Monday, October 29, 2007

The Bank of the South: An Alternative to IMF and World Bank Dominance

The Bank of the South: An Alternative to IMF and World Bank Dominance - by Stephen Lendman

In July, 2004, the IMF and World Bank commemorated the 60th anniversary of their founding at Bretton Woods, NH to provide a financial framework of assistance for the postwar world after the expected defeat of Germany and Japan. With breathtaking hypocrisy, an October, 2004 Development Committee Communique stated: "As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Bretton Woods Institutions....we recommit ourselves to supporting efforts by developing countries to pursue sustainable growth, sound macroeconomic policies, debt sustainability, open trade, job creation, poverty reduction and good governance." Phew.

In fact, for 63 hellish years, both these institutions achieved mirror opposite results on everything the above comment states. From inception, their mission was to integrate developing nations into the Global North-dominated world economy and use debt repayment as the way to transfer wealth from poor countries to powerful bankers in rich ones.

The scheme is called debt slavery because new loans are needed to service old ones, indebtedness rises, and borrowing terms stipulate harsh one-way "structural adjustment" provisions that include:

-- privatizations of state enterprises;

-- government deregulation;

-- deep cuts in social spending;

-- wage freezes or cuts;

-- unrestricted free market access for foreign corporations;

-- corporate-friendly tax cuts;

-- crackdowns on trade unionists; and

-- savage repression for non-believers under a system incompatible with social democracy.

Everywhere the scheme is the same: huge public wealth transfers to elitist private hands, exploding public debt, an ever-widening disparity between the super-rich and desperate poor, and an aggressive nationalism to justify huge spending on security for aggressive surveillance, mass incarceration plus repression and torture for social control.

An Alternative to Debt Slavery - The Bank of the South

Last December, Hugo Chavez announced his idea for a Banco del Sur, or Bank of the South, as part of his crusade against the institutions of international capital he calls "tools of Washington." The bank will be officially launched at a presidential November 3 summit in Caracas, where it's to be headquartered, with seven founding member-states - Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Ecuador.

On October 12, Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe announced his nation agreed to become the eighth member but said "The decision is not a rejection to the World Bank or Inter-American Development Bank, but a sign of solidarity and fraternity towards the South American community." At this time, only four South American states aren't included - Chile, Peru, Guyana and Surinam, but Chile seems likely to come aboard following Colombia's lead, and the others may decide to join them.

Finance ministers from the founding countries met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil October 8 to finalize the Bank's Founding Document. Many key operating issues have yet to be resolved, but unofficial information was that each nation will commit 10% of its international reserves and have equal oversight over the new institution. In a concluding news conference, Brazilian finance minister Guido Mantega stated: the participating countries "have been able to overcome all obstacles that were in the way of an understanding around the formation of the Bank of the South. We can now say that the (bank) is close to becoming a reality" even though Brazil (Latin America's largest economy) hasn't yet formalized its entry.

Venezuelan finance minister Rodrigo Cabeza explained the bank will help develop the region by offering South Americans more credits. It's being "created to build a new architecture that assumes an improved relationship of the bank and its capacity to offer credits for its people." It also aims to increase liquidity and revive socioeconomic development and infrastructure investments in participating countries and keep them outside the restrictive control of the IMF and World Bank that are fast losing influence and being phased out of the region.

In 2005, 80% of IMF's $81 billion loan portfolio was to Latin America. Today, it's 1% with nearly all its $17 billion in outstanding loans to Turkey and Pakistan. The World Bank is also being rejected. Venezuela had already paid off its IMF and World Bank debt ahead of schedule when Hugo Chavez symbolically announced on April 30: "We will no longer have to go to Washington nor to the IMF nor to the World Bank, not to anyone." Ecuador's Raphael Correa is following suit. He cleared his country's IMF debt, suspended World Bank loans, accused the WB of trying to extort money from him when he was economy and finance minister in 2005, and last April declared the Bank's country representative persona non grata in an extraordinary diplomatic slap in the face.

The Banco del Sur will replace these repressive institutions with $7 billion in startup capital when it begins operating in 2008. It will be under "a new financial architecture" for regional investment with the finance ministers of each member nation sitting on the bank's administrative council with equal authority over its operations as things now stand. Venezuelan Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabeza stressed the banks Latin roots saying: "The idea is to rely on a development agency for us, led by us" to finance public and private development and regional integration projects. He added: "There will not be credit subjected to economic policies. There will not be credit that produces a calamity for our people and as a result, it will not be a tool of domination" like the international lending agencies.

Hugo Chavez's vision is to liberate the region's countries from IMF, World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IBD) control that condemn millions to poverty through their lending practices. Helped by windfall oil profits, his government is already doing it with an unprecendented commitment to provide financial aid and below-market priced oil to regional and other countries. So far this year, it's on the order of around $9 billion, and, unlike the Washington-controlled kind, it comes at low cost and with good will, a cooperative spirit and few if any strings.

Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz recognizes Chavez's efforts and stated his support for the Banco del Sur on an October 10 visit to Caracas. He said "One of the advantages of having a Bank of the South is that it would reflect the perspectives of those in the South (while in contrast IMF and World Bank conditions) hinder (regional) development effectiveness."

Stiglitz met with Hugo Chavez on his visit and praised his redistributive social policies. He also criticized Washington Consensus neoliberal practices that exploit the regions' people, "undermin(e)....Andean cooperation, and it is part of the American strategy of divide and conquer, a strategy trying to get as much of the benefits for American companies" at the expense of the region and its people.

Venezuela's acting ambassador to the Permanent Mission to the UN, Aura Mahuampi Rodriguez de Ortiz, warned the world body about Latin American debt during her participation in the General Debate on Macroeconomic Policies in October. She stressed: "The persistence of the foreign debt of the developing countries affects negatively on its process of development. It is not worthy to direct resources for the development of poor countries if such resources end up directed to the payment of the foreign debt" instead of going to economic development internally. She also spoke of the new Bank of the South, how it will help strengthen regional integration and also fairly distribute investments and finance projects to reduce poverty and social exclusion.

A less publicized Bank of ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) will also begin operating by year end under "a new regional financial architecture under principles that create a new form of channeling financial resources" to its four country alliance - Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

Chavez first proposed ALBA as an alternative to the Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA) in 2001 with Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia its original members in December, 2004. Nicaragua then joined the alliance in January, 2007 under its newly elected president, Daniel Ortega, who signed on as his first act in office. ALBA's goal is ambitious. It's the comprehensive integration of the region and development of its "the social state" for all its people. It's boldly based on member states complementarity, not competition; solidarity, not domination; cooperation, not exploitation; and respect for each participating nation's sovereign right to be free from the grip of other countries and corporate giants.

In April, the 5th ALBA summit was held in Caracas to discuss ways to improve the alliance. Initiatives covered included a Permanent (coordinating) Secretariat and a plan to create 12 public companies to be co-managed by ALBA member states. Its goal is to strengthen key economic sectors in areas of energy, agriculture, telecommunications, infrastructure, industrial supplies and cement production. ALBA country foreign ministers then agreed in June to create a development Bank of ALBA to help finance these ventures with low-cost credit. It will complement the Banco del Sur and also be headquartered in Caracas.

Uncertain Future Prospects

Socially responsible regional banks, like those discussed above, will challenge the dominant institutions of finance capital if they fulfill their promise. But therein lies the problem. These new institutions aren't panaceas, and they may end up letting capital interests exploit them for their own advantage. In addition, financial autonomy alone won't free the region from Washington's grip without greater change. What's needed are sweeping nationalizations of basic industries, an end to one-way WTO-style trade deals, socially redistributing national resources, developing local economies, achieving land and housing reform plus a sweeping commitment to social equity and a resolve to end a 25 year neoliberal nightmare. From 1960 to 1980, the region's per capita income growth was 82%. From 1980 to 2000, however, it was 9%, and from 2000 to 2005 only 4%. For the region, it meant sweeping poverty, inequality and the most extreme disparity between the super-rich and desperate poor in the world.

Change is needed, and Venezuela under Hugo Chavez has done most in the region to achieve it. Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabezas just presented his government's 2008 budget to the National Assembly that allocates 46% of it to social spending. It devotes special attention to health and education but also to subsidized and free food, land reform, housing, micro credit, job training, cooperatives and more as Chavez continues to use his nation's resources to address the needs of his people. Since he took office, social spending per person is up more than threefold and in 2006 was 20.9% of GDP.

Chavez now has an ally in Ecuador under Raphael Correa who's early efforts are promising. Hopefully, they'll continue under a new constitution to be drafted in the next six months and then put to a national referendum next year. Other Bank of the South founding countries like Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia, however, claim to be center-left but, in fact, embrace 1990s neoliberalism, and financial autonomy won't change that. The Bank of the South will only work if it fulfills a mandate to prioritize local needs and development, not corporate ones. That's a tall order, and achieving it won't be easy with its dominant member, Brazil under Lula, closely tied to Washington and in its grip.

Nonetheless, small signs of change are emerging, the Bank of the South may be one of them, and a new generation of leftist leaders may in the end break Washington's weakening (but still strong) hold on the region. That's the hope, and every step forward means more power to the people and another possible world.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMicroEffect.com Mondays at noon US central time.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Torture, Paramilitarism, Occupation and Genocide

Torture, Paramilitarism, Occupation and Genocide - by Stephen Lendman

On October 5, George Bush confronted a public uproar and defended his administration claiming "This government does not torture people." Again he lied. Once secret US Department of Justice (DOJ) legal opinions confirm the Bush administration condones torture by endorsing "the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency." It also condones paramilitary thuggery, oppressive occupation, and genocide. This unholy combination is the ugly face of an imperial nation run by war criminals. That's the state of things today. First, the practice of torture.

Torture as Policy under George Bush

In a hollow posturing gesture, DOJ publicly declared torture "abhorrent" in a December, 2004 legal opinion. That secretly changed after Alberto Gonzales became Attorney General in February, 2005 and authorized physical and psychological brutality as official administration policy. This continues unabated in violation of international and US laws that include fifth and eighth amendment prohibitions against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in all forms for any reason. These practices been long-standing US official policy, nonetheless, but the mask came off post-9/11 when former CIA Counterterrorism Center chief Cofer Black (now Blackwater USA's vice-chairman) told a joint House-Senate intelligence committee hearing September 26, 2002: "There was a before-9/11 and an after-9/11(on the use of torture). After 9/11, the gloves came off" and "old" standards no longer apply. They never did, and Congress knows and condones it.

Further, George Bush signed a secret September 17, 2001 "finding" authorizing CIA to kill, capture and detain "Al Qaeda" members anywhere in the world and rendition them to secret black site torture prisons for interrogation presumed to include torture.

As White House Counsel, Alberto Gonzales then wrote a sweeping memorandum to George Bush January 25, 2002 calling the Geneva Conventions "quaint" and "obsolete" and claimed the administration could ignore Geneva international law in interrogating prisoners henceforth. He also outlined plans to try prisoners in military "commissions" and deny them all protections under international law including due process and habeas rights. DOD Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was on board as well. In December, 2002, he approved a menu of banned interrogation practices that allowed most anything short of what would cause organ failure.

A new book called "Administration of Torture," by two ACLU attorneys, contains evidence (from FOIA requests) from over 100,000 newly released government documents. It reveals how US military interrogators carried out abuse and torture orders from their superiors on scores of prisoners. The book quotes Major General Michael Dunlavey who had DOD responsibility for interrogations of "suspected terrorists." He and Guantanamo commander General Geoffrey Miller both told the FBI they got their "marching orders" from Donald Rumsfeld to use harsh methods at Guantanamo that presumably were meant for all other US-run torture prisons as well. It was also revealed that Rumsfeld was "personally involved" in overseeing the torture-interrogation of Mohammed al Qahtani. He was falsely accused of being the 20th 9/11 hijacker, confessed under torture, and then retracted his testimony later as completely untrue.

Torture violates international law. The (non-binding) Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlawed it in 1948. The four 1949 Geneva Conventions then banned any form of "physical or mental coercion" and affirmed detainees must at all times be treated humanely. Its first two conventions protect sick and wounded forces in battle. The third one defines who is a prisoner of war and establishes "minimum standards" for POW treatment. The fourth convention applies to civilians and affords them protections during war that require they be treated humanely. All four conventions have a common thread called Common Article Three. It requires non-combatants be treated humanely at all times. There are no exceptions for any reasons and violations are grave breaches under Geneva and other international law that constitute crimes of war and against humanity.

The European Convention followed Geneva in 1950. Then in 1984, the UN Convention Against Torture became the first binding international instrument dealing exclusively with the issue of banning torture in any form for any reason. These are sacred international laws all signatories, that include the US, are bound by. No longer under George Bush's unconstitutional "unitary executive" authority power grab Chalmers Johnson calls a "bald-faced assertion of presidential supremacy....dressed up in legalistic mumbo jumbo." Condoning torture as official policy under it is Exhibit A.

In her important new book, "Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Defied the law," law professor and current National Lawyers Guild president Marjorie Cohn calls torture abhorrent and violates at least two US laws - the 1996 War Crimes Act and 1994 Torture Statute. The US is also party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that guarantees the right to life and prohibits cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

The 1996 War Crimes Act provides up to life imprisonment or the death penalty for persons convicted of committing war crimes within or outside the US. Administration memos from Gonzales, John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and David Addington supported dictatorial powers for the president and advised Al Qaeda and Taliban interrogators were exempt from torture laws under George Bush's "commander-in-chief powers." Cohn, in her book, explained "the Torture Convention permits no such exemption, even during wartime."

Yoo and Bybee also distorted what constitutes torture by claiming psychological harm must last "months or even years." Otherwise, it's just harsh "enhanced interrogation" of the secret kinds George Bush authorized in a July, 2006 executive order. They reportedly include sleep deprivation, simulated drowning, stress positions, prolonged isolation, sensory deprivation and/or overload, beatings, induced hypothermia, and more that can cause irreversible physical and psychological harm including psychoses.

The October, 2006 Military Commissions Act followed, appropriately called the "torture authorization act." It gives the administration extraordinary unconstitutional powers to detain, interrogate and prosecute alleged terror suspects and anyone thought to be their supporters. The law lets the president designate anyone in the world an "unlawful enemy combatant," without corroborating evidence, and order they be arrested and incarcerated indefinitely in military prisons outside the criminal justice system without habeas and due process rights. US citizens aren't exempt. We're all "enemy combatants" under this law. Anyone charged under it loses all constitutionally protected rights and can be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment including torture.

Ironically, on the one year anniversary of the Military Commissions Act enactment, Fr. Louie Vitale and Fr. Steve Kelly were both sentenced to five months in federal prison for opposing torture. They also oppose teaching it at Fort Huachuca, Arizona and tried to deliver a letter with their views to the base commander, Major General Barbara Fast, former head of military intelligence in Iraq. Both priests were arrested for trespassing while kneeling in prayer on the base driveway in November, 2006. In an appalling miscarriage of justice, the presiding judge refused to allow any evidence of torture to be introduced. He also ruled out discussion of the illegality of the Iraq war and all references to international law.

Relief from these type abuses are nowhere in sight as leading Democrats condone them and now assure extremist Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey's nomination won't be challenged. He promises business as usual that's bad news for supporters of the law. He earned his bona fides as a US District Court Southern District of New York judge by ruling Jose Padilla, a US citizen, could be imprisoned without trial and held indefinitely by the military.

Padilla spent three and a half years uncharged in a 9 by 7-foot isolated South Carolina Navy brig cell where he underwent alternating sensory deprivation and overload and was denied the right to counsel for two years. Months of beatings, mind-altering drugs, and denial of medical treatment destroyed his mind, turned him to mush, and him easy pickings to convict on all charges without evidence he broke any law. Under Bush administration justice, we're all potential Jose Padillas in a nation where the rule of law affords no protection, and torture is the preferred means of social control.

Administration Outsourced Paramilitarism

The Bush administration believes anything government can do private business does better, so let it. And that applies to the military as well with Blackwater USA's powerful emergence Exhibit A. Author Jeremy Scahill portrays the company as "the world's most powerful mercenary army" in his frightening new book about it. It describes a "shadowy mercenary company (employing) some of the most feared professional killers in the world....accustomed to operating without worry of legal consequences....largely off the congressional radar." It has "remarkable power and protection within the US war apparatus" with unaccountable license to practice street violence with impunity that includes cold-blooded murder.

A congressional report indicates Blackwater received more than $1 billion in mostly State Department no-bid contracts since 2001. It's to provide security services for US diplomats, officials and others once assigned to the military at around six times the cost and can be up to $1200 per man-day. With Bush administration backing, it operates outside the law and Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and is immune from civil lawsuits like the military. Scahill calls the company the "Bush administration's Praetorian Guard" with "immunity and impunity" to do as it pleases.

Today, around 200,000 private contractors operate in Iraq. Up to 100,000 of them are paramilitary mercenaries from companies like Blackwater, DynCorp, ArmorGroup, Erinys, Triple Canopy and others like the Australian-owned Unity Resources that murdered two Iraqi women October 9. Blackwater is the largest, is close to the Bush administration, and is cashing in big as a war profiteer from huge continuing no-bid contracts.

The company was founded in 1996 by former Navy SEAL Eric Prince who's also closely allied to the extremist Christian Right. Blackwater came into its own post-9/11 and is now the world's best connected, largest paramilitary army. It employs 2300 personnel in nine countries with 20,000 or more others on call as needed. The company also has its own 20 aircraft fleet that includes helicopter gunships as well as a private intelligence division and a 7000 acre Moyock, North Carolina headquarters Scahill calls "the world's largest private military base."

Controversary surrounding Blackwater made headlines after its mercenaries killed as many as 28 Iraqis in al-Nisour September 16 by some accounts and wounded dozens more. It was only the latest incident involving the company that has a disturbing history of instigating unprovoked violence and then falsely claim it acted in self-defense as Eric Prince told Congress saying his men act "appropriately at all times."

A new congressional account from State Department and company documents reveals otherwise. It shows the company has been involved in at least 195 "escalation of force" incidents since early 2005 that include previously unreported Iraqi civilian killings. In at least one of them, evidence proved Blackwater personnel tried covering up what happened with a falsified report, and the State Department made no effort to hold them accountable or order the company to pay compensation to the families of the victims.

Agence France-Presse reported on September 16 Blackwater personnel shot recklessly "at everything that moved with a machine gun and even with a grenade launcher (as well as from two hovering helicopters). There was panic. Everyone tried to flee. Vehicles tried to make U-turns to escape. There were dead bodies and wounded people everywhere. The road was full of blood. A bus was also hit and several of its occupants were wounded." Among the dead were women and children. A daughter witnessing her mother shot in the head and killed said: "They are killers. I swear to God, not one bullet was shot at them. Why did they shoot us?"

Following the incident, investigations were launched that are little more than damage control cover-up. The FBI is involved as well as a joint American-Iraqi inquiry. Iraqi prime minister al-Maliki has gone back and forth on this one. At first, he demanded Blackwater personnel leave Iraq. He then backed down under pressure. He'll likely await the inquiry's findings that are out in part from Iraqi investigators, but again said he wants Washington to sever all Blackwater ties, remove the company from Iraq in six months, and have it pay each family $8 million in compensation.

It won't ever happen, even though early findings conclude Blackwater's actions were unprovoked, the al-Nisour massacre was a deliberate crime, those involved in it should be charged, put on trial, and the families of victims fairly compensated. The findings are similar to an initial US military report that one Pentagon official confirmed saying Blackwater's actions were "obviously excessive, it was obviously wrong. The civilians....didn't have any weapons (and) none of the IP (Iraqi police) or any local security forces fired (on Blackwater)."

Investigations are still continuing, the State Department is in damage control mode, and an October 4 House-passed bill (not retroactive) just made US contractors accountable for felony crimes under the 2000 Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA). In addition, new operating procedures have been instituted to paper over the whole affair. Nothing, in fact, will change, however. Blackwater personnel will stay in place, none of them will face criminal charges, and things are again business as usual with the company's paramilitaries back on Iraqi streets after being banned from operating there by an impotent prime minister.

A sign of things to come came a day ahead of the October House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Blackwater hearing. It was revealed the company's Presidential Airways subsidiary got a new government contract to supply aircraft, crew and equipment for flight operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Blackwater personnel may likely show up anywhere and currently patrol New Orleans streets for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) post-hurricane Katrina. Their presence is menacing everywhere, and they may show up soon in a neighborhood near you as the "war on terrorism" touches down at home.

Imperial Conquest and Occupation

Current rhetoric aside, even Alan Greenspan's new book admitted what's "politically inconvenient to acknowledge (but) everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil" and it was "essential" Saddam be removed to control it. Unmentioned was Iraq's importance that explains why Washington plans permanent occupation of the country. The Middle East has two-thirds of the world's proved oil reserves; Iraq has the most untapped amounts of it; and it's the easiest gotten, cheap to refine light sweet kind Big Oil covets. The country is also strategically located between Saudi Arabia and Iran at the top of the Persian Gulf. That makes it a perfect site for military bases sitting atop an ocean of oil worth trillions of dollars and surrounded by lots more of it.

The strategy to seize it was simply conceived but hopelessly flawed - replace the "cradle of civilization" with a newly created free market paradise with all that oil as grand prize pickings. It's still up for grabs, but a huge supportive infrastructure is in place and still being built for permanent occupation.

By May, 2005, US forces were operating out of 106 bases around the country from an original 120 number of sites. They range in size from the huge Main Operating Base (MOB) Camp Victory complex near Baghdad airport with thousands of US troops to others for fewer numbers called Forward Operation Sites (FOS) that are still major installations. There are also many smaller Cooperative Security Locations (CSL) as well as prisons and detention facilities throughout the country plus others for Iraqi military and police units.

A sign of permanency are four to six or more super-bases built and planned, the largest of which is the huge Balad one. It's the major Air Force facility in the country with its state of the art "Kingpin" air traffic control center (called the Common Grid Reference System) that divides the country's airspace into "kill boxes." The Army's largest logistical support center and secret Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force (CJSOTF) are also there as well as well as thousands of civilian contractors in neighborhoods charmingly called "KBR-land."

Balad and other major bases are enormous in size and on the order of small towns. They encompass 15 - 20 square miles with double runways as long as 12,000 feet, and Balad's air traffic operates round the clock and is comparable in number of takeoffs and landings to Chicago's O'Hare that along with Atlanta's Hartsfield are the world's two busiest airports.

In addition, they have their own neighborhoods and kinds of amenities found back home. They include department store-sized post exchanges, fast food outlets, movie theaters with the latest films, swimming pools, miniature golf courses, elaborate gymnasium and sports facilities, satellite internet access, cable TV, air-conditioning, international phone service and more. All the comforts of home including takeout pizza and Monday night football in the middle of a war zone.

Other major facilities are at al-Talil near Nasiriya in the South; the largest Marine base at al-Asad in Western Anbar province; al-Qayyara, 50 miles southeast of Mosul in the North; the US military command HQ at Camp Victory/Camp Liberty near Baghdad International Airport; Camp Marez near Mosul Airport; Camp Cook north of Baghdad; and a new base near Irbil in the North. In addition, another new Forward Operating base is being built near Zurbatiya near the Iranian border to be completed in November. It's location is provocative as the centerpiece of a new border control surveillance, monitoring and logistical support strategy called "Combat Outpost Shocker."

Then, there's what critics call "Fortress Baghdad" or the "ultimate gated community" inside the city's four square mile fortress-like Green Zone. It's surrounded by thick blast-proof concrete walls, and to enter visitors must pass through up to eight checkpoints. Inside, security is intense and includes full body searches, electronic scanners, explosive-sniffing dogs and every other human and high-tech measure imaginable for security.

The US embassy compound is there as well that when finished will be the largest in the world. It's Vatican-sized in dimensions and hugely fortified atop 104 acres, or six times larger than the UN complex in New York. Reports vary on whether 21 or 27 buildings are planned but their cost plus all facilities and perimeter security will top $1 billion. Construction is continuing, far behind schedule, it's reported to be shoddy, and it's already way over budget as predicted so the final cost remains uncertain but will be plenty.

The compound has everything - its own water, electricity, sewers, apartment buildings, swimming pool, shops, Marine barracks and will house more than 1000 civilian staff plus a large private and military security contingent. For the Iraqi people, it's a hated symbol of imperial occupation Washington intends to be permanent, but it may in the end go the way of the Saigon embassy in 1975. That's where the last US Vietnam remnants were frenetically rooftop-helicoptered out of the country in humiliating drawdown defeat. It ended visions of permanence then the way history may one day repeat in Iraq.

Imperial Genocide in Iraq

By any estimate, the human toll in Iraq is horrific from all that happened after Saddam's August 2, 1990 Kuwait invasion. Four days later, Operation Desert Shield was launched. It began with US-led UN-imposed economic sanctions, large US and other troop deployments to the region, and a sweeping Kuwait-funded PR campaign to win public support for Operation Desert Storm that began January 17, 1991.

Before it ended six weeks later on February 28, US forces committed grievous war crime violations of the Hague and Geneva Conventions and UN and Nuremberg Charters. They included gratuitous mass killings as well as bombing and destroying essential to life facilities that included:

-- power generating stations;

-- dams;

-- water purification capabilities;

-- sewage treatment and disposal systems;

-- telephone and other communications;

-- hospitals;

-- mosques;

-- residential areas affecting 10-20,000 homes, apartments and other dwellings;

-- irrigation sites;

-- food processing, storage and distribution facilities;

-- hotels and retail establishments;

-- transportation infrastructure;

-- oil wells, pipelines, refineries and storage tanks;

-- chemical plants;

-- civilian shelters like Al Ameriyya that was attacked February 13, 1991 by two laser-guided "smart bombs" killing around 400 civilians including 142 children;

-- factories and other commercial operations;

-- government offices;

-- historical sites; and more in a willful malicious effort to return the country to a pre-industrial age and punish its people horrifically.

Lost was power, clean water, sanitation, fuel, transportation, medical facilities and medications, adequate food, schools, private dwellings and places of employment. Early post-war estimates placed the number of civilians killed at 113,000 (mostly children) according to the Red Crescent Society of Jordan. In addition, US CENTCOM commander, General Schwarzkopf and others, estimated 100,000 or more Iraqi military deaths plus thousands more killed gratuitously as they were retreating in disarray.

What then followed was 12 years of the most comprehensive genocidal sanctions ever imposed on a country as an act of vengeance and US-imposed imperial arrogance. They were first adopted in UN Resolution 661 four days after Iraq invaded Kuwait. They included a full trade embargo that crippled the country economically but initially allowed in food, medical and other essential humanitarian needs. UN Resolution 670 followed in September, 1990 that imposed an air blockade and measures to enforce it.

After the war in April, 1991, UN Resolution 687 was adopted. It required Saddam accept cease fire terms and comply with Geneva protocols banning biological and chemical weapons. It also affirmed Kuwait's sovereignty, but it wasn't good enough for US officials who wanted sanctions to remain in force until Saddam was removed.

Later on, the oil for food and medicine program was adopted under UN Resolution 986 in 1995 but was hopelessly inadequate by design. An internal UN report in 1999 revealed it delivered only $74 of food per annum per person (about 21 cents a day) and $15 worth of medicines (about 4 cents a day) with vitally needed items banned or in short supply like syringes, anesthetics, vaccines, antibiotics and other drugs. Everything with potential "dual use" was blocked - chlorine to purify water, vital medical equipment, chemotherapy and pain-killing drugs, ambulances, and anything Washington wished to deny the country punitively with horrific consequences.

Further complicating things, all Iraqi funds were frozen and administered through a US-controlled Development Fund for Iraq. In addition, UN Resolution 661 stipulated all goods entering the country had to be approved by a 15 member committee that included the five permanent Security Council members. Approval had to be unanimous with every member having veto power. The US representative abused his authority by blocking items or causing long delays in importing others. The practice became so extreme, on one occasion baby food was denied on the grounds adults might consume it. At other times, items on the World Health Organization (WHO) humanitarian priority list were blocked such as rice, school books, paper, agricultural pesticides, medical journals and catheters for babies.

The results were predictable and devastating. Normal life was impossible and became a daily struggle to survive. It became apparent by the mid-1990s many didn't or wouldn't:

-- the UN World Food Program (WFP) reported 2.4 million Iraqi children were severely at nutritional risk in September, 1995;

-- in December, 1995, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said 12% of Baghdad children were "wasted, 28% stunted and 29% under weight;"

-- by year end 1995, FAO reported 567,000 Iraqi children sanction-related deaths;

-- by March, 1996, WHO noted a six-fold mortality rate increase among children under five;

-- in October, 1996 UNICEF reported 4500 monthly Iraqi children deaths from sanction-caused starvation and disease;

-- by 1999, the under five child mortality rate rose three-fold from 1989, malnutrition doubled, and the entire young child population was affected;

-- UN Secretary-General Boutras-Boutras-Ghali noted how health conditions deteriorated dramatically by the mid-1990s, and by 1997 the WHO Director General said Iraq's health care system was systemically broken; in addition, malaria, typhoid, cholera and other life-threatening and communicable diseases were rampant.

These actions were committed willfully and are war crimes under relevant Geneva Conventions and other international law. They also constitute genocide under provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide that "means any (acts like those listed above) committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the national, ethnical, racial or religious group (by) killing (its) members; causing (them) serious bodily or mental harm; (or) deliberately inflicting (on them) conditions (that may destroy them in whole or in part)."

US administrations under GHW Bush, Bill Clinton and GW Bush are criminally liable under "the genocide convention" and other relevant international law. Up to the March, 2003 attack and invasion, more than 1.5 million Iraqis, including over one million children, likely died from the combination of war and economic sanctions. Two UN heads of Iraqi humanitarian relief resigned under them in anger and frustration with Dennis Halliday saying in 1998 he did so because he "had been instructed to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over one million individuals, children and adults" including 5000 Iraqi children monthly in his judgment.

To date, most members of Congress are mute on the Iraq genocide and continue funding it with hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. Yet on October 10, the House Foreign Relations Committee hypocritically passed a non-binding resolution calling the 1915 - 1923 Armenian holocaust (taking 1.0 to 1.5 million lives) genocide with a full House vote on the measure still scheduled for November in spite of waning support for it and uncertainty where it will go in the Senate.

Speaker Pelosi still backs the measure and in 2006 as Minority Leader pledged to support legislation "that would properly acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. It is imperative that the United States recognize this atrocity and move to renew our commitment to eliminate genocide whenever and wherever it exists." Today, Speaker Pelosi is mute on Iraq, Afghanistan and fully supports AIPAC's agenda and its top priority of war with Iran. She's not bothered by her own government's genocide that far exceeds the Ottoman and post-Ottoman Turkish Armenian slaughter during and after WW I. The data below estimates as many as four million Iraqis have perished from 1990 - 2007, but speaker Pelosi's condemnation of it is nowhere in sight.

Dr. Gideon Polya is a well-published biological scientist who's book, "Body Count: Global avoidable mortality since 1950," came out this year. It "documents....non-reported (worldwide) avoidable death(s) of 1.3 billion people since 1950" including in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also published his data on millions of violent and non-violent deaths under the three most recent US administrations in articles like his October 7 one on Countercurrents.org. In it, he cites data on Iraq from the Lancet, UN and British polling firm ORB. His "Asian Wars" totals in Iraq, Afghanistan, Occupied Palestine and Lebanon are horrific, and, if correct, exceed any others published to date. A summary of his data follows.

-- Eight million total violent and non-violent deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Lebanon breaking down as follows:

-- 70,000 "US-backed" Israeli-caused deaths in Lebanon from 1978 - 2006, 10,000 of which were violent killings "by Israelis" or their "surrogates;"

-- 300,000 1967-2007 Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) deaths plus another 10,000 violent deaths;

-- 200,000 violent 1990-91 Gulf war deaths;

-- 1.7 million 1990-2003 Iraqi sanctions-caused deaths including 1.2 million children under age five;

-- 3.2 million 2001-2007 US Afghanistan war deaths including UN Population Division data totaling 2.5 million plus 700,000 children under age five;

-- 2.0 million 2003-07 US Iraq war deaths including 1.2 million UK polling firm ORB violence-related estimates plus 800,000 children under age five from UNICEF data; and

-- 500,000 2001-07 opiate drug-related deaths resulting from the resurgent Afghan opium industry under US-UK occupation; the UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates its output at 93% of world production.

Polya cites the failure of occupying powers to supply essential "life-sustaining requisites" as a major cause of preventable deaths. He also notes his eight million estimate exceeds the Nazi-inflicted Jewish holocaust total of about six million. And he rightly observes that major media misreporting, denying or "ignoring of this horrendous, ongoing mass" slaughter is the equivalent of Jewish holocaust denial and doing it endangers security for "both....victims and....perpetrators."

There's no denying the toll on victims, but consider the cost at home post-9/11:

-- a nation with no outside enemies permanently at war and claims the right to wage preventive wars under the doctrine of "anticipatory self-defense" using first strike nuclear weapons even against non-nuclear states;

-- world stability and peace further threatened by the administration's abandoning NPT, ending Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty protection, rescinding and subverting the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention, deploying so-called "missile defense" for offense, and plans to weaponize space toward the goal of "full-spectrum (unchallengeable) dominance" of all land, surface and sub-surface sea, air, space, electromagnetic spectrum and information systems plus as much of the world's energy resources as possible;

-- a military budget hugely exceeding the rest of the world combined; The Independent Institute analyst Robert Higgs estimates the true FY 2007 budget exceeds $1 trillion with all defense-related items included;

-- a rogue government operating outside constitutional and international laws and norms with the Congress and courts criminally complicit;

-- an unprecedented wealth disparity in an omnipotent corporatist state;

-- growing social decay and poverty in the richest country in the world;

-- a secretive, intrusive, repressive administration under a president who disdains the public interest and is a serial liar and war criminal;

-- condoning and operating secret torture-prisons around the world as a weapon of cruelty, vengeance and social control; and

-- a cesspool of corruption stemming from incestuous business-govenment ties that defile democracy and mock any notion of government of, for and by the people.

The toll in Israel is evident as well. Angela Godfrey-Goldstein is an Israeli Jew, based in Jerusalem, and the Action Advocacy Officer with the Israeli Committee Against (Palestinian) House Demolitions (ICAHD). On August 30, 2007, she delivered an address at the UN Conference at the EU Parliament in Brussels commemorating the fortieth anniversary of Occupied Palestine. In it, she noted part of the toll on Israeli society caused by 40 years of Palestinian repression:

-- around one million Israeli Jews "voted with their feet and left the country;"

-- an estimate by some that up to 50% of Israeli youths refuse mandatory Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) service plus a "grey" Air Force refusal rate of around 30%;

-- a significant recent observation from John Pilger that "something (around the world) is changing. (There's a) swell of a boycott....growing inexorably....an important marker (may have) been passed, reminiscent of the boycotts (preceding) sanctions against apartheid South Africa" that led to the fall of its white-supremicist government; and

-- her experience working with "diplomats, politicians and aid workers in Israel and Palestine (shows) that, on an individual basis, there's enormous personal support and empathy for the Palestinian cause" because decades of abuse against them are intolerable and must end.

Push eventually will come to shove. We better hope it arrives soon. The world can't wait much longer.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMicroEffect.com Mondays at noon US central time.

Monday, October 22, 2007

UAW Sellout at GM and Chrysler

UAW Sellout at GM and Chrysler - by Stephen Lendman

The September and October United Auto Workers (UAW) GM and Chrysler agreements are just the latest examples of union leadership surrender and betrayal. It's an ominous sign of labor's plight and clear indication of what's ahead - more for business, less for workers, and no relief in sight with union bosses out for themselves and more allied with business and imperial interests than their own rank and file.

American civilization and labor historian Paul Buhle sees organized labor today in a state of collapse, and labor author Robert Fitch says "American workers are like owners of a family car whose wheels fell off long ago. Each family member (must rely) on their own two feet; they scarcely remember what it was like being able to ride together." Who can dispute it with union membership down from its post-war 1950s high of 34.7% to the lowest private sector level in over 100 years at 7.4% today. In addition, inflation-adjusted wages are stagnant or falling, benefits are being slashed, and Fitch says conditions in the garment and meatpacking industries are as bad today as the ones muckrakers like Upton Sinclair exposed a century ago in his book "The Jungle."

He blames it on union corruption at the top in different forms - leaders on the take, siding with business, getting big salaries and fancy perks and more concerned with their own welfare than the interests of their members. Nothing on the horizon points to change with corrupted UAW leaders Exhibit A.

Back in June, the UAW reached an agreement with Delphi Corporation that signaled what would follow with the auto companies. Following months of negotiating, it allowed the company to impose pay cuts up to 50%, lay off thousands, and slash health and retirement benefits. It was a win for company and a crushing defeat for Delphi workers.

Then in July, UAW and the United Steelworkers reached an agreement with auto supplier Dana Corporation that allows the unions to take over managing worker long-term disability and retiree healthcare coverage. The deal is projected to save Dana over $100 million a year, eliminate $30 - $40 billion in long-term company liabilities, and it gives UAW leadership another chance for what it wanted for years - a VEBA (voluntary employee beneficiary association) agreement putting the union in the healthcare business for the big profit potential it represents. More on that below.

In the past, VEBAs proved costly to UAW workers. The union set one up with Detroit Diesel in 1993 that cost company retirees dearly when funds in it ran out in 2004. It happened again to Caterpillar retirees in 2005 who'll see their out-of-pocket costs triple by 2010, and the sky's the limit after that. As for Dana Corporation, it got more in the deal as well - the right to hire new workers at half the wages of current ones so older employees can be phased out and replaced with low-cost new ones.

The same UAW - company pattern is now in play at GM, Chrysler and Ford. GM workers struck September 24 and returned to work two days later after union negotiators agreed to huge concessions the company demanded and got without breaking a sweat. Workers accepted the proposal by a nearly two to one margin, but in doing it signed away their futures with a deal they'll live to regret. They traded shaky job security today for big contractual givebacks later. The pact affects 73,000 hourly workers at GM's 82 US facilities, and key to it is a VEBA agreement for the UAW henceforth to manage GM's 400,000 retirees' health benefits while letting the company off the hook for what it's been providing since 1964. The GM VEBA amounts to a multi-billion dollar trust fund that will transform the union into a major health care provider, and allow it to reap huge profits by cutting its own members' benefits.

For its part, GM is only obligated to contribute $35 billion of the $55 billion it owes retirees. But the deal is even sweeter than that. Health care costs are soaring, and the company's have risen by nearly half since 2003. It's clear what's ahead. The VEBA employee experience at Detroit Diesel and Caterpillar is coming to GM. When funds in it run out, the UAW will cut benefits and hike premiums and co-pays so union profits aren't affected. The agreement also lets GM divert pension fund money to the VEBA trust and allows for worker cost of living increases to go instead toward retiree health benefit expenses making the deal even worse.

Other terms agreed to in the contract include a two-tiered wage and benefit package. Under it, new skilled assembly-line workers will get $26 to $32 in hourly wages but less in benefits than current ones for a total compensation package of around $45 an hour compared to about $73 an hour for existing skilled workers. In addition, a new non-core worker group, comprising up to one-third of GM's workforce, will get around $27 an hour in wages and benefits. Both core and non-core employees will henceforth receive less in active-worker-health-care benefits with GM saving billions from the arrangement.

The company told Wall Street investors October 15 its 2007 labor costs will drop from $12.6 billion last year to $10.1 billion in 2007 (45% below 2003 wages and benefits paid) with "significant" further declines from 2008 to 2011. Further, GM estimates it will reduce its long-term healthcare obligation to workers by $47 billion and expects over the next four years to retire up to 75% of its current high-paid work force (earning $78.21 in wages and benefits) and replace many of them with low-paid non-core, non-assembly line new hires (costing $25.65 in combined wages and benefits).

Employee buyouts, early retirement offers and other downsizing efforts are coming that will let the company eliminate expensive workers and replace them with cheaper new ones. The contract runs four years and includes three lump-sum bonuses but no wage increases so annual cost of living adjustments won in 1948 are ended that over time will cost workers much more.

It's a dark new age for GM workers as well as for those at Chrysler and Ford. The days of Walter Reuther-type leadership are long gone. He led the UAW from 1946 until his death in 1970, grew the union to more than 1.5 million members, and over that time delivered for the rank and file like few other labor leaders ever did. He was a union reformer, shrewd bargainer, master strategist, champion of industrial democracy and worker rights and once said "If fighting for a more equal and equitable distribution of the wealth of this country is socialistic, I stand guilty of being a socialist." In fact, he was pro-capitalist, opposed forming a labor party and allied the UAW to the Democrat party and its imperialist agenda.

Nonetheless, he won sizable wage increases and a historic tying of them to living costs and productivity gains. He also got his membership paid vacations, employer-funded pensions, medical insurance with defined benefits, improved safety and health measures, and supplemental unemployment benefits that guaranteed members up to 95% of their pay if they were laid off. That's now lost today with UAW and other union bosses conspiring with business for their own self-interest at the expense of their members.

The UAW Chrysler betrayal was as cynical and self-serving as the GM deal. It was packaged around a staged six hour partial walkout of 37,000 of the company's 49,000 work force that was more theater than strike action and another defeat for UAW members unless they reject the agreement as some locals are doing in voting so far. Some local union leaders oppose it as well as the terms agreed to are even more draconian than at GM:

-- a new VEBA trust (only for current employees) with Chrysler contributing only $8.8 billion of its $18 billion long-term health care obligation to its 78,000 retirees; new hires will get no retirement health care benefits and will have to enroll in a new health care program that will increase deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses; current retirees for the first time will have to pay out-of-pocket expenses; savings to the company will exceed $300 million a year;

-- a two-tiered wage and benefit arrangement with new skilled hires getting as little as $14 an hour or half or less the current pay rate and well below the $19.62 average non-union wage in the manufacturing sector; the agreement lets the company expand the number of low-paid non-core workers as well as be able to designate "Non-Core Facilities" in which the entire workforce will get lower pay and benefits once current employees are phased out;

-- new health care concessions similar to what GM and Ford got in 2005 that require retirees to pay part of their rising health care premiums; current worker pension funds will be shifted to the VEBA;

-- the elimination of employer-paid pensions for new workers, replacing them with 401(k) plans in which the company will contribute one dollar to be invested in the stock market for every hour worked;

-- freedom for Chrysler's private equity firm owner, Cerberus Capital, to downsize and close as many of its plants as it wishes with early retirement offers and employee buyouts ahead so expensive current workers can be eliminated;

-- workers' wages will be frozen, and the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) benefit won in the two month 1970 GM strike is now lost;

-- more flexibility for the company to outsource jobs to non-UAW workers at lower pay and benefits; these will include so-called "housekeeping functions" like janitorial and trash handling, grounds keeping, machine and booth cleaning and others;

-- freedom for the company to expand the number of low-paid, low-benefit part-time workers as well as long-term temporary ones who can't gain seniority;

-- the company freed of any commitment to build vehicles at US assembly plants or guarantee the number of jobs at them plus other thus far unreported worker concessions.

The GM, Chrysler and upcoming Ford negotiations herald a new day for UAW workers in the wake of another crushing defeat affecting all working Americans. Gone are one million UAW jobs since 1978 (from 1.5 million to 520,000) along with hard-won gains that took decades to achieve. No longer do men like Walter Reuther represent workers. Today's UAW leadership betrayed its members trust for its own self-interest, and there's no relief in sight for change. Overall, organized labor is on its knees and Wall Street loves it. GM stock alone rose over 5% the day its deal was announced.

Looking ahead, there are no easy answers, just tough choices, and job one for working people is to join in solidarity for their own self-interest and survival. Past successes can be regained, but wishing won't make it so. A new political movement is needed based on social equity and justice with a new breed of leaders to head it. The odds for success are long, but the alternative is intolerable. That should be incentive enough to go for it.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMicroEffect.com Mondays at noon US central time.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Nobel Hypocrisy

Nobel Hypocrisy - by Stephen Lendman

Alfred Nobel was a wealthy nineteenth century Swedish-born chemist, engineer, inventor of dynamite, armaments manufacturer and war profiteer who remade his image late in life by establishing the awarding of prizes in his name that includes the one for peace. This most noted award was inspired by his one-time secretary and peace activist, Bertha von Suttner, who was nominated four times and became the first of only 12 women to be honored.

Since it was established in 1901, the Peace Prize was awarded to 95 individuals and 20 organizations. Some recipients were worthy like Martin Luther King, Jane Addams and Albert Schweitzer but too many were not including this year's honoree. Al Gore joins a long list of past "ignoble" recipients like warrior presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and supporter of rogue regimes Jimmy Carter. He's also among the likes of genocidists Henry Kissinger and three former Israeli prime ministers - Menachem Begin, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin - along with former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who never met a US-led war he didn't love and support. So much for promoting peace and what this award is supposed to signify. More on this below.

Almost anyone can be nominated for the prize and look who were but didn't get it - Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin and more recently George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Rush Limbaugh laughably. In contrast, one of the most notable symbols of non-violence in the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi, was nominated four times but never won. More recently, anti-war activist Kathy Kelly, co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness, now known as Voices for Creative Nonviolence, got three nominations but was passed over each time for less deserving candidates. Her "reward" instead was to be sentenced in 2004 to three months in federal prison for crossing the line into Fort Benning, Georgia in protest against the School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation that's commonly called "the school of assassins."

Peace Prize Awards to War Criminals

Henry Kissinger was likely the most noted war criminal ever to win the Nobel Prize (in 1973 with Vietnam's Le Duc Tho who declined his award saying there was no peace in his country). The sheer scope of his crimes is breathtaking:

-- three to four million Southeast Asian deaths in the Vietnam war,

-- the bloody overthrow of a democratic government in Chile and support for Latin American dictators,

-- backed Surharto's takeover of West Papua and his invasion of East Timor killing hundreds of thousands,

-- supported the Khmer Rouge early on and its reign of terror rise to power,

-- backed Pakistan's "delicacy and tact" in overthrowing Bangladesh's democratically elected government causing a half million deaths, and much more around the world as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State for Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the world body he represented won their award in 2001 "for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world." It wasn't for what Annan did in his various UN roles. Early on, he had a position in the Secretariat's services department in New York. He then got subordinate responsibility for the Middle East and Africa in the "special political affairs" department. There his support for Washington's call for troops to be sent to Somalia in the early 1990s helped put him in charge of all peacekeeping operations in February, 1993. In that role, he prevented measures from being taken to stop the impending Rwanda slaughter he was warned about in advance that caused around 800,000 deaths on his watch. He also kept the Security Council uninformed of what was coming.

At the behest of then UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright and without consulting Secretary-General Boutras-Boutras-Ghali, Annan sided with the Clinton administration's authorization of NATO to illegally bomb Serb positions in Bosnia in 1995. It got him the Secretary-General's job in January, 1997 in which one observer noted he "courted the wrath of the developing world by rejecting anticolonialism in favor of moral principles cherished in the West."

Kofi Annan's Nobel award is a testimony to hypocrisy for a man whose ten years as Secretary-General failed to fulfill the mandate he was sworn to uphold: "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war; to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights; to establish conditions (promoting) justice....equal rights of men and women (in all nations and respect for) international law (and) social progress....to ensure....armed force shall not be used."

During his ten year tenure in the top UN job, Annan:

-- supported Iraqi economic sanctions that caused around 1.5 million deaths including over one million children under age five;

-- backed the Bush administration's illegal 2003 Iraq invasion and occupation that's now taken an additional 1.2 million or more lives;

-- supported the illegal Afghanistan war and occupation;

-- remained mute on the possibility of a wider war with Iran even if it includes first strike nuclear weapons;

-- made no efforts to work for peace in the Middle East including in Occupied Palestine nor did he denounce Israel's 2006 war of aggression against Lebanon;

-- remained loyal to the West and ignored the plight of his own people throughout the African continent including the immiseration of South African blacks post-apartheid;

-- allowed thuggish paramilitary Blue Helmets to occupy Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sudan. More on UN peacekeeping below.

Kofi Annan's sole achievement was his uncompromising complicity with the Clinton and Bush administrations' worst crimes of war and against humanity. His loyalty earned him the Nobel award that signified nothing to do with peace he disdained.

UN Peacekeeping Forces got the Nobel award in 1988 for missions the UN defines as "a way to help countries torn by conflict create conditions for sustainable peace." Blue Helmets supposedly are sent to conflict and post-conflict areas to perform multiple services that include as top priority restoring order, maintaining peace and security and providing for the needs of people during transitional periods until local governments can take over on their own.

Most often, Blue Helmets end up creating more conflict than resolution and function mainly as unwanted paramilitary enforcers or occupiers. At other times, they become counterproductive or ineffective and end up doing more harm than good. Since 1948, over five dozen peacekeeping operations have been undertaken. Most were dismal failures including the first ever UNTSO mission during Israel's so-called "War of Independence." The operation is still ongoing after nearly 50 years, peace was never achieved, Blue Helmets are there but play no active role, and the world community is silent in the face of Israeli crimes of war and against humanity.

The same condition is true in Haiti where for the first time in UN history MINUSTAH peacekeepers were deployed to enforce a coup d'etat against a democratically-elected president. They disdain peace and stability and function instead as paramilitary occupiers indiscriminately terrorizing and killing unarmed civilians in service to Western capital.

Three former Israeli prime ministers also got Nobel Peace Prizes - Menachem Begin in 1978 and Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in 1994. All three men committed crimes of war and against humanity as did all other Israeli prime ministers since David Ben-Gurion took office May 14, 1948 after the new State of Israel declared it independence as an exclusive Jewish state. Nonetheless, the Nobel Committee awarded them its highest honor for furthering the cause of peace they disdained by using their position to inflict on the Palestinian people what Edward Said once said was Israel's "refined viciousness." Menachem Begin was a particularly virulent racist and Arab hater calling Palestinians "two-legged beasts" and saying Jews were the "Master Race" and "divine gods on this planet."

Then there's the current Nobel Peace Prize honoree, Al Gore. CounterPunchers Alex Cockburn and Jeff St. Clair wrote the book on him in 2000 titled "Al Gore: A User's Manual." It's a critical account of a "man whom his parents raised from birth to be president of the United States" and who always put politics over principle. He built his credentials for the high office around pro-business, pro-war, anti-union and phony environmental advocacy as no friend of the earth then so who can believe he's one now.

His 1992 book "Earth in the Balance" was more theater than advocacy. In it, he assessed the forces of planetary destruction that included air and water pollution, soil erosion, deforestation, overpopulation, ozone depletion and global warming. He highlighted the impact of auto emissions and need to phase out the internal combustion engine but made no effort in office to do it.

Then as vice-president he used his "green credentials" to sell the pro-business, anti-worker, anti-environmental NAFTA to the environmental movement. He also supported clear-cutting logging practices including in old-growth areas. He ignored an assessment that this practice risked the extinction of hundreds of species. He backed a 1995 spending bill "salvage logging rider" that opened millions of National Forest lands to logging and exempted sales of the harvest from environmental laws and judicial review for two years. He and Clinton further allowed South Florida's sugar barons to devastate thousands of Everglades acres and gave away consumer Delaney Clause protection that kept carcinogens out of our food supply.

Throughout his political life, Gore supported Big Oil and was tied to Occidental Petroleum Company and its "ruthless tycoon" chief, Armand Hammer. In return for supporting company interests, he got political favors and patronage from Hammer and his successor, Ray Irani who was a major DNC contributor and got to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom as a bonus reward. He's also been a shill for the nuclear industry that won't solve or even alleviate global warming and the threat it poses according to nuclear expert Helen Caldicott. Commercial reactors discharge huge amounts of greenhouse gases along with hundreds of thousands of curies of deadly radioactive gases and other radioactive elements besides being sitting ducks for retaliatory terror attacks experts believe will eventually happen.

Earlier in the House (1977 - 1985) and Senate (1985 - 1993) and as vice-president Gore also shilled for the Pentagon and defense contractors. He "played midwife to the MX missile," opposed efforts to cut defense spending, and backed the Reagan administration's Grenada invasion and Central American wars. He partnered with Clinton's Balkan wars in the 1990s that destroyed Yugoslavia so NATO could expand into Central and Eastern Europe for its markets, resources and cheap, exploitable labor. In Kosovo, he collaborated with Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) paramilitary thugs against Serbia and ignored their connection to organized crime. He earlier traded his vote for the Gulf war for prime time coverage of his speech.

He then backed ousting Saddam by coup or any other means and supported the most comprehensive genocidal sanctions ever imposed on a country that killed a likely 1.5 million or more Iraqis including over one million children under age five.

Cockburn and St. Clair fill in more blanks about a political opportunist who supported Big Tobacco, "exploited his sister's death and son's (near-fatal) accident for....political advantage; became a soul brother of Newt Gingrich; race-baited Jesse Jackson; pushed Clinton into destroying the New Deal; plotted to stop Democrats from recapturing Congress in 1996" so "his rival Dick Gephard" wouldn't become Speaker; "leached campaign cash from nearly every corporate lobbyist" in town, and, as already covered, lied about being a friend of the earth by disdaining environmentalism through his actions.

Does this man deserve a Nobel Peace Prize (let alone to be president) along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change." The Nobel Committee ignored Gore's environmental record and went on to say "for a long time (he's) been one of the world's leading environmental politicians (through) his strong commitment, reflected in political activity, (that) strengthened the struggle against climate change." Contrary to his easily accessed public record, not his posturing, The Nobel Committee blindly added "He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted."

In point of fact, throughout his political life, Gore's actions betrayed the public's trust and still do. He and his wife live in two large energy-consuming homes: a 10,000 square foot, eight bedroom one in Nashville and a 4000 square foot one in Arlington, VA. The Gores also own a third home in Carthage, TN. In both Washington and Nashville, utility companies offer a wind energy green alternative to customers for a small per kilowatt hour premium. Gore can easily afford it, but public records show no evidence he's does it in either residence. Alex Cockburn gets the last word on a man who shills for privilege, has plenty for himself, and like George Bush disdains the public interest: "Al Gore distills in his single person the disrepair of liberalism in America today, and almost every unalluring feature of the Democratic Party" that's mostly indistinguishable from the other side of the aisle in a city where the criminal class is bipartisan.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMicroEffect.com Mondays at noon US central time.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Promised Social Change in Ecuador

Promised Social Change in Ecuador - by Stephen Lendman

Raphael Correa was elected Ecuador's president last November and took office January 15 promising social change. He's the country's eighth president in the last decade including three previous ones driven from office by mass street protest opposition against their misrule and public neglect. Correa must now deliver and just got a boost from his governing Movimiento Alianza Pais' landslide Constituent Assembly election victory to rewrite the nation's constitution for the 177th time in Ecuador's history hoping to get it right this time. Awaiting a final tabulation of results, it appears Correa supporters got around 70% of the vote winning 80 of the 130 Assembly seats. That's a comfortable majority to push through change, but doing it won't be easy, and Correa's commitment has yet to be tested.

Longtime Latin American expert James Petras writes "Ecuador today faces great opportunities for a basic social transformation and also grave threats from imperial networks" the way states in the region always do. He notes how in recent years mobilized urban and rural popular classes ousted neoliberal regimes only to see them resurface under so-called left-center leaders (who are neither left nor center) like Lula in Brazil, Kirchner in Argentina, Morales in Bolivia, Vasquez in Uruguay and others. Even Hugo Chavez governs from the "pragmatic left." He combines grassroots participatory democracy and redistributive social policies with support for business interests but on a more equitable basis than under previous Venezuelan leaders.

Petras quotes a Forbes magazine editor's comment on former Mexican president Luis Echeverria (1970 - 1976) that's very revealing and explains Correa's challenge - "He talks to the Left and works for the Right." That's pretty common in Latin America today, and Brazil stands out as Exhibit A under former Workers' Party co-founder and the country's current president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2002 to present).

Lula promised social change, but delivered betrayal. Even before being elected, he signed a letter of understanding with the IMF promising no change and business as usual. He agreed to full debt service and repayment terms as well as to back economic stability and neoliberal policies. He didn't disappoint.

Once elected with a clear majority, he cut public employee pensions 30%; his agrarian policy subsidized agribusiness; his promise of land redistribution to the Landless Workers Movement (MST) was broken; spending for health and education was cut; employer rights to fire workers and cut severance pay were supported; extended privatizations of state-owned companies were backed; thuggish troops occupied Haiti; and right-wing bankers, corporate executives and free-marketeers were appointed economic ministers and central bankers. Petras sums up his record saying: "Lula fits the profile of a right-wing neoliberal politician," not a "center-leftist" one.

Current Argentina president Nestor Carlos Kirchner is Exhibit B (in office from 2003 to the present with an October 28 presidential election ahead and the president's wife ahead in the polls to win it). Petras notes how compared to Lula, he seems progressive. He cut unemployment from 20 to 15%, raised pensions and wages, renegotiated part of the country's foreign debt and rescinded immunity for military torturers although with little to show for it.

In sharp contrast, "fraudulent privatizations" in Argentina's key industrial areas weren't reversed; inequalities remained the same or increased in some sectors; poverty levels are still almost 30%; 10% inflation diluted nominal earnings gains; the socio-economic power structure stayed the same; Argentina's thuggish troops occupy Haiti; its central bankers and economic ministers are hard right; debt service was placed above health and education spending; and unfettered capitalism was supported following the 2001 economic collapse and subsequent uprisings. Petras calls Kirchner a "pragmatic conservative willing to dissent from the US when it" serves Argentina's business interests. As for being a social democrat? Forget it.

Bolivia's president and first ever indigenous head of state (2006 to present), Juan Evo Morales Ayma, is Exhibit C, and along with Lula, the greatest disappointment. Petras cites his government as "the most striking example of (a) 'center-left' regime" to betray its supporters and embrace neoliberalim once in office. Mass uprisings ousted two earlier presidents who defended foreign investor natural resources ownership, and Bolivians elected Morales to do what they didn't. Instead, he rejected oil and gas expropriation, supports Big Oil interests, and embraced business as usual policies. Under nationalizations Morales-style, current contractual arrangements are effectively intact, and the country's mineral resources have been sold off to the greatest ever number of foreign investors.

In addition, Morales broke his promise to triple the painfully low minimum wage, increased it 10% instead, and maintained previous neoliberal fiscal austerity and economic stability policies. He also tolerates the US Drug Enforcement Agency's intrusive presence and the Pentagon's Chapare military base; appointed hard right economic, defense and other ministers; opposed agrarian reform; supports large landowners; provides them large subsidies and tax incentives; and backs the Confederation of Private Businessmen in Bolivia by promoting foreign investment, social spending cuts, prioritization of exports, and other pro-business policies above the interests of the people who elected him. Petras says Morales "excels in public theater" by combining "political demagogy" to his base while backing neoliberal IMF austerity and business-friendly policies.

Here's a sample of the former from Morales' September 24 UN General Assembly speech when he said: "....each day we are destroying the future of humanity. (We must) pinpoint who our enemies are (and the) damage (they do) that may put an end to humanity....I think that capitalism is the worst enemy of humanity and if we do not change the model, change the system (our efforts here) will be totally in vain....Capitalism has twins, the market and war....This is why (we must) change economic models....particularly in the western world." It's lovely rhetoric from a man who, in fact, embraces the model he denounces.

He symbolizes the fantasy of "new winds from the Left" sweeping the region, but too many others do as well in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and all of Central America including Costa Rica. There, a US intimidation campaign narrowly got DR-CAFTA passed in an October 7 national referendum that still awaits a recount before confirming what pre-referendum polls predicted would go the other way.

That aside, there's strong support for the left throughout Latin America that eventually may bubble up into change. It's too early to know for sure where Correa stands, but his commitment will soon be fully tested. Here's what he's up against.

US regional dominance is still strong, and thinking otherwise is misguided. It's not like in the 1990s "Golden Age of Pillage," but it's still able to keep business flourishing, including in Venezuela where it's booming. Nonetheless, a new generation of committed leftist leaders are emerging with Correa yet to prove he's one of them and may in the end disappoint.

His chance to prove otherwise is coming, and he won it convincingly with a 54% second round presidential electoral victory. It was followed by an overwhelming 82% referendum majority to convoke a Constituent Assembly to draft a new socially progressive constitution. Correa says it will be based on "principles not models (and) every country must decide according to its own different realities." The Assembly will convene the end of October to begin its work with a long struggle ahead to complete it. It hopes to finish in six months, but its mandate allows more time if it's needed.

Correa wants the constitution to "facilitate" foreign investment (especially in banking) "to force competition." He's against monopolies, traditional oligarchic power, and the one-sided big media opposition to his government. He's also renegotiating the country's debt, is assessing its legitimacy, wants a constitutional limit on its repayment, and intends to keep the dollar the official currency with eventual plans to abandon it. In addition, he favors ending the central bank's autonomy, joined the Bank of the South (to be officially founded November 3 and headquartered in Caracas), expelled the World Bank's representative in April, is ending relations with the IMF, and aims to transform the current neoliberal system into one that will aid "the recovery of the government's planning capacity (and be a) beginning of the concept of a solidarity system."

Correa's close economic adviser and leading September 30 vote getter, Alberto Acosta, said the nation's "economy should be based on human beings" and that capital, investment, the profit motive motive and workings of the state should be subordinate to human needs. If Correa supports that view and will back it fully, he's off to a good start. It's too soon to tell but early signs are promising.

He talks the talk and is starting to prove it. He promised social democratic change and a "citizens' revolution" and said he'll use the country's oil revenues for the people with a positive step already taken. On October 4, he signed a decree increasing Ecuador's share of windfall foreign oil company profits from 50 to 99% while committing to honor existing contracts. Announcing the move, Correa said: "No more plundering, no more surrender, no more waste. (Ecuador's oil) now belongs to all Ecuadoreans" with revenues from it earmarked for social welfare and infrastructure.

Correa also indicated after a new constitution is drafted and approved by referendum, he'll call for new elections for president, vice-president and Congress. The current legislature has no Correa party representatives in it, but he hopes overwhelming popular support will change that. The sitting Congress, according to Correa "must be tossed back into the street," but that's for the people to decide. Democracy, however, isn't just about elections. It's about what happens afterwards, and that's for Correa, the Constituent Assembly and a newly elected Congress to decide.

The September 30 victory was Correa's third triumph in nine months, and he hailed it saying the "Ecuadorean people have won the mother of all battles. (It was) an unquestionable victory." Earlier he echoed Hugo Chavez's call for a "new socialism of the twenty-first century (and that Ecuador must end) the perverse (neoliberal) system that has destroyed our democracy, our economy, our society." He won't have long to back that rhetoric with action, but doing it won't be easy.

The long shadow of Washington haunts the region, and its influence pressures and subverts change from the left. At the same time, countries like Ecuador face conflicting interests - maintaining the status quo from the right and demands for real change from below through redistributive social policies and nationalizing strategic sectors like oil, gas, banks and land.

Petras is hopeful "decay and profound disintegration of all the traditional parties opens the way for (progressive) new political forces." He sees an "historical opening" and opportunity for change through an "alliance of trade unionists, Indian militants, movement leaders and ecologists" in the newly formed Polo Democratico (PD). Its agenda calls for a "total rupture (and) transformation of the Constituent Assembly into the legislative arm of the peoples' movement." Its aim is bold and revolutionary - to establish "popular sovereignty" that places basic resources like oil and gas under "popular self-management" and out of the hands of local oligarchs and exploitive foreign capital. It's a national liberation struggle to defeat imperialism and savage capitalism and return power to the people. Now it's for Correa and his coalition to prove they're up to the challenge. So far at least, it looks like they'll try.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMicroEffect.com now moved to Mondays at noon US central time.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Reviewing James Petras' "Rulers and Ruled in the US Empire"

Reviewing James Petras' "Rulers and Ruled in the US Empire" - by Stephen Lendman

James Petras is Binghamton University, New York Professor Emeritus of Sociology whose credentials and achievements are long and impressive. He's a noted academic figure on the left, a well-respected Latin American expert, and a longtime chronicler of the region's popular struggles as well as being an advisor to the landless workers (MST) in Brazil and unemployed workers in Argentina. Petras is also a prolific author. He's written hundreds of articles and 63 books (and counting), published in 29 languages, including his latest one and subject of this review - "Rulers and Ruled in the US Empire."

The book is information rich on a core issue of our time. It discusses the US empire's "systemic dimensions," evolving changes in its ruling class, its corporatist system, myths about its coming collapse, contradictions in the current debate on immigration and market liberalization policies, the use of force and genocidal carnage, corruption as a market penetrating tool, the Israeli Lobby's power and influence, Latin American relations and events in the region, social and armed resistance, and much more in four power-packed parts under 17 subject chapter headings.

It's all covered below giving readers a detailed sampling of Petras' thoroughly documented, powerful and insightful account of his subject - who rules America, who's ruled, the US imperial role in the world economy and politics, and challenges to it in China, Latin America and the Middle East. This is another must-read book by a distinguished intellect and major figure on the left who writes dozens of them. This is his latest.

Part I: The US Empire As A System

Petras distinguishes between who sets policies and rules America and whose interests are served. He defines the ruling class as "people in key positions in financial, corporate and other business institutions" with rules "established, modified and adjusted" as the composition and "shifts in power" within the ruling class change over time. One example is manufacuring's decline (from outsourcing to low cost countries) as a "multidimensional financial sector" (finance capital) rose in prominence with Wall Street's influence especially dominant.

Petras defines "finance capital" to include investment banks, pension funds, hedge funds, saving and loan banks, investment funds and many other "operative managers" of a multi-trillion dollar economy they've all benefitted hugely from. They've been the driving force powering real estate and financial markets speculation, agribusiness, commodity production and manufacturing. Petras calls "finance capital" the "midwife" of wealth and capital as well as a "direct owner of the means of production and distribution."

He stratifies it into three sub-groups from top to bottom in importance: big private equity bankers and hedge fund managers, Wall street executives, and senior officials of private and Wall Street public equity funds as well as major figures in top law and accounting firms. Political leaders are drawn from their ranks with Wall Street in the lead and one firm in particular standing out - Goldman Sachs. Today, its former CEO Henry Paulson is the de facto US economic czar in charge of proving doomsayers wrong about the US economy with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's money creation power partnered with him. Both of them must also navigate around the powerful Israeli Lobby and its pro-war agenda that could lead to catastrophic consequences if the US and/or Israel attack Iran and the Middle East explodes and disrupts oil flows.

Petras sees an inevitable split between wealth-first financial ruling class objectives and militarists in the Bush administration, their counterparts in Israel, and the Lobby representing Israeli interests with a stranglehold on most of Congress. The battle lines shape up over Israeli Middle East dominance at the cost of imperial overreach, an escalating trade deficit, a ballooning national debt, decreasing capital inflows to offset it, and a declining dollar as other nations move to euros, yen and pounds sterling. Something has to give, says Petras, as both sides support opposing agendas that only a crisis-provoking widespread backlash may resolve.

For now, however, things couldn't be better for the ruling class (despite their disrupted plans in Iraq and Afghanistan) with the top 2% of adults in the world owning half its wealth, the top 10% with 85% of it, and the bottom half with just 1%. The result is an unprecedented wealth disparity with corporate CEO's on average earning over 400 times the median income of wage and salaried workers, and for top-earning speculators and hedge fund managers the ratio is 1000 to one with some having incomes topping a billion dollars a year. In addition, corporate wealth was at a record 43% of 2005 national income accruing to profits, rents and other non-wage/salary sources compared to a declining percentage of it to individuals, except for those at the top gaining hugely.

Petras states: "The growth of monstrous and rigid class inequalities reflects the narrow social base of an economy dominated by finance capital" with the US redistributing far less to its people than other developed nations like those in Western Europe. Democrats are as culpable as Republicans with both parties tied to big monied interests through campaign funding and the power of lobbies. It makes everyone in the political power structure unwilling to change things so they don't. The result is working Americans suffer hugely while those at the top never had it so good. It signals warnings of a potential worker backlash ahead that for now have gone unheeded. Elitists ignore it at their peril, so far without negative consequences to their dominance, but watch out.

Capitalism or US Workers in Crisis?

Petras notes how for years many on the left and some in the financial community have been predicting the "coming collapse, decline or demise of capitalism" as though (for some) wishing would make it so. They're still predicting, but it hasn't happened, and Petras explains why not. It's because business and government partnered (especially since the 1980s) to let workers take the pain so business could gain and prosper. It's done it hugely and continues to despite the resurgent summer doomsday predictions still ongoing.

In a letter to clients, noted investment manager Jeremy Grantham explained why business is resilient by comparing the global financial system (with its US anchor) to a giant suspension bridge. Thousands of bolts hold it together, so when some of them fail, even a lot of them, it's not enough to bring it down. Short of "broad-based....financial metal fatigue," even more bolts may fail, but he's betting the bridge will hold, supported by amazing "animal spirits," at least for now.

Grantham is likely right in the near term, while Petras takes a longer view, and his arguments are compelling. He sees labor today in crisis with living standards declining the result of reduced or eliminated business benefits, government services and stagnating wages. He also lists popular myths predicting doom ahead - the growing budget and current account deficits; ballooning national debt; excess speculation; weakening dollar; high energy costs; outsourcing of jobs at all levels, and more. Petras maintains these problems aren't as serious as claimed because:

-- budget deficits declined in 2006 as tax revenues rose from high-end earners' greater income at the expense of labor getting less;

-- foreign investment in the US remains high;

-- the dollar remains the world's reserve currency; over time, it weakens and strengthens based on interest rates, political events, and the overall level of economic activity; nonetheless, the dollar weakened considerably after the Fed cut interest rates and depreciated to an all-time low against a basket of six of its major peer currencies that include the euro, pound and yen; in addition, the New York Board of Trade index hit its weakest level since it came out in 1973, and the same is true for the Fed's trade-weighted dollar index since its creation in 1971; what's ahead? Likely more of the same until everyone believes the dollar is dead; then, watch out;

-- a decade-long trade deficit hasn't caused apocalypse;

-- strong economic underpinnings (Grantham's giant suspension bridge) offset excess speculation, and workers, not capital, take the pain;

-- high energy profits overseas are recycled back into dollar-based investments and have been for years although countries like Iran, Venezuela and others are moving away from the dollar at least for now;

-- the potential of new technologies is underestimated;

-- corporate profits have had their longest ever run of double-digit gains; the number of millionaires and billionaires is growing; the rich are becoming super-rich; and the beneficiaries are largely in North America, Western Europe (plus Russia) and Asia.

Petras concludes that as long as worker exploitation continues, the fundamental law of "casino capitalism" applies - the house never loses, or in this case the neighborhood (of developed nations) with some in it doing better than others and the US their anchor. The weakness of US labor and its history of overpaid, underperforming, corrupted leaders explains why with only 7.4% today in the private sector organized compared to 34.7% in the 1950s. Unless new social and political movements surface under activist leaders, Marx's "dirty secret" and Adam Smith's "vile maxim of the masters of mankind" will continue proving "the wealth of all nations" depends on the rich taking it "all for ourselves and (leaving) nothing for" the working class.

Market Liberalization and Forced Emigration

Migration and so-called illegal immigrants make headlines but never the reasons why that are two-fold: fleeing political strife (as in Iraq) or for economic reasons that the imperial globalized market system causes horrifically. The latter forces millions of Mexicans el norte because of NAFTA. Its disastrous effects on their lives leaves them no choice - emigrate or perish.

Petras explains when protective trade barriers come down, millions of small farmers and entrepreneurs are no match for the power of subsidized agribusiness, big manufacturers and corporate service providers. They're displaced when their livelihoods are lost, and that creates a huge surplus army of labor on the move and an opportunity for business to exploit for profit. It affects all skill types and levels (farm workers to computer specialists to doctors), undermines unions, and allows management to replace higher-paid US workers with low-wage immigrants at their mercy and getting little. Pay is kept low, benefits few or none, working conditions unsafe, unions weakened, and dare complain and be sent home.

Petras notes that as imperial power grows, "the massive movement of dislocated workers toward the imperial center multiplies," and there's no end in sight nor will there be as long as highly exploitative sectors like agriculture, construction and low-end manufacturing and services thrive on it. Workers lose and so do "sender" countries. They bore the costs of raising, educating, training and providing services for millions with "receiver" nations getting the benefits. It amounts to multi-billions in the form of critically needed skilled areas lost that include professionals like doctors, nurses, teachers and others. This won't ever change unless worker movements unite against it.

Empire-Building and Corruption

Petras notes how empire-building "is the driving force of the US economy (especially post-9/11)," corruption a key corporate predator tool to re-divide the world, and nations with the greatest firepower get the choicest slices. Business profit growth depends on exploiting overseas opportunities for their resources, markets and cheap reserve armies of labor with four so-called "BRIC" countries especially targeted:

-- China for its cheap labor and opportunities in finance, insurance and real estate;

-- India for its low cost information technology services;

-- Brazil for its high interest rates that hit 19.5%, were then greatly cut, but are still around 11%; and

-- Russia for its high profit oil and gas reserves, transport and luxury goods markets with booming opportunities in real estate once political leaders are bought off in a country rife with corruption as is China.

Petras notes that today over half the top 500 transnational corporations earn most of their profits overseas, and for many it's 75% of it. This trend will continue, he says, as these companies shift most of their operations abroad for greater cost savings. In addition, "political corruption, not economic efficiency, is the driving force of economic empire-building (with) the scale and scope of Western pillage of the East....unprecedented in recent world history." It's from business-friendly legislation on low wages, pensions, job tenure, land use, worker safety and health, all designed for maximum profit. Political leaders are bought off to get state-owned businesses privatized, markets deregulated, wages kept low, with a huge reserve army of exploitable labor the payoff for "the US Imperial System."

Hierarchy of Empire and Use of Force

Petras explains the US imperial system in terms of its "hierarchy of empire" rankings. Imperial powers top it (the US, EU and Japan) followed by emerging powers (China, Russia, India), semi-autonomous client regimes (Brazil, South Korea, South Africa), and collaborator regimes on the bottom (Egypt, Mexico, Colombia). Then come independent "revolutionary" (social democratic) states like Venezuela and nationalist ones like Iran as well as "contested terrain and regimes in transition (Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Palestine)." Client regimes provide "a crucial link in sustaining imperial powers" by allowing them to project and extend their state and market reach.

One "anomaly" in the hierarchy is Israel. It's a colonialist and nuclear power and world's fourth largest military power and arms exporter that's breathtaking for a country of 7.1 million and 5.4 million Jews. It's influence over US Middle East policy, however, inordinately outweighs its size with Iraq exhibit A and Iran moving up fast. More on this below.

Petras notes the constant flux within the imperial system the result of wars, national struggles and economic crises. They bring down regimes and elevate others with examples like Russia, the Eastern European states, South Africa and Venezuela. It shows "no singular omnipotent imperial state....unilaterally defines the international or....imperial system (that in the case of the US) proved incapable of....defeating popular....resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Even in Somalia, a US proxy war is in trouble, but it's too early to predict the outcome. The easy 2006 overthrow of the popular Islamic Courts Union (ICU) put an unsupported warlord regime in charge (that plundered the country from 1991 - 2005) with predictable results - strong resistance against the US puppet regime and its deeply corrupted Transitional Federal Government (TFG) "president," Abdullahi Yusuf.

Washington backed a hated regime and an equally detested Ethiopian government that's been "prop(ping) up its Somali puppet" with a lift from US-supported force. Earlier in 1993-94, the Clinton administration's intervention failed. It spawned mass opposition, took thousands of Somali lives in retaliation, and ended in defeat and a humiliating US pullout. That may repeat despite Washington's establishing an African Command (AFRICOM) to solidify its hold on the continent and its strategically important Horn. So far, it's very much up for grabs with US presence in the region unwelcome and greatly destabilizing. The "empire" never learns, so it's on to the next target that looks like Iran. More on that below.

Imperialism and Genocide

Petras explains how Korea, Vietnam and other wars hid their true cost in lives, devastation and human wreckage. It's the way of all empires sweeping over populations like crabgrass. It becomes "an accelerating predisposition to genocides to accomplish political aims," and in an age of "shock and awe," it can come with "awesome" speed. An example is from the latest O.R.B. British polling data reporting 1.2 million Iraqi deaths since March, 2003 alone plus another 1.5 million up to that date. The true toll may be even higher with huge uncounted numbers of daily violent and non-violent deaths that one estimate by Gideon Polya places at 3.9 million from 1990 to the present. No one knows for sure, and his estimate may be as good as any other. All of them are horrific.

Petras notes the "quantity" of killings elsewhere - six million Jews and 20 million Soviet civilians in WW II as well as 10 million Chinese civilians in Asia. He explains genocide as policy from a "state (promoted) racialist-exterminationist ideology (as well as from) an historical antipathy of one culture to another." This allows ruling classes to legitimize their ideology and achieve "uncontested dominance" and ability to economically exploit domestic and overseas markets. An omelet requires breaking eggs. Mass human slaughter is the frequent fallout from consolidating empires with living beings having no more worth than egg shells.

Genocides also result from revolutionary challenges to unpopular puppet rulers with Korea, Indo-China and Iraq Exhibits A, B, and C. Up to eight million perished in Asia, and three (or maybe four) million could be reached in Iraq in 2008 at the present pace. There's no end to it in sight with billions funding it, and no reporting on the carnage in the mainstream.

Petras reviews examples of imperialism becoming genocide with the Reagan administration alone responsible for its share. It committed multiple proxy genocides in Africa, Afghanistan and Central America, but you'd never know it from reports at the time about a president being prepped for Mount Rushmore with a spot for George Bush beside him until Iraq got him in trouble.

Another unreported genocide is Israel's six decade-long crusade against the Palestinians with predicable results. It caused many thousands of deaths, mass population displacement, and excessive use of detentions and torture to deny a people freedom and justice in their own land. The policy continues because Israel has a powerful ally in Washington and an even more influential Lobby working on its behalf. More on that below.

Petras notes genocides are "repeated, common practices," impunity for committing them the norm, and no effective international order is in place to stop them. Victors justice prevails so victims face kangaroo tribunals like the ICTY for Yugoslavia and the equally corrupted one for Iraq. Genocides will only end when imperial powers are defeated and their leaders held to account for their crimes, but that goal is nowhere in sight.

The Global Billionaire Ruling Class

The number of world billionaires reached 946 in March, 2007, they have an estimated combined wealth of $3.5 trillion, and over half of them are in three countries - 415 in the US, 55 in Germany and 53 in Russia where never did so many people lose more so a handful of others could gain so hugely in so short a time. India ranks high as well with 36 billionaires with China next in the region at 20. The number of millionaires exploded as well with close to 10 million in 2007, and in 2006 their numbers grew by an estimated 8.3%.

Balzac was right saying behind every great fortune is a crime (and most often a small fortune as seed money) but likely nowhere more rapaciously than in Russia. Petras notes "Without exception, the transfers of (state) property were achieved through gangster tactics - assassinations, massive theft, and seizure of state resources, illicit stock manipulation and buyouts." They strip mined over a trillion dollars of Russia's wealth into private predatory hands who, in turn, stuffed them in offshore accounts. It happens everywhere with the US exhibit A. The Rockefellers, Morgans, Fords and Carnegie's didn't amass wealth by being neighborly or nice. They got it the old-fashioned way - by strong-arming and stealing.

In developing countries, it came faster under Washington Consensus rules favoring capital over people with billionaires coming out on top. Latin America has 38 of them, mostly in Brazil (with 30) and Mexico (with industrialist Carlos Slim Helu now the world's third richest man). These "two countries.... privatized the most lucrative, efficient and largest public monopolies," and benefitted hugely from regressive taxes, tax exemptions, deregulation, big subsidies, and the ability to hike prices and make vital services unaffordable to millions who can't pay for them.

"How to become a billionaire," Petras asked. No need for an MBA or market savvy when the "interface of politics (aka friends in high places) and economics" works much better. The road to super-riches came from privatized state assets that began with bloody military coups in Latin America. In countries like Chile, Colombia and Argentina, results were always the same - great riches at the top, stagnant economies, vast poverty, high unemployment, two-thirds of the region's population with "inadequate living standards," and the long shadow of US involvement backing military dictators, business elites, and neoliberal politicians to assure lucrative ties to corporate interests in America. More on this below.

Part II - The Power of Israel and Its Lobby in the US

Petras covered how the Israeli Lobby defeated the Jim Baker Iraq Study Group's (ISG) proposal released December 6, 2006. Its alternative US Middle East agenda lost out to the Israeli Lobby's influence on Congress, a massive supportive propaganda campaign in the major media, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert being as able to "have the US president under our control" as Ariel Sharon once boasted.

For a time it looked like the ISG plan would prevail with top Bush advisors recommending dialogue with Iran; high-ranking military, active and retired, wanting a phased withdrawal for a failed effort; and the Army, Navy and Marine Corps weekly publications wanting Defense Secretary Rumsfeld sacked shortly before he resigned. Even Big Oil interests backed Baker because stable conditions favor business more than conflict (at least to pump oil), and that won't happen without a change of course now off the table.

Iran wants rapprochement as well but not on the usual US terms - making demands and offering nothing in return. Iran's objectives are simple and reasonable - normalized relations and an end to Washington's confrontational stance and military threats. They're off the table because the "Israel-First power structure (Lobby-Congress-Mass Media-Democratic Party Donors)" reject them. Syria is just as compliant, but its overtures are also rebuffed for the same reason.

Petras explained that AIPAC wants war with Iran as its top priority objective. In addition, the publications, conferences and press releases of the Conference of Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations (CPMAJO) asked their members "to go all-out to fund and back candidates (mostly Democrats) who supported Israel's military solution to Iran's nuclear enrichment program" even though IAEA agrees it's in total compliance with Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty rules while Israel violates them with impunity.

In the end, Prime Minister Olmert co-opted George Bush, got him to reject the ISG proposal and ally with Israel's aim to solidify its Middle East dominance by removing a non-existent Iranian threat with Syria also targeted. In many respects, this flies in the face of logic as many influential US figures know. Petras believes Iran is a key interlocutor for a Middle East settlement that might let Washington retain its strategic Arab allies. Tehran is willing to cooperate but not when its government is lumped with Al-Queda, the Taliban and Iraqi resistance and is being threatened with war. That's the current condition with renewed Bush administration efforts to prep the public to accept more of it if it comes.

Hamas also has been conciliatory. Its leaders made two peace proposals as a show of good faith, is willing to recognize Israel if Palestinians get justice, pledged a cease-fire in the face of Israeli attacks, and was rebuffed with rejection and an Israeli blockade of Gaza along with frequent hostile incursions. Conflicts rage in Iraq and occupied Palestine, more war threatens in Iran, and the road to peace in the region runs through Jerusalem providing Washington concurs. But it's not possible, in Petras' judgment, unless foreign military bases are closed, there's public control or nationalization of the region's resources, and Israel ends its colonial occupation of Palestine. So far, those objectives are nowhere in sight.

The Lobby and Media on Lebanon

In Petras' powerful 2006 book, "The Power of Israel in the United States," he documented how this power derives from a vast pro-Israel Lobby in the country supporting all aspects of its agenda. It's position is firm - "Israel is always right, Arabs and Muslims are a threat to peace," and the US should unconditionally support Israel across the board. In Petras' view, that's the main reason why the Bush administration attacked Iraq and may now target Iran and Syria. Israel perceives these countries as threats, Washington seems willing to remove them, and a chorus of media-driven propaganda approves.

They always support Israel and jumped right in last summer backing "Operation Change of Direction" against Hezbollah and "Operation Summer Rain" against Hamas that caused many hundreds of deaths and mass destruction. It was all papered over in the major media and characterized as Israel's "defensive, existential war for survival against Islamic terrorists." It was pure baloney. In fact, and unreported, Israel launched dual long-planned aggressive wars with Hezbollah's capture of three IDF soldiers in Lebanon the pretext and Hamas taking one Israeli corporal the justification in occupied Palestine. Never mentioned are the many thousands of Palestinians illegally abducted, imprisoned and tortured, and that unprovoked aggressive wars and their fallout are war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Also unmentioned is that if Hezbollah and Hamas hadn't provided the pretexts, Israel (as it's often done) would have manufactured them to launch its summer aggression. With full US support and backing from its Lobby and dominant media, these type actions continue at the expense of their victims with US taxpayers duped into funding them generously.

US Empire and the Middle East

Petras notes key factors help explain US Middle East policy that in his judgment are "challenged from within and without, are subject to sharp contradictions," and are likely to fail.

First, is the influence of the Israeli Lobby he documented powerfully as have Mearsheimer and Walt in their work. It's likely the most potent lobby in Washington and can practically mobilize the entire Congress, every administration and the dominant media to back pro-Israeli policies even when they run counter to US corporate interests that in Middle East means those of Big Oil primarily.

The Lobby wanted war with Iraq and got it. Now its top priority is stiff sanctions and war on Iran, and if the orchestrated media hate frenzy targeting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Columbia University address September 24 is an indication, it may get it. As Petras notes, the Lobby's fanatical support for Israel is so extreme and uncompromising, it's even willing to risk world war and economic collapse to get its way.

Another key factor is the US ability to enlist and co-op client states and proxy forces to serve our interests - the Kurds in Northern Iraq; the Abbas-Dahlan Fatah militants in Palestine; the Sinoria-Hariri-Jumblat pro-US/Israel, anti-Syria/Hezbollah/Hamas alliance in Lebanon; Mubarak in Egypt; King Hussein in Jordan; pro-US regimes in Turkey; the Saudis and others.

Petras then explains how the Israeli Lobby's influence runs counter to the US "Arab agenda." It shows up in Washington's failure to construct a NATO-style power-sharing alliance in the region, except for Turkey and Israel, and the former may not prove solid. The Iraq policy has been disastrous, each tactic tried failed, resistance is unabated, the Arab street overwhelmingly rejects occupation, and Arab leaders offer tepid support.

Petras calls Washington's permanent war strategy (next targeting Iran and Syria) "an irrational gamble comparable to Hitler's attack on Russia" that doomed him. Today in the Middle East, attacking these two countries may only compound the Iraq failure with "greater defeats, greater domestic rebellion" and still more wars without end promising gloomy prospects ahead.

Part III - The Possibility of Resistance

Petras discusses China and the "general consensus (it's) emerging as the next economic superpower" to challenge US dominance. Petras expresses doubts that can only be summarized briefly. He notes Chinese capitalism not only depends on growth and the ability to generate jobs, but also on "the social relations of production, circulation and reproduction." They come at a high price - ferocious labor exploitation, rampant corruption and nepotism, mass small farmer displacement, firing millions of workers from state-owned and bankrupt enterprises, ending social services, and higher living costs increasing class warfare in the streets against billionaire kleptocrats and foreign investors profiting hugely at the expense of most Chinese.

Petras then distinguishes between "made in China" and Chinese-owned and whether the former enhances China's growth or foreign investor profits instead. He sees China taking on "features of both a neo-colony and an emerging imperial power," but mostly the former. He notes the standard of living for most Chinese "declined precipitously;" air, water and ground pollution greatly increased; the quality of life for most Chinese suffers; class inequalities are vast; and gains from a consumerist society for a minority of the population are offset by dirty air, loss of leisure, job security, near rent-free housing, state-provided health care and education, deteriorated working conditions and more. Paradise it's not, at least for workers, and conditions aren't improving.

Petras then discusses China's transition from state to "liberal" capitalism. As it deepened, trade barriers were dismantled; protective labor laws abolished; price controls lifted; the countryside ravaged; a massive new army of unemployed workers created; and an export-driven market strategy followed. The result today is a new class of billionaires and about 2900 former party "princelings" who control around $260 billion of wealth. In addition, property, real estate and construction boomed, an export strategy concentrated development on coastal regions, and domestic consumption is relatively constrained.

In contrast, "millions of construction workers, miners, domestic servants and assembly-line workers (labor) under the most abominable conditions" - long hours, low pay, awful sanitary conditions and little regard for safety in an unregulated environment structured for maximum profit. China today is a "magnet for capitalists and investors worldwide," a free market paradise that's hell on workers paying hugely for the country's marketplace "success."

Petras envisions China's capitalism deepening and mainly benefitting foreign investors. He sees their "initial beachheads as minority shareholders" extending into production, distribution, transport, real estate,
telecommunications, consumer goods and services, entertainment, finance and more and eventually gaining more control. As a result, he believes China's next great leap forward will be from liberalism to neoliberalism, the country will lose its national identity, it will become a "territorial outpost" for foreign-owned transnationals, and the country's bid for world power status will be subverted.

Petras sees 21st century China emerging as a "gigantic proxy for imperial powers," but China won't be one of them. Its "Great Leap Backwards" will be consummated when the nation's "share of profits shifts from the national bourgeoisie" to foreign investors in a process now accelerating.

But it won't come easily as a new generation of China's leaders may stop or curtail it. In addition, growing mass resistance has now emerged for obvious reasons cited above. Already, close to 100,000 mass demonstrations have occurred involving millions of Chinese protesting a workers' hell. Social crisis is deepening, class struggle has returned, and the government has taken note. It's beginning to address concerns but giving back pathetically little considering China's massive population. Petras calls these remediating actions "too little and too late." Ahead he sees decentralized protests becoming organized urban worker movements that when joined with displaced farmers may set off a new rebellious period. This may then blossom into "a new revolutionary struggle" that will determine China's future and its climate for investors.

The US and Latin America

Petras has studied Latin America for decades and knows the region as well as anyone. Here he dispels notions of a revitalized regional populism with US dominance waning. His case is compelling as he argues Washington's influence has increased in recent years (though not to the level of the 1990s) despite the success of Hugo Chavez and his ability to thwart US efforts to unseat him.

The Bush administration lost out on FTAA but has had other successes:

-- bilateral trade agreements with numerous Latin American states from the Caribbean to Chile;

-- an expanded number of military bases despite the possible loss of one in Ecuador ahead;

-- US business interests in the region flourishing, including in Venezuela where they're booming; and

-- neoliberal free market policies intact despite campaign rhetoric promising change.

Aside from Venezuela and maybe Ecuador (where it's too soon to tell), the left's appraisal of progressive change is nowhere in sight, so what are they seeing that's not there.

Petras assesses the current state of things in the region after reviewing its recent history readers can get from the book. He notes signs of Washington's declining influence that's had no adverse affect on corporate interests except in Venezuela where taxes are now fair compared to earlier when they were too low. He also explains so-called center-left regimes in Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay and elsewhere tamed mass social movement demands while embracing 1990s neoliberalism. In Brazil, if fact, President Lula da Silva actually deepened and extended the privatization and restrictive budget policies of the preceding Cardoso regime, and despite his Workers Party background, demobilized mass movements and trade unions instead of supporting them as people expected. Many now see him for what he is - a traitor, but sadly, he's got company, too much of it.

Of great significance is the way Petras explains four competing regional power blocs representing varying degrees of accommodation or opposition to US policies and interests.

1. The Radical Left

It includes:

-- the FARC guerillas in Colombia (active since 1964); some trade union sectors; and peasant and barrio movements in Venezuela;

-- the labor confederation CONLUTAS and sectors of Brazil's Rural Landless Movement (MST);

-- sectors of the Bolivian Labor Confederation (COB) and the Andean peasant movements and barrio organizations in El Alto;

-- peasant movement sectors (CONAIE) in Ecuador;

-- teachers and peasant-indigenous movements in Oaxaca, Guerrero and Chiapas, Mexico;

-- nationalist-peasant-left sectors in Peru;

-- trade unionist and unemployed sectors in Argentina; and

-- other Central and South American social movements and some Marxist groups in several countries.

2. The Pragmatic Left

-- Hugo Chavez in Venezuela who combines grassroots participatory democracy and redistributive social policies with support for business interests;

-- Evo Morales in Bolivia;

-- Fidel Castro in Cuba;

-- various large electoral parties and major peasant and trade unions in the region; leftist parties including the PRD in Mexico, FMLN in El Salvador, CUT in Colombia, Chilean Communist Party, Peru's nationalist parliamentary party, sectors of Brazil's MST, Bolivia's MAS governing party, CTA in Argentina, and PIT-CNT in Uruguay.

3. The Pragmatic Neoliberals (the most numerous political block)

-- Lula in Brazil;

-- Kirchner in Argentina;

-- the major trade union confederations in Brazil and Argentina;

-- business and financial elite sectors providing subsistence unemployment doles and food aid; and

-- similar groups in Ecuador, Nicaragua (the Sandinistas and their split-offs), Paraguay and other countries.

4. The Doctrinaire Neoliberal Regimes

-- Calderon in Mexico;

-- Uribe in Colombia;

-- Bachelet in Chile (in spite of her being imprisoned and tortured under Pinochet);

-- the Central American countries: El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Guatemala;

-- Garcia in Peru;

-- Paraguay with the region's largest military base;

-- Uruguay's ex-leftist regime now rightist;

-- US-occupied Haiti through proxy thuggish paramilitary UN peacekeepers; and

-- the Dominican Republic.

The notion that populism swept Latin America in the new century is pure fantasy. In fact, there's a "quadrangle of competing and conflicting" regional forces with Washington having less market leverage than in the 1990s "Golden Age of Pillage" but still enough to be dominant and able to keep business flourishing.

Petras continues his analysis with detailed examples of key center-left regimes in Brazil under Lula, Argentina under Kirchner, Uruguay under Vazquez, Bolivia under Morales plus some comments on Peru and Ecuador under leaders preceding their current ones. Each case substantiates the fantasy that these regimes represented "new winds from the Left" sweeping the region. Hot air maybe, but little, if anything, in the way of progressive change despite the beliefs of many intellectuals on the left.

However, that's not to say leftist forces aren't strong enough to bubble up and bring change. Insurrectionary forces brought Evo Morales to power in Bolivia and can take him down if he fails them as he's now doing. The same is true in other countries with Hugo Chavez their model. He challenged US imperialism, brought real social change, has mass public support and thus far withstood US efforts to oust him. In Cuba, Fidel Castro thwarted every Washington effort against him since 1959 and is still in charge, larger than life, although frail and weak following his protracted illness from which he's still recovering. Petras sees a new generation of young committed leaders emerging in the region. "They are the 'Left Winds' of Latin America," and it's in them that hope lies.

Foreign Investment (FI) in Latin America

Petras demystifies FI's impact, explains the risks in attracting it, and exposes six myths about its benefits.

Myth 1.

It's untrue FI creates new enterprises, market opportunities and more. Most, in fact, aims to buy privatized and other enterprises while crowding out local capital and public initiative.

Myth 2.

FI doesn't increase export competitiveness. It buys mineral resources for export with little done to create jobs or stimulate the local economy.

Myth 3.

It's false to think FI provides tax revenue and hard currency. An FI export model creates more indebtedness and a net loss.

Myth 4.

It's false believing debt repayments to international lenders is key to a good financial standing. Much foreign debt is odious and repaying it harms borrower countries.

Myth 5.

It's false believing FI provides developing countries needed capital. It's used instead to buy local companies and control a country's markets.

Myth 6.

It's false believing FI attracts further investment. Capital freely moves to wherever it gets the best returns and is anchored nowhere.

Developing countries benefit most by relying less on FI and more on national ownership and investment. The former is predatory. The latter accrues profits to the national treasury and grows the country's economy. FI demands conditions favoring capital over labor that results in a widening economic gap and greater inequalities in political and social power. The 20 year (1980 - 2000) record of Latin American FI is socially disastrous. Living standards plunged while unemployment and poverty soared. Hardly reasons to attract it and clear ones to stay away or restrict it.

Part IV - An Agenda for Militants

Petras considers FI economic alternatives and ways to buck its strategic countermeasures. FI generally threatens disinvestment when a country wants to enhance its own economy and benefit popular living standards. Hardball tactics cut both ways, and the state can use its own effectively to counter capital flight threats as well as adopt policies in advance serving its needs first ahead of those FI wants to have things its own way.

Petras notes that FI "is incompatible with any notion of an independent, socially progressive country" even though at times it can be useful in a regulated environment controlling it. He explains a country's own financial and economic resources can be used instead of FI to enhance its internal development and technological advance by reinvesting profits from export industries; controlling foreign trade to increase retention of foreign exchange; investing pension funds productively; imposing a moratorium on debt payments; recovering stolen public treasury funds and unpaid taxes; maximizing under-employed labor, and more.

Most countries can avoid FI by relying on multiple sources of its own capital. They can also employ alternative effective strategies when outside help is needed by minimizing its ownership, employing short-term contracts on favorable terms, imposing stiff penalties on capital flight, and barring it from returning if it leaves. Petras concludes: "The historical and empirical evidence demonstrates that the political, economic and social drawbacks of (FI) far exceed any short-term benefits perceived by its defenders."

The Middle Class and Social Movements in Latin America

Petras observes that middle class attitudes in the region depend on the "political-economic context" confronting it. It's attracted to the right under expanding right-wing regimes and to the left in times of economic crisis. On the other hand, under a "popular, anti-dictatorial, anti-imperialist populist government, the middle class supports democratic reforms" but not radical policies harming it for the benefit of the working class. Three examples make his case - in Brazil under Lula when it took over his Workers Party; in Argentina when it benefitted under Menem and Cardoso and later under Kirchner; and in Bolivia under Morales who combines "political demagogy" to his base and neoliberal IMF austerity in his policies attractive to middle class and business interests.

Petras notes social movements failed by not developing political leadership or a program for state power and depended instead on "electoral politicians of the upwardly mobile professional middle class." The Left's key challenge, he believes, is to "convert the public sector middle class from anti-neoliberalism to anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism, and to combine urban welfare (with) agrarian reform."

Iraq and Afghanistan's Importance in Defeating the Empire

Petras concludes by noting Washington's imperial wars were stopped in their tracks in Iraq and Afghanistan by resistance too powerful to contain. A "shock and awe" blitzkrieg failed when Iraqis wanted a say in running, rebuilding and transforming their country and rejected its US-installed puppet regime. The country is a wasteland, the nation creation project bankrupt, and the prospect for success bad and worsening with multi-billions expended and nothing gained except huge profits for administration favored contractors that always benefit whoever wins or loses.

The same situation holds in Afghanistan. An easy five week walkover turned into an endless debacle with no end in sight. Washington planned successive wars for unchallengeable world dominance, but local resistance in two countries stopped it cold (so far), may defeat its proxies in Somalia, and resilient opposition in Palestine and South Lebanon may prove equally formidable as well.

The US is now over-extended and its "imperial grand strategy" weakened. It's made preemptive wars against Iran and Syria and trying again to topple Hugo Chavez less likely, but none of these possibilities are off the table. Cornered and facing defeat, rhetoric is heated making anything possible, and the September 20 Lieberman-Kyl "Sense of the Senate" (no legal force) resolution/amendment to the FY 2008 Defense Authorization bill ratchets up the possibility of attacking Iran and its regional "proxies" with potentially catastrophic fallout the risk.

For now, emboldened resistance and strong anti-war opposition are matched against an administration desperate to turn things around and willing to try anything to do it. How this may end is a crapshoot, the stakes on its outcome too great to risk but may be waged anyway, and the world trembles as it waits and watches. Stay tuned and hope Petras is right believing Iraq and Afghanistan thwarted the empire and prevented further aggression against Iran and beyond, now off the table. Or maybe not. When wounded and cornered, desperate animals and politicians may try anything with nothing to lose. Keep a close watch.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMicroEffect.com Mondays (moved from Saturdays) at noon US central time.