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Military Industrial Complex - The Hunger Games Economy

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The Hunger Games Economy
Jeff Faux: Dreams of Wall St. and Military Industrial Complex are not compatible with dreams of American middle class
io
Jeff Faux is the Founder and now Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC. He is an activist, economist and writer, He has written extensively on issues from globalization to neighborhood development. His latest book is “The Servant Economy; Where America¹s Elite is Sending the Middle Class.”
Transcript
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.
There's been some debate amongst the American governing elite about America's place in the world and its declining power. Barack Obama went to Australia not long ago and declared that America will continue to be an Asia-Pacific power. And the issue of the Brzezinskian grand chessboard is still very much on their mind. But what does this maintaining America's position in the world mean for ordinary Americans? Who's going to pay for all this? When it comes to competitiveness, it really means wages, although that word doesn't get talked about very much, not in the mainstream press or in the halls of Congress.
Well, it does get talked about in a piece written by Jeff Faux, and he's now joining us. Jeff is a founder and distinguished fellow of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. He's an activist, economist, and writer. He's written extensively on issues from globalization to neighborhood development, and his latest book is The Servant Economy: Where America's Elite is Sending the Middle Class. Thanks very much for joining us, Jeff.
JEFF FAUX, AUTHOR: Oh, it's great to be here, Paul. Thank you.
JAY: So, I mean, clearly we are dealing with a different world. And it's not just that it's militarily different, in the sense that China's now somewhat of a power, so is Russia and—back somewhat of a power—I mean, nothing on the scale of the United States, but the geopolitics and chessboard has changed somewhat. But where it's changed a lot more is with this massive industrial capacity in areas of the world where 20, 30 years ago there was nothing like it—advanced technology, high-quality production, very low wages. And America wants to maintain its competitiveness in all of this. So talk a bit about that and what that might mean for ordinary Americans, and maybe what the word competitiveness means.
FAUX: Well, I think—start from what I think is the basic assumption, and that is the United States can no longer satisfy the three great dreams that have driven American politics over the last decades. The first dream is the dream of Wall Street and business for unregulated access to speculative profits. The second dream is the dream of the military and foreign-policy elite and the military-industrial complex for global hegemony. The third dream is the dream of ordinary Americans for a rising living standard.
Now, we can have one out of three, certainly. Two out of three, maybe. Three out of three? No way. So in effect the decision is being made right now—or has been made—by this country's elite.
There's a lot of talk in Washington, as you know, about the grand bargain between Republicans and Democrats over budgets and taxes. But the real deal has already been cut. The average American income in real wages is going to decline over the next 10 years, 15 years, as far into the future as we can see. Now, this has been coming for a long time. It's not just about the recession and it's not temporary. As you probably know, for the last 30 years we've had stagnant wages in America. After wages rise steadily since World War II, they flattened out after 1979 and essentially have been flat.
So the question is: if wages were flat, how come everything looked so good? That is, people went to shopping centers and bought cars and houses during those 30 years that ended in 2008. And the reason is two. One, family incomes kept up because we sent more members of the family to work, usually the wife. Now there are more women than men in the labor force so that that strategy for most people is exhausted. The second is debt. People weren't getting raises, but they were getting access to cheaper and accessible credit. That has evaporated with the collapse of the financial sector.
JAY: Jeff, before you continue, let me ask: so if this process more or less began in the '70s, why? What happened? Why? If you could—you know, to some extent one could say that third dream of ordinary Americans, you know, to own a house, send the kids to college, not to be terrified of losing their job, to some extent that's—dream was still possible, at least in the early '60s.
FAUX: Oh, yeah. And the reason—.
JAY: So what happens?
FAUX: Yeah. There are three things that happened since the end of the '70s. The data starts from 1979; the kink in the curve starts from 1979. One was globalization, and by that I mean, essentially, exposing American workers to a very brutal and competitive global labor market before they were prepared.
Second, the weakening of the bargaining position of the average American worker. A lot of that had to do with the decline of unions. But it affected union members and nonunion members. The second thing that happened was the weakening of the bargaining position of the average American worker. This was not just about weaker unions, but weaker unions played a key role, not just for union members, but for people who aren't union members. Because unions were strong—or certainly stronger than they are now—the threat of unionization kept the bosses and kept the employers from cutting wages too much, cutting pensions too much, even though they would have liked to. So weaker unions, weaker bargaining positions [crosstalk]
JAY: And is weaker unions and bargaining positions linked to number one, which is globalization and the threat of moving offshore?
FAUX: That's right, certainly linked to number one. And number three, later, was the shredding of the safety net, the real value of the minimum wage, and the kinds of New Deal protections for labor that have been frayed away over the last 10 or 15 years.
But on the first, on globalization, there's something very important here to remember, and that is it not only affected working people, but it changed the culture of the American elite. You know, if you go back to the early part of the 20th century, labor and capital were in fierce struggles. But both labor and capital knew that they needed each other and were stuck in the same country. So, you know, when Henry Ford raised the wages of his Ford employees to $5 a day, the Wall Street guys said, Henry, what are you doing here? I mean, you can't pay—you're spoiling these people, you're paying them too much. And Henry Ford, who was a SOB union buster, said, look, I've got to pay them enough to come in to make the cars, but I also need to pay them enough to buy the cars. So it was an economy in which, while there were labor and capital disputes, we were all in it together.
What happened—what's happened since the 1980s is that globalization, the deregulation of trade and investment, has allowed the American commercial and economic elite to roam the world in search of lower wages, in search of government subsidies by Third World countries, etc.
JAY: Yeah, so you now have a situation where they saved GM and Chrysler, but workers'—starting worker wages go from, what, $26 to $14 an hour, and you probably couldn't buy a new car at $14 an hour.
FAUX: Exactly. And unlike Henry Ford, the people who run the Ford Motor Company today, you know, have other people they can use to sell their cars to. And so high wages, which we sort of learned after the 1930s were good for the economy because it created consumer demand and consumers bought the goods that were being produced, high wages in America are no longer what they were. They're now a threat to multinational corporations who still produce and sell things. And that's been a critical change.
JAY: They also seem to no longer think they need an educated workforce. I used to—in the '50s and '60s, all this talk about, you know, America will compete because it's going to be the most educated working class and this and that, they don't seem to care anymore. The public school system can go to hell and they don't seem to care.
FAUX: They don't care. But that's sort of the last excuse of the political governing class. I mean, whether it's, you know, Barack Obama, George Bush, Bill Clinton, they're all the so-called education presidents, and their answer to this decline in living standards and wages is not to worry, just go get an education. Barack Obama was in Florida about a year ago touring the country, saying the way we're going to compete in the world is to out-educate everyone.
Well, first what's obvious: that we're shrinking the schools, we're laying off teachers, kids can't go to college because it costs too much. But second, which is really important, we are not creating jobs for educated young people. You go into Apple, in the Apple Store, there is the future. And it's not the technology. It's in all those smart college-educated kids working as retail clerks for $10, $12 an hour. The Bureau of Labour Statistics—government agency—projects that between 2010-2020, the largest, fastest-growing occupations in this country, of the ten largest and fastest-growing, only one requires a college education.
JAY: Well, Jeff, we're going to pick this up in part two, and what I'll be asking in part two is it seems to me while this may make sense for Apple and it may make sense for a lot of individual companies to drive wages down and have more and more service jobs, as an economy somebody's got to be making money to buy all this stuff, and that seems to be where the rub is. So join us for part two of our series of interviews with Jeff Faux on The Real News Network.

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نوروز و فروردین Image

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نوروز و فروردین

نوروز و فروردین نویسنده و گوینده: نیک پاکپورفرارسیدن فروردین و نوروز این فرادیس فروهر ها یا فره وش های فرهنگ فروزینه و فروزندهٔ آریايی زادگاه و زایشگاهٔ زیبنده زروان و زرتشت، این زایا و زایندهٔ مهر و میترائیسم، بر همه فرزندان فرهنجیده و فرهیخته ایران زمین، فرخنده و فرخجسته باد!امید است که فرارسیدن فروردین امسال، رویش و رهایش یا رستاخیز رُخشان، تاریخی باشد که بتوانند ایرانیان یکبار دیکر با همت همبستگی و همبودگی، همسانی و هم گرائی هوشیارانه و هوشمندانه، به همراه تمرین تلاش و تُخشای تهمتن گونه، بدون تفرقه و تفکیک ملی ـ میهنی، با غرور و غیرت، با غیظ ناشی از هویت و حیثیت ملی، با سلاح و سپر تجّدد و تمدن، تحول و تعقل، تتمه و ته ماندهٔ تفالهٔ تحجر با تاول تعفن، باقی مانده از فرهنگ فژاگن فرودستان تازی تعزیرگر، در حال تلاشی و تباهی را با ترکش و تکانی تاریخی به تکفینی ابدی رهسپار سازنند!گوینده این ویدئو را با آفرین و فریشی پارسایانه و پیام رسانه به پیشگاهٔ همه ماندگان و یادماندگان اصیل، با عاطفه و اخلاق ایرانی ـ آریائی که بیش از سه دهه دهشتناک تاریخی ایست که بخاطر باورمندی به ملیت و منتهای مدنیت ملی به همراه فرمان ستیزی سزنده و سزاوار علیه عبودیت و عفن عملهٔ عمال عمامهٔ عرب تازی، از مشاهده منظره زرین و زرفام سرزمین مزدای بی همتای مهر و میترائی ملک ایران زمین باز نگه داشته شده اند، تقدیم می نمایم.

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نویسنده و گوینده: نیک پاکپور

گفتگوئی آشورنده و آژیرنده، بصیرنده و بسیجنده پیرامون کشتار و گردن زدن بیست و یک کارگر مسیحی ـ مصری به سبک سبعانه و سفاکانهٔ آئین اسلام اصیل تازی در کرانه و کنارهٔ سواحل دریائی لیبی.

اگر بخواهیم با سنبه یا سُوندی سنباننده و سگالنده به سفتن و سوراخ کردن مدخل و مجرای کارنامه کژین و کینه توزانه یا ترازنامهٔ تعفن بار و تبهکارانهٔ تاریخ سراسر توحش و ترور، تحجر و تخلف، تحقیر و توهین، آئین ابلیسانه و آدم خوارانهٔ قوم و قبایل قتالگر و قصاصگر قشری قمه کشان و قطع اندام گران ام القرائی، یعنی بادیه نشینان یا برزخیان بهیمه، بربر و بیابانی شریر و شیطانی، را بر اساس آیات و احادیث، قرائن و قوائد قصابانهٔ قرآنی، باز کنیم.

Europe

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Turkey: Special forces enter Istanbul courthouse after prosecutor taken hostage

Special forces could be seen entering the Istanbul courthouse after it was revealed that prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz had been taken hostage in his room, Tuesday. Some local media reported they heard gunfire in the building. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------To use this footage please contact the Ruptly Client Desk: cd@ruptly.tvVideo ID: 20150331-028----------------------------------Twitter: http://twitter.com/RuptlyVK: https://vk.com/ruptlytvFacebook: http://www.facebook.com/RuptlyLiveLeak: http://www.liveleak.com/c/RuptlyVine: https://vine.co/RuptlyInstagram: http://www.instagram.com/RuptlyGoogle Plus: http://google.com/+RuptlyTVYouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/RuptlyTVDailyMotion: http://www.dailymotion.com/ruptlyVideo on Demand: http://www.ruptly.tv

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Middle east

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Blindfolded, bound - and led to their deaths by children

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United state

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The Fed Sits on Interest Rates Waiting Greater Recovery Image

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The Fed Sits on Interest Rates Waiting Greater Recovery

Professor Robin Hahnel of E3 Network says Yellen is acting in the public interest and does not want to derail slow and tepid recovery

The Fed Sits on Interest Rates Waiting Greater Recovery
Professor Robin Hahnel of E3 Network says Yellen is acting in the public interest and does not want to derail slow and tepid recovery - March 20, 2015

Robin Hahnel is Professor Emeritus in the Economics Department at American University and a Research Associate at Portland State University. He is author of Green Economics: Confronting the Ecological Crisis (2011) as well as numerous academic journal articles on climate change policy. He is best known as co-creator of the alternative to capitalism known as "participatory economics." His most recent books are Economic Justice and Democracy (2005), Of the People, By the People: The Case for a Participatory Economy (2012), The ABCs of Political Economy (2014), and Alternatives to Capitalism: Proposals for a Democratic Economy (2014) with Erik Olin Wright.
Transcript
The Fed Sits on Interest Rates Waiting Greater RecoverySHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
The Federal Reserve chair, Janet Yellen, on Wednesday once again sent out signals that the Fed is considering raising interest rates, but for the moment she would keep it hovering at the low levels of below 0.5 percent, where it has been for the last six years. Let's have a look at what she had to say.
~~~
YELLEN: Well, it's still the case that we consider it unlikely that economic conditions will warrant an increase in the target range at the April meeting. Such an increase could be warranted at any later meeting depending on how the economy evolved. Slacken in the labor market continues to diminish. Meanwhile, the labor force participation rate, the percentage of working-age Americans either working or seeking work, is lower than most estimates of its trend. And wage growth remains sluggish, suggesting that some cyclical weakness persists.
~~~
PERIES: Now to decipher all of that Fed talk I'm joined by Robin Hahnel. He is professor emeritus at the American University and research affiliate of Portland State University and codirector of the economics for equity and the environment, the E3 network.
Thank you so much for joining us, Robin.
ROBIN HAHNEL, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, ECONOMICS, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Very good to be with you today.
PERIES: So, Robin, tell us what the key strokes were in the announcement in plain English, if you may.
HAHNEL: Yes. Translating from Fed speak, Janet Yellen is doing everything within her power to slow down the pressure that she's under to start raising interest rates here in the United States. We actually have a news network that today sort of asked the question, is Janet Yellen too socialist? And I think that's actually a good way for people to sort of understand what's going on.
As much as any chairperson of the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States can be, she is actually trying the best she can to act in the interests of the general public, which is quite unusual. And so she is trying to delay as long as possible raising interest rates in the United States, mostly because she doesn't want to derail the sort of slow and tepid recovery that's going on and she understands that raising interest rates prematurely and too rapidly would have the significant danger that it would slow our recovery. And she's pointing out that there is no sign that there is inflation on the horizon, that the only reason the Fed should have to be raising interest rates really is if there is inflationary pressure and if there is a danger of inflation. And the people trying to convince the Fed to raise interest rates keeps claiming that we need to do this to prevent inflation, but they have no evidence on that side.
PERIES: Robin, you were saying earlier that she's under pressure to raise interest rates. Under pressure from whom? And how does raising interest rates actually address inflation?
HAHNEL: Well, she's under pressure from the Republican Party. They would probably criticize her no matter what she did at this point, since she was appointed by Obama. And she's under pressure from people who are not really interested in having the unemployment rate go down any further and who certainly are not interested in having wage rates go up. And that's what's not happened. There's been improvement in unemployment, but there's still no sign that wage rates are actually improving and benefiting from an improving labor market. So, clearly employers don't want to wages go up and they'd like to see the Fed start to tightening on interest rates.
Now, the way it works is that if the interest rates are higher, then businesses will borrow less and invest less. You will basically take some steam out of business investment and hiring.
HAHNEL: The interest rates that the Fed sets at lower than 0.5 percent, hovering around there, is really the interest rates that it lends to other banks or offers to other banks. This is not the interest rate that's transferred to us when we, as a small business owner, wants to go out and borrow some money.
HAHNEL: That is correct. The Fed controls the interest rate at which they lend the banks. But if that interest rate goes up, then the interest rate the banks will be charging consumer customers and business customers and borrowers will also go up. So it is true that the Fed doesn't set the interest rate that consumers pay, the Fed doesn't set the interest rate, the prime rate that businesses pay when they borrow from banks. Nonetheless, when the Fed is making it cheaper for the banks to borrow, then that makes it cheaper for--then the banks will also be lending at lower interest rates.
Now, what they're talking about is the Fed's going to raise the interest rates that they charge the banks, and then predictably the banks will be raising the interest rates that they charge others.
The other thing that comes to play here that's important is that when interest rates in the United States rise, then that will have an effect that will strengthen the value of the dollar as a currency against other currencies. And that has a big effect on lots of actors in the global economy, and it particularly would have an effect on the ability of U.S. businesses to export products. So when you raise interest rates, you dampen business investment, and that slows down recovery. And when you raise interest rates and that increases the value of the dollar and reduces exports, well, then fewer exports means fewer jobs creating those goods and producing those goods for export. So that's the concern that she has. She doesn't want to dampen exports and dampen investment while the economy in the U.S. is still in a very tepid recovery and in particular wages have yet to really see any benefit.
PERIES: And you agree with that move?
HAHNEL: Yes. I think--yes. The fact that the powers that be are criticizing her as being maybe you're being too much of a socialist as the chair of the Fed is an excellent signal to the rest of us that she's actually doing what we would like her to do that was best for most of us.
PERIES: Apparently the market is now dealing with several other investment bubbles that are going on. Can you tell us more about that? And how does that impact the decisions she made today?
HAHNEL: I mean, the truth of the matter is that what the Federal Reserve Bank the United States does, I mean, has tremendous impacts all of the world. And one of the things that I think that chairwoman Yellen is concerned about is the fact that the low interest rates for the long, long period of time that have been necessary because there was very little fiscal stimulus in the United States--we haven't had fiscal stimulus since 2009, and there's not any sign that we're going to have any fiscal stimulus with Republicans controlling Congress.
So what's happened in that context is that the Federal Reserve, first under Bernanke and now under Yellen, they were the ones that had to do something to pull us out of the Great Recession, and they did that by basically just flooding the banks with cheap money.
Now, one of the problems with that is--and I think that chairwoman Yellen is aware of this--that can also create bubbles. It can create a stock market bubble. It can create housing bubble. And I think my own guess would be that besides the fact that she has to get other people on the board to vote with her, to delay the raise in the interest rates--I mean, she can't just do this by herself. She sort of--it's a delicate political game, where there's votes that she has to be sure that she can get. Besides just trying to delay as long as she can raising of interest rates, I think the one thing that would make her want to raise interest rates is if she sees a housing bubble that's going to get out of control again. And having all that cheap money out there in the housing market I think has started to create--there is some--whereas there's no indication that we're having inflation yet, I think you can begin to see the signs of another asset bubble. And that would concern Yellen, and it should concern all of us.
PERIES: And this is largely in the housing market or elsewhere?
HAHNEL: Well, it could be in the stock market. One of the amusing things of today's story was that she's being accused of being a socialist, and yet the response from--the stock market response was to say, oh, we're so glad you're not raising interest rates yet, so stock prices went up. So maybe socialism is good for the stock market. Who knows? It's not really, but it's rather interesting.
The other place that rising interest rates and a rising value of the dollar has a big effect--and the chairwoman of the IMF was talking about this recently--that in Third World countries, there's been a lot of borrowing--private borrowing, not government borrowing, in Third World economies during this past year, two, three, four years. And that private borrowing is in dollars sometimes. And the interest rate has been very low. Now, if interest rates go up and if the dollar goes up in value and the people who have to pay off those loans get their income in foreign currencies, this could create a sort of wave of bankruptcies in Third World economies. And the IMF, as it should be, is quite concerned with that. So that's another implication of a change in Fed policy that might trigger a situation in important parts of the global economy that would be very unfortunate.
PERIES: Robin, thank you so much for joining us today.
HAHNEL: It's very good to be with you.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
End

Silicon Valley Democrats Pursuing High-Skill Immigration Reform Image

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Silicon Valley Democrats Pursuing High-Skill Immigration Reform

Republicans along with many progressive groups oppose the reform, arguing that it's a front for keeping wages low in the Information Technology sector by bringing in cheap labor from abroad

Silicon Valley Democrats Pursuing High-Skill Immigration Reform
Republicans along with many progressive groups oppose the reform, arguing that it's a front for keeping wages low in the Information Technology sector by bringing in cheap labor from abroad - March 19, 2015

THOMAS HEDGES, TRNN PRODUCER: On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee met to discuss immigration reform concerning high-skilled foreign workers. Many in Congress want to increase the number of H1-B visas it issues for immigrants seeking tech industry jobs in particular. While most Democrats support the measure, Republicans oppose the legislation, because they say it would put American jobs and wages at risk.
SENATOR CHARLES GRASSLEY (R-IOWA): Most people believe that employers are supposed to recruit Americans before they petition for an H1-B worker, or that they're supposed to hire a U.S. worker if that person is equally or better qualified. And of course, we've found out that's just not true. Over the years the program has become a government-assisted way for employers to bring in cheaper foreign labor.
HEDGES: Progressive groups like the Economic Policy Institute are siding this time with Republicans, arguing that reform is a ploy to reduce employee wages. Last month that argument became reality when the electric utility company Southern California Edison replaced some five hundred of its IT workers with H1-B workers from India. Ron Hira of the Economic Policy Institute said in his testimony before the committee that the massive layoff was emblematic of the issue at large.
RON HIRA, ECONOMIC POLICY INSTITUTE: And we see this again in the Southern California Edison case. This is a perfect definitive case study of H1-B workers being paid below what American workers were being paid. The Southern California Edison IT workers, American workers, were being paid $110,000 a year. Their H1-B replacements are being paid $70,000 a year. And Southern California Edison is not alone. It's not an isolated case. It's Disney, it's Harley Davidson, it's Northeast Utilities. It's Xerox up in Rochester, New York.
HEDGES: Reform efforts for high-skill workers began two years ago when Silicon Valley leaders like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg launched a fierce lobbying campaign to push Washington Democrats to open the floodgates for additional labor. They argue that America's tech industry has seen a shortage of applicants in the last decade. However, in a report from PBS News Hour from 2013, Rutgers professor Hal Salzman, who also testified on Tuesday, found that assertion to be false. He found instead that U.S. colleges graduate far more scientists and engineers than find employment in those fields every year, about two hundred thousand more, while the IT industry fills about two thirds of its entry-level positions with guest workers.
Jay Palmer is a whistleblower who in 2012 stepped forward over the process of training those guest workers. He told the committee on Tuesday that as a consultant for an IT company called Infosys he saw how the driving factor behind recruiting H1-B visa workers was not about immigration rights, but rather an effort to degrade wages within the country by exploiting not only foreign workers, but the middle class Americans who were training them and then subsequently being replaced.
JAY PALMER: We brought in H1-B workers, didn't matter if you had skills or not. We brought them in, I set them in cubicles and watched the Americans train them, only in the name of the dollar. I'm here to day to talk a little bit about who can't be here today and talk. I am the displaced American worker that can't speak out due to being harassed, blackballed, or possibly sued. The one who is forced to sign the non-disparaging marks agreement in order to get a severance package. The employee that my company chose not to invest in, but in order to replace me with cheaper labor. Cheaper labor that I had to train. Train to do my job, that I learned over the past fifteen or twenty years. They call it knowledge transfer, but we all know that's an illusion. It's all about cheaper labor. I read a statement that companies had come to certain senators and said we don't have enough skilled workers. Send me the companies. I'll send you workers.
In closing, I watched this on a daily basis, of Americans being displaced. I sat in the offices in meetings with companies that displaced American workers, only because the Americans that had been there fifteen or twenty years were being paid too much money. I stayed at night and helped these people that came over on H1-Bs learn skills. They're not skilled workers. These companies bombard our system with H1-B applications, and whoever gets them, they're sent over no matter their skill level. I know, I watched it.
HEDGES: For The Real News, Thomas Hedges, Washington.
End

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  • Battle for Tikrit: Iraq declares victory over Isis - but militants make ominous advances on Damascus in neighbouring Syria
    Baghdad celebrates its first real success against the jihadists, but fighters have taken over large parts of a refugee camp not far from the heart of Damascus By Patrick Cockburn "The Independent | News" War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital Iraq’s Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, joined in a triumphal parade through the centre of Tikrit today as he his government claimed victory over Isis after a month-long battle for the city.Joined by the provincial Governor and leaders of the army, police and Shia militias, he waved an Iraqi flag and announced that his forces had captured the centre of Tikrit, in what would be the first real success for the Iraqi army since it lost northern and western Iraq to the so-called Islamic State last year.His Defence Minister, Khalid al-Obeidi, said: “We have the pleasure, with all our pride, to announce the good news of a magnificent victory.”Naming two Iraqi provinces still under Isis control, he added: “Here we come to you, Anbar! Here we come to you, Nineveh.” The Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi waves his national flag while celebrating the retaking of the city of Tikrit (Getty) But at the very moment that there was jubilation in Baghdad over the long-awaited seizure of Tikrit, famous as Saddam Hussein’s home town, Isis made a significant advance close to the centre of the capital of neighbouring Syria.The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Isis fighters had taken over a large part of Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, not far from the heart of Damascus.The Iraqi government is seeking to play up the fall of Tikrit as the beginning of the end of Isis and suggesting that the recapture of the rest of Iraq will soon follow. Mr Abadi was himself restrained in his claim, saying that “our security forces have reached the centre of Tikrit and they have liberated the southern and western sides and they are now moving towards the control of the whole city”. Other sources say that several hundred fighters were still resisting, using snipers and booby traps in three neighbourhoods and in an old palace complex in the north of the city. The government’s forces have taken the Governor’s headquarters and the main hospital.For all the official euphoria, the slow pace of the assault on Tikrit, a small Sunni Arab city that once had a population of 200,000, is not a good omen for further advances. The attack began on 2 March with some 20,000 Shia militiamen encircling the city with only 3,000 government soldiers, some special forces and 1,000 Sunni tribal fighters. The operation appears to have been under the control of Iranian officers and the Iraqi government was only told about it at the last moment.The US, suspicious of an Iranian-led militia assault, was not at first asked for air support and did not give it until the last week, following a request by Mr Abadi. A member from the Iraqi security forces beats an Isis insurgent, who was captured in Tikrit (Reuters)Isis appears to have decided that it would not fight to the end in Tikrit, where its forces would have to engage in a slogging match against greatly superior numbers backed by artillery. The jihadist group is at its most effective when its forces act as guerrillas rather than as a regular army defending or attacking fixed positions.Over the winter it suffered its first serious defeat when it failed to take the Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobani in a siege of 134 days during which it suffered heavy losses from some 700 US air strikes. Over the last week, the US has started to use its air power in Tikrit, though Shia militias said they would not fight in the city if there were American air attacks.Whether the US suspended its air strikes is not clear, but the very fact that this was demanded by the militiamen shows the great animosities between different members of the anti-Isis coalition. Even if Baghdad claims to have won the battle for Tikrit it has still to rebuild an army that can take on Isis by itself. It is important to do so – and show that the army is more than just another Shia militia – if the government is to reassure the Sunni Arab community that its future is not bound up with that of Isis. Iraqi security forces playing football in Tikrit after their country declared a 'magnificent victory' in the city (Reuters)Isis has been busily conscripting soldiers throughout its self-declared caliphate and may well think it has greater military opportunities in Syria than Iraq. The Syrian army has suffered a series of setbacks in recent weeks north of Aleppo and has lost the provincial capital of Idlib to Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate that was founded by Isis in 2012 but later split from it. The Syrian army is short of recruits after four years of war and shows signs of being fought out.The takeover by Isis of part of Yarmouk Camp in southern Damascus, a city that has been under siege by the group for two years, may mean that its commanders believe it is better to attack here than engage in a battle of attrition at Tikrit, which they are bound to lose. Isis is said to control some main streets in the camp after clashing with a Palestinian group, Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis.The United Nations has been trying to feed tens of thousands of Palestinians trapped in the camp with nowhere else to go.The almost comical divisions between the different forces attacking Tikrit – with the Iranian-backed militiamen apparently refusing to fight if there are US air strikes in their support – makes it doubtful that there will be an offensive any time soon to recapture the northern capital of Mosul, which is 10 times larger than Tikrit. Nevertheless, grindingly slow though the recapture of Tikrit may have been, it is the first real success of the Iraqi government in its war with Isis and it will make the most of it.    
  • Dozens dead as Russian trawler with 130+ aboard sinks in Sea of Okhotsk
    By RT A rescue operation is underway to save the multinational crew of the Russian freezer trawler “Dalniy Vostok” which has sunk in the Sea of Okhotsk off the Kamchatka Peninsula. At least 43 have been confirmed dead while 63 have survived the catastrophe.“A total of 106 people were lifted from the water, 53 of them are alive,” a representative of the Kamchatka division of the Russian Emergencies Ministry told RIA.“The rescue mission in the area of the sunken trawler is being led [by] nearby vessels in the area. Their crew is bringing up sailors from Dalniy Vostok from the rafts aboard their ships,” Chief of Maritime Rescue of the seaport of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky Arthur Retz told Interfax.The local branch of the ministry reported that the trawler sunk in about 15 minutes after its engine compartment had been flooded. Ice collision may have been the cause of the accident. According to information from the rescuers, many sailors on board Dalniy Vostok managed to put on rescue vests as the ship sank. Траулер «Дальний Восток» затонул у берегов КамчаткиBy Новости Mail.Ru @news_mailruМосква. 2 апреля. INTERFAX.RU - Большой автономный морозильный траулер (БАТМ) "Дальний Восток" затонул в Охотском море южнее залива Шелехова у берегов Камчатки, известно о восьми погибших,… A source from the rescue services told Sputnik that more than half of the crew members on board Dalniy Vostok, around 70, could be foreigners.“According to preliminary data, besides Russians the crew included nationals of Burma, Vanuatu, Latvia and Ukraine,” the source said.The ‘Granit’ vessel, the captain of which is charged with overseeing the rescue operation, brought on board eight bodies alongside 25 sailors from the sunken ship, Retz said.Another ship, ‘Ivan Kalinin’ brought up two sailors, one of whom is injured. The ‘Victoria 1’ ship secured 15 sailors in the region while ‘Aleksey Chirikov’ brought up from the waves one body and three sailors.“The state of emergency became known on Thursday morning,” Retz said.Shortly after the incident, the head of maritime rescue noted that visibility around the accident site was 24 kilometers, with winds of up to 10 meters per second. The water temperature is around zero degrees Celsius, while the waves were reaching some 1.5 meters in height. He also noted that about 132 people are believed to have been aboard the ship.The trawler Dalniy Vostok is assigned to the port of Nevelsk and belongs to a company called ‘Magellan’.
  • The most powerful passports in the world revealed
    The Visa Restrictions Index analyses countries ability to travel visa-free. The latest results were based on results from May 20, 2014 By MailOnline TOP RATED COUNTRIES 1) Finland= Germany= Sweden= USA= United Kingdom (174 points) 2) Canada= Denmark (173 points) 3) Belgium= France= Italy= Japan = Korea (Republic of South)= Luxembourg= Netherlands= Portugal= Spain (172 points)  The most powerful passports in the world revealed (and the ones that barely let you travel anywhere)Henley and Partners's Visa Restrictions Index calculates travel freedomIt is based on the number of countries citizens can visit visa-freeThe best passports include those from Finland, USA, Germany and the UKLowest ranking countries include Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan Owning a passport opens up a world of possibility and freedom for travellers - or so you would think.In some countries around the world, even if you are lucky enough to have access to the government-issued documents, you are still restricted and barred from several countries. Henley and Partners created a Visa Restrictions Index, which ranks countries globally in accordance to the travel freedom enjoy their inhabitants enjoy - with some surprising results. Where it might be expected that countries such as North Korea and possibly Cuba could take the bottom spots for the most restricted travel freedom, they actually place at 86 and 69 respectively, from a ranking of a total of 94.Each country was given a score by global consulting firm Henley and Partners, who specialise in residence and citizenship planning.The score was calculated based on visa regulations of all countries and territories in the world, and the number of other countries that their citizens can travel to without having to obtain a visa.Taking the lowest spots were Afghanistan (ranked at 94 and able to visit 28 countries visa-free), Iraq, (able to visit 31 countries), Pakistan and Somalia (able to visit 32 countries) and the Palestinian Territory (able to visit 35).This was juxtaposed by Finland, Germany, Sweden, the UK and the US, in first position, who are able to access 174 countries visa-free.Henley and Partners said: 'In today's globalised world, visa restrictions play an important role in controlling the movement of foreign nationals across borders.'Almost all countries now require visas from certain non-nationals who wish to enter their territory.'Visa requirements are also an expression of the relationships between individual nations, and generally reflect the relations and status of a country within the international community of nations. '    
  • War With Iran, by the Numbers (Video)
    By Juan Cole (Truthsdig) his post originally ran on Juan Cole’s website.Sen. John McCain and others on the American Right are in favor of dropping those pesky negotiations with Iran and just bombing their nuclear enrichment sites. Doing so, however, would only set them back a year or so, and would certainly put Iran on a war footing with the USA. Those who think such bombing runs would be the end of the story, however, are fooling themselves. Bombing Iraq in 1991 and the no-fly zone had a lot to do with taking the USA down the path to a ground war in 2003. Bombing now will almost certainly lead to a similar ground war.Iran is 2.5 times more populous than Iraq and much bigger geographically. It is likely that Iran war numbers would be three times those of Iraq, at least.Casualties from a strike on Bushehr Nuclear Plant: Hundreds of thousands. Likely US troop deaths: 15,000Likely US troops lightly injured: 270,000Likely US troops more seriously wounded: 90,000Direct cost of war: $5.1 trillionCost of caring for wounded troops over lifetime: $9 trillion to $18 trillionLikely Iranian deaths: 300,000 to 1 millionLikely Iranian injured: 900,0000 to 3 millionIranian displaced: 12 million (out of 75 million)Opportunity cost to US: $23 trillion of infrastructure, health care improvement Related video:CNN: ” Nuclear dangers as Iran deal deadline nears” 
  • Daily chart Capital crimes (GRAPHIC VIDEOS)
    By The Economist THE world is gradually moving away from capital punishment. At the end of 2014, 98 countries had abolished the death penalty, compared with 59 countries in 1995. The number of countries carrying out executions has halved. Last year at least 607 people were executed in 22 countries, 22% fewer than in 2013, according to Amnesty International, a human-rights organisation. In America, one of only two rich countries alongside Japan to practice the death penalty, fewer executions were carried out in 2014 than in recent years. Yet the true global picture is unknown because thousands of people are believed to be executed in China each year, where official figures are considered a state secret. International law requires that capital punishment be reserved for the "most serious" crimes, such as murder. This is routinely ignored. In China alone there are 55 capital crimes, including economic crimes such as corruption (which account for 15% of executions, reckons Amnesty) and drug offences (8%). The war on drugs is enthusiastically waged in many countries. Half of all executions in Iran and Saudi Arabia are for such crimes. Indonesia has reinstated the death penalty for a raft of drug crimes, declaring a “national emergency”. It had not executed anyone in 2014; six people were put to death in January this year. The prosecution of terrorism is also expanding. In Iraq, nearly all executions were for terrorism. In addition to Cameroon and the United Arab Emirates, which extended capital punishment to terrorist-related offences, Pakistan reversed a moratorium on the death penalty for civilians in December of 2014, following the Peshawar school massacre. Though initially applied solely to terrorist charges, the sentence was expanded to include all charges and 8,200 death row prisoners, or half the global total, on March 10th. Since the moratorium was lifted, 64 people have been executed in Pakistan—more than in Iraq during the whole of 2014.The End! Islamic Execution of Iranian woman (Full Video) By Nikpress Barbaric Execution According Islamic Law in Three Islamic States By Nikpress  
  • Spinning towards agreement
    But there is still work to be done to convince the sceptics By The Economist TALKs in Lausanne between Iran and six world powers on a ground-breaking deal to constrain its nuclear programme, in return for the staged lifting of sanctions, ran straight through their March 31st deadline; the negotiators decided in the wee hours of April 1st to give themselves another day to haggle. The cause of the over-run was tension between the fuzzy declaration of principles that the Iranians would prefer and the detailed framework agreement that the Americans need to persuade a sceptical Congress to postpone a vote on new sanctions when it returns on April 14th.The Americans want precise numbers on how many uranium enrichment centrifuges Iran can spin, how much uranium it can hold and how much plutonium can come out of a reactor at Arak. The Iranians want to avoid specifics on nuclear limits at this stage, while securing firm commitments on the lifting of sanctions, particularly those imposed by the UN. On sanctions, the West wants automatic “snap-back” if any serious violation by Iran is detected, which the Iranians reject.All this makes it unlikely that whatever comes of these negotiations will be seen as historic. If a comprehensive agreement is signed by the end of June it will be regarded as an important milestone passed on the way. But if the process collapses, this accord will have been the high-water mark of a brave effort that met with failure.The apparent inability to nail down critical details and the number of issues that remained unresolved means that the next round of the negotiations will be even harder than these. The broad aim is to leave Iran free from most sanctions and far enough from the ability to make a nuclear weapon that, if it were to head in that direction, America and its allies would have time to forestall it. This would reduce the incentives for other regional powers, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to move towards the nuclear threshold themselves.The yardstick is Iran’s “breakout capability”—the time it would take to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one device. Extending it from a couple of months—the situation today—to at least a year is a sensible, quantifiable goal. Iran had previously indicated it would cut its number of operating centrifuges to about 6,500. Not yet agreed is the amount of low-enriched uranium Iran will be allowed to stockpile—a variable that dictates the number of centrifuges it can keep.Centrifugal forcesHowever, the biggest problems which still need to be tackled lie elsewhere. There remains ambiguity about what rights the Iranians will have to continue nuclear research and development. They are working on centrifuges up to 20 times faster than today’s which they want to start deploying when the agreement’s first ten years are up. The worry is that better centrifuges reduce the size of the clandestine enrichment facilities that Iran would need to build if it were intent on escaping the agreement’s strictures.That leads to the issue on which everything else will eventually hinge. Iran has a long history of lying about its nuclear programme. It only declared its two enrichment facilities, Natanz and Fordow, after Western intelligence agencies found out about them. A highly intrusive inspection and verification regime is thus essential, and it would have to continue long after other elements of an agreement expire. Inspectors from the IAEA would have to be able to inspect any facility, declared or otherwise, civil or military, on demand.Such powers for the IAEA are a lot more sweeping than those it has under the safeguard agreements that are part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. They go beyond those that the so-called “additional protocol” gives the IAEA, powers that allow it not only to verify that declared nuclear material is not being squirrelled away for military use but also to check for undeclared nuclear material and activities. But in Iran’s case such unprecedented powers are seen as essential.For a deal to be done in June, Iran will have to consent to such an inspection regime. It will also have to address about a dozen questions posed by the IAEA over the “possible military dimensions” of its nuclear programme. Yet on March 23rd Yukiya Amano, the agency’s director, said that Iran had replied to only one of those questions. Parchin, a military base which the IAEA believes may have been used for testing the high-explosive fuses that are needed to implode, and thus set off, the uranium or plutonium at the core of a bomb, remains out of bounds. Nor has the IAEA been given access to Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the physicist and Revolutionary Guard officer alleged to be at the heart of the weapons development research. The IAEA’s February 19th report on Iran stated that it “remains concerned about the possible existence—of undisclosed nuclear-related activities—including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”Iran says that it will sign up to stringent new inspections only when all the main elements of the deal are in place. But its lack of cooperation with the IAEA does not bode well. Even if this week produces a limited success, it would be well to remember the negotiator’s watchword: “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
  • The New Great Game Round-Up: March 31, 2015
    By Christoph Germann | March 31, 2015 Guangzhou: New Hot Spot of China's War on Terror, Obama's Decision to Slow Withdrawal Undermines Afghan Peace Talks & More*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players. In recent weeks, Uyghur terrorists have been making headlines in several countries, ranging from Turkey to Indonesia and of course China. The Chinese authorities are increasingly concerned that Uyghur would-be terrorists who travel to the Middle East could return and fuel the insurgency in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Xinjiang's party chief Zhang Chunxian revealed during a meeting at the annual session of the National People's Congress that local authorities "have broken up terror groups who were plotting violent attacks on Chinese soil after fighting in battles in Syria with the IS." Although ISIS's threat to China is often exaggerated, Beijing's concerns are not unfounded. As discussed in a recent episode of Porkins Great Game, efforts are underway to smuggle Uyghurs out of China and turn them into jihadist mercenaries for U.S.-NATO terror operations. In order to nip the threat in the bud, Beijing wants to prevent Uyghurs from fleeing the country and catch those who have left:China's Secret Plan to Track Militants and Bring Them Home Days after Indonesia arrested four Uighur terrorism suspects in September in the country’s east, China dispatched three intelligence officers to ask authorities to hand them over. While Indonesia initially demurred, China has now secured a preliminary agreement for the men to be returned after a trial in Jakarta, according to Irfan Idris, a senior official at Indonesia’s anti-terrorism agency. The four, who are yet to be charged, face potential execution if repatriated. China pressed for the deal as part of a global operation begun last year to return terrorism suspects to Chinese soil, according to two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the initiative is confidential. Many of the suspects are members of the Turkic-speaking Uighur Muslim minority, they said.…Guangzhou: New Hot Spot of China's War on Terror The suspects in question are believed to be part of the group that carried out the horrific knife attack at Kunming's railway station in March of last year. Given that China just executed three men for leading the Kunming attack, it is safe to assume that the arrested Uyghurs will be executed if the Indonesian authorities hand them over. The four men and five other Uyghurs, who managed to escape, had entered Indonesia from Malaysia with Turkish passports, posing as asylum seekers. This has become a preferred strategy among Uyghur insurgents. Turkey's role in all of this was exposed at the beginning of this year in the course of the ongoing tug-of-war between Beijing and Ankara over Uyghur refugees in Thailand. While Turkey is playing the benevolent guardian of all Uyghurs, China is trying to convince the rest of the world that not all Uyghurs leaving the country are innocent refugees:South China now favoured way out of country for IS recruits: terrorism expert China's southern seaboard has replaced the mountainous and tightly guarded western frontier as the preferred route for Islamic extremists to slip recruits out of the country, according to a leading expert on terrorism. Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, claimed that "over 400 Uygurs have left, most through Hong Kong via Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to join the IS [Islamic State]". Gunaratna's claim comes as a leaked Guangdong police document revealed that the authorities broke up a Pearl River Delta syndicate that smuggled at least six Uygurs to Macau on February 18 and 24. The document said the syndicate was planning to smuggle more Uygurs hiding in Guangzhou, Foshan and Zhongshan to Macau before police busted the ring on March 2.…A spokesman for the Hong Kong Police Force played down the issue, saying that the city's terrorist threat level remained moderate but the recent emergence of ISIS flyers in Hong Kong suggests that there might be something to Gunaratna's claim. Citing Hong Kong news reports, U.S.-based Chinese political news outlet Duowei News pointed out that Indonesian domestic helpers in Hong Kong have been receiving leaflets encouraging them to join ISIS. Even more interesting is the flyer's assertion that recruits will be sent to "carry out missions" in Xinjiang. The authorities in Hong Kong are clearly alarmed by the ISIS flyers and the same is probably true of the authorities in mainland China. As the above-mentioned break-up of another smuggling operation shows, China's fight against terrorists and would-be terrorists is not confined to Xinjiang. Southern China is becoming an increasingly important part of the battlefield. Uyghurs who are hiding in and around Guangzhou, the capital and largest city of Guangdong province, have caused a lot of trouble in recent weeks:Police shot dead two Uygur women before railway knife attack in Guangzhou Police shot dead two ethnic Uygur women who resisted arrest and detained more than a dozen Uygur men during a late-night raid in a village outside Guangzhou just hours before the knife attack at the city's main railway station on March 6, which left 13 people injured, witnesses said. Residents of Xiniujiao - or Rhino Horn - village who witnessed the police raid told the Sunday Morning Post that more than 100 officers, some of them armed, had swooped on the suspects during the Lantern Festival on March 5. Three knife-wielding men attacked passers-by and passengers at random in the rail attack earlier this month. Police have been tightlipped about the ethnicity of the assailants, saying only that one had been shot dead and another arrested.…According to Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao, the perpetrators of the knife attack at Guangzhou's railway station had planned to be smuggled to Macau before traveling to the Middle East via Southeast Asia to join ISIS. But they were forced to stay in Guangzhou after the boat they had arranged sank late last month. Four days after the break-up of the above-mentioned smuggling ring and hours after police raided a group of 40 Uyghur terror suspects from Xinjiang hiding in an apartment in Guangzhou's Baiyun district, the men launched the attack, resembling the Kunming attack in many ways. Guangzhou appears to be the new hot spot in China's fight against smuggling and terrorism. A few days ago, the South China Morning Post broke the very interesting story of a self-claimed "American scholar," who visited South China Normal University to recruit Uyghurs and smuggle them to Malaysia:Terrorists 'recruited Uygur students at Guangzhou university' Uygur students in Guangzhou have been warned to stay away from "outsiders" after several were recruited by a suspected religious extremist and had been missing since last year, various sources told the South China Morning Post. A man claiming to be a US national conducting social science research visited the campus of the South China Normal University [SCNU] last year. Sources said the man recruited several Uygur students, gave them money and arranged for them to flee to Malaysia. It is not clear if Malaysia was their final destination, or whether they were headed for Turkey or Syria, as some believe.…Obama's Decision to Slow Withdrawal Undermines Afghan Peace Talks As usual, the NED-funded World Uyghur Congress lost no time in playing down the issue but this story highlights that the Chinese authorities have to be on their guard. And although "China's southern seaboard has replaced the mountainous and tightly guarded western frontier as the preferred route for Islamic extremists," the situation in neighboring Afghanistan gives reason for concern as well. On March 22, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah traveled to Washington for a five-day visit. The two Afghan leaders met with President Barack Obama and senior U.S. officials to discuss the troop withdrawal, reconciliation talks with the Taliban and other important issues. Ghani began the visit by thanking the Americans "who have sacrificed continuously since September 11th to bring us freedom and hope" before asking Obama to keep more troops in Afghanistan. Obama didn't know exactly which Afghan President he was talking to but he needed no second invitation:Obama slows withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan President Barack Obama on Tuesday granted Afghan requests to slow the drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and said he would maintain a force of 9,800 through the end of 2015 while sticking to a 2017 exit plan. Capping a day of VIP treatment for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House, Obama said the U.S. force would be kept at its current strength to train and assist Afghan forces, who took over responsibility for the fight against Taliban and other Islamic militants at the start of the year. Obama said the pace of the U.S. troop reduction in 2016 would be established later this year and the goal remained to consolidate U.S. forces in the country in a presence at the Kabul embassy at the end of 2016.…It remains to be seen if the U.S. will really retain only a small force at the Kabul embassy after 2016. There are already some doubts and Afghan leader Ghani has expressed a need for foreign troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2016. Since taking office in September of last year, Ghani has been doing Washington's bidding and this has finally paid off. During his visit to Washington, the Afghan President received the "Distinguished Leadership Award" from the Atlantic Council and the United States Institute of Peace, presumably for being a better puppet than predecessor Hamid Karzai. Ghani also secured more U.S. funds for the Afghan security forces who are suffering from a number of problems, including "serious combat losses" and desertions. But American taxpayers will be relieved to hear that Afghanistan will be able to pay for its own security forces within a decade - at least this is what Ghani promised U.S. lawmakers. Possibly, the problem will resolve itself when the Taliban take over:Slowing down of US pullout to affect peace efforts: Taliban President Barack Obama’s decision to slow the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan would hamper peace efforts, the Taliban said on Wednesday, vowing to continue fighting. “Obama’s announcement to continue to keep troops in Afghanistan is a response to the peace efforts,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. “This damages all the prospects for peace. This means the war will go on until they are defeated,” he said.…Not everyone was happy with Ghani's U.S. visit and the news from Washington. It is to be feared that Obama's decision to slow the "withdrawal" will undermine the peace talks, which had seen some progress due to China's efforts. Ghani attracted a lot of criticism for pushing for U.S. troops to stay longer. The Afghan High Peace Council, the official body overseeing the Afghan peace process, and other influential players in the region warned that Ghani is sending the wrong message to the Taliban. The statement by Taliban spokesman Zabuhullah Mujahid proves them right. Perhaps Ghani was too busy hyping the ISIS threat to recognize that there is a downside to keeping U.S. toops in the country. Just ahead of his visit to the U.S., the Afghan President acknowledged for the first time that ISIS is gaining influence in Afghanistan and by the time he arrived in Washington, Ghani was hyping the threat like none other:Ghani: Islamic State 'terrible threat' to western, central Asia Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday that Islamic State and its allies pose a "terrible threat" to the countries of western and central Asia. In a speech to a joint meeting of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, Ghani said Islamic State militants are already sending advance guards to southern and western Afghanistan "to test for vulnerabilities."Turkmenistan Looking for Help to Defend Afghan Border Nobody is going to deny that ISIS flags are becoming more popular in Afghanistan but ISIS doesn't pose a "terrible threat" to Central Asia. Furthermore, the links between ISIS in Afghanistan and the "original" ISIS in the Middle East are tenuous at best. Some insurgents who have previously fought for the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) or other groups are now pledging allegiance to ISIS. This has prompted a lot of fear-mongering in Central Asia and Russia. As previously discussed, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have every reason to be worried in light of the deteriorating security situation along their borders and the massing of fighters in northern Afghanistan but ISIS is not going to conquer Central Asia anytime soon. Turkmenistan is arguably the country which has been affected the most by the volatile situation in northern Afghanistan:Four Said Killed By Police In Violence Near Afghan-Turkmen Border A local leader in an ethnic Turkmen village near Afghanistan's border with Turkmenistan says police killed at least four people and wounded at least seven others while dispersing a protest. The head of Qarqeen village council, Gulam Rasul Qaryadar, told RFE/RL that police fired shots on March 16 after ethnic Turkmens gathered in front of the district administration building, demanding help from the authorities to stop what they say are efforts by Turkmenistan to take land they claim as their own.The villagers have said that Turkmen forces are grabbing their land on an island that was formed several years ago in the Amu River, which serves as part of the border between Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Territorial gains by the Taliban and other groups prompted Turkmenistan last year to "invade" Afghanistan and the situation on both sides of the border has been highly volatile ever since. While ethnic Turkmens in northern Afghanistan are urging the Afghan authorities to investigate the deadly shooting by police, the Turkmen authorities are reportedly using the Taliban/ISIS threat to arrest would-be protesters. But Ashgabat doesn't take the situation lightly. General Lloyd Austin, the head of U.S. Central Command, revealed during a recent Congress hearing that Turkmenistan has approached the U.S. asking for military aid to address the instability on the Turkmen-Afghan border. And if the Turkmen exile website Chronicles of Turkmenistan is to be believed, even foreign troops have already been deployed to the border:Report: Troops From Uzbekistan And Russia Deployed To Turkmenistan-Afghanistan Border Troops from Russia and Uzbekistan are helping Turkmenistan guard its border against militant incursions from Afghanistan, an Turkmenistani exile website reports, citing residents of border areas. According to the report on Chronicles of Turkmenistan, "residents of Afghan border villages have recently noticed the presence on Turkmen territory border units from Uzbekistan." And it added: "About a month ago military instructors from Russia also appeared on the border. Obviously, the Turkmen authorities appealed to the Russian leadership for help guarding the border with Afghanistan, a situation where, with the arrival of warm weather, has begun to heat up."…The report should be taken with a grain of salt because there have not been any independent verifications of the information but it underlines concerns about the situation on the Turkmen-Afghan border and Ashgabat's ability to deal with the threat on its own. Turkmenistan is now experiencing the disadvantages of its neutrality. Neither American nor Russian help will come with no strings attached. It is not unlikely that this will affect Turkmenistan's pipeline politics. Unperturbed by the chaos in Afghanistan, Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow just instructed his country's oil and gas leaders to accelerate the construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. Turkmenistan plays a decisive role in two major U.S.-backed pipeline projects, TAPI and the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, which is now back on the table despite vehement Russian opposition:EU wants to revive gas pipeline project from Turkmenistan The European Union is seeking to revive a gas pipeline project from Turkmenistan to Europe and involve European energy companies, an EU diplomat in Turkmenistan said. Denis Daniilidis told Reuters that Maros Sefcovic, the EU's head of energy union, was going to visit Turkmenistan in coming months to restart talks about the TransCaspian pipeline. While he did not provide other details, Turkmen officials said earlier this month that "active" negotiations were under way to supply Europe with between 10 and 30 billion cubic metres of gas per year.…# # # #Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & AnalystChristoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here
  • America, Israel and Iran:The ire over Iran
    By Economist Although Barack Obama is right to chastise Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister has a point on Iran RARELY have relations between an American president and an Israeli prime minister sunk so low. No sooner had Binyamin Netanyahu won the Israeli election, on March 17th, than Barack Obama told him he would “reassess” relations with the Jewish state. Mr Netanyahu, says the president, has all but destroyed his credibility and the chances for peace with Palestinians, and he has eroded Israel’s democracy.These are strong words coming from Israel’s best friend. The mood has not been this bad since 1991, when the elder George Bush delayed loan guarantees to Israel; or maybe 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower forced Israel (and Britain and France) to withdraw after the intervention against Egypt. Mr Obama was right to chastise Mr Netanyahu over Palestine. But he should not ignore him altogether. This is a vital moment in the Middle East. Mr Obama may this week embrace Israel’s greatest foe, Iran, by agreeing on the outline for a nuclear deal. As cynical as Mr Netanyahu may be about Palestine, he deserves to be heard on the risk that a deal will turn Iran from a pariah into a legitimate and overbearing regional power.Not pally on PalestineMr Netanyahu prompted this breakdown during his election campaign. He declared that a Palestinian state would never be created on his watch, repudiating his acceptance in 2009 of peace based on two states. On election day he urged his supporters to rush to vote because Arab citizens of Israel were turning out “in droves”. His flirtation with Arab-hatred was disturbing for Mr Obama, for liberal-minded supporters of Israel (see Lexington) and, indeed, for this newspaper.Mr Netanyahu has recalibrated his remarks. He says he has not given up on a Palestinian state, though conditions must change first. He claims his comments on Arab voters were misunderstood and has issued an apology. That is welcome, though he still has much work to do before he will be believed.But rather than dying down, the spat worsened. Anonymous American officials leaked news that Israel has been treacherously spying on them during the Iran talks and briefing Congress—a charge Israel denies. For a president as self-controlled as Mr Obama, the vehemence towards Mr Netanyahu has a stage-managed quality. So why the drama, Obama?The suspicion is that Mr Obama wants to blunt Mr Netanyahu’s criticism of an Iran deal, or to besmirch him as a racist, so as to stop wavering Democrats from joining the many who cheered Mr Netanyahu in Congress when he denounced the looming agreement as “a very bad deal”.Mr Netanyahu is wrong to reject any plausible deal with Iran. His confrontational tactics may do great damage to his country. Yet he is right on at least one point that Mr Obama is wilfully ignoring: Iran’s belligerent behaviour in the Middle East is an increasing menace.As we show (see article), the militias Iran is sponsoring are in some ways the Shia mirror-image of the Sunni jihadists of Islamic State (IS). As the Arab world breaks down, Iran’s proxies are not just a response to the sectarian chaos but also a cause of it. This week Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels laid siege to the strategic port of Aden and Saudi Arabia, at the head of a ten-nation coalition, launched attacks to repel them (see article). Iran now has strong influence over Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana’a. Mr Obama has chosen not to speak out much against this—in the chaos of Iraq his aircraft have just begun to help Iranian-backed forces attack IS in Tikrit.Iranian aggressiveness does not mean abandoning the nuclear talks. An agreement that freezes Iran’s nuclear programme for a decade is better than none at all. Perhaps, with time and engagement, Iran itself might change. With a more tractable Iran, other problems in the Middle East would become easier for the outside world to manage.But Mr Netanyahu is right to point out that nobody should count on it. Free of sanctions, Iran may become more assertive still. To sell his deal, Mr Obama must explain how he can work with a foe, and not a hoped-for friend. In the cold war the West confronted and contained the Soviet Union even as it struck pragmatic arms-control deals. Mr Obama needs to make the case that, with Iran, the West will distrust and verify.
  • Iran nuclear talks: Prospect of deal with Iran pushes Saudi Arabia and Israel into an unlikely alliance
    Netanyahu lines up with Saudis' Sunni bloc against 'expansionist' Iran By Kim Sengupta "The Independent | News" Foreign ministers from Iran, the US and five other world powers including Britain were tonight preparing for a final 24 hours of intense negotiations that could change the Middle East’s political landscape for years to come.US officials said the talks in Lausanne over Iran’s nuclear programme, whose deadline for a “framework” agreement is midnight tomorrow night, would go “to the wire”.China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, was “cautiously optimistic”. His German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier said “there had been some progress and also some setbacks in the last hours”.But as officials alternately expressed optimism and gloom over the prospects, two Middle Eastern countries were observing the apparent progress in Lausanne with grave alarm – and are moving towards cementing an unlikely alliance as a result. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have repeatedly claimed that Tehran is intent on acquiring a nuclear arsenal, regardless of whatever pledges it makes, and that its hand will merely be strengthened by the lifting of economic sanctions as part of an agreement. Both see Iran with nuclear weapons as a direct threat to their existence which must be confronted.Co-operation between Israel and Sunni states in the region was already growing in response to Shia Iran’s expanding influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and, most recently, Yemen.But the Obama administration’s enthusiasm for the nuclear talks, plus its arms-length co-operation with Tehran in the fight against Isis in Iraq and Syria, has done most to bring Israel and Saudi Arabia closer. In the run-up to Israeli elections, officials including advisers to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were keen to stress the strategic advantage of their secret understanding with the Sunni bloc. One senior security official in Tel Aviv said: “Necessity creates alliances. The necessity for us and the Saudis in particular – as well as the Gulf states, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, Jordan and Egypt – is to be on our guard against Iran, which is an aggressive, expansionist power. We think the nuclear deal that the Iranians may persuade the international community to sign would make all of us vulnerable in this region, and so co-operation makes sense.”Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday stressed the danger to the region that he said was posed by the terms likely to be agreed in Lausanne by the P5+1 group of the US, UK, France, Russia, Germany and China with Iran. The course of the talks, said the Israeli Prime Minister has “confirmed our concerns and proved to be even worse”. Israel was not the only country that would be in the firing line of Iranians, who wanted to “conquer” the whole of the Middle East, he maintained.READ MORE: What are the sticking points?Nuclear deal for Iran 'dangerous to humanity' says NetanyahuIsrael spied on US-Iranian nuclear talksMr Netanyahu pointedly warned of an “Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis”. Saudi Arabia has taken the lead against that “axis”, by forming a Sunni coalition against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, whom the Kingdom’s warplanes are currently bombing.Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former head of Saudi intelligence and ambassador to Washington and London, warned that a deal with Iran could lead to nuclear proliferation. “Whatever comes out of all these talks, we will want the same,” he said. “If Iran has the ability to enrich uranium to whatever level, it’s not just Saudi Arabia that’s going to ask for that. The whole world will be shown an open door to go down that route.” The Saudis have formed an alliance against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen (AP)Israeli officials have claimed privately in the past that Saudi Arabia would turn a blind eye if Israeli warplanes needed to overfly its territory to strike at Iranian targets, although the Saudis are said to be keen for Israel to revive the stalled negotiations over a Palestinian state. One Western diplomat based in Brussels reportedly said: “The Saudi authorities are completely coordinated with Israel on all matters related to Iran.”Two months earlier Israel’s intelligence service, Mossad, and Saudi officials were said to have met to share intelligence on Iran and there were claims that Riyadh was prepared to assist proactively in any anti-Tehran mission, facilitating the use of helicopters to rescue any downed flight crew and air-to-air refuelling for Israeli aircraft.Last year, Prince Turki publicly met the former Israeli military intelligence chief, General Amos Yadlin, in Brussels. General Amos Gilad, the former director of the Israeli defence ministry’s policy department, said Israel had a behind-the-scenes working relationship with the Sunni states. “Everything is underground,” he said. “The Arabs will never accept this publicly but they are clever enough to promote common ground.” Robert Emerson, a security analyst, said: “The feeling of anger against [Netanyahu] among Democrats in the US is very deep. Until the next American election, Bibi can only hope that the Republicans will try to block any deal in Congress. So for now, Israel is forced to play a regional game in the Middle-East.”The Republicans may, however, have difficulty in getting the numbers needed block the lifting of sanctions. Mr Netanyahu’s address to the US congress was viewed as a snub to President Barack Obama, and has angered members of the Congressional Black Caucus. James Clyburn, assistant minority leader, described the speech as an “affront to America’s first black president”. Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Monday of an ‘Iran-Lausanne-Yemen’ axis (AFP/Getty Images)Mr Obama has pledged to veto two bills aimed at preventing the lifting of sanctions and, without the Black Caucus, Congress may be unable to summon the two thirds majority needed to override him.Meanwhile in Lausanne, differences remained over the time limits on uranium enrichment, the lifting of economic sanctions and their re-imposition if Tehran breaches an agreement, and the shipping of enriched uranium out of Iran.Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, added: “We are here because we believe a deal can be done. But it has to be a deal which puts the bomb beyond Iran’s reach. There can’t be any compromise about that.”
  • Iran’s economy is on the verge of collapse :(The Velayat-e faqihzation of Economy doesn't works!)
    Fragility, thy name is Iran Author: David P. Goldman March 29, 2015 "Asia Times) As Michael Ledeen observes above, Iran’s economy is on the verge of collapse. Dr. Ledeen was a key member of the Reagan team that beat the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and he has an eye for such things. It might be added that the symptoms of social decay and popular demoralization that appear in today’s Iran, including epidemic rates of drug addiction and what appears to be the highest rate of STD infection and female infertility in the world, recall the post-collapse Soviet Union.We need strategists who can add and subtract as well as read and write. No matter what Iran does, it will undergo the fastest rate of population aging in the history of the world, thanks to the fall in its total fertility rate from 7 children per female in 1979 to 1.6 children in 2012. The bulge generation now in their 30s and 40s will reach their 60s soon, and the generation of working-age Iranians that follows them will be tiny: Iranians over aged 60 will comprise 30% to 40% of the population. With a tenth the per capital GDP of the US or Europe, Iran cannot possibly afford the health care and retirement benefits to support this level of elderly dependency (the industrial nations barely can do so). Against this, the Sunni world (particularly Pakistan and Egypt, if not Turkey) still has rapid population growth.The notion that an aging, minority Shi’ite population might dominate the center of the Middle East is a strange one. The Persian pocket empire is rotting from the inside, and it will take little in the way of external pressure to crack it open.END Gross domestic product of Execution in Iran By Nikpress