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How Members of Congress Are Advancing Anti-Muslim Hysteria to Push a Radical Legal Agenda

Islamophobes in Congress like Joe Lieberman are trying to set the U.S. on a path to establish a different set of legal standards for Muslims.

By Liliana Segura | January 28, 2010

Roughly one month after the massacre at Fort Hood and a little over a week after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the “underwear bomber”) tried to blow himself up over the city of Detroit, one of the most conservative Republicans in the Congress, South Carolina Representative Gresham Barrett, re-introduced a sweeping piece of legislation that he first rolled out in 2003 as a freshman on Capitol Hill.

The Stop Terrorists Entry Program (STEP) Act was originally introduced on September 11 (naturally), 2003 “to bar the admission of aliens from countries determined to be state sponsors of terrorism, and for other purposes.” At the time, these countries included Iran, Libya, Syria, North Korea, Iraq and Cuba. The bill not only sought to bar presumed enemies of the state from entering the U.S., it also would have forced “nonimmigrant aliens” — visitors with a temporary visa — to leave the country, within 60 days of its passage.

In other words, they would be deported.

The STEP Act never got very far. But a few days into the new year, Rep. Barrett decided to try again. “Twice in the past two months, radical Islamic terrorists have attacked our nation and the administration has failed to adapt its national security and immigration policies to counter the renewed resolve of those who seek to harm our citizens,” he announced. “In light of these unfortunate facts, the Step Act of 2010 bars the admission of aliens from countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism and Yemen.”

Iranian advocacy groups were especially vocal in their alarm over the re-introduced bill. In an open letter to Barrett on January 9, Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), described his bill as an attempt to “make discrimination against Iranians into United States law.”

“You have said you are reintroducing the STEP Act in response to the Fort Hood shooting and the Christmas Day attempt to blow up an airplane over Detroit,” Parsi wrote. “We hope you recognize that no Iranian has been involved in any of these attacks, or the 9/11 terrorist attacks for that matter. The individuals who carried out the Fort Hood attack and the Christmas day attempt — an American Army major and a Nigerian national — would not have been affected in the slightest by the sweeping provisions offered in your bill.”

This point was reiterated by Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, who crowned Barrett one of his “Worst Persons” on his January 12 segment. Pointing out that Major Nidal Hasan was born in Arlington, VA and went to high school in Roanoke, Olbermann said, “I guess, congressman, you need to expand your STEP program to stop aliens from infiltrating our homeland from such nests of terror as Interstate 81 in Virginia.”

The day before Barrett officially re-introduced the STEP Act, NIAC delivered thousands of letters to his office, urging him to reconsider. “Your bill punishes innocent Iranians and implies that ‘stopping terrorists’ means barring them from entering the U.S. to visit family or go to school,” the letters read.

Surprisingly, hours after the letters were delivered, Rep. Barrett’s office said he would get rid of the language that would lead to the deportation of immigrants from Iran and other countries. “Unfortunately, many have been misinformed on the true nature of this legislation,” Barrett claimed in a statement released alongside the bill. “Contrary to some reports, the STEP Act does not contain any language that calls for deportation of citizens from countries identified as state sponsors of terrorism who have already obtained a United States visa and currently reside in the United States … Citizens from these countries who have already obtained a United States visa and currently reside in the United States will not be affected by this legislation.”

NIAC declared this “a major victory,” but warned that the fight is not over. The revised version of the bill still basically criminalizes Iranians and others, banning them from obtaining U.S. visas.

The STEP Act may be a uniquely bad — not to mention far-fetched — example of legislative efforts to install blatantly discriminatory policy into American law books in the name of national security. But the danger it represents, even in its softened version, is hard to overstate. “That people even consider dropping those pieces of legislation is pretty troubling,” Corey Saylor, legislative director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told AlterNet. At a time when blatant and far-reaching anti-Muslim measures are being enacted in other parts of the world — such as the Swiss ban on minarets or the campaign to ban the hijab in France — new attempts to target Muslims in this country are cause for concern. “I think we’re headed in a very disturbing direction, in which anti-Muslim hysteria is growing, and I think it’s something that we all need to address,” CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper told AlterNet.

The issue should be addressed sooner rather than later. Within days of Abdulmutallab’s foiled bomb attempt, the White House announced that citizens of 14 predominantly Muslim countries — Yemen, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, Algeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Sudan, Somalia and Cuba — would now be subject to additional screenings at airport security, a policy that will remain in place “indefinitely.” As with the STEP Act, this effectively criminalizes whole global populations, feeding into the “clash of civilizations” narrative that has fueled so many destructive post-9/11 misadventures. Nawar Shora, the legal director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, called the 14-country directive “extreme and very dangerous.”

Source

January 30, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Islamophobia | Comments Off on How Members of Congress Are Advancing Anti-Muslim Hysteria to Push a Radical Legal Agenda

Obama’s Conspicuous Failure

January 30, 2010

Conspicuous failure

From rich sounding promises, Obama’s Israel-Palestine policy appears reduced to simply managing, not resolving, the conflict, writes Khalid Amayreh in the West Bank


The conspicuous failure of the latest visit to the region by US envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell raises questions as to the Obama administration’s ability — or even willingness — to pressure Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands. Prior to his arrival, Mitchell was widely thought to be carrying “serious ideas” that would help resume stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

However, after meetings with both Palestinian and Israeli leaders, it became clear that the American envoy was near completely empty handed, and that he was succumbing to Israeli intransigence. Seeking to obscure his surrender to Israeli whims, Mitchell tried to cajole the increasingly vulnerable Palestinian leadership to resume the moribund peace process without receiving any guarantees that renewed talks would go anywhere.

Mitchell pressed the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel to start “low level talks” which he suggested might help leaders tackle the hard issues. However, in making such suggestions, Mitchell seemed to have forgotten that his proposal had been tried numerous times before but to no avail, mainly due to Israel’s refusal to give up the spoils of the 1967 war.

Mitchell also offered the PA leadership what one Palestinian official termed “secondary inducements” to return to the negotiating table with Israel, including enhancing Palestinian mobility in the West Bank and allowing PA police to operate in additional localities. But Mitchell refused to commit himself to pressure Israel to freeze settlement expansion and reportedly tried to circumvent the issue, saying that the sides would discuss the issue in bilateral negotiations.

Mitchell also suggested that the sides initiate “indirect talks”. The Israelis described the proposal as “interesting” while the PA called it “totally pointless”.

As Mitchell arrived in Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a plethora of provocative and uncompromising — even pugnacious — statements, suggesting that Israel will never agree to the establishment of a truly viable Palestinian state. Marking a Jewish holiday at the settlement of Gush Etzion north of Hebron, Netanyahu declared that, “we are here to stay” and “this [settlement] is Jerusalem’s southern gate while Maali Adumim is Jerusalem’s eastern gate.”

Earlier, he stated that, “in the context of any peace arrangement, Israel would completely surround any Palestinian entity from all sides,” adding that Israel would have to maintain a “presence” in “Judea and Samaria” (the biblical names of the West Bank).

Maintaining a broad smile throughout his visit, Mitchell didn’t try to challenge Netanyahu and instead kept repeating old platitudes about the continued commitment of the Obama administration to Palestinian-Israeli peace. However, it was obvious that at least some of Mitchell’s Arab interlocutors were exasperated, having seen the Obama administration waste precious time while Israel steals more Arab land.

One Palestinian official in Ramallah remarked: “Every new visit by Mitchell makes the prospect of resolving the conflict more elusive.” The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, complained bitterly that all that Mitchell wanted was to force the PA to absorb Israeli provocations.

The growing defiance displayed by Netanyahu finds encouragement in what is widely seen here as Netanyahu’s “victory” over Obama in the apparent tug-of-war between them over a settlement expansion freeze. Obama had been demanding that Israel freeze all settlement expansion in the West Bank, including Arab East Jerusalem. However, Netanyahu refused to budge. Eventually, it was Obama who really budged, allowing Netanyahu to emerge victorious.

To be sure, Netanyahu made a half-hearted decision to freeze some settlement building for 10 months. However, that freeze was disingenuous to a large extent, given continued building in numerous locations, as revealed by Israeli peace groups such as the Peace Now movement. On Tuesday, 26 January, the veteran Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar argued that, “only an idiot would say Israel has frozen settlements.”

Recently, Netanyahu has also been encouraged by Obama’s lost Democratic majority in Congress, which the Israeli premier hopes will make it impossible for the US administration to take decisions Israel doesn’t like. Moreover, Obama’s own admission that he had underestimated the hardship of making peace in the Middle East seems to militate in Netanyahu’s favour, as he is interpreting this as a vindication of his policy of “playing it tough”, not only with the Palestinians but also with the Americans.

In a recent interview with Time magazine, Obama admitted that his attempts to break the deadlock in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations by pressuring the Israeli government to end the construction of Jewish colonies have failed. The US president said he raised expectations of a breakthrough too high because he underestimated the obstacles involved.

“This is just really hard. This is as intractable a problem as you get. If we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.”

Upset by the belated realisation that Mitchell’s main goal is to “keep the process going”, the Palestinian leadership of PA President Mahmoud Abbas is finding itself at a loss as to what to do in light of Obama’s failure. Reacting to Netanyahu’s remarks about Israel’s intention to annex large chunks of the West Bank, Palestinian officials countered: “This is an unacceptable act that destroys all the efforts being exerted by Senator Mitchell in order to bring the parties back to the negotiating table.”

Nabil Abu Rudeina, an aide to Abbas, added that the PA was still insistent that the resumption of the peace process would have to be preceded by a comprehensive settlement freeze. However, in order to avoid being accused of stonewalling and impeding peace, the PA is demanding that the US steps in and declare the endgame of the process, in which case the suspension of settlement expansion would no longer be a Palestinian pre-condition.

Regardless, only political novices think that a US declaration of the “endgame” would overcome the huge conceptual gap between the two sides, and Israel’s dominant influence over US politics and policies. Hence, most observers believe the Obama administration will merely continue to “manage” the conflict, not resolve it. The Obama administration might also seek a more “malleable” Palestinian leadership — one not answerable to the Palestinian masses, or even Fatah.

Such a scenario would undoubtedly generate a lot of frustration, anger and tension in occupied Palestine and throughout much of the Middle East, and might trigger a new wave of violence against US interests here and beyond. Moreover, the collapse of the peace process, even if kept alive by artificial means, would seriously undermine the credibility and survival of pro-US regimes in the region while bolstering the appeal of resistance groups such as Hamas and Hizbullah.

Source

January 30, 2010 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Progressive Hypocrite | 2 Comments

Argentina reveals secrets of ‘dirty war’

Irish Sun

Buenos Aires, Jan 29 (IANS/EFE) Argentina has disclosed the secrets of the ‘dirty war’ waged against the left by the country’s military regime 1976-83.

The secret files of Battalion 601, described as the ‘brain’ that coordinated killings, kidnappings and other abuses, contains the identities of both military and civilian personnel who played a role in the repression.

The declassification of the documents began with an order from Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Jan 1.

The documents presented before the federal Judge Ariel Lijo for review contain data on 3,952 civilians and 345 army personnel who worked for Battalion 601, said Ramon Torres Molina, director of the National Archive of Memory.

The battalion’s civilian operatives included everyone from college professors to people who worked as porters, concierges and maintenance men at apartment buildings.

They were used to collect information and to infiltrate guerrilla groups and human rights organisations, with those assigned to infiltration duties given aliases with initials matching those of their real names.

The civilian agents were classified by grades corresponding to military ranks and the most proficient could aspire to the equivalent of colonel.

Torres, who refused to divulge any names until Judge Lijo finishes reviewing the documents, said the intelligence structure was created in the early 1970s and that it survived until 2000, when Battalion 601 was disbanded and its remaining 500 or so civilian operatives dismissed.

Some former commanders of the unit have died and others have been criminally charged, but many military and civilian veterans of the unit are at large, the archive director said.

The archive continues to thumb through more than 4 million digitised pages and thousands of dossiers in search of information about the crimes of a regime that left more than 30,000 ‘disappeared’.

January 30, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Subjugation - Torture | 1 Comment

Our Last Port Is Freedom

Sending a Flotilla in the Spring to Break the Siege of Gaza

By Free Gaza Team | 28 January 2010

[Istanbul, Turkey] Today the Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish Relief Foundation (IHH), announce a joint venture, sending 10 boats in the spring of 2010 to the besieged Gaza strip. Organizations from Greece, Ireland and Sweden have also promised to send boats to join the flotilla with the Free Gaza movement and Turkey.

Mr. Bulent Yildirim, chairman of the IHH said, “We sail in the spring to Gaza, and our last port is freedom; freedom for the 1.5 million Palestinians denied the right to rebuild their society. We will never stop sailing until Israel’s siege is lifted.”

Two cargo ships will be part of the flotilla, one donated by the Malaysia-based Perdana Foundation and one from IHH. Both will be laden with building supplies, generators and educational materials that Israel prohibits from entering Gaza since their brutal attack on the civilian population a year ago.

The many passenger boats accompanying the cargo ships will carry members of Parliament from countries around the world as well as high-profile journalists and human rights workers.

According to the chair of the Free Gaza Movement, Huwaida Arraf, “The illegal blockade on Gaza and Israel’s continued intransigence make a mockery of international law. If our governments will not take a stance to stop Israel’s abuse of the Palestinian people, global civil society is showing that we will.”

Since 1992, the Turkish Relief Foundation (IHH) has provided humanitarian assistance to civilians who have been victims of war or natural disasters all over the world. One of IHH’s main objectives is to take necessary steps to prevent any violations against civilian basic rights and liberties. IHH aims at providing relief help so communities can resume their daily life and stand on their own feet, as well as strengthening leadership and institutions of communities that have been made dependent on aid. http://www.ihh.org.tr

Press release available also in Arabic, Spanish, French and Italian, other translations available soon.

Contact:

* IHH, Ahmet Emin +90 530 341 19 34
* Free Gaza Movement, Eliza Ernshire +44 754 011 22 94

January 30, 2010 Posted by | Solidarity and Activism, Wars for Israel | 1 Comment

Russia finds ‘strategic oil deposit’ in East Siberia

January 29, 2010

MOSCOW, RUSSIA: Russian oil producer Rosneft uncovered a giant oil field in East Siberia with more than 1 billion barrels of oil, the Russian natural resources minister said. Russian Natural Resources Minister Yuri Trutnev said Rosneft made an “important” oil discovery in the Irkutsk Oblast near Mongolia, Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti reports.

“We can report today that we have opened the Sevastyanovo oil field, with reserves of over 1.1 billion barrels,” he said. “This is a strategic deposit.” Trutnev said the amount of natural resources recovered from Russia in 2009 exceeded national expectations.

Russia extracted roughly 3.6 billion barrels of oil in 2009. Discoveries for 2009 eclipsed 4.5 billion barrels.The Sevastyanovo oil field is located in Irkutsk Oblast near the route for the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline that links to Asian markets.

Trutnev made the announcement during a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

(EUNewsNet.com and OfficialWire) – Source

January 30, 2010 Posted by | Economics, Malthusian Ideology, Phony Scarcity | Comments Off on Russia finds ‘strategic oil deposit’ in East Siberia

Mounting Criticism of US Drone Strikes in Pakistan

By Jason Ditz, January 29, 2010

US drones, conspicuously absent from the North Waziristan region for several days after militants shot one down on Sunday, returned to the region today, killing five people in the town in Muhammad Khel.

The drone strikes, and more importantly America’s default “no comment” position on them except on those rare occasions when they successfully kill a high profile target, have long been a sore spot for the Pakistani public, but the broad base of this opposition has only increased.

According to a Gallup poll, only 9 percent of Pakistanis support the idea of US drone strikes on Pakistani soil. There is increasing pressure for the US to be more transparent with their attacks, in hopes that it might calm the opposition to them.

President Barack Obama has dramatically increased the number of drone strikes since taking office. In 2009 the US launched 44 drone strikes in Pakistan, killing over 700 people. The vast, vast majority of those were civilians, with only a handful of meaningful militant leaders slain. Today’s attack was the 12th attack of 2010. Though the attacks killed just under 100 people, only one named militant, al-Qaeda bodyguard Mahmoud Mahdi Zeidan, has been confirmed killed.

Source

January 30, 2010 Posted by | Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite, War Crimes | Comments Off on Mounting Criticism of US Drone Strikes in Pakistan

Roubini Calls U.S. Growth ‘Dismal and Poor,’ Predicts Slowing

By Simon Kennedy and Erik Schatzker

Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) — New York University Professor Nouriel Roubini, who anticipated the financial crisis, called the fourth quarter surge in U.S. economic growth “very dismal and poor” because it relied on temporary factors.

Roubini said more than half of the 5.7 percent expansion reported yesterday by the government was related to a replenishing of inventories and that consumption depended on monetary and fiscal stimulus. As these forces ebb, growth will slow to just 1.5 percent in the second half of 2010, he said.

“The headline number will look large and big, but actually when you dissect it, it’s very dismal and poor,” Roubini told Bloomberg Television in an interview at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. “I think we are in trouble.”

Roubini said while the world’s largest economy won’t relapse into recession, unemployment will rise from the current 10 percent, posing social and political challenges.

“It’s going to feel like a recession even if technically we’re not going to be in a recession,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Simon Kennedy in Davos at skennedy4@bloomberg.net

January 30, 2010 Posted by | Economics | Comments Off on Roubini Calls U.S. Growth ‘Dismal and Poor,’ Predicts Slowing

Biden: US to increase spending on nuclear arsenal

Reversing a decade of declining spending on nuclear weapons

Press TV – January 29, 2010

US Vice President Joe Biden says that Washington will increase investment in its nuclear arsenal and infrastructure in the country’s new budget.

In an opinion piece which appeared in The Wall Street Journal‘s website on Thursday, Biden said that the administration will propose USD 7 billion to maintain US nuclear weapons stockpile, which would be USD 600 million more than Congress approved last year.

“Even in a time of tough budget decisions, these are investments we must make for our security. We are committed to working with Congress to ensure these budget increases are approved,” Biden said.

The comment comes at a time when the US and Russia are negotiating a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which entails decommissioning of both sides’ nuclear weapons.

The administration of US President Barack Obama will publish its budget for fiscal year 2011 on Monday February 1.

The proposal will include a budget increase for nuclear issues while paring back other areas in an effort to control record deficits.

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite | Comments Off on Biden: US to increase spending on nuclear arsenal

Swine Flu Didn’t Fly

By Niko Kyriakou | January 27, 2010

For makers of the swine flu vaccine, 2009 was a year to remember. By June, CSL Limited’s annual profits had risen 63 percent over 2008. GlaxoSmithKine’s 2009 earnings spiked 30 percent in the third quarter alone, to $2.19 billion. Roche made a stunning 12 times more in the second quarter of 2009 than of 2008. But in 2010, drug companies may get their comeuppance.

On Tuesday, the Council of Europe launched an investigation into whether the World Health Organization “faked” the swine flu pandemic to boost profits for vaccine manufacturers. The inquiry, held in Strasbourg, France, vindicates a worldwide movement of insiders, experts, and elected officials who accuse the United Nations organization of misleading the world into buying millions of unnecessary vaccines.

“I have never heard such a worldwide echo to a health political action,” Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg, an epidemiologist who formerly led the health committee for the Council of Europe, said at Tuesday’s hearing.

Dr. Ulrich Keil, director of the WHO’s Collaborating Centre for Epidemiology, hammered his own organization and WHO’s flu chief, Dr Keiji Fukuda, for “producing angst campaigns”.

“With SARS, with avian flu, always the predictions are wrong…Why don’t we learn from history?” Keil said. “It [swine flu] produced a lot of turmoil in the pubic and was completely exaggerated in contrast with all the really important matters we have to deal with in public health.”

Last year the World Health Organization predicted that H1N1 could infect two billion and claim hundreds of thousands of lives, while President Obama’s science advisers said the outbreak could infect up to 120 million Americans and kill 90,000. But thankfully, H1N1 turned out to be a mild flu. The type-A influenza has taken around 14,000 lives worldwide, according to World Health Organization numbers from January 22. The CDC said in December confirmed US deaths had reached 4,000, although it recently estimated that due to underreporting, the true death toll could be as high as 16,500 – a tragic sum, but less than half of what the CDC attributes to seasonal flu-related illness. In most of the northern hemisphere, hog flu has been on the decline for some about three months. New transmissions are largely contained to North Africa and South Asia, according to the WHO.

Signs swine flu wasn’t much of a killer grew throughout 2009, but WHO and most domestic health agencies around the globe chose instead to man the war bugles at full volume. The result was that governments poured tens of billions of dollars into vaccines. The US alone has spent $2 billion on the drugs and has allocated $7.5 billion in supplemental spending for H1N1 preparedness.

With the disease basically over, however, countries are stuck with millions of unused doses. French and German governments have had to cancel millions of orders of the vaccines due to falling demand and late-breaking news that European health authorities had recommended twice the necessary dosage. The CDC has dealt with the glut in another way. It now says all Americans should go and get the shot – a shift from its earlier recommendation that at-risk groups such as the young, sick, pregnant, and nurses seek injections first. But why should everyone get a shot when that the disease is petering out?

On January 22, WHO issued a statement calling allegations that it irresponsibly stoked H1N1 fears, “scientifically wrong and historically incorrect.” The statement defends figures WHO publicized on transmission rates, mortality, and the virulence of swine flu.

“The world is going through a real pandemic. The description of it as a fake is wrong and irresponsible. We welcome any legitimate review process that can improve our work.”

At the hearing, WHO’s flu director, Dr Keiji Fukuda, denied the accusations against WHO.

“Let me state clearly for the record – the influenza pandemic policies and responses recommended and taken by WHO were not improperly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry.”

Previously, WHO had offered scant response to allegations of corruption, but deigned to defend itself after the Council of Europe meeting was announced. The public meeting to examine accusations against WHO was set up by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which represents 800 million people in 47 countries. The Council’s January 26 meeting involved WHO officials, European drug-makers, and medical experts. PACE’s findings are expected to be announced January 29 and will likely be followed by an in-depth study and recommendations to European governments.

The hearing is just latest in a series of investigations into WHO’s propriety, which also include a 2009 Danish Parliamentary review of links between WHO expert – Albert Osterhaus – and makers of the swine flu drugs. Russian lawmaker Igor Barinov has also started an inquiry into WHO’s ties to H1N1 drug makers. In France, Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot was forced to a Paris court on January 4th over swine flu campaign irregularities – including ordering millions unnecessary vaccine doses. Demonstrations over statistical improprieties have taken place in Scotland and Canada.

Inquiries into WHO misdoing are likely to plunge deep into the statistical methods for data collection, however, it takes no expertise to see that health agencies’ data about H1N1 was wildly misleading.

In addition to bad guesses about how many would be infected, a study released December 7 by the Harvard School of Public Health found that the WHO also estimated the deadliness of H1N1 to be 40 to 250 times higher than it was.

Proving the drug industry squeezed WHO into selling swine flu is very difficult to establish, but the string of clues which points to this corruption is not hard to follow.

Pandemic or just plain Panic?

Swine flu took center stage in June of 2009, when WHO declared H1N1 the first “pandemic” in 42 years. This move caught the eye of every health authority from Tampa to Timbuktu and revved drug company engines. But to do it, WHO had to redefine the word.

One month after swine flu appeared in April, WHO rewrote the definition of “pandemic”. Under the new meaning, a pandemic does not need to cause high numbers of death or illness. A month after changing the definition, with just 144 people dead from H1N1, the flu was given the WHO’s highest threat classification: a “stage-six pandemic alert”. By comparison, the mildest 20th Century pandemic killed a million people.

Before the change, WHO had classified a pandemic as a disease that has “simultaneous epidemics worldwide with enormous numbers of deaths and illness.” After the alteration, the organization’s website stated that, “Pandemics can be either mild or severe in the illness and death they cause.” In May, WHO spokesperson Natalie Boudou told CNN that the original definition was an error.

The Los Angeles Times writer Michael Fumento called the redefinition “bizarre”. “Such a declaration could render the term “flu pandemic” essentially meaningless — risking lethal public complacency if a bona fide one hits,” Fumento wrote.

Tom Jefferson, Formerly a general practitioner in the British Army who has worked for the well-respected Cochrane Collaboration for 15 years, Jefferson asked in July: “Don’t you think there’s something noteworthy about the fact that the WHO has changed its definition of pandemic?”

“The WHO and public health officials, virologists and the pharmaceutical companies… They’ve built this machine around the impending pandemic,” Jefferson told Der Spiegel, a German magazine with a weekly circulation of 1 million. “There’s a lot of money involved, and influence, and careers, and entire institutions. And all it took was one of these influenza viruses to mutate to start the machine grinding.”

Yet the WHO stands by its decision to label H1N1 a pandemic, citing geographic spread and the virus’ novelty as its primary reasons. Moving ahead, Fukuda said his organization “will definitely consider whether we can define things better.” But some participants in Tuesday’s meeting wondered what the WHO is waiting for, since complaints have poured in from all sides.

The Associated Press reported on May 19, 2009, that China, Britain, Japan and other countries had urged WHO to “be very cautious about declaring the arrival of a swine flu pandemic, fearing that a premature announcement could cause worldwide panic and confusion.”

Critics say what was needed was not a frightful label, but hard scientific data to show how many people were getting swine flu. But on July 10, the WHO quit tracking cases of infection and told governments they should stop testing for individual cases, ostensibly because the speed of H1N1’s spread had already been confirmed.

“Rational scientific independent advice should be supreme, but there was an imperative behind this which was a financial one,” said Paul Flynn, a parliamentary representative in the UK who spoke at the Council of Europe’s hearing.

Corruption in Health Organizations?

Critics of the WHO say they promoted bad data to help drug makers get rich selling vaccines. This attack implies drug makers have a network of influence within the decision-making structure of the organization, a suggestion various officials confirm.

One high-level, long-term WHO employee who preferred to remain anonymous for job security, described the WHO as follows: “WHO is infested by corruption. There is big corruption, like the management of H1N1, and there is small corruption; and between the big and the small corruption there is [corruption] in all imaginable forms. Unfortunately, it’s not only the WHO.”

William Aldis, a retired senior WHO official who worked on the bird flu crisis, said in a Huffington Post article from September 24:

“I am concerned WHO’s communications is corrupted by the fact they push the buttons in the public’s brains that will raise the most funds. That is incompatible with what the organization should be doing: serving the public with technically correct factual information, pure and simple.”

Louise Voller, a journalist at the Danish Daily Information newspaper, has reported that pharmaceutical companies are present at meetings of WHO experts, and, that purportedly independent scientists hired by the WHO are also consultants to the drug companies that make the vaccines.

On Tuesday, WHO’s Fukuda insisted that its swine flu scientists’ were not tainted by their private sector associations. The reason, he said, is that before each meeting, scientists are asked to declare all possible conflicts of interest. “These documents are gone over and examined. If there is some potential conflict of interest we go back and talk with them.”

WHO was initially set up to rely on funding from UN member countries, in recent years, this source has been rapidly overtaken by “voluntary contributions”, which are provided by the private sector, national governments, and NGOs. According to WHO’s 2008-2009 budget, $958 million was supplied by the UN, while three times as much — $3.2 billion — came from voluntary donations.

Dr. Wodarg told the Council on Tuesday that the shift towards public-private partnership which began in earnest in 2001 puts WHO officials under extreme pressure.

“Already then there were very critical voices against the influence. [WHO’s] administration is made of people not well paid who can’t fight against the pay of people in and from the industry – they are simply swept aside…[private] influence is rampant and that is why we can’t understand why the WHO we used to love…has become unrecognizable to us.”

Whether or not WHO officials are being bought off, clearly, the capacity and incentive of drug makers to lean on science are enormous.

Pandemic Profit

All US contracts for H1N1 vaccines went to just five companies: CSL Limited, Novartis, Sanofi Pasteur, GlaxoSmithKline, and MedImmune. All five also produced shots for either SARS or avian flu. When swine flu took full flight in the third quarter of 2009, these firms’ earnings skyrocketed. But according to British MP, Paul Flynn, that was part of drug-makers plan.

Prior to winning any contracts, drug makers invested $4 billion in preparations for swine flu, he said. That investment may have gone to developing and patenting new, super-fast methods to create vaccines, such as using a bio-reactor to grow viruses, said Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg, former health expert for the Council of Europe. These patents were key to drug industry profits, since companies can charge much more for patented drugs than un-patented ones, Wodarg said.

“If you have a patent you can monopolize…and this is what industry did…The alternative is not to have vaccines patented…By decentralizing the production you could be as fast and you wouldn’t have this small way you have to pass negotiating with one enterprise that has monopoly, or with four enterprises.”

Food and Drug agencies in Canada, the UK, France, the US and elsewhere guaranteed vaccine manufacturers that they would be shielded from any lawsuits connected to the vaccines. This enabled companies to fast-track the testing process, reducing some trials to as little as 5 days.

Wodarg and others have also voiced concern that the hastily developed vaccines are not entirely safe. Adjuvanted vaccines, which contain a kind of immune booster shown to produce auto-immune responses in some children, were sold in parts of Europe and Canada, but banned in the US.

The private research group, Markets and Markets, estimated that the global, H1N1 vaccine market will be worth over $7 billion a year by 2011.

The incredible profits associated with outbreaks have sparked a wider shift in medicine from care to profit, according to Marcia Angell, M.D., former editor in chief of The New England Journal of Medicine and a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School.

“Over the past two decades the pharmaceutical industry has moved very far from its original high purpose of discovering and producing useful new drugs. Now primarily a marketing machine to sell drugs of dubious benefit, this industry uses its wealth and power to co-opt every institution that might stand in its way, including the US Congress, the FDA, academic medical centers, and the medical profession itself.”

Angell reports that the drug industry spent around 14 percent of sales profits on research and development in 2000, while spending closer to 35 percent on “marketing and administration”. How that expenditure breaks down is not public knowledge, but 35% comes out to a lot of money. For instance, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and Merck alone made $287 billion in 2007, according to the 2008 Pharma Report by IMS, a market intelligence firm.

The larger question begged by health agencies’ bad data, and the media’s dutiful reporting of it, is this: if fears are overstated every time there’s a flu outbreak, when the public really does need a vaccine, who will believe the boys who cried wolf?

What’s more, should the European investigations conclude that the WHO deliberately incited H1N1 paranoia to levels beyond reason in order to help drug makers, the implication is that both the private and public sectors need better oversight before being given any greater control over health care.

Source

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Science and Pseudo-Science | Comments Off on Swine Flu Didn’t Fly

Beyond the praise for Paul Kagame

By Andrew Oxford | Pulse Media | January 29, 2010

Rwandan Tutsi leader turned President Paul Kagame is a popular man in the West. And why not? In his ten years in office he has lead his war-ravaged nation through a period of unprecedented economic growth which has turned Rwanda into a playground for foreign investors. At the same time, he emphasizes self-reliance and efficient government while supporting populist spending programs that could make Rwanda the only African nation to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals (not that he is a fan of the UN, which he frequently criticizes for its response to the 1994 civil war). His administration in Kigali has admittedly wracked up a deficit that would ordinarily draw frowns from World Bank bureaucrats but in the case of Rwanda, the organization that usually demands drastic budget cuts is underwriting a litany of government programs. It helps that some of Kagame’s greatest admirers are Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Starbucks magnate Howard Schultz (1). American evangelist Rick Warren (2) considers him something of an inspiration and even Bill Gates has invested in what has been called Africa’s success story. Yes, Western liberals, reactionary evangelicals, and capitalist carpetbaggers alike tout Paul Kagame as the herald of a new, self-reliant African prosperity.

Of course, nothing in Rwanda is ever so clear cut. Kagame’s regime has benefited from more than its fair share of political repression. This prompted his challenger in the 2003 election, Faustin Twagiramungu, to denounce the poll citing harassment and restrictions that inhibited any effective campaign efforts (3). An earlier opponent, Pasteur Bizimungu (who Kagame replaced as Prime Minister) attempted to form a party at the beginning of the last decade which was promptly banned. What’s more, the formation of new groups is often hampered by Kigali authorities. Reporters Without Borders has also expressed concern at the restrictions on the press which have included the shuttering of critical newspapers and new fees for launching media outlets (4). Even The Economist took exception with his heavy-handed domestic policies and accused the new hero of Clinton and Blair as being more repressive than Robert Mugabe (5).

Most alarming is the integral roll that Kigali has played in the Second Congolese War (6) which has claimed upward of three million lives. The Rwandan government has been lending significant support to rebels within the Congo, especially in the mineral-rich north. There, the objective is widely considered to be securing the valuable resources of the region which have been trafficked through Rwanda during the conflict. While some press attention has been given to the horrendous plight of women in the area and the massive and mounting casualty figures, little connection seems to be drawn between Kagame and his complicit fans in Europe and North America.

Kagame, however, maintains innocence. While never outright denying his support for murderous combatants in the Congo or his imposition of restrictive policies on journalists, he counters that his critics are merely stoking ethnic divisions. That, of course, is a serious charge in Rwanda. It is also a strange one coming from a man who boasts that he has put the past behind him. Not far enough, as it would turn out, to trust the democratic process with criticisms or challenges. Nor far enough to shut down the parasitic black-market trafficking of minerals and resources — reminiscent of the  lecherous European occupations of other centuries — that have enriched some foreign and local entrepreneurs while leaving little more than funeral bills for the Congolese (7).

There are bigger issues at play in Rwanda and the DRC than this one man but what is remarkable about Paul Kagame is the support he has received from both conservatives and liberals in the West. It is no surprise that foreign investors have so embraced a man who is willing to put aside the rule of law or the mandate of the ballot. What is surprising is how quiet the left has been in challenging the blatantly backward praise Kagame has so vocally received while stoking one of the most tragic and violent conflicts of the present day and rolling out plans to sell his nation to the highest bidders. It is time to connect the dots in Africa.

NOTES
(1) “Rwanda Rising: A New Model of Economic Development.” Fast Company, Wednesday, March 18, 2009. http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/134/special-report-rwanda-rising.html
(2) This comes on the heels of reports that Rick Warren and his reactionary cohorts where involved with neighboring Uganda’s efforts to execute homosexuals. http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/11/rick-warren-silent-enabler-of-hatred.html
(3) This BBC report is from the end of the election when Twagiramungu called on Kagame to “accept freedom of speech and association and also to accept democracy.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3104092.stm
(4) Reporters Without Borders profile of Paul Kagame (http://www.rsf.org/en-predateur13640-Paul_Kagame_.html) and also a brief report on the issue of fees for free press (http://www.rsf.org/Government-to-demand-exorbitant.html).
(5) “A Flawed Hero”, The Economist, August 21, 2008
(6) The New York Review of Books printed an extensive article on the matter by Howard W. French in their September 24, 2009 issue (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/23054). The UN has also issued annual reports on the Second Congo War every year which allude to the influence Kagame has played in the conflict.
(7) “Looted Wealth Fuels Congo Conflict”, Financial Times, November 30, 2009. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/8ae76ab0-dde6-11de-b8e2-00144feabdc0.html

Image: UN Photo/Mark Castro

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption | 3 Comments