Thursday, April 24, 2008

Take Action:

Take Action:

General Information:

Latest News:

Archive of NOW's work on abortion rights

CIA Acknowledges it Has More Than 7000 Documents Relating to Secret Detention Program, Rendition, and Torture

CIA Acknowledges it Has More Than 7000 Documents Relating to Secret Detention Program, Rendition, and Torture

Human Right Groups Charge Documents Reveal CIA Stonewalled
Congressional Oversight Committees; CIA Says Many Documents too Sensitive
to Release

NEW YORK and WASHINGTON, April 23 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) must stop stonewalling congressional
oversight committees and release vital documents related to the program of
secret detentions, renditions, and torture, three prominent human rights
groups said today. Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), the Center for
Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the International Human Rights Clinic at
NYU School of Law (NYU IHRC) reiterated their call for information,
following the CIA's filing of a summary judgment motion this week to end a
lawsuit and avoid turning over more than 7000 documents related to its
secret "ghost" detention and extraordinary rendition program. This motion
is in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed in
federal court last June by these groups. The organizations will file their
response brief next month.

Among other assertions, the CIA claimed that it did not have to release
the documents because many consist of correspondence with the White House
or top Bush administration officials, or because they are between parties
seeking legal advice on the programs, including guidance on the legality of
certain interrogation procedures. The CIA confirmed that it requested --
and received -- legal advice from attorneys at the Department of Justice
Office of Legal Counsel concerning these procedures.

"For the first time, the CIA has acknowledged that extensive records
exist relating to its use of enforced disappearances and secret prisons,"
said Curt Goering, AIUSA senior deputy executive director. "Given what we
already know about documents written by Bush administration officials
trying to justify torture and other human rights crimes, one does not need
a fertile imagination to conclude that the real reason for refusing to
disclose these documents has more to do with avoiding disclosure of
criminal activity than national security."

The CIA's admission that it possesses at least 7000 documents relating
to rendition, secret detention and torture generated renewed calls by the
human rights groups for transparency and accountability from the

"The Freedom of Information Act is one of the major checks on
government criminality in this country," said CCR Executive Director
Vincent Warren. "The CIA has acknowledged that it has well over 7000
documents that relate to the torture and disappearance of men. These
include some of our clients, like Majid Khan, who were known to be in the
program. The public needs to know what crimes were committed in our name
and how they were justified. This has been the most secretive, least
transparent administration in history, and it is well past time for

AIUSA, CCR, and NYU IHRC have filed FOIA requests with several U.S.
government agencies, including the CIA. These FOIA requests sought
information about individuals who are -- or have been -- held by the U.S.
government or detained with U.S. involvement, and about whom there is no
public record. The requests also sought information about the government's
legal justifications for its secret detention and extraordinary rendition
program. Comprehensive information about the identities and locations of
prisoners in CIA custody -- as well as the conditions of their detention
and the specific interrogation methods used against them -- has never been
publicly revealed. This lack of transparency continues to prevent scrutiny
by the public or the courts and leaves detainees vulnerable to abuse and

Although the CIA did release a paltry number of documents in response
to the FOIA request, most were already in the public domain, such as
newspaper articles and a single copy of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which
governs the treatment of civilians in times of war. The limited relevant
documents that were released were documents pertaining to briefings
demanded by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees regarding various
aspects of the overseas detention and interrogation program.

Documents released to plaintiffs by the CIA demonstrate that many
within the government itself have been unable to obtain accurate
information from the CIA. These documents, which include letters from
Members of Congress to the CIA, demonstrate a pattern of withholding
information from Congress. In a pointed bipartisan letter on October 16,
2003, then-Chair and Ranking Member of the House Select Committee on
Intelligence requested that CIA Director George Tenet provide senior level
briefings on the treatment of, and information obtained by, three men known
to be held in secret CIA detention, admonishing the CIA by stating that the
committee was "frustrated with the quality of the information" provided in
past briefings.

The CIA appears to have avoided answering detailed requests for
specific information, responding instead with form letters and references
to briefings. These practices led to a forceful letter from Senator Carl
Levin, Current Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, (then
the Ranking Member) who was attempting to investigate CIA involvement in
detainee deaths. In a letter dated Oct. 24, 2005, Senator Levin noted that
"[t]he lack of CIA cooperation with the investigations to date has left
significant omissions in the record." The CIA's failure to cooperate with
members of Congress demonstrates the need for public scrutiny of the secret
detention and extraordinary rendition program under FOIA.

"The CIA has employed illegal techniques such as torture, enforced
disappearances, and extraordinary rendition," said Meg Satterthwaite,
Director of the NYU IHRC. "It cannot use FOIA exemptions as a shield to
hide its violations of U.S. and international law."

In its legal filings, the CIA acknowledged that this program "will
continue." Some prisoners have been transferred to prisons in other
countries for proxy detention where they face the risk of torture and where
they continue to be held secretly, without charge or trial. Human rights
reports indicate that the fate and whereabouts of at least 30 people
believed to have been held in secret U.S. custody remain unknown.

In September 2006, President Bush publicly acknowledged the existence
of CIA-operated secret prisons. At the same time, 14 detainees from these
facilities were transferred to Guantanamo and several more have arrived
since. The administration has admitted to using so-called "alternative
interrogation procedures" on those held in the CIA program, including
waterboarding. The international community and the United States, in other
contexts, have unequivocally deemed these techniques torture.

For more information or copies of the CIA's legal filings and released
documents, please contact, or

For more information about the organizations involved, please see their
websites:,, or To see
the most recent documents from this CIA filing, go to

CIA admits they will continue rendition program, which allows torture overseas

Documents show they expected legal challenges from the start

The Central Intelligence Agency knew from the beginning that its secret detention and torturous interrogation tactics probably bordered on illegal from the start, according to new documents identified through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

In a filing yesterday, the CIA said it had identified 7,000 pages of classified memos, emails and other records relating to President Bush's secret detention and interrogation program. Human rights groups quickly jumped on the filing -- which came after their own Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking information about those detained.

The CIA also acknowledged in their filings that the program “will continue.” Terror suspects detained or "renditioned" by the United States are transferred to third party countries that allow torture which gives the US a legal loophole to allow harsh interrogation without being legally liable. Such suspects, who effectively disappear, are held without access to courts.

The US has refused to produce a list of the suspects it is holding in sites overseas, and only recently provided a list of those held captive at Guantánamo Bay.

Amnesty International says at least 30 people are believed to still be held in secret prisons.

In 2006, President Bush muted dissent surrounding the program by announcing that he would transfer 14 "high-value" detainees to Guantánamo Bay.

The filing also shows that the agency sought legal advice from the White House Office of Legal Counsel numerous times over several years.

"The CIA's purpose in requesting advice from OLC was the very likely prospect of criminal, civil, or administrative litigation against the CIA and CIA personnel who participate in the Program," Ralph S. DiMaio, information review officer for the CIA's clandestine service, said in the documents.

Such proceedings, he added, would "be virtually inevitable."

Nineteen documents were withheld; the Bush Administration cited "presidential communications privilege." The withholding of documents under presidential privlige has been a common practice of the Bush Administration -- but its decision to do so in this case appears a tacit acknowledgment of the high-level interaction between Bush advisors and CIA officials.

The filing says that some of the withheld documents were "authored or solicited and received by the President's senior advisors in connection with a decision, or potential decision, to be made by the president."

Rights groups say CIA is hiding criminal activity

Amnesty International USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the International Human Rights Clinic at NYU School of Law were the key litigants seeking the documents made the claim following a summary judgment motion by the agency.

“For the first time, the CIA has acknowledged that extensive records exist relating to its use of enforced disappearances and secret prisons,” Curt Goering, AIUSA senior deputy executive director, said in a statement yesterday. “Given what we already know about documents written by Bush administration officials trying to justify torture and other human rights crimes, one does not need a fertile imagination to conclude that the real reason for refusing to disclose these documents has more to do with avoiding disclosure of criminal activity than national security.”

RAW STORY was the first news outlet to identify the exact location of one of the sites in the CIA's secret prison network, which was revealed first by the Washington Post. Raw Story identified a prison in northeastern Poland, Stare Kiejkuty, that was used as a transit point for terror suspects.

Once a Soviet-era compound once used by German intelligence in World War II, Stare Kiejkuty is best known as having been the only Russian intelligence training school to operate outside the Soviet Union. Its prominence in the Soviet era suggests that it may have been the facility first identified – but never named – when the Washington Post’s Dana Priest revealed the existence of the CIA’s secret prison network in November 2005.

The groups say that they're not the only ones being stonewalled. Congress, they say, is getting the short end of the stick as well.

"Documents released to plaintiffs by the CIA demonstrate that many within the government itself have been unable to obtain accurate information from the CIA," the groups said. "These documents, which include letters from Members of Congress to the CIA, demonstrate a pattern of withholding information from Congress. In a pointed bipartisan letter on Oct. 16, 2003, then-Chair and Ranking Member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence requested that CIA Director George Tenet provide senior level briefings on the treatment of, and information obtained by, three men known to be held in secret CIA detention, admonishing the CIA by stating that the committee was 'frustrated with the quality of the information' provided in past briefings."

“The CIA has employed illegal techniques such as torture, enforced disappearances, and extraordinary rendition,” said Meg Satterthwaite, Director of the NYU IHRC. “It cannot use FOIA exemptions as a shield to hide its violations of U.S. and international law.”

CIA has begun to lose, destroy documents

Two recent reports signal that the agency has begun to destroy evidence of harsh interrogations conducted at US prisons. Last year, the CIA acknowledged it had destroyed videotapes of two interrogations they were asked to provide to the Sept. 11 commission.

Earlier this week, the erstwhile director of interrogations at Guantánamo Bay said records of a prisoner who accused his captors of torturing him had been destroyed.

"Retired general Michael Dunlavey, who supervised Guantánamo for eight months in 2002, tried to locate records on Mohammed al-Qahtani, accused by the US of plotting the 9/11 attacks, but found they had disappeared," the Guardian writes. "The records on al-Qahtani, who was interrogated for 48 days - "were backed up ... after I left, there was a snafu and all was lost."

Latin America: the attack on democracy

Latin America: the attack on democracy

John Pilger argues that an unreported war is being waged by the US to restore power to the privileged classes at the expense of the poor

By John Pilger

24/04/08 "ICH" -- -- B
eyond the sound and fury of its conquest of Iraq and campaign against Iran, the world's dominant power is waging a largely unreported war on another continent - Latin America. Using proxies, Washington aims to restore and reinforce the political control of a privileged group calling itself middle-class, to shift the responsibility for massacres and drug trafficking away from the psychotic regime in Colombia and its mafiosi, and to extinguish hopes raised among Latin America's impoverished majority by the reform governments of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia.

In Colombia, the main battleground, the class nature of the war is distorted by the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the Farc, whose own resort to kidnapping and the drugs trade has provided an instrument with which to smear those who have distinguished Latin America's epic history of rebellion by opposing the proto-fascism of George W Bush's regime. "You don't fight terror with terror," said President Hugo Chávez as US warplanes bombed to death thousands of civilians in Afghanistan following the 11 September 2001 attacks. Thereafter, he was a marked man. Yet, as every poll has shown, he spoke for the great majority of human beings who have grasped that the "war on terror" is a crusade of domination. Almost alone among national leaders standing up to Bush, Chávez was declared an enemy and his plans for a functioning social democracy independent of the United States a threat to Washington's grip on Latin America. "Even worse," wrote the Latin America specialist James Petras, "Chávez's nationalist policies represented an alternative in Latin America at a time (2000-2003) when mass insurrections, popular uprisings and the collapse of pro-US client rulers (Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia) were constant front-page news."

It is impossible to underestimate the threat of this alternative as perceived by the "middle classes" in countries which have an abundance of privilege and poverty. In Venezuela, their "grotesque fantasies of being ruled by a 'brutal communist dictator'", to quote Petras, are reminiscent of the paranoia of the white population that backed South Africa's apartheid regime. Like in South Africa, racism in Venezuela is rampant, with the poor ignored, despised or patronised, and a Caracas shock jock allowed casually to dismiss Chávez, who is of mixed race, as a "monkey". This fatuous venom has come not only from the super-rich behind their walls in suburbs called Country Club, but from the pretenders to their ranks in middle-level management, journalism, public relations, the arts, education and the other professions, who identify vicariously with all things American. Journalists in broadcasting and the press have played a crucial role - acknowledged by one of the generals and bankers who tried unsuccessfully to overthrow Chávez in 2002. "We couldn't have done it without them," he said. "The media were our secret weapon."

Many of these people regard themselves as liberals, and have the ear of foreign journalists who like to describe themselves as being "on the left". This is not surprising. When Chávez was first elected in 1998, Venezuela was not an archetypical Latin American tyranny, but a liberal democracy with certain freedoms, run by and for its elite, which had plundered the oil revenue and let crumbs fall to the invisible millions in the barrios. A pact between the two main parties, known as puntofijismo, resembled the convergence of new Labour and the Tories in Britain and Republicans and Democrats in the US. For them, the idea of popular sovereignty was anathema, and still is.

Take higher education. At the taxpayer-funded elite "public" Venezuelan Central University, more than 90 per cent of the students come from the upper and "middle" classes. These and other elite students have been infiltrated by CIA-linked groups and, in defending their privilege, have been lauded by foreign liberals.

With Colombia as its front line, the war on democracy in Latin America has Chávez as its main target. It is not difficult to understand why. One of Chávez's first acts was to revitalise the oil producers' organisation Opec and force the oil price to record levels. At the same time he reduced the price of oil for the poorest countries in the Caribbean region and central America, and used Venezuela's new wealth to pay off debt, notably Argentina's, and, in effect, expelled the International Monetary Fund from a continent over which it once ruled. He has cut poverty by half - while GDP has risen dramatically. Above all, he gave poor people the confidence to believe that their lives would improve.

The irony is that, unlike Fidel Castro in Cuba, he presented no real threat to the well-off, who have grown richer under his presidency. What he has demonstrated is that a social democracy can prosper and reach out to its poor with genuine welfare, and without the extremes of "neo liberalism" - a decidedly unradical notion once embraced by the British Labour Party. Those ordinary Vene zuelans who abstained during last year's constitutional referendum were protesting that a "moderate" social democracy was not enough while the bureaucrats remained corrupt and the sewers overflowed.

Across the border in Colombia, the US has made Venezuela's neighbour the Israel of Latin America. Under "Plan Colombia", more than $6bn in arms, planes, special forces, mercenaries and logistics have been showered on some of the most murderous people on earth: the inheritors of Pinochet's Chile and the other juntas that terrorised Latin America for a generation, their various gestapos trained at the School of the Americas in Georgia. "We not only taught them how to torture," a former American trainer told me, "we taught them how to kill, murder, eliminate." That remains true of Colombia, where government-inspired mass terror has been documented by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and many others. In a study of 31,656 extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances between 1996 and 2006, the Colombian Commission of Jurists found that 46 per cent had been murdered by right-wing death squads and 14 per cent by Farc guerrillas. The para militaries were responsible for most of the three million victims of internal displacement. This misery is a product of Plan Colombia's pseudo "war on drugs", whose real purpose has been to eliminate the Farc. To that goal has now been added a war of attrition on the new popular democracies, especially Venezuela.

US special forces "advise" the Colombian military to cross the border into Venezuela and murder and kidnap its citizens and infiltrate paramilitaries, and so test the loyalty of the Venezuelan armed forces. The model is the CIA-run Contra campaign in Honduras in the 1980s that brought down the reformist government in Nicaragua. The defeat of the Farc is now seen as a prelude to an all-out attack on Venezuela if the Vene zuelan elite - reinvigorated by its narrow referendum victory last year - broadens its base in state and local government elections in November.

America's man and Colombia's Pinochet is President Álvaro Uribe. In 1991, a declassified report by the US Defence Intelligence Agency revealed the then Senator Uribe as having "worked for the Medellín Cartel" as a "close personal friend" of the cartel's drugs baron, Pablo Escobar. To date, 62 of his political allies have been investigated for close collaboration with paramilitaries. A feature of his rule has been the fate of journalists who have illuminated his shadows. Last year, four leading journalists received death threats after criticising Uribe. Since 2002, at least 31 journalists have been assassinated in Colombia. Uribe's other habit is smearing trade unions and human rights workers as "collaborators with the Farc". This marks them. Colombia's death squads, wrote Jenny Pearce, author of the acclaimed Under the Eagle: US Intervention in Central America and the Caribbean (1982), "are increasingly active, confident that the president has been so successful in rallying the country against the Farc that little attention will shift to their atrocities".

Uribe was personally championed by Tony Blair, reflecting Britain's long-standing, mostly secret role in Latin America. "Counter-insurgency assistance" to the Colombian military, up to its neck in death-squad alliances, includes training by the SAS of units such as the High Mountain Battalions, condemned repeatedly for atrocities. On 8 March, Colombian officers were invited by the Foreign Office to a "counter-insurgency seminar" at the Wilton Park conference centre in southern England. Rarely has the Foreign Office so brazenly paraded the killers it mentors.

The western media's role follows earlier models, such as the campaigns that cleared the way for the dismemberment of Yugoslavia and the credibility given to lies about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The softening-up for an attack on Venezuela is well under way, with the repetition of similar lies and smears.

Cocaine trail

On 3 February, the Observer devoted two pages to claims that Chávez was colluding in the Colombian drugs trade. Similarly to the paper's notorious bogus scares linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda, the Observer's headline read, "Revealed: Chávez role in cocaine trail to Europe". Allegations were unsubstantiated; hearsay uncorroborated. No source was identified. Indeed, the reporter, clearly trying to cover himself, wrote: "No source I spoke to accused Chávez himself of having a direct role in Colombia's giant drug trafficking business."

In fact, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has reported that Venezuela is fully participating in international anti-drugs programmes and in 2005 seized the third-highest amount of cocaine in the world. Even the Foreign Office minister Kim Howells has referred to "Venezuela's tre mendous co-operation".

The drugs smear has recently been reinforced with reports that Chávez has an "increasingly public alliance [with] the Farc" (see "Dangerous liaisons", New Statesman, 14 April). Again, there is "no evidence", says the secretary general of the Organisation of American States. At Uribe's request, and backed by the French government, Chávez played a mediating role in seeking the release of hostages held by the Farc. On 1 March, the negotiations were betrayed by Uribe who, with US logistical assistance, fired missiles at a camp in Ecuador, killing Raú Reyes, the Farc's highest-level negotiator. An "email" recovered from Reyes's laptop is said by the Colombian military to show that the Farc has received $300m from Chávez. The allegation is fake. The actual document refers only to Chávez in relation to the hostage exchange. And on 14 April, Chávez angrily criticised the Farc. "If I were a guerrilla," he said, "I wouldn't have the need to hold a woman, a man who aren't soldiers. Free the civilians!"

However, these fantasies have lethal purpose. On 10 March, the Bush administration announced that it had begun the process of placing Venezuela's popular democracy on a list of "terrorist states", along with North Korea, Syria, Cuba, Sudan and Iran, the last of which is currently awaiting attack by the world's leading terrorist state.

This article was first published by the New Statesman

World Vision cuts aid for 1.5 million people due to rising food costs

World Vision says soaring food costs will force it to cut 1.5 million people from the roster of 7.5 million it fed last year, one-third of them children who rely on the organization's aid to survive.

"The hungry are resourceful, they'll do what they have to, but it's going to take human life, there's no question about that," World Vision Canada president Dave Toycen told CBC News on Wednesday.

About 572,000 of those who will not receive food support are children who depend on that nourishment to thrive, Toycen said. While children funded by World Vision's sponsor-parent program will continue to receive aid, he said they could still be affected by an overall food shortage in their community.

"Well, at this point [people will] do like the hungry always do.… If they were getting two meals a day, now they'll cut back to one meal a day or, in some cases, they won't eat every day."

The rising cost of oil and fertilizer, more fields being used to produce corn for ethanol, drought in Australia and changing food consumption patterns have all contributed to the current crisis, Toycen said.

He also blamed donor countries for not living up their aid commitments, although he excused Canada by saying it was fairly consistent in delivering about $100 million each year.

One of the world's largest humanitarian organizations, World Vision provides food aid in 35 countries. The organization is calling on governments to collectively contribute $500 million to cover a shortfall in the United Nation's World Food Programme, one of World Vision's largest sources of food aid.

Toycen estimated it would take a few million dollars for his organization to respond to inflated food prices, which he doesn't expect to stabilize for at least another two years.

The soaring cost of food is poised to unleash a "silent tsunami" of hunger around the world, the head of the World Food Programme said Tuesday. The World Bank has estimated the crisis could drive 100 million people deeper into poverty.

"This is the new face of hunger — the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are," World Food Programme chief Josette Sheeran said.

Unrest over the food crisis has led to deaths in Cameroon and Haiti, costing Haitian Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis his job, and has caused hungry textile workers to clash with police in Bangladesh.

Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan has predicted more protests in other developing nations if the problem remains unchecked.

Crisis in Food Prices Threatens Worldwide Starvation

Is it Genocide?

By Richard C. Cook

24/04/08 "
GlobalResearch" -- - Rising worldwide food prices are resulting in shortages, riots and protests, promises by governments to expand food aid, expressions of concern by international bodies like the World Bank, and stress on household budgets even in developed countries like the U.S. Did this just “happen” or is there a plan?

Plenty of commentators think they have it figured out and blame such factors as greater demand for high-end protein menus by the increasingly upscale populations of China and India , weather factors relating to global warming such as drought in Australia , and the diversion of animal feed crops such as corn and soybeans to ethanol production. L.H. Teslik of the Council on Foreign Relations speaks of “bubbling inflation and rising oil prices.”

There is also the question of whether a role is being played by commodity speculation. The idea is that faced with the global financial crisis and the collapse of mortgage-based securities, investors are flocking to resource-based tangibles as a hedge against recession and the decline of the U.S. dollar. Hence gold is at record levels with oil keeping the same pace. How else to explain, for instance, the doubling of the price of rice in Asian markets in less than two months? Standard Chartered Bank food commodities analyst Abah Ofon says, “Fund money flowing into agriculture has boosted prices. It’s fashionable. This is the year of agricultural commodities.”

But the idea that speculation is at fault is disputed by no less than New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, one of the world’s leading monetary economists, who writes:

“My problem with the speculative stories is that they all depend on something that holds production — or at least potential production — off the market. The key point is that the spot price equalizes the demand and supply of a commodity; speculation can drive up the futures price, but the spot price will only follow if the higher futures prices somehow reduce the quantity available for final consumers. The usual channel for this is an increase in inventories, as investors hoard the stuff in expectation of a higher price down the road. If this doesn’t happen — if the spot price doesn’t follow the futures price — then futures will presumably come down, as it turns out that buying futures produces losses.”

Solid data in this area is hard to come by. Probably the chief common denominator among commentators, especially those advocating a supply and demand or global warming perspective, is that they have so little solid information. Thus it is refreshing to find a study that contains meaningful statistics such as one appearing on the Executive Intelligence Report website entitled, “To Defeat Famine: Kill the WTO” by Marcia Merry Baker. One particularly telling item is that after global food supplies were boosted through the Green Revolution and related programs lasting into the 1970s, more recently, world food production has actually declined.

Baker writes, “World per-capita output of grains of all kinds (rice, wheat, corn, and others) has been falling for twenty years. Whereas in 1986 it was 338 kilograms per person, it went down to 303 by 2006. This decline in no way has been made up for by increasing amounts of other staple foodstuffs—tubers, legumes, or oil crops, which likewise are in insufficient supply.”

Further, “In twelve of the last twenty years, less grain has been produced than utilized that year (for all purposes—direct human consumption, livestock feed, industrial and energy uses, and reserves). Accordingly, the amount of carryover stocks of grain from year to year has been declining to extreme danger levels. The diversion of food crops into biofuels is the nail in the coffin. The latest estimate is that worldwide stockpiles of cereal crops of all kinds are expected to fall to a twenty-five-year low of 405 million tons in 2008. That is down twenty-one million tons, or five percent, from their already reduced level in 2007.”

Further, an increasing proportion of food crops is being produced by large multinational corporations whose power and reach has ballooned under the World Trade Organization and spin-offs like NAFTA even as small family-run farms have lost the protection of parity pricing and been priced out of business. But the data suggest that a) the output of agribusiness has failed to match the older, more diversified systems of farming; and b) as nations lose their ability to feed themselves, agricultural pricing becomes more subject to monopolization.

The loss of agricultural self-sufficiency has been exacerbated in much of the developing world by International Monetary Fund lending policies. Under the “ Washington consensus,” entire nations have been forced to give up agricultural self-sufficiency and convert farmland to export commodities while displaced rural populations migrate to the slums of large cities such as Lagos , Nigeria . Today those populations are the ones most grievously threatened with starvation.

Then what is really going on?

First of all, let’s get rid of the idea that we are seeing “impersonal market forces” at work. “Supply and demand” is not a “law”—it’s a policy. If a seller has an article in demand it’s a matter of choice whether he charges a premium when he offers it for sale. If he’s a decent, honest soul, maybe he won’t necessarily charge all the market will bear, particularly if the item is a necessity of life, such as food. Or maybe there will be a responsible public authority around that will prohibit price gouging or else subsidize the purchaser, as often happens in credit markets. Of course public spirited action like this is itself a declining commodity in a world afflicted with the kind of market fundamentalism and rampant privatization that has been the rage since the 1980s Reagan Revolution.

Second, let’s ask the question which any competent investigator should pose when starting out on the trail of a possible crime: “Who benefits?” Indeed we may be speaking of a crime on the scale of genocide if the events in question are a) avoidable; in which case the crime is one of negligent homicide; or b) planned, where we obviously have a conspiracy among the contributing parties.

Those who benefit are obviously the ones who finance agricultural operations, those who are charging monopoly prices for the commodities in demand, the various middlemen who bring the products to market after they leave the farm, and the owners or mortgagees of the land, retail space, and other assets required to conduct the production/consumption cycle.

In other words, it’s the financial elite of the world who have gained complete control of the most basic necessity of life. This includes not only the international financiers who provide capitalization, including the leveraging of trading in commodity futures up to the 97 percent level, but even organized crime groups which the U.S. Department of Justice says have penetrated world materials markets.

And is all this part of a long-term strategy by international finance to starve much of the world’s population in order to seize their land, control their natural resources, and enslave the rest who fear a similar fate? Already millions of people are losing their homes to housing inflation and foreclosure. Is actual or threatened physical starvation the next part of the scenario?

And where are the governmental authorities whose job it is to protect the public welfare both at the national and international levels? These authorities long ago allowed a situation to develop, including in developed nations like the U.S. , where people in localities no longer have the simple ability to feed themselves, even in emergencies. And not one of the candidates remaining in the U.S. presidential election—John McCain, Hillary Clinton, nor Barack Obama—has addressed the food pricing issue. Indeed, all three are part of a government that has gone so far as to exclude much of the rising cost of food from measurements of inflation, an innovation that took place on Bill Clinton’s watch.

It is now April. Already food has run out in some parts of the world. In a few months winter will come, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. What will happen then? Are you certain food will be on your table?

And suppose you wanted to make a contribution to your own well-being and to that of your family and community by going into farming. In most parts of North America you can look around and see plenty of underutilized land.

But could you do it? Could you buy or lease land and pay taxes on it after the galloping inflation of the real estate bubble? Could you get bank loans for equipment and operating expenses under today’s constrained credit conditions? Could you afford fuel for your equipment when petroleum costs over $115 a barrel? Is water readily available from developed supplies and is electricity available at regulated prices? Could you purchase anything other than genetically-modified seed? Would local supermarkets buy your produce when your prices are undercut by massive corporate distributorships importing food from abroad? Does the system even exist in your home town for marketing of local farm products?

And does anyone in power even care?

Well, whether they do or not, “We the People” should care. One of the worst aspects of the consumer society is the separation between the individual and the products of the earth we utilize. We always assume that whatever we need will be there so long as we have money in our bank account or the ability to charge on a credit card and pay later.

Such assumptions are losing their validity. Back in the 1960s people who were starting to understand these things began a modest “back to the land” movement. Today it is time to start one again. Except this time we need to do it right by demanding government policies that support it. This means low-cost credit, price supports, affordable utilities, favorable tax policies, and decisions by government and businesses to “buy local.” Food production cannot safely be left in the hands of agribusiness and international finance capitalism any longer.

Richard C. Cook is a former U.S. federal government analyst, whose career included service with the U.S. Civil Service Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Carter White House, NASA, and the U.S. Treasury Department. His articles on economics, politics, and space policy have appeared on numerous websites. His book on monetary reform entitled We Hold These Truths: The Promise of Monetary Reform is in preparation. He is also the author of Challenger Revealed: An Insider’s Account of How the Reagan Administration Caused the Greatest Tragedy of the Space Age, called by one reviewer, “the most important spaceflight book of the last twenty years.” His website is at

"Building a New World" Conference

PROUT stands for PROgressive UTilization Theory. It means, the progressive utilization and rational distribution of all the earth's natural resources. PROUT advocates another type of revolution called "nuclear revolution." In nuclear revolution, every aspect of collective life - social, economic, political, cultural, psychic and spiritual - is completely transformed. New moral and spiritual values arise in society which provide the impetus for accelerated social progress. The old era is replaced by a new era - one collective psychology is replaced by another. This type of revolution results in all-round development and social progress.

Register Now!

"Building a New World" Conference

First Summit of the World Prout Assembly
May 22-25, 2008, Radford, Virginia

Please visit

for more information and to register.

Speakers include Cindy Sheehan, William Blum, Alice Lovelace, Gareth Porter, Daniel Sunjata, Father Roy Bourgeois, Robert Jensen, Kathy Kelly, Mike Whitney, Ravi Batra, Gary Corseri, David Swanson, Dahlia Wasfi, Farid Bitar, Adam Kokesh, Kevin Zeese, and many more ...

Major Session topics include End of Empire, Right to Health Care, Facing Fundamentalism, Immigrant Rights, Economic Exploitation, Fight for Economic Democracy, Palestine, Cooperatives and Localization, Venezuela: Bolivarian Revolution, Civil Liberties / Constitutional Rights, Secession and Sustainbility, Animal Rights, Climate Change and Water Crisis, Academic Freedom, Domestic Violence, Taking Back the Media, Iraq Vets Speak Out Against War, Torture, Genocide, Homelessness and Survival during Economic Depression, Monetary Theory, Civilian Democratic Earth Federation, Victims of Oppression Speak Out.

Sign up Now!!

Petition to stop Zimbabwe-bound weapons

Even as the Zimbabwe crisis worsens, an extraordinary solidarity movement has taken hold across Southern Africa--sparked by a South African dock workers' union that refused to unload a Chinese shipment of Zimbabwe-bound weapons.[1]

Their refusal to facilitate Zimbabwe's crackdown has ignited a wildfire that is spreading across the continent. Now, as pressure builds, China is publicly wavering--and might decide to bring the arms home.[2] Click below to sign a petition to keep arms away from Zimbabwe. The petition will be launched at a press conference in Johannesburg before the end of this week, and used to lobby key leaders until the crisis ends. Join the call now:

Three weeks on, the results of the March 29 elections have still not been released, and Zimbabwe's crisis is getting worse. Mugabe's government has unleashed a brutal campaign to retain power. The opposition says that ten have died, and hundreds have been injured; now, a "human wave" of refugees is fleeing to South Africa and other neighbouring countries.[3]

But even as the political emergency deepens, an African-led upswell of resistance has begun to turn the tide. In the last ten days:

  • More than 150,000 Avaaz members worldwide signed the petition for democracy in Zimbabwe, including citizens of 53 of Africa's 54 countries. The goal: prod South Africa's president Mbeki to pressure Mugabe. To make sure the message got through, Avaaz hired a small plane to fly a 280 square metre (3000 sq ft) banner over the United Nations.[4] The next day, amidst pressure from other governments and worldwide media coverage of the Avaaz stunt, South Africa finally shifted its position on Zimbabwe.[5]
  • Last week, a Chinese ship carrying 77 tonnes of Zimbabwe-bound weapons and ammunition docked in Durban, South Africa--but, refusing to aid Mugabe's crackdown, the dockworkers refused to unload it. Unions, churches, and legal groups throughout Southern Africa quickly mobilized; the ship was forced to leave the harbour, and other ports in the region are vowing to block the weapons as well.[6]
  • As the grassroots outcry has grown, political officials have begun to press their case. Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa urged other African leaders not to allow the weapons to reach Zimbabwe.[7] United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and former UNSG Kofi Annan have called for democracy. And more and more other leaders in Africa and worldwide are joining in.
The Chinese arms ship is now sailing up the Western coast of Africa. Union officials tell Avaaz that it could stop in Namibia to refuel, but is probably headed towards Angola.[8] Time is short. A strong international outcry now can help support the groups in both countries--dockworkers, NGOs, and church leaders--who are working to block the weapons and support Zimbabwean human rights.

There is more at stake here than the weapons in this ship. Together, we can build a consensus that Zimbabwe should not be sold ANY weapons in this time of crisis--and in the longer term, we can build momentum for a strong international Arms Trade Treaty[9]. Moreover, stopping the flow of weapons provides a concrete, immediate step that leaders in the region can take on Zimbabwe--paving the way for stronger actions in coming days and weeks.

Add your name to the petition, and then send this link to friends and family:

The situation in Zimbabwe is dire. But because of people power--the courage of ordinary workers and community members, standing on principle--the political currents are shifting, and hope is emerging for change. And in the global media, a new strain can be heard amidst the grinding stories of brutality and chaos.

This crisis has many layers, and raises issues that range from the legacy of colonialism to the uncontrolled international arms trade. At the heart of it is the simple idea that every human life is equally precious, and that every person has rights. The people of Zimbabwe took their stand in the voting booth. The dockworkers of South Africa took their stand at the harbour. Now, even if we can only offer a click, it is time to do our part as well.

With hope,

Ben, Ricken, Graziela, Galit, Paul, Iain, Pascal, and Veronique--the team

  1. Business Day: "South Africa: Unions Bid to Halt Zimbabwe Arms Ship."
  2. New York Times: "China Says Shipment of Arms for Zimbabwe May Turn Back."
  3. New York Times: "Human Wave Flees Violence in Zimbabwe."
  4. SW Radio Africa: "Mbeki put under pressure at the UN over Zimbabwe"
  5. Globe and Mail: "South African leader forced to speak up after long keeping quiet on Mugabe."
  6. Associated Press: "Zimbabwe's neighbors unite to block arms shipment"
  7. Reuters: "Zambia asks African states to bar Chinese ship"
  8. Ibid.
  9. See

Monday, April 21, 2008

Bush, Harper, Calderon Defend Trade Amid Backlash

Bush, Harper, Calderon Defend Trade Amid Backlash

By Mark Drajem and Jens Erik Gould

April 21 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush and the leaders of Canada and Mexico are using a summit meeting today in New Orleans to defend free trade and $930 billion in cross-border commerce against a political backlash. It won't be easy.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon have each made lowering trade barriers, cutting regulation and supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement a hallmark of their administrations and will make the case with Bush for those policies.

``All three governments want to push back on the perception that Nafta is a disaster,'' said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, a business-backed group that will meet with the leaders tomorrow. ``The overriding political imperative is the support of Nafta.''

Bush and Calderon reopened the Mexican consulate in New Orleans today, a move they heralded as a sign of both the recovery following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and of the close economic ties between the two countries.

``Mexico and the United States are working together to build a future of prosperity and opportunity for people on both sides of the border,'' Bush said.

`Three Amigos'

Each leader faces opposition related to Nafta, the world's largest free-trade agreement. Analysts are predicting more symbolism than tangible results from this fourth summit of the ``three amigos'' dealing with security and commerce.

``They will have some jambalaya, eat some gumbo and send the right signals, but don't expect much,'' said Michael Hart, a political science professor at Carleton University in Ottawa.

One goal of the meeting, which wraps up tomorrow, is to harmonize standards in areas such as fuel efficiency and automobile testing, Dan Fisk, director for Western Hemisphere affairs on Bush's National Security Council, told reporters on April 18.

Bush, Calderon and Harper will also pledge greater cooperation on seizing fake products, Fisk said.

A business advisory group made up of executives from United Parcel Service Inc., Exxon Mobil Corp. and General Motors Corp., which all have operations in Mexico and Canada, will meet with the leaders tomorrow.

In the U.S., the loss of jobs due to international competition has become an issue in this year's presidential election campaign as Republican Bush comes to the end of his presidency. The Democratic presidential candidates are squabbling over who dislikes Nafta more, and Congress voted to delay consideration of a similar trade accord with Colombia.

Clinton Versus Clinton

While campaigning in Pittsburgh last week, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York renewed her pledge to renegotiate Nafta to beef up labor standards and environmental protection provisions, and she took a swipe at her husband Bill Clinton for pushing the agreement through Congress.

``As smart as my husband is, he does make mistakes,'' Clinton said April 14. ``We've now had 15 years of experience with Nafta, and the evidence is clear that we have to change the basic provisions.''

Her rival, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, counters that he has always opposed Nafta; he says Clinton only became disenchanted as part of the election campaign.


As he arrived in New Orleans, Bush was greeted by a few dozen protesters waving signs against Nafta and complaining that the real aim of the three leaders is to create a North American political union.

The opposition isn't just in the U.S.

In Mexico, 150,000 farmers shut down Mexico City's main boulevard during a Jan. 31 march against cheap food imports, saying they are being put out of business by subsidized U.S. crops, especially corn.

They say Nafta will push more Mexican farmers off their land, forcing them to try to enter the U.S. illegally looking for better work.

In Canada, which sells about 75 percent of its exports to the U.S., attention is focused on what the next administration in the U.S. might do to weaken Nafta.

Congress has already been moving to restrict trade and immigration among the nations. They tried to block a requirement that Mexican trucks be allowed on American roads, and scuttled efforts by Bush to allow in more temporary workers from Mexico, which has soured relations between the nations.

`Integral Vision'

``Immigration is a natural economic phenomenon between the neighboring economies,'' Calderon said today. ``That's why we should have an integral vision on the issue.''

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has proposed requiring passports to travel to Canada, a move that has drawn similar howls of protest from leaders in Ottawa.

Congress is also moving forward with legislation to require country-of-origin labeling of meat, which might destroy the cross-border coordination of hog producers.

In Manitoba, hog farmers are beginning to euthanize hundreds of thousands of young pigs because U.S. farmers, scared by the proposal, are breaking contracts and refusing to buy them, the National Post reported.

``Protectionist forces have been gathering steam for some years and they're showing no signs of abating,'' Canadian Trade Minister David Emerson said April 2.

`Gathering Steam'

Yet when the so-called Security and Prosperity Partnership began in Waco, Texas, in March 2005, Bush and his counterparts pledged to improve the flow of people across the borders, cooperate on regulatory standards and promote collaboration on transportation and other issues.

Since then, the three leaders have met with business leaders each year and affirmed their support for the concept. After their last summit in Montebello, Quebec, they announced a joint plan to fight avian flu, and agreed to cooperate on energy and protect copyrights and patents.

Future joint summits might end up being transformed into forums that a new U.S. president could use to seek changes to the trade accord.

Instead of scrapping Nafta, the forum ``could be adapted'' to deal with the labor and environmental issues raised by Obama and Clinton, said Christopher Sands, a senior fellow at the non- partisan Hudson Institute in Washington.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Drajem in New Orleans at; Jens Erik Gould in New Orleans at