US Military Burnpits: The New Agent Orange?

In their August 1 episode of The Stream, Al Jazeera English explores the plight of US veterans and Iraqi and American civilians exposed to toxic burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan and the US. Although Obama outlawed the use of war zone burn pits, they continue to operate on 200 military bases across the US.*

Historically burn pits have been used to dispose of munitions, metals, plastics, chemicals and corpses, releasing a host of toxic chemicals to the atmosphere.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) listed 110,989 veterans and service members in its latest burn pits registry. However, as with Agent Orange exposure, the VA has been slow to investigate burn pit related illnesses and routinely denies medical benefits to veterans who become chronically ill from burn pit exposure. They most commonly suffer from acute and debilitating respiratory illnesses and throat, lung and brain cancers and leukemia.

In addition to highlighting a recent study of the birth defects and medical problems of Iraqi women and children exposed to burn pit fumes, the program questions why the Pentagon continues to operate nearly 200 open burn pits around the United States. According to a recent ProPublica investigation, these sites are getting rid of extremely toxic materials with little or no oversight and regulation, and often violate existing environment regulations.

At the Colfax plant in Louisiana, millions of pounds of munitions are burned  just a few hundred yards from a small, mostly black community. High levels of toxic vapors like acrolein and benzene have been found in the air, which according to the World Health Organization have “no safe level of exposure.”

The program host interviews the widow of a US vet killed by burn pit exposure, as well as Iraqi and American scientists.


*Although President Obama outlawed the use of war-zone burned pits by executive order, a 2016 article in Stars and Stripes  suggests US military bases continue to use them in Iraq.

 

Abby Martin Presents the Real House of Saud

The Real House of Saud

TeleSur (2015)

Film Review

This documentary was released following the appointment of Saudi Arabia to head the UN Panel of Human Rights in 2015. Its primary purpose is to highlight Saudi Arabia’s scandalous human rights record and the utter hypocrisy of the Obama administration in supporting their appointment to this role. Saudi Arabia’s recent economic attack (via economic sanctions and a boycott) on its former ally Qatar – coupled with its demand they shut down Al Jazeera – serves to remind us of their abysmal record in the area of civil and human rights.

The totalitarian Saudi dictatorship executes its citizens (via head chopping, stoning or crucifixion) at the rate of one every other day. Limb amputation and severe lashings are also frequent punishments. It’s common for women who report being raped to be punished via lashing.

Human rights groups are illegal in Saudi Arabia. In addition to an absolute prohibition on women driving, they need permission from a male relative to work, attend school or seek heath care. Seventy per cent of Saudi women who have graduated university – including 1,000 PhDs – are unemployed.

Only one family, the House of Saud, has ruled Saudi Arabia since its founding in 1925. Saudi princes live in opulent luxury from the country’s oil revenues, while 20% of Saudi citizens live in abject poverty. Youth unemployment is 30%.

Thirty percent of the Saudi population are migrant workers, subject to a slave-like system of indentured servitude in which they must work fifteen hour days, even if they’re sick and often without payment. They’re subject to arrest if they try to leave their employers, as well as being subject to execution for minor offenses.

The most interesting part of the documentary concerns the sordid history of US political and military support for Saudi’s ruthless dictatorship – including their open funding of international terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban – for the sake of cheap oil concessions for US oil companies. This support includes training by the CIA in suppressing unions and other grassroots organizations.

I was very surprised to learn that despite this brutal totalitarian control, popular uprisings are still fairly common, especially in Eastern Saudi Arabia, where much of Saudi Arab’s Shia minority reside. At the time of filming, Eastern Saudi Arabia was under virtual martial law to suppress mass protests inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions.

No Maternity Leave? Only in the US

Maternity Leave and Why the US is the Only Developed Nation Without It

Broadly (2016)

Film Review

Maternity Leave focuses on the failure of the US government to offer working mothers paid maternity leave. The US is one of two countries globally (the other is Papua New Guinea) and the only developed country without it. The rest of the world provides paid maternity leave for two simple reasons: 1) because spending time with mom is vital to newborn development and 2) because studies show financial advantages for employers, taxpayers and GDP.

Three states require employers to provide paid maternity leave: California six weeks at 55% salary, Rhode Island four weeks at 60% salary and New Jersey six weeks at 67% salary.

Ninety percent of California businesses report an increase in profitability (owing to the high cost of recruiting and training replacement workers) since they started providing paid maternity leave. Nationwide replacement workers for women who leave work to start a family cost billions of dollars. Forty percent of women without access to paid maternity leave are forced to apply for public assistance, which is also a major burden to taxpayers.

The filmmakers visit excruciatingly poor Papua New Guinea, to investigate their failure to provide paid maternity to leave – only to discover the government of Papua New Guinea provides three months paid maternity leave for public employees. This is a start contrast with an extremely anemic executive order Obama signed in 2015 allowing federal employees to “pre-use” six weeks of paid sick leave (which they haven’t earned yet) as maternity leave.

The filmmakers also visit Sweden, which has the world’s best maternity leave policy. Their generous paid parental leave (480 days per child split between both parents) has helped to bring more Swedish women into the workforce while simultaneously increasing GDP.

They interview a member of Sweden’s Feminist Party, who maintains that paid maternity leave is a matter of full equality for women. True equality means that women enjoy the same rights as men to both a job and family time – they shouldn’t have to sacrifice one for the other.

Real equality also means embracing and valuing traditional women’s work (homemaking, child care and elder care).

Obama Commutes Bulk of Manning’s Sentence

manning

According to the New York Times, Obama has commuted all but four months of Chelsea Manning’s remaining prison sentence. Manning is the former army intelligence analyst who leaked evidence of US war crimes and other illegal and corrupt activities to Wikileaks in 2010.  Her 35 year sentence was the longest sentence ever imposed for a leak conviction. She has been in prison for seven years. Manning is now set to be freed on May 17, 2017.

Read more here.

The Cover-Up: BP Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill

The Big Fix: BP Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill Cover-up

Directed by Josh Tickell (2012)

Film Review

The Big Fix is about the extreme corruption in the Louisiana State capitol and Washington DC which resulted in a massive cover-up of the disastrous environmental and health consequences of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The documentary begins by exploring the ugly history of the Anglo-Iranian oil company, later renamed BP. It describes the efforts by the Iranian people to reclaim control of their oil with the democratic election of Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1951. Determined to retain British control of Iran’ oil, Winston Churchill approached President Eisenhower, who instigated a CIA-sponsored coup to oust Mosaddegh and install the brutal dictator Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

It would take the 1979 Islamic revolution to restore the right of the Iranian people to control their own oil.

The Oil Colony Known as Louisiana

Tickell makes the case that Louisiana is an oil colony in much the same way Iran was. Populist governor Huey Long, virtually the only Louisiana governor to stand up to Big Oil, was assassinated in 1935 – two days after announcing plans to run for president.

The Deep Water Horizon Coverup

The film goes on to expose important aspects of the Deep Water Horizon disaster that the corporate media neglect to report on – with special emphasis on BP cost cutting measures that violated safety regulations, including the manual disabling of warning alarms to enable faster drilling.

The role the Obama administration played in lying about the aftermath of the spill is even more shocking. When he opened contaminated areas to fishing, despite the continuing presence of large concentrations of oil, he also participated in a slick PR video him and his daughters swimming in a protected area (St Andrews Bay) unaffected by the spill.

Obama also lied about the health dangers of Corexit, a toxic chemical (banned in Britain since 2002) used to disperse surface oil slicks, as well as claiming BP discontinued aerial Corexit spraying in July 2010.*

The True Extent of Environmental and Human Health Consequences

A highlight of the film is the numerous poignant interviews with fishing families who not only lost their livelihoods as a result of the BP disaster but are suffering life threatening health problems from ongoing exposure to Corexit.

Despite the best efforts by BP and the Coast Guard to keep journalists and scientists out of the spill area, by 2012 a number of scientists (including Jean Costeau) had collected strong documentary evidence that the majority of the oil spill was pooled in enormous oil lakes on the sea bed. These oil lakes, in turn, were systematically killing off all sea life.

When oil geologist Matthew Sims attempted to bring this information to media attention, he mysteriously drowned in his hot tub.


*Numerous investigators have documented that Corexit spraying continued for at least two years after the spill.

 

How Corporations Used Podesta to Corrupt the Clintons and Obama

The Empire Files: Abby Martin Exposes John Podesta

(2016)

This segment of The Empire Files focuses on the Wikileaks reveal about the obscenely corrupt relationship between John Podesta, the Clintons and Barack Obama. My immediate reaction on watching it was relief and gratitude that Hillary lost the presidency.

Hillary’s campaign manager John Podesta is, first and foremost, is a corporate lobbyist who highest loyalty is to his clients. The Podesta Group, which he owns with his brother, Tony, lobbies for the most powerful corporations in the world, as well as the brutal governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and al-Maliki (Iraqi prime minister 2006-2014). The Wikileaks emails reveal unequivocally that John Podesta systematically (and illegally) used high ranking positions in both the Clinton and Obama administration to advance the profit interests of his private clients.

Under Bill Clinton, it was also John Podesta’s role to covered up numerous instances in which Bill and Hillary Clinton used his position as Arkansas governor for personal financial gain.

When Obama became president, Podesta (who would become Obama’s senior White House advisor), allowed his client Citibank to dictate nearly all of Obama’s cabinet appointments. Podesta would go on to form the Center for American Progress, a supposedly non-profit group that illegal lobbied for private clients of the Podesta Group to receive federal subsidies and lax regulatory treatment.

Columbia: the Israel of Latin America

The Colombia Connection
Directed by Pablo Naverette (2012)

Film Review

The Colombia Connection is a Press TV documentary about the complex military alliance between the US and Colombia, which one local trade unionist describes as “the Israel” of Latin America.

The US has played a substantive role in funding and training Colombia’s military and intelligence service since the late forties. US advisers are strongly implicated in the assassination of reformist presidential candidate Jorge Gaitan in 1948 and the 1948-53 reign of terror (La Violencia) responsible for the murders of tens of thousands of civilians.

After World War II, Columbia joined other Latin American countries whose corrupted leaders colluded with the US government to drive peasants off their land for the benefit of US corporations. Liberal opposition leaders, trade unionists, human rights groups, judges, journalists and elected officials who opposed this process were violently suppressed via targeted assassination, forced disappearance and torture.

The US assisted in this process through the US Army School of the Americas, which operated in Panama between 1946 and 1984, when it was relocated to Fort Benning Georgia. The specific role of the School of the Americas is to train the paramilitary death squads of right wing Latin American governments in torture and other terror techniques. Convinced they had no legal or peaceful option for reclaiming their stolen land, poor Colombians began joining guerilla groups in large groups, with the FARC and the ELN (both formed in 1964) being the largest.

In 1998, starting with the election of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, numerous Latin American countries (Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Ecuador), began electing left of center governments. In response, in 2000 Bill Clinton launched Plan Colombia, which substantially increased direct US military involvement with the construction of seven military bases.

At present, US military aid to Columbia is the third largest ($7.5 billion between 2000 and 2010), after Israel and Egypt. The pretext is that US forces are helping the Colombian government eradicate cocaine production. However leaked Wikileaks cables indicate their real purpose is to attack rebel strongholds.

One example involves a Colombian paramilitary force the US secretly dispatched to Venezuela to try to assassinate Hugo Chavez.

Part 3 touches on candidate Obama’s promises to reign in Columbia’s human rights abuses by cutting military aid – as well as his 180 degree reversal the moment he took office.

Clinton Should Tell Obama To Withdraw TPP To Save Her Presidency

A new opinion piece by Tom Johnson in Common Dreams urges Hillary Clinton to ask Obama to end his push for his lame duck Congress to pass TPP.

Johnson writes

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton says she opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) but is having trouble convincing people to believe her. Imagine the trouble Hillary Clinton will have trying to build support for her effort to govern the country if TPP is ratified before her inauguration.

According to Politico’s Wednesday Morning Trade, the Obama administration is launching a “TPP blitz” push to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker last week said the administration is planning at least 30 trade events by the end of the month. That effort, similar to last year’s “all of Cabinet” push for trade promotion authority, is expected to shift to Capitol Hill in September when lawmakers return from their summer break.

In spite of the opposition of much of the public, both presidential candidates, all of labor, almost all Democrats, all progressive-aligned consumer, human rights, environmental and other organizations and even the Tea Party right, what is happening here is that Wall Street, the multinational corporations, most Republicans and unfortunately President Obama are preparing to insult democracy by pushing to ratify TPP. This undermine’s Clinton’s credibility while campaigning for election, and if it passes it harms her ability to govern if she is elected.

Johnson also notes that Trump is telling campaign rallies that Clinton is a closet Transpacific Partnership supporter and raising fears of a lame-duck vote on the “job-killing” TPP.

He encourages people to sign the CREDO petition: “Tell Sec. Clinton: Lead against lame-duck vote on TPP

Read full article here: Clinton should tell Obama withdraw TPP to Save Her Presidency

Untold History of the US – Bush and Obama Age of Terror

Part 10 of Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States covers the Bush II and Obama presidency.

The Bush II Presidency

Stone begins this section by reminding viewers that Al Gore won the 2000 election by 540,000 votes. He asserts Gore would also have won the electoral college if the Supreme Court hadn’t intervened and stopped the recount in Florida.

Under the heavy influence of Vice President Dick Cheney and other Project for a New American Century (PNAC) members, Bush immediately withdrew from the International Criminal Court treaty (which Clinton supported), the Nuclear Test Ban Treat, the Kyoto Accord and the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty. He also suspended US-led talks for Korean unification and for peace in Israel-Palestine.

Following 9-11 (which Stone refers to as the new Pearl Harbor PNAC called for), Bush launched illegal wars of aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition to authorizing the illegal indefinite detention of “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo, he also authorized the use torture and significantly expanded the US of “extraordinary rendition”* by the CIA, a program started by Clinton.

During his two terms as president, Bush doubled the defense budget, forcing massive cuts in domestic spending – which Stone maintains destroyed the US economy.

Meanwhile he pushed the Patriot Act through Congress to suppress domestic dissent against these policies.

The Obama Presidency

Stone begins this segment by reminding us that Obama rejected public campaign financing in 2008. His opponent John McCain, in contrast, accept public financing. As a result, Obama received all the major donations from Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street banks. This enabled him to significantly outspend McCain.

Stone blasts Obama for campaigning as the anti-war, change candidate. Who immediately on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, massively increased troop numbers in Afghanistan, as well as expanding the war on terror to Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and the Philippines.

In addition to continuing NATO expansion to increase the likelihood of war with Russia, Obama significantly expanded the southern military command (SouthCom) to target democratic populism in South America (eg Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina). In 2008 he created AfriCom a sixth military command aimed at countering Chinese investment in Africa.

Obama has also significantly increased the likelihood of war with China by encircling them with new troop deployment and sophisticated nuclear weapons systems.


*Extraordinary rendition is the term used when the CIA kidnaps criminal or terrorist suspects in a foreign country and secretly (and illegal) transports them to a country known to engage in torture.

Fed Chairman Yellen Breaks 50 Year Taboo on “Helicopter Money”

yellen

At a June 15 press conference, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen made the surprise announcement that the Fed “might legitimately consider” using “helicopter money” in an “all-out” effort to rescue the U.S. economy from a severe downturn.

“Helicopter money,” a term coined in 1969 by late economist Milton Friedman, is money government creates by spending it into the economy.

As economist Richard Murphy describes in The Joy of Tax, government has always played a role in creating money whenever private banks generate insufficient money (by issuing loans from money they create out of thin air) to maintain the smooth running of the economy. Following the 2008 recession, the Obama administration pursued a policy called “quantitative easing,” in which the US Treasury created $500 billion (out of thin air). Unlike “helicopter” money, quantitative easing provided these funds directly to private banks, hoping they would use them to generate more loans. This, in turn, was meant to stimulate business investment and job creation.

Although it probably prevented the US economy from collapsing, Obama’s quantitative easing did little to promote business investment and job creation. This was because the banks used most of these funds for purposes other than making new loans – ie buying back their stock (to increase stock prices) and paying obscene CEO bonuses.

In contrast, “helicopter money”, a policy that has been virtually taboo for fifty years, calls for a central bank to print money and spend it into the economy for social services, infrastructure development, or even a citizen’s dividend. The idea is to put the money directly into people’s hands – rather than using banks as an intermediary – as they are more likely to stimulate the economy by spending it.

As Murphy details in The Joy of Tax, libertarian corporatists obsessed with balanced budgets, government debt and austerity are largely responsible for the taboo against public money (aka sovereign money) that the government creates and spends into the economy. Their position is that only private banks should be allowed to create money – in most cases due to immense financial benefits (from interest payments) they derive from this type of money creation.

Ironically former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke also raised the possibility of the US using “helicopter money” as a tool to stimulate a flagging economy in an April blog post.

And in a similar move , 18 Members of the European Parliament have written to European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi requesting that the ECB should revisit its opposition to using “helicopter money” to boost the EU’s deteriorating economy.