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Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Congress Is Quiet on Abuse of Detainees

Congress has been largely absent as questions grow about prisoner abuses and detention policies, but the lack of clear interrogation rules may finally get attention.

Washington - Graphic reports of widespread prisoner abuse in Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay continue to rise, with the latest reports coming from the FBI.

Federal judges are struggling to determine how far they can go in reviewing the detention and treatment of those the government classifies as enemy combatants. And the Bush administration is asserting broad powers to detain and interrogate foreign suspects but has lost several court battles over the matter.

Yet through it all, Congress has been largely absent.

"That branch has really abdicated its responsibility to set rules and oversee what's happening, and we are paying a price for it," said retired Rear Adm. Don Guter, who was judge advocate general in the U.S. Navy when the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, prison camp was set up three years ago.

'Very Big Deal'

As a result, the U.S. military is operating in something of a vacuum, amid confusion and ambiguity over how to treat prisoners.

"This is a very big deal," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who is a member of the Air Force Reserves and served as a prosecutor in the Judge Advocate General's Corps, the military's legal branch. "We need to bring some order out of legal chaos right now, because it's hurting the military and hurting us around the world."

Graham and other members of the Armed Services and Judiciary committees say they want to pin down top administration officials to clarify practices for interrogation and detention.

White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, who has been nominated to become attorney general, can expect detailed questions about memos that he and others wrote about the legal boundaries of torture when he faces a confirmation hearing Jan. 6.

"I told him he will be questioned closely on this," Graham said. "Some of those memos refer to the Geneva Conventions as a nicety. It's not a nicety at all - it's the law."

The Geneva Conventions ban not only torture but "inhumane and degrading treatment" of prisoners.

Momentary Concern

After the Abu Ghraib prison scandal erupted in the spring, with its graphic photos of Iraqi prisoners being humiliated and otherwise abused, the Senate Armed Services Committee focused on the issue - for a couple of weeks.

But the committee backed off after the Pentagon launched investigations into the abuses and began court-martial proceedings against some soldiers.

White House and Justice Department officials pledged to come up with definitive legal guidance for interrogations for the military, the CIA and other agencies. The guidance should be ready soon, said Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo.

Congress has done little on the legal front since the Sept. 11 attacks, allowing the Bush administration to assert broad wartime powers that included jailing U.S. citizens as enemy combatants without charges, among others.

But the administration suffered serious court setbacks as Congress stood by.

And the recent disclosures of prison abuse in Iraq and Guantánamo came from FBI files that were made public by a federal judge in a Freedom of Information suit brought by the ACLU.

"That's the sort of thing Congress should be doing, bringing out in hearings and questioning top officials, but they're not," said Elisa Massimino, the Washington director of Human Rights First.

One big question that Republican leaders on Capitol Hill may have is deciding how high up the chain of command to go to look for who authorized the harsh interrogation techniques used in Afghanistan, Guantánamo and Iraq.

The FBI files showed that the bureau's top official in Iraq, who has not been identified, believed in May that President Bush had authorized the military to use coercive tactics such as intimidation with military dogs and sensory saturation or deprivation.

Two officials knowledgeable about the authorization process, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the FBI memo writer was mistaken, but that top Defense officials, including Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, had signed off on the techniques.

Graham said: "This isn't just privates and sergeants - we have to look up the chain of command."

Former Leaders

Congress also faces pressure from former military leaders. Eight retired generals and admirals are seeking an independent commission to probe interrogation abuse reports.

"The integrity, effectiveness and honor" of the U.S. military is at stake, they said.

On the legal front, courts will act if Congress doesn't, several experts predicted.

Last month, a federal judge halted military commission proceedings at Guantánamo, citing a lack of due process. Two other judges are wrestling with petitions from 63 detainees challenging their captivity and alleging mistreatment.

What's Binding?

One of those judges, Richard Leon, framed the issue as he quoted Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution: "Congress shall have the power to declare war . . . and make rules concerning captures on land and water."

"Well, Congress has not acted, though it has the express constitutional authority," Leon said. "In a war unique in the history of our country, what rules are binding?"

Frank Davies
The Miami Herald

Death Toll Reaches 100,000

The death toll in the tsunami disaster soared past 100,000 today - and is set to climb higher.

A total of 50 Britons are now confirmed dead and at least 100 are unaccounted for after tidal waves swept away resorts in Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and around the Indian Ocean.

Officials in every country today warned the final number of dead will be even higher as rescue teams reach remote areas.

The UN said there were now strong grounds to believe that the toll in the Sumatran province of Aceh, the worst affected area, would be as high as 80,000. The number dead has now climbed in every country affected, including:

Thailand: 1,700 confirmed dead, including 43 British tourists.

Indonesia: more than 42,000 confirmed dead.

India: nearly 7,000 dead, and many coastal areas including parts of Kerala still to be searched.

Sri Lanka: 22,500 are confirmed dead and there are fears for hundreds of independent British travellers on the east coast.
Aid agencies today warned disease will also cause massive casualties among the survivors as the biggest relief effort in history began.

The British toll climbed as a new alert was sounded over the number missing. Abta, the tours operators' association, said there were 100 Britons unaccounted for. There are no confirmed numbers for missing backpackers.

Today more dramatic accounts emerged as hundreds of Britons flew back to Heathrow from Thailand.

Businessman Neil Tennant, from Woodbridge, Suffolk, told how he and his family had to flee to the roof of their hotel in Khao Lak as a giant wave swamped the building.

He said: "We ran up to the roof from our room just a few seconds before the water swamped it. I have no doubt we would have been killed if we had stayed where we were."

Amy Davies, from Camden, who was staying at Ko Phi Phi in Thailand, arrived home still in her swimming costume. She said: "I saw a drowned child in the water below me."

First Choice said six of its 248 customers in Phuket were still unaccounted after Sunday's tsunami.

An official at the British embassy in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, today said the confirmed British death toll there stood at three.

First Choice had 584 holidaymakers in the Maldives. One died and all the others have been accounted for.

MyTravel said it had between 850 and 900 clients in the affected area. Most had been accounted for.

The vast majority of the 3,500 foreigners still unaccounted for in the disaster region are from Scandinavia. The missing include at least 1,500 Swedes, 800 Norwegians, 214 Danes and 200 Finns.

Families across Britain were today in mourning and hundreds waited helplessly for news of their loved ones. Film director Lord Attenborough was among those grieving after it was confirmed his granddaughter, Lucy, 14, was dead and his daughter, Jane Holland, 49, was missing, feared dead. Jane's mother-in-law, also called Jane Holland, was also missing in Phuket. The family, who live in London, have asked for privacy "at this terrible time".

The south-east Asian communities of London watched in horror as the tsunami destroyed the lives of their relatives. Moulana Mazahir, from Harrow, lost 50 close relatives when a wall of water destroyed his home town of Hambantotain southern Sri Lanka. The 45-year-old chef 's only solace is that his wife and three sons, who had been on holiday in the resort, escaped with their lives after leaving just three hours before disaster struck.

"My life will never be the same. It was a miracle my wife and sons are still alive - but they are terrified."

Mohammed Samsudena and his wife Nirusha, 29, also from Harrow, say they have lost 40 family members and are desperately trying to contact other relatives in Hambantota. The 36-year-old petrol station sales assistant said: "Yesterday morning we heard that the body of my sister-in-law, Fatima, had been found. She was only 18."

Relatives of London newlyweds Christopher and Gaynor Mullen, from Richmond, now fear the worst - last hearing from the couple on Christmas Day, when they simply said they were "on the beach" in Thailand.

Fashion photographer Simon Atlee, 33, from London, most famous for his photograph of Rugby World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson in the Hackett advertisements, was also swept away in the tidal wave as his holiday bungalow in Khao Lak near Phuket was destroyed. His girlfriend, Czech model Petra Nemcova, 25, survived by clinging onto a palm tree.

Louise Willgrass, 43, from Colney, near Norwich, was washed away after she had got out of the rented car her family was travelling in to buy suncream at a Phuket supermarket.

The car, being driven by her husband Nigel and containing their four children, Emily, 16, Ben, 14, Michael, nine and Katie, six was overwhelmed by the tidal wave. Mr Willgrass managed to pull the children free and they survived by clinging to floating debris.

Conservation volunteer Lisa Jones, 31, is feared dead on the tiny Thai island of Koh Phra Thong, where she had been helping research sea turtles.

Andrew Gilligan In Colombo And Valentine Low In London, Evening Standard
29 December 2004

Grief, Relief, and the Stingy West

The horrific aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami has revealed what many in the world have known for a long time: Western nations are eager to exploit the under privileged, but slow to lend a helping hand in times of crisis.

In the past 72 hours we have all witnessed the scenes of devastation and carnage that has engulfed 10 nations. And we have seen Jan Egeland, the UN’s chief of emergency relief, speak eloquently of the stingy response of wealthy donor nations. Within hours outgoing Bush mouth piece Colin Powell staged a theatrically aggrieved retort wherein he said that the US is not stingy, and the US is the largest donor nation. Oh, is that so? But Mr. Egeland never mentioned the US by name, so why doth thou protest so much Colin?

Powell’s paranoid defense of American largesse came despite the fact that the sinking US dollar means that the contribution from the EU overwhelms that pledged by the US.

But the tragic facts remain: donations from wealthy countries have been shrinking steadily since the nineteen sixties.

On the other hand the spread of Western based industry into these very nations affected has been growing. All under the banner of Globalism. The sweat shop workers churning out the clothes you wear, or the soldiers guarding pipelines for precious oil. Don’t forget the forest companies and mining operations laying waste to virgin land in their unquenchable thirst for deposits of gold and minerals.

The brown people of the planet are getting to see once again the true nature of the white world. Ruled by power, money, and greed, the lacklustre response from the world’s wealthiest nations to this unimaginable disaster is a portent of things to come.

This is a model for the future. As global climate change becomes reality disasters on this scale will gradually become more and more frequent. And the cost to insurers and aid agencies will skyrocket. There will come a time when a line will have to be drawn. A time will come when the orchestra will be asked to continue playing as the ship goes down with those passengers in steerage who simply can not get out. There are only life boats for the rich, don’t you know. Sorry. Can’t swim? Try drowning.

In response to the tsunami disaster the Canadian government had initially pledged an underwhelming one million dollars in relief money. How can one put a value on such an insulting amount? In a moment of unbridled guilt the government increased this pathetic figure to a total of four million dollars. Adding to this insult, Canada’s Disaster Relief Response Team (DART), which is capable of setting up a water purification system and field hospital anywhere in the world, has been kept on the shelf. “It’s not needed,” says the government. This while aid workers in all the affected nations are crying out for fresh drinking water as the number one need for the survivors of the tsunami.

Today the news from the White House is that the United States, after it’s churlish and paranoid response to UN representative Jan Egeland’s comments about stinginess, have undergone a Scrooge-like epiphany and have decided to lead a multi-national relief effort. Again attempting to do an end run around the UN. Again attempting to show the world who is in charge.

If Bush cannot form a coalition for Iraq, then he will form one for the tsunami disaster.

But, note to world: Iraq already is a disaster. A disaster manufactured by the United States.

The November blitzkrieg of Fallujah by the United States razed an entire city, reduced 300,000 people to living in tents, bodies of the dead lay in the streets and have been skeletonized by dogs. Where is the International outcry over this “man made disaster”?

The Americans have the military power to inflict carnage on a grand scale. It seems to be what they are best at. But, after Fallujah, where are the aid teams? Where is the Red Cross? The Red Crescent? The search teams? The reconstruction? The television appeals for donations?

Like any bully the United States takes pleasure out of destroying other people’s things. Like any true sociopath the US is incapable of feeling remorse, sympathy, or of learning from it’s mistakes. Like any true psychopath the US cannot grieve for the people of South Asia. The United States can only see bottom lines and profit margins.

Is Coca-Cola donating free Coke to the survivors? Are Reebok and Nike donating free shoes? Is Wal-Mart pitching in? Well, no.

But, the United States is forming a Relief Coalition.

This is sick.

Oh, the bully must be in charge. The sociopath must have things his way. The psychopath will crush all opposition. And if you don’t want to play with him, then he’ll take his ball and go home.

News reports state that American troops will be sent into Thailand. Oh, that’s great. Another front on the war on terror? Time to clean up against the rebel Muslims in the South of the country?

The US will try to marginalize the UN. At least in domestic propaganda it is a guarantee that FOX, CNN, the New York Times and the other administration mouthpieces will deride the UN relief efforts. Imply there is fraud, mishandling of relief efforts, incompetence.

The UN will be forced into a corner: trying to defend itself against American belligerence, and at the same time attempting to organize and manage relief efforts.

What in the world allows the US to assume the mantle of responsibility over this disaster? What?

Perhaps because the US is such an expert on disasters it thinks it should be in charge. Disaster’s like Vietnam, Iraq, Haiti, and on and on and on….

No. This time the world must take a stand. If the US wants to contribute dollars with no strings attached, then fine. If not, then stay out the way.

And the sad fact remains that though we pay our taxes, our government’s purse strings are all but closed when it comes to helping our global neighbours. It remains for us to dig deep. It remains for us to contribute to the NGO’s who will end up doing the bulk of the heavy lifting.

So, again, like the pre-war Iraq protests, it will come down to people helping people. While our governments posture and puff out their chests, or like Colin Powell behave like guilty neurotics in front of the world’s cameras, it will be dollar donations sent into relief agencies that will form the bulk of the aid money that goes directly to the hardest hit by this disaster.

Another proof, as if we needed one, that governments have surpassed their usefulness to we the people, and have become servants of another master.

PKJ is a Vancouver based activist and sometimes artist. PKJ grew up in Australia and served as an infantryman in the 9th Battalion Royal Queensland Regiment. Email - : pkj@pkj.ca Visit his website www.pkj.ca

Please consider donating to either of these worthy groups.

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres 1-888-392-0392 http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org

American Friends Service Committee (AFSC Crisis Fund)1-888-588-2372 http://www.afsc.org

A Glimpse of the Ghost of Vietnam in Iraq Lies and Atrocities

Who said this and when? “The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient that the public knows... We are today not far from a disaster.” Answer: TE Lawrence (of Arabia fame) in The Sunday Times in August, 1920.

And every word of it is true today. We were lied to about weapons of mass destruction. We were lied to about the links between Saddam Hussein and Sept. 11, 2001. We were lied to about the insurgents — remember how they were just “dead-enders” and “remnants”? And we were lied to about the improvements in Iraq when the entire country was steadily falling outside the hands of the occupying powers or of the government of satraps that they have set up in their place. We are, I suspect, being lied to about elections next month.

Over the past year, there has been evidence enough that our whole project in Iraq is hopelessly flawed, that our Western armies are being vanquished by a ferocious guerrilla army, the like of which we have not seen before in the Middle East. My own calculations suggest that in the past 12 months, at least 190 suicide bombers have blown themselves up, sometimes at the rate of two a day. How does this happen? Is there a suicide-bomber supermarket, an off-the-shelf store? What have we done to create this extraordinary industry?

And American troops are sending home increasingly terrible stories of the wanton killing of civilians by US forces in the towns and cities of Iraq. Here, for example, is the evidence of ex-Marine Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey, testifying at a refugee hearing in Canada earlier this month. Massey told the Canadian board that he and his fellow Marines shot and killed more than 30 unarmed men, women and children, including a young Iraqi who got out of his car with his arms up. “We killed the man,” Massey said. “We fired at a cyclic rate of 500 bullets per vehicle.” Massey assumed that the dead Iraqis didn’t understand the hand signals to stop. On another occasion, according to Massey, Marines — in reaction to a stray bullet — opened fire and killed a group of unarmed protesters and bystanders. The defector from the 82nd Airborne, Jeremy Hinzman, told the court that “we were told to consider all Arabs as potential terrorists... to foster an attitude of hatred that gets your blood boiling”.

All this, of course, is part of the “withholding of information”. It took months before the Abu Ghraib torture and abuses were made public — even though the International Red Cross had already told the American and British authorities. It took months, for that matter, for the British government to respond to the outrageous beatings — and one killing — carried out on defenseless Iraqis in Basra, first exposed by The Independent.

Still we are not told how many civilians were killed in the American attack on Fallujah. The Americans’ claim that they killed more than 1,000 insurgents — only insurgents, mark you, not a single civilian among them — is preposterous. Still we are not free to enter the city. Nor, given the fact that the insurgents still appear to be there, is it likely that anyone can do so. Why are American aircraft still bombing Fallujah, weeks after the US military claimed to have captured it?

It is impossible to reflect on the year in Iraq without realizing just how deeply the Israeli-Palestinian struggle affects the entire Middle East. Iraqis watch the Palestinian battle with great earnestness. And I doubt very much if the suicide bomber would have come of age so quickly in Iraq without the precedent set by the suicide bombers of Palestine and, before them, of Lebanon.

It is this precedent-setting capacity of events in the Middle East — not the mythical “foreign fighters” of George Bush’s fantasy world — that is costing America so much blood in Iraq. When Ariel Sharon tries to prevent Palestinian statehood, Iraqis remember that his closest ally is represented in Iraq by an army which most of them regard as occupiers. When US forces learn their guerrilla warfare techniques from the Israelis — when they bomb houses from the air, when they abuse prisoners, when they even erect razor-wire round recalcitrant villages — is it surprising that Iraqis treat the Americans as surrogate Israelis? We shouldn’t need the evidence of ex-Marine Massey to show us how brutal the occupying armies have become — and how irrelevant Iraq’s “interim” government truly is.

Who would have believed, in 2003, as US forces drove into Baghdad, that within two years they would be mired in their biggest guerrilla war since Vietnam? Those few of us who predicted just that — and The Independent was among them — were derided as naysayers, doom-mongers, pessimists. Iraq is now proving all over again what we should have learned in Lebanon and Palestine/Israel: Arabs have lost their fear. It has been a slow process. But a quarter of a century ago, they were a submissive society and they did as they were told. The Israelis even used a “Palestinian police force” to help them in their occupation. Not any more. The biggest development in the Middle East over the past 30 years has been this shaking off of fear. Fear — of the occupier, of the dictator — is something that you cannot re-inject into people. And this, I suspect, is what has happened in Iraq.

Iraqis are just not prepared to live in fear any more. They know they must depend on themselves — our betrayal of the 1991 rising against Saddam proved that — and they refuse to be frightened by their occupiers. It was we who warned them of the dangers of civil war, even though there never has been a civil war in Iraq. As a people, they watched Westerners turn up by the thousand to make money out of a country that had been beaten down by a corrupt dictatorship and UN sanctions. Is it any surprised that Iraqis are angry? The American columnist Tom Friedman, in one of his less messianic articles, posed a good question before the 2003 invasion. Who knows, he asked, what bats will fly out of the box when we get to Baghdad? Well, now we know. So we should repeat Lawrence’s chilling remark — without the quotation marks and the date 1920. We are today not far from a disaster.

Robert Fisk
12/27/04 "The Independent"
Copyright: Arab News

Soliders Fails to Halt 'Stop-Loss' Rule

An Oregon Army National Guardsman must report for duty after failing in his challenge of a military program that extends his enlistment.

In a federal lawsuit, Sgt. Emiliano Santiago argued he was improperly called to active duty after his formal eight-year contract with the Oregon Guard had ended. The case centered on the Department of Defense's "stop-loss" policy, which has generated lots of debate in the past year as thousands of soldiers were barred from leaving Iraq and Afghanistan even though their enlistment terms had been fulfilled.

U.S. District Judge Owen M. Panner on Tuesday denied Santiago's motion for a preliminary injunction, less than a week before the soldier is due to report for active duty in Fort Sill, Okla.

Panner said he thought the military would endure more harm than Santiago if he ruled in the soldier's favor, essentially agreeing with the government's argument that thousands of military members who are subject to stop-loss orders might file similar legal challenges.

Although Army officials have worked out alternative arrangements with a few Guard officers, no court has ruled against the military's stop-loss policy. Panner's ruling is not an end to the case, but a judgment that Santiago likely would not prevail. The full merit of the case could still be heard.

After the hearing, Steven Goldberg, Santiago's lawyer, said the Bush administration has been defending the stop-loss policy because it has no other way to maintain troop strength.

"A back-door draft like this is an extraordinary method," he said, "and they're doing it because they're having trouble sustaining the ranks."

Santiago, 27, lives in Pasco, Wash., but is a solider with D Company of the Oregon Guard's 113th Aviation Battalion, based in Pendleton. He signed up for an eight-year tour beginning June 28, 1996. In April, less than three months before he was scheduled to be discharged, the Army alerted Santiago's unit that it might be mobilized.

As a result, Santiago's termination date was extended more than 27 years — to December 2031. In October, Santiago learned that the Army planned to activate his unit Jan. 2, 2005, and deploy the solider to Afghanistan in early February.

Matthew Lepore, a Justice Department attorney arguing the government's case, told Panner he should follow previous court rulings, which give deference to the military in making such policy decisions. He said soldiers are told that they give up certain rights afforded to civilians and acknowledge in their contracts that the rules that apply to them can change.

12/29/2004, 12:11 a.m. PT
The Associated Press

Information from: The Oregonian

Homeland Insecurity

The American empire goes for broke—and it could be heading that way

WASHINGTON, D.C. Running below the surface of the year-end self-congratulatory assertions of American supremacy (as in Monday's Washington Times: "The world really is becoming more 'American' ") are warnings, often ignored, of our decline. The steady loss of the dollar against the euro is one. The spiraling trade deficit is another.

And in the past weeks, there were two serious economic signs signaling momentous change, if not outright decline.

The first concerns China's invasion of Canadian oil fields, heretofore a U.S. energy fiefdom. The second came in the form of an all-but-hidden report from the Department of Agriculture that America, the breadbasket of the world, is now a net importer of food.

OIL If the half-dozen planned projects worth $2 billion go through, Canada, our No. 1 energy supplier, could end up sending as much as one-third of its total oil exports to China. One project would give the Chinese a 49 percent interest in a 720-mile-long pipeline running from Alberta to British Columbia. The Chinese are also eyeing an expansion of a second Canadian pipeline system, and they're discussing gaining an interest in companies with oil leases.

Much of this interest centers on extracting oil from oil sands. In the U.S., prospects for an oil sands development during the energy crisis of the early 1970s never got off the ground. It was discussed along with coal gasification as a possible alternative to what the industry at the time insisted were declining reserves. But when prices were deregulated and rose, along with profitability, all the talk about coal gas and oil sands died down. For the big international oil companies, oil sands historically have been dicey because of the high development cost, and hence reduced profitability. However, as Kang Wu of the East-West Center in Honolulu told The New York Times last week, "For China, it is foremost about securing supply and secondly about profits." And that is one reason China is willing to go so far abroad.

China's energy consumption is up some 40 percent in the past year, making it the second-biggest energy consumer in the world, ahead of Japan. Its booming economy depends on fossil fuels, especially oil imports.

By 2020 China is expected to be importing two-thirds of its oil, some 80 percent of it from the Middle East. It currently imports oil from Oman and Yemen, and China has explored deals with Saudi Arabia. Its imports of natural gas come from the Middle East as well as from Australia, and there is a possibility of China importing Caspian Sea gas through an extensive pipeline that would run all the way from Shanghai across the country into the rich Caspian finds of Central Asia.

As China's energy needs grow, emphasis shifts to protecting supply lines running through South Asia, some of them close to the always contentious straits between Taiwan and China. For the U.S. military, protecting energy supply lines always has been a prime consideration of national security. And these economic shifts in Asia can only mean a further strain on U.S. military operations in that part of the world.

More immediately, a diversion of Canadian petroleum resources to China is about the worst thing that could happen to the U.S. Since the '70s energy crisis, we have been seeking to diversify supplies, trying to shed our dependence on the Middle East, and as a result the U.S. now relies increasingly on Canada and Mexico. We have always viewed Canadian energy resources as a backup—to be used when we are in need. To say they are taken for granted is an understatement. We view them as our own. Free trade makes that condition even more explicit. If Canada actually begins to commit resources to the Chinese, that will lead to more direct U.S. manipulation of Canadian politics and economics; right-wing Republicans will use the China-Canada deals as one more argument for stepped-up drilling in Alaska, the eastern front of the Rockies, and on the outer continental shelf, all of them areas where remaining U.S. petroleum stocks are located.

FOOD Agriculture, long our largest and most important industry, has heavily influenced American foreign policy. As the push west ended by the turn of the 20th century, we began to struggle to find markets for an increasing food surplus. The isolationists of the 1930s and today's conservative Republicans sought to expand farm exports to friend and enemy alike. We sold quantities of grain to the Soviet Union. Before the first Persian Gulf war, Bob Dole had visited Iraq in part to enhance Midwest grain exports to Saddam Hussein. Before that, at the height of the Cold War, Hubert Humphrey, as both senator from Minnesota and then as LBJ's vice president, concocted the Food for Peace program, which masked U.S. military intervention under the banner of cheap foodstuffs to developing countries that we worried were too nationalistic in their policies.

But the surplus has suddenly disappeared. For the first time in decades, the U.S. will not turn an agricultural trade surplus, the Economic Research Service reported on November 22. The Agriculture Department couldn't say why. It could not explain how Bush managed to run down a $13.6 billion agricultural trade surplus in 2001 to zero in 2005. "Ironically, the very thing farmers have been told for years would be their savior—a cheaper dollar—is worsening the ag trade balance," the Peoria, Illinois, Journal Star's Alan Guebert wrote in early December. "Despite the dollar's now falling to new lows against most of the world's major currencies, the U.S.'s 2005 ag exports will be $6.3 billion less than in 2004."

All signs are that the trade balance will get worse. Brazil now exports more soy products than we do. To boost Brazil's strength in soybeans, the Chinese have entered into a trade deal for farm products. They will open their borders to Brazilian beef, soy, and minerals, while China agrees to invest $5 billion to $7 billion in Brazilian roads, ports, and railways. Brazilian agriculture is becoming such a hot item that the Chicago Board of Trade is setting up a Brazilian soybean futures contract so that the financial institutions that have driven American farmers out of business can speculate on Brazil and get in on the action. Russia is growing more grain than expected, as is the Black Sea region.

Matters will get worse if the World Trade Organization forces us to reduce our trade barriers further. If the quota on Australian beef is abandoned, the market will be flooded with imports. A recent ban on Canadian beef due to mad-cow fears has reduced imports from the north. Once that is lifted, beef imports by the U.S. will increase.

Homeland Security officials argue that the food supply is not protected from germ and biological contamination. And if there are more imports, that danger will increase, especially because the food industry and Agriculture Department have lobbied hard to turn over inspection to private hands or abandon it altogether. The result, as the Canadian mad-cow experience demonstrates, is to turn the open U.S. border crossings into sluices for serious food-borne disease.

James Ridgeway
The Village Voice