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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

US Inequality Worse than Egypt's; Egypt Unrest Spurred by Food Prices, Climate Change, and US Policy; Afghan Deaths Hit Record Levels; Guns; War Protests

- Egypt's Unrest May Have Roots in Food Prices, US Fed Policy
    Economists and experts in food security have warned repeatedly in recent years that an unbridled rise in food prices could trigger the very kind of explosion of citizen anger that's now threatening to topple the Egyptian government. Such anger is likely to rise elsewhere, too.
- Afghan Civilian Deaths Hit Record Levels In 2010
    At least 2,421 civilians were killed in Afghanistan last year, a record high since the U.S. invasion in 2001, according to a new report.
- Tucson Shooting: Undercover Agents Expose Loophole in US Gun Laws
    Undercover investigators have exposed the ease with which high-powered guns can be bought in the US, purchasing the same type of pistol used in the Tucson massacre just two weeks later in a neighbouring city – with no questions asked.
- The Torture Career of Egypt's New Vice President: Omar Suleiman and the Rendition to Torture Program
    In response to the mass protests of recent days, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has appointed his first Vice President in his over 30 years rule, intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. When Suleiman was first announced, Aljazeera commentators were describing him as a "distinguished" and "respected " man. It turns out, however, that he is distinguished for, among other things, his central role in Egyptian torture and in the US rendition to torture program. Further, he is "respected" by US officials for his cooperation with their torture plans, among other initiatives.
- The Verdict: Guilty of Protesting US Drones
    Guilty!  My friends and I have tried every legal means possible to stop our government from its terrorist drone bombing attacks on civilians in Afghanistan, and so we journeyed to the drone headquarters at Creech AFB  near Las Vegas on Holy Thursday to kneel in prayer and beg for an end to the bombings. This nonviolent intervention is determined to be criminal - not the regular drone bombing attacks on children in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    I expected this ruling, but it was sad nonetheless. The judge missed a great opportunity to take a stand for justice and peace, to do the right thing, to help end terrorism. Instead, he sided with the war machine. Worse, he dismissed the loss of life caused by our drone attacks. It does not matter that civilians are being killed by our drones, he said in effect. Some lives are not worth as much as others, he ruled.
    "It's criminal for the U.S. to spend 2 billion dollars per week for war in Afghanistan that maims, kills and displaces innocent civilians who've meant us no harm," she said.

    "We are attacking people in an Islamic country," Brad Lyttle said. "We are shooting missiles and killing them in an arbitrary manner.  It is generating great hatred, and these people have the means to access weapons to cause us tremendous harm.  We need to establish peaceful, just ways to resolve disputes.  This is the message I would like to have people examine and think about.
    We have to develop non-military means for achieving justice and therefore peace."

Inequality Drives Egyptians to Streets, But Ours Worse
by Laura Flanders
Published on Tuesday, February 1, 2011 by GRITtv

It's amazing what inequality can drive people to, eventually. Just look at Egypt.

“These big guys are stealing all the money,” one 24-year-old textile worker standing at his second job as a fruit peddler told a reporter this weekend. "People are desperate.”

"I wish we could be like the United States with a democracy, but we cannot," said another.
And so they protest, regardless of police batons, curfews and shootings. With over a 150 estimated dead, a march of millions is scheduled for Tuesday.

In spite of what some on Fox News (and the Israel lobby's camp) sought to argue this weekend -- namely that the protests were all the work of Islamist radicals -- every report from the ground contradicts that. As in Tunisia, the protesters are driven by fury at poverty, lack of options, and the looting of their state by the super powerful.

It's an equation we understand -- elsewhere: a massive gap between rich and poor is inconsistent with democracy. But before you get carried away with third world conditions there, try here. On Friday a guest blogger at Yves Smith's Naked Capitalism blog noted a remarkable fact: the U.S. actually has much greater inequality than Egypt—or Tunisia, or Yemen.

The Gini Coefficient is a number economists use to measure inequality, and the U.S. is ranked as the 42nd most unequal nation — Egypt is 90th.

It's not just numbers — we can see it every day. As Edwidge Danticat told us last week, “There are places in the US that are like Haiti, that are like Zimbabwe.”

While 22 million were searching  for jobs in the US this week, Goldman Sachs tripled Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein's base salary and awarded him $12.6 million of stock, a 42 percent increase from '09. The billionaire Koch brothers threw a lavish secret party for their looter cronies, to talk about their election plans.

The average American may not be suffering the way the average Egyptian has been but as Danticat noted, there's a tendency to exaggerate the suffering of what we think of as the “third world” while assuming that the U.S. has it better.

As for that anti-democratic gap between rich and poor -- not better, worse. And here too, our democracy is suffering. What are we going to do about it?