Jul 312011
 
Web of Debt Blog
Ellen Brown

The debt ceiling crisis can be averted by enforcing the Fourteenth Amendment, which mandates the  government to pay its debts already incurred, including pensions.  That means Social Security, which IS an “entitlement,” in the original sense of the word.  We’re entitled to it because we’ve paid for it with taxes. 

The game of Russian roulette being played with the U.S. federal debt has been called a “grotesque political carnival” and political blackmail.  The uproar stems from a statute that is unique to the United States and never did make much sense.  First passed in 1917 and revised multiple times since, it imposes a dollar limit on the federal debt.  What doesn’t make sense is that the same Congress that voted on the statute votes on the budget, which periodically exceeds the limit, requiring the statute to be revised.  The debt ceiling has been raised 74 times since 1962, 10 of them since 2001.  The most recent increase, to $14.294 trillion by H.J.Res. 45, was  signed into law on February 12, 2010.
Taxes aren’t collected until after the annual budget is passed, so Congress can’t know in advance whether or how much additional borrowing will be required.  Inevitably, there will be some years that the budget pushes the debt over the limit, requiring new legislation.  And inevitably, now that this tactic has been discovered, there will be a costly battle over the increase, wasting congressional time, destabilizing markets, and rattling faith in the American financial and political systems.  There will be continual blackmail, arm-twisting and concessions.  The situation is untenable and cries out for a definitive resolution.

Fortunately, there is one.  A bevy of legal scholars are recommending that the issue be eliminated altogether by playing the Constitutional trump card.  The Fourteenth Amendment provides at Section 4:

“The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”

Where statute and the Constitution collide, the Constitution prevails.  Whether the government should pay the bills it has already incurred is not a matter of negotiation.  It is a Constitutional mandate.  And those are the bills we are talking about here, as President Obama stressed in his remarks on the issue last Friday.  He said:

“Raising the debt ceiling simply gives our country the ability to pay the bills that Congress has already racked up.  I want to emphasize that.  The debt ceiling does not determine how much more money we can spend, it simply authorizes us to pay the bills we already have racked up.  It gives the United States of America the ability to keep its word.”

Ignoring the debt ceiling on Constitutional grounds would not, as Michelle Bachmann declares, make President Obama a “dictator.”  It would simply mean he is complying with his Constitutional mandate to pay the government’s bills on time and in full.

Social Security Is Not Welfare.  It Is a Debt Due and Owing.

The President could have a clean resolution of the issue, but he is not jumping at the opportunity.  Rather, he appears to be ready to throw Granny under the bus by slashing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, all in the name of “compromise.”

The Fourteenth Amendment says debts already incurred shall not be questioned, “including debts incurred for payment of pensions.”  That includes Social Security, which is an “entitlement” in the true sense of the word: we’re entitled to it because we’ve already paid for it.  In fact, the Social Security Act was originally sold to Congress and the nation in 1935 not as a government benefit, but as a retirement savings program. Earlier this year, the Urban Institute published a study evaluating the program in this way, concluding that the average worker who retires today will withdraw from Social Security just about the same amount he put in over the years, with a modest 2% real interest rate (after inflation).

A deal is a deal.  We paid for it, we are owed it, and the U.S. government is good for it.  To change the terms of the deal ex post facto is both a breach of contract and a violation of the Constitution.

Where to Get the Money: Ron Paul’s Creative Plan

A sovereign nation can always find the money to pay debts owed in its own currency.  The U.S. could, if it wished, pay its bills using debt-free U.S. Notes or Greenbacks, just as President Lincoln did to avoid a crippling debt during the Civil War.  Alternatively, it could eliminate the deficit with Ron Paul’s plan, which amounts to the same thing.  As Stephen Gandel explains Paul’s solution in Time Magazine:

“In the last year or two the Fed has been buying up U.S. Treasury bonds in an effort to lower interest rates and boost the economy. The most recent round of that buying has been dubbed QE2, and has come under a good deal of criticism, though most economists agree that it was a generally helpful policy. The result is that the Fed now holds nearly $1.7 trillion in U.S. debt. But that is really phony debt. The Treasury pays the interest on the debt on behalf of the U.S. government to the Fed, which in turn returns 90 percent of the payments it gets back to the Treasury. Nonetheless, that $1.7 trillion in U.S. bonds that the Fed owns, despite the shell game of payments, is still counted in the debt ceiling number, which caps that amount of total federal debt at $14.3 trillion.

“Paul’s plan: Get the Fed and the Treasury to rip up that debt. It’s fake debt anyway. And the Fed is legally allowed to return the debt to the Treasury to be destroyed. A trillion and a half dollars is currently about what spending is expected to exceed tax revenue in 2011.”

The biggest drawback to the plan, says Gandel, is just that it “looks bad.”  It looks as if the government is paying off its debts by printing money.  But that is what government-issued money is: a note acknowledging a debt due and owed from the public, good for an equivalent value from the public, traded in the marketplace.  A U.S. Note or Greenback and a Federal Reserve Note or dollar bill are both forms of promissory notes.  The government can as easily issue a dollar bill as a dollar note or a dollar bond, as Thomas Edison pointed out in the 1920s.

The objection to that solution is that it would be inflationary, but as economist Richard Koo graphically demonstrates, the Fed’s quantitative easing has had virtually no inflationary effect on the money supply to date:

Misdirected Fed policy has instead caused $1.6 trillion in “excess reserves” to sit on bank balance sheets, as explained in an earlier article.  Conveniently, excess reserves can be used as collateral for futures and derivatives contracts, and that is what some banks appear to be doing with the money: backing trades in the financial markets.  This sort of speculation, involving money making money without increasing productivity, can and does drive up prices.

If the money had been delivered directly to the government to be spent on the national budget, it might have gotten into the real economy where it could do some good.  The government’s budget is spent not on speculation but on goods and services.  Increased government “demand”  stimulates an increase in “supply,” causing supply and demand to increase together, avoiding price inflation while stimulating economic activity.

Time to Close the Debt Ceiling Loophole

 The debt crisis was created, not by a social safety net bought and paid for by the taxpayers, but by a banking system taken over by Wall Street gamblers.  The gamblers lost their bets and were bailed out at the expense of the taxpayers; and if anyone should be held to account, it is these gamblers.
The debt ceiling crisis is a manufactured one, engineered to extort concessions that will lock the middle class in debt peonage for decades to come.  Congress is empowered by the Constitution to issue the money it needs to pay its debts.  Abraham Lincoln did it; Barack Obama could do it.  He probably won’t, but he does need to follow his Constitutional mandate to pay the government’s bills as and when due.  The statute imposing a ceiling on the national debt is trumped by the Fourteenth Amendment, making it redundant and unnecessary.  The statute should be repealed.

__________________

Ellen Brown is an attorney and president of the Public Banking Institute, http://PublicBankingInstitute.org. In Web of Debt, her latest of eleven books, she shows how the power to create money has been usurped from the people, and how we can get it back. Her websites are http://webofdebt.com and http://ellenbrown.com.


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Jul 312011
 
Le Monde Diplomatique
by Silla Sigurgeirsdóttir and Robert H Wade

The people of Iceland have now twice voted not to repay international debts incurred by banks, and bankers, for which the whole island is being held responsible. With the present turmoil in European capitals, could this be the way forward for other economies?

The small island of Iceland has lessons for the world. It held a referendum in April to decide, more or less, whether ordinary people should pay for the folly of the bankers (and by extension, could governments control the corporate sector if they depended on it for finance). Sixty per cent of the population rejected an agreement negotiated between Iceland, the Netherlands and the UK to pay back the British and Dutch governments for the money they spent to recompense savers with the failed bank Icesave. That was less resistance than the first referendum last spring, when 93% voted no.

The referendum was significant since European governments, pressured by speculators, the IMF and the European Commission, are imposing austerity policies on which their citizens have not voted. Even devotees of deregulation are worried by the degree of the western world’s servitude to unconstrained financial institutions. After the Icelandic referendum, even the liberal Financial Times noted with approval on 13 April that it had been possible to “put citizens before banks”, an idea which does not resonate among European political leaders.

Iceland is an unusually pure example of the dynamics that blocked regulation and caused financial fragility across the developed world for 20 years. In 2007, just before the financial crisis, Iceland’s average income was the fifth highest in the world, 60% above US levels; Reykjavik’s shops were stuffed with luxury goods, its restaurants made London seem cheap, and SUVs choked the narrow streets. Icelanders were the happiest people in the world according to an international study in 2006 (1). Much of this rested on the super-fast growth of three Icelandic banks that rose from small utility institutions in 1998 to being among world’s top 300 banks eight years later, increasing their assets from 100% of GDP in 2000 to almost 800% by 2007, a ratio second only to Switzerland.

The crisis came in September 2008 when money markets seized up after the Lehman meltdown. Within a week, Iceland’s three big banks collapsed and were taken into public ownership. Moody now listed them among the 11 biggest financial collapses in history.

Towards modernisation

After more than 600 years of foreign rule, Iceland’s social structure was the most feudal of all Nordic countries at the beginning of the 20th century. Fishing dominated the economy, generating most of the foreign-currency earnings and allowing the development of an import-based commercial sector. This created urban economic activities: construction, services, light industry. After the second world war the economy grew strongly, because of Marshall Plan aid (there was a large US-Nato military base); an abundant export commodity, cold-water fish, unusually blessed with high income elasticity of demand; and a small, literate population with a strong sense of national identity.

As Iceland became more prosperous it established a welfare state, in line with the tax-financed Scandinavian model, and by the 1980s had attained a level and a distribution of disposable income equal to the Nordic average. Yet it remained both more regulated and more patron-client-dominated than its European neighbours; a local oligopoly restricted the political and economic landscape.
There is a direct line of descent from the quasi-feudal power structures of the 19th century to the modernised Icelandic capitalism of the later 20th century, when a bloc of 14 families, popularly known as The Octopus, were the economic and political ruling elite. The Octopus controlled imports, transport, banking, insurance, fishing and supplies to the Nato base and provided most top politicians. The families lived like chieftains.

The Octopus controlled the rightwing Independence Party (IP) which dominated the media and decided on senior appointments in the civil service, police and judiciary. The local, state-owned banks were effectively run by the dominant parties, the IP and the Centre Party or CP (2). Ordinary people had to go through party functionaries to get loans to buy a car, or for foreign exchange for travel abroad. Power networks operated as webs of bullying, sycophancy and distrust, permeated with a macho culture, something like the former Soviet Union.

This traditional order was challenged from within by a neoliberal faction, the Locomotive group, which had coalesced in the early 1970s after law and business administration students at the University of Iceland took over a journal, The Locomotive, and promoted free-market ideas. Their aim was not just to transform the society but also to open career opportunities for themselves, rather than wait for Octopus patronage. At the end of the cold war their position strengthened materially and ideologically, as the communists and social democrats lost public support. The future IP prime minister, Davíð Oddsson, was a prominent member.

Oddsson, born in 1948 with a middle-class background, was elected as an IP councillor to the Reykjavik municipal council in 1974; by 1982 he was mayor of Reykjavik, leading privatisation campaigns, including selling off the municipality’s fishing industry, to the benefit of members of the Locomotive group. In 1991 he led the IP to victory in the general election, and reigned (not too strong a word) as prime minister for 14 years, overseeing the growth of the financial sector, before installing himself as governor of the Central Bank in 2004. He had little experience or interest in the world beyond Iceland. His Locomotive group protégé Geir Haarde, finance minister from 1998 to 2005, took over as prime minister shortly after. These two men most directly steered Iceland’s great experiment to create an international financial centre in the North Atlantic, midway between Europe and America.

Iceland liberalises

The liberalisation of the economy began in 1994, when accession to the European Economic Area, the free-trade bloc of EU countries, plus Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway, lifted restrictions on cross-border flows of capital, goods, services and people. The Oddsson government then sold off state-owned assets and deregulated labour. Privatisation began in 1998, implemented by Oddsson and Halldór Ásgrímsson, the leader of the CP. Of the banks, Landsbanki was allocated to IP grandees, Kaupthing to their counterparts in the CP, its coalition partner; foreign bidders were excluded. Later, Glitnir, a private bank formed from the merger of several smaller ones, joined the league.

So Iceland roared into international finance aided globally by abundant cheap credit and free capital mobility, and domestically by strong political backing for the banks. The new banks merged investment banking with commercial banking, so that both shared government guarantees. And the country had low sovereign debt, which gave the banks high marks from the international credit-rating agencies. The major shareholders of Landsbanki, Kaupthing, Glitnir and their spin-offs reversed the earlier political dominance of finance: government policy was now subordinated to the ends of finance.

Oddsson and friends relaxed the state-provided mortgage rules, allowing 90% loans. The newly privatised banks rushed to offer even more generous terms. Income tax and VAT rates were lowered to turn Iceland into a low-tax international financial centre. Bubble dynamics took hold. City planners aimed to move Reykjavik from the trajectory of an ordinary city to that of a world city (despite its small population of 110,000) and approved several grandiose new public and private buildings, saying “If Dubai, why not Reykjavik?”

Iceland’s new banking elite were intent on expanding their ownership of the economy, competing and cooperating with each other. Using their shares as collateral, some took out large loans from their own banks, and bought more shares in the same banks, inflating share prices. It worked like this: Bank A lent to shareholders in Bank B, who bought more shares in B using shares as collateral, raising B’s share price. Bank B returned the favour. The share prices of both banks rose, without new money coming in. The banks not only grew bigger, they grew more and more interconnected. Several dealings of this kind are now under criminal investigation by the special prosecutor, as cases of market manipulation.


Tiny Iceland soon managed to enter the big-bank league, with three banks in the world’s biggest 300 by 2006. The super-abundance of credit allowed people to consume in extravagant celebration of their escape from the earlier decades of credit rationing (on top of the earlier escape from foreign rule as recently as 1944). They saw themselves as fully independent at last, which may explain their happiness ranking. The owners and managers remunerated themselves on an ever-larger scale. The richer they were, the more they attracted political support. Their private jets, roaring in and out of Reykjavik’s airport, seemed to be visual and auditory proof to the part-admiring, part-envious population below.

Income and wealth inequality surged, helped by government policies that shifted the tax burden to the poorer population (3). The bankers made large financial contributions to the governing parties and giant loans to key politicians. The leading Icelandic champion of free-market economics declared in The Wall Street Journal: “Oddsson’s experiment with liberal policies is the greatest success story in the world” (4).

In the euphoria, the dangers of a strategy of “economic growth based on vast foreign borrowing” were overlooked. Icelanders lived out the dictum of Plautus, the third century BC Roman playwright, who had one of his characters declare: “I am a rich man, as long as I do not repay my creditors.”

The 2006 mini-crisis

In 2006 there were worries in the financial press about the stability of the big banks, which were beginning to have problems raising funds in the money markets (on which their business model depended). Iceland’s current account deficit had soared from 5% of GDP in 2003 to 20% in 2006, one of the highest in the world. The stock market multiplied itself nine times over between 2001 and 2007.
Landsbanki, Kaupthing and Glitnir were operating far beyond the capacity of Iceland’s Central Bank to support them as lender of last resort; their liabilities were real, but many of their assets were dubious.

In February 2006 Fitch downgraded Iceland’s outlook from stable to negative and triggered the 2006 “mini-crisis”: the krona fell sharply, the value of banks’ liabilities in foreign currencies rose, the stock market fell and business defaults rose, and the sustainability of foreign-currency debts became a public problem, The Danske Bank of Copenhagen described Iceland as a “geyser economy” on the point of exploding (5).

Icelandic bankers and politicians brushed aside the crisis. Iceland’s Central Bank took out a loan to double the foreign-exchange reserves, while the Chamber of Commerce, run by representatives of Landsbanki, Kaupthing, Glitnir and their spin-offs, responded with a PR campaign. It paid the American monetary economist Frederic Mishkin $135,000 to lend his name to a report attesting to the stability of Iceland’s banks. It allegedly paid the London Business School economist Richard Portes £58,000 ($95,000) to do the same for a later report. The supply-side economist Arthur Laffer assured the Icelandic business community in 2007 that fast economic growth with a large trade deficit and ballooning foreign debt were signs of success: “Iceland should be a model to the world” (6). The value of the banks’ “assets” was then around eight times greater than Iceland’s GDP.

In the elections of May 2007, the Social Democratic Alliance (SDA) entered a coalition government with the still-dominant IP. To the consternation of many supporters, SDA leaders ditched their pre-election pledges and endorsed the continued expansion of the financial sector.

Though they had survived 2006, Landsbanki, Kaupthing and Glitnir had trouble raising money to fund their asset purchases and repay existing debts, largely denominated in foreign currencies. So Landsbanki pioneered Icesave, an internet-based service that aimed to win retail savings deposits by offering more attractive interest rates than high-street banks. Established in Britain in October 2006, and in the Netherlands 18 months later, Icesave caught the attention of best buy internet finance sites and was soon flooded with deposits. Millions of pounds arrived from Cambridge University, the London Metropolitan Police Authority, even the UK Audit Commission, responsible for overseeing local government funds, as well as 300,000 Icesave depositors in the UK alone.

Icesave entities were legally established as branches, rather than subsidiaries, so they were under the supervision of the Icelandic authorities, rather than their hosts. No one noticed that the Icelandic regulatory agency had a total staff, including receptionist, of only 45 and suffered high turnover as many went on to join the banks, which offered better pay. No one worried much that, because of Iceland’s obligations as a member of the EEA deposit insurance scheme, its population of 320,000 would be responsible for compensating the depositors abroad in the event of failure. Landsbanki’s shareholders reaped the short-term profits while most Icelanders didn’t know anything about Icesave at all.

Love letters

The second “solution” to difficulties in raising new funds was a way to get more access to liquidity without pledging real assets as collateral. The Big Three sold debt securities to a smaller regional bank, which took these bonds to the Central Bank and borrowed against them, without having to supply further collateral; they then lent back to the initiating big bank. The bonds were called “love letters” — mere promises. By participating in this game and accepting as collateral claims on other Icelandic banks the central bank was conniving in the banks’ strategy of gambling for resurrection.

Then the banks internationalised the process: the Big Three established subsidiaries in Luxembourg and sold love letters to them. The subsidiaries sold them on to the Central Bank of Luxembourg or the European Central Bank and received cash in return, which they could pass back to the parent bank in Iceland or use themselves. The OECD calculates that just the domestic love letters, between the CBI and the Icelandic banks, incurred losses to the CBI and the Treasury of 13% of GDP (OECD Economic Surveys: Iceland, June 2011).

Financial collapse

The Icelandic banks fell two weeks after Lehman Brothers. On 29 September 2008, Glitnir approached Oddsson at the Central Bank for help with its looming liquidity problem. To restore confidence, Oddsson instructed the Central Bank to buy 75% of Glitnir’s shares. The effect was not to boost Glitnir but to undermine confidence in Iceland. The country’s rating plunged, and credit lines were withdrawn from Landsbanki and Kaupthing. A run on Icesave’s overseas branches began. Oddsson moved on 7 October 2008 to peg the krona to a basket of currencies at close to the pre-crisis value. With the currency tumbling and in the absence of capital controls, the foreign-exchange reserves were exhausted: the peg lasted for only a few hours, just long enough for those in the know to change their money out of the krona at a much more favourable rate. Inside sources indicate that billions left the currency in these hours. Then the krona was floated, and sank. On 8 October the then UK prime minister, Gordon Brown, froze Landsbanki’s UK assets under the anti-terrorism laws. The stock market, bank bonds, house prices and average income went into free-fall.

The IMF arrived in Reykjavik in October 2008 to prepare a crisis-management programme, the first time the Fund had been called in to rescue a developed economy since Britain in 1976. It offered a conditional loan of $2.1bn to stabilise the krona and backed the British and Dutch governments’ demands that Iceland should honour the obligations of the European deposit-guarantee scheme and recompense them for their bailouts of Icesave depositors.

Iceland’s normally placid population erupted in an angry protest movement, principally targeted at Haarde, Oddsson and the IP, although the SDA’s foreign minister Ingibjörg Gísladóttir was considered tarnished too. Thousands of people assembled in Reykjavik’s main square on freezing Saturday afternoons between October 2008 and January 2009, banged saucepans, linked arms in a circle around the parliament building to demand the government’s resignation, and pelted the building with food.

In January 2009, the IP-SDA coalition broke. To date, Iceland is the only country to have shifted distinctly to the left after the financial crisis. An interim SDA-LGM (Social Democrats-Left Green Movement) government was formed in January 2009 to lead until April’s election. In the election the IP was reduced to 16 seats, despite the overwhelming bias of the electoral system in its favour, its worst result since its formation in 1929.

Icesave debt rejected

The SDA-LGM government came under immediate pressure to repay the Icesave debt; much of the IMF loan was withheld until Reykjavik agreed. The new government was also divided on whether to apply for full membership of the EU and Eurozone, with most of the SDA strongly in favour. After long negotiations, the government presented the terms they had agreed on the Icesave debt to the parliament in October 2009: ? 5.5bn ($7.8bn), or 50% of Iceland’s GDP, was to be paid to the British and Dutch treasuries between 2016 and 2023.

The party’s health minister resigned in protest, five dissidents refused to vote with the government. The bill was forced through on 30 December 2009, against high feelings in the country. On 5 January 2010 President Grímsson announced that he would not sign it into law, out of respect for the national sentiment. In the ensuing referendum the bill was decisively rejected. In the May 2010 Reykjavik municipal elections, the SDA slumped to 19% and a comedian was elected as the city’s mayor. In October protests resumed, and the coalition conceded the election of a constitutional assembly to draw up a new constitution (the existing one having been inherited from Denmark on independence in 1944). When the election was invalidated by the Supreme Court, the assembly was reconvened as a constitutional council appointed by parliament.

The deal on the table in this April’s second Icesave referendum involved substantial concessions on the part of the British and Dutch governments. After the no vote, the disagreement may have to go to international courts.

The postponed crisis

The cost of losses on loans and guarantees, added to the cost of restructuring financial organisations, brings the total direct fiscal costs of the crisis to about 20% of GDP, higher than in any other country except Ireland (OECD Economic Surveys, Iceland, June 2011). But the postponement of major public spending cuts until this year has given the economy breathing space; and the sharp devaluation has helped to generate a trade surplus for the first time in many years. So far, Iceland has experienced smaller falls in GDP and employment than big public-spending slashers like Ireland, Estonia and Lithuania. The unemployment rate, only 2% in 2006, has been between 7% and 9% since 2009; but the rate of outmigration, of Icelanders and other European workers (predominantly Polish), has been the highest since 1889. However, the SDA-LGM government has announced drastic cuts in public spending for 2011 and beyond. Local governments have no budget for fresh projects. Hospitals and schools are cutting salaries and sacking employees. The freeze on house repossessions expired in 2010.

Finance in the driving seat

The IP-SDA government’s decision to provide unlimited bank deposit guarantees illustrates its debt to the financial elite. Had it limited the guarantee to 5m krona ($70,000), it would have protected the entire deposits of 95% of depositors; only the wealthiest 5%, including many politicians, benefited from the unlimited guarantee, which now means further constraints on public spending.

Iceland’s tiny scale seemed to make it easier to challenge the government’s denial of the impending crisis, but the opposite was true. The Oddsson government undertook an extreme privatisation of information. Iceland’s National Economic Institute had a reputation for independent thinking, and Oddsson abolished it in 2002. From then on the banks, international rating companies and the Chamber of Commerce provided almost the only information and running commentary on the state of the economy, present and future.

Paradoxically, a number of critical reports were published when the bubble was in the early stages, including one by the CBI. But by 2007-08, when the dangers were acute, reports, including those by the IMF, became noticeably softer in tone. It seems that the official financial institutions, as well as bankers and politicians, understood that the situation was so fragile that just to speak of it might trigger a run on the banks.

In October 2010 the parliament decided to charge Prime Minister Haarde for breach of ministerial responsibility. The permanent finance secretary Baldur Gudlaugsson (former member of the Locomotive group) has been given two years in prison for using inside information for his personal advantage while selling his shares in Landsbanki in September 2008. But the special prosecutor in charge of the investigation of the banks has been working with a team of 60 lawyers and others for the past two years and has so far brought no charges. Meanwhile Oddsson was appointed in September 2009 as editor-in-chief at Morgunblaðið, the leading Iceland daily, and orchestrated coverage of the crisis. A commentator said that was like appointing Nixon editor of The Washington Post after Watergate. Iceland’s elite looks after its own.


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Jul 312011
 
Global Research
Michel Chossudovsky and  Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya

The death of General Abdel Fattah Al-Younes, Commander in Chief of Rebel Forces was announced on July 28. Younes was Colonel Qaddafi’s former interior minister who defected to the rebels. Younes was also key leader of the Transitional Council based in Benghazi.

His death has created a vacuum in the military command structure, which will inevitably contribute in the short-run to weakening the military capabilities of the insurgency. It will also have repercussions on the timing of NATO operations.

Unconfirmed reports state that Younes died in the battlefield in fighting on the ground against the Libyan military. For several days there were rumors that Al-Younis was dead. These reports stated that he was fighting in the Western Mountains and he could have been killed in battle. Other reports state that he was killed by the Transitional Council.

Even within rebel circles there are claims that Al-Younes was killed “because he was a traitor”.

The official release of the Transitional Council states that  General Al-Younes and two top military commanders aides were killed by gunmen.on Thursday July 28.

“Abdel Fattah Younes was killed after being summoned to the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi to appear before a judicial inquiry, opposition leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil announced at a press conference late on Thursday night.”

Secret Negotiations with Tripoli?

Al-Younes may have been attempting to return to Tripoli. There have also been reports regarding secret negotiations between Transitional Council members and the Libyan government. A faction within the Transitional Council may have been searching for a negotiated solution with Tripoli.

Barely two weeks earlier, top level talks were held in Brussels (Wednesday, July 13) between a Transitional National Council delegation and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The delegation also met with the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s governing body. Fogh Rasmussen confirmed that “NATO would continue its bombing campaign in Libya as long as Gadhafi’s forces threaten civilians”. “As long as that threat continues, we must continue to deal with it,”

While in Brussels, rebel NTC leader Mustafa Abdel Jabril categorically denied the holding of talks with Tripoli: “All this talk about negotiations taking place between the regime and the National Transitional Council are totally false claims,” The Associated Press: Rebels deny talks with Gadhafi, July 13, 2011)

Divisions within the Transitional Council and the Military

The death of Al-Younes has resulted in internal fighting within the Transitional Council. The leadership of  Mustafa Abdel Jibril is being questioned, particularly by members of Al-Younes’ Obeide tribe. Jibril had been seeking a surge in NATO’s bombing campaign in support of “a military advance” on Tripoli by rebel forces.

Following the death of General Younes and two top military commanders, rebel forces are in disarray. Factional divisions are developing within rebel forces.

The CIA Connection

There have also been accusations that Younes was assassinated by a rival faction of the insurgency headed by military commander Khalifa Hifter, who is known to be a CIA asset:

General Hifter retired to suburban Virginia, where he has lived for the last 20 years in Vienna (a small town) which is five minutes from CIA headquarters in Langley. … Manipulations Africaines, a book published by Le Monde Diplomatique in 2001, traces Hifter’s CIA connection back to 1987, stating that he was then a colonel in Gaddafi’s army and was captured fighting in Chad against the U.S.-backed government of Hissène Habré. Hifter defected to the Libyan National Salvation Front (LNSF), the main anti-Gaddafi group, which was CIA-backed. He organized his own militia, which stopped functioning once Habré was defeated by Idriss Déby (supported by France) in 1990. ….  “The Hifter force, created and financed by the CIA in Chad, vanished into thin air with the help of the CIA shortly after the government was overthrown by Idriss Déby.” The book quotes a U.S. Congressional Research Service report dated December 19, 1996, to the effect that “the U.S. government was providing financial and military aid to the LNSF, and that a number of LNSF members were relocated to the United States.”  (Asad Ismi The Middle East Revolution: The Empire Strikes Back: Libya Attacked by the US and NATO, Global Research, May 18, 2011)

Commander Khalifa Hifter tends to support the Islamic faction of the rebellion which is integrated by members of the Libya Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).

Supporting the Libyan Jihad

Affiliated to Al Qaeda, the LIFG  (Al-Jama’a al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah bi-Libya) was founded in Afghanistan with the support of the CIA by Veteran Libyan Mujahideens of the Soviet-Afghan war.

From the outset in the early to mid-1990s, the Libya Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) performed the role of an “intelligence asset” on behalf of the CIA and Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. Starting in 1995, the LIFG was actively involved in waging an Islamic Jihad directed against the secular Libyan regime, including a 1996 attempted assassination of Muamar Qadhafi. (See Michel Chossudovsky, “Our Man in Tripoli”: US-NATO Sponsored Islamic Terrorists Integrate Libya’s Pro-Democracy Opposition,

The Jihadists, covertly supported by Western intelligence are now on the front lines of the insurgency:

Mr al-Hasidi [A Veteran Mujahideen] insisted his fighters “are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists,” but added that the “members of al-Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader [Qadhafi forces]”. (Libyan rebel commander admits his fighters have al-Qaeda links, Daily Telegraph, March 25, 2011, emphasis added)

Abdul Hakim Al-Hasadi, is a leader of the LIFG who received military training in a guerrilla camp in Afghanistan. He is head of security of the opposition forces in one of the rebel held territories with some 1,000 men under his command. (Libyan rebels at pains to distance themselves from extremists – The Globe and Mail, March 12, 2011)

The US-NATO coalition is arming the Jihadists. Weapons are being channelled to the LIFG from Saudi Arabia, which historically, since the outset of the Soviet-Afghan war, has covertly supported Al Qaeda. The Saudis are now providing the rebels, in liaison with Washington and Brussels, with anti-tank rockets and ground-to-air missiles. (See Michel Chossudovsky, “Our Man in Tripoli”: US-NATO Sponsored Islamic Terrorists Integrate Libya’s Pro-Democracy Opposition, April 3, 2011)

The Kosovo Model

The assassination of General Younes, while creating divisions within the insurgency, tends to reinforce US-NATO control over the Islamist faction of the insurgency, which is supported covertly by the CIA and MI6.

What is unfolding  in Libya is the “Kosovo Model”. The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was integrated by Islamic brigades affiliated to Al Qaeda, not to mention its links to organized crime. The KLA was supported covertly by the CIA, German intelligence (BND) and Britain’s MI6.

Starting in 1997, the KLA was behind the political assassinations of civilian opposition forces within Kosovo, including members of the Democratic League of Kosovo headed by Ibrahim Rugova. It was then used as an instrument in NATO’s 1999 war against Yugoslavia. And in the wake of the 1999 war the KLA was spearheaded, with the support of the UN and the EU, into heading an independent “democratic” Kosovo “Mafia State”.

The “War on Terrorism” Supports “The War on Terrorism”

In a bitter irony, the US-NATO coalition against Libya is “on both sides” of their own “war on terrorism”.

They say that they are “fighting terrorism”, when in fact they covertly supporting and financing terrorism.

They are fighting with rather than against the terrorists.

They are also on both sides of “The Big Lie”. They wage a holy war against “Islamic terrorism”, while also supporting Al Qaeda affiliated jihadist forces within the Libyan “opposition”.

Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya in Tripoli and  Michel Chossudovsky in Montreal contributed to this report.


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Jul 312011
 
The Washington Examiner
Shannon Goessling

Rather than spiraling into a global warming meltdown, we may be heading into the next ice age.

The U.S. National Solar Observatory, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and astrophysicists across the planet report that the nearly all-time low sunspot activity may result in a sustained cooling period on Earth.

The news has sent global warming theory advocates scrambling to discount and explain away the impact on global temperatures. However, the “news” is not really that new.

Many reputable scientists have been warning for decades that we are nearing the end of the 11,500-year average period between ice ages. And the last similar crash in sunspot activity coincided with the so-called “Little Ice Age” in the 1600s that lasted nearly a century.

Despite increasing evidence that “global warming” climate change is not the unified scientific theory it has been promoted to be, vested interests continue to push for stringent limits on carbon dioxide emissions.

Certain investment banks and trading houses that stand to make billions on so-called “carbon credits,” and the environmental sociologists who have as a stated purpose to change our way of life, are a powerful bloc.

In the Obama administration, this cabal has a willing “big stick” in the form the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has enacted draconian measures that will, by President Obama’s admission, make energy costs “skyrocket.”

The subject of intense litigation, the EPA regulations were enacted this year without congressional approval as required by the Clean Air Act and other laws. Estimates put the economic damage of these regulations at $1 trillion over the next 20 years, with a loss of between four and 10 million jobs.

Ironically, the current rush by global warming advocates to uncouple mounting evidence of global cooling from the global warming regime is not the first time they’ve backpedaled.

As referenced in ongoing litigation, the EPA admitted that generally applicable regulations would lead to “absurd” results, leading the agency to create a so-called “Tailoring Rule.”

For example, global warming alarmists admit by their own calculations that reducing carbon emissions among a sample of large U.S. “emitters” to EPA-required levels might reduce the surface temperature by .00071 degree Celsius — or 70 times lower than what is detectable.

Annual emission reductions sought would be replaced in 13 days by industrial growth in China. “Absurd” is understatement. So how do we handle “global cooling?”

In the 1970s and ’80s, climatologists and astrophysicists were setting off alarms about pending global cooling and “the new ice age.” Headlines in major weekly news magazines warned of a cooling catastrophe, with experts like famed astronomer Carl Sagan calling on industrialized countries to produce more carbon dioxide to offset the pending disaster.

High-level scientific proposals were advanced to redirect Arctic rivers, clear out swaths of high-density forests to release carbon dioxide, and even salt the Greenland ice caps with black carbon to attract sun melting in a global effort to stave off the impending ice age.

What happens during a “Little Ice Age?” Food-producing land becomes scarcer, food-growing seasons become shorter, and the world becomes a much more arid and less hospitable place. Think food shortages and the social unrest that follows.

The forces at work behind the global warming regulatory regime have, at worst, covered up, ignored and manipulated climate evidence to make the case that humans cause global warming and therefore humans should be punished.

At best, the mainstream scientific community is continuing to weigh the climate data as it becomes available. Caught in the flux are millions of Americans suffering under an economic tsunami that is anything but a theory.

The textbook definition of moving forward with global warming regulations is truly “absurd.”
Shannon Goessling is executive director and chief legal counsel for the Southeastern Legal Foundation.



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Jul 312011
 
Desert Peace
Kristin Szremski

New moves to curb criticism of Israel in US and Canada

New legislation in the US threatens to conflate campus
criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism

A number of new initiatives to curtail freedom of speech by conflating opposition to Israeli crimes with anti-Semitism are underway in the United States and Canada.

The Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) issued a report in early July recommending the adoption of strict new standards defining anti-Semitism and the types of speech and campus activities that would violate them. Its report urged the Canadian government to adopt the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’s definition of anti-Semitism (“Report on the Inquiry Panel,” 7 July 2011 [PDF]). That definition suggests that any questioning of whether Israel has the right to exist as a state that privileges Jews over people of other religions or ethnic backgrounds amounts to anti-Semitism.

Though the Canadian group is not linked to the Ottawa government, it has 22 parliamentarians as members. Activities it deems as anti-Semitic and, therefore, calls to be banned, include events such as the Israeli Apartheid Week that was founded in Toronto and now takes place on college campuses internationally every March.

The Canadian report is just the latest attempt at stifling public discourse about Israel. Free speech and the unimpeded exchange of ideas are also under attack on America’s college campuses. Pro-Israel supporters have targeted federal funding for academic institutions, including support for research and academic conferences, under the pretext that criticism of Israel is “hate speech.”

Federal authorities from the Office of Civil Rights with the US Department of Education are investigating charges of anti-Semitism against the University of California Santa Cruz, as well as at other institutions within the California university system, according to published reports. These are the first investigations taking place since Title VI of the Civil Rights Act was re-interpreted in October 2010, allowing Jewish students, as members of a religious group, to claim discrimination under a provision that previously applied only to racial and ethnic bigotry.

A “dear colleague” letter issued by the Office of Civil Rights in October 2010 said that discrimination against a student who is a member of a religious group violates Title VI when the discrimination is based on the group’s “actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics … or when it is based upon the student’s actual or perceived citizenship or residency in a country whose residents share a dominant religion or a distinct religious identity,” David Thomas, a US Department of Education spokesman, explained by email.

Bowing to the Zionist lobby

Major pro-Israel organizations such as the Zionist Organization of America and the Anti-Defamation League have lobbied for this re-interpretation for years. Title VI now can be applied to Jewish students who claim universities create hostile campus environments if they allow pro-Palestinian events or even class lectures critical of Israeli policies.

In other words, since Israel bills itself as a Jewish state, of which all Jews everywhere are automatic citizens, Jewish students can file complaints of anti-Semitism and discrimination based upon their perceived ethnicity and citizenship or residency in a country that has a “dominant religion.”

Dr. Hatem Bazian, a Palestinian-American professor of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, who founded the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) there in 2001, takes issue with the amended understanding of Title VI. While he agrees that Jewish students, as well as Muslim students, should be protected from discrimination based on their religious identity under Title VI, he believes the reinterpretation is actually being used to silence debate about Israel.

“Attempts to silence opposition to the illegal Israeli occupation and policies is un-American and amounts to political and academic censorship,” Bazian said via email. (Bazian is also the chairman of American Muslims for Palestine, the organization with which this writer is employed).

The Title VI reinterpretation and the subsequent case against Santa Cruz is part of a growing trend of stifling of protected political speech on college campuses. Several lecturers and professors have been censured and even denied tenure because they openly criticized Israeli policies or advocated for Palestinian rights.
Perhaps the most widely publicized cases are those of former DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein and North Carolina State University professor Terri Ginsberg, both of whom were not given tenure because of their open criticism of Israeli policies in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Ginsberg initiated legal action against North Carolina State and her case is currently on appeal.

Freedom of information denied

The new interpretation has rejuvenated a 29-page complaint brought against the University of California Santa Cruz in June 2009 by lecturer Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, the contents of which have been kept secret by the Department of Education and university officials.

On 13 April, American Muslims for Palestine filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the complaint with the San Francisco Office of Civil Rights. Federal authorities declined the request on 22 April, saying that supplying the complaint would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” and that it could “reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings,” both of which are listed as exemptions under the federal FOIA statute.

What is so troubling in the University of California Santa Cruz investigation is that the amended interpretation is being applied retroactively to Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint, which she filed more than one year before the October 2010 “dear colleague” letter. No one contacted from the university or the Department of Education would discuss how an institution can be held liable for something that was not considered to be a violation at the time it occurred.

“[The Office of Civil Rights] received the UC-Santa Cruz complaint … on 25 June 2009,” Thomas wrote in an email to American Muslims for Palestine. “On 7 March 2011, OCR formally notified the university and the complainant that OCR was opening for investigation the allegations that a hostile environment existed for Jewish students at the university in 2009 in violation of Title VI and that the university had notice of the hostile environment but did not have a process to adequately respond to hostile environment complaints.”

Thomas failed to respond to American Muslims for Palestine’s direct question about how the new interpretation could be applied retroactively, though it was posed three times in three separate emails on 13 and 15 April.

Jim Burns, a University of California Santa Cruz spokesman, also would not address that issue and instead referred it back to the Department of Education’s civil rights office. He did tell American Muslims for Palestine in an email, however, that the Office of Civil Rights is reviewing a complaint that “speech on campus that is critical of Israel creates a hostile environment for Jewish students.”

“We believe that [the Office of Civil Rights’] investigation will ultimately conclude that [the University of California Santa Cruz] diligently enforces laws, policies and practices that protect our students’ civil rights. But we also believe that our review of the matter with OCR will provide us with an opportunity to examine our relevant policies and practices to ensure that is the case,” he added.

If federal investigators find a university to be in violation of Title VI and the institution does not remedy the situation satisfactorily it could lose federal funding. This is a worst-case scenario to be sure, but it is one that seemingly threatens the open exchange of ideas on college campuses.

“While some of the recent allegations … might well raise a claim under Title VI, many others simply seek to silence anti-Israel discourse and speakers. This approach is not only unwarranted under Title VI, it is dangerous,” Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Presidents (AAUP), and Kenneth Stern of the American Jewish Committee, wrote recently in an open letter on AAUP’s website.

“The purpose of a university is to have students wrestle with ideas with which they may disagree, or even better, may make them uncomfortable. To censor ideas is to diminish education, and to treat students as fragile recipients of ‘knowledge,’ rather than young critical thinkers,” they added.

American Muslims for Palestine’s Hatem Bazian said the implications of the re-interpretation go far beyond free speech in the classroom and at extra-curricular events. Funding for scholarly research and academic conferences that bring up “legitimate criticism of Israel” may be at stake, he said.

“The new interpretation will directly, first and foremost, impact those who administer Title VI funding, and they for sure will be more hesitant and will engage in self-censorship in funding research or activities that are critical of Israel,” Bazian said.

Indeed, the Anti-Defamation League was one of 12 national organizations that urged the Department of Education to amend its Title VI interpretation. It may have just been a co-signer in that battle but the ADL has taken the lead in many high-profile cases to stifle free speech and public debate in its hundred-year history.

In March, the ADL, along with the American Jewish Committee and the Bay Area Jewish Community Relations Council, protested an academic conference at the UC Hastings College of the Law in March entitled “Litigating Palestine: Can Courts Secure Palestinian Rights?” Their protest was so effective the university board voted to remove its name and endorsement for the event and it prevented university Chancellor Frank Wu from making opening remarks.

Challenging Israel on campus

Writing about the incident in the San Francisco Chronicle, Cecilie Surasky, deputy director of Jewish Voice for Peace, stated that “Perhaps for the first time in US history, there is an aggressive challenge to a one-sided narrative that covers up or justifies ongoing Israeli repression of Palestinians” (“Pressure on law conference threatens free speech,” 21 April 2011).

Surasky added, “The center of that challenge is on campuses, which is why those who have traditionally adopted knee-jerk defenses of Israeli policies are attempting to stigmatize or shut down alternative viewpoints.”

The same threats of losing federal funding because of an “anti-Semitic and hostile environment” are being leveled at Rutgers University in New Jersey, thanks in large part to a 15-page letter written to the university by Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein, and copied to the state’s governor, its US senators and representatives and other officials.

These recent moves, according to Surasky, “suggest that legitimate criticism of Israeli policy is being conflated with anti-Semitism. If this is allowed to happen, then serious debate on Israel’s illegal actions in the Palestinian territories will be shut down.”

Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint against University of California Santa Cruz could very well be a test case under the new interpretation of Title VI. The reinterpretation, when viewed against the backdrop of professors being censured or denied tenure because of their political views, could have an adverse affect on the free exchange of ideas on college campuses at a time when debate and concrete examinations of US foreign policy in the Middle East is needed more than ever.

*Kristin Szremski is an independent journalist and currently the director of media and communications for the American Muslims for Palestine.

 


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Jul 302011
 
Examiner
William Heuisler

Last year the Department of Education released statistics on default rates of student loans. Arizona scored last, with a cumulative score of 10.9 percent. And, according to Jeannie Carlisle’s article on September 15, 2010 in Examiner.com, Tucson College was highest in 2008 student loan defaults at 34.6 percent. (Carlisle, 2010)

Why should taxpayers care about student loan defaults?

Student loans, or “money from the government” is really money from taxpayers, backed by taxpayers, insured by taxpayers with losses reimbursed by taxpayers. Banks get the commissions, interest, penalties and fees on all that taxpayer money. And student loans are real big money in the twenty first century. From 2005 to 2008, college tuition increased four times faster than the Consumer Price Index. (Lewin, 2008)

US Student debt – less than $200 billion in 2000 – surpassed US credit-card debt to top $1 trillion in 2011. And per-student-debt now averages $23,000 – up 8 % from last year. (Lowry, 2011)
For more background see Examiner article, 7/5/11,  “Is college tuition a crime?”

Federally insured student loans are different than most debt. Students making loans for the last twenty years have had many ways to temporarily avoid payment. According to Dave Swindle, former “collector” of student loans, payment deferrals are relatively easy.

A lost job means 2 to 3 years “unemployment deferment”. A job not paying well can mean 3 years’ worth of “economic hardship deferment”. If there are other more important bills to be paid, some lenders offer as much as 5 years of “forbearance time”. If the loan is still a problem, the government offers a Title IV administrative forbearance – with the same qualifications as the “economic hardship deferment”. Many student loans go years without payments being made and, of course, the loan’s interest grows and grows, as does the bank’s eventual profit. (Swindle, 2011).


Does the bank lose money if a student actually defaults on their loan? No. After about a year of no payments and no deferrals – the Federal Government reimburses the bank and the loan is sold to a collection agency. (Swindle, 2011)

This inverted money tree – in Tucson and Arizona and nationwide – in the name of education for all, is one reason the cost of Government has skyrocketed.

Carlisle, J. (2010). Examiner.com. Tucson has the highest student loan default in the US. http://www.examiner.com/colleges-in-tucson/tucson-has-highest-student-loan-default-the-u-s#ixzz1Tbxmor00

Lewin, T. (2008). New York Times. Downturn expected to drive tuition up. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/30/education/30college.html

Lowry, R. (2011). Real Clear Politics. Tuition skyrockets…while learning plummets. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2011/05/20/tuition_skyrockets_–_while_learning_plummets_109937.html

Swindle, D. (2011). PJ Tatler. Yes, the higher education bubble will pop this decade and here’s one reason why. http://pajamasmedia.com/tatler/2011/07/21/yes-the-higher-education-bubble-will-pop-this-decade-and-heres-one-reason-why/



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Jul 302011
 
New York Times
Carl Elliott

LAST month, the Archives of Internal Medicine published a scathing reassessment of a 12-year-old research study of Neurontin, a seizure drug made by Pfizer. The study, which had included more than 2,700 subjects and was carried out by Parke-Davis (now part of Pfizer), was notable for how poorly it was conducted. The investigators were inexperienced and untrained, and the design of the study was so flawed it generated few if any useful conclusions. Even more alarming, 11 patients in the study died and 73 more experienced “serious adverse events.” Yet there have been few headlines, no demands for sanctions or apologies, no national bioethics commissions pledging to investigate. Why not?

One reason is that the study was not quite what it seemed. It looked like a clinical trial, but as litigation documents have shown, it was actually a marketing device known as a “seeding trial.” The purpose of seeding trials is not to advance research but to make doctors familiar with a new drug.

In a typical seeding trial, a pharmaceutical company will identify several hundred doctors and invite them to take part in a research study. Often the doctors are paid for each subject they recruit. As the trial proceeds, the doctors gradually get to know the drug, making them more likely to prescribe it later.

In an age of for-profit clinical research, this is the new face of scandal. Pharmaceutical companies promote their drugs with pseudo-studies that have little if any scientific merit, and patients naïvely sign up, unaware of the ways in which they are being used. Nobody really knows how often companies conduct such trials, but they appear with alarming regularity in pharmaceutical marketing documents. In the marketing plan for the antidepressant Lexapro for the 2004 fiscal year, Forest Laboratories described 102 Phase IV trials — the classification under which seeding trials fall — in a section labeled “Marketing Tactics.”

Oversight bodies like the Food and Drug Administration generally don’t view seeding trials as research scandals: seeding trials are not illegal, and the drugs in question have already received F.D.A. approval. But even after particularly egregious seeding trials have been exposed, the F.D.A. has not issued sanctions. Take the notorious Advantage study, a seeding trial of the pain reliever Vioxx conducted by Merck. According to a 2008 report in the Annals of Internal Medicine, litigation documents show that the Advantage study was conceived and managed by Merck’s marketing department. Three subjects died in the Advantage trial; five more subjects experienced heart attacks. Oversight bodies should treat the Advantage study as a violation of research ethics.

How can studies that endanger human subjects attract so little scrutiny? Forty years ago, when most clinical research took place in academic settings, the main dangers to research subjects came in service to genuine scientific aims. A large regulatory apparatus was developed to protect human subjects from the ambitions of overweening academic researchers. In the early 1990s, however, pharmaceutical companies realized that it was faster and less expensive to conduct trials in the private sector, where the driving force is not knowledge, but profit. And the regulatory apparatus designed for the old era has proved woefully inadequate for the new one.


The main source of protection for research subjects is a patchwork system of ethics committees known as institutional review boards, or I.R.B.’s. These are small, federally empowered bodies that review research proposals before they are carried out, to ensure that the studies are ethically sound. But they don’t typically pass judgment on whether a study is being carried out merely to market a drug. Nor do most I.R.B.’s have the requisite expertise to do so. Even worse, many I.R.B.’s are now themselves for-profit businesses, paid directly by the sponsors of the studies they evaluate. If one I.R.B. gets a reputation for being too strict, a pharmaceutical company can simply go elsewhere for its review.

Last week, the federal government announced that it was overhauling its rules governing the protection of human subjects. But the new rules would not stop seeding trials. It is time to admit that I.R.B.’s are simply incapable of overseeing a global, multibillion-dollar corporate enterprise. They should be replaced with an oversight system that is financially and administratively independent of the research it oversees. The system must have the power to impose sanctions, and its responsibilities must extend to fraud, bribery and corruption.

Many patients volunteer for research in the hope that the knowledge generated will benefit others. When a company deceives them into volunteering for a useless study, it cynically exploits their good will, undermining the cause of legitimate research everywhere.

Carl Elliott teaches bioethics at the University of Minnesota and is the author of “White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine.”


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Jul 302011
 
 Free Internet Press

A Polish report into the 2010 plane crash in Russia that killed President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others says Russian air traffic controllers gave pilots incorrect and confusing landing instructions, a finding that could test already strained ties between the two countries.

It challenges a Russian aviation commission report that put sole blame for the disaster on Polish officials – and struck Poles as an attempt to avoid any responsibility for the plane crash in heavy fog near Smolensk.

Poles have eagerly awaited their government’s findings, hoping for a more balanced picture of the crash. The accident on 10 April 2010, killed the president, first lady and dozens of senior officials, in the worst Polish air disaster since the second world war.

The Polish report does not shy away from putting much of the blame on Polish officials and procedures, saying the pilots had had insufficient training to fly the plane, a Tupolev 154. It also blames a lack of co-operation among the crew and a slow reaction to an automatic terrain warning system that warned pilots they were flying too low.

The main pilot was inexperienced and, as the only crew member who spoke much Russian, he was overwhelmed by the difficult conditions, said the report.

But it insisted Russian air traffic controllers were also to blame. Polish investigators found that the Polish plane was flying about 60 meters (200 feet) lower than the pilots believed in the moments before it clipped a tree and crashed. The Polish commission said the Russian air traffic controllers led the pilots to believe they were on course. It said the Russian airstrip had insufficient lighting, contributing to a lack of visibility that morning.

Russian investigators said in January that the Polish pilots faced undue pressure from political officials to try to land in thick fog – a sensitive issue. They said a Polish air force general who had alcohol in his blood entered the cockpit and pressured the pilots to risk a dangerous landing.

But the Polish commission says it did not find evidence of such pressure and that the pilots were not actually trying to land when they clipped the tree. They had abandoned one landing attempt and were circling the area to try to determine whether they should make another attempt, it says.

Kaczynski and his delegation were on their way to honor some 22,000 Polish officers killed during the war by Stalin’s secret police in the Katyn forest massacres.

At first it seemed the accident had helped Poland and Russia heal some of their historic differences. An outpouring of Russian sympathy was met with much gratitude.

But the Russian report again strained relations. Poles remain bitter about the Katyn massacres, the Soviet Union’s occupation of Poland’s eastern half during the war and Moscow’s domination of Poland during the cold war.


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Jul 302011
 
Global Research
José David Torrenegra

Not a week goes in Colombia without reports of assassinations and persecution of labor and political activists.

Ana Fabricia Cordoba, gender activist and leader of displaced peasants, was shot dead on June 7th inside a street bus, after she foretold her own death due to constant threats and abuses against her family.(1)

Manuel Antonio Garces, community leader, Afro-descendent activist and candidate for local office in southwestern Colombia received on July 18th a disturbing warning that read “we told you to drop the campaign, next time we’ll blow it in your house” next to an inactive hand grenade.(2)

Keyla Berrios, leader of Displaced Women’s League was murdered last July 22nd, after continuous intimidation of her organization and threats on behalf of death squads linked to Colombian authorities (3), a fact so publicly known after hundreds of former congressman, police and military personnel are either jailed or investigated for colluding with Paramilitaries to steal elections, murder and disappear dissidents, forcefully displace peasants and defraud public treasury, in a criminal network that extends all the way up to former president Alvaro Uribe and his closest aides (4).

The official explanation for these crimes is also well known; Bacrim, an acronym which stands for “Criminal Gangs”, a term created from the Colombia establishment including its omnipresent corporate media apparatus to depoliticize the constant violence unleashed against union leaders, peasants and community activists.

Human Rights defenders point to the unequal and unjust structures of power and wealth which rely heavily on repression. However, no matter how much effort is put into misleading public opinion about the nature of this violence, the crimes are so systematic and their effects always turning out for the benefit of the elite that a simple class analysis debunks the façade of these “gangs” supposedly acting on their own, and exposes the insiduous relationship between the armed thugs and seats of political power in Colombia.

What we are dealing with is the expression of present-day fascism in Latin America.

In a country overwhelmed with unemployment and poverty – nearly 70% – and 8 million people living on less than U$2 a day who daily look for their subsistence in garbage among stray dogs or selling candies at street lights and city buses, is also shockingly common and surreal to see fancy cars – Hummers, Porsches – million dollar apartments, country clubs and a whole bubble of opulence just in front of over-exploited workers, ordinary people struggling merely to make ends meet, or at worst, children, single mothers, elderly, and people with disabilities, without social security and salaries, much less higher education and decent housing.

For instance, in Cartagena, a Colombian Caribbean colonial city plagued with extreme poverty, beggars, child prostitution and U$400 a night resorts, you can pretend to feel in Miami Beach or a Mediterranean paradise, and in less than five minutes away you can also visit slums which would make devastated Haiti look like suburbia.

The same shocking contrast can be experienced in all major cities in Colombia. Thus, in order to keep vast privileges of a few amidst inhuman conditions of the majority, the elite needs to have an iron grip on political power. And once its power is contested or mildly threatened by the collective action of social movements, democratic parties and conscious individuals, a selective burst of state violence is unleashed effectively dismantling any kind of peaceful organizing by fear and demoralization.

The high levels of attrition suffered by activists raising moderate democratic banners such as the right to assembly, collective bargaining, freedom of expression and reparation from political violence, are the result of decentralized state repression carried out by death squads led by high state officers (5) who supply them with intelligence and economic resources extracted from defrauding public treasury and money laundry in the narcotics chain, where social investigators claim that most of the profit accounts for institutional economy, the banks and the state (6). This elaborated repressive strategy differs from the one perpetrated by the military juntas the ruled Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, among others, where public forces exercised directly the political violence against dissidents without pretentious democratic credentials, such as the ones constantly regurgitated by the Colombian establishment, making it more difficult to expose its deep dictatorial mechanisms that have disappeared more than 30000 Colombians (7) in the last years of US backed “counterinsurgency” policies, far surpassing Pinochet’s reign of terror.

In Colombia, where the dominant social elite prevails, thousands of bodies of the “disappeared” have been buried into mass graves, the assassination of trade union leaders is the highest in the world (on a per capita basis rate). Meanwhile, several million peasants have displaced and impoverished. In a context of brutal social repression backed by neoliberal policies, an atmosphere of generalized fear prevails.

This state of affairs raises a basic question, as James Petras puts it: “How does one pursuit equitable social policies and the defense of human rights under a terrorist state aligned with death squads and financed and advised by a foreign power, which has a public policy of physically eliminating their adversaries?”(8). Some in Colombia already found and an answer in the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that constitutes the basis for all modern states:

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law (9).

In the light of the exposure of the Colombian hybrid state which pits formal democracy and excessive privileges for a few against brutal repression and poverty for the majority, one must comprehend the existence of an armed conflict. This class confrontation has resulted in a “polarization of civil war proportions between the oligarchy and the military, on one side, and the guerrilla and the peasantry, on the other”, (10) and is mostly funded by US government using taxpayers money to back a rogue state and a comprador elite that prefers to wage dirty war against its own population rather than yield some political power and moderate social reforms. Modernity hasn’t arrived in Colombia, where few can enjoy excesses and vices of promised ‘civilization’ in fancy restaurants and country clubs, and most still live in 1789.

In times when president Obama justifies his “humanitarian intervention” and escalation of the Libyan civil war by having public opinion to believe NATO and US bombs are there to protect civilians, and when the International Criminal Court applies selective justice as it rushes to levy charges against Gaddafi for alleged crimes that pale in comparison to the ones daily committed by the Colombian regime, the international community is turning a blind eye to crimes against humanity in the shameful custom of double standards and insulting those truly resisting with their teeth, the savagery and abuse of power.

Jose David Torrenegra is a Lawyer specialized in Public Law and Political Activism in Colombia.

Notes

1. Euclides Montes. “Ana Fabricia Córdoba: A death foretold”. The Guardian. June 13, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/13/colombia-women-victim-conflict .

2. Red de Derechos Humanos del Suroccidente Colombiano ‘Francisco Isaias Fuentes’. “Atentado y amenaza en contra del líder comunitario Manuel Antonio Garcés Granja y detención arbitraria de dos testigos del atentado”. July 18, 2011. http://www.colectivodeabogados.org/Atentado-y-amenaza-en-contra-del.

3. Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe para la Democracia. “Alerta: asesinato de miembro de liga de mujeres desplazadas”. Julio 22 de 2011. http://www.democracialatinoamerica.org/1315/alerta_asesinado-de-miembro-de-la-liga-de-mujeres-desplazadas-de-colombia.html

4. Simon Romero. “Death-Squad Scandal Circles Closer to Colombia’s President”. New York Times. May 16 2007.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/16/world/americas/16colombia.html?ref=world

5. Garry Leech. “Exorcising the Ghost of Paramilitary Violence: Reclaiming Liberty in Libertad.

http://colombiajournal.org/exorcising-the-ghosts-of-paramilitary-violence.htm .

6. Brittain, James (2010). Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia. New York: Pluto Press. 129.

7. Kelly Nicholls. “Breaking the Silence: In search of Colombia’s Dissapeared”. The Guardian. December 9, 2010.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2010/dec/09/colombia-disappeared.

8. James Brittain, op cit. Foreword. By James Petras.

9. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. United Nations. 1948. http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr /.

10.James Brittain, op cit. 144.


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