesday.

Unnamed diplomatic sources in Pakistan said Saudi Arabia has asked the Pakistani government to reconsider its decision to pursue energy cooperation with Iran, which includes the construction of the IP gas pipeline and purchasing electricity and oil from Tehran.

The deputy foreign minister also had a meeting with Pakistani premier Yousaf Raza Gilani during which, a prime minister’s aide said a “special message” from the Saudi monarch was delivered.

Saudi Arabia is said to have offered Pakistan a loan for the construction of a new oil facility to bail the country out of its financial and energy crises.

A Pakistani official, who asked not to be named, said the offer would be discussed at a Pak-Saudi joint ministerial meeting which is being planned.

The Saudi official’s visit closely followed a trip by Saudi Culture and Information Minister Abdul Aziz bin Mohiuddin Al-Khoja last week.

Energy-hungry Pakistan is looking to increase its fuel imports from various sources, including Iran, to reduce power shortages that have crippled the country’s industry and shaved percentage points off its GDP growth.

Washington has frequently indicated its resentment at the IP gas pipeline project. An article published in the International Herald Tribune on January 25, said Washington is trying to lure Islamabad away from the project by offering cheaper gas to the country.

The multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline aims to export a daily amount of 21.5 million cubic meters (or 7.8 billion cubic meters per year) of the Iranian natural gas to Pakistan.

The maximum daily gas transfer capacity of the 56-inch pipeline which runs over 900 km of Iran’s soil from Asalouyeh in Bushehr Province to the city of Iranshahr in Sistan and Baluchestan Province has been estimated at 110 million cubic meters.

April 11, 2012 Posted by | Wars for Israel | , , , | 1 Comment

Nobel academy rejects Israeli demand to revoke poet’s award

Press TV – April 11, 2012

The Swedish Academy in charge of selecting laureates for the Nobel Prize in Literature has rejected a call by an Israeli writers group to revoke the award of German Nobelist Gunter Grass.

“Regarding the current debate over Gunter Grass’ poem “Was gesagt wered muss” (What must be said) I wish to point out that Mr. Grass received his Nobel Prize in 1999 on literary merit and merit alone – this applies to all recipients,” said Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Academy, on Tuesday.

“There is and will be no discussion in the Swedish Academy on rescinding the award,” said Englund.

The Hebrew Writers’ Association had earlier on Tuesday condemned Grass for writing a poem in which he expressed concern over the consequences of both a nuclear-armed Israel and a possible Israeli attack on Iran.

“We are struck by the shameful and immoral positions taken by Gunter Grass,” Herzl Hakak, the head of the Israeli association said, adding that they “call on writers worldwide to denounce” the opinions of the German Nobelist.

The controversial poem, which was published in the German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung last week, has also provoked the anger of both Israeli and German officials.

Germany’s Social Democrats, one of the country’s main political parties, announced that Grass was no longer welcomed at their campaign rallies.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, meanwhile, described the poem as “shameful”, saying it was “an expression of the cynicism of some of the West’s intellectuals”.

Despite all the condemnation, Grass has stated that he has received “piles” of supportive messages for speaking out.

In the poem, the Nobelist writes “Why do I say only now … that the nuclear power Israel endangers an already fragile world peace? Because that must be said which may already be too late to say tomorrow.”

“I will be silent no longer, because I am weary of the West’s hypocrisy,” Grass adds.

Grass won the Nobel Prize in 1999. His 1958 novel, The Tin Drum, was an indictment of the German mindset in the Nazi era.

Meanwhile, the Israeli regime remains the only possessor of nuclear weapons in the Middle East and it has never allowed inspections of its nuclear facilities nor has it joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) based on its policy of nuclear ambiguity.

According to a survey conducted in 2011 by the Berlin-based Friedrich Ebert Foundation, more than 50 percent of Europeans believe that the Tel Aviv regime is the most serious threat to global security.

April 11, 2012 Posted by | Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , | 1 Comment

   

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