Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Detroit Demonstration Held to Halt Forced Removals of African Americans
Abayomi Azikiwe, center, with Attys. Jerry Goldberg and
Vanessa Fluker addressing the Detroit City Council.
Shop owners, taxi drivers protest against real estate magnates, unlicensed drivers

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Detroit

A rally and march in Hart Plaza and at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center (City Hall) on July 21 exposed the false narrative emanating from the corporate media saying that Detroit is being revitalized.

The city emerged from a contrived financial emergency and forced bankruptcy late in 2014 with billions stolen from pensioners and residents who witnessed public assets taken over by private interests under the guise of cost-cutting. Over 60,000 households are still facing property tax foreclosures while hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies are being awarded to billionaires such as banker Dan Gilbert and stadium owner Mike Illitch.

Despite the propaganda advanced by the daily newspapers and television stations, the majority African American population has not witnessed any semblance of an economic revival since the Great Recession which began in late 2007. Well over 100,000 bank foreclosures were carried out against the working class city while the politicians did nothing to protect the interests of their constituents.

Even small African American shop owners are being driven out of the downtown and Midtown areas. Taxi drivers are now forced to compete with Uber Technologies, Inc., a transportation service which has generated controversy and protest internationally.

On July 21, both the shop and restaurant owners rallied beginning with a caravan from Eastern Market to Hart Plaza. Bert’s Market Place, a Jazz club and restaurant, owned by an African American Bert Dearing, has been a threatened with closure.

Dearing had owned the location but lost it to foreclosure after a lengthy illness. The property was listed on auction.com with a starting price of $700,000 and Dearing says he has until 2017 to resolve the issue or move.

Bert’s has been a mainstay for people in the downtown area and throughout the city. Dearing opened his doors for a fundraiser in support of people’s attorney Vanessa Fluker in 2011 after she had been fined by a local Wayne County judge in her militant efforts to save a family’s home through appealing an unjust decision that had racial implications.

Other small business people were also present at the demonstration who discussed familiar scenarios. Owners of building have sold to other interests that want the African Americans and their constituents out.

Taxi Drivers Join Demonstration

In addition to the shop owners and their supporters, the Metro Detroit Cab Drivers Association were also present protesting against the growing influence of Uber services which they say puts the local drivers at a disadvantage. Taxi cabs have to undergo expensive inspections, as well as pay excessive fees for insurance and bond plates.

These costs are compounded with the potential for random stops by the police who often ticket drivers for various spurious violations such as not having an updated log of trips.

Kenneth Kabaka Reynolds, the president of the Cab Drivers Association said of Uber that “"They are illegal in the state of Michigan and they're operating with impunity.”

Reynolds, a longtime activist and professional photographer, said if Uber is to continue operating in Detroit, city officials should regulate it like the traditional taxi cab industry. "And if you're not going to regulate Uber, deregulate the taxi cab industry.”

During the rally a statement of solidarity was delivered by Cecily McClellan, a leader in the Detroit Active and Retirees Association (DAREA). This organization was formed in the aftermath of the pension and healthcare cuts imposed by Judge Steven Rhodes who presided over the bankruptcy.

DAREA’s leaders were the most vocal opponents of the bankruptcy during the proceedings during 2013-2014. At present they have filed an appeal in federal court to overturn the attacks carried out against municipal retirees.

After the demonstrators marched from Hart Plaza on the Detroit River to City Hall for another rally, dozens of taxi vehicles began to circle the building honking their horns in an act of defiance. Later the rally participants marched around the building chanting slogans against current city policies under the administration Mike Duggan, the first corporate-imposed white mayor in forty years.

Calls for Solidarity Evoking Ferguson and Baltimore

The Moratorium NOW! Coalition participated in the demonstration and addressed the crowd and encouraged them to endorse the upcoming People's Assembly and Speak Out scheduled for Grand Circus Park downtown on Aug. 29. Moratorium NOW! Coalition reminded the crowd that African Americans still constituted the overwhelming majority of the population of Detroit and that the people of Ferguson and Baltimore had spoken to the concrete conditions prevailing in urban areas and pointed to a way forward.

If African Americans are being ignored by the city administration then the streets must be filled with angry people who are committed to reversing the business as usual atmosphere in the downtown area, the activists concluded. Despite the claims of an economic boom downtown and in Midtown, many businesses are still closing, even those not owned by African Americans.

One major problem is the construction along Woodward Avenue, the main thoroughfare in the city, where the M-1 rail line is being put down. With the disruptions along the street from downtown to the New Center area, there is no parking on the street along Woodward.

Moreover, the poverty and jobless rate among the people who live in the city is hovering near 50 percent. There are no plans for the implementation of a jobs program locally or nationally and consequently hundreds of thousands will remain on the margins of the working class.

The People’s Assembly and Speak Out scheduled for Aug. 29 is being held under the theme, “Rally For Our Future: Stop the War on Detroit! The leaflets being circulated in the city say that “From Greece to Puerto Rico to Spain and Across the United States workers are fighting back against the austerity being imposed by the banks and financial institutions.”

A list of grievances and demands on the leaflet publicizing the event calls for the stopping of police killings and brutality and the jailing of killer cops. In addition other issues to be address includes the need for at least a $15 an hour minimum wage; health care for all and single payer now; the halting of tax and mortgage foreclosures along with a demand that the Hardest Hit Homeowners funds be released to keep people in their residences in Detroit and Wayne County.

This demonstration will emphasize the need for a moratorium on water shut-offs and to stop the ongoing attempts to privatize the Detroit Water & Sewage Department (DWSD), which is undergoing a regionalization process as the Great Lakes Regional Water Authority. The Moratorium NOW! Coalition along with DAREA is supporting a petition drive to force a vote on the regionalization of the water services.  

On July 21, the same day that the demonstration was held at City Hall, the Detroit City Council in a 5-4 vote, approved a 7.5 percent water rate increase. These actions prompted by the state-run Detroit Financial Oversight Committee, which really runs the city in the post-bankruptcy and emergency management period. These policies will force more people into poverty risking their water services being terminated.

The Moratorium NOW! Coalition is asking other organizations locally, nationally and internationally to endorse the Aug. 29 rally and demonstration. Anyone interested in supporting the initiative should contact the organization at moratorium-mi.org or call 313-680-5508. 
Behind the Obama Visit to East Africa
United States imperialist policy a source for instability throughout the region

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Washington’s foreign policy towards Africa was highlighted recently through the visit of President Barack Obama to Kenya and Ethiopia.

Also the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, came to the United States the previous week and held high-level meetings with Obama along with other officials in the State Department and the Pentagon.

Obama’s term ends next year and many have criticized him for not visiting the country where his father was born since he was elected to office in 2008. Kenya has been a longtime ally of the U.S. since the early days of independence in 1963 under the leadership of Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of the East African state.

The president attended a business development conference in Kenya. He emphasized during his trip the much-touted phenomenal economic growth on the continent.

Although there has been the enhanced exploitation of natural gas and other strategic resources in East Africa, economic problems persist. Kenya is a capitalist country that is heavily dependent upon the marketing of agricultural, clothing and tourism to the West.

Unemployment and poverty continues to trap millions while economic relations with the imperialist states do not offer any significant prospects for the absorption of large segments of the population into the urbanized labor market. Most people still work in the agricultural sectors of the economy through the production of tea, coffee, sisal and other products.

During the 1990s, Kenya was unable to pay its loans to the international financial institutions and instituted reforms which made the country more attractive to multi-national corporations and banks for investment. With the institution of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in the U.S. under the administration of President Bill Clinton, the country began to produce clothing for export to the western states.

The mineral exploitation taking place inside the country is limited at present.

Nonetheless, there has been exploration for offshore oil resources on the border between Kenya and Somalia. These new areas of potential investments by the multi-national petroleum firms may be clearly related to the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) intervention in Somalia which was carried out in late 2011 at the aegis of Washington through the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).

The Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi was opened by Obama who pledged over a billion dollars in investments from the U.S. government along with U.S.-based banks, foundations and donors. 50 percent of the investments will go to women and young people, who face obstacles when trying to start businesses, says Obama.

"If half of your team is not playing, you've got a problem," Obama told the conference, ostensibly referring to women who face gender oppression in Kenya.

Yet the major thrust of U.S. policy in Kenya, Somalia and other East African states has been militaristic along with extracting minerals, exploiting labor and exporting commodities from the these countries. The current crisis in Somalia is a direct result of failed U.S. policy during both the former Bush administration and the present government.

In an article published last year in Somalia Current it says that “what is currently taking place across the Somalia-Kenya offshore border where Kenya recently awarded six oil and gas blocks to the international oil companies (IOC), within Somali offshore territory approximately 120,000 km2. Italy, Norway, the USA and France are tended to be exploiting the trans-boundary area. It was apparent that those greedy alliances’ aim is to plunder Somalia’s offshore hydrocarbon resources and this has become more obvious since Kenya started invading southern Somalia in October 2011 while its allies such as France, Italy and Norway kept quiet about the invasion.” (Sept. 23, 2014)

Failed Imperialist Counter-terrorism Strategy

The counter-terrorism strategy of Washington through AFRICOM has still not stabilized the political situation in Somalia or Kenya. On July 26, the same day that Obama arrived in the neighboring Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, a car bomb exploded outside the Jazeera Hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia killing 13 people, at least one of whom was a Chinese national.

In December of 2006, under the previous administration of President George W. Bush, the U.S. encouraged the Ethiopian government to invade Somalia in order to overturn the growing influence of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). After a two-and-a-half year occupation, the Al-Shabaab guerrilla movement emerged from the ICU and continued a war of insurgency against the U.S. and European Union (EU) supported regime in Mogadishu.

At present some 22,000 troops from the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) are still occupying the Horn of Africa state. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pentagon regularly conducts drone strikes in Somalia where they have bases of operation.

Ethiopian Post-Revolution Role

The 1974 Ethiopian Revolution and its socialist orientation were overthrown in 1991 just several months prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under Gorbachev, support for national liberation movements and national democratic revolutionary governments in Africa was withdrawn creating a crisis throughout the international community.

The post-revolution government in Addis Ababa has been closely aligned with the U.S. and other western states. Ethiopian troops although withdrawn in early 2009 after defeats in Somalia, have re-entered the country.

The presence of both the KDF and Ethiopian troops are a cause for concern even within the Somalia Federal Government that is recognized by Washington and Wall Street.

Obama also addressed the security and political crisis in the newly-independent Republic of South Sudan. This state is a result of a western-supported secessionist movement which resulted in the partition of the Republic of Sudan based in Khartoum, which previously was the largest geographic nation-state in Africa.

South Sudan leaders have been split since December 2013 over the future course of the country. President Salva Kiir and former Vice-President Reik Machar have led separate factions within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA/M) resulting in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and the deaths of several thousand in a civil war in the continent’s and the world’s most recent United Nations and African Union recognized state.

In a joint statement issued by Obama with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, it says that “We have agreed to intensify the campaign against terrorism in the region, and we both noted with satisfaction the progress AMISOM forces and Somali National Army are making, with the support of the U.S. and other partners, in their fight against al-Shabaab.”

This same statement continues stressing “We have agreed to deepen our intelligence cooperation both bilaterally as well as regionally.  We have both noted and underscored that this cooperation is essential to curb the menace posed by terrorism.  The terrorist attack that was launched in Mogadishu yesterday is a stark reminder that we need to work even more in this respect.” (White House Press Release, July 27)

Obama was scheduled to address the AU Commission based in Addis Ababa on July 28.

Nonetheless, there were no plans to meet with President Robert Mugabe of the Republic of Zimbabwe who is the sitting chair of the continental body. Instead he will likely meet with Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the AU Commission Chairperson, who is originally from the Republic of South Africa.

Such a situation of not meeting with a head-of-state that leads the continental body is reflective of the character of U.S. imperialism even under Obama. Zimbabwe is not a favored state by Washington particularly since the land reform program of 2000 which redistributed white-owned farms to Africans who were expropriated during the colonial wars of the late 19th century.
Saudi-GCC Alliance Continues to Bomb Yemen
Another ‘humanitarian ceasefire’ fails before beginning

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Since March 26 a United States supported coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been conducting airstrikes and a proxy ground war against the people of Yemen. Several attempts to negotiate a pause in the fighting for humanitarian purposes have failed repeatedly.

On July 27 the bombing by the Saudi-GCC forces continued with airstrikes carried out in two provinces in Yemen. Reports indicate that some 15 people were killed and 40 wounded.

Bombing operations took place in the area around al-Anad as well as targets north of the strategic southern port city of Aden. Overall sources say that between 3,000-4,500 people have been killed in the airstrikes and ground fighting over the last four months.

The Saudi-backed ousted regime of Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi based in Riyadh had announced what it said would be a five-day halt to the fighting so that food, water, medicines and other essential services could be provided to millions of Yemenis impacted by the war. Later the Hadi regime blamed the Ansurallah Movement (Houthis) fighters for launching an offensive just prior to the beginning of the truce.

Pakistan Today in a story about the situation on July 27 reported “Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the self-described ‘president of the High Committee of the Revolution,’ a body formed by Houthi militants, said in comments published by the rebel-controlled Saba news agency that his group had not been consulted by the United Nations. The group could therefore not give a ‘negative or positive’ answer about the truce, he said. UN chief Ban Ki-moon made a plea for all sides to ‘agree to and maintain the humanitarian pause for the sake of all the Yemeni people’”.

This ongoing failure to win a truce represents the unwillingness of the U.S.-allied Saudi-GCC Coalition and the militias they support on the ground in Yemen to engage in any meaningful negotiations to resolve the war. The Ansurallah are allied with the Islamic Republic of Iran and the war is being portrayed as a conflict between Tehran and Riyadh for control over Yemen.

The same article from Pakistan Today also notes that “Pro-Hadi Popular Resistance militiamen had attacked the Houthis overnight Saturday (July 25) on the northern outskirts of Aden, forcing the rebels out of the Basateen and Jawala areas. The loyalist forces have been bolstered by new weaponry and armored vehicles delivered by the coalition. They also benefited from coalition air support, military sources said, adding that dozens of rebels were killed in the latest fighting.”

Despite this support from the U.S.-backed forces, seven pro-Hadi militiamen were killed and 29 were wounded.

Weapons Made in the U.S.

Although the Washington-allied forces in Yemen claim that the Ansurallah are acting in the interests of Iran, the real hidden aspect of the war as far as the American people are concerned is the essential role of Washington in the bombing and ground fighting.

The warplanes which are dropping bombs on Yemen are manufactured in the U.S. along with the weapons being used on the people. Pentagon personnel are providing re-fueling technology as well as intelligence to the pro-Hadi militia forces and the Saudi-GCC Coalition.

Secretary of State John Kerry has stated repeatedly that the administration of President Barack Obama will support the ongoing airstrikes and oppose the role of the Ansurallah in the internal struggle taking place in Yemen. The Obama administration withdrew its diplomatic representatives along with at least 100 Special Forces from Yemen on the eve of the beginning of the bombing.

Knowledge of the role of the administration and its NATO allies in the bombing of Yemen is spreading with the recent publication of a report by the Huffington Post which says “Human Rights Watch discovered munitions in Yemen, which an investigation by Malachy Browne reportedly traced to European shipments to the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is participating in Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen. Browne found that components for MK82 and MK84 bombs, the same type that investigators found in Yemen, were manufactured by RWM Italia S.p.a, an Italy-based subsidiary of German company Rheinmetall, and shipped in May to a manufacturer that supplies the UAE military.” (July 24)

This same article goes on to say “More disturbingly, human rights groups have documented U.S.-made cluster bombs, banned under international law because of the indiscriminate way they kill, in Yemen. Human Rights Watch recently found unexploded CBU-105 cluster munitions, manufactured by a Massachusetts-based company called Textron Systems, near a Yemeni village.”

Although the U.S. attempts to portray itself as neutral in the Yemen war, the country just several months ago was being framed as a “success story” in the so-called “war on terrorism.” Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency drone and airstrikes have been carried out for several years allegedly targeting al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) operatives. At least two U.S. citizens of Yemeni origin have been killed in such attacks.

The Huffington Post also says “It is not surprising that Saudi Arabia -- the largest arms purchaser in the world -- is using a Western supply chain to bomb Yemen. The Saudi military already has billions of dollars of state-of-the-art military equipment from the U.S. and other Western nations. The U.S. has expedited weapons sales to Saudi Arabia since the airstrikes began, and the U.K. says it has sent ‘precision-guided weapons’ to the Saudi army.”

Iran Seeks Peaceful Settlement to Regional Conflicts

In an effort to foster a diplomatic solution to the Yemen war, the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif traveled to Kuwait to promote dialogue across the area.

Zarif appealed to the Gulf States to cooperate against the common threat of “terrorism, extremism and sectarianism", while at the same time saying that Tehran’s policy will continue along the same path. He emphasized that the legitimate struggles of the oppressed would be supported by Iran.

"Our message to the countries of the region is that we should cooperate to face the common threat," Mohammad Javad Zarif told journalists on July 26 in the aftermath of discussions with Kuwaiti government officials in his first foreign trip following the nuclear deal with Washington and the European imperialist countries. "Iran has always supported the people of this region in confronting the common threat which is terrorism, extremism and sectarianism," the foreign minister said.

Zarif stressed that "What is needed is not a change in Iranian policy but a change in the policy of some countries that want conflict and war in this region."

Nonetheless, a European Union (EU) diplomat who is traveling throughout the region gave tacit support to the sentiment of Saudi Arabia and the other imperialist states by blaming Iran as the source of instability in the area. These sentiments continue even in the aftermath of the nuclear technology agreement negotiated with much fanfare in recent weeks.

Reuters news agency reported on July 27 that “Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir accused Iran of making threats against Riyadh's ally, Bahrain, which he said showed that the Islamic republic was harboring hostile designs against its Middle Eastern neighbors. Speaking at a joint news conference with visiting European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Jubeir said Saudi Arabia had raised the issue with her.”

As long as the imperialist states can divide the nations of the Middle East there can be no genuine peace or stability. The central design behind the Pentagon-NATO strategy for the region centers on the support and bolstering of the State of Israel along with undermined any anti-imperialist government or movements operating in contravention of the interests of the U.S. and the EU.
Abayomi Azikiwe, PANW Editor, Featured on TVC Satellite News Discussing Obama Visit to East Africa
This interview with Abayomi Azikiwe covers aspects of the trip by United States President Barack Obama to Kenya and Ethiopia in East Africa. The trip was the first one to Kenya since Obama was elected to office in 2008 even though his father was born there.

To watch this interview over TVC satellite news network just click on the website below:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8dFIXFu8Ww&feature=share

Moreover, this was the first visit of any sitting U.S. president to Kenya and Ethiopia. Obama addressed the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa on July 28.

Azikiwe responded to questions about the significance of the trip and what would Obama's legacy actually amount to in the U.S. and internationally. Speaking factually, Azikiwe reported that within the U.S., African Americans were worse off under Obama than they had been before. Citing escalating racial tensions and the recent death in detention of Sandra Bland, Azikiwe emphasized that the African American people were still not fully liberated even under a Black head-of-state.

In response to a question about whether this visit represented a growing influence for Africa in the U.S., Azikiwe noted that the relationship has always been important. From a negative perspective he said the Atlantic Slave Trade and African labor built the U.S. and the world industrial capitalist system, and that these facts have been well documented by historians for decades.

The Pan-African News Wire editor pointed out that even though Obama opened a U.S.-backed conference on business, the actual volume of trade between America and Africa had decreased by 40 percent since 2011. He noted that the People's Republic of China was now the number one trading partner with the continent.

Noting that the major focus of Washington's foreign policy towards Africa was militaristic through the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), people wanted more substantive relations beyond the rhetoric enunciated by the chief spokesperson for world imperialism.

Abayomi Azikiwe is featured weekly over TVC news, a satellite worldwide news network based in Lagos, Nigeria, where he comments on various issues involving African and international affairs.
Pan-African Journal: Special Worldwide Radio Broadcast for Sun. July 26, 2015--Hosted by Abayomi Azikiwe
Listen to this special edition of the Pan-African Journal hosted by Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire.

To hear the podcast of this program just click on the website below:
http://www.blogtalkradio.com/panafricanjournal/2015/07/26/pan-african-journal-special-worldwide-radio-broadcast

We will feature our regular PANW reports with dispatches on the visit of United States President Barack Obama to East Africa; the visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to the US just this last past week; and the questions still lingering surrounding the jail cell death of African American Sandra Bland in Texas.

In the second hour we will highlight an interview with Abayomi Azikiwe over KPFA radio in California analyzing the Obama visit to Kenya. Also in this hour we conclude our month-long focus on the literary contributions of African people presenting audio files on Frederick Douglass slave narratives and poems by Paul Lawrence Dunbar.

The final segment reviews the role of Reconstruction-era African American Senator Blanche K. Bruce of Mississippi through an archived radio documentary on his life and legacy. This story of Bruce's life is a dramatization broadcast over Chicago's NBC Radio in 1948 through a program entitled "Destination Freedom."

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Pan-African Journal: Worldwide Radio Broadcast for Sat. July 25, 2015--Hosted by Abayomi Azikiwe
Listen to this edition of the Pan-African Journal hosted by Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire.

To hear this broadcast just click on the website below:
http://www.blogtalkradio.com/panafricanjournal/2015/07/25/pan-african-journal-worldwide-radio-broadcast

This program features our regular PANW reports with dispatches on the recently-held controversial presidential elections in the Central African state of Burundi where incumbent leader Pierre Nkurunziza has been re-elected amid protest and a boycott by opposition parties; the situation in Greece is not improving with anxiety increasing over yet another unfavorable debt re-scheduling by the European Central Bank and other international financial institutions; in Yemen pro-Saudi Arabian and GCC forces backed by the United States are claiming a strategic victory in the southern port city of Aden amid ongoing clashes and a humanitarian crisis; and Michigan Civil Rights activist and political prisoner Rev. Edward Pinkney has filed an appeal against his unjust conviction stemming from a Mayoral recall campaign in Benton Harbor during 2014.

In our second hour we present two recent interviews with host Abayomi Azikiwe: one on the significance of the lowering of the confederate flag in South Carolina conducted by Radio 786 in Cape Town, South Africa and the other broadcast by KBOO in Portland, Oregon examining what's behind the Obama visit to Kenya and Ethiopia.

The final hour continues the examination of the literary contributions of African people this time focusing on the legacy of woman writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston during the 20th century.
Chicago Public Worker Pension Reform Plan Found Illegal
by Margaret Cronin Fisk
July 24, 2015 — 2:42 PM EDT

A plan to ease Chicago’s $20 billion public-worker pension deficit is illegal, an Illinois judge ruled, leaving the city vulnerable to another credit downgrade.

Immediately after the ruling, Standard & Poor’s said it would probably lower the city’s rating again if a solution isn’t found. S&P already cut Chicago’s rating earlier this month to BBB+, or three levels above junk.

The Illinois Constitution bars the diminishing of public pensions, state court judge Rita Novak ruled Friday. The Illinois Supreme Court in May killed similar changes to the state’s pension funds for the same reason.

Rejection of the state plan led within a week to a downgrade of Chicago credit to junk status. Chicago’s pensions will be broke in about 10 years without the plan, city lawyers argued before the ruling.

The city’s pension plan and the one covering state workers both envisioned cuts in future cost-of-living increases. Chicago argued that its plan was different from the state’s because it increased city funding of pension funds and the Illinois measure only reduced benefits.

Novak rejected the city’s arguments.

General Assembly

The state constitution “affords the participant protection against” cuts in benefits even if the general assembly changes the pension code, the judge wrote in her 35-page ruling.

The city will appeal to the state supreme court, Chicago’s lawyer said after the ruling.

“We continue to strongly believe that the city’s pension reform legislation, unlike the state legislation held unconstitutional this past spring, does not diminish or impair pension benefits, but rather preserves and protects them,” Stephen Patton, a lawyer for the city, said in an e-mailed statement.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, urged the city in an e-mailed statement “not to take up further time and expend additional taxpayer dollars on an appeal of today’s decision.”

Job Cuts

The court fight over pension reform comes as the city and state face increasing financial pressure.

Chicago’s public school system is eliminating 1,400 jobs. Illinois’ retirement fund has a $111 billion shortfall. And the state is operating without a budget because of stalemate between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and the Legislature’s Democratic leadership.

The pension system in Chicago is $20 billion short and is only 36 percent funded, compared with 61 percent in 2005.

Chicago’s measure, signed into law last year, restructured the pensions of laborers and municipal workers, requiring employees and the city to pay more into the plan while benefits are reduced. The pension plans for fire and police retirees weren’t affected.

The city reform was developed in negotiations with 28 of 31 affected unions, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in May. The employees had a “full funding guarantee,” the city said. Union-backed beneficiaries sued on behalf of retirees and employees to block the reform.

Truck Driver

The plan didn’t have the support of pensioners, Charles Lomanto, a retired truck driver for the city of Chicago, told reporters outside Novak’s courtroom Friday.

Under the plan, which took effect Jan. 1, pensioners lost all but .85 percent of an expected 3 percent increase in benefits, Lomanto said. Meanwhile, Lomanto said, his health insurance premium costs rose to $1,300 a month from $740.

“Rahm never came to retirees and said, ‘Hey, can we talk?’’ Lomanto said. ‘‘Unions can’t negotiate on behalf of retirees.’’

The rejection leaves Chicago with no viable plan to solve the pension deficit, said Sarah Wetmore, vice president and research director at the Civic Federation, a Chicago nonprofit that tracks municipal finance.

‘‘Without these reforms, the city reverts back to an inadequate funding formula that has resulted in such severe underfunding that actuaries expect the Municipal and Laborers Funds will run out of money within the next decade -– an unthinkable prospect,’’ she said.

‘Credit Neutral’

Moody’s Investors Service called the ruling ‘‘credit neutral’’ for Chicago because of the expected appeal to the state supreme court.

‘‘The ruling is one step forward in the process of resolving outstanding questions on the constitutionality of the 2014 legislation,’’ Matt Butler, assistant vice president and Moody’s lead analyst for Chicago, said in an e-mailed statement.

Chicago’s financial woes and credit downgrades have burdened the city with higher borrowing costs as investors demand larger yields, relative to top-rated bonds, to buy its securities.

Yields on some Chicago bonds are close to the highs reached when Moody’s Investors Service cut the city’s rating to below investment grade in May after the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state’s pension overhaul.

The price of a taxable Chicago bond maturing in 2042, the most actively traded city security Friday, was little changed at 99.2 cents on the dollar. The securities yield 7.8 percent, almost 5 percentage points above benchmark Treasuries, according data compiled by Bloomberg.
Supreme Court

‘‘Barring a reversal at the supreme court, this puts us back to square one on pension reform in Chicago,” said Richard Ciccarone, Chicago-based chief executive of Merritt Research Services LLC, which analyzes municipal finances. “Now the pressure on the city to come up with a solution here that won’t unduly burden taxpayers, and at the same time achieve some level of reform is going to be challenging.”

The case is Jones v. Municipal Employees Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, 2014CH20027, Circuit Court, Cook County, Illinois, Chancery Division (Chicago).
Puerto Rico’s Debt Woes Prompt Rallies From New York to Florida
Jul 28, 2015
2:05 PM EDT
Bloomberg

Demonstrators in New York, Washington and Orlando, Florida, called on the U.S. government to help struggling Puerto Rico cope with a failing economy and $72 billion in debt.

In New York City, home to 1 million Puerto Ricans, the largest concentration outside the island itself, Mayor Bill de Blasio joined other elected officials and labor leaders on the steps of City Hall to blame investors and federal policies for creating the commonwealth’s problems.

“It is very disheartening that the U.S. government is turning a blind eye toward the grave situation in Puerto Rico,” said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, 46, a Democrat from East Harlem who was born and raised in San Juan. Hedge funds, she said, “are vultures, are feeding off the misery of the island and the people, and it’s really dire.”

Junk-rated Puerto Rico and its agencies have racked up more debt than any state except California and New York as the government borrowed to paper over budget deficits. Last month, Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla said the commonwealth couldn’t pay all of its obligations. His administration will draft a debt-restructuring plan by Sept. 1.

Hedge funds and other distressed-debt buyers hold almost a third of the island’s securities, according to Barclays Capital. Those firms have been purchasing Puerto Rico bonds for about two years as the debt’s value sank and traditional municipal-debt investors decreased their exposure. Debt on the island is tax-free nationwide and offers yields higher than comparable investments.

Shrinking Economy

Puerto Rico’s economy has struggled to grow since 2006. Its population has shrunk by 7 percent in the past decade as residents look for work on the U.S. mainland. Its 12.6 percent June unemployment rate is more than double the national average.

The path out of the crisis, de Blasio said, lies in the U.S. Creditors should relax the debt-repayment schedule and the federal goverment should allow Puerto Rican agencies to file for bankruptcy protection, he said.

The government should also help companies and individuals invest in the island of 3.5 million people. The Jones Act, a federal law with costly shipping restrictions, should be amended to exempt Puerto Rico, he said.

“They are saddled with a debt they cannot pay,” de Blasio said. “They are at the mercy of their creditors.”

In Washington, Democratic Representatives Jose Serrano and Nydia Velazquez of New York called for Congress to permit commonwealth agencies to file for bankruptcy at an event Tuesday. As the crisis deepens, “Wall Street will eventually feel it,” Serrano said.

The events organized by the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of 39 Latino organizations, also included a rally in Orlando.
Obama Excludes Mugabe From AU Meeting
NewsDay Zimbabwe
July 28, 2015
by Moses Matenga

AFRICAN Union (AU) and Sadc chairman President Robert Mugabe will not be among several African leaders scheduled to meet visiting United States President Barack Obama at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,on Tuesday, his spokesperson George Charamba has said.

Charamba said Mugabe was unmoved by Obama’s visit to the AU headquarters, describing the event as just “a visit by any other visitor”.

“The chairman does not run the AU centre. Obama has come to Ethiopia for an official visit and to address the staff there.

There are many dignitaries who come to the AU headquarters and you can imagine if all come wanting the President’s input,” Charamba said.

“It’s the Head of State of another country. If you are afraid of him, we are not because he is just a Head of State who visits Africa and the AU headquarters by virtue of his ancestry. Madam (Nkosazana) Dhlamini-Zuma (AU Commission chairperson) is big enough to receive him.”

Charamba said when it was said Obama would address the 54-member bloc, Zimbabwe did not represent his audience.

Obama will today address the AU bloc on several issues affecting Africa.

“AU is not an organ run by Zimbabwe. It does not belong to Zimbabwe. If you want to know who is attending, call the AU offices,” he said.

He said Mugabe and other AU leaders would only receive the report of his visit in January at the AU summit.

“There will be a report on the summit in January where we will get a briefing on the visitor who is called Barack Obama ‘who we received and went back home happy’. . . He did not come to visit Mugabe. He went to Ethiopia and asked to visit the HQ. I did not see you writing that Mugabe snubs Obama when he went for the Ebola summit (in New York),” Charamba said.

Political analyst Charles Mangongera said the strained relations between Harare and Washington could have influenced the absence of Mugabe as AU chairman to meet Obama in Ethiopia.

“Obviously the nature of the diplomatic relations between Harare and Washington is such that Obama has carefully avoided Mugabe. If relations between the two were cordial, he could have conferred with the AU chairman but remember, they have a position on Zimbabwe that could have influenced his behaviour,” Mangongera said.
America’s New Brutalism: The Death of Sandra Bland
July 27, 2015
Henry Giroux Correspondent

ON July 9, soon after Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old African-American woman, moved to Texas from Naperville, Illinois, to take a new job as a college outreach officer at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M, she was pulled over by the police for failing to signal while making a lane change. What followed has become all too common and illustrates the ever increasing rise in domestic terrorism in the United States.

She was pulled out of the car by a police officer for allegedly becoming combative and pinned to the ground by two officers. A video obtained by ABC 7 of Bland’s arrest “doesn’t appear to show Bland being combative with officers but does show two officers on top of Bland”.

In a second video released by the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas state trooper Brian Encinia becomes increasingly hostile towards Bland and very shortly the interaction escalates into a shouting match and becomes confrontational.

She was then arrested for assaulting an officer, a third-degree felony, and interned at the Waller County, Texas jail. On July 13, she was found dead in her cell. Quite unbelievably, the police reported that she took her own life.

The Waller County Jail has ruled her death a suicide. It appears inconceivable that a young woman starting a new job, an outspoken civil rights activist, critical of police brutality, went to church, and was close to her family would have taken her own life.

Often posting videos in which she talked about important civil rights issues, she once stated: “I’m here to change history. If we want a change we can really truly make it happen.” Her family and friends believe that foul play was involved, and rightly so. Adding to such disbelief is the fact that the head sheriff of Waller County “ Glenn Smith, who made the first public comments about Bland’s in-custody death, was suspended for documented cases of racism when he was chief of police in Hempstead, Texas, in 2007. After serving his suspension, more complaints of racism came in, and Smith was actually fired as chief of police in Hempstead.”

Bland’s death over a routine traffic stop is beyond monstrous. It is indicative of a country in which lawlessness is now integral to the police state, and extreme violence is the new norm for a society fed by the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, the incarceration state, the drug wars, and the increasing militarisation of everything, including the war on black youth.

Routine traffic stops for black drivers contain the real possibility for turning deadly. There is more at stake here than the fact that, as Federal statistics indicate, the police are “31 percent more likely to pull over a black driver than a white driver”. There is the violence that propels a deeply racist and militarised society, a violence that turns on young people and adults alike who are considered disposable and a threat to society.

This type of harassment is integral to a form of domestic terrorism in which blacks are beaten, arrested, incarcerated, and too often killed. This is the new totalitarianism of the boot in your face racism, one in which the punishing state is the central institution for both controlling poor minorities of race and class and enforcing the rules of the financial elite.

How much longer can this war on youth go on? As Karen Garcia points out, “When police officers can stalk, threaten, harass, assault, arrest, injure and kill black people for the crime of merely existing, I think it’s high time that the USA declares itself a state sponsor of terrorism.”

The United States has become a country in which it is proud of what it should be ashamed of. How else to explain the popularity of the racist and bigot, Donald Trump, among the Republican Party’s right-wing base? We celebrate violence in the name of security and violate every precept of human justice through an appeal to fear.

This speaks clearly to a form of political repression and a toxic value system. Markets and power are immune to justice and despise it. All that matters is that control, financial and political, serves soulless markets and the Darwinian culture of cruelty. How many more young people are going to be killed for waking in the street, failing to signal a lane shift, looking a police person in the eye, or playing with a toy gun?

How many more names of black men, women, and young people will join the list of those whose deaths have sparked widespread protests: Trayvon martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Renisha McBride, Aiyana Jones, and Sakia Gunn, and now Sandra Bland.

Is it any wonder that one funeral director in Chicago stated that “young people in the city do not expect to live late into their adult life”. Police violence in the United States not only offers a window into the structural nature of state violence, but also serves as a gateway to prison, especially for minorities of race and class.

Police violence against people of colour, especially Blacks is not an aberration, it is policy, another way of dealing with those considered disposable. Sandra Bland’s tragic death that began with a routine traffic stop has become a high profile case. What is missing from most of the accounts of her death is that the data that is emerging around how often police officers kill civilians suggests that the number of such killings is astronomical.

The Progress Report recently noted that two new projects are now keeping count in real time and that “According to The Guardian, 637 people have been killed by the police” since the beginning of the year to July 22, 2015. In addition, “The Washington Post . . . is tracking police shootings and counts 535 of those. That’s almost three people shot and killed by the police every day this year.”

Yet, the mainstream media is more infatuated with mindless celebrities, game shows, and the financial brutishness and idiocy of Donald Trump than they are about endless violence waged against poor minority children in the United States. What is clear is that this violence speaks clearly to a society that no longer wants to invest in its youth.

And if one measure of a democratic society is how it treats young people, the United States has failed miserably.

The war on terror has come home and it has taken the form of a war on poor minorities, especially black men and youth. Racism and police militarisation have created a new kind of terrorism, one in which extreme violence is being used against black people for the most trivial of infractions. The killing of black youth by the police is no longer a routine affair, a norm that stretches back to slaver.

On the contrary, it now appears to have become both a spectacle and a sport in America. Of course, there has been an unbroken line of terror and violence waged against black people since slavery.

What is different is that such acts of domestic terrorism now often take place increasingly in full view of the American public who more and more are witnessing such lawlessness after it is recorded and uploaded onto the Internet by bystanders. New technologies and an every present screen culture now enable individuals to record such violence in real time and make it a matter of public record.

While this public display of the deployment domestic terrorism makes visible the depravity of state violence, these images are sometimes co-opted by the mass media, commodified, and disseminated in ways that exploit and erase black lives, as William C. Anderson argues.

But it does more. It also sends a clear message to the American public, one that is as dangerous as it is violent. The message is that the police can kill African-Americans, young and old, and do it with impunity, with just a few exceptions – as in the clear cut killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and the indictment of the police officers responsible for his death.

Americans now live in an empire of images that not only serve to reveal the dynamics of oppressive power but also empty words of any meaning, often driven by a dis-imagination machine that denudes images of any substantive meaning by turning them into spectacles of violence.

The police appear to recognise that images no longer provide the ultimate referent for revealing oppressive violence as much as they function to massage the machinery of aesthetic depravity. Racial violence has become so commonplace that when it is perpetrated by the police against innocent people, justice is not measured by holding those who commit the violence accountable.

On the contrary, all that matters is that its presence be noted by the authorities and the mainstream media as if that is the only measure of justice. Few people seem distraught by the ongoing shootings, beatings, and killings of African-Americans in a society in which a black person killed every 28 hours in the US. In a society engulfed in fear, racism, and violence, a culture of compassion, trust, and justice has been transformed into a culture of war and violence.

In a country in which militarism is viewed as an ideal and the police and soldiers are treated like heroes, violence has morphed into the primary modality for solving problems. One consequence is that state violence is either ignored, rendered trivial, or is shamelessly legitimated in the name of the law, security, or self-defence. State violence fuelled by the merging of the war on terror, the militarisation of all aspects of society, and a deep-seated and increasingly ruthless and unapologetic racism is now ubiquitous and should be labelled as a form of domestic terrorism.

Terrorism, torture, and state violence are no longer simply part of our history; they have become the nervous system of an increasingly authoritarian state. Eric Garner told the police as he was being choked to death that he could not breathe. His words now apply to democracy itself, which has lost the civic oxygen that gives it life and is on its death bed. America has become a place where democracy cannot breathe.

– Counterpunch.
Obama’s Visit and America’s Fading Moral Capital
July 28, 2015
Finian Cunningham Correspondent

It’s the fourth time that Barack Obama as US president has visited Africa, but it’s his first official visit to Kenya and neighbouring Ethiopia — two of the continent’s top thriving economies. He wraps up his five-day tour of East Africa today and is being viewed as a celebratory “homecoming” for the 44th US president, whose father grew up and is buried in the remote western Kenyan village of Kogelo.

As Obama headed north to Ethiopia on the next leg of his tour (it was the first time that any sitting American president has visited that country), one of the most populous on the continent and seen by many as the “spiritual home” of all Africans, owing to its indomitable history of independence from European colonialism.

Obama said he was coming to the region to talk about economic trade, investment and security, all with a “tough love” message that African governments must underpin their ambitious development plans with equal attention to human rights.

Rights groups urged the president to address the thorny issues of gay equality and freedom of expression when he spoke at a global enterprise summit in Kenya’s capital Nairobi and later at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Obama opted to broach those subjects in rather vague terms, and he made a point of not letting “certain disagreements” get in the way of otherwise strong bilateral alliances.

On the issue of gay rights, Obama told a news conference in Nairobi “everyone should be treated equally under the law” and that it is wrong for the state to discriminate against people simply “because of who they love.”

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and several members of his ruling administration have been accused of violations against political opponents, while his armed forces are implicated in extra-judicial killings and torture in a counter-insurgency war against Islamist Al Shabaab militants in the eastern region bordering Somalia. The International Criminal Court, however, dropped charges against Kenyatta earlier this year.

On the question of gay rights and same-sex marriage, Kenyatta sounded a note of defiance to Obama’s remarks in a shared press conference. The Kenyan leader repeated his previous public assertions that for Kenyans the matter was “a non-issue.”

In Ethiopia, the newly re-elected coalition government of Prime Minister Haile-Mariam Desalegn has gained a tarnished reputation for cracking down on journalists and civil society groups critical of his administration.

Kenya and Ethiopia are among the fastest growing economies on the 54-nation African continent, which is seen as a future global economic powerhouse owing to vast natural resources in hydrocarbons, metals, minerals and agriculture. This affords a conspicuous new confidence among African leaders, none more so than in Kenya and Ethiopia.

On that score, Obama had to tread carefully while engaging with African leaders — because his “tough love” cuts both ways.

First of all, America’s moral capital is not what it used to be. While criticism of African countries over human rights issues can be levelled, such criticism coming from a US president is liable to sound hypocritical and hollow — even if it is voiced by an “honorary son of Africa”.

The suspicious suicide of 28-year-old African-American woman Sandra Bland while in custody in a Texas jail has once again highlighted the issue of police violence against blacks and other minorities in the United States. This year alone there have been more than 500 killings by US police officers — nearly three per day — and about 140 of the victims have been African-Americans, according to a study by the Washington Post.

The vast majority of US police officers involved in such cases are white, have not been charged with criminal conduct, nor even sanctioned from their jobs. All too often, say human rights campaigners, the US authorities from the federal to state-level government have turned a blind eye to the accusations of racially motivated and lethal policing. What adds to their chagrin is that Barack Obama — the first African-American president — has been in the White House for seven years and appears to have taken little action to uphold justice for minorities.

So, Obama faced a difficult balancing act while in Kenya and Ethiopia. Both countries could as well rightly point out that Obama’s words of concern about human rights and civil liberties amount to hypocritical finger pointing. After all, Kenya is caught up in a vicious war with Islamist insurgents. And in Ethiopia, there are seldom-reported cases of police killings of citizens.

A second helping of tough love that the American president has to bear in mind is that US investment capital is also not what it used to be. Over the past decade, China has emerged as the pre-eminent strategic business partner of the African continent.

Chinese investment and trade with Africa far outweighs the volume of American business with the continent, or indeed compared with the former colonial European states for that matter.

According to US think tank Stratfor, China has invested a total of $100 billion across most of Africa’s countries since 2010. That compares with a relatively paltry investment of $14 billion announced earlier this year by the Obama administration. Africa’s annual trade with China has grown by leaps and bounds to around $200 billion compared with the EU-Africa figure of $140 billion and $73 billion for US.

China’s prodigious investment is being used to develop infrastructure in transport, urban development and a host of public services, including power utilities, hospitals, schools and universities. Chinese engineers have also brought modern telecommunications to Africa by setting up mobile phone and internet connections that can now reach the remotest village. This is having a transformative impact on development.

When Obama addresses the African Union assembly in Addis Ababa later this week, it is no small irony that the new prestigious multi-story AU headquarters were built and opened three years ago thanks to a $200-million gift from the Chinese government.

For China, its financial largesse towards Africa has less to do with “humanitarian aid” than simply having to do with good business sense. Through building strategic partnerships across the continent, China has earned concessions and rights to lucrative oil, gas, mineral, agriculture and forestry resources. Beijing knows that the New Silk Routes it is paving across Eurasia with Russia and other partners will need to be fuelled with copious supplies of raw materials. Africa is seen by Beijing as a key global partner for fulfilling its own ambitious global development plans.

Africa seems suitably content with that arrangement. After centuries of Western-style colonial extraction, the African countries are eagerly receiving the investment capital from China that they need in order to reach their undoubted development potential. Moreover, Chinese investment is conducted without bothersome prying into African internal affairs.

So, yes, there has been much emotive hoopla this weekend for Africa’s famous son making a long-awaited homecoming. But as soon as the red carpet is rolled up after Obama’s departure, Africa will be back to bigger business matters with its main strategic partner in China.

Obama’s “tough love” dealings with increasingly confident African leaders in Kenya and Ethiopia will thus prove to be a tough sell. — RT.
Neo-Colonial Libyan Rebel Regime Sentences Seif Gaddafi to Death in Show Trial
ESAM MOHAMED
TRIPOLI, Libya — The Associated Press
Tuesday, Jul. 28, 2015 8:25AM EDT

A court in Libya on Tuesday sentenced a son of Moammar Gadhafi to death by firing squad after convicting him of murder and inciting genocide during the 2011 uprising.

The Tripoli court that sentenced Seif al-Islam, who is being held by a militia that refuses to hand him over, also sentenced to death eight others, including former Libyan spy chief Abdullah al-Senoussi, who is in government custody.

It was unclear whether the sentences in the mass trial of 38 Gadhafi-era figures, only 29 of whom were present, would be carried out. Six others were sentenced to life in prison and four were cleared of charges.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said the trial was “undermined by serious due process violations,” and called on the Supreme Court to independently review the verdict.

“This trial has been plagued by persistent, credible allegations of fair trial breaches that warrant independent and impartial judicial review,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “The victims of the serious crimes committed during the 2011 uprising deserve justice, but that can only be delivered through fair and transparent proceedings.”

Libya has slid into chaos since the overthrow and killing of Gadhafi, who ruled the country for four decades. It is now bitterly divided between an elected parliament and government cornered in the country’s east, with little power on the ground, and an Islamist militia-backed government in the west that has seized the capital, Tripoli.

Since the end of the civil war, Seif al-Islam has been held by a militia in Zintan, which is allied with the Tobruk-based internationally recognized government against the Tripoli one. The court that convicted him is affiliated with the Tripoli-based government. He is also wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity.

During the trial, Seif al-Islam was accused of recruiting mercenaries who were given Libyan nationality, planning and carrying out attacks on civilian targets from the air, forming armed groups and shooting into crowds of demonstrators. Among the charges he was convicted of were incitement of murder and rape.

Hundreds of militias in Libya are battling for power and turf in a lawless environment has allowed human traffickers and kidnappers to flourish.

The U.N. envoy for Libya, meanwhile, has urged the Islamist-led government in Tripoli to sign a peace deal that would establish a unity government. Members of the Tobruk government and regional leaders signed the unity accord in Morocco on July 11.

Also sentenced to death on Tuesday were foreign intelligence chief Abu-Zeid Omar-Dawarda and Gadhafi’s former Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi.
Libya Rebel Court Sentences Qaddafi Son to Death in Absentia
July 28, 2015
Associated Press

TRIPOLI, Libya –  A court in Libya's capital convicted a son of Muammar Qaddafi of murder and inciting genocide during the country's 2011 uprising on Tuesday, sentencing him to death in absentia.

The Tripoli court that sentenced Seif al-Islam, who is being held by a militia that refuses to hand him over to the central government, also sentenced to death eight others, including former Libyan spy chief Abdullah al-Senoussi, who is in government custody.

It was unclear whether the sentences in the mass trial of 38 Qaddafi-era figures, only 29 of whom were present, would be carried out. Six others were sentenced to life in prison and four were cleared of charges.

Libya has slid into chaos since the overthrow and killing of Qaddafi. It is now bitterly divided between an elected parliament and government cornered in the country's east, with little power on the ground, and an Islamist militia-backed government in the west that has seized Tripoli.

Since the end of the civil war, Seif al-Islam has been held by a militia in Zintan, which is allied with the Tobruk-based internationally recognized government against the Tripoli one. He is also wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity.

During the trial, Seif al-Islam was accused of recruiting mercenaries who were given Libyan nationality, planning and carrying out attacks on civilian targets from the air, forming armed groups and shooting into crowds of demonstrators. Among the charges he was convicted of were incitement of murder and rape.

Hundreds of militias in Libya are battling for power and turf in a lawless environment has allowed human traffickers and kidnappers to flourish.

The U.N. envoy for Libya, meanwhile, has urged the Islamist-led government in Tripoli to sign a peace deal that would establish a unity government. Members of the Tobruk government and regional leaders signed the unity accord in Morocco on July 11.

Also sentenced to death were foreign intelligence chief Abu-Zeid Omar-Dawarda and Qaddafi's former Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi.
Libyan Rebel Court Sentences Gaddafi Son Saif, Eight Other Ex-officials to Death
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, attends a hearing behind bars in a courtroom in Zintan May 25, 2014.

A Libyan court on Tuesday sentenced Muammar Gaddafi's most prominent son, Saif al-Islam, and eight others to death for war crimes including killings of protesters during the 2011 revolution that ended his father's rule.

The former Gaddafi regime officials sentenced to die by firing squad included former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi and ex-prime minister Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, Sadiq al-Sur, chief investigator at the Tripoli state prosecutor's office, told a televised news conference in Tripoli.

The trial outcome drew swift criticism abroad, with Human Rights Watch and a prominent international lawyer saying it was riddled with legal flaws and carried out amid widespread lawlessness undermining the credibility of the judiciary.

Eight ex-officials received life sentences and seven jail terms of 12 years each, Sadiq said. Four of the 37 defendants were acquitted, others got shorter jail terms.

Muammar Gaddafi himself was killed by rebels who captured him after months on the run.

Sadiq did not spell out the charges on which the verdict was based, referring to the expected written ruling. Defendants had been accused of a range of offences including the use of deadly force against unarmed demonstrators, as well as corruption.

The verdict on Saif al-Islam was passed in absentia in Tripoli since he has been held since 2011 by a former rebel group in the mountainous Zintan region beyond central government control. Factional disorder and conflict now plagues Libya.

Saif appeared by video link only at the start of the trial. The Zintanis have refused to hand him over, saying they do not trust authorities in Tripoli to make sure he does not escape, but agreed to let him be tried there.

The sentences can be appealed and must be confirmed by Libya's Supreme Court, but legal experts and rights advocates said the proceeding was tainted and politicized from the start.

JUSTICE UNDER FIRE IN LIBYA

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said defense lawyers lacked full and timely access to case files and several had been unable to meet with clients in private while two quit after receiving threats.

"There are serious questions about whether judges and prosecutors can be truly independent where utter lawlessness prevails and certain groups are unashamedly shielded from justice," Joe Stork, HRW's deputy Middle East and North Africa director, said in an emailed statement.

"This trial was held in the midst of an armed conflict and a country divided by war where impunity has become the norm ...The victims of the serious crimes committed during the 2011 uprising deserve justice, but that can only be delivered through fair and transparent proceedings," Stork said.The International Criminal Court (ICC) had wanted to try Saif al-Islam and Senussi in The Hague but in 2013 granted Libya the right to do so at home despite doubts about the impartiality and competence of its judicial system.

John Jones, a British lawyer hired to represent Saif al-Islam before the ICC, said a "show trial" led to the death sentences. "The whole thing is illegitimate from start to finish... It's judicially sanctioned execution," Jones said.

The ICC does not allow the death penalty.

The trial began in April 2014 before fighting between rival factions in Tripoli ripped Libya apart in a power struggle which has produced two governments competing for authority.

Tripoli is now controlled by a self-declared government set up after an armed faction called Libya Dawn seized the capital in August, expelling the internationally recognized government, which then decamped to far eastern Libya.

Fighting involving remnants of the armed forces, ex-rebel groups, regional tribes and Islamist militants has sewn chaos in the North African oil-producing country, thwarting any post-Gaddafi transition towards democracy.

(Reporting by Omar Fahmy, Ahmed Elumami and Ulf Laessing; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Monday, July 27, 2015

Nigeria to Reduce Fuel Imports as Oil Production Resumes in Warri, Kaduna Refineries
Editor | July 27, 2015
By PHILIP IKPONKO
Nigerian National Accord

The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, has announced the readiness of the Federal Government to reduce its import of refined petroleum products as two of the nation’s refineries in Warri and Kaduna are set to bridge the demand gap in local consumption of the products.

Governor of the apex bank, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, who disclosed this to newsmen at the bank’s headquarters shortly after its July Monetary Policy Committee, MPC, meeting on Friday, said the resuscitation of the two refineries came as a result of meetings between the CBN, management of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Federal Government.

He noted that while the Warri Refinery has already commenced production, the Kaduna facility is expected to follow suit shortly.

The new plan comes in the wake of the Muhammadu Buhari administration’s reluctance to sustain the fuel subsidy regime, which many believe has enriched few while impoverishing millions of Nigerians.

While failing to state whether the CBN actually injected fresh capital into the two organizations as it did in agriculture, industry and aviation sectors, Emefiele assured that the combined capacities of the two firms would likely reduce the estimated 30 million litres of refined products currently being imported into the country.

According to him, the resumption of production by the refineries would reduce the pressure on both government expenditure and also help the CBN strengthen reserves and build the much needed fiscal buffers.

“We have met with NNPC and Warri Refinery has begun produc­ing fuel. Kaduna will soon begin production and so we are going to see a drastic reduction in the import of premium motor spirit.”

While stressing that it is the mandate of the CBN to build reserve, achieve strong exchange rate and maintain stability, Emefiele asserted that the MPC was guided in taking its decisions by the need to stimulate growth and development in the economy. He pointed out that though some of such decisions may be tough on some stakeholders, they are always taken in the best interest of the economy and the citizens.

The CBN boss, who restated the need for Nigerians to cut some of excesses to ensure the revival of the economy, said: “In the past, we were a leading export of palm produce. Today Nigeria imports almost one million metric tonnes of palm oil. But in the past, we were producing for domestic consumption and for export. And people used the proceeds to send their children to school. We need to return to the basics to begin to create jobs again locally rather than export jobs to other countries”.
Nigeria’s External Trade Drops to $26.74 Billion
By Roseline Okere
Nigerian Guardian
July 28, 2015

Nigeria recorded an estimated total external trade of $26.74 billion in the first quarter of 2015, representing a decline of 17.1 per cent and 27.2 per cent, respectively, from their levels recorded in the preceding and corresponding quarters in 2014.

Specifically, crude oil and gas exports component declined from $18.96 billion and $20.85 billion in fourth quarter of 2014 and first quarter of 2014 to $13.30 billion and accounted for 92.9 per cent of aggregate exports in the review period.

The slide in the external trade profile has therefore been attributed to the decline in crude oil receipts, occasioned by fall in prices at the international market from an average of $70.00 per barrel in fourth 2014 to $54.50 in first quarter 2015.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which made this disclosure in its first quarter Economic Report for 2015 released at the weekend, stated that the performance of the external sector deteriorated further in the first quarter due to the negative outcomes of 4.5, 3.4 and 1.1 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), recorded respectively, in the overall balance, current, and capital and financial accounts.

According to the apex bank, these developments could be attributed to the continued decline in the global oil prices, as well as the repatriation of investment income and lower foreign investment flows, associated with the unpredictable political environment, during the national electioneering in first quarter of 2015.

CBN also disclosed that aggregate merchandise exports declined by 13.7 per cent and 35.4 per cent, respectively, below their levels in fourth quarter of 2014 and first quarter of 2014 to $14.33 billion.

It stated: “Non-oil exports which recorded $1.02 billion, rose marginally by 2.0 per cent but declined by 8.9 per cent, respectively, when compared with the levels recorded in the preceding and corresponding quarters in 2014. “Aggregate imports (fob) fell by 18.3 per cent and 7.9 per cent respectively, below the levels recorded in the preceding and corresponding quarters in 2014 to $12.41 billion.

The drop was accounted for by both the oil and non-oil components. “Oil sector imports declined by 38.1 per cent and 24.4 per cent while non-oil component declined by 12.9 and 3.8 per cent, respectively when compared with fourth quarter of 2014 and fourth quarter of 2014. “Non-oil imports remained dominant, accounting for 83.7 per cent of total, while oil sector imports accounted for the balance.

Total exports exceeded imports (cif) which resulted in a trade surplus of $0.75 billion as against a deficit of $1.90 billion recorded in fourth quarter of 2014. It added that aggregate foreign capital inflows stood at $2.52 billion as against $2.64 billion and US$3.40 billion recorded in fourth Quarter of 2014 and first quarter of 2014, respectively.

It noted that of the aggregate foreign inflows, other investment inflows dominated by loans accounted for the largest share of 55.0 per cent while FDI inflows accounted for 28.7 per cent of total.
85% OF CRUDE MEANT FOR LOCAL REFINERIES EXPORTED IN 2014
Monday, 27 July 2015 04:01
Written by Hamisu Muhammad
Nigerian Daily Trust

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has exported a total of 133.7 million barrels of crude oil (equivalent to 85.4 percent) meant for the three local refineries in 2014, data from the corporation has shown.

Only 22.8 million barrels or 14.6 percent of the total crude for the domestic refining was utilised by the refineries  in Kaduna, Port Harcourt and Warri within the period.

The data obtained by Daily Trust showed that NNPC through its subsidiary, Pipeline and Product Marketing Company (PPMC), exported the crude under the crude exchange lifting (otherwise known as SWAP) arrangement totaling about 56.4 million barrels and offshore processing with about 21.1 million. The remaining 56.2 million barrels were regarded as unprocessed PPMC crude for the period.

Source in the oil industry told Daily Trust that some interest groups decided to ignore local refineries by channeling the crude oil under the crude for refined product SWAP arrangement.

The arrangement which in recent times generated a lot of controversy due to the scandalous nature under which it was run, had denied the refineries the little crude they needed to operate even below capacity.

“The combined average refining capacity utilisation for year 2014 was 14.4% as against 22% in 2013,” the NNPC report said.

The statistics showed that the local refineries received a total of 25,839,373.09 barrels (3,491,903mt) of (dry) crude oil, condensate and slops and processed 23,360,372.27 barrels (3,156,914mt) into various petroleum products.  The total production output by the refineries was 2,665,289.09 metric tons of various petroleum products.

However industry source said the refineries were not completely dead as perceived by many. For instance, the major problem of the Port Harcourt refinery was power supply for some time but that the problem was fixed long ago.

The plan of the last regime, some observed, was to privatise the refineries possibly to its cronies as soon as it gets re-elected. Some of the equipment for the turnaround maintenance of the Port Harcourt and Kaduna refineries were abandoned at Onne Port for months. It was just recently, after the general elections, that the NNPC officials decided to pick them up.  The idea was to keep the equipment after the privatisation and then use them to revive the refineries and begin production.

The source said with return of the refineries the amount spent on the subsidies and the foreign exchange spending will drop significantly.

Last Friday, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, after the Monetary Policy Committee meeting in Abuja, announced that the Port Harcourt and Warri refineries have already commenced operations.

“Let me confirm that the CBN and the NNPC have held a couple of meetings and I am aware that Port-Harcourt and Warri have started refining petroleum products. We are expecting that in the month of August. Kaduna Refinery will begin refining petroleum products.

“Hopefully, as they ramp up production, they would be able to get to about 19 to 20 million litres that they can produce to meet our daily consumption level of about 30 million litres.

“Our interest as CBN is that by this act alone we are going to record a drastic reduction in the importation of petroleum products  which will ultimately help our reserve position and help us in our mandate of strengthening the exchange rate,” he said.

But  the General Manager, Public Affairs of the NNPC, Ohi Alegbe, recently attributed the slow operations of the refineries to the turnaround maintenance of the facilities going on.

“The refineries at Warri, Port Harcourt and Kaduna will resume next month (July) after a successful turnaround maintenance (overhaul) of their facilities,” Alegbe said last month.
Libya in Legal Action on Nationalizations
Jane Croft, Law Courts Correspondent
Financial Times

The Libyan Investment Authority has launched legal action against four African states alleging that they took advantage of Libya’s political turmoil to nationalise assets belonging to the $67bn sovereign wealth fund.

Hassan Bouhadi, the LIA’s chairman who was appointed by the internationally recognised Tobruk government in October, said the legal action related to technology assets in Rwanda, Zambia, Chad and Niger.

“There are some individuals every day that are trying to apply false claims against the assets of the LIA and we have a few incidents where some countries have nationalised some of our assets,” Mr Bouhadi alleged.

The LIA was created in 2006 by Colonel Muammer Gaddafi to invest the proceeds of Libya’s vast oil wealth, but since 2011, its assets have been frozen under international law.

In 2014, it launched two separate lawsuits against Goldman Sachs and Société Générale in London’s High Court over controversial trades. Both banks deny any wrongdoing.

Mr Bouhadi, a former GE and Bechtel executive who grew up in Libya but was educated at London’s University College, said the LIA is “determined” to “regain what was squandered from the Libyan people”. He also hopes that the lawsuits may “shed some light into some practices” within the wider banking industry.

However, the success of its high stakes litigation was thrown into serious doubt this year because of the rival factions in Libya’s bitter civil war.

Four years after the counter-revolutionary Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Pentagon and NATO war of regime change that resulted in the brutal assassination of Muammer Gaddafi, the country has two rival rebel regimes battling for control and is split between Islamists in Tripoli with the internationally recognised government based in Tobruk.

Each junta has appointed officials at state agencies including the National Oil Corporation and the LIA itself. Mr Bouhadi was appointed by the Tobruk government, but Tripoli-based Abdulmagid Breish also claims to be LIA chairman — which Mr Bouhadi’s team fiercely dispute.

Mr Breish says he was appointed as chairman of the LIA in June 2013 when the country had one government, but agreed to step aside a year later when a political isolation law was passed prohibiting Gaddafi-era officials from taking part in politics. He appealed on the grounds that the isolation law did not apply to him, and in April was reinstated by the Libyan Court of Appeal.

That month Libya’s deepening political turmoil led to the disbanding of the LIA’s litigation committee, and its longstanding law firm Enyo which had been working on the lawsuits against Goldman Sachs and SocGen, stepped down.

The confusion surrounding the LIA led one High Court judge to declare that the litigation was in a “state of chaos”. Even Mr Justice Flaux, the High Court judge, noted drily that there is “what might be colloquially described as a dog’s breakfast on the claimant’s side of the fence” and “no doubt that suits the defendants extremely well”.

Now, the litigation is firmly back on track after the lawyers of both Mr Bouhadi and Mr Breish jointly asked the High Court this month to appoint BDO, the professional services firm, as a receiver and litigation manager by the High Court. In future BDO will handle the litigation, with Enyo acting as lawyers.

“These are assets of the Libyan people and we are entrusted with safeguarding these assets. It’s not a wish. It’s a duty that we need to continue,” says Mr Bouhadi.

His resolve is shared by Mr Breish who says the receiver’s appointment was the “best option” available. “We reached a point where the two pieces of litigation were hanging in limbo and at great risk,” Mr Breish said.

Yet whoever is in charge at the LIA is not able to touch the assets directly until the sanctions are lifted. In 2012, the LIA had the opportunity to unfreeze the assets but decided against it until there was a more stable political process.

However, Mr Bouhadi would like to apply to the UN and EU to be allowed to manage more efficiently the cash generated from dividends and matured bonds.

When sanctions are lifted, Mr Bouhadi wants the LIA to play a greater role in liberalising the Libyan economy and in helping business start-ups. Another objective is to demystify the LIA for ordinary Libyans who, Mr Bouhadi says, viewed the wealth fund as opaque and “a mystery” during the Gaddafi era.

He says: “The Libyan people are all the time asking: ‘What is it? What is it for the Libyans? What is the LIA doing for the Libyans? What are the tangible benefits for the Libyans?’”.

But the LIA knows that if it is successful in clawing back more than $2bn from Goldman Sachs and SocGen and through other lawsuits, ordinary Libyans should not need to ask that question for much longer.

Cameron Ready to Strike Libya Despite FCO Ruling Out Renewed Campaign
27 Jul, 2015 10:15
Rt.com

As the Foreign and Commonwealth Office rules out renewed strikes on Libya, Prime Minister David Cameron says he is ready to pursue military action if the UK is threatened by Islamic State militants said to be established there.

Speaking at the end of a five-day official tour of South East Asia, Cameron said: “If there is a threat to Britain or to our people on our streets, and we are able to stop it by taking immediate action against that threat, as prime minister I will always want to try and take that action.

“That is the case whether that problem is emanating from Libya, from Syria or anywhere else.”

The announcement comes after Cameron ordered government departments to draw up contingency plans in the wake of the murder of 30 British holidaymakers at a resort in Sousse, Tunisia last month.

Since the 2011 war, which saw the removal of President Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has descended into chaos, with tribal and religious militias battling for control of the destabilized nation.

Some security and intelligence figures warn a local version of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) is gaining a foothold in Libya.

Cameron’s comments appear to be at odds with the announcement by the Foreign Office on Monday that there would be no strikes in Libya.

“Supporting progress towards a UN-mediated ceasefire and a stable political settlement in Libya is our immediate priority,” a Foreign Office spokesman told the Guardian.

“The UK has no plans to launch airstrikes over Libya.

“We are working closely with international and regional partners to support the Libyans to tackle terror groups and are discussing how to use existing UN Security Council resolutions to sanction terrorist groups in Libya, including groups affiliated to ISIS,” the FCO added.

Ongoing concerns in the UK over the fallout of Western-led bombing in 2011 appear to be converging on the idea of an inquiry into the war and its results.

Announcing the investigation on Friday, Foreign Affairs Select Committee Chair Crispin Blunt said the intervention proved a disaster and served to compound security problems both regionally and globally.

“It has turned out to be a catastrophe for the people of Libya,” Blunt said. “And now it is a growing problem for us, with our undoubted enemy ISIS beginning to establish control of areas of Libya.”

Many commentators point to the 2011 conflict, and other crises in the region’s recent past, to explain the increase in migrants attempting to flee the Middle East and North Africa to Europe. Often in highly-dangerous, overcrowded boats run by professional people smuggles.

Blunt took the same view, attributing the “migration crisis” to the collapse of state authorities which “poses problems for us all over the world.”

Sketching out the scope of the inquiry, which is more time sensitive and likely to be better organized than the larger and much delayed Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war, Blunt said, “I want to examine the quality of the analysis that underpinned the decision to intervene in Libya.

“Had we reasonably thought through the consequences of the action? If we hadn’t, that begs questions about the scale of resources inside the Foreign Office to have that capability.”

He also said the war and the manner in which the UN resolution on countering the excesses of the Gaddafi regime was interpreted had implications for the West’s relationships with other actors on the international scene.

He said the events of 2011 had “strongly reinforced the sense in Russia of Western exceptionalism, which has made negotiating with them on Syria and Crimea very difficult.”

“When we say to them, you have got to stick to the rules of the road, they can point to areas where they think we have bent the rules.”