So we’ve been hearing for the past couple days now how Republicans are lining up to repeal the 14th Amendent, which guarantees citizenship for those born in the United States (including those born to illegal immigrants). And most of the press has been lining up to report on the issue, but for the most part they’re all failing to report on one thing: this will never never NEVER happen. Changing the Constitution is not the same as just passing any old law. First, to even propose an Amendment, two thirds of both houses of Congress must vote for the proposal. That would mean that you would need Republicans to control two thirds of both houses of Congress (which is basically a mathematical impossibility) and, if you somehow managed to pull that off, you would need 100 per cent of Republican Congressmen and Senators to vote for the proposal (again, not going to happen). But even if the Republicans defied the laws of nature and controlled two thirds of both houses and voted unanimously for the proposal, they would then have to get 75 per cent of either state legislatures or state ratifying conventions to ratify the amendment (again, something of an impossibility given the extremity of the issue). Which means the 14th Amendment is not going anywhere.

So everybody calm down! The Republicans are not going to take away the 14th Amendment and to report on this issue like it is even an issue is to give legitimacy to the morons that come up with these policies. Next time they come up with something this stupid, ignore it! Because there is never going to be any substantive reform of immigration so long as everybody is distracted by non-issues like this.

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There was this article in The Independent newspaper last week concerning a report that has confirmed what plenty of people long suspected: in the wake of the 2004 Battle of Fallujah birth defects, infant mortality, and cancer have skyrocketed in the city. From what I can tell, this report received absolutely no coverage in the mainstream American press (and only scant attention in the international press).

Some of what is described in The Independent is pretty horrific: paralysis of the lower limbs; a girl born with two heads; an infant mortality rate eight times the rate of neighbouring Kuwait; a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer; a ten-fold increase in female breast cancer; an 18 per cent drop in male births; and a 38-fold increase in leukemia (which is almost double the 17-fold increase experienced in Hiroshima after the atomic bomb).

The main culprit for all of this? The Independent points the finger at white phosphorous, a chemical agent meant to be used as a smokescreen for camouflaging troop movements, but which can be lethal if it comes into contact with skin. The US initially denied using white phosphorous in Fallujah until it was forced to back peddle when bloggers noted that the Army’s own Field Artillery Magazine mentioned its use in the battle (smart one, guys). Not surprisingly, the military denies using it against civilians, but there is plenty of evidence to show otherwise, particularly from the RAI documentary Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre. White phosphorous is a chemical weapon that, in so many words, causes people to burn to death. So long as it is exposed to oxygen, it will burn anything it comes into contact with, including flesh and bone. If the burning itself doesn’t prove fatal, then the massive organ failure that results when it gets into the blood stream probably will. Under international law, however, it is only banned if the intent is to use it as a weapon against humans rather than for camouflage purposes, which is why the US is insistent that it never targeted civilians. But there’s a problem here: phosphorous is, essentially, smoke. It doesn’t matter one bit where one “intends” it to go, phosphorous blows around and covers a fairly large, amorphous area and anybody who happens to be stuck in that area (like, say, the people of Fallujah) will be exposed to its effects. Thus, any claim by the military that it did not target civilians is at best deceitful. Any use of white phosphorous in a populated, urban area is, by the very nature of the weapon, a targeting of civilians and needs to be seen that way.

There’s another suspect behind Fallujah’s current crisis, however, that is not mentioned in The Independent article, which is the use of depleted uranium (DU) bullets. Because of their comparatively superior armor penetrative capabilities, DU bullets are the ammunition of choice for the US military in Iraq. In three weeks alone, during the start of the war in 2003, between 1,000 to 2,000 tonnes of depleted uranium were spread over Iraq in the form of ammunitions, a number that has undoubtedly ballooned since then. DU is a radioactive material and a known carcinogen. As the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) says, “Repeated cellular and animal studies have shown that uranium is a kidney toxin, neurotoxin, immunotoxin, mutagen, carcinogen and teratogen.” So how likely is it that DU is responsible for Fallujah’s current woes? To my knowledge, there have been no reliable estimates of how much DU may be scattered throughout Fallujah, but as the ICBUW says: “It is thought that DU is the cause of a sharp increase in the incidence rates of some cancers, such as breast cancer and lymphoma, in areas of Iraq following 1991 and 2003. It has also been implicated in a rise in birth defects from areas adjacent to the main Gulf War battlefields.” So it seems pretty likely that a mass of radioactive material dumped on a city may have something to do with that city’s soaring cancer and birth defect rates. But that’s just a hunch.

Whether the culprit is white phosphorous or depleted uranium, we should not have to wait for a verdict in this one case to realize that both of these weapons deserve to be banned. With either weapon, the evidence is clear that those who suffer the most from their use are not soldiers and insurgents, but civilians. The price Iraqis have paid and are currently paying because of the US military’s insistence on its right to use these weapons is, at best, a humanitarian disaster and, at worst, a war crime.

An excellent article in The Nation from everybody’s favourite socialist senator. Quote:

But, perhaps the most outrageous tax break given to multi-millionaires and billionaires happened this January when the estate tax, established in 1916, was repealed for one year as a result of President Bush’s 2001 tax legislation. This tax applies only to the wealthiest three-tenths of 1 percent of our population. This is what Teddy Roosevelt, a leading proponent of the estate tax, said in 1910. “The absence of effective state, and, especially, national restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise.… Therefore, I believe in a…graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.” And that’s what we’ve had for the last ninety-five years—until 2010.

Today, not content with huge tax breaks on their income; not content with massive corporate tax loopholes; not content with trade laws enabling them to outsource the jobs of millions of American workers to low-wage countries and not content with tax havens around the world, the ruling elite and their lobbyists are working feverishly to either eliminate the estate tax or substantially lower it. If they are successful at wiping out the estate tax, as they came close to doing in 2006 with every Republican but two voting to do, it would increase the national debt by over $1 trillion during a ten-year period. At a time when we already have a $13 trillion debt, enormous unmet needs and the highest level of wealth inequality in the industrialized world, it is simply obscene to provide more tax breaks to multi-millionaires and billionaires.

On Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that it had cancelled Haiti’s $268m debt. Furthermore, the impoverished nation is being given a $60m loan to help rebuild the country after January’s catastrophic earthquake. The loan will be interest free until the end of 2011 after which rates will remain low (between 0-0.5%). That’s the good news. The IMF, though, is a bit like a shady used car salesmen (no offence to used car salesmen)—all the talk of a generous deal is usually to mask the fact that the buyer is getting screwed. Sure enough, buried in the IMF’s press release is the following statement: “The new program also includes important policy commitments from the authorities that will help protect macroeconomic stability, and strengthen fiscal governance.” While it’s still too early to know what these “policy commitments” entail (to my knowledge, the Haitian government’s Letter of Intent to the IMF, wherein these commitments are detailed, has not been made public), if the history of the IMF is any indicator, they will likely include a set of neo-liberal reforms aimed at privatizing the public sector and easing restrictions on corporations intent on doing business in Haiti (often at the expense of Haitians themselves). Given the history of the West’s treatment of Haiti, further exploitation would simply be business as usual.

To understand that history, and to understand why Haiti is in such a desperate situation today, we have to go back over 200 years to the 1791 Haitian Revolution, when Haitian slaves, drawing inspiration from the French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man, rebelled against the French colonialists and established the world’s first independent nation run by former slaves. Though the revolution was a success, the death toll was high: 24,000 out of 40,000 whites killed and 100,000 out of 500,000 blacks killed. On top of this, the young nation struggled to gain recognition from the world’s major economic and military powers and had to contend with invasions and trade embargoes from France, the UK, and the US—all of whom, despite their claims of liberty and equality for their own citizens, feared that the success of the Haitians might put a few ideas into the heads of their own slaves. It wasn’t until Haiti defeated Napoleon’s forces in 1804 that France finally agreed to recognize Haiti’s independence, but such independence came at a price: 150m francs, in gold. This was later reduced to 90m in the 1830s, but it was still an obscene price (about 10 times its national revenue) and to this day Haiti remains the only country where ex-slaves were forced to pay a foreign government for their own freedom. With 80% of the national budget going into repayments by 1900, the debt load prevented Haiti from developing the infrastructure and services that the nation needed to survive. In order to pay down its debt, Haiti had to acquire loans from U.S. and French banks, which only helped to exacerbate an already impossible financial situation. When it become clear that the nation would not be able to pay back these debts, the U.S. government stepped in on behalf of its own banks and occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934.

It was not until 1947 that Haiti was able to pay off its original reparations to France—122 years after independence and 99 years after slavery was abolished in France. By then, Haiti was vulnerable to political corruption and was subjected to the dictatorship of François Duvalier (“Papa Doc”) from 1957 to 1971. Papa Doc received tacit, if not entirely enthusiastic, support from the U.S. government who, for the sake of a bulwark against communism, managed to look beyond his killing and expulsion of political opponents and his pillaging of the nation’s resources. Papa Doc was followed by another 15 years of dictatorship with his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier (“Baby Doc”), at the helm.

Though Baby Doc was overthrown in 1987, it was not until 1990 that Haitians were able to elect their own leader, Jean-Bertrande Aristide. Now you would think by now the West would have learned its lesson, that it would have realized that maybe Haitians could do a better job of running Haiti than France or the U.S. could, that maybe, just maybe, the West would take responsibility for the crimes committed against Haitians and provide some form of compensation for over 200 years of oppression. Instead, Aristide was overthrown in 1991 with the support of the CIA and Haitians were subject to CIA funded death squads until 1994 when the U.S. allowed Aristide to return to office, along with an IMF loan to assist the country in rebuilding. The loan, however, required Haiti to engage in neoliberal “structural adjustments,” the most devastating of which was opening its markets to highly subsidized US rice and ending the subsidization of its own rice. The result? Haitian rice growers were unable to compete with the US, rice production collapsed (this in a nation that had formerly produced nearly all of its own rice), and Haiti had to start importing the majority of its rice from the US. Furthermore, rice growers who were now out of work had no choice but to seek employment in the cities and from 1995 to 2009 Port-au-Prince ballooned from 2.5 million to 3.6 million, compounding the problem of already overcrowded, poorly constructed neighbourhoods. It should come as no surprise then that when Port-au-Prince was struck by an earthquake this January, 230,000 people lost their lives.

Aristide the second time around, however, still refused to be the lackey the West was hoping for. First, he had the audacity to demand France repay Haiti $21 billion in reparations for slavery and the 122 years of debt forced on the country. France replied by telling Aristide to step down. Second, and far more offensive, he raised the minimum wage in Haiti from $1 to $2 a day. American business leaders, which relied on cheap Haitian labour, were outraged at the prospect of having to pay their workers $2 a day—not an hour, but a day!—and demanded Aristide’s removal. In 2004 they got just what they asked for: Aristide was whisked off to Africa by the US and his Fanmi Lavalas party (largely supported by the poor and opposed to IMF austerity measures) banned from the elections. Today, Aristide, despite demands for his return by the country’s poor, remains in exile.

As Naomi Klein has written, Haiti should be considered a creditor, not a debtor and, indeed, with the background of abuse Haitians have put up with at the hands of Western governments, we should consider it an outrage to even suggest another loan is somehow fair or even generous. What Haiti needs and deserves is not loans and further “policy commitments” to an unelected and discredited organization like the IMF, but reparations for hundreds of years of exploitation and for Western governments to allow Haitians to run Haiti as they see fit. Unless Haiti is treated like an equal and allowed to rebuild on its own terms, the spiral of violence and poverty that it has been forced into for centuries will remain.

There’s a petition over at change.org to get police in NYC, DC, and San Francisco to stop using condoms as evidence for prostitution. Obviously, most people are not at risk of being charged with prostitution if they’re caught with a couple condoms, but given that all three of these cities have HIV/AIDS rates above the national average, discouraging sex workers from using condoms is just plain stupid.

White man on shooting African Americans during Katrina: “It was great!  It was like pheasant season in South Dakota!”

What the fuck?

[Update:] The media also played a part in this. As one vigilante notes here, he heard on the news that people were looting and decided to start piling up on ammunition and guns to defend himself. By simply portraying the looters as ruthless thugs and not as people who actually needed food and supplies to survive, the media stoked an already dangerous situation and dehumanized those who needed help the most, leading many people in the city to feel justified to start shooting at the first black person they saw in the street.