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campaign to save the NHS — petition as Lords vote on Lansley’s bill

Two votes of no confidence in the government’s NHS reforms have been comfortably defeated but other developments mean that ministers face at least two further major challenges to the legislation in the final week before the bill is due to be passed.

MPs voted twice on Tuesday on motions to drop the health and social care bill after Labour held a three-hour opposition day debate inspired by a public e-petition signed by more than 174,000 people calling for the government to abandon the legislation.1

According to campaign group 38 degrees, their own petition has now been endorsed by more then half a million people, but they are still asking for more signatures before the final vote in the House of Lords on Monday 19th March:

As the Lords gather to decide whether or not to press on with changing the NHS without knowing all the risks, let’s send them a reminder. Let’s remind them that across the UK, hundreds of thousands of us know what it feels like to arrive at a hospital or a doctor’s surgery, tired, sick or frightened for someone you love. And that we know how much we rely on our NHS in those situations to give us the care we need.

Each name on our petition [standing at more than 520,000 as I write] is a reason for the Lords to think twice before gambling with the future of our NHS. It will show them that although we all know the NHS isn’t perfect, we know that it’s pretty amazing. It will remind them that when we talk about risk registers, we’re talking about threats to a health service which is the envy of the world.

This could be the final opportunity for your friends, workmates and family to stand up for the NHS before the key votes happen. So please can you forward this email and ask them to sign the petition?

https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/Save-our-NHS

Apparently Lord David Owen is delivering the petition just before the debate begins. Lord Owen has also tabled the following motion:

Lord Owen to move to resolve that the Health and Social Care Bill be not read a third time until either the House has had an opportunity to consider the detailed reasons for the first-tier tribunal decision that the transitional risk register be disclosed and the Government’s response thereto, or until the last practical opportunity which would allow the bill to receive Royal Assent before prorogation.

If the Government table a motion for Third Reading on Monday 19 March it will be moved as an amendment to Earl Howe’s motion as follows but it is essentially the same motion.

To read the full motion please click here

Here’s more from Tuesday’s Guardian article:

Writing last week after the tribunal ruled that the risk register should be published, Lord Owen urged peers to vote for his amendment on Monday. “To go ahead with legislation, while appealing to the high court, would be the third constitutional outrage associated with this legislation,” he wrote. “The first was to legislate within months of the prime minister promising in the general election that there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS. The second was to implement large parts of the legislation without parliamentary authority. The attempt to railroad this legislation through both Houses of Parliament has raised very serious questions about the legitimacy of this coalition government. Now at the last moment parliament has a chance to assert its democratic rights and the many Liberal Democrat peers, who know in their heart of hearts that this legislative procedure is fundamentally wrong, have the opportunity to stand by their principles.”

Click here to read the full article published in the Guardian.

Click here to find more information about the progress of Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill.

1 From an article entitled “Commons revolt against NHS reforms defeated: Government survives two votes of no confidence in health and social care bill but faces at least two further major challenges”, written by the Guardian‘s political correspondent, Juliette Jowit, published on March 13, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/mar/13/commons-revolt-nhs-reforms-defeated

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join the Budget Day protest on Wednesday 21st March

Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay: Not one more cut

Coalition of Resistance is organising a protest on Budget Day, Wednesday 21st March at 11:30am outside Downing Street, London.

The event, which has been organised with the cooperation of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union and Stop the War Coalition, and is timed to coincide with Chancellor George Osborne’s departure from Downing Street on his way to present the budget to the Queen.

The message will be ‘Not one more cut to public spending’, ‘Welfare not Warfare’ and ‘Scrap Trident’.

Coalition of Resistance is calling for volunteers who can help on the day to please phone Sam on 07872 481769.

Click here for link to official facebook page

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Greenpeace and Arne Gundersen blow the whistle on Fukushima

Arnold Gundersen holds a master’s degree in nuclear engineering and is a former nuclear industry senior vice president. He coordinated projects at 70 nuclear power plants around the US, but later became an industry whistle-blower1, also serving as an expert witness for the investigation into the accident at Three Mile Island.2 He is currently the chief engineer at Fairewinds Associates, as well as co-author of the latest Greenpeace report, “Lessons from Fukushima”.

The report’s conclusions begin as follows:

The Fukushima Daiichi disaster has proven that the nuclear industry’s theory of nuclear safety is false. Historical evidence – Fukushima Daiichi, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island – shows a major nuclear accident has occurred somewhere in the world about once every decade. The regular occurrence of reactor accidents contradicts the nuclear industry’s claim that such events would occur only once in 250 years.

CCTV Host Margaret Harrington speaks here with Maggie and Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds about Arne’s recent trip to Japan and their report for Greenpeace about the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. The closing section of the video also features Gundersen’s own theory on why Fukushima failed so catastrophically, and what this means for other nuclear reactors of similar design:

One year on from the Fukushima disaster, and both the British government and the Obama administration continue to call for an expansion of the nuclear power industry. On yesterday’s Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman interviewed Gundersen, who again spoke candidly about the long term legacy of Fukushima, the design failures of the Mark I type nuclear reactors used at Fukushima and also in operation elsewhere, and more generally, about how the economics of nuclear energy is distorted.

Here are a few extracts taken from what he had to say:

Well, I think the first—the first lesson is that this is a technology that can destroy a nation. I was reading Mikhail Gorbachev’s memoirs, and he claims that it was Chernobyl, not perestroika, that destroyed the Soviet Union. And as you look at the transcripts coming out of Japan, we see that the Fukushima accident was on the verge of causing the evacuation of Tokyo. And had the wind been blowing the other way, across the island instead of out to sea, Japan would have been cut in half and destroyed as a functional country. So, this is a technology where perhaps accidents don’t happen every day, but when they do, they can destroy a country.

The other things are the cost is astronomical. To fix this is going to be something on the order of half-a-trillion dollars. All of the money that Japan saved on oil over the 40 years that they’ve had nuclear plants just got thrown away in the half-a-trillion-dollar recovery effort.

And the other piece is the human issues. The health impacts to the Japanese will begin to be felt in several years and out to 30 or 40 years from cancers. And I believe we’re going to see as many as a million cancers over the next 30 years because of the Fukushima incident in Japan.

You know, left to Wall Street druthers—we subsidize their insurance, and we subsidize them on the front end, as far as their ability to build these plants. If it were up to Wall Street and this was a real capitalistic country, we wouldn’t be building nuclear. We’ve basically socialized the risks, but any profits flow to the corporations. […]

I’m on record as saying that we should close the 23 reactors with the Mark I design. Just three weeks before Fukushima, my wife and I were talking, and she said, “Where is the next accident going to occur?” I said, “I don’t know where, but I know it’s going to be in a Mark I design.” These containment vents prove to fail three times out of three. And the NRC’s response is, “Well, let’s make those vents better.” Well, if they just failed three times out of three, it’s hard to imagine how to make something like that better.

In addition, the fuel is stored on the roof, essentially, in unshielded, unprotected areas. And there’s more nuclear caesium-137 in the fuel pool at the plant in Pilgrim, Massachusetts, than was ever released by every nuclear bomb ever exploded in the atmosphere. So we have an enormous inventory of nuclear material way up on the roofs of these buildings, and I think it’s time to close these Mark 1s down, because of those two design features.

Click here to watch the interview and read the full transcript at the Democracy Now! website.

*

Greenpeace commissioned Dr. David Boilley, a nuclear physicist with the French independent radiation laboratory ACRO; Dr. David McNeill, Japan correspondent for The Chronicle of Higher Education and other publications; and Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer with Fairewinds Associates, to write “Lessons from Fukushima”. The report, peer reviewed by Dr. Helmut Hirsch, an expert in nuclear safety, reaches three important insights:

1) Japanese authorities and the operators of the Fukushima plant were entirely wrong in their assumptions about the risks of a serious accident. The real risks were known but downplayed and ignored.

2) Even though Japan is considered one of the best-prepared countries in the world for handling major disasters the reality of a large nuclear disaster proved to be far worse than what was planned for. Nuclear emergency and evacuation plans utterly failed to protect people.

3) Hundreds of thousands of people have been deeply affected by evacuations to escape radioactive contamination. They cannot rebuild their lives due to a lack of support and financial compensation. Japan is one of only three countries with a law making a nuclear operator liable for the full costs of a disaster. Yet, the liability law and compensation schemes are inadequate in Japan. Even a year after the disaster began, impacted people are essentially left on their own and Japanese taxpayers will end up paying much of the costs.

Taken from the official Greenpeace press release of February 28th which accompanied the publication of their report: “Lessons from Fukushima”.

Click here to read the Greenpeace report.

1 The following extracts are from a New York Times report about Arnold Gundersen published on February 12th,1995:

“FOR three years, Arnold Gundersen was awakened by harassing phone calls in the middle of the night. He became so concerned about his family’s safety that he bought a large dog for protection. The problem? He was a whistle-blower, one of those who take on the dismally unpopular role of exposing what they find to be unsafe or unlawful practices in the workplace, especially the nuclear workplace.” […]

“Mr. Gundersen, who lives in Warren, told of the day in 1990 when he discovered radioactive material in an accounting safe at Nuclear Energy Services in Danbury, the consulting firm where he held a $120,000-a-year job as senior vice president. Three weeks after he notified the company president of what he believed to be radiation safety violations, Mr. Gundersen said, he was fired.”

http://www.nytimes.com/1995/02/12/nyregion/paying-the-price-for-blowing-the-whistle.html

2 Click here to see Arnold Gundersen presenting evidence for what he calls “the three myths of Three Mile Island” and here to read Gundersen’s report on the Three Mile Island accident.

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who’s backing privatisation of the NHS? here’s who…

As the Liberal Democrats are denied a conference vote on the NHS reform bill, its unpopular passage through parliament says much about a wider lack of democracy in this country. Both the House of Commons and the House of Lords are simply stuffed to the rafters with vested interests, and when it comes to the healthcare debate, such parasitism abounds in all the major parties, as this excellent compilation of conflicts of interest reveals – Lords and Ladies first – and please note that I’m only providing a tiny sample (to read the complete list click here) :

Lord Ashcroft [obviously] Conservative benches and funder – Until 2010, held investments in two private healthcare groups.

Lord Boswell [no relation!] — Conservative – Has shares in Reckitt Benckiser which produces drugs for the NHS amongst other health institutions. NHS is currently suing Reckitt Benckiser for £90 million following an investigation that ruled the company had abused its dominant position in the heartburn market. The company has just paid a fine for £10.2 million in 2010 following a ruling by the Office of Fair Trading which found them guilty of illegal anti-compative behaviour relating to their heartburn product Gaviscon. Lord Boswell’s shares have in brackets household part of the company, but in the end it is the same company. He also has shares in GlaxoSmithKline PLC pharmaceuticals.

Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone: Conservative – The former Conservative Health Secretary Virginia Bottomley is a Director of BUPA, the health insurance, private hospital and care group.

Quotes on bill:‘I give this Bill an unequivocal and extraordinarily warm welcome.’

‘It is romantic poppycock to think that the Secretary of State should be personally involved…’

Baroness Eccles: Conservative — Has shares in GlaxoSmithKline (Healthcare) — GlaxoSmith Kline. GSK is the UK’s leading supplier of COPD medicines.

Quotes on bill:‘My Lords, I am delighted to support this bill.’ ‘I hope that this bill will initiate a sea change in the way that we approach the nation’s health…’

Lord Lee – Liberal Democrats – Shares in United Drug plc (Pharmaceuticals) – Provide home-based pharmacy care for patients covered by the NHS as a joint venture from 2009 with Medco Health Solutions.

Lord Filkin: Labour – Adviser to outsourcing giant Serco, heavily involved in NHS services.

Lord Leitch: — Labour Bupa chairman.

Baroness Morgan of Huyton: Labour – Ex-director of failed care home firm Southern Cross.

And of our many honourable members of the House of Commons:

Andrew Lansley [obviously] — Conservative – John Nash, the chairman of Care UK, gave £21,000 to fund Andrew Lansley’s personal office in November 2009. In a recent interview, a senior director of the firm said that 96 per cent of Care UK’s business, which amounted to more than £400 million last year, came from the NHS. – Hedge fund boss John Nash is one of the major Conservative donors with close ties to the healthcare industry.

Andrew Lansley’s wife, Sally Low, is founder and managing director of Low Associates (“We make the link between the public and private sectors”). A Daily Telegraph report in February records that the Low Associates website lists pharmaceuticals companies SmithKline Beecham, Unilever and P&G among its clients. It also records Ms Low’s assertion that the company “does not work with any client who has interests in the health sector”. The website currently contains no reference to the drug firms listed above. http://www.channel4.com/news/andrew-lansleys-nhs-plans-still-in-good-health

Simon Burns: [how very unsurprising!] Conservative – Chelmsford MP – attended an oncology conference paid for by Aventis Pharma – a five-day trip to the US funded by a leading drug firm.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/2011/01/28/tory-party-links-to-private-healthcare-companies-115875-22880670/

Liam Fox [another of the usual suspects] – Former Conservative MP – became shadow health secretary in 1999 – employs Adam Werrity as a paid intern in 2004 – by this time Adam Werrity becomes a director of health consultancy firm ‘UK Health Ltd’ (now dissolved), while Liam Fox was shadow health secretary of which he and Liam Fox were shareholders. Werrity owned 11.5% of UK Health Group and Fox owned 2.3%. In 2005 a researcher based in Mr Fox’s office worked ‘exclusively’ for the now closed Atlantic Bridge ‘charity’, which Liam Fox was the founding member; Mr Werrity became director, and which had links to radical right-wing neocons in the U.S. The researcher received funding from Pfizer Inc. He claimed she has no function in any health role.’ The researcher was Gabby Bertin, who is now David Cameron’s press secretary.

The full list just goes on and on and on…

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how to change the world?

How to change the world?
Esther Vivas

How do we change the world? This is the question asked by thousands of people intent on changing things, the question that is often repeated in alternative social gatherings — a question that the French philosopher Daniel Bensaïd said has no answer: “Make no mistake, no one knows how to change the world.” We do not have an instruction manual but we do have some hints on how to do it and some working hypotheses.

Fighting in the streets and in social movements is the first premise, as there will not be spontaneous changes from above. Those in power today will not give up their privileges without this. Any process of change will depend on the consciousness of those below and the fight to take back our rights in the street, defying the powers that be. This is what history shows.

But it is also necessary to build political alternatives that go beyond social mobilization, since we can not just be a lobby of those who rule. It is necessary to formulate alternative policy options which have their centre of gravity in social struggles, antagonistic to today’s ruling class. We are well aware that the system cannot be changed from within the institutions but rather from the street, but we can not give up spaces that also belong to us.

Today institutions are hijacked by private interests and capital. A social minority, which is the one with economic power, is totally over-represented in these institutions and has the full support of the majority of those who hold elected office. The dynamics of “revolving doors”: those who are currently in the institutions and tomorrow on the advisory boards of major companies in the country, is a constant and a reality. We present here the socially dominant neoliberal ideology — and the fact that it is untrue. We think that anti-capitalist and anti-systemic voices would be useful in breaking the hegemonic political discourse of the institutions, proving that “other worlds” are viable and that “another political practice” is both possible and necessary.

We must move in both directions, subjecting the latter to the former, creating mechanisms for control from the bottom up and learning from past mistakes of both the political and social left. On the basis that no one knows the absolute truth, that the process of change will be collective or it will not happen, that we must learn from each other, that is necessary to work without sectarianism or tailendism and that labels more often separate than bind . Without however falling into relativism or ideological resignation. Surely these are the most difficult lessons: to break the moral and ideological domination of the capitalist and patriarchal system.

And how to change the world is not something that will happen in two days — it’s a long-haul task, which requires consistency, perseverance and “slow impatience” as Daniel Bensaïd used to say. We have to go forward in our utopias starting from daily life in parallel with social mobilization against the current policies and in defense of alternative measures. We have to change the world in our own lives, demonstrating in practice that “another way of life” is both possible and desirable. Alternatives learning from the cooperative economy, self-management, critical consumption and agro-ecology, ethical finance, the alternative media — all these initiatives are essential to move towards a different model of society.

We have to be aware that these prefigurative models are not an end in themselves but a means to move forward without losing sight of the goal of more just and equitable society for everyone. Fighting for an economy based on solidarity in daily life and demanding a progressive tax policy, in which those who have more pay more, which will eliminate unit trusts, where tax evasion is prosecuted, which builds agroecological projects and works to ban GMOs, in favor of a public land bank, to have our savings in a credit union but to claim a public banking service from below. The way forward is shown by walking it and this cannot wait until tomorrow.

We should not forget that our model of social change requires the conscious mobilization of the majority of the population and a process of breaking the current institutional and economic framework. The emergence of the “revolution” in the political landscape again, following the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, despite their weaknesses and limits, was the great and unexpected news that 2011 has brought us.

We also need to understand our role in the world and the impact of our practices on the ecosystem. We live on a finite planet, but the capitalist system ensures that we often forget this. Our consumption has a direct impact where we live and if everyone consumed as we do here a single planet would not suffice. But we are also encouraged in unbridled, compulsive consumerism, with the promise that more consumption means happiness, though in the end the promise is never fulfilled. We must begin to ask whether we can “live better with less”.

Anyway, we want to hold responsible those who impose such practices. We are told we live in a consumer society because people like consumption, which is why we have industrial agriculture and genetically modified foods — lies. Our model of consumption is based on the logic of a capitalist system that produces goods on a large scale and needs someone to buy them to keep the model running.They want to make everyone accomplices of policies that benefit only themselves. Fortunately, this great myth has begun to crumble. The ecological crisis we live in has turned on the warning lights. And we know that the climate crisis is rooted in a system that is productivist and short-sighted.

Today, a wave of anger is sweeping across Europe and the world — breaking the scepticism and resignation that for years have prevailed in our society, and restoring confidence in collective action which is useful and necessary for changing the existing order of things. We have seen the Arab Spring, the movement against the debt in Europe, the Icelandic people, the popular uprising, general strike after strike in Greece and now Occupy Wall Street in the “belly of the beast” which says we are the 99% opposed to the 1%. The time is short and moving quickly. We know we can.

*Esther Vivas is a member of the Centre for Studies on Social Movements (CEMS) at Universitat Pompeu Fabra. She is also a member of the editorial board of Viento Sur.

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

+info: http://esthervivas.wordpress.com/english

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news of the Occupy movement’s demise is exaggerated, or is it?

In early November of last year, as Occupy protestors were just beginning to hunker down to endure the worst of the coming Winter, some in the media were already beginning to question the health of the movement that had started (in America, at least) only a few months earlier. Take, for example, Jon Friedman’s comments on the decline of the Occupy movement, writing for MarketWatch in the Wall Street Journal on Nov 2nd:

The media, serving as a proxy for the general population, are impatient and bored by what outwardly seems like a marked lack of progress.

No less an authority on American social movements than folk singer Joan Baez, a notable dissident during the eras of the Vietnam and nuclear protests, said: “I’ll be convinced when it develops a real direction. … So far it’s hard to tell.”

The only time someone gets excited about the protests these days is when some external force intervenes, such as when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted (unsuccessfully) to clear the park, purportedly to clean it.

Jon Friedman concludes his article saying that “For the media, the excitement has gone out of the story.” And let’s face it, it doesn’t take much for the media to lose interest in any story, unless perhaps it involves the untimely death of a reclusive and morally questionable member of the glitterati – just imagine, for instance, the media frenzy that will eventually pick through the unseemly bones of Gary Glitter’s rise and fall, whenever he finally pops his shiny, shin-high clogs.

But coming back to Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy movement more generally, and it is noticeable that beyond the assemblies of core activists who so bravely withstood the American and European Winter months, not to mention the sporadic brutality of police assaults and evictions, less actively engaged supporters (and I count myself one) have slowly lost enthusiasm and gradually drifted away altogether. The reason being, not that we significantly disagree with the overarching reasons for dissent (putting aside the fact that any dynamic mass movement is bound to suffer from certain internal factional differences, since to some extent this is actually a measure of its well-being), but that having avoided seeking any broad agreement with regards to clear objectives and agenda, the overall message has been lost in the utopian clamour for consensus. This is not merely my own contention, but one shared by many who remain broadly sympathetic to the cause of the Occupy movement.

Eric Draitser has spent a great deal of time speaking to and also working with the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Back in November he too worried about the health of the movement, and so he decided it was time to ask some tough questions. Here’s one:

“What kind of a revolution are you trying to make? Are you making a revolution that’s going to create a better society, or are you creating a revolution of good feelings?”

Draitser believes that the next wave of protests needs a realignment of the anti-Wall Street forces of the Occupy protests in combination with a resurgence of long beleaguered anti-war opposition. This is increasing urgent, he says, as the continuing neo-imperialist policies of the Obama administration push forward once more, seemingly intent on sparking an eventual war against Iran.

Friedman’s November article was entitled “Occupy Wall Street is 99% dead”, and obviously I hope that such news is greatly exaggerated. It may be that Occupy is merely hibernating and about to burst forth with renewed vigour when Spring finally comes again (and as economies in Europe and America sink further into debt-driven decline). In the meantime, the question that the Occupy movement should be asking itself, is just how did lose so much of its earlier momentum and get quite so stuck? Critical friends like Draitser may be able to offer some useful answers and immediate advice.

You can find out more about Eric Draitser and his aims for establishing a renewed coalition of dissent, as well as listening to his personal analysis of current US foreign policies, on his own website www.stopimperialism.com.

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Cindy Sheehan stands her ground as a conscientious tax objector

In January, Cindy Sheehan, the woman who camped out in front of George W. Bush’s ranch after her son was killed serving in the Iraq War, gave support to “Occupy the Rose Parade”. She spoke out against the crony capitalist system and ‘the robbing classes’, whilst also declaring her solidarity with the Occupy Movement, saying that her anti-war encampment at the Texas ranch was the original “Occupy,” and adding, “We should never forget the victims of the 1%.”:

Here is an extract from a recent post on her blog [from Feb 21st]:

It’s been stated by the perpetrators and proven repeatedly that the Bush regime manufactured and manipulated the “intelligence” to rush this nation and the people of Iraq headlong into disaster. My son and hundreds of thousands of other people still should be among the living. At this moment, I am only talking about the Bush years and Iraq but, this Empire has been out-of-control for generations—ask our indigenous people about that, if you can find any.

Let’s cut through all the bullshit.

There is no monetary value large enough that can be placed on a human life or the love of a mother for her child.

In the same post, which is entitled “Surprise, the US Attorney Has Filed a Law Suit Against You!”, Sheehan describes her response to a recent lawsuit filed on behalf of the IRS after eight years as a conscientious tax objector:

I consider that my debt to this country was paid in full when my son, Casey, was recklessly with no regard for his safety (remember the rush to war with the “Army you have” which was not properly trained or equipped?) murdered for the lies of a regime, whose members (Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Yoo, Wolfowitz, Perle, etc.) roam around the world free and unfettered by threatening prosecutions or persecutions after committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes against the peace, and high crimes and misdemeanors against our own Constitution. […]

It’s not a secret, and hasn’t been one for about 8 years now, that I am a conscientious tax objector. It’s also no secret that the IRS has been on my case about it recently.

So, tonight I was having coffee at a local restaurant with an activist/friend and we were chatting about some very sensitive issues when a man wearing a blue long-sleeved shirt and tie approached our table. I thought that it might be the manager of the restaurant but he said, “Hi Cindy, I am Cornell from Channel 10 News in Sacramento.” […]

Cornell informed me that he was there to talk to me about the “lawsuit that the US attorney filed against you in Federal Court.” Turns out that the lawsuit is on behalf of the IRS and that was not the first time that I found out something important about my life from the media. […]

After the interview with Cornell was over, he said to me, “you appear so calm, most people would be freaking out if the US Attorney filed a lawsuit against them.” I replied, “Cornell, what are they going to do to me? Kill another one of my children (god forbid)? I had the worst thing happen to me that could happen to any mother and I am still standing.”

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“austerity” is too good for the bankers: their punishment should fit their crimes

Ever since I began writing this blog and long before that, one thing has been at the forefront of the political agenda:– “Austerity measures”. The quotation marks are ugly but essential. Those annoying little curly tadpoles hopefully raising the question: what does this phrase actually mean and what is it hiding? Perhaps a dictionary might help us:

Austere: grave, sober, or serious; self-disciplined, abstemious, or ascetic; severely simple or plain. Austerity is then, more often than not, considered ennobling; the word even carries implicitly wholesome religious connotations. The life of a monk is austere. The saints too practiced austerity. And Christ himself is said to have led an austere life. The religious justification is that obsessing about material comforts misses the bigger spiritual picture, but I am not intending to argue either for or against that opinion. My contention here being simply that the meaning of “austerity measures” relies heavily although unconsciously on these traditional ideals. In more purely secular terms, tightening the belt being very often regarded as a good thing.

There is, of course, a constantly expanding menagerie of euphemisms and doublespeak. Civilian casualties in war are now simply “collateral damage”; war itself becoming “kinetic action”; “enemy combatant” meaning a prisoner of war denied their rights; “theater” the war zone; whilst kidnap and torture have been reduced to “extraordinary rendition”. All of these are designed to hide the indefensible truth. But “austerity measures” achieves more again. It doesn’t merely hide the truth, but almost reverses it.

First, let me translate “austerity measures” into useful Standard English: “austerity measures” means enforced poverty. There are no ugly tadpoles required here, because this is quite literally the meaning of the phrase. With the proper words in place, the spell is undone and the truth becomes unavoidable and as clear as day. “Austerity” means being pushed down. Being forced to submit. In short, there is nothing edifying nor ennobling about stripping ordinary people of their very basic and essential public services and economic rights.

“Austerity measures” — what are they good for? Absolutely nothing! You cannot rescue any economy during a depression by impoverishing the people of that country. We can understand this through applying basic economics, or we can find the empirical proof in so many cases where the IMF and the World Bank have applied such “measures” in the past. By making people poorer, personal debt increases as does government debt. As people stop spending, others are forced out of work. The economy shrinks and tax revenues are driven down. Eventually the debt repayments become impossible to maintain. It is a downward death spiral, as the latest report from Greece on Democracy Now! shows all too clearly:

Click here to watch the video or read a full transcript of the same report [from Feb 14th] on the Democracy Now! website.

Greece has now been brought to its knees by imposed “austerity”, and so long as its main political parties continue taking the same course, the situation will quickly worsen. Society is already breaking down and sooner or later the whole political system will surely follow. A revolution in Greece of one kind or another is coming. We can only pray that it’s a good one.

Wherever severe “austerity” moves to next, whether it is Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Italy or here in Britain, the same results must be expected. Oh, and if you think that Greece has a more serious debt problem than anywhere else, then it’s time to think again. Japan has a far higher level of public debt than Greece (see here), and if you also include business and bank debts, then the picture looks very different again. This graphic, published on zerohedge.com [from November 2011] shows very clearly which nation is currently leading in the global debt race to the bottom (and it’s not Greece – not by a long chalk):

Owe your banker £1000 and you are at his mercy; owe him £1 million and the position is reversed. The economist John Maynard Keynes called this ‘the old saying’. So old that it seems to have been long since forgotten. These days, as Keynes would no doubt be surprised to learn, there are some banks deemed simply ‘too big to fail’. Which is, of course, precisely how we got into this mess in the first place, as well as the reason we remain stuck in it.

The ‘megabanks’ have failed, trading poorly, making bad investments and decisions, whilst influencing economic policies in ways that are now proven to be destructive and against the interests of most on the planet, and all the time conducting their operations way beyond their actual means. They are all bankrupt, having “invested” in a load of completely worthless paper which they prefer to call “toxic assets”. And here it is important to understand that in the topsy-turvy world of finance, all debts held are considered to be ‘assets’, even if those debts cannot be repaid, in which case they are regarded as ‘toxic’, whilst remaining as ‘assets’ nonetheless!

The question now being asked is will the latest 130 billion euro bailout save the Greek economy, and the answer to that question is a resounding no. It will no more save the Greek economy than the 110 billion euro bailout did less than two years ago, back in May 2010. Greece will default eventually. Meanwhile the Greek people will have received no benefit from any of these huge bailouts, since the money is only ever used to pay off the bankers’ losses. And yet, when we trace back those losses, what we discover is that they were a product of unquestionably criminal practices. William Black, a highly respected former financial regulator, has explained more than once how the whole financial system became a Ponzi Scheme — and Black is far from a lone voice. Click here to read an earlier post on William Black.

Yet the bankers have so far remained immune from any prosecution. Instead of prison they are receiving continued bailouts, whilst also picking up private perks in the form of bonuses. So how do they get away with it? Simple – they run the show. And evidence of this banker occupation is all around. Goldman Sacks, for instance, are everywhere.

They have not only ‘conquered Europe’, as an extraordinary article in the Independent put it, but long since embedded themselves in other positions of power and influence including, perhaps most significantly, the White House. More recently, they have openly installed unelected puppets to run Greece and Italy. Which is how the Ponzi Scheme that Black and others have uncovered remains officially unchallenged, unhampered and unabated. The bailouts keeping the crooked casino afloat a little longer, whilst the debt contagion spreads far and wide, generating renewed opportunity for asset-stripping along the way. The Greeks are the scapegoats, and also the first victims.

Two years ago, speaking on Al Jazeera, Max Keiser pointed out [7:30 minutes in] that Goldman Sacks had illegally colluded with the Greek government in order to hide debts in their bid for entry into the Eurozone:

The same collusion was more recently picked over in this detailed BBC report from Nick Dunbar, author of “The Devil’s Derivatives”. According to Dunbar’s version of events, however, the secret deal that had been fraudulently cooked up to conceal the true level of Greek government debt was “perfectly legal”:

In his latest book Vultures’ Picnic, investigative journalist, Greg Palast, also delves into Goldman Sacks chicanery. Hidden within documents that he took great pains to authenticate, he discovers evidence that the dodgy deal was a deliberate plan to force the Greek nation into bankruptcy and a fire-sale:

Greece’s economy blew apart because a bunch of olive-spitting, ouzo-guzzling, lazy-ass Greeks refuse to put in a full day’s work, retire while they’re still teenagers, pocket pensions fit for a pasha; and they’ve gone on a social-services spending spree using borrowed money. Now that the bill has come due and the Greeks have to pay with higher taxes and cuts in their big fat welfare state, they run riot, screaming in the streets, busting windows and burning banks.

I don’t buy it. I don’t buy it because of the document in my hand marked, “RESTRICTED DISTRIBUTION.”

I’ll cut to the indictment: Greece is a crime scene. The people are victims of a fraud, a scam, a hustle and a flim-flam. And––cover the children’s ears when I say this––a bank named Goldman Sachs is holding the smoking gun.

You can read a little more about Palast’s investigation, and what it reveals about the Greek crisis here and also on page 27 of chapter one.

There has been a loud call (one that I have also joined in) for the bankers to pay their way in the form of Toban Taxes and so forth, but frankly this is not enough. “Austerity” is too good for bankers. Nothing short of a full criminal investigation is actually needed, with a debt moratorium imposed for as long as that investigation takes. A cancellation of all odious debts should then follow.

Until that time, and as the people of Greece and elsewhere continue to suffer, we would be wise to stand shoulder to shoulder with them. They are the unfortunate recent victims in an ever-expanding and increasingly merciless financial war. For “bailouts” read “more debt”, whilst “austerity measures” means nothing other than economic “shock and awe”.

On the positive side, even parts of the mainstream media are finally beginning to awaken to the crisis now taking hold in Greece and elsewhere. Here, for instance, is Paul Mason, the economics editor for BBC‘s Newsnight, taking a break from his usual duties to speak on Democracy Now! (and to plug his book, obviously) last Wednesday [Feb 22nd]:

Paul Mason appears to be under the unfortunate delusion that only he and Glenn Beck (of all people) are making the connection between the deepening financial crisis and the rise of popular movements across Europe, North Africa and America. If only Mason had figured out how to navigate the internet, he’d be so much better informed.

Click here to watch the video or read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

Additional:

As for the truth about just how lazy the Greek’s really are, here’s a BBC news article from Feb 26th:

But the statistics suggest the country has not lost its way due to laziness. If you look at the average annual hours worked by each worker, the Greeks seem very hard-working.

Figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that the average Greek worker toils away for 2,017 hours per year which is more than any other European country.

Out of the 34 members of the OECD, that is just two places behind the board leaders, South Korea.

On the other hand, the average German worker – normally thought of as the very epitome of industriousness – only manages 1,408 hours a year. Germany is 33rd out of 34 on the OECD list (or 24th out of 25 looking at the European countries alone).

Europe’s top 10 and bottom 10

Most hours worked Most productive Least hours worked Least productive
1 Greece Luxembourg Netherlands Poland
2 Hungary Norway Germany Hungary
3 Poland Ireland Norway Turkey
4 Estonia Belgium France Estonia
5 Turkey Netherlands Denmark Czech Rep
6 Czech Rep France Ireland Portugal
7 Italy Germany Belgium Slovakia
8 Slovakia Denmark Austria Greece
9 Portugal Sweden Luxembourg Slovenia
10 Iceland Austria Sweden Iceland

Looking though the table above, you might notice a negative correlation between long working hours and increased productivity. This exposes another pernicious myth, as we can clearly see that it’s far better to work clever than to work hard.

Click here to read the full article which is entitled “Are Greeks the hardest workers in Europe”, written by Charlotte McDonald.

*

Click here to add your signature to the statement of solidarity with the people of Greece backed by trade union leaders, members of Parliament and campaigners published in the Guardian.

The people of Greece face an unprecedented economic and political crisis. They are being driven to poverty and mass unemployment by the demands of the so-called Troika – the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund which has imposed Lucas Papademos, formerly of Vice-President of the ECB, as Prime Minister.

Hospitals in Greece are running out of basic medicines, nearly half of all young people are unemployed, workers in some sectors have not been paid for months, and many are forced to resort to soup kitchens or scavenge from rubbish dumps.

Now the Troika demands a cut of 23% to the minimum wage, the sacking of tens of thousands of public sector workers and the decimation of pensions which have already lost nearly 50% of their value. International capital is asset stripping an entire country and ripping apart its social fabric.

Greece is at the cutting edge of the austerity measures that are being introduced across Europe. All the evidence shows that while these measures may protect the interests of the rich, they just make matters worse for the majority of the population. What happens in Greece today we will see in Portugal tomorrow and in Ireland the day after. In Britain, the Coalition government is pursuing similar measures which will see workers earnings cut, working longer for a smaller pension, and the dismantling of the NHS along with other public services.

Mikis Theodorakis, famous Greek composer of Zorba’s Dance, and Manolis Glezos, veteran resistance fighter against the Nazi occupation who took down the swastika from the Acropolis during the 2nd World War and replaced it with the Greek flag, have issued a statement calling for a European Front to defend the people of Greece and all those facing austerity.

The Coalition of Resistance and the People’s Charter have decided to support this call and agreed to work with trades unions, campaigns and parties across Europe to establish a European Solidarity Campaign to defend the people of Greece. The campaign aims to organise solidarity and raise practical support for the people of Greece; they cannot be made to pay for a crisis for which they are not responsible.

 

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Europe-wide protest planned for February 29th

Unions have announced a three-hour work stoppage and protest rally on February 29th, as part of a “European day of action” across the continent.

The GSEE and ADEDY unions (umbrella and civil service labour groups) said the stoppage would be held between noon and 3pm, with a rally also planned for 6pm to Syntagma Square. The Brussels-based European Trade Union Confederation said 27 countries will be participating in the latest protest ahead of a EU leaders’ summit on March 1st.

ETUC leader Bernadette Segol said the protests were in response to a growing wave of economic austerity being adopted by Europe’s governments:

“In mobilising on the same day everywhere in Europe for the first time, the European trade unions are reacting at the same level of their anger and exasperation in the face of injustice,” Segol said.

“We want to say it loud and clear, on the eve of an important European summit, that there are alternatives to this Europe without solidarity, without plans, without hope and without prospects.”

From an article posted today in Athens News.

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Kurt & Lori Haskell’s last stand for truth as victims of underwear bomber

On Thursday [Feb 16th] Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, aka “the underwear bomber”, received the maximum sentence, and now faces a life in prison for attempting to blow up a Delta Airlines flight from Amsterdam bound for Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009. Abdulmutallab, who had represented himself for most of the court proceedings, offered a guilty plea back in October, and so it might seem that the case against Abdulmutallab was an open and shut one. This is very much the way most of the news channels and press agencies have reported on his trial. Here, for instance, is a report from Reuters after his sentencing:
http://www.reuters.com/resources_v2/flash/video_embed.swf?videoId=230324708&edition=BETAUS
But the full story of Abdulmutallab’s trial is a great deal more complicated than it first appears, and to understand a little of what’s been going on behind the scenes, we need to go back to October.

I will begin with what the BBC news reported on October 11th:

A Nigerian man accused of an attempting to bomb a Detroit-bound flight with explosives sewn into his underwear has arrived at a Detroit court for trial.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 24, originally planned to defend himself, but his court-appointed lawyer will instead deliver an opening statement.1

Although I say that this BBC report is from October 11th, if you search for it, you won’t find it (or at least I can’t), but will instead discover to a different article which appears to be a revised version. Does this matter? Well, the original BBC report, which is quoted above (and which I happened to have saved as a copy on my hard drive) continues as follows:

The 24-year-old is officially representing himself, after firing a team of four lawyers appointed by the Detroit Federal Defender office last year.

Mr Chambers is the “standby counsel” appointed by a federal judge.

He told the Associated Press news agency he had been authorised by Mr Abdulmutallab to deliver the opening statement.

Mr Chambers said his client was “driving the bus” on the ultimate decisions made in the courtroom.

“His self-representation certainly makes it more difficult strategically. But we’re doing the best we can with what we have to work with.”

Whereas in the current version this part is substantially reduced, as follows:

Mr Abdulmutallab is representing himself in this trial. He has been appointed a standby lawyer, Anthony Chambers, but Mr Chambers said his client was “driving the bus” in the trial.

He also conceded self-representation made the case “more difficult strategically”.

The new version therefore fails to recall the sudden and dramatic turn of events in the lead up to the trial when Abdulmutallab had suddenly fired his team of lawyers. The new wording diverting attention from questions about why he might have done this, and what impact this undoubtedly had on the outcome of his trial.

Kurt and Lori Haskell are two lawyers who have paid very close attention to the unfolding saga in the weeks and months prior to Abdulmutallab’s trial. They had a very personal reason for this. Both were aboard the same Christmas Day flight, sat just a few rows back from where Abdulmutallab had attempted to detonate his device. They were eyewitnesses to the attack and, just as importantly, to the events leading up to the attack.

They had personally witnessed Abdulmutallab being helped on to the plane without a visa and, not surprisingly, they wanted to know the reason for this. So their first surprise was to discover that the US authorities refused to accept either of their accounts, and were entirely dismissive of what ought to have been regarded as important eyewitness testimony. Why on earth wouldn’t the authorities be interested in following up their reports, which might very well have led to the uncovering of a much wider plot?

If you type ‘kurt haskell’ into the BBC search engine you find the familiar: Sorry, there are no results for ‘kurt haskell’ in the category ‘News’. The same search does, however, bring up a link from BBC news to ABC news, which mentions Haskell in its own report on sentencing of Abdulmutallab on Friday Feb 17th:

Kurt Haskell, a Michigan lawyer, praised Mason for damping the flames and also criticized what he characterized as lax security that allowed Abdulmutallab to get on the plane. Haskell, who has long promoted a conspiracy theory that asserts the U.S. government was complicit in the attack, repeated his assertion. “I am convinced that Umar was given an intentionally defective bomb by a U.S. agent to stage a false terrorist attack.”2

And this has been the mainstream media’s response almost since the beginning. Like the US authorities, the media simply haven’t wanted to know. Instead we hear that Kurt and Lori Haskell are ‘promoting a conspiracy theory’. It doesn’t matter that they are both key witnesses. It doesn’t matter that they are also lawyers with a reputation to preserve and nothing at all to gain by sticking to their account (which hasn’t changed since the day of the attack). And to get some idea of just how tenaciously the Haskells have pursued the truth, I advise you to read through the many posts on their own blog, or else read my own overview in an earlier post.

But now I come back to the question of why Abdulmutallab may have dismissed his appointed legal team. Here were Kurt Haskell’s thoughts just about a month prior to the trial [Sept 13th]:

Where are we now? We now have The Underwear Bomber (Umar) representing himself with the help of standby attorney Chambers. Attorney Chambers has indicated to me that if he were Umar’s attorney, that the defense would be entrapment and that I would be a key witness. Of course, such a defense would expose the U.S. Government’s involvement in the plot. It is much too convenient to have Umar represent himself and be in charge of what the defense will be, what evidence is presented, what witnesses are called and what questions each witness is asked. A trial with Umar representing himself will leave the relevant facts of this case unknown for generations.

I have quoted this before in my earlier post on the case, which I’d entitled “key witnesses will be excluded from the trial of the underwear bomber”. Soon afterwards, however, some hugely significant developments led to perhaps the most remarkable episode of all – and here is something else that the mainstream media has entirely failed to report on. So let’s forward move to Kurt Haskell’s post on October 6th , which was also the last day of jury selection. It was entitled “Looks like I’ll be a witness for the defense in the underwear bomber case”:

Today was the day for final jury selection in the Underwear Bomber case. I watched some of it on Tuesday and I was interested to see which jurors were picked. The final jury was set to be picked today at 1:30. I adjusted my schedule so that I could be down there at 1:30 today. I had a trial a few blocks away that was due to last until around 1:00 today. My plan was to head over there when I finished my trial. As my trial was ending, I got the following text from my brother “I hear that you will be testifying in the underwear bomber case”. This was news to me as my status as a witness was undetermined as of Tuesday. I gave my brother a call and he said he heard on the radio, that stand-by Anthony Chambers said in court this morning that I would be testifying. While walking to Federal Court to watch final jury selection, I ran into someone that works with stand-by attorney Chambers. He told me that final jury selection was done as it didn’t take as long as expected. He also told me that it was Umar that said he would call me as a witness, not Chambers. He then said Chambers is right there, go talk to him and he pointed across the street. Chambers was standing on the sidewalk across the street. I talked to Chambers for a minute and we agreed to talk again soon. He said I won’t be testifying for approximately another month as the trial is supposed to be lengthy.

Does Kurt Haskell have any further proof that he was about to be called as a witness? Well, there is a link to an article (http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/10/05/2666662/final-jury-pool-settled-in-underwear.html)
by Ed White that Kurt Haskell describes as a ‘hatchet job’, but that now seems to have been removed altogether. Kurt Haskell writes:

Note, however, in the above article, Chambers indicates that I may be the only defense witness called. How ironic is it that I will have Umar’s life in my hands just as Umar had my life in his hands (or underwear) on Christmas Day 2009? I will be up to the task. I realize that some may not agree with me and may attempt to harm me. Nevertheless, I will speak the truth and not be intimidated.

Click here to read the full post.

But then roll forward just a week [to Oct 13th], and you’ll find this post by Lori Haskell:

Trial for the Underwear Bomber started this week, on Tuesday. Since neither Kurt or I had been contacted about being witnesses or being sequestered from the courtroom, we decided to head down to the trial in the hopes of being able to observe. Seats were reserved for all victims, and we really wanted to be there as much as possible. When going through security on the first floor of the court, we ran into someone who works for Anthony Chambers, who told us a pre-trial Motion had been filed that morning to exclude Kurt and I from being in the courtroom for the trial as we may be potential witnesses. We decided to head up and see what happened anyway, since the Motion was not ExParte and had not yet been granted.

Headed up to Floor 8, where Judge Edmunds is. Had to go through more security and obtain a pass to wear allowing us in the court. Sat down in the spot indicated for victims and waited for things to start. The trial started with the pre-trial motions, which one was filed by the prosecution and two by the defense. The prosecution actually filed a Motion that listed Kurt and I, by name, asking that we not sit in on trial as we may be witnesses for the defense. Judge Edmunds excluded Kurt from the courtroom, but said she was not excluding me since I was not on the witness list. I had to stand, and she told me that she did not want me to discuss anything with Kurt about the trial, which I agreed to.

And then we come to the bombshell:

Day two of trial, I could not attend first thing in the morning, but, I guess I did not miss much. Apparently, as soon as court was called to session, another long meeting happened between Chambers and Umar until around 10:50 AM. Once they came into the court, the Judge was informed that Umar was going to plead guilty to all 8 charges against him. I got there at 10:10 AM and walked into the overflow courtroom. I sat down, ready to take notes and watch, and heard the Judge say something to the effect “How do you plead to count 2…….” and hear Umar say “Guilty”. I think I almost fell over in shock at this point. I stepped back and sat down on a bench and after deciphering between calling Kurt and watching, I started to watch. I watched as he pled guilty on all 8 counts. I watched as he gave him statement to the court. I watched as he was taken away again by probation. I heard the Judge schedule a sentencing for January.

I was floored.

Lori Haskell continues:

So, how do I feel now about this? A variety of emotions, really. Relief is the biggest one. I am glad this guy is permanently off the streets and not able to harm anyone else. I am glad I don’t have to go to trial every day for the next month plus. I am glad I don’t have to worry about Kurt’s safety. I’m also disappointed. I really wanted Kurt to get to testify, however, neither one of us actually thought he ever would be allowed to. Curious–as to “why” he pled guilty, what was really going on behind the scenes that we may never know. I’m also saddened that the general public is never going to see as part of this trial the lies the government told, covered up and participated in. I’m saddened that people like Umar are allowed to travel to this country and put our lives at risk in order to allow the government to further their own personal agendas.

Finally then, we come back to last week and Abdulmutallab’s life sentence. Here is what Kurt Haskell wrote on Wednesday [Feb 15th] on the eve of that sentencing hearing:

Tomorrow at 1:00 P.M. is the sentencing hearing for the Underwear Bomber. This will likely be the final hearing in the case. The charges Umar took a plea to require a mandatory like sentence. Thus, this hearing is really a mere formality. However, Michigan law provides that any victim of a crime can give a victim impact statement before sentencing. Thus, as I am a victim I am entitled to give my statement. I wish I could take an hour to give a fully detailed statement about everything that happened, but Judge Edmunds has limited each passenger to 5 minutes. This will be the first time that I actually get to speak in Court regarding this matter. It will be interesting. I am sure the media will once again try and paint me as a nut job “conspiracy theorist”. Frankly, I don’t care and I will speak the truth. My statement is prepared and I will post it here tomorrow after the hearing.

Click here to read Kurt Haskell’s victim impact statement.

But I will leave the final words to Lori Haskell [posted Feb 16th]:

I was happy that Umar was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. even though I believe Umar is a patsy, I do believe that he wanted to kill us all, and I could see throughout all of this that he is not remorseful at all, and I don’t think he has a chance of being rehabilitated.

My favorite part of the hearing was when Umar addressed Kurt and said “Mr. Haskell, I am not a patty!” (in reference to something Kurt said to him during his statement).

Anyway, glad to close that chapter of my life. Hope everyone else had a less drama filled afternoon.

*

Additional:

Here is Mickey McCarter, ‘Homeland Security Today’ Senior Washington Correspondent, dealing with callers’ questions about the underwear bomber during a phone-in on C-Span on Monday 20th February. Just count the times he says, “I’m not aware of that”:

Further Update:

That original video was taken down but here is another version:

1 From an article entitled “’Underwear bomber’ Abdulmutallab in Detroit trial”, published by BBC news on October 11, 2011. I can no longer find this article but instead there is one entitled “’Underwear bomber’ Abdulmutallab in Detroit trial”, apparently published by BBC news on the same day. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-15251738

2 From an article entitled “Underwear Bomber Abdulmutallab: “Proud to Kill in the Name of God”, written by Jason Ryan, published by ABC news on February 17, 2012. http://news.yahoo.com/abdulmutallab-proud-kill-name-god-154229013–abc-news.html


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