"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Protests’

Bay Area Rapid Transit Accused Of Censorship For Blocking Wireless Services To Foil Protests

In Uncategorized on August 16, 2011 at 6:45 pm

BART workers remove a man atop a train during a protest at the Civic Center station in San Francisco last month. Authorities closed the station where demonstrators condemned the fatal shooting of a man by transit police the week before.

Oldspeak:” ‘BART may be the first government agency in the U.S. to shutter mobile-internet and phone service in a bid to quash a demonstration.’ ‘I think the problem that we’re dealing with is that we’re finding, all around the country, that folks are playing with the law and trying to figure out how they can have an advantage by shutting down the ways in which the citizens of this country communicate with one another. And this was a testing ground. If we can shut down the BART service here and get away with it, maybe we’ll do it in New York, and then we’ll do it in Chicago, and then we’ll do it at a ball game, and maybe in front of, you know, the college campuses, all under the guise of disrupting and threatening the public safety.’ A glimpse of America’s future. Suppression of your 1st amendment rights to assemble, protest, and petition. A dramatic example of the utter and complete power a nebulous few have over you ability to communicate. And with communication taking place nearly all digitally, via fewer and fewer tightly controlled and monitored modes, that power is profound.  We also get a strong indication of how much of a threat dissent, protest, and civil disobedience, is perceived to be by those few; ‘all under the guise of disrupting and threatening the public safety’. 

By Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

The operators of the San Francisco area subway system are facing intense criticism for temporarily cutting off underground cell phone and mobile-internet service at four stations in an attempt to foil a protest. On Thursday, authorities with the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) removed power to underground cell phone towers at four stations to disrupt a protest against the recent death of Charles Hill, a homeless man who was shot dead on a train platform by a BART police officer in July. Police say Hill threw a knife at an officer. According to media reports, BART may be the first government agency in the United States to shutter mobile-internet and phone service in a bid to quash a demonstration. Some have compared the move to former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak’s blockage of internet access across Egypt in January during the popular uprising against his rule. The Federal Communications Commission says it will investigate BART’s decision. We go to San Fransisco to speak with Davey D, a hip-hop journalist and activist who has been covering the protests. He runs the popular website “Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner” at DaveyD.com and is co-host of Hard Knock Radio on KPFA in Berkeley. We’re also joined by Catherine Crump, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project.

Guests:

Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project.
Davey D, hip-hop journalist and activist. He runs the popular website “Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner” at DaveyD.com. He is co-host of Hard Knock Radio on KPFA in Berkeley.

AMY GOODMAN: The operators of the San Francisco subway system are facing intense criticism following their decision last week to temporarily cut off underground cell phone and mobile-internet service at four stations in an attempt to foil a protest. On Thursday night, authorities with the Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, removed power to underground cell phone towers at four stations. The decision was made in an effort to disrupt a protest against the recent death of Charles Hill, a homeless man who was shot dead on a train platform in July by a BART police officer. Police say Hill threw a knife at an officer. According to media reports, BART may be the first U.S. government agency to shutter mobile-internet and phone service in a bid to quash a demonstration.

Free speech advocates across the country have condemned the move. Some have compared it to the decision by former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak who shut down internet access across Egypt in January in an attempt to stifle the growing protest movement. On Twitter, critics of BART’s action took to using the hashtag “Mu-BART-ek.”

On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission announced it will investigate BART’s decision. FCC spokesperson Neil Grace said, quote, “We are continuing to collect information about BART’s actions and will be taking steps to hear from stakeholders about the important issues those actions raised, including protecting public safety and ensuring the availability of communications networks.”

On Monday, BART officials were forced to close four stations during the evening rush hour as free speech advocates attempted to disrupt the evening commute. The protest was called by the activist hacker group Anonymous that had hacked into the BART website over the weekend and released personal information about 2,000 transit riders. Later in the program, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at the actions of Anonymous and political hackers, but first we’re going to look at this free speech controversy in the Bay Area.

For more, we go to San Francisco to speak with Davey D, hip-hop journalist, activist, who’s been covering the protests. He runs the popular website “Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner” at DaveyD.com and is co-host of Hard Knock Radio on KPFA in Berkeley. We’re also joined in New York by Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project. And in a moment we’ll be joined by an anonymous member of Anonymous; he’ll use the pseudonym X. He was at the BART protest last night.

Davey D, before we talk about the whole free speech issue, explain what happened at the beginning of July. How did this police killing take place, the killing of a homeless man? What do you know?

DAVEY D: Well, what we’re talking about is Charles Hill, who was homeless and was approached by a couple of officers on the Civic CenterBART station. And that’s where it gets murky. According to the police, he had a knife, and he had a beer bottle. And he supposedly put the officers’ lives in danger, so they shot him. But conflicting witnesses say that the officers weren’t in danger and that if he had anything, he could have been easily disarmed.

And just considering the record that BART has had in overreacting and being brutal towards many of its passengers, that sparked these protests. Obviously, BART has footage, but it wasn’t released. And that raised a lot of concern amongst people, because they’re feeling like the first time that—when Oscar Grant was shot, the footage showed that the BART police were in the wrong, in many people’s opinion. So why didn’t we see the footage for this to immediately quell any sort of concern with the public? And I think that’s what kind of brought about the type of protests that you saw.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, there have been a series of protests since police killed Hill on July 2nd?

DAVEY D: Yes, there’s been a couple of them. There’s been a couple of them. And the most notable one was the one in which the BART trains were shut down. I think what happened with BART is that they were caught off guard. What happens is, with the police and many of these agencies, they’ve gotten very used to protest being something that is brought about because people sought permission. This time people didn’t seek permission. They went out, and they protested. And the end result was the downtown BART lines being shut down. And that really upset them. So when the second protest came, the one that we’re talking about last week, or the scheduled one, they decided to shut down all the cell phones. And that, of course, brought about last night’s protest.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey, who spoke to the media shortly after the shooting on July 2nd.

CHIEF KENTON RAINEY: The suspect was—in fact had a bottle, which was used as a weapon. He was also armed with a knife. A confrontation occurred as a result of the suspect’s aggressive actions. And fearing for their safeties, one of the officers discharged his duty weapon, striking the suspect. Paramedics were summoned and responded to the scene.CPR was performed on the suspect before he was transported to the San Francisco General Hospital, where medical personnel pronounced him dead about an hour later.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to the Linton Johnson, the BARTspokesperson [correction: BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey]?

DAVEY D: Well, if you rewind the tape and listen to the type of explanation that BART had for the shooting of Oscar Grant, we don’t take BART’s word at—we don’t take BART’s word when they immediately give it. They’re always going to be suspect, because we feel that, initially, they lied about a lot of these incidents. So, of course they’re going to give the best story forward, that he was armed, the police were in trouble, blah, blah, blah, all that stuff. Nobody buys it. It’s like, if that’s really the case, show us the footage. Let everybody see it. Let’s have the transparency that I think the citizens of the Bay Area and around the country would really like to have. And so, that didn’t really happen. And so, once you started to hear that there were witnesses that had conflicting reports, then it was really on and popping. Everybody feels that they’re covering things up and they’re not really being forthright.

AMY GOODMAN: I just want to correct that. That was the BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey who we just heard. So let’s talk about the protests.

DAVEY D: Right. Well, I mean, even—whatever the agency, I mean, BARTpolice chief, you know, BART spokespeople, it’s the same bag, as far as most people are concerned.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the protests that just took place and the shutting down of the internet service at four BART stations, Davey D.

DAVEY D: Well, there was a scheduled protest last Thursday, and in reaction to the protest that actually shut down the BART trains, they decided that they were going to shut off cell service. And then they used the excuse that public safety—and I think that’s what raised a lot of concern: public safety for who? We’ve had flash mobs go up on the BARTtrain and do dances on the platform and disrupt traffic for a little bit; we haven’t seen them shut down the cell phones for that. I’ve been on theBART trains where there’s been fights after Raider games and after other sporting events; they haven’t shut down the BART trains for that. So, in this case, you have people protesting the police, and now they want to shut it down and say it’s public safety. I think the key word there is “public safety,” because then that sets a precedent for anybody to shut down cell service under the guise of public safety. They could shut it down in front of a ballpark, they could shut it down if you’re on the streets, they could shut it down at any rally, under the guise of public safety.

The other point that I think we need to also consider is the fact that they were saying that the protesters were coordinating with the cell phones. Well, first of all, most protesters don’t really need cell phones to coordinate. A good protester, at least the ones out in San Francisco, have been protesting long before there’s been internet, Facebook, Twitter and all that, so they got their game on lock. But with that being said, the police can also coordinate with communications devices, as well. And just considering the type of laws we have on the books, from PATRIOT Acts and all types of things that allow the police to peer and follow you on Twitter and Facebook and all that, I think that any sort of protest that people are doing, the police probably have infiltrated you, either in your rank-and-file membership or even—or definitely online. So they know what’s going on at any given point.

I think the problem that we’re dealing with is that we’re finding, all around the country, that folks are playing with the law and trying to figure out how they can have an advantage by shutting down the ways in which the citizens of this country communicate with one another. And this was a testing ground. If we can shut down the BART service here and get away with it, maybe we’ll do it in New York, and then we’ll do it in Chicago, and then we’ll do it at a ball game, and maybe in front of, you know, the college campuses, all under the guise of disrupting and threatening the public safety. So I don’t buy it. And I think that, you know, just being at the protest yesterday and seeing that BART shut down the Civic Center, when there really wasn’t anything going on, said to me that this is a dog and pony show and that they’re trying to win the battle of public opinion by getting the mainstream media to follow their talking points, make it seem like it was a real big crisis when it really wasn’t. If I show you the footage from what took place at the Civic Center, you would question: why did you close the Civic Center when there was nothing going on? That, to me, said a whole lot about their motivation. And their motivation wasn’t public safety. It’s to win public opinion and maybe set a precedent for other agencies later down the road.

AMY GOODMAN: BART spokesperson Linton Johnson appeared on the San Francisco radio station KQED Monday and defended BART’s actions.

LINTON JOHNSON: Well, here’s how I respond to anybody who questions this gut-wrenching decision that we were forced to make by a group that had proven in the past that they were wanting to create chaos on the platform and were going to make it even more chaotic had we let it happen. As you will remember, there was somebody who jumped on top of the train car. My heart stopped. That moment when I saw that happen, I was scared to death that that guy would hurt himself or kick in a window and splatter glass all over one of our other passengers, violating another constitutional right that people aren’t talking about, and that is the constitutional right to safety. And on the platform, the constitutional right to safety is paramount. The right to be able to express your opinion ends, basically, at the fare gate, where you have to have a ticket. So the paid area is where it ends. And the reason for that is because we can’t have chaos on the platform, because people get hurt.

AMY GOODMAN: BART spokesperson Linton Johnson on KQED in San Francisco. Catherine Crump also with us, joining Davey D, staff attorney at the ACLU. Can you respond?

CATHERINE CRUMP: There’s no question that what happened in San Francisco sets a terrible precedent. It’s the first known incident that we’ve heard of where the government has shut down a cell phone network in order to prevent people from engaging in political protest. Cell phone networks are something we’ve all come to rely on. People use them for all sorts of communication that have nothing to do with protest. And this is really a sweeping and overbroad reaction by the police.

AMY GOODMAN: What other information do you have about what police are doing with cell phones around the country, at the ACLU?

CATHERINE CRUMP: Yeah, cell phones have been in the news frequently recently, not just—because they’ve become such a vital part of our lives. One big issue these days is the use of cell phones as tracking devices. Police around the country are using cell phones to track people’s movements. And frequently, they’re not even getting a warrant based on probable cause. Just last week, we filed 365 Public Records Act requests around the country with police departments, big and small, to try to get a better perspective on the degree to which cell phones are being used as surveillance tools. So these new devices are raising all sorts of constitutional issues that we’ve just never had to confront before.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean they don’t even get warrants when they’re tracking your phone? How do they do it, then?

CATHERINE CRUMP: They frequently go to court, and they show a lower standard than the full probable cause standard. They show that it’s irrelevant to an ongoing investigation, which is far less than showing that they have probable cause to believe that tracking someone’s location will turn up evidence of wrongdoing. The constitutional ground here is really unsettled, and the police have been taking advantage of that to engage in really massive amounts of cell phone tracking without meeting the full probable cause standard. And we believe that violates the Fourth Amendment, which gives you a right to be free from unreasonable searches. And we don’t think there’s anything reasonable about tracking people’s locations without showing probable cause.

AMY GOODMAN: The ACLU met with the police chief yesterday in San Francisco?

CATHERINE CRUMP: We did. And what we were really looking—

AMY GOODMAN: You met with him?

CATHERINE CRUMP: I did not, but my colleagues did. And what we were really looking for out of that meeting was a guarantee that this would never happen again. And unfortunately, the police chief was not able to provide that kind of assurance. And so, we are going to continue exploring what options we can do to try to guarantee that this never happens again.

AMY GOODMAN: What did he say?

CATHERINE CRUMP: You know, it was a very short and inconclusive meeting that didn’t give us any sort of reassurance. And we’re really in new territory here. We’d really like to see a policy change, that they put into writing that this doesn’t happen frequently. We’ve put on our websitea place where people can go to take action to ask—to ask for this sort of thing not to happen again. And we’re continuing to see what other sorts of pressure we can put on the government here.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break. Catherine Crump, staff attorney at the ACLU. Davey D, hip-hop journalist and activist, runs the popular website “Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner” at DaveyD.com and is a co-host at Pacifica Radio KPFA’s Hard Knock Radio in Berkeley. This isDemocracy Now! When we come back, we’ll also be joined by others, including an anonymous member of Anonymous, which hacked the BARTwebsite, and we’ll talk about the information that they released.

 

 

Wisconsin Labor Jams State Capitol To Resist Governor’s “Budget Repair Bill”

In Uncategorized on February 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm

 

Protesters flood the rotunda of the Wisconsin Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin, February 16, 2011

 

Oldspeak: “And so it begins… 30,000 Americans resisting corprocratic tyranny via “Austerity”. How long before the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol is jammed with protestors resisting unfair treatment by their government?

By Howard Ryan @ Truthout:

Wisconsin’s new Republican governor inadvertently issued a wake-up call to the state’s labor movement by announcing legislation February 11 that would crush public employee unions.

Scott Walker made the proposals just two days after similar measures were unveiled in Ohio.

Wisconsin’s labor movement and allies mobilized three days of emergency rallies in Madison, the state capital, ahead of an expected vote in the legislature February 17. Thirty thousand drumming, chanting protesters descended on the Capitol February 16. Some made plans to camp out there that night.

Building trades members planned to set up a grilling operation to feed bratwurst to workers and students there.

For continuing updates on Wisconsin protests, follow Truthout’s blog.

Madison schools had closed that day when about half the teachers called in sick. About 800 Madison high school students walked out of class and marched to join protests. University of Wisconsin students, who had planned an action around university funding, turned instead to workers’ rights and brought an estimated 1,000 protesters to the Capitol.

Also See:

Noam Chomsky on Wisconsin’s Resistance to the Assault on the Public Sector

A thousand teachers and supporters stopped traffic as they walked from Wisconsin AFL-CIO headquarters to Walker’s house near Milwaukee. Two hundred protesters turned out when the governor spoke in Eau Claire.

A massive phonebanking and door-knocking campaign urged voters to contact the more moderate Republicans in the state senate. In the face of such massive resistance, Republican legislators signaled a willingness to back off late Wednesday.

A Part of History

Jim Cavanaugh, president of Madison’s 90,000-member South Central Federation of Labor, described an outpouring of solidarity. An AFL-CIO news conference brought private sector union leaders to declare their support for embattled public employee unions.

In an email, Dave Poklinkoski, president of a utility workers local, said, “The breadth and depth of the solidarity at these rallies is beyond anything witnessed in Madison in living memory.” He invited friends to come “be a part of history.”

Walker would eliminate collective bargaining for public employees on all matters except wages. Any wage increase surpassing the consumer price index would have to be approved by voters. His plan calls for state employees to contribute much more to their pensions and health insurance costs—the equivalent of an 8 percent pay cut.

For good measure, Walker added that he had briefed the National Guard, so it would be ready to address any potential disruption of services caused by union protests. A veterans group slammed the governor, asking if he understood the military is not a “personal intimidation force to be mobilized to quash political dissent.” A spokesman later said soldiers would only replace prison guards.

Police and firefighter unions would be exempt from the new law. Both of Milwaukee’s uniformed unions endorsed Walker’s gubernatorial bid last year, leaving other unionists in the state muttering about backroom deals. But firefighters, to great applause, joined the throngs descending on the Capitol.

“Budget Repair”

Walker is selling his anti-bargaining proposal as part of a “Budget Repair Bill” aimed at addressing the state’s immediate $136 million deficit as well as a larger deficit of $3.6 billion projected for the next two-year budget cycle. He says his proposals on health and pension contributions would save $30 million and help avert wide layoffs of state employees.

But AFSCME Council 24 points out that state employees have already sacrificed for years, taking unpaid furlough days and heavier workloads. Late last year, they offered a contract containing $100 million in concessions—an offer legislators rejected and the governor ignores.

The Economic Policy Institute think-tank said Wisconsin public employees actually earn 5 percent less in wages and benefits than private-sector counterparts, when workers with similar experience and education levels are compared.

Much of the governor’s proposal does not concern the state budget at all, but serves to cripple public employee unions. It would prohibit collecting member dues through payroll deductions and end any requirement that employees pay union dues at all. It would require union bargaining units to hold an annual certification vote in order to maintain representation.

Cavanaugh believes Walker may have overreached politically and that, assuming the immediate threat can be turned back, the labor movement can reap benefits.

“We’re getting a lot of people off their butts, seeing what these right-wing fanatics are capable of,” he said. “We’re achieving more union solidarity than we’ve seen in a long time.”


Now Gaza Begins to Shake

In Uncategorized on February 7, 2011 at 1:37 pm

 

Members of the Palestinian National Security Forces patrol in Hebron, West Bank, on Jan. 28, 2011. Both Hamas in Gaza and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank have prevented demonstrations in support of protesting Egyptians in recent days, clearly concerned that the unrest could spread.

 

Oldspeak:“Will the wave of freedom and democracy spreading across the Arab world play a part in toppling the deadly and inhuman regime of Palestinian Apartheid? Time will, tell. So far the gatekeepers of empire seem determined to maintain the death grip of oppression and occupation. Thankfully, the power of the people united will never be defeated…”

From Pam Bailey @ Inter Press Service:

Ripple effects of the Egyptian uprising are now spreading to Gaza, where some groups are planning a new rally next week. Moves by some Gazans to mimic protesters in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen by taking to the streets are making the Hamas government nervous.

Government officials sponsored an official rally in solidarity with the Egyptian protesters earlier, but when a small group of journalists and bloggers organized their own, six women and eight men were arrested. Two of the women, known for their outspoken criticism of the regime, were beaten up.

“I found out about the rally through Facebook, and it said the sit-in was in support of the Egyptian people in their revolution. I wanted to be part of something, to help the Egyptian people somehow,” recalls Mahmoud, afraid to give his full name.

“The government had already held a big demonstration on Friday, and most of the movements joined it, but most youth don’t belong to any faction here. I didn’t want to be part of that. I wanted to do something from me.”

Mahmoud describes what happened when he arrived at the Square of the Unknown Soldier, where most demonstrations are held in Gaza City. “Out of the blue, an officer wearing civilian clothes grabbed my hand and said ‘come with me.’ …He pushed me into a jeep and accused me of protesting against them. He said, ‘I’m going to teach you a lesson.’ I thought they were going to beat us.”

Mahmoud believes he was not beaten because a relative works for the government. Several hours later, after being blindfolded and interrogated, he was released. His telephone was confiscated and only returned two days later.

On Jan. 28, a Facebook page appeared calling for a revolution in Gaza and naming Feb. 11 a day of protest against the Hamas government. Although no one knows who is organizing it, Ma’an News reports that Fatah officials have repeatedly asked the agency to cover the initiative. Four days later, another page was set up on Facebook, calling for a revolution in Ramallah and the ouster of President Mahmoud Abbas.

Despite the beatings and arrests of the bloggers who demonstrated, Samah Ahmad el-Rawagh – a trainer for a human rights organization and youth activist – says she will participate in the Feb. 11 protest.

“I’m not playing an organizational role in this activity, but I have no problem participating to express my opinion. All of our lives, we have known our enemy is one – the Israeli occupation. But now we have two enemies, the Israeli occupation and the separation between Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Our demand is to end this separation and set a date for elections, to give us our right as youths to vote and choose the leadership that will represent us.

“What happened before won’t scare us away. I believe the youth are able to make change and we’re a youth community; we are more than the half of the population. It is up to us.”

But while the outcome of such protests is uncertain, what is certain is the difficulties residents of the Gaza Strip are facing. The border between Gaza and Egypt is sealed shut, fuel imports have been cut off, and hundreds of people cannot reach medical care or separated family members.

With insecurity and violence across Egypt, including its southern region along the border, workers who normally smuggle in fuel have fled to their homes or to fight Egyptian forces. The smuggling of fuel and other materials reached its lowest level after clashes between Egyptian residents of north Sinai and security forces intensified.

According to Mahmoud al-Shawa, president of the board of directors of the Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority in the Strip, Gaza needs 800,000 litres of diesel (200,000 for the main power station) and 300,000 litres of petrol daily. Only half of that requirement was available even before the Egyptian uprising.

Most of Gaza’s supply must be smuggled through the tunnels from Egypt, since fuel from Israel is not only limited in quantity but too expensive for most residents.

“One litre of diesel (from Egypt) costs 1.7 shekels, compared to 6.16 from Israel (a dollar is 3.7 shekels),” says al-Shawa. “I am asking Salam Fayyad (the Palestinian Authority-appointed prime minister) and President Mahmoud Abbas (who governs the West Bank) to remove the taxes so civilians can buy petrol. Gaza has been under Israeli blockade for more than four years, and people have no jobs.”

Noting that the authority has had to ration petrol to the Strip’s 29 stations to stop panic buying, as well as to control prices, al-Shawa said he is particularly worried about Gaza’s hospitals, orphanages and vital enterprises such as bakeries and chicken farms.

“We have a big problem, and I am asking the world and America to remember Gaza. There will be a disaster if we don’t do something.”

Until Jan. 30, the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza had been open five days a week for foreigners and Palestinians going in and out for medical treatment, to visit family and to attend school. On average, 400 Gazans would leave and 200 would return every day. Now the terminal is empty. The passport police, intelligence officers and other employees all left.

When Dr. Ghaza Hamad, chief manager of Gaza’s Department of Borders and Crossing finally managed to make contact with a liaison, he was told the situation in Egypt was too dangerous for staff to work and for the border to be opened.

“There are thousands of people who can’t leave Gaza or get back in,” said Dr. Hamad. “Those needing to leave Gaza include those with cancer or other critical disease. And those who are stranded in Cairo and other parts of Egypt are frequently patients who’ve finished with their treatment and who can’t afford to stay in a hotel or to rent a house. There is a need to open the border at least partially.”


US Plan For Egypt: Replace Mubarak With Torture-Linked ‘CIA Point Man

In Uncategorized on February 4, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Oldspeak: “Leaving aside the fact that there shouldn’t be any U.S. plan for Egypt, another example of the U.S. meddling in the affairs of sovereign nations. The Egyptian people have already rejected this “concession” by Mubarak. Nevermind the fact it’s illegal under their constitution. The last thing they want is Mubarak’s boy, who’s run Egypt’s intelligence agency, and has supported the U.S.’s international torture program to be their next fucking president. Still the plan moves forward. Why is U.S. backed regime change complete and absolute in some countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, etc, etc…) and cosmetic in this one? Probably because this particular regime has been an all too willing ally in supporting U.S. imperialism (and has been paid handsomely to the tune of 23 BILLION over the last 30 years), often to the detriment of the Egyptian people now in the streets demanding real change.

From Raw Story:

A US plan to see Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak leave office immediately is reportedly in the works and would see a transitional government formed by Mubarak’s vice-president, a former head of Egypt’s spy agency and an alleged “CIA point man” who facilitated the “extraordinary rendition” of terrorism suspects.

US officials are discussing a plan with Egyptian officials that would see Mubarak quit immediately and hand over power to a transitional government run by Vice President Omar Suleiman, the New York Times reported Thursday.

Even though Mr. Mubarak has balked, so far, at leaving now, officials from both governments are continuing talks about a plan in which, Mr. Suleiman, backed by Sami Enan, chief of the Egyptian armed forces, and Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, the Defense Minister, would immediately begin a process of constitutional reform.

The proposal also calls for the transitional government to invite members from a broad range of opposition groups, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, to begin work to open up the country’s electoral system in an effort to bring about free and fair elections in September, the officials said.

As spy chief, Suleiman reportedly embraced the CIA’s controversial “extraordinary rendition” program, in which terror suspects snatched by the Americans were taken to Egypt and other countries without legal proceedings and subjected to interrogations.

He “was the CIA’s point man in Egypt for rendition,” Jane Mayer, author ofThe Dark Sidewrote on the New Yorker‘s website.

After taking over as spy director, Suleiman oversaw an agreement with the United States in 1995 that allowed for suspected militants to be secretly transferred to Egypt for questioning, according to the book “Ghost Plane” by journalist Stephen Grey.

US officials told the New York Timesthe US plan to replace Mubarak with Suleiman is one of several under consideration, and there is no evidence yet that the Egyptian leadership will accept it.

Officials told the Times that the plan’s success would depend on a number of factors, including the mood of protesters in the streets and the willingness of the military to accept it.

— With an earlier report from AFP


The Egyptian Tinderbox: How Banks And Investors Are Starving The Third World

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Oldspeak:“What for a poor man is a crust, for a rich man is a securitized asset class.” -Futures trader Ann Berg, quoted in The Guardian UK. Underlying the sudden, volatile uprising in Egypt and Tunisia is a growing global crisis sparked by soaring food prices and unemployment.” “

From Helen Hodgson Brown @ Truthout:

The Associated Press reports that roughly 40 percent of Egyptians struggle along at the World Bank-set poverty level of under $2 per day. Analysts estimate that food price inflation in Egypt is currently at an unsustainable 17 percent yearly. In poorer countries, as much as 60 to 80 percent of people’s incomes go for food, compared to just 10 to 20 percent in industrial countries. An increase of a dollar or so in the cost of a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread for Americans can mean starvation for people in Egypt and other poor countries.

Follow the Money

The cause of the recent jump in global food prices remains a matter of debate. Some analysts blame the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing” program (increasing the money supply with credit created with accounting entries), which they warn is sparking hyperinflation. Too much money chasing too few goods is the classic explanation for rising prices.

The problem with that theory is that the global money supply has actually shrunk since 2006, when food prices began their dramatic rise. Virtually all money today is created on the books of banks as “credit” or “debt,” and overall lending has shrunk. This has occurred in an accelerating process ofdeleveraging (paying down or writing off loans and not making new ones), as the subprime housing market has collapsed and bank capital requirements have been raised. Although it seems counterintuitive, the more debt there is, the more money there is in the system. As debt shrinks, the money supply shrinks in tandem.

That is why government debt today is not actually the bugaboo it is being made out to be by the deficit terrorists. The flipside of debt is credit, and businesses run on it. When credit collapses, trade collapses. When private debt shrinks, public debt must therefore step in to replace it. The “good” credit or debt is the kind used for building infrastructure and other productive capacity, increasing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and wages; and this is the kind governments are in a position to employ. The parasitic forms of credit or debt are the gamblers’ money-making-money schemes, which add nothing to GDP.

Prices have been driven up by too much money chasing too few goods, but the money is chasing only certain selected goods. Food and fuel prices are up, but housing prices are down. The net result is that overall price inflation remains low.

While quantitative easing may not be the culprit, Fed action has driven the rush into commodities. In response to the banking crisis of 2008, the Federal Reserve dropped the Fed funds rate (the rate at which banks borrow from each other) nearly to zero. This has allowed banks and their customers to borrow in the US at very low rates and invest abroad for higher returns, creating a dollar “carry trade.”

Meanwhile, interest rates on federal securities were also driven to very low levels, leaving investors without that safe, stable option for funding their retirements. “Hot money” – investment seeking higher returns – fled from the collapsed housing market into anything but the dollar, which generally meant fleeing into commodities.

New Meaning to the Old Adage “Don’t Play With Your Food”

At one time food was considered a poor speculative investment, because it was too perishable to be stored until market conditions were right for resale. But that changed with the development of ETFs (exchange-traded funds) and other financial innovations.

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As first devised, speculation in food futures was fairly innocuous, since when the contract expired, somebody actually had to buy the product at the “spot” or cash price. This forced the fanciful futures price and the more realistic spot price into alignment. But that changed in 1991. In a revealing July 2010 report in Harper’s Magazine titled “The Food Bubble: How Wall Street Starved Millions and Got Away with It,” Frederick Kaufman wrote:

The history of food took an ominous turn in 1991, at a time when no one was paying much attention. That was the year Goldman Sachs decided our daily bread might make an excellent investment….

Robber barons, gold bugs, and financiers of every stripe had long dreamed of controlling all of something everybody needed or desired, then holding back the supply as demand drove up prices.

As Kaufman explained this financial innovation in a July 16 interview on Democracy Now:

Goldman … came up with this idea of the commodity index fund, which really was a way for them to accumulate huge piles of cash for themselves…. Instead of a buy-and-sell order, like everybody does in these markets, they just started buying. It’s called “going long.” They started going long on wheat futures…. And every time one of these contracts came due, they would do something called “rolling it over” into the next contract…. And they kept on buying and buying and buying and buying and accumulating this historically unprecedented pile of long-only wheat futures. And this accumulation created a very odd phenomenon in the market. It’s called a “demand shock.” Usually prices go up because supply is low…. In this case, Goldman and the other banks had introduced this completely unnatural and artificial demand to buy wheat, and that then set the price up…. [H]ard red wheat generally trades between $3 and $6 per sixty-pound bushel. It went up to $12, then $15, then $18. Then it broke $20. And on February 25th, 2008, hard red spring futures settled at $25 per bushel…. [T]he irony here is that in 2008, it was the greatest wheat-producing year in world history.

… [T]he other outrage … is that at the time that Goldman and these other banks are completely messing up the structure of this market, they’ve protected themselves outside the market, through this really almost diabolical idea called “replication”…. Let’s say, … you want me to invest for you in the wheat market. You give me a hundred bucks…. [W]hat I should be doing is putting a hundred bucks in the wheat markets. But I don’t have to do that. All I have to do is put $5 in…. And with that $5, I can hold your hundred-dollar position. Well, now I’ve got ninety-five of your dollars…. [W]hat Goldman did with hundreds of billions of dollars, and what all these banks did with hundreds of billions of dollars, is they put them in the most conservative investments conceivable. They put it in T-bills…. [N]ow that you have hundreds of billions of dollars in T-bills, you can leverage that into trillions of dollars…. And then they take that trillion dollars, they give it to their day traders, and they say, “Go at it, guys. Do whatever is most lucrative today.” And so, as billions of people starve, they use that money to make billions of dollars for themselves.

Other researchers have concurred in this explanation of the food crisis. In a July 2010 article called “How Goldman Sachs Gambled on Starving the World’s Poor – And Won,” journalist Johann Hari observed:

Beginning in late 2006, world food prices began rising. A year later, wheat price had gone up 80 percent, maize by 90 percent and rice by 320 percent. Food riots broke out in more than 30 countries, and 200 million people faced malnutrition and starvation. Suddenly, in the spring of 2008, food prices fell to previous levels, as if by magic. Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has called this “a silent mass murder,” entirely due to “man-made actions.”

Some economists said the hikes were caused by increased demand by Chinese and Indian middle-class population booms and the growing use of corn for ethanol. But according to Professor Jayati Ghosh of the Centre for Economic Studies in New Delhi, demand from those countries actually fell by 3 percent over the period; and the International Grain Council stated that global production of wheat had increased during the price spike.

According to a study by the now-defunct Lehman Brothers, index fund speculation jumped from $13 billion to $260 billion from 2003 to 2008. Not surprisingly, food prices rose in tandem, beginning in 2003. Hedge fund manager Michael Masters estimated that on the regulated exchanges in the US, 64 percent of all wheat contracts were held by speculators with no interest whatever in real wheat. They owned it solely in anticipation of price inflation and resale. George Soros said it was “just like secretly hoarding food during a hunger crisis in order to make profits from increasing prices.”

An August 2009 paper by Jayati Ghosh, professor at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, compared food staples traded on futures markets with staples that were not. She found that the price of food staples not traded on futures markets, such as millet, cassava and potatoes, rose only a fraction as much as staples subject to speculation, such as wheat.

Nomi Prins, writing in Mother Jones in 2008, also blamed the price hikes on speculation. She observed that agricultural futures and energy futures were being packaged and sold just like CDOs (collateralized debt obligations), but in this case they were called CCOs (collateralized commodity obligations). The higher the price of food, the more CCO investors profited. She warned:

[W]ithout strong regulation of electronic exchanges and the derivatives products that enable speculators to move huge proportions of the futures markets underlying commodities, putting a bit of regulation into the London-based exchanges will not alleviate anything. Unless that’s addressed, this bubble is going to take more than homes with it. It’s going to take lives.

What Can Be Done?

According to Kaufman, the food bubble has now increased the ranks of the world’s hungry by 250 million. On July 21, 2010, President Obama signed a Wall Street reform bill that would close many of the regulatory loopholes allowing big financial institutions to play in agriculture commodity futures markets, but Kaufman says the bill’s solutions are not likely to work. Wall Street innovators can devise new ways to speculate that easily dance around cumbersome, slow-to-pass legislation. Attempts to ban all food speculation are also unlikely to work, he says, since firms can pick up the phone and do their trades through London, or arrange over-the-counter (private) swaps.

As an alternative, Kaufman suggests a worldwide or national grain reserve, so that regulators can bring wheat into the market when needed to stabilize prices. He notes that we actually kept a large grain reserve in the Clinton era, before the mania for deregulation. President Franklin Roosevelt pledged to maintain a large grain reserve in his second Agricultural Adjustment Act in 1938.

Chris Cook, former director of a global energy exchange, maintains:

The only long term solution is to completely re-architect markets. Firstly, cutting out middlemen – which is a process already under way. Secondly, a new settlement between producer and consumer nations – a Bretton Woods II.

Speculative markets today are driven more by fear, says Cook, than by greed. Investors are looking for something safe that will give them an adequate return, which means something they can live on in retirement. They need these investments because their employers and the government do not provide an adequate safety net.

At one time, federal securities were a safe and adequate investment for retirees. Then federal interest rates plunged, and investors moved into municipal bonds. Now that market, too, is collapsing, due to threats of bankruptcy among bond issuers. Cities, counties and states floundering from the credit crisis have been denied access to the quantitative easing tools used to bail out the banks – although it was the banks, not local governments, that caused the crisis. See “The Fed Has Spoken: No Bailout for Main Street.”

Meanwhile, pensions are being slashed and Social Security is under attack. Arguably, along with the grain reserves institutionalized under Franklin Roosevelt, we need an Economic Bill of Rights of the sort he envisioned, one that would guarantee citizens at least a bare minimum standard of living. This could be done through job guarantees when people were able to work and Social Security when they were not. The program could be funded with government-created credit or government-bank-created credit, and this could be done without causing hyperinflation. To support that contention would take more space than is left here, but the subject has been tackled in my book “Web of Debt.” In the meantime, the credit needed to get local economies up and running again can be furnished through publicly-owned banks. For more on that possibility, see http://PublicBankingInstitute.org.




When Corporations Choose Despots Over Democracy

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2011 at 11:03 am

Oldspeak:”Standard operating procedure for our multinational “citizens” and the governments beholden to them.  Human rights, equitable law, freedom, democracy, living wages, have little bearing on where and with whom these “citizens” choose to do business. “Egypt has been the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid for decades, Mubarak’s regime has received roughly $2 billion per year since coming to power, overwhelmingly for the military.Where has the money gone? Mostly to U.S. corporations.” ”

From Amy Goodman @ Truthdig:

“People holding a sign ‘To: America. From: the Egyptian People. Stop supporting Mubarak. It’s over!” so tweeted my brave colleague, “Democracy Now!” senior producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous, from the streets of Cairo.

More than 2 million people rallied throughout Egypt on Tuesday, most of them crowded into Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Tahrir, which means liberation in Arabic, has become the epicenter of what appears to be a largely spontaneous, leaderless and peaceful revolution in this, the most populous nation in the Middle East. Defying a military curfew, this incredible uprising has been driven by young Egyptians, who compose a majority of the 80 million citizens. Twitter and Facebook, and SMS text messaging on cell phones, have helped this new generation to link up and organize, despite living under a U.S.-supported dictatorship for the past three decades. In response, the Mubarak regime, with the help of U.S. and European corporations, has shut down the Internet and curtailed cellular service, plunging Egypt into digital darkness. Despite the shutdown, as media activist and professor of communications C.W. Anderson told me, “people make revolutions, not technology.”

The demands are chanted through the streets for democracy, for self-determination. Sharif headed to Egypt Friday night, into uncertain terrain. The hated Interior Ministry security forces, the black-shirted police loyal to President Hosni Mubarak, were beating and killing people, arresting journalists, and smashing and confiscating cameras.

On Saturday morning, Sharif went to Tahrir Square. Despite the SMS and Internet blackout, Sharif, a talented journalist and technical whiz, figured out a workaround, and was soon tweeting out of Tahrir: “Amazing scene: three tanks roll by with a crowd of people riding atop each one. Chanting ‘Hosni Mubarak out!’ ”

Egypt has been the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid for decades, after Israel (not counting the funds expended on the wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan). Mubarak’s regime has received roughly $2 billion per year since coming to power, overwhelmingly for the military.

Where has the money gone? Mostly to U.S. corporations. I asked William Hartung of the New America Foundation to explain:

“It’s a form of corporate welfare for companies like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, because it goes to Egypt, then it comes back for F-16 aircraft, for M-1 tanks, for aircraft engines, for all kinds of missiles, for guns, for tear-gas canisters [from] a company called Combined Systems International, which actually has its name on the side of the canisters that have been found on the streets there.”

Hartung just published a book, “Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.” He went on: “Lockheed Martin has been the leader in deals worth $3.8 billion over that period of the last 10 years; General Dynamics, $2.5 billion for tanks; Boeing, $1.7 billion for missiles, for helicopters; Raytheon for all manner of missiles for the armed forces. So, basically, this is a key element in propping up the regime, but a lot of the money is basically recycled. Taxpayers could just as easily be giving it directly to Lockheed Martin or General Dynamics.”

Likewise, Egypt’s Internet and cell phone “kill switch” was enabled only through collaboration with corporations. U.K.-based Vodafone, a global cellular-phone giant (which owns 45 percent of Verizon Wireless in the U.S.) attempted to justify its actions in a press release: “It has been clear to us that there were no legal or practical options open to Vodafone … but to comply with the demands of the authorities.”

Narus, a U.S. subsidiary of Boeing Corp., sold Egypt equipment to allow “deep packet inspection,” according to Tim Karr of the media policy group Free Press. Karr said the Narus technology “allows the Egyptian telecommunications companies … to look at texting via cell phones, and to identify the sort of dissident voices that are out there. … It also gives them the technology to geographically locate them and track them down.”

Mubarak has pledged not to run for re-election come September. But the people of Egypt demand he leave now. How has he lasted 30 years? Maybe that’s best explained by a warning from a U.S. Army general 50 years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He said, “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

That deadly complex is not only a danger to democracy at home, but when shoring up despots abroad.


Sudan’s Protests Triggered By Long-Term Economic, Political Frustrations

In Uncategorized on February 2, 2011 at 12:06 pm

 

Heavily armed police patrol Khartoum's main streets Jan. 30. Police beat and arrested students in central Khartoum, witnesses said on Sunday, as demonstrations broke out throughout the city demanding the government resign.

 

Oldspeak:” Youth worldwide thus far seen as disposable cogs in the globalizing machine have had enough. They’ve had enough of being ignored, enough of being exploited and  manipulated for others political and economic gains. They’re taking bold steps to make their voices heard, their elders are listening and following their lead. Bear witness, we are living in exciting times.”

From Amanda Hsaio @ The Christian Science Monitor:

Tunis and Cairo-inspired revolutionary fervor spread to Sudan on Sunday, as anti-government demonstrators rallied across major cities, protesting high prices, corruption, unemployment, and the political status quo. This latest challenge to the ruling National Congress Party’s grip on power – headed by President Omar al-Bashir – was met with beatings, tear gas, and arrests by security forces, reportedly resulting in one death.

According to news sources, “several thousand” demonstrators rallied in Khartoum and the neighboring city of Omdurman while hundreds protested in major cities El-Obeid and Wad Medani, to the west and east.

The protests were organized by a number of youth groups and students through social networking sites and cell phones. One Facebook page publicizing the protests gave this call to action:

“It is about time we use our god given voice to demonstrate against an injustice government that is willing to sacrifice its people and its land to remain on the higher power.”

Seventy people were reportedly arrested and one demonstrator, Mohamed Abdelrahman, reportedly died from injuries inflicted by security forces.

By Monday, the Sudanese government appeared to have the situation under lockdown. According to Reuters, “hundreds of heavily armed police” had surrounded several universities while two papers were shut down. Youth groups reportedly issued a statement saying demonstrations would resume February 3.

Economic and political frustrations have long been mounting. In mid-January, similar protests broke out in response to the government’s decision to cut subsidies for petroleum and sugar – austerity measures taken to mitigate the economic impact of losing the oil-rich South. Southern secession has also inspired political opportunism by northern opposition groups, many of whom have been threatening to overthrow the regime if new elections and a constitutional review were not held.

Notably, Sunday’s protests appeared disconnected from – even hostile to – opposition efforts in the North, in a sign that discontent was aimed at politics as usual, as much as the regime itself. One press release explicitly excluded leaders of “traditional opposition parties who are not willing to confront the Islamic military regime” from the demonstrations.

The Jan. 30 protesters are “equally frustrated by the inadequacies of the oppositional political parties, a concern that found its expression in the slogan shabab la ahzab (youth, no [political] parties),” noted Sudanese commentator Magdi El Gizouli.

Given the scale of Sudan’s protests and the outstanding CPA and post-referendum issues that depend on Khartoum’s cooperation, both the US and South Sudanese governments are unlikely to speak out on Sunday’s events. Whether the protests continue and gain momentum will depend on a range of factors including the extent to which main opposition groups mobilize their support base to join the protests and whether Khartoum’s security forces maintains control over the situation – and they seem to be.

International community, stay tuned.


King Abdullah II Of Jordan Sacks Government Amid Street Protests

In Uncategorized on February 1, 2011 at 2:39 pm

 

King Abdullah II of Jordan pledged to embark on an immediate programme of democratic reform

 

Oldspeak: “Freedom and Democracy, brought to you by The People.”

From Adrian Blomfield @ The UK Telegraph:

The king became the first Arab leader to announce political concessions from a position of relative security as he sought to pre-empt opposition-led demonstrations inspired by Egypt’s attempted revolution against President Hosni Mubarak.

He followed up the dismissal of Samir Rifai, his popular prime minister, and the entire cabinet, with a pledge to embark on an immediate programme of democratic reform.

But the king’s choice of Marouf Bakhit, widely seen as a conservative resistant to reform, as Mr Rifai’s successor immediately drew more criticism than praise.

A former general, Mr Bakhit was accused of failing to deliver on a promised liberalisation agenda during his previous term as prime minister in 2005-2007.

“This is not a step in the right direction and does not show any intent towards real political reforms,” said Sheikh Hamza Mansour, leader of the Islamic Action Front, Jordan’s largest opposition group.

Protests led by a coalition of Islamists, secular opposition groups and retired army generals have brought thousands onto the streets of Amman, the capital city, and other parts of the country.

Although far smaller than the demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia, they have caused considerable disquiet even though none of the protesters have demanded the abdication of Abdullah, who assumed the throne in 1999.

Instead, they demanded the dismissal of Mr Rifai’s government and a change in electoral law to allow the Jordanian people to vote for their prime minister, a position presently selected by royal appointment.

They also called for the dissolution of parliament, elected in a general election last November that was widely seen as heavily flawed.

Royal aides said the king has instructed his new government to reform the unpopular electoral law and insisted that he had met most of the protesters’ demands by paving the way for Jordan’s transformation from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy.

“The king has been urging reforms for a while,” Ayman Safadi, the outgoing deputy prime minister and a leading royal adviser, told The Daily Telegraph. “His Majesty is not a politician. He is doing what he thinks is right for Jordan, which is to institute gradual but tangible reform.” Leaders of the protests insist that their respect for Abdullah, whose Hashemite dynasty was granted rule over Jordan by Britain after the First World War, remains undimmed.

Like in other Arab states that have been swept by unrest, Jordanians complain of rising prices, widespread unemployment and a low standard of living.

So far at least, their anger has been directed at Jordan’s politicians, who are viewed as corrupt, undemocratic and unaccountable.

But observers warn that a failure to address such discontent could ultimately threaten the survival of the monarchy.

Like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, King Abdullah is considered a vital US ally even if his kingdom lacks the economic and energy clout of many of its neighbours.

Following Egypt’s lead, Jordan became the only other Arab state to sign a peace deal with Israel and the king is regarded as an important moderate voice in the Middle East.

Israeli officials have privately expressed concern that a power vacuum in Jordan, which has considerable uranium reserves, could lead to the rise of the Islamic Action Front, an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood that is hostile to Israel.