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Sunday, February 24, 2013

GMO agribusiness and the destructive nature of global capitalism...

Via GR

Capitalism is based on managing its inherent crises. It is also based on the need to maximise profit, beat down competitors, cut overheads and depress wages. In the 1960s and 70s, in the face of increasing competition from abroad, the US began to outsource manufacturing production to bring down costs by using cheap foreign labour. Other countries followed suit. Even more jobs were lost through the impulse to automate. To provide a further edge, trade unions and welfare were attacked in order to suppress wages at home. Problem solved. Or was it?

Not really. As wages in the west stagnated or decreased and unemployment increased, the market for goods was under threat – if people have less money to buy things, then what to do? New problem, new ‘solution’ – lend people money and create a debt-ridden consumer society. Of course, it produced great opportunities for investors in finance, and all kinds of dubious financial derivatives and products were created, sold to the public and repackaged and shifted around the banking system. That market became saturated and the debt bubble burst. This time around the ‘solution’ is to print money and give bailouts to the banks to cover their gambling losses and to get them lending once again. With a huge hole appearing in state coffers due to the bailouts and national debt spiraling during the years of neo-liberalism, the current crisis has become an opportunity for the finance sector to exert long-term debt-related control over sovereign states, including public asset stripping via ‘austerity’.

On a global level, as local democracy is usurped by the influence of international finance and powerful corporate interests under the guise of ‘globalisation’, traditional agricultural practices and local economies have been ‘structurally adjusted’ (via single-crop export-oriented policies to earn foreign currency to pay off debt, dam building to cater for what became a highly water intensive chemical-based industry, more loans and indebtedness and the unnecessary shifting food around the planet) and farmers forced from their land. The fact that such people can then at least swarm to some sprawling, overburdened city and, if lucky, get a few dollars a day job in an outsourced sweatshop or call centre is somehow passed off as capitalism’s ‘economic miracle’.

It’s apparent that, as the academic David Harvey states, the problems created by capitalism don’t get solved, they just get shifted around. Nowhere is this epitomized more clearly than the role of US agribusiness in India.

According to Jeffrey M Smith from the Institute for Responsible Technology, Russia, China and the EU were not the pushovers for GMOs that US agribusiness hoped they would be. However, with the US having sanctioned the opening up of India’s nuclear energy sector and, in return, its agribusiness and retail giants having actively shaped the Knowledge Agreement on Agriculture, India might well be proving to be an easier option.

Before GMOs became news in India, it was already clear that US agribusiness could not provide real solutions to the agrarian problems it had created with its ‘Green Revolution’. According to Gautam Dheer’s recent piece in India’s Deccan Herald newspaper (1), agriculture in Punjab (the ‘Green Revolution’s’ original poster boy) is facing an inevitable crisis, in terms of pesticide use causing cancer, falling crop yields and groundwater depletion. The model it has adapted is unsustainable. Indeed, what is happening in Punjab could be the tip of the iceberg as far as chemical agriculture in India (and elsewhere) is concerned.

And now evidence is mounting that agribusiness can’t provide genuine solutions to the problems it has also created through its GMOs, seed patenting and monopolies either.

A recent report in Business Standard (2) stated that such Bt cotton (GMOs represent the ‘Green Revolution’s’ second coming) yields have dropped to a five-year low. India approved Bt cotton in 2002 and within a few years yields increased dramatically. However, Glenn Davis Stone, Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, has noted that most of the rise in productivity had nothing to do with Bt cotton. (3)

What’s more, since Bt has taken over, yields have been steadily worsening. According to the article in Business Standard (2), it seems bollworms are developing resistance. Contrary to what farmers were originally told, the Monsanto spokesperson quoted in the Business Standard piece says that such resistance is to be expected. Stone says when Bt cotton arrived in India, farmers were told that they wouldn’t have to spray any more. All that farmers had to do was plant the seeds and water them regularly. They were told that, as the genetically modified seeds are insect resistant, there was no need to use huge amounts of pesticides.

The premise adopted by the GM sector was that for years people had tried to change ‘backward’ tradition-bound practices of these farmers. But now all you have to do is give them the magic biotech seed.

Now that resistance has appeared, Stone notes that, according to Monsanto’s spokesperson, it’s all the Indian farmers’ fault! The spokesperson explains in Business Standard that ‘limited refuge planting’ is one of the factors that may have contributed to pink bollworm resistance. Using the ‘wrong’ biotech seed is another.

The answer from the biotech sector to combat falling yields is continuous R&D to develop new technologies to stay ahead of insect resistance. Innovation from the GM sector is going to guarantee higher yields. Isn’t that what we were hearing ten years ago? Of course it is. It’s a massive con-trick.

Stone says that yields started dropping after 2007/8. After 2006/7, the number of Bt hybrid seeds being offered to farmers jumped from 62 to 131 to 274; by 2009/10 there were 522. Despite this, farmers’ yields are steadily dropping. And the way forward – more of the same!

The failing technology can always be replaced with more destined-to-fail technology, but one that at least offers a short-term fix. In the meantime, the Indian government effectively subsidises US agribusiness via compensation given to farmers whose cotton crops have failed, as is the case in Maharashtra (4).

Now that the government and Western agribusiness have conspired to set the corporate controlled merry-go-round in motion, there may be little chance of getting off. Having had control stripped from them, farmers may well be forever beholden to US agribusiness which took their power.

Privately owned agribusiness, as is the way with capitalism in general, is based on short-termism. Its predator corporations in India are merely engaged in managing and thus profiting from the crises they themselves have conspired to produce with their destruction of traditional agriculture and local economies and their chemical inputs and genetic engineering. By its very nature, as part of the logic of capitalism,US agribusiness is designed to stumble from one crisis to the next. And it will do so by hiding behind the banners of ‘innovation’ or ‘research and development’.

And with each new ‘fix’, with each technology, with each new pesticide, herbicide, GM innovation, we become further removed from working in harmony with nature as we attempt to dominate it with some or other biotechnology that further damages both ourselves and the environment. But, it’s all good business. And that’s all that really matters. There’s always money to be made from blaming the victims (in this case, farmers) for the mess created and from a continuous state of crisis management (aka ‘innovation’ and bombarding farmers with a never-ending stream of new technologies); and, as we are well aware in India’s case, there’s money to be made from the suffering of others.

Ultimately, this is what capitalism is all about: planned obsolescence – planned obsolescence of its products, in order that profits can be made from a stream of new ‘wonder’ products and, as far as India is concerned, planned obsolescence of its farmers as agribusiness sets out to uproot tradition and shape farming in its own chemical and genetically engineered image.

Capitalism doesn’t solve its problems, it just shifts them around. And part of the great con-trick is that it attempts to pass off its endless crises and failures as brilliant successes.

Thee moral decoding of 9/11: Beyond the US criminal state, the grand plan for a New World Order

Via GR

I was sceptical of the 9-11 event from the first time I saw it on television. It was on every major network within minutes. All the guilty parties were declared before any evidence was shown.The first questions of any criminal investigation were erased. Who had the most compelling motives for the event? Who had the means to turn two central iconic buildings in New York into a pile of steel and a cloud of dust in seconds?[i]

Other questions soon arose in the aftermath. Why was all the evidence at the crime scenes removed or confiscated?

Who was behind the continuous false information and non-stop repetition of “foreign/Arab terrorists”when no proof of guilt existed? Who was blocking all independent inquiry?

Even 11 years on these questions are still not answered.

But those immediately named guilty without any forensic proof certainly fitted the need for a plausible Enemy now that the “threat of the Soviet Union” and “communist world rule” were dead. How else could the billion-dollar-a-day military be justified with no peace dividend amidst a corporately hollowed-out U.S. economy entering its long-term slide? While all the media and most of the people asserted the official 9-11 conspiracy theory as given fact, not all did.

A Bay Street broker with whom I was improbably discussing the event in Cuba had no problem recognising the value meaning. When I asked what he thought about the official conspiracy theory, he was frank:

“You can call it what you want, but America needs a war to pull the people together and expand into new resource rich areas. That what it has always done from Mexico on. And that is what it needs now”. When I wondered why none in the know said so, he smirked: “It would be impolite”, adding, “It affects the entire future prosperity of America and the West”. And all the deaths? “It had to be done –far less than it could have been”. The 19 Arabs with box-cutters reducing the World Trade Center buildings to powder in a few seconds? He shrugged.

Thus everyone since 9-11 is prohibited nail-clippers on planes to confirm the absurd – including 15 of the 19 alleged hijackers being from Saudi Arabia and several apparently still alive after crashing the planes into the buildings.[ii]As for the diabolical mastermind Osama bin Laden, he is never linked by credible evidence to the crime and never claims responsibility for the strike since the videos of him are fakes. “Ground Zero” is a double entendre. All doubts are erased apriori.

Decoding the U.S. Theater of Wars and the Moral Driver Behind

One already knew that suspension of belief is the first act of fiction, and that instant culture rules the U.S. One already knew that monster technical events are America’s stock in trade. And one already knew the long history of false U.S. pretexts for war – so well established that a young strategic thinker a decade after 9-11 advises the right-wing Washington Policy Institute on how to create a crisis by deadly planned incident to make war on Iran – “it is the traditional way of getting into war for what is best in America’s interests”.[iii]

One further knew from past research that the U.S.’s strategic leadership since 1945 had been Nazi-based in information and connections and the dominant Central-European figures articulating it ever after across Democrat and Republican lines have a common cause. For over 40 years, Henry Kissinger as Republican and Zbigniew Brzezinski as Democrat have been protégés of David Rockefeller, selected as Trilateral Commission and Bilderberg Group leaders, and capable of any mass-homicidal plan to advance “U.S. interests”. The banker-and-oil imperial line through David Rockefeller as paradigm case goes back to the Nazi period to John Foster Dulles (an in-law) and his brother Allen Dulles (OSS and then CIA Director), who Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg called “traitors” for their support of the Nazi regime. The Rockefeller Foundation funded and developed German eugenics programs in the pre-war years, Standard Oil supplied oil in collaboration with I.G. Farben, and so on.[iv]

The supreme moral goal and strategic methods governing U.S. covert-state performance have not only have been very similar in moral principle, but have deeply connected Rockefeller protégés Kissinger and Brzezinski, and more deeply still the theoretical godfather of U.S. covert state policy, Leo Strauss, who was funded out of Germany by David Rockefeller from the start.

The inner logic of covert and not-so-covert U.S. corporate world rule since 1945 unified under Wall Street financial management and transnational corporate treaties for unhindered control of commodities and money capital flows across all borders is undeniable if seldom tracked. This architecture of the grand plan for a New World Order is evident in both strategic policy and global political and armed action over decades that have seen the objectives increasingly fulfilled with constructed deadly crises as pretexts for war the standard technique.[v]Behind them as first post-Nazi historical turn lies the 1947 National Security Act (NSA) which created the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and explicitly licenses destruction of life, truth and other societies as institutional methods.

The CIA is charged with designing, planning and executing “propaganda, economic war, direct preventive action, sabotage, anti-sabotage, destruction, subversion against hostile States, assistance to clandestine liberation movements, guerrilla murders, assistance to indigenous groups opposed to the enemy countries of the free world”. The linkage back to Nazi methods and world-rule goal as the highest moral objective is not just one of corresponding ultimate principles and strategic policy formation. It relied on Nazi SS intelligence sources and means from the beginning of the covert terror state.[vi]

There is no heinous means that is not assumed as the highest morality by this long-standing covert institutional formation linking to the presidential office.It is an explicitly secret system involving at least the Defense Department and the CIA, the former with many more operatives and offices.

The Special Activities Division (SAD) to carry out NSA criminal operations, for example, also confers the highest honors awarded in recognition of distinguished valor and excellence – as did the earlier SS prototype in Germany. What people find difficult to recognise is that these actions, whether by the SAD or other system operations,are conceived as the highest duty, however life-system destructive and mass murderous they are. All participants are super patriots in their own view, as were the Nazis. Contradiction between declared and actual values, however, is a central mode of the covert system. For example, what can be considered a high duty in the perpetual U.S.“war on drugs”, the most morally obligatory commitment of the U.S. state,is at the same time a war against and with other drug operations to transport illegal hard drugs into the U.S. itself.[vii]

We might see here a parallel between foreign mass murder and domestic mass murder in 9-11, with both regarded as high patriotism in this supreme morality. In the background of America’s Reichstag Fire and likewise disclosing the unlimited geo-strategic action that can be operationalized as necessary and good, the post-1945 U.S. control of international sea-lanes made the covert U.S. state the world’s dominant narcotics controller so as to fund secret criminal war actions from South-East Asia to Latin America, entailing the addiction of its own peoples.[viii]This woeful method has been long known by experts, but came to be public knowledge in the Reagan-state funding of the death-squad Contras of Nicaragua as “the moral equal of our Founding Fathers” (a tribute he is said to have given later to the drug-running warlords and jihadists of Afghanistan).

These moral contradictions seem insane, but this is so only if one does not comprehend the underlying supreme morality of which they are all expressions.

Even U.S.-sponsored death squads torturing and killing tens of thousands of poor people across Latin America before 2000 and their return as direct covert U.S.-state method from Iraq to Syria after 9-11 – called “the Salvador option”[ix] – is regarded as necessary and obligatory to “defend the Free World and our way of life”. They entail ever more total U.S. world rule and self-maximizing position by strategic deduction from the supreme morality’s first premises.

The covert nature of the mass-murderous operationalization is never from moral embarrassment. It is solely to ensure effectiveness of execution against “soft” and “uninformed” public opinion, to terrorize people in situ from continued resistance, and to annihilate its leadership and community agency all the way down. Throughout the deciding moments of execution of the underlying supreme value program, global corporate money demand multiplication is always the ultimate value driver -as may be tested by seeking any covert U.S. action or overt war which is not so regulated beneath saturating propaganda of lawful intentions of peace and freedom.

These lines of underlying moral institution, policy, strategic plan, and massive life destruction at every level are indisputable facts of the covert and official faces of the U.S. state, but are typically not connected to the September 11, 2001 attack. Since most people cannot believe their own government or the “leader of the free world” could execute such a sabotage action as “9-11” in which thousands of American themselves died, these behavioral reminders forge the unifying meaning.

Worse still occurred in the last “war”before 9-11. In the background providing graphic example of how the covert U.S. state apparatus is structured to attack and murder U.S. citizens themselves to strategically maximize implementation of its supreme value program of transnational corporate money sequences over all barriers, there is the now known Operation Northwoods. Very familiar to the 9-11 truth movement, but unpublicized since its release under freedom of information laws, this Department of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff plan proposed that the CIA and other operatives covert operatives “undertake a range of atrocities” to be blamed on Cuba to provide pretext for invasion.

“Innocent civilians were to be shot on American streets; boats carrying refugees fleeing Cuba were to be sunk on the high seas; a wave of violent terrorism was to be launched in Washington DC, Miami and elsewhere. People would be framed for bombings they didn't commit; planes would be hijacked”.[x]

All would be blamed on Castro the Communist in place of bin Laden the Islamicist, and invasion of desired resistant territory would be achieved as a triumph of American freedom and interests over its enemies.

Operation Northwoods was not, however, okayed by President Kennedy – perhaps another reason for his assassination and replacement by more pliant presidents to represent “America’s interests” in accord with the supreme morality. Underneath the stolen election of George Bush Jr.in contrast – whose family made its money, in part, by serving the covert financial requirements of the Nazi regime before and during the 1939-45 War – was a domestic and foreign administration which would push further than any in the past to advance “U.S. interests” to full-spectrum world rule. Its project included reversing the Roosevelt New Deal and the social state within the U.S. itself – “an anomaly” as Bush Jr. expressed the historical perspective and ethic at work.

This plan was more explicit in the published Project for the New American Century formed from 1997 on. It even supplied the need for a 9-11 event in its 2000 version, the year that Bush Jr. was elected and the year before 9-11. To indicate the “non-partisan” nature of the planning, Democrat National security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski had already hinted at the usefulness of a 9-11-style domestic attack to move policy forward in his 1998 book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives....

The CIA's image in films have never been shinier...

Via CR

They both like to dress up, spin fictions and keep their unsavoury behaviour out of the headlines: No wonder the CIA and Hollywood are such a natural couple, though they’ve only recently stepped into the limelight together.

Two of the more prominent films in Oscar contention celebrate the triumphs of the Central Intelligence Agency: Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow’s film about the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden) and Argo (Ben Affleck’s film about the freeing of six hostages sheltered by the Canadian embassy in Iran). Both directors have been effusive in their praise for the bravery and dedication of the agency. The third sighting is the hit TV show Homeland, starring Claire Danes as a bipolar CIA agent, fighting al-Qaeda with her brilliant intuitions.

All of these productions have had CIA assistance creating their scripts (in the case of Zero Dark Thirty, controversially so). And the stories have a common thread: They tell tales of flawed, emotionally intuitive human beings, who are sometimes insubordinate to their cautious, by-the-books overseers because they care so much about American lives.

The soft-propaganda program, marching in lockstep with a gunfight against terrorism, has changed our perception of the agency. A new stereotype has emerged: The CIA is neither an idiot nor a sinister killer, and its agents are no longer thin-lipped Machiavellian spooks, pulling the strings of international intrigue. They are struggling and intuitive men and women, making the personal sacrifices to fight the war on the shape-shifting monster called terrorism.

The typically reticent CIA showed up relatively late to the Hollywood party, in the 1990s. The Federal Bureau of Investigation had been managing its image in popular media since the 1930s (1936’s G-Men, and the TV series The F.B.I.) , and the Department of Defence started Hollywood outreach in 1947, with the Pentagon offering support to such rah-rah films as Patton, Top Gun and Pearl Harbor.

But the post-Cold War period was a tough time for the CIA, which was undergoing downsizing, criticism from Congress and questions about its competency. Hollywood had not been traditional ally. Films from Three Days of the Condor (1975) to JFK (1991) typically showed the agency as either sinister, incompetent or both. Professor Tricia Jenkins, author of The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television (2012), categorized the negative stereotypes into three categories, “rogues, assassins and buffoons.”

In 1996, the CIA appointed its first Hollywood liaison officer, Chase Brandon (a first cousin to Tommy Lee Jones), to turn that image around. What could the agency offer? Not tanks and fighter jets like the Pentagon. But they could provide script advice, access to real spies, story ideas and an aura of authenticity. The agency started consulting on movies such as Enemy of the State (1998), The Sum of All Fears (2002) and The Recruit (2003) and television shows such as The Agency, Alias and 24 (in the fall of 2001, coincident with the 9/11 attacks).

The movie-friendly approach worked. Even in the wake of intelligence failures of 9/11 and the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the controversies over renditions and waterboarding, the agency’s representation on film and television has generally been more positive.

The CIA does not have final say over the final film, but the agency won’t help filmmakers if it finds a script unflattering, as in the cases of Spy Game (2001) or The Bourne Identity (2002). The benefits aren’t just about sending a message of competence, ingenuity and intimidating technology (“Terrorists watch TV, too,” Brandon told one producer). TV shows and movies are also regarded as recruitment tools, especially as the agency, which was criticized in the 9/11 Commission Report for a lack of diversity, reaches out to women and minorities: Jennifer Garner, star of Alias, and later Ben Affleck’s wife, did a recruitment video for the agency in 2004, which was posted on the CIA website and used at college employment fairs.

Of course, not all spy movies are officially approved. Retired CIA agents are also consulted on movies that cast the agency in a bad light, such as 2005’s Syriana, based on former agent Robert Baer’s memoir, See No Evil. Another retired agent, Milton Bearden, was a key player in The Good Shepherd, an unflattering history of the agency from its inception to the failure of the Bay of Pigs.

The agency doesn’t seem to hold grudges, or miss a PR opportunity. George Clooney, who produced and starred in Syriana, also directed Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), based on the memoir of Gong Show host Chuck Barris, who claimed in his memoir that he was an assassin for the CIA. Clooney also starred in The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009), directed by his friend and producing partner, Grant Heslov, about the intelligence community’s ridiculous mind-control experiments. Both Clooney and Heslov are in line to win best picture Oscars as producers on Argo, which was given CIA co-operation and access to shoot at the agency’s Langley, Va., headquarters.

In The Recruit, Al Pacino tells a young apprentice that the public knows only the CIA’s failures, not its successes, but that has changed. Credit the agency with one of the greatest successful stealth missions ever perpetuated on the moviegoing public: It has made the CIA seem human.

"Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner publicly attacked the head of Buenos Aires’ Jewish community, hinting he was in contact with a “foreign espionage agency that knows of a new terror attack planned against Argentina"...

Via GR

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner publicly attacked the head of Buenos Aires’ Jewish community, hinting he was in contact with a “foreign espionage agency that knows of a new terror attack planned against Argentina.”

Guillermo Borger, president of the AMIA Buenos Aires Jewish center, said the Argentina-Iran agreement to set up a committee to investigate the 1994 bombing of the center “will allow a third bombing in Argentina.” In 1992 the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires was bombed.

“This pact is viewed by some people as a step forward. This may be a step to the precipice. It will allow a very unfortunate third attack,” warned Borger.

The confrontation between Borger and Fernandez came to a head on Saturday as the president took to the national television airwaves and Twitter to defend the agreement.

“I read with concern the statements made by Guillermo Borger, president of AMIA,on the deal with Iran. What do you know to make a statement so terrible?” Fernandez asked on Twitter. “If there was an attack planned related to the agreement with Iran, who is the mastermind and the material author?”

Fernandez’s remarks seemed to accuse Borger of being in contact with foreign espionage bodies who are supplying him with information, a member of the Buenos Aires Jewish community told Haaretz on Sunday.

Argentina’s Senate will be the first legislative chamber to discuss the memorandum of understanding signed Jan. 27 with Iran on the 1994 AMIA bombing, which killed 85 and wounded hundreds. Fernandez has summoned the Argentine Congress to a special session Feb. 28 on the pact, which would create a “truth commission” allowing judges to question Iran’s suspects in Tehran.

Borger now strongly objects to the agreement, yet he had expressed satisfaction with the pact following a meeting with Foreign Minister Hector Timerman at the AMIA building on Jan. 29. Other Jewish leaders and victims’ families also were in that meeting with Timerman.

When the announcement of the memorandum was made, Borger said he was opposed because “we don’t trust Iran.”

Israel and the United States have objected to meetings between Argentina and Iran, and the bilateral agreement.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Pope retired amid 'gay bishop blackmail' inquiry...


A potentially explosive report has linked the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI to the discovery of a network of gay prelates in the Vatican, some of whom – the report said – were being blackmailed by outsiders.

The pope's spokesman declined to confirm or deny the report, which was carried by the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica.

The paper said the pope had taken the decision on 17 December that he was going to resign – the day he received a dossier compiled by three cardinals delegated to look into the so-called "Vatileaks" affair.

Last May Pope Benedict's butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested and charged with having stolen and leaked papal correspondence that depicted the Vatican as a seething hotbed of intrigue and infighting.

According to La Repubblica, the dossier comprising "two volumes of almost 300 pages – bound in red" had been consigned to a safe in the papal apartments and would be delivered to the pope's successor upon his election.

The newspaper said the cardinals described a number of factions, including one whose members were "united by sexual orientation".

In an apparent quotation from the report, La Repubblica said some Vatican officials had been subject to "external influence" from laymen with whom they had links of a "worldly nature". The paper said this was a clear reference to blackmail.

It quoted a source "very close to those who wrote [the cardinal's report]" as saying: "Everything revolves around the non-observance of the sixth and seventh commandments."

The seventh enjoins against theft. The sixth forbids adultery, but is linked in Catholic doctrine to the proscribing of homosexual acts.

La Repubblica said the cardinals' report identified a series of meeting places in and around Rome. They included a villa outside the Italian capital, a sauna in a Rome suburb, a beauty parlour in the centre, and a former university residence that was in use by a provincial Italian archbishop.

Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said: "Neither the cardinals' commission nor I will make comments to confirm or deny the things that are said about this matter. Let each one assume his or her own responsibilities. We shall not be following up on the observations that are made about this."

He added that interpretations of the report were creating "a tension that is the opposite of what the pope and the church want" in the approach to the conclave of cardinals that will elect Benedict's successor. Another Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, alluded to the dossier soon after the pope announced his resignation on 11 February, describing its contents as "disturbing".

The three-man commission of inquiry into the Vatileaks affair was headed by a Spanish cardinal, Julián Herranz. He was assisted by Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi, a former archbishop of Palermo, and the Slovak cardinal Jozef Tomko, who once headed the Vatican's department for missionaries.

Pope Benedict has said he will stand down at the end of this month; the first pope to resign voluntarily since Celestine V more than seven centuries ago. Since announcing his departure he has twice apparently referred to machinations inside the Vatican, saying that divisions "mar the face of the church", and warned against "the temptations of power".

La Repubblica's report was the latest in a string of claims that a gay network exists in the Vatican. In 2007 a senior official was suspended from the congregation, or department, for the priesthood, after he was filmed in a "sting" organised by an Italian television programme while apparently making sexual overtures to a younger man.

In 2010 a chorister was dismissed for allegedly procuring male prostitutes for a papal gentleman-in-waiting. A few months later a weekly news magazine used hidden cameras to record priests visiting gay clubs and bars and having sex.

The Vatican does not condemn homosexuals. But it teaches that gay sex is "intrinsically disordered". Pope Benedict has barred sexually active gay men from studying for the priesthood.

Leaders of Nazi compound in Chile arrested for sexual abuse of children...


Four men convicted of sexually abusing children at a cult compound in southern Chile have turned themselves in to begin serving their sentences, officials say.

Gerard Mucke Koschitzke, Kurt Schnellenkamp Nelaismisckies, Gunter Schaffrik and Dennys Alvear Henríquez were found guilty of "various crimes of sexual abuse, rape of minors and abduction of minors" by Chile's Supreme Court on Jan. 25, The Santiago Times reported Tuesday.

The men, leaders of the Colonia Dignidad, face sentences of five to 11 years in prison.

They were part of the "iron circle" of Paul Schafer, a former Nazi who created Colonia Dignidad in 1961.

In addition to housing his followers, the compound also served as a prison where opponents of dictator Augusto Pinochet were tortured.

Following Pinochet's fall, Schafer fled to Argentina after more than two children claimed he had sexually abused them.

Shafer was later brought back to Chile and died in prison while serving a 20-year sentence for child abuse.

Koschitzke, Nelaismisckies, Bruckmann and Henríquez were among 19 members of Colonia Dignidad convicted in January. They have all been ordered to report to prison by Judge Hernan González of the Talca Court of Appeals.

'No democracy at UN', says Bolivian president Evo Morales...


There was no democracy at the United Nations, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was “the economic instrument of the United States”, Bolivia’s leftist–populist president Evo Morales has said. Speaking to reporters at UN Headquarters in New York on late Wednesday, he said it was not possible for all member states to be subjected to the Security Council, the world body’s power centre.

“What Security Council?” the Bolivian leader asked.  “It was an in-security council for mankind around the world,” he said, adding that would have to be discussed at another time.

President Morales also pointed to the US blockade against Cuba, saying that all the countries in the world, except two, were in favour of lifting it, so why not enforce those resolutions?  Israel and the United States rejected it, and all countries were subjected to their will. “What democracy?” he asked again.

Morales was at the United Nations as part of a day of events to inaugurate 2013 as the “Year of Quinoa,” a campaign to raise awareness of the high nutritional value of quinoa, an ancient plant of the Andes that has become one of Bolivia’s most profitable export crops. Morales said even some lawyers in Bolivia had become quinoa farmers.

The Bolivian Government, with the backing of Argentina, Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Georgia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, together with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), had spearheaded the initiative, approved by the General Assembly in 2011.  Following that, in 2012, Morales was named Special Ambassador to FAO for the Year’s observance. To a question about some large multinational companies having tried to block the International Year, the Bolivian leader said he had enormous differences with the capitalist system, adding that when there was competition there was poverty and unfairness. His main difficulty with the capitalist system was the colonization of so-called developing or underdeveloped countries, especially in Latin America.  “When we started to recover our own natural resources, only then through nationalization of fossil fuels did Bolivia’s economy start to recover.” Whereas raw materials had previously been exploited, now investment was growing, the president said.  Imagine how much the neo-liberals had stolen from Bolivians, due to the imposition of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which he called “the economic arm and the economic instrument of the United States”.

The economic policies of certain countries and multinational corporations set conditions, he said, and when they felt like it, they left people without food.  Those corporations were being used as an instrument of capitalism at the behest of the United States Government, which only led to poverty and hunger.

To additional questions, he said that if the transnational companies wanted to be Bolivia’s partners, they were welcome, but they “cannot be our bosses or pillage our natural resources”.  That was occurring in Africa, and he urged them to get back their natural resources and sovereignty, as that would change their national economies. He attributed the recent nationalization of Bolivia’s three airports, which were operated by foreign companies, to their failed investment plans, saying that the companies involved were harvesting money, not investing it.  The manager of one particular company earned $18,000 per month.
“That’s what I earn in nine months,” the President said.  Morales was asked several more questions, ranging from what one correspondent called the “Iranian nuclear problem with the Americans” to the situation in Syria.

Obey (Video)


This is a film based on the book "Death of the Liberal Class" by journalist and Pulitzer prize winner, Chris Hedges.

It charts the rise of the Corporate State, and examines the future of obedience in a world of unfettered capitalism, globalisation, staggering inequality and environmental change.

The film predominantly focuses on US corporate capitalism, but it is my hope that the viewer can recognise the relevance of what is being expressed with regards to domestic political and corporate activity.

It was made completely of clips found on the web.

Music by Clark (warp.net/records/clark)

Warning - this film contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing.

"The Vatican was drawn into a new controversy Friday after acknowledging that its bank’s new president is also chairman of a shipbuilder making warships – a significant conflict for an institution that has long shunned ties to military manufacturing"...

Via CR

The Vatican was drawn into a new controversy Friday after acknowledging that  its bank’s new president is also chairman of a shipbuilder making warships – a  significant conflict for an institution that has long shunned ties to military manufacturing.

The Vatican announced to great fanfare that Pope Benedict XVI had signed off on one of the last major appointments of his papacy, approving Ernst von Freyberg as president of the Vatican’s bank, officially known as the Institute for Religious Works.

The Vatican spokesman was caught off-guard, though, when a journalist noted that the German shipbuilder von Freyberg chairs, Blohm + Voss, is known for its military ship construction.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi demurred and defended the selection. He later issued a statement saying von Freyberg chairs a civilian branch of Blohm + Voss, which repairs and transforms cruise ships and builds yachts – but that the company is currently part of a consortium that is building four frigates for the German navy.

The Vatican and its bank have deep-rooted traditions of steering clear of investments in companies that manufacture weapons or contraceptives, in line with Catholic Church teaching.

Michael Brasse, spokesman for Blohm + Voss in Hamburg, said that von Freyberg is chairman of the executive board of Blohm + Voss Shipyards, a unit that concentrates on building civilian ships.

But before Blohm + Voss Shipyards and other non-military units of Blohm + Voss were sold in 2011 to Star Capital Partners, its military shipbuilding unit, Blohm + Voss Naval, had contracted with the German Defence Ministry for four new frigates. Blohm + Voss Naval subcontracted the actual construction of those vessels to Blohm + Voss Shipyards.

Though Blohm + Voss Naval is now known as ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems GmbH, and is entirely separate from the other Blohm + Voss units, the Shipyards unit is still constructing the frigates under the legacy contract. After they are built, however, the company plans to concentrate entirely on non-military ships. Von Freyberg will remain its chairman while working for the Vatican.

“The focus of the business is for yachts, and on the repair side for cruise ships or the offshore oil and gas industry,” Brasse said.

Lombardi pointed out that Blo-hm + Voss is not engineering or designing military equipment, just involved in steel welding and docking. Germany’s navy has contributed frigates and other ships to the EU’s anti-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa.

The revelation dominated what was supposed to have been the Vatican’s triumphant appointment of a new president for the bank after its last president, Italian banker Et-tore Gotti Tedeschi, was fired nine months ago for incompetence. Gotti Tedeschi’s stunning ouster came just as the Vatican was submitting its finances to a review by the Council of Europe’s Moneyval committee in a bid to join the list of financially transparent countries.

The Vatican last summer passed the test of the Moneyval committee, which seeks to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing. But the IOR and the Vatican’s financial watchdog agency received failing grades. The new president will be tasked with bringing the IOR into compliance by Moneyval’s next review.

The Vatican stressed von Freyberg’s Catholic credentials, noting that he was a member of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, an ancient chivalrous military order drawn from European nobility. He himself is a member of one of Germany’s aristocratic families. The Vatican said he had been appointed by the bank’s commission of cardinals and that the pope had “expressed his full consent.”

The appointment may well be one of the last major decisions of Benedict’s papacy given his planned retirement Feb. 28. On Friday, he held one of his last audiences, meeting with Romania’s president.

While the appointment was seemingly curiously timed, Lombardi went to great lengths to stress that the selection process took its own path.

Lombardi said von Freyberg was selected after a “meticulous and articulate” seven-month search process from an initial list of about 40 candidates put forward by an international executive headhunting firm. He had the full support of the bank’s lay board, the five members of its cardinal’s commission, and finally the pope, Lombardi said.

But he was completely thrown by the suggestion that the bank’s new president may have links to Germany’s military.

“I would say that if he is a competent person who works in the field of shipbuilding, this is not a reason not to take him,” Lombardi said. “As we know, he also organizes pilgrimages to Lourdes, he is a member of the Order of Malta, he takes care of the sick, so certainly he is a person with a notable human and Christian sensibility.”

It appeared that the IOR’s board simply didn’t know about the old frigate contract and that von Freyberg didn’t think to mention it, given that the company’s primary work is in civilian shipbuilding.

The Vatican bank’s finances have long been shrouded in secrecy and scandal. Most famously, the bank was implicated in a scandal over the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano in the 1980s in one of Italy’s largest fraud cases. Roberto Calvi, the head of Banco Ambro-siano, was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982 in circumstances that remain mysterious.

Banco Ambrosiano collapsed following the disappearance of $1.3 billion in loans the bank had made to several dummy companies in Latin America. The Vatican had provided letters of credit for the loans. While denying any wrongdoing, the Vatican bank agreed to pay $250 million to Ambrosiano’s creditors.

Too fat to vote: Will a Supreme Ku Klux Kourt kill Dr. King’s Dream Act?


You know why black folk in the south don’t vote? According to The New York Times and the experts at the Pew Charitable Trust, they’re just too damn fat!

Normally I wouldn’t care what the Times is passing off as fact, except for that, on February the 27th, the US Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether to gut the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Voting Rights Act was the law that Martin Luther King Jr had a dream about a half-century ago: that all citizens will be able to exercise their right to vote.

Four Supreme Court justices are hostile to the Act. If one more joins them, you can kiss Martin’s dream goodbye.

The dream-busters are led by Chief Justice John Roberts. In 2009, he wrote, "The historic accomplishments of the Voting Rights Act are undeniable." But – and Roberts' “but” is huge – the Act is out of date and “fails to account for current political conditions".

According to Roberts, “Jim Crow laws” – the apartheid rules used in the Deep South to keep African-Americans from the polls – have long passed away.

It’s true, black folks now fare better in Dixie. Why, just last week, Mississippi ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery 147 years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation (I kid you not).

So, Roberts is ready to dump the key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act – the “pre-clearance” requirement.

Sixteen states must “clear” any changes in voting procedures with the US Department of Justice. That’s to make sure there’s no racial monkey business – that new rules aren’t clever tactics meant to remove black, brown, Native American, Catholic, Mormon or other minority voters.

In the current case before the Court, some Rebel states are hollering that they were unfairly singled out for this special scrutiny.

However, it was arithmetic in the law, not the Civil War, that put Mississippi on the list. Before the Act, only seven percent of its black citizens were registered to vote, below the law’s 50 percent line.

So is Jim Crow really dead and gone in Dixie?

That’s the weighty question addressed by the prestigious Pew Charitable Trust.

Why pick on Dixie? After all, despite the hours-long lines of Black voters in Florida we saw with our own eyes, Pew shows that there’s only a 23 minute wait to vote in Florida – less time than it takes to cast a vote in Indiana. Overall, Florida ranks near the best in Pew’s “Elections Performance Index”. Let’s give a medal to Florida's former Secretary of State, Katherine Harris!

Pew was advised by Yale law professor Heather K Gerken, who explained the study for the New York Times.

“Poor Southern states perform well, and they perform badly. Rich New England states perform well and badly – mostly badly,” she said. In other words, Justice Roberts is right: "The evil that [Voting Rights Act Section 5] is meant to address may no longer be concentrated in the jurisdictions singled out for preclearance."

In other words, why single out Florida and the 15 others?

But wait. Something’s missing: colour. Sure, the average Floridian waited 23 minutes to vote, but what about black voters?

In November, I joined African-American voters on “Souls to the Polls” day. Their wait for a ballot: four hours. Then I went up the road to an all-white polling station. Wait: zero minutes. There were unused rows of balloting machines, more poll workers than voters and a pot of coffee brewing for the pale suburban-Americans casting ballots.

And Oddly, despite a hot, hot Presidential contest with an African-American candidate, by mid-May 2012, the Census Bureau reported that the number of African-Americans registered declined by over one million. Hispanic names on voter rolls fell, too, despite massive registration drives.

So, overall voter turnout fell short. But the reason, according to the Pew expert featured in the Times, is that, “States in the Deep South with high obesity problems seem to be having a problem getting people to the polling place.”

Apparently, citizens of colour south of the Mason-Dixon line are just too fat to vote.

Maybe there’s another explanation for black and Hispanic names disappearing from the polls.

In 2012, Florida's new Republican Secretary of State Ken Detzner again set out to bleach the voter rolls whiter than white.

Using lists of illegal aliens, the GOP hack marked 182,000 (!) voters whose names matched the deportees.

But wait: it’s a jail-time crime for a non-citizen to register or vote, so that’s one heck of a crime wave.

So how many illegal foreign voters were arrested in Florida? One: an Austrian-Canadian gun aficionado.

Yet, nearly one in ten Hispanic voters would have been barred from the polling booth. But, at the last moment, federal voting rights law stopped the Republican’s latest José Crow manoeuver.

Jim Crow isn’t dead, he’s just changed his white sheets for spreadsheets.

What’s the solution to the new trickery? Not, as Justice Roberts suggests, to eliminate Section 5, but to expand it.

Indeed, the reach of the Voting Rights Act was massively expanded by presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. Reagan!

As a result of their changes, states designated officially racist include the Confederate states of… California, Arizona, New York, New Mexico, South Dakota and Alaska. Alaska? You betcha!

And for good reason. Take California – under a Republican Secretary of State, Bruce McPherson, 42 percent of voter registration forms were rejected, an overwhelmingly amount of those Hispanic, Arab-American and Asian. Jim Crow, it seems, became a surfer dude.

In 2004, in McKinley County, New Mexico, only one in ten voters cast a ballot for President – at least, that’s what the machines said. In fact, the voting machines simply disappeared the vote – almost all cast by Navajo Natives.

And those lines I filmed of black voters standing for hours and white voters waltzing in for a ballot without a wait? That was in Ohio, with arguably the most racially bent voting system in America. (When the black voters finally made it to the voting station, I discovered they’d been given “absentee” ballots, subject to challenge, rather than the regular ballots given to the white voters.)

The horror show in Ohio does not absolve the racist voting systems of Florida, it merely calls for another expansion of the pre-clearance list to reflect a new reality.

That’s because Jim Crow is now Dr James Crow, database analyst, a hired gun who knows it's easier to win elections by blocking voters rather than winning their votes.

Add in a requirement of voter IDs with photos (which Indiana used to bar about 72,000 black voters this year), and voting games, not voters, will pick our government.

The solution is not for the Supreme Court to let Jim Crow ride again through the Southland, but another expansion of pre-clearance scrutiny to Ohio, Indiana and those states that need a little Reconstruction.

NYPD and Microsoft build high-tech Big Brother 'dashboard'...


An emergency call comes in about a possible bomb in lower Manhattan and an alert pops up on computer screens at the New York Police Department, instantly showing officers an interactive map of the neighborhood, footage from nearby security cameras, whether there are high radiation levels and whether any other threats have been made against the city.

In a click, police know exactly what they're getting into.

Such a hypothetical scenario may seem like something out of a futuristic crime drama, but the technology is real, developed in a partnership between America's largest police department and Microsoft Corp., and the latest version has been quietly in use for about a year.

The project could pay off in more ways than one: The NYPD could make tens of millions of dollars under an unprecedented marketing deal that allows Microsoft to sell the system to other law enforcement agencies and civilian companies around the world. The city will get a 30 percent cut.

The Domain Awareness System, known as the dashboard, gives easy access to the police department's voluminous arrest records, emergency calls, more than 3,000 security cameras citywide, license plate readers and portable radiation detectors -- data that raises privacy concerns for some civil liberties groups. But the dashboard system mines existing tools and doesn't create any new surveillance.

Right now, it is used only in NYPD offices, mostly in the counterterrorism unit. Eventually, the system could supply crime-fighting information in real time to officers on laptops in their squad cars and on mobile devices while they walk the beat.

"It works incredibly well," said Jessica Tisch, director of planning and policy for the counterterrorism unit.

For example, officers used the system during a deadly shooting outside the Empire State Building in August. Dozens of telephone calls were coming in, and it initially looked like an attack staged by several gunmen. But officers mapped the information and pulled up cameras within 500 feet (150 meters) of the reported shots to determine there was only one shooter.

Analysts are cautious about the potential profits, saying that largely depends on Microsoft's sales efforts and whether any major competition arises. While there other data-drilling products made by other companies, they say the NYPD's involvement could set the dashboard apart.

"This is the kind of stuff you used to only see in movies," said analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group, a technology analysis firm. "Getting it to work in a way that police departments can use in real time is huge."

The venture began in 2009 when the NYPD approached Microsoft about building software to help mine data for the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, a network of private and public cameras and other tools monitored by the department's counterterrorism bureau. Development cost the department between $30 million and $40 million, officials said.

"Usually, you purchase software that you try to work with, but we wanted this to be something that really worked well for us, so we set about creating it with them," said Richard Daddario, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for counterterrorism.

Officers were involved throughout the process with the programmers, offering advice on what they need during an emergency.

"It was created by cops for cops," Tisch said. "We thought a lot about what information we want up close and personal, and what needs to be a click away. It's all baked in there."

The system uses hundreds of thousands of pieces of information. Security camera footage can be rewound five minutes so that officers can see suspects who may have fled. Sensors pick up whether a bag has been left sitting for a while. When an emergency call comes in, officers can check prior emergency calls from that address to see what they might be up against.

Prospective clients can customize it to fit their organization.

Dave Mosher, a Microsoft vice president in charge of program management, said the company started to market the system in August and is looking at smaller municipalities, law enforcement agencies and companies that handle major sporting events.

He would not say whether any clients have been lined up and would not give details on the price except to say that it would depend on how much customization must be done.

Shawn McCarthy, an analyst with the research firm IDC, described the partnership -- and outcome -- as unusual in the tech world. "I see huge potential, but so much depends on the price and competition," he said.

No firm timetable has been set on when the dashboard will be rolled out to the entire 34,000-offficer department.

U.S. troops arrive in Niger to set up drone base...

Via WP

President Obama announced Friday that about 100 U.S. troops have been deployed to the West African country of Niger, where defense officials said they are setting up a drone base to spy on al-Qaeda fighters in the Sahara.

It was the latest step by the Pentagon to increase its intelligence-gathering across Africa in response to what officials see as a rising threat from militant groups.

In a letter to Congress, Obama said about 40 U.S. service members arrived in Niger on Wednesday, bringing the total number of troops based there to “approximately” 100. He said the troops, which are armed for self-protection, would support a French-led military operation in neighboring Mali, where al-Qaeda fighters and other militants have carved out a refuge in a remote territory the size of Texas.

The base in Niger marks the opening of another far-flung U.S. military front against al-Qaeda and its affiliates, adding to drone combat missions in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. The CIA is also conducting drone airstrikes against al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan and Yemen.

Senior U.S. officials have said for months that they would not put U.S. military “boots on the ground” in Mali, an impoverished nation that has been mired in chaos since March, when a U.S.-trained Malian army captain took power in a coup. But U.S. troops are becoming increasingly involved in the conflict from the skies and the rear echelons, where they are supporting French and African forces seeking to stabilize the region.

Obama did not explicitly reveal the drone base in his letter to Congress, but he said the U.S. troops in Niger would “provide support for intelligence collection” and share the intelligence with French forces in Mali.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to provide details about military operations, said that the 40 troops who arrived in Niger on Wednesday were almost all Air Force personnel and that their mission was to support drone flights.

The official said drone flights were “imminent” but declined to say whether unarmed, unmanned Predator aircraft had arrived in Niger or how many would be deployed there.

The drones will be based at first in the capital, Niamey. But military officials would like to eventually move them north to the city of Agadez, which is closer to parts of Mali where al-Qaeda cells have taken root.

“That’s a better location for the mission, but it’s not feasible at this point,” the official said, describing Agadez as a frontier city “with logistical challenges.”

The introduction of Predators to Niger fills a gap in U.S. military capabilities over the Sahara, most of which remains beyond the reach of its drone bases in East Africa and southern Europe.

The Pentagon also operates drones from a permanent base in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, and from a civilian airport in Ethi­o­pia.

The U.S. military has been flying small turboprop surveillance planes over northern Mali and West Africa for years, but the PC-12 spy aircraft have limited range and lack the sophisticated sensors that Predators carry...


Friday, February 22, 2013

"In recent years, the nation's job growth has been concentrated in low-wage sectors, led by Walmart, the nation's largest private employer, whose pay levels are so low that many employees are eligible for food stamps. So if raising the minimum wage is good for the economy, why are most business lobby groups working so hard to kill the idea? Consider Walmart. The country's biggest private employer, which pays poverty-level wages, doesn't want to raise pay for its own workers, so that the Walton family and other big stockholders can earn huge profits. But Walmart would like all other employers to boost wages, so they'll spend it at Walmart stores, which would significantly increase the chain's sales and profits, more than offsetting any wage increase for its own employees. But most businesses tend to be narrow and short-sighted, and object when government requires them to act more responsibly, so they and their lobby groups consistently oppose any increase in local, state and federal minimum wages"...


As soon as Barack Obama called on Congress to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, you could see Speaker John Boehner, seated behind the president, uttering his religious mantra: "Job killer." And even if you couldn't read his lips, you could read his mind: "Campaign contributions." He and his Republican colleagues could expect huge donations from business lobby groups - especially those that depend on low-wage workers, like the hotel industry, restaurants and fast-food chains, nursing homes and hospitals and big-box retailers - to keep Congress from embracing Obama's modest proposal.

Boehner's "job killer" grumble should come as no surprise. Business groups and their political allies have been "crying wolf" about the minimum wage ever since President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed it during the Depression to help stimulate the economy. The critics warned that enacting a minimum wage would destroy employees' drive to work hard and would force many firms out of business. The minimum wage law, warned the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) in 1937, "constitutes a step in the direction of communism, bolshevism, fascism, and Nazism." Congressman Edward Cox, a Georgia Democrat, said that the law "will destroy small industry." These ideas, Cox claimed, "are the product of those whose thinking is rooted in an alien philosophy and who are bent upon the destruction of our whole constitutional system and the setting up of a Red Labor communistic despotism upon the ruins of our Christian civilization." Roosevelt and most members of Congress ignored these warnings and adopted the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, establishing the federal minimum wage of 25 cents an hour.

Since then, each time Congress has considered raising the minimum wage, business groups and conservatives have repackaged the same arguments. In 1945, NAM claimed that, "The proposed jump from an hourly minimum of 40 to 65 cents at once, and 70 and 75 cents in the following years, is a reckless jolt to the economic system. Living standards, instead of being improved, would fall - probably to record lows." Instead, the next three decades saw the biggest increased in living standards in the nation's history.

In 1975, economist Milton Friedman, a conservative guru, said: "The consequences of minimum wage laws have been almost wholly bad, to increase unemployment and to increase poverty. In my opinion there is absolutely no positive objective achieved by minimum wages." While campaigning for president, for example, Ronald Reagan said, "The minimum wage has caused more misery and unemployment than anything since the Great Depression." In 2004, David Brandon, the CEO of Domino's Pizza, declared: "From our perspective, raising the minimum wage is a job killer." Last week, Jason Riley, a Wall Street Journal editorial writer, called the minimum wage a "proven job killer" on the newspaper's cable talk show.

Following Obama's State of the Union address, business representatives and conservative media pundits echoed the same talking points. Analyzing Obama's speech for Fox News, Nina Easton, an editor for Fortune magazine, repeated the claim that increasing the minimum wage is a "job killer." Michael Saltsman, research director at the business-backed Employment Policies Institute, told Fox Business News that "minimum wage hikes lead to job losses." Bill Herrle, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business' Florida affiliate, told Sunshine State News that Obama's plan was a "job killer."

But such dire predictions have never materialized. That's because they're bogus. In fact, raising the minimum wage is good for business and the overall economy. Why? Because when poor workers have more money to spend, they spend it, almost entirely in the local community on basic necessities like housing, food, clothing and transportation. When consumer demand grows, businesses thrive, earn more profits, and create more jobs. Economists call this the "multiplier effect." According to Doug Hall of the Economic Policy Institute, a minimum wage hike to $9 would pump $21 billion into the economy. Moreover, since most minimum wage jobs are in "sticky" (immobile) industries - such as restaurants, hotels, hospitals and nursing homes and retail stores - that can't flee overseas, raising the level doesn't lead to job flight. Not surprisingly, the National Restaurant Association is, along with the US Chamber of Commerce, one of the fiercest opponents of a minimum wage hike.

In recent years, the nation's job growth has been concentrated in low-wage sectors, led by Walmart, the nation's largest private employer, whose pay levels are so low that many employees are eligible for food stamps. So if raising the minimum wage is good for the economy, why are most business lobby groups working so hard to kill the idea? Consider Walmart. The country's biggest private employer, which pays poverty-level wages, doesn't want to raise pay for its own workers, so that the Walton family and other big stockholders can earn huge profits. But Walmart would like all other employers to boost wages, so they'll spend it at Walmart stores, which would significantly increase the chain's sales and profits, more than offsetting any wage increase for its own employees. But most businesses tend to be narrow and short-sighted, and object when government requires them to act more responsibly, so they and their lobby groups consistently oppose any increase in local, state and federal minimum wages.

Indeed, the "Walmartization" of our economy has been devastating. In recent years, the nation's job growth has been concentrated in low-wage sectors. More than one-quarter of all jobs pay poverty-level wages. According to a National Employment Law Project study, the majority of new jobs created since 2010 pay just $13.83 an hour or less. This has contributed to the nation's widening economic inequality. Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz recently said, "Increasing inequality means a weaker economy" for all of us.

Meanwhile, of course, the incomes of the wealthiest Americans - including the corporate CEOs who lobby against raising the minimum wage - have skyrocketed. Since 1993, the incomes of the richest 1 percent of Americans increased by 57.5 percent, while the incomes of the bottom 99 percent increased by only 5.8 percent, according to studies by economist Emmanuel Saez at the University of California at Berkeley. Since 2009, as the country was emerging from the recession, the wealthiest one percent saw their incomes grow by 11.2 percent while the rest of Americans watched their incomes shrink by 0.4 percent. In other words, the richest 1 percent - those with incomes over $600,000 - captured almost all of the income gains in the first two years of the recovery.

The last time Congress raised the federal minimum wage was in 2007, when President George W. Bush reluctantly signed the bill passed by the Democratic Congress to raise the federal minimum wage from $5.15 an hour (where it had stood for ten years) to $7.25 an hour (phased in over several years). It has remained at $7.25 since 2009. A full-time worker who earns the current minimum wage makes only $15,080 a year. According to "Out of Reach," a report sponsored by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, in no state can an individual working full time at the minimum wage afford an apartment for his or her family.

In fact, the minimum wage has fallen in value because Congress hasn't raised it to keep up with inflation. At its peak in 1968, the minimum wage was equal to about $10.50 an hour in today's dollars. That's a 25 percent decline in buying power.

Frustrated by Congress' intransigence, a growing number of states have made an end run around Washington. Nineteen states now have minimum wages over $7.25 an hour. The highest is in Washington State, where the minimum wage is $9.19 an hour.

Cities, too, have enacted laws raising pay for low-wage workers. In 2003, Santa Fe, New Mexico adopted a citywide $8.50 an hour living-wage law with regular cost-of-living increases. The rate now is $10.29 an hour. At the time, Sam Goldenberg, a business leader, predicted that the law "would be a disaster for the businesses in Santa Fe." And restaurateur Al Lucero called the plan economically irresponsible and argued that "people will be so content with $8.50 or $10.50 an hour that they'll have no desire to improve themselves."

Nearly 10 years later, Santa Fe has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state at 5.1 percent. Jeff Mitchell, a senior research scientist at the University of New Mexico's Bureau of Business and Economic Research, found "no evidence of adverse effects" from the wage hike. Santa Fe's tourism industry is doing fine. Travel + Leisure magazine last year listed Santa Fe in its top 10 US and Canadian travel destinations for the 11th consecutive year.

In 2003, San Francisco voters also adopted a citywide minimum-wage law. The Golden Gate Restaurant Association called it a job killer that would "bankrupt many restaurants." The Association of Realtors said that many hospitality industry workers were "likely to receive pink slips and join the ranks of the unemployed."

Wrong again. A 2007 study by University of California economists found that after San Francisco's minimum wage went up, restaurant growth was higher in the city than in neighboring East Bay cities. In December 2012, the city's unemployment rate was 6.5 percent, well below the statewide average, and job growth in bars and restaurants has led the region's post-recession recovery.

In November, voters in Albuquerque and San Jose passed ballot measures that will raise the minimum wage for workers in those cities. Albuquerque's citywide minimum wage rose from $7.50 to $8.50 per hour last month and will automatically adjust in future years with inflation. In San Jose, the minimum wage will increase from $8 per hour - the current minimum wage in California - to $10 per hour starting next month and will adjust automatically in future years to keep pace with the rising cost of living.

Since 1994, about 200 cities have passed "living wage laws" that set minimums for workers for private companies that have municipal contracts, get local tax breaks or rely on city facilities. In November, for example, voters in Long Beach, California passed a ballot measure that raises the minimum wage for hotel workers in that tourist city to $13 per hour and guarantees hotel workers five paid sick days per year. A recent study by William Lester of the University of North Carolina and Ken Jacobs of the University of California-Berkeley found no difference in employment levels between comparable cities with and without living wage laws. They disproved the claim by that these laws drive away business or lead to reduced employment.

Most Americans agree that workers who toil full time shouldn't be stuck in poverty. According to a national poll conducted last year, almost three-quarters (73 percent) of Americans support increasing the minimum wage to $10 per hour and indexing it to inflation. The same poll showed 50 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Independents favoring an increase in the minimum wage. Majorities of every major religious group support raising the minimum wage to $10. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (D-California) have been working on a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 indexed to inflation.


In his State of the Union address, Obama proposed to gradually raise the minimum wage so that it hits $9 an hour in 2015. "Let's declare that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty," he said. In fact, a full-time employee earning $9 an hour would make about $18,720 a year, slightly below the official poverty level of $19,530 for a family of three. Under Obama's plan, at least 15 million workers would directly benefit from a higher minimum wage. Millions more would get pay raises as the entire wage scale moves up.

Corporate America and Congressional Republicans are particularly upset that Obama's plan includes a cost-of-living adjustment, which would automatically increase the minimum wage each year to adjust for inflation. Most businesses don't like the idea of having to give employees regular pay hikes. And the Republicans hate the idea because it would eliminate their ability to keep the wage flat by refusing to raise it legislatively. Ten states - Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Wisconsin - include a cost-of-living adjustment in their minimum wage laws. Since 1975, Social Security has had an automatic cost of living adjustment for benefit levels.

Although the evidence supports the advocates of a higher minimum wage, the battle to raise the federal minimum wage won't be easy, because business lobby groups have put enormous pressure on members of Congress to resist this common sense policy. In addition to pouring big bucks into campaign contributions and lobbying, they've also paid huge sums to conservative economists and business-sponsored think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute to come up with misleading arguments about why giving Americans a raise is a bad idea. They generally argue that a minimum wage increase will particularly hurt small businesses - a view that the media often repeat with misleading anecdotes.

For example, the day after Obama's State of the Union speech, NPR interview a California restaurant owner (who now pays workers the state's $8 per hour minimum) who claimed that he'd have to lay off employees or cut back their hours if Congress raised the federal minimum wage to $9. But while this may be true of a handful of small businesses, the overall impact of lifting the minimum wage is good for business. Restaurants may have to slightly increase their payroll expenses, but they'll benefit when customers have more money to spend, thanks to a minimum wage increase.

Indeed, contrary to business rhetoric, studies reveal that that higher minimum wage levels do not force employers to lay off workers. In a study published in the Review of Economics and Statistics, economists Arin Dube, William Lester and Michael Reich compared counties adjacent to state borders, where one state raised the minimum wage and another did not, between 1990 and 2006. They found conclusively that raising the minimum wage had no impact on employment. A similar study by Alan Krueger - now the head of the Council of Economic Advisers - came to the same conclusion. The Obama White House also noted that Costco, the retail discount chain, Stride Rite, a children's shoe chain, and other firms have supported increasing the minimum wage, saying it reduces employee turnover and improves workers' productivity.

These positive arguments won't stop business lobby groups and Republican leaders from trying to block President Obama's modest proposal. Speaker Boehner, who opposed the last minimum wage boost in 2006 when the Democrats controlled the House, said this week, "When you raise the price of employment, guess what? You get less of it.... Why would we want to make it harder to small employers to hire people?" Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who delivered the Republicans' response to Obama's State of the Union address, said "I don't think a minimum-wage law works," on "CBS This Morning."

But if democracy is about translating public opinion into public policy, Americans are overdue for a raise. Increasing the minimum wage to $9 an hour and tying it to the cost of living will not, on its own, lift the country out of its economic doldrums. But it will definitely lift millions of Americans out of poverty, stimulate the economy, and create new jobs. It is the right thing to do both morally and economically.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

FBI destroys files it kept on former NY Times publisher...


The FBI has destroyed the files it kept on former New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger because they didn't pass historical muster. The New and Improved Veg-O-Matic II, however, remains safely in the Smithsonian's permanent collection.
The files in the dossier on Sulzberger (hot damn we finally got our chance to type "dossier") were created when President Nixon ordered J. Edgar Hoover to dig up dirt on Sulzberger during the fight over the Pentagon Papers (“do everything we can to destroy the Times"), and were sought by a Capital New York reporter in a FOIA request.

The reporter was then referred to the National Archives, which answered the reporter's additional FOIA request with the statement, “The FBI has informed us that the file was destroyed on December 1, 2011, according to an authorized agency records disposition schedule.”

The agency often destroys records, and notes that because their archives are so vast, the determination on whether to keep some and toss others is a balance of “historic preservation with the explosion of modern records and limited resources to preserve these records.” Files the FBI kept on Rosa Parks were also destroyed.
There's still a chance that some records on Sulzberger exist in the Bureau's "special file room," as files on Walter Cronkite later turned up even after the FBI claimed they were destroyed. Sulzberger, who died last fall, famously made the call to publish the Pentagon Papers, later saying of the decision that would earn the paper a Pulitzer, "Wait, aren't these just pieces of paper shaped like the Pentagon? “We weren’t writing for the benefit of the government, we were writing for the benefit of the reader, who is entitled to know.”

Justice Dept. reduces BP oil spill fine...


BP has shaved $3.4bn off the maximum fine for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.

A court order, handed down by a judge in New Orleans, means BP will no longer be liable for a maximum of $21bn in fines at next week's civil trial – after a judge ruled the oil company would not have to pay for 810,000 barrels of oil collected at the source of the broken well.

The oil company had been facing up to $21bn in fines in the civil case, based on the amount of oil that gushed into the Gulf following the fatal blowout of its well.

The federal government estimates that about 4.9m barrels of oils were released before BP engineers sealed off the well three months later.

The case was set to be the costliest to date for BP, which has already spent billions on cleanup costs, and settling thousands of claims arising from the 2010 disaster.

But the oil company got a break when the Justice Department agreed not to hold BP accountable for 800,000 barrels of oil which were captured at the site of the broken well.

District judge Carl Barbier, who is hearing the case in New Orleans, accepted the agreement on Tuesday night. "The 'collected oil' … never came into contact with any ambient sea water, and was not released to the environment in any way," he said in the ruling.

The deal reduces BP's potential exposure to the civil trial from $21bn to $17.6bn.

The federal government has said it will establish gross negligence on the part of BP in the 2010 blowout, which killed 11 men and fouled the Gulf of Mexico. That could treble BP's fines under the Clean Water Act.
The oil company, in combative statements this week, accused the federal government of making excessive demands.

The company's lawyers have told journalists they believe damages should be capped at a few billion dollars, and they are ready to take the risk of taking the federal government to court. BP is also disputing the federal government's oil spill estimate, saying the figure is 20% too high.

With Tuesday's court order, however, BP appears to have taken a first step towards reducing its potential liability in the case.

Privatize the postal service? That's just going to make a small number of people rich

If chutzpah is killing your parents then throwing yourself on the mercy of the court because you're an orphan then Peter Orszag is the poster child for chutzpah.  In his recent article in Bloomberg News he insists the best fix for the post office is to take it private.  Where does the chutzpah come from?  Orszag was Director of the Office of Management Budget (OMB), an agency that played a key role in crippling the USPS with a manufactured financial crisis.

Here’s the back-story.  In 1970, after almost two centuries, the Post Office was transformed from a Cabinet agency to the quasi-independent US Postal Service (USPS).  In keeping with its new status, Congress eventually moved its finances off budget.  Yet, as I’ve discussed before, the OMB and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) ignored Congress and continued to include the USPS in the unified budget, the budget they use for “scoring” legislation to estimate its impact on the deficit.

Fast forward to 2001. The Government Accountability Office put the Postal Service on its list of “high-risk” programs because of rising financial pressures resulting from exploding demand from both the residential and commercial sectors.  Then in 2002 the anxiety level fell dramatically when the Office of Personnel Management found the Postal Service had been significantly overpaying into its retirement fund.

It seemed a simple matter to reduce future payments and tap into the existing surplus to pay for current expenses.  And would have been if the OMB and the CBO did not insist on adhering to their make-belief accounting system.

Several times between 2002 and 2005 Congress did overwhelmingly approved tapping into the existing surplus. Each time the White House nixed the idea because it would increase the deficit.
Finally, in 2006 the Post Office and Congress agreed to literally buy off the CBO and OMB.  Budget neutrality over a ten-year period was achieved by requiring the USPS to make ten annual payments of $5.4-5.8 billion. The level of the annual payments was not based on any actuarial determination.  They were produced by the CBO to equal the amounts necessary to offset the loss of the escrow payments. Under the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 the USPS was forced to prefund its future health care benefit payments to retirees for the next 75 years in ten years, something no other government agency or private corporation is required to do.

The Postal Regulatory Commission noted that those payments “transformed what would have been considerable profits into significant losses.”  Indeed, 90 percent or more of the current deficit is a result of these artificially created debts.

The Post Office is indeed in a financial crisis, but not one of its own making.

Enter Peter Orszag who still subscribes to the make believe world created by his old agency. His article lists three problems the USPS faces.   The artificial debt is not among them.  He lists three counterarguments people might use to oppose privatization.  The artificial debt is not among them.

A real world solution to the USPS fiscal crisis would be to remove the artificially generated financial noose from its neck and then build on its two most important assets:  its ubiquitous physical infrastructure and the high esteem in which Americans hold it.  In combination, these assets offer the post office an enviable platform upon which to generate many new revenue-producing services.

But for Peter Orszag the solution is to ignore the fraudulent financial burden imposed on the USPS and sell off and dismantle its ubiquitous infrastructure. “In addition to its 32,000 post offices, it has 461 processing facilities, monopoly access to residential mailboxes and an overfunded pension plan,” he writes. “These assets would attract bidders. Consider, for example, that many processing facilities and post offices sit on valuable real estate, and it may be smarter to sell many of them than to keep them.”

Did I forget to mention that Peter Orszag is currently vice chairman of corporate and investment banking at Citigroup?   Citigroup may certainly be in the running to oversee the privatization of the post office, a process that would generate tens of millions of dollars in fees and undoubtedly handsomely benefit Mr. Orszag personally.  Now that’s chutzpah.

Oscar-nominated Palestinian filmmaker detained and threatened with deportation at L.A. airport...

Via RS

An Oscar-nominated Palestinian filmmaker was detained Tuesday and threatened with deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents at Los Angeles International Airport, according to Oscar-winning director Michael Moore.

Moore tweeted early Wednesday morning that Emad Burnat, director of 5 Broken Cameras, a film critical of Israeli West Bank settlements, was put in a holding area with his 8-year-old son “and told they didn’t have the proper invitation to attend the Oscars.”

Moore added that Burnat was “threatened with being sent back to Palestine.”

“Apparently the Immigration & Customs officers couldn’t understand how a Palestinian could be an Oscar nominee,” he continued. “Emad texted me for help.”

Burnat’s film, the first ever by a Palestinian to be nominated for Best Documentary, details the former farmer’s struggle in occupied territory, with each of his five broken cameras telling an integral part of the tale.

“I called Academy officials who called lawyers,” Moore explained. “I told Emad to give the officers my phone # and to say my name a couple of times… After 1.5 hrs, they decided to release him & his family & told him he could stay in LA for the week & go to the Oscars. Welcome to America.”

He added that Burnat told him he was used to being treated as if he has no rights. “When u live under occupation, with no rights, this is a daily occurrence,” Moore wrote.

It’s probably no surprise that Burnat contacted Moore as soon as possible. On his official Academy Awards nominee questionnaire, he listed Moore as a chief inspiration for his work. “He is a master of documentary films,” Burnat wrote. “He captures his audience & shifts their perceptions through film.”

The question that followed asked, “What advice do you have for others who might want to follow in your footsteps?”

“You must be willing to stand up for what you believe in, despite all your fears, the odds & obstacles,” he answered.

Wayne Madsen interview regarding Phil Marshall 'suicide' (Video)

RP Note: Interview with Wayne Madsen starts at 27:22


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Fireball blazes across Northern California horizon less than a day after massive meteor strike...

Via DM

A sudden fireball was spotted blazing across the Northern California sky less than 24 hours after the explosive meteor that passed over Russia injured more than 1,000 people on Friday.

The fireball, reportedly seen from as far north as Fairfield to as far south as Gilroy, as well as in Sacramento, Newark and Walnut Creek, was captured on video by one observer at around 7.45pm last night.

It was bluish in color and appeared to be heading straight to the ground, according to an NBC Bay Area reporter.

‘I saw that meteor/fireball over Solano County after spending the day reporting on asteroids and fireballs,’ said NBC reporter Jodi Hernandez.

Another viewer told the local news outlet that the fireball was a bright green when it first appeared and then turned to a bright yellow as it faded.

‘It was awesome!’ she said.

Meteors are pieces of rock and metal from outer space that fall to Earth and burn up as they pass through the Earth’s atmosphere.

The bright flashes of light are caused by the burning.

At around 2.30pm EST on Friday, a meteor passed over Siberia and exploded with the force of 20 atomic bombs. Most of the injuries were caused by flying glass, local officials said.

Marina Moskvicheva, Chelyabinsk health chief, told the Russian news agency Interfax that 985 people in her city asked for medical help and 43 were hospitalized.

It was the largest recorded meteor strike in more than a century and occurred hours before a 150-foot asteroid passed within about 17,000 miles (28,000 kilometers) of Earth.

Planetary scientists said there were no connections between the meteor that passed over Siberia and the larger asteroid.

It is unknown if the fireball spotted in California had any connection to the asteroid.

Gerald McKeegan, a local astronomer in California, told NBC that based on accounts he believes that the fireball spotted in northern part of the state was a ‘sporadic meteor,’ which he said can happen several times a day.

McKeegan said that sporadic meteors bring as much as 15,000 tons of space debris to Earth each year.

Pope Benedict's decision to live in the Vatican will provide him with legal protection from sex abuse cases...

RP Note: See also: "Pedophile priests protected by the Pope"


Pope Benedict's decision to live in the Vatican after he resigns will provide him with security and privacy. It will also offer legal protection from any attempt to prosecute him in connection with sexual abuse cases around the world, Church sources and legal experts say.

"His continued presence in the Vatican is necessary, otherwise he might be defenseless. He wouldn't have his immunity, his prerogatives, his security, if he is anywhere else," said one Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"It is absolutely necessary" that he stays in the Vatican, said the source, adding that Benedict should have a "dignified existence" in his remaining years.

Vatican sources said officials had three main considerations in deciding that Benedict should live in a convent in the Vatican after he resigns on February 28.

Vatican police, who already know the pope and his habits, will be able to guarantee his privacy and security and not have to entrust it to a foreign police force, which would be necessary if he moved to another country.

"I see a big problem if he would go anywhere else. I'm thinking in terms of his personal security, his safety. We don't have a secret service that can devote huge resources (like they do) to ex-presidents," the official said.

Another consideration was that if the pope did move permanently to another country, living in seclusion in a monastery in his native Germany, for example, the location might become a place of pilgrimage.


This could be complicated for the Church, particularly in the unlikely event that the next pope makes decisions that may displease conservatives, who could then go to Benedict's place of residence to pay tribute to him.

"That would be very problematic," another Vatican official said.

The final key main consideration is the pope's potential exposure to legal claims over the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandals.

In 2010, for example, Benedict was named as a defendant in a law suit alleging that he failed to take action as a cardinal in 1995 when he was allegedly told about a priest who had abused boys at a U.S. school for the deaf decades earlier. The lawyers withdrew the case last year and the Vatican said it was a major victory that proved the pope could not be held liable for the actions of abusive priests.

Benedict is currently not named specifically in any other case. The Vatican does not expect any more but is not ruling out the possibility.

"(If he lived anywhere else) then we might have those crazies who are filing lawsuits, or some magistrate might arrest him like other (former) heads of state have been for alleged acts while he was head of state," one source said.

Another official said: "While this was not the main consideration, it certainly is a corollary, a natural result."

After he resigns, Benedict will no longer be the sovereign monarch of the State of Vatican City, which is surrounded by Rome, but will retain Vatican citizenship and residency.


That would continue to provide him immunity under the provisions of the Lateran Pacts while he is in the Vatican and even if he makes jaunts into Italy as a Vatican citizen.

The 1929 Lateran Pacts between Italy and the Holy See, which established Vatican City as a sovereign state, said Vatican City would be "invariably and in every event considered as neutral and inviolable territory".

There have been repeated calls for Benedict's arrest over sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

When Benedict went to Britain in 2010, British author and atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins asked authorities to arrest the pope to face questions over the Church's child abuse scandal.

Dawkins and the late British-American journalist Christopher Hitchens commissioned lawyers to explore ways of taking legal action against the pope. Their efforts came to nothing because the pope was a head of state and so enjoyed diplomatic immunity.

In 2011, victims of sexual abuse by the clergy asked the International Criminal Court to investigate the pope and three Vatican officials over sexual abuse.

The New York-based rights group Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and another group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), filed a complaint with the ICC alleging that Vatican officials committed crimes against humanity because they tolerated and enabled sex crimes.

The ICC has not taken up the case but has never said why. It generally does not comment on why it does not take up cases.


The Vatican has consistently said that a pope cannot be held accountable for cases of abuse committed by others because priests are employees of individual dioceses around the world and not direct employees of the Vatican. It says the head of the church cannot be compared to the CEO of a company.

Victims groups have said Benedict, particularly in his previous job at the head of the Vatican's doctrinal department, turned a blind eye to the overall policies of local Churches, which moved abusers from parish to parish instead of defrocking them and handing them over to authorities.

The Vatican has denied this. The pope has apologized for abuse in the Church, has met with abuse victims on many of his trips, and ordered a major investigation into abuse in Ireland.

But groups representing some of the victims say the Pope will leave office with a stain on his legacy because he was in positions of power in the Vatican for more than three decades, first as a cardinal and then as pope, and should have done more.

The scandals began years before the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope in 2005 but the issue has overshadowed his papacy from the beginning, as more and more cases came to light in dioceses across the world.

As recently as last month, the former archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, was stripped by his successor of all public and administrative duties after a thousands of pages of files detailing abuse in the 1980s were made public.

Mahony, who was archbishop of Los Angeles from 1985 until 2011, has apologized for "mistakes" he made as archbishop, saying he had not been equipped to deal with the problem of sexual misconduct involving children. The pope was not named in that case.

In 2007, the Los Angeles archdiocese, which serves 4 million Catholics, reached a $660 million civil settlement with more than 500 victims of child molestation, the biggest agreement of its kind in the United States.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the pope "gave the fight against sexual abuse a new impulse, ensuring that new rules were put in place to prevent future abuse and to listen to victims. That was a great merit of his papacy and for that we will be grateful".


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