Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Friday, May 30, 2008

News & Analysis
Fallout from McClellan book: The Iraq war's "complicit enablers," then and now

Britain: Oppose deportation of Hicham Yezza

Britain: An interview with the manager of Hicham Yezza's defence campaign
"The Home Office acts like a faceless machine"

Tensions mount in the grand coalition German Social Democrats put forward their own presidential candidate

Canada complicit in illegal detention and torture of Omar Khadr

End of Nepalese monarchy sets stage for new period of political instability

Dow Chemical announces massive price increase

Why have the findings of the Solomon Islands Commission of Inquiry into the 2006 riots not been released?

Australian photographer Bill Henson--scapegoat for a wider assault on democratic rights

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Through Occupation, The Very Dreams Change

Inter Press Service
By Ahmed Ali and Dahr Jamail*

BAQUBA, May 27 (IPS) - After more than five years of U.S. occupation, the very dreams of the people of Baquba have changed. For a start, they are no longer about the future.

Today, a shower is a dream. Or that the electricity supply continues just that little bit longer.

"These needs are very trivial for people of other countries," 43-year-old political leader Saad Tahir told IPS. "But in Iraq, people dream more of these things than of some ambition or success."

Abdullah Mahdi, a retired 51-year-old trader, says he dreams only of electricity.

"Like millions here, I hope supply gets better to help us to sleep in this hot summer," Mahdi told IPS. "We have been suffering from this problem since the 1991 Kuwait war, and this current occupation only made things worse."

Others dream of freedom of movement. "I dream of travelling among the Iraqi provinces freely and safely," a local resident said. "For more than two years now, I have not travelled to any province of my country." Lack of security means Iraqis can rarely travel even to a neighbouring area.

Children also seem to have begun to dream differently.

"I dream of a playground in which I and my friends can play freely and at any time," 11-year-old Luay Amjad told IPS. Children are not allowed to play just anywhere for fear of unexploded bombs, haphazard firing, and a general fear of the Iraqi military. Many children in Baquba and other districts of Diyala province have been kidnapped.

"All families wish to see their children safe, and then enjoying their time," said a young father. "We know that they currently live in a very closed world. But we put pressure on our children for their own safety. Streets are dangerous, and even gardens may sometimes be dangerous."

Others dream of a functioning economy. According to the ministry of trade, unemployment has been vacillating between 40-70 percent over the last two years.

"I hope that the trade and economic process will improve," said an unemployed trader. "I wish Iraq could be an industrial country with a flourishing and luxurious status of living. I want to get back to my shop and have my own customers."

Teachers dream of an Iraq that can be a centre for education again. "Iraq was one of the countries that paid great attention to education," a university professor, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. "Now, breaking the rules of schools is very common, and fake certificates are spread widely all over the country. We dream of a rigorous and successful educational process."

Farmers simply dream of water, and the security necessary to work in their fields. "I hope I can work on my farm again, and have water to irrigate all the land," said a local vegetable farmer.

A cleric spoke of bigger dreams. "I dream that all Iraqis will love each other again, as we used to in the past days. We miss hope, a smile, and true love. We hope that cooperation prevails again among people. We hope for killing and displacement to end forever in this once peaceful country. We hope that the sectarian discrimination disappears."

A political analyst said he dreams of an end to the occupation. "The occupation is the source of all the problems of our people. I do dream of the end of the occupation -- no more arrests, no more prison for simple and poor people, and no more suffering."

(*Ahmed, our correspondent in Iraq's Diyala province, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who has reported extensively from Iraq and the Middle East).

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Richard Reeves:


Fri May 23, 7:58 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- This is what I thought was the American social contract when I was growing up in the land of the free and the home of the brave: You could work your way through college, and if you got a decent job, you could buy a house within a few years.

And, you deserved a bit more if you served in the military: money or loans for college and something of a break on mortgage loans. The point goes beyond the danger of military service; the important fact is that you deserve something more than being underpaid if you give up two or more years of your life while your peers are working on careers, beginning families, or getting educations that will pay dividends for life.

That's the way it was for me, and I think kids today deserve the same. I could earn enough for college working summers and part-time; the military (Air Force ROTC) paid some of the bills. I got a job as an engineer for Ingersoll-Rand, and six years after graduation, with a little help from my parents, I was able to buy a small house on a lake in New Jersey.

Now, of course, college is more expensive -- as a father of five I have seen those costs rise faster than the cost of oil -- and houses in metropolitan areas are often more than young families can afford. That bothers me, a lot; it is a failure of the American way. But that bother is nothing compared with the screwing the government is giving to the young men and women serving in harm's way in Iraq.

Whatever one thinks of the war and the officials who planned it, those soldiers and reservists out there deserve more than moral support. My stomach literally turned when I read this paragraph in The New York Times last Thursday morning:

"President Bush is threatening to veto a bill that would pay tuition and other expenses at a four-year public university for anyone who has served in the military for three years since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A main reason is that it would hasten an exodus from the ranks."

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates put it this way: "Serious retention issues could arise."

I bet they could. And should. The war is being fought by a tiny percentage of the American people, and many of their lives are being ruined. You want a war, Mr. President? Then ask Congress to declare one. You want soldiers to be retained? Then ask for a draft. You want to support our boys and girls? Then support their education as other presidents and Congresses have done since the passage of the great GI Bill of Rights during World War II -- legislation that is still benefiting this country.

What is being done to our troops in Iraq is more than a failure of political leadership; it is an outrage. Forget the fact that we never declared war, or that we never had a real plan about what to do in Iraq, or that we are fighting on credit, leaving the bills for our children and grandchildren. Remember that only a small number are involved in this -- the same people, professionals and reservists, are being called back into harm's way again and again.

Those young men and women, serving a government without the guts to even talk about a draft, are essentially indentured servants. Worse. At least indentured servants knew when their obligation would be over. This is more than unfair; it is shameful, a stain on the democracy and its leaders. And now the president is considering depriving them of a reward they deserve because some of them might actually take it and not re-enlist.

This is a professional army? There was a time when troops treated that way, no matter how well-trained or equipped, were called cannon fodder. We owe them. The president whose ignorance put them in the Middle East owes them. The Congress, which is ever looking the other way and has not declared war on anyone since 1941, owes them.

This war is not worthy of a free country. And unless we do something for the young people bravely taking the punishment for the failings of their elders, we have no right to claim this is a land of the free.

Monday, May 26, 2008

News & Analysis
US Secretary of State Rice defends torture at Google event

Britain: Conservative victory in Crewe and Nantwich as Labour disintegrates

Government wealth distribution report
Germany: The growing gulf between rich and poor

French workers' protests say 'No!' to pension reform

Russia, China denounce US missile shield at summit meeting

Texas towns sue Homeland Security over border wall plans

Australia: NSW Labor government presses ahead with electricity privatization

Sunday, May 25, 2008

News & Analysis
FBI files indict Bush, Cheney and Co. as war criminals

Chinese leaders respond to anger over shoddy buildings and lack of help

As Senate approves new war funding, US massacres Iraqi civilians

Berlusconi government incites racist pogroms

Detroit American Axle workers speak out against UAW betrayal

Actors and Hollywood studios, networks far apart in negotiations

Sydney hospital nurses impose work bans: not enough beds for the mentally ill

Sunday, May 18, 2008

News & Analysis
Death toll hits 78,000 in Burma as pressure mounts for international intervention

Calling Pelosi's bluff, Republicans temporarily block war-funding bill

China quake rescue operations face rising toll, strained public services

Britain: Labour's "re-launch" stymied by worsening economic forecast

Berlin transport workers vote on contract
How should workers proceed?

France: One million strike in defence of education and social services

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Clinton navigates ‘perfect storm’ of naysayers
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, May 14, 2008

It’s long been my opinion that if Hillary Clinton could be appointed
president, nobody could do the job better. In a parliamentary system,
she’d stand an excellent chance of becoming prime minister, since
political parties tend to select leaders more on the basis of competence
than the dubious skills of a game show host. Like Al Gore, Clinton is
seen by friends as warm, funny and empathetic. She does better in small
groups and town hall-type events than in large arenas. Also like Gore,
she’s motivated more by duty than most politicians. Unfriendly eyes see
her determination as “entitlement.” Misogyny runs deeper in American
culture than many admit; brainy women are seen as unnatural. The camera
doesn’t love her the way it loves Sen. Barack Obama. Too, her candidacy
has labored under the manifest disadvantage of the Beltway media’s
unreasoning hatred of her husband, the virulence of which continues to
amaze. In Arkansas, some think it’s rooted in resentment that some
smooth-talking, white-trash hayseed from the American outback could
become president. In Washington, it’s whispered that her
unresponsiveness to certain socially prominent hostesses made them
loathe her.

Who knows? There’s no denying that her candidacy has encountered what a
friend calls a “perfect storm” of progressive idealists merging with
Clinton-hating celebrity courtiers in the “mainstream” media. And yet
she keeps chugging along like the Little Engine That Could, defying
increasingly shrill demands to quit.

Weeks before the Indiana primary, Obama described it as the potential
tiebreaker. Then he went out and lost it. Nevertheless, all but openly
gloating, NBC’s Tim Russert took it upon himself to announce, “We now
know who the Democratic nominee’s going to be, and no one’s going to
dispute it.”

Reaction among some Obama supporters was less polite.

“It’s high time,” wrote John Aravosis on americablog. com, “the
Superdelegates told the Clintons to take their sorry, scandal-ridden
asses and get the hell out. We are going to have another month of these
vindictive, racist losers destroying Obama’s credibility with the very
voters he is going to need in the fall to beat [John] McCain.”

Clinton didn’t help herself with an infelicitous demographic allusion,
citing an Associated Press story “that found how Senator Obama’s
support... among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is
weakening again.”

This prompted even so normally sensible an observer as my good friend
Joe Conason to compare her to George Wallace. So did New York Times
columnist Bob Herbert, who’s been fanning the racial flames since
Obama’s New Hampshire loss. This because under the politically correct
rules of engagement preferred by the Obama camp, only the Illinois
senator gets to make ex cathedra observations about such ticklish
matters as race and class, which must be treated as infallible. Pundits
like Herbert and The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson have been
chattering about the so-called “Bradley effect” ever since New
Hampshire, but the Clinton camp must not.

Why not? Because contrary to conventional wisdom, it wasn’t the Clintons
who “racialized” the campaign at all. It was the Obama campaign,
seemingly for the sake of galvanizing African American voters in
must-win South Carolina. (See Princeton historian Sean Wilentz's
article, “Race Man: How Barack Obama Played the Race Card and Blamed
Hillary Clinton,” in The New Republic.)

The problem, however, is that tactic, along with the crackpot effusions
of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Obama’s deeply unpersuasive claim that he
knew nothing about them, transformed his candidacy. Many citizens who
would vote for an African American without a second thought are put off
by a candidate who makes race the central issue of his campaign. Winning
tactic, losing strategy.

Screaming “racist” at people—I’ve received a grand total of two e-mails
from Obama supporters that didn’t—only makes things worse. Real bigots
don’t care, while Clinton supporters increasingly resent the accusation.
(My skin’s thicker than most.) Most also think it’s a foolhardy way to
avoid discussing the realities of the Electoral College, which is what
Clinton was trying to do. Regardless of why working-class white voters
don’t support Obama, no Democrat can win without them. Can anybody name
two states that Obama can win that John Kerry lost in 2004? Supporters
normally duck the question with effusive references to massive voter
turnout, which the blogger “Anglachel” parodies: For all the “crowing
about what a superdoublewidefantastic party organization The Precious
has built, how it’s cool and digital and virtual and full of lots and
lots of bloggers and money.... All of which makes me go so where were
those voters in Indiana? Pennsylvania?... His efforts didn’t make a
difference for him in Ohio, Texas, Massachusetts or California.... The
fact is that the contest this year as such, not just Obama, is bringing
out a huge number of voters, and half of them are voting for Hillary.”
Meanwhile, I’m hearing increasing numbers of Clinton supporters,
passionate Democrats all, say they cannot vote for Obama. And that’s a
very worrying sign.

—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Today ----------

News & Analysis
Tensions rise in Democratic contest as Obama nears nomination

Why the propaganda campaign for international intervention in Burma?

Russia and Georgia on the brink of armed conflict over Abkhazia

Germany: Verdi blocks postal strike

Britain: Welfare Reform Act to force sick and vulnerable into work

GM offers $200 million in bid to end American Axle strike

Unprecedented opposition to CAW's concession-filled deal with Ford Canada

Thursday, May 08, 2008

In horse racing, risk and love both part of sport
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Every time I witness something like the breakdown of Eight Belles in the
Kentucky Derby, I tell myself I’ve watched my last horse race.
Particularly after the filly’s gallant stretch run—for a long moment it
appeared that she might actually catch Big Brown before the wire—the
sight of veterinary vans encircling the stricken animal to prevent
spectators from seeing her euthanized was unbearable. Unlike some, I
can’t criticize NBC's coverage because I couldn’t watch it. My wife was
crying like a child. Partly that’s because we’re horse people, a passion
we came to relatively recently, causing us to rearrange our lives. I’ve
come to feel that places that are no good for horses aren’t particularly
good for people. The most powerful surge of homesickness I’ve ever
experienced struck me one humid evening in New York City some years ago.
Walking up Fifth Avenue, I was surprised by the heavy, pungent odor of
horses, the lineup of carriage horses along Central Park South waiting
patiently to take tourists clip-clopping through the park. I wanted to
hail a cab to the airport on the spot.

Not that caring for a couple of middle-aged geldings gives me any
special insights into the so-called sport of kings. Well, maybe a few.

First, tragedies like Eight Belles’ death are an inherent part of horse
racing. They can’t be entirely prevented. Riding horses under any
circumstances can be dangerous. When he first became acquainted with my
quarter-horse Rusty, my farrier, an outspoken individualist like many
people you meet around barns, warned that he was too headstrong and
athletic for a middle-aged novice.

“You keep messin’ with that big sumbitch and he’s gonna hurt you” was
how Tom put it.

Problem was, I’d already bought him. Not long afterward, I’d saved Rusty
from a near-fatal colic attack on a 104-degree July day. It’s hard to
describe my emotions when he stopped while I was walking him out—he’d
been staggering, in a daze—to nibble on clover. He was going to live. He
drank something like eight half buckets of salty water at half-hour
intervals that night, roughly 150 pounds of lost fluid.

So 10 years later, I reminded Tom that while Rusty had scared me half to
death—stampeding with a deer herd toward a barbed-wire fence, for
example he’d never actually hurt me, apart from black eyes caused by low

“Yeah, well, you, me and him are all gettin’ old,” Tom allowed. “If he
kills you now, it won’t be on purpose.”

So yeah, there’s a streak of fatalism among horse people. When you climb
on an animal weighing between 1,000 and 1,300 pounds that can run 40 mph
in bursts with a mind and will of its own, bad things can happen. I know
a barrel racer who had a horse fall on her, step on her face and break
several ribs last year. She won another event a week later. That said,
horses aren’t anywhere near as life-threatening as, oh, the New Jersey

Second, people who imagine owners, trainers and jockeys cruel and
indifferent—a New York Times columnist equated the sport to
bullfighting—don’t know what they’re talking about. Horses get inside
you; they just do. Along with their speed, power and beauty—some of the
earliest prehistoric cave paintings are of horses—they have vivid
personalities, strong emotions and no reticence about showing them.

I once asked a racetrack trainer if it was possible that my silly horse
Lucky actually feared a kind of orange butterfly that made him freeze

“They’re not smart enough to lie,” the fellow said. “If he acts scared,
he’s scared.”

Of course, the real issue was whether Lucky trusted me. After he decided
he did, he ignored the butterflies.

Third, 20 horses on a track with four turns isn’t so much a race as a
stampede. Especially since more than half have no realistic chance of
winning and are there to showcase their owners’ ego and bankroll.
Fourth, running a filly with 19 strange stallions in front of 157,000
drunks is unacceptably risky. Wild horses live in herds controlled by
bullying stallions ready to throw down and fight savagely at the
slightest challenge. Under the veneer of her training, Eight Belles must
have been amped for flight, halfway expecting an equine riot and
determined—this is the nature of racehorses—to show those swaggering
punks her heels. She got all but one, didn’t she? It may have killed
her. Last, and to understand it’s necessary to read a knowledgeable
track writer like The Washington Post’s Andrew Beyer, thoroughbred race
horses are as much a product of human genetic manipulation as a
dachshund. In American racing, they’re breeding animals with too much
muscle and bones like teacups. Something’s got to change, and it could
require political intervention.

—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


As gas prices and oil profits soar, Bush promotes giveaways to corporations

By Joe Kay
30 April 2008

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US President George W. Bush used a White House press conference Tuesday to trot out his familiar litany of right-wing proposals, ostensibly intended to address rising gas prices and the growing economic crisis facing millions of Americans.

The proposals are all designed in one way or another to increase the power of the oil companies, even as these conglomerates have begun posting record profits for the first quarter of 2008. Bush proposed opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling, increasing incentives to companies for refinery construction, and blocking new regulations and emissions targets for domestic energy producers.

Bush sidestepped questions on his administration’s position on a limited proposal, advanced by Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate John McCain, for a summer moratorium on the federal gas tax. Such a move would have only a marginal impact on gasoline prices.

Bush said there was no “magic wand” to deal with gasoline prices, and he blamed Congress for blocking previous energy bills that included some of his proposals.

Rising gasoline prices are beginning to have a major impact on the living standards of millions of people in the United States and internationally. In the US, prices on Monday topped $3.60 a gallon, a record in inflation-adjusted terms and more than 21 cents above the price just two weeks ago. The price for diesel fuel, used in trucks, tractors, and other vehicles, is at a record $4.20 a gallon.

According to a poll conducted on behalf of the Kaiser Family Foundation, 44 percent of the American population now cites the price of gasoline as a “serious problem”—more than any other economic concern. The effects are predictably felt most keenly by those earning the least. About 63 percent of those with incomes of less than $30,000 said gasoline prices were a serious problem.

In a country where the automobile is the primary and often only available means of transportation, it is not uncommon for a worker to have to fill his or her gasoline tank several times a week, compounding the impact of any price increase and putting a severe dent in household budgets already strained by rising food and other costs.

In some parts of the country, gasoline prices are soaring much higher than the national average. In San Francisco, California, average prices topped $4.00 a gallon over the weekend. The statewide average was $3.91.

In Europe, prices are sharply higher as well. In England, where regressive taxes make up much of the price, gasoline is close to £1.10 per liter, or about $10 a gallon.

In the US and in England, many independent truckers are unable to turn a profit off hauling goods, as the cost of filling a tank with diesel can now exceed $1,200. The cost of transport often exceeds truckers’ pay. On Monday, about 100 truckers staged a protest in Washington, while dozens converged on London. Independent truckers staged slowdowns and stoppages throughout the country at the beginning of the month.

Within this context, the position of the Bush administration is essentially to do nothing. White House press secretary Dana Perino emphasized this point on Monday, saying, “I think it would be disingenuous and unfortunate for American consumers for them to be led to believe that there is a short-term fix [to gasoline prices]. There’s not going to be one.”

The proposals from the Democrats are no more serious. In addition to the tax moratorium, Clinton is proposing a suspension of oil input into the Strategic Petroleum reserve, a marginal increase in spending on alternative energy sources, and an increase in fuel economy over a period of 20 years. Obama has rejected the tax moratorium on the grounds that companies would just increase their prices to make up the difference, and supports fuel economy standard increases and alternative energy investment.

None of the candidates are capable of raising the basic issue: that the energy market, so critical to the livelihood of billions of people and to the functioning of the world economy, is largely controlled by private companies, and that these companies exercise enormous influence over the political establishment in the US.

As usual, the oil companies and wealthy investors are reaping fortunes off of the economic hardship inflicted upon the vast majority of the population. The current sharp spike in gasoline prices has been driven largely by the rise in crude oil prices, which reached close to $120 a barrel on Monday—once considered an unimaginable price. The average price of oil in the first quarter was $97.94, up 68.9 percent from a year ago.

There are a number of factors behind the increase in oil prices, including rising demand from China and India and a weak US dollar, in which oil is priced. One of the principal factors, however, is the flood of cash into basic commodities, including oil and food, as wealthy investors have liquidated holdings in more risky financial assets and are looking for hedges on inflation. This is creating a new bubble in commodity markets, forcing billions of people around the world to pay the higher prices generated by artificial demand.

Whatever the cause, the rise in oil prices has been a boondoggle for oil companies, which have begun announcing their first quarter 2008 profits this week. Europe’s two biggest oil producers, Royal Dutch Shell and BP, announced profits on Tuesday that far exceeded analysts’ expectations.

The combined profit for the two companies was close to $17 billion—$9.08 billion for Shell and $7.6 billion for BP. These figures include earnings attributed to the rise in oil prices. If this rise is factored out (as is done in the so-called current cost of supplies figures), Shell’s profits were $7.8 billion and BP’s were $6.6 billion. That is, at least $2 billion in profit for the two companies can be attributed solely to the recent rise in oil prices.

Analysts expect the profits for Exxon Mobil, the largest private energy company, to soar to $11.2 billion in the first quarter, an increase of 22 percent over 2007. If the company’s profits exceed expectations, however, it could beat its fourth quarter profits from 2007 of $11.66 billion—the record for a US company.

Of course, the top executives and investors will benefit enormously from these windfalls. Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson received an 18 percent raise in 2007, pulling in $21.7 million. The oil companies will also give back billions to investors in the form of stock buybacks and dividends.

The news from Shell and BP came as a surprise to analysts, who have been concerned about profit troubles in the refinery component of production, which transforms crude oil into useable products like gasoline and diesel. Giants like Shell and BP, and US companies Exxon and Chevron, are vertically integrated, including in their operations both oil extraction and refining.

In fact, independent refinery operations are fairing poorly, which could indicate that gasoline prices will continue their upward march over the next several weeks as refiners struggle to raise their own profits. Valero Energy, a refiner, reported a 77 percent drop in first quarter net income on Tuesday, complaining that it had been unable to shift all of its increased costs (from purchasing crude oil) onto consumers.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, “While the price of gasoline has been rising at the pump, those increases have so far been modest in comparison to oil. In a bid to save their bottom lines, companies operating refineries, especially on the West Coast, are reducing their output. That would likely drive fuel prices higher.”

The Sacramento Bee reported that some of California’s refineries “have had problems returning to full production following their usual winter-spring overhauls,” and that this has contributed to the near-$4 a gallon price of gasoline in that state. There are indications that refiners have in the past artificially manipulated capacity and downtime in order to influence prices.

The integrated oil giants can make windfall profits on either the oil extraction or refining (the upstream or downstream) sides of the energy market. Last summer, when gasoline prices were at $3.22 a gallon, much of the profits were booked on the refining end, and attributed to a shortage in refining capacity. This has been the long term trend, as oil companies have shut down refineries in response to low prices.

In this context, Bush’s insistence Tuesday that Congress grant incentives to increase refining capacity is absurd. Bush noted on several occasions, “It’s been more than 30 years since America built its last refinery.” This fact—an indictment of the state of American infrastructure—has been a product of a deliberate policy of reducing refining capacity in order to force gasoline prices up. The oil companies have no interest in building new refineries, with or without tax incentives.

Prices of basic foods such as rice and wheat also have soared in recent months. Among the factors behind this price explosion is the shift to ethanol production, which has increased demand on some food items, particularly corn in the US. Ethanol production, which Bush championed on Tuesday, has largely been intended as a boondoggle for agribusiness. Also on Tuesday, Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world’s largest processors of grains and other foods, posted a 42 percent increase in its quarterly profits ending on March 31.

The ability of the oil companies to maintain record profits has been facilitated greatly by the enormous consolidation of the industry over the past 20 years. The top five energy companies now control about 15 percent of global oil production, more than 50 percent of US domestic refinery capacity, and 62 percent of the retail gasoline market.

The entire structure of energy production on a global scale is completely irrational. However, the consolidation of the energy industry has made the rational solution clearer: There is no conceivable reason why these giant corporations—which straddle the globe in search of profits, have done much to encourage war and colonial occupations in key strategic areas, and have worked assiduously to block any attempt to deal with global warming—should remain in the hands of private individuals and under the sway of the profit motive.

Instead, the giant productive forces that control the lives of billions—including the energy and food infrastructure of the globe—must be transferred into public utilities, socially owned and democratically controlled.

See Also:
US truck drivers squeezed by soaring diesel prices
[18 March 2008]
Gold and oil prices soar, dollar slumps, Carlyle Group fund collapses
[14 March 2008]
As layoffs and prices rise, Big Oil posts record profits
[2 February 2008]

Obama builds lead over Clinton after North Carolina, Indiana primaries

By Patrick Martin
7 May 2008

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Senator Barack Obama increased his delegate lead over Senator Hillary Clinton in the contest for the Democratic Party presidential nomination with a split in the two primaries held Tuesday, winning easily in North Carolina and losing more narrowly in Indiana.

Obama also increased his lead in the total popular votes cast, winning North Carolina by a margin of several hundred thousands votes, while the contest in Indiana was neck-and-neck, with predictions of a Clinton margin of less than 20,000 votes.

North Carolina is the larger of the two states, with 134 delegates compared to 72 for Indiana. While final delegate totals, based on the votes for the candidates in each congressional district, would not be available until Wednesday, it appeared that Obama would add as many as 20 delegates to his current lead of 136.

According to the running tally by the Associated Press, Obama led Clinton in delegates by 1,743 to 1,607 before the May 6 voting. Indiana and North Carolina were the two largest states yet to vote, with only Oregon, Kentucky, West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana remaining, as well as Puerto Rico.

Since these five states and one US territory have a combined total of 217 delegates, and these will be awarded proportionately by congressional district, it is now certain that Obama will finish the primary campaign with more delegates than Clinton, although still short of the 2,025 needed for the Democratic nomination.

The decision remains in the hands of about 250 superdelegates who have not yet publicly pledged their support to either candidate. About 75 of these are members of Congress or former office-holders; the rest are members of the Democratic National Committee or officials of state Democratic parties.

The voting in both Indiana and North Carolina reproduced almost unchanged the demographic splits among Democratic voters already displayed in Ohio and Pennsylvania, indicating that the weeks of media controversy over the comments of Obama’s former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, shifted relatively few votes.

Obama won more than 90 percent of black voters, a decisive margin in North Carolina, where blacks made up one-third of the Democratic electorate. He also led in college and university towns and in the high-tech region of North Carolina, the Triangle area of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.

Clinton led among white voters, particularly women, the elderly, and residents of rural areas and small towns and cities, which were the main focus of her campaign in the final days. She also won upper-income white suburbs like Hamilton County, north of Indianapolis, by a sizeable margin.

The last two weeks of the Democratic contest saw increasingly frantic efforts on the part of both candidates to present themselves as “in touch” with the concerns of working class voters, particularly in relation to the economy and rising gas and food prices.

These appeals are utterly fraudulent. The Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, defends the interests of the giant corporations and banks, and both candidates are drawn from the top one percent of the population that has reaped virtually all of the economic gains under both the Clinton administration in the 1990s and the past seven years of the Bush administration.

Neither Clinton nor Obama advances a program that offers any way forward for the tens of millions of working people facing threats to their jobs and livelihoods, the collapse of their home values and, for millions, the prospect of eviction. These economic pressures are compounded by soaring food and gas prices. Millions of American families walk an economic tightrope, where a medical emergency could drive them into bankruptcy.

The actual policy proposals of both candidates, even if they were implemented, would have only a negligible effect on the deep-seated social problems confronting the working class.

The two candidates have been reduced to symbolic efforts to demonstrate their sympathy with struggling working class families by visiting diners patronized by shift workers, campaigning at bowling alleys, bars, race tracks and shooting ranges, and holding photo-ops with selected families deemed to be “typical”—i.e., middle-income, white, blue-collar, and living in rural areas or small towns.

Clinton campaign rallies have featured efforts to present the candidate as a modern-day Rosie the Riveter, the hard-working representative of single-mom waitresses, truck drivers and school teachers. The New York Times, reporting on a rally in Greenville, North Carolina, quoted Clinton as declaring, “I don’t think folks in Washington listen enough.” The candidate continued: “Because if we listen we will hear this incredible cry: ‘Please just pay attention to what’s going on in our lives.’”

Despite the use of the first-person pronoun, what is going on in the lives of workers in Indiana and North Carolina has little in common with the life of the former first lady and current senator from New York, who, with her husband, raked in $109 million in income over the past seven years, while working class living standards steadily declined.

There are few working class families in either state who will see their children get a six-figure paycheck from a Wall Street hedge fund before their 30th birthday, as the Clinton’s daughter did. It is doubtful that Chelsea Clinton would have found such a position if she were Mary Jones from Muncie.

Clinton denounced insurance firms, Wall Street money managers, student loan companies and China’s export industries. But her harshest rhetoric was directed against the oil companies. Clinton staked her campaign’s survival in Indiana on a pledge to suspend the federal tax on gasoline during the summer months.

This measure was first proposed by Republican candidate John McCain, but it has no chance of being enacted since both the Bush administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress oppose it. Even if put into effect, the result would be a savings of $28 for the average two-car family, or about 30 cents a day.

The tax cut would subtract $8 billion from the federal fund used to pay for highway repairs, a shortfall that Clinton—but not McCain—proposes to make up through a windfall profits tax on the oil companies. This is a purely hypothetical levy against the industry, since there is no prospect that such a tax hike would either be adopted by the Democratic Congress or signed into law by the oilman in the White House.

Obama has opposed the temporary gas tax hike, citing the universal opposition among bourgeois economists, and calling Clinton’s support for it “a typical Washington gimmick.”

His own campaign has offered equally fictitious sympathy for the working class, couched in the language, as the Times put it, “of allusions to NASCAR, fatty foods and beer.” The Los Angeles Times described a campaign appearance at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in a small Indiana town, where Obama rolled up his sleeves and ordered a can of Budweiser: “Drinking deeply from the can, Obama took some questions about high gas prices and cast himself as a champion of the working class.”

The Illinois Democrat at one point voiced his frustration that Clinton, rather than himself, was portrayed as closer to working class voters. Referring to his wife, he said, “The fact is Michelle and I, our lives—if you look back over the last two decades—more closely approximate the lives of the average voter than any other candidate. We struggled with paying student loans, we tried to figure out how to make sure that we got adequate day care, I filled up my own gas tanks.”

The reference to “the last two decades” is significant, since in the past four years, since his rise to national prominence, Obama has become a wealthy man. His wife’s salary as the vice president for community relations at a Chicago hospital suddenly tripled after his election to the Senate, to over $300,000 a year. Obama himself became a multi-millionaire from the sales of his two books.

Obama voiced similar themes in the victory speech he delivered Tuesday night at an arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. For the first time in such an address, he made a disparaging reference to Wall Street, and declared that he stood for “an America that doesn’t just reward wealth, but the workers who created it...”

At the same time, he repeated his argument, a part of his stump speech, against the “politics of divisiveness,” portraying his campaign as the spearhead of an all-embracing unity that will include not only “black and white, young and old,” but also “rich and poor.”

Both Clinton and Obama employ populist rhetoric in order to prevent working people from developing what they need more than anything else: a clear understanding of the unbridgeable chasm in American society between the working class and the super-rich minority at the top, which controls not only the giant corporations and banks, but also the government and the two major political parties.

See Also:
Bush, Democrats seek to fund Iraq war into next administration
[6 May 2008]

Bush administration moves to exploit Burma cyclone disaster

By Joe Kay
7 May 2008

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The Bush administration lost no time in seeking to exploit the devastating tragedy in Burma (Myanmar). It has seized upon the cyclone that struck the country over the weekend, killed at least 20,000 and likely many more, to aggressively push its foreign policy agenda in Asia.

On Tuesday, Bush held a special ceremony at the White House to sign a bill giving Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi a Congressional Gold Medal. He used the occasion to place deliberately provocative conditions on any disbursement of aid to the ravaged country, beyond an initial token sum.

“The United States has made an initial aid contribution, but we want to do a lot more,” Bush declared. “We’re prepared to move US Navy assets to help find those who’ve lost their lives, to help find the missing, to help stabilize the situation. But in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country.”

So far, the US embassy has authorized the release of a paltry $250,000—less than half the cost of a single Tomahawk cruse missile of the type used by the US Navy to kill a Somali rebel last week. Later Tuesday, the administration pledged an additional $3 million to be allocated by a USAID disaster response team.

The very fact that the US is making aid to Burma conditional upon the satisfaction of certain demands is itself an outrage. Bush did not say why it was necessary for the US to carry out its own assessment in order to release more aid, nor did he elaborate on what was meant by promises that the US military would help “stabilize the situation.” US Navy ships are standing by off the coast of Thailand to intervene.

These pledges are certainly not intended as selfless humanitarian gestures. The Bush administration has been seeking to undermine the Burmese military regime for years and seized on protests last year by Buddhist monks to slap economic sanctions on the country and its rulers. There is no doubt that the United States would be happy to exploit the current tragedy to get a military foothold in the country.

The World Socialist Web Site holds no brief for the Burmese military junta, a brutal regime that has exercised dictatorial control over a largely impoverished country. However, US and European machinations, including the promotion of Suu Kyi, have nothing to do with concern for the democratic rights or economic well-being of the population. As always, the humanitarian pretensions of the US government are carefully calibrated to coincide with the interests of the American ruling class.

In the case of Burma, the US is interested in countering the influence of China, which has closer ties with the military regime and sees the country as a critical point of access into the Indian Ocean. As far as the Bush administration is concerned, the population of the country is only a bargaining chip in the pursuit of geo-strategic objectives.

US energy giants, including the Chevron oil corporation, also have interests in Burma. While the Bush administration has placed economic sanctions on the country, these have not affected Chevron’s multibillion-dollar investments through its subsidiary Unocal. Human rights groups have accused Chevron of complicity in abuses in Burma intended to protect its pipeline routes.

The statements by the Bush administration must also be seen in the context of its treatment of populations around the world, including in the United States itself. On Monday, US First Lady Laura Bush was the first from the White House to respond to the cyclone, using the opportunity to chastise the government for failing to warn the population and adequately prepare for the consequences.

“Although they were aware of the threat,” she said, “Burma’s state-run media failed to issue a timely warning to citizens in the storm’s path. The response to the cyclone is just the most recent example of the junta’s failure to meet its people’s basic needs.”

The hypocrisy and cynicism of this statement are so glaring that one wonders if it is not intentionally provocative. This August 29 will mark the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the massive storm that struck Louisiana and Mississippi, killing at least 1,800 people. The hurricane destroyed and flooded New Orleans, a major American city.

The US and local governments had been aware for decades of the potential for a deadly flood in New Orleans, but there was no evacuation plan in place, and no plan to meet the needs of those trapped or displaced. Tens of thousands remained trapped for days in the Louisiana Superdome. Many thousands who lost their homes were placed in temporary FEMA trailers, and in 2007 it was revealed that these trailers contained extremely high levels of formaldehyde, a toxic chemical.

The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina was largely preventable, but due to gross governmental indifference and negligence, the levee systems of New Orleans were denied necessary investments and allowed to decay—only one of many examples of the American government’s “failure to meet its people’s basic needs.”

Saturday, May 03, 2008

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