The Marine Corps and Army have developed quick-reaction forces to respond to attacks such as the one in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador.
The Marines will base 500 troops at Moron [!] Air Force Base in Spain, about 35 miles southeast of Seville, said Capt. Eric Flanagan, a Marine Corps spokesman. They can be flown on short notice to African crises aboard six Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.
Those aircraft can take off and land like a helicopter and cruise at more than 300 mph. Two KC-130 tanker aircraft have been dedicated to refuel them in flight, which will expand their reach.
The unit is known as the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force for Crisis Response. It will act as a first responder to U.S. embassies in the region on behalf of U.S. Africa Command, Flanagan said. It will be on standby to help evacuate Americans from hot spots
and to provide disaster relief and humanitarian missions.
The Army has developed the East Africa Response Force, which operates under the Combined Joint Task Force — Horn of Africa. Its headquarters are at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. The company-size unit is equipped with aircraft to conduct evacuations and rescue missions in the region.
“Soldiers have been on the ground in Djibouti to support this mission since April and have the capabilities they need to conduct it,” said. Brig. Gen. Kimberly Field, deputy director of strategy, plans and policy for the Army.
With its already small defense budget hit hard by the economic crisis Spain is leasing several bases to the US in exchange for access to better technology, intelligence, and training.
Spaniards protest against healthcare privatization
January 7, 2013
Thousands of Spanish medical workers marched through downtown Madrid on Monday to protest against budget cuts and plans to partly privatize their cherished national health service.
The march is part of a series of such demonstrations, described as a “white tide” because of the color of the medical scrubs many protesters wear. Participants on Monday walked behind a large banner saying, “Health care is not to be sold, it’s to be defended.”
Monica Garcia, spokeswoman for the Association of Medical Specialists of Madrid, which initiated the march, said her organization would continue to protest “the loss of our public health care, a national heritage that belongs to us and not to the government.”
She said the regional government was trying “to obtain economic benefit” from a system it had not invested in.
Health care and education are currently administered by Spain’s 17 semi-autonomous regions rather than the central government.
Many regions are struggling financially as Spain’s economy has fallen back into recession, having never recovered from a real estate crash in 2008. Some regions overspent in the good times but are now unable to borrow on financial markets to repay their huge debts, forcing them to make savings and even request rescue aid from the central government.
The region of Madrid proposes selling the management of six of 20 large public hospitals in its territory and 27 of 268 health centers. It argues that’s needed to fix the region’s finances and secure health services.
Doctor Agustin Reverte, 31, said privatizations would lead to less diagnostic tests on patients who will be attended by fewer medical staff, reducing the overall quality of the service.
“Those in government have money, so they don’t care if they have to pay for health care,” said Aurora Rojas, a 55-year-old nurse. “But the rest of us who just have a regular salary will not be able to afford decent treatment,” she said.
Forget, for a moment, the Greek tragedy. The tale of social woe set to play out in Spain this year is both bigger and more important to the world. For the drama of rescuing the euro, or letting it sink, will be played out on Spanish soil.
That is not to say Spaniards will have it worse than Greeks, though Eurostat figures show only Bulgaria and Romania now have a higher percentage of people deemed at risk of poverty. Spain’s economy will shrink, once more, by 1.5% – a dramatic enough figure, though one most Greeks would happily settle for. But Spain represents a quantitative leap in Europe’s ongoing tale of misery. Its economy is five times bigger than Greece’s – accounting for 12% of the eurozone. And there are almost twice as many Spaniards as there are people in bailed-out Portugal, Ireland and Greece together.
As Spain enters another year of recession, Europe’s politicians offer only one remedy. It must swallow more of the harsh medicine of austerity. But will it survive the cure? And will the spiral of decline really come to a halt towards the end of the year, as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy promises?
Already the country’s social fabric is tearing. Family networks keep the working class going as unemployment hits 26%. Fewer than half of those aged under 25 find work. Anecdotes of misery abound. Grandmothers with memories of the “hungry” 1950s cook up large pots of lentils to feed unemployed grandchildren. At night, small crowds gather outside supermarkets in poorer neighbourhoods of Madrid, seeking thrown-out produce. In middle-class neighbourhoods ghostly figures wander the streets rummaging through bins by night.
Middle-class friends face new dilemmas. How do you look after a now terminally ill 90-year-old aunt and her son with mental health problems, asks one, when both have lived off her €600-a-month pension? Another has given her spare room to a 57-year-old graphic designer friend who cannot find work and does not qualify for dole payments. How long will he stay? A doctor – and single mother – admits that she worked before Christmas with flu because she could not afford to take (unpaid) sick days. “I tried not to breathe over my patients,” she says.
Anecdotal evidence of Spaniards’ suffering is backed by hard figures. When crisis struck in 2008, families began to save madly. Four years later savings rates are tumbling again – too many families are having trouble getting to the end of the month. Average household disposable income has already dropped, in real terms, by almost 10% since 2008. In poorer regions such as the Canary Islands, Andalucia and Extremadura, almost a third of the population is below the at-risk-of-poverty line,according to the National Statistics Institute. In a damning report, Oxfam says that previous crises in Latin America and Asia point to serious long-term damage if austerity measures remain in place. “Poverty and social exclusion may increase drastically,” it says. “By 2022, some 18 million Spaniards, or 38% of the population, could be in poverty.”
Rajoy’s year-old conservative government no longer calls the shots, if it ever did. In 2012 it tried to obey Brussels and Berlin, raising taxes and chopping spending on health, education, social services and almost everything else. Pensioners and civil servants became poorer. Yet early figures suggest that, by the time money borrowed to bail-out banks is included, the deficit remained above 8%. In 2013 Rajoy promises to do better. And that means even more cuts.
With a quarter of this year’s budget to go on servicing debt, Spain itself now needs a bailout. In 2013 it looks set to test the new “soft” bailouts now on offer from eurozone partners. That will be a make-or-break moment in the euro crisis. If it works and helps set Spain on the road to recovery, the euro is safe. If it does not, there are few solutions left. A soft bailout will be less painful than those inflicted on Greece, Portugal and Ireland – because it comes with a European Central Bank (ECB) promise to buy Spanish bonds in order to keep borrowing costs down. But it will still come with one chief condition – more austerity.
Restricted by the euro straitjacket and unable to devalue its currency, Spain is on the slow, painful path of internal devaluation. That means Spaniards must become poorer – accepting lower wages, lower pensions and worse public services. That way, they are told, their economy can become more competitive, making cheaper goods to consume itself or sell to the rest of the world. “We can only get out of this crisis by working more and, unfortunately, earning less,” said former employers’ federation leader Gerardo Díaz Ferrán two years ago. He was not, of course, talking about himself. Díaz Ferrán’s own companies have since gone bust and the workers sacked. But prosecutors claimed Díaz Ferrán stole money from his companies first – ensuring himself a high-end lifestyle that included a Rolls-Royce and two luxury apartments overlooking New York’s Central Park. In 2013, Spaniards will undoubtedly find out more about the former leader of Spain’s most powerful business lobby – a man who allegedly paid no income tax in 2009 or 2010. But his grim recipe for the future still holds.
Spaniards are more likely to fret about jobs, incomes and the shrinking value of what they own. Last year, some 800,000 people lost their jobs. In 2013, unemployment will rise further as another half a million or more jobs are lost. A new labour law offers workers in companies with falling revenues either wage cuts, sackings or both. And house prices will continue to tumble in a country where 80% own their homes. Prices dropped 15% last year – the biggest fall since a housing bubble burst in 2008. The stock of houses up for sale is growing thanks to foreclosures. A rash of suicides among those about to lose their homes saw new legislation introduced to protect the most vulnerable at the end of last year.
“Things are improving in Spain,” Mario Draghi, the powerful ECB boss, said before Christmas – according to Spanish translations of his words. “2012 was a year of painful gains. And 2013 should also be one.” The pain, at least, is guaranteed.
The insufferable human drama of evictions in Spain
December 14, 2012
With 500 families being evicted in Spain every day, foreclosures have become a source of great suffering. But luckily, there are still those who resist.
Throughout this crisis, there has always been a certain alienating quality to the pronouncements of European leaders and technocrats. Sometimes one is led to wonder if these people are actually talking about the same continent — or the same universe, for that matter. Just today, for instance, the European Central Bank announced that “the eurozone is starting to heal.” Indeed, the major weakness the central bankers could detect from the commanding heights of their glass-and-steel tower in downtown Frankfurt was “falling bank profits.”
But this morning, huddled together with activists and independent journalists in a small apartment in Madrid, the eurozone seemed to be far from healing. Together with Santiago Carrión from the Associated Whistleblowing Press, we were there because the Platform for those Affected by their Mortgage (PAH), which runs the Stop Desahucios (Stop Evictions) campaign, had called on the city’s indignados to protect Juana Madrid and her two daughters of 21 and 17, who were about to be evicted from their humble home in the poor neighborhood of Orcasur. The atmosphere, of course, was tense.
The living room was full of people, most of them photographers, while outside the first chants of activists could be heard as people prepared to physically block the entrance to the apartment. Nervously dragging on her cigarette, Juana’s baggy and dark-ringed eyes said it all: this was a woman on the verge of a breakdown. Her voice was calm and subdued, but her facial expression exuded despair. “We have nowhere to go,” Juana’s 21-year-old daughter Isa told us in the kitchen. “If they evict us today we will end up on the street tonight.”
Sadly, the story of Juana and her daughters is by no means an exception. Ever since the start of the crisis in late 2008, over 350.000 families have been evicted from their homes. According to government figures, Spain currently faces a staggering wave of 500 evictions per day — 150 of them in Madrid alone. The vast majority of these involve families whose main breadwinner lost his or her job in the recession and who have inadvertently fallen behind on their mortgage payments to the bank. At 25.02%, Spain’s unemployment rate is the highest in the developed world, higher even than in the U.S. at the peak of the Great Depression.
Recent months have seen a wave of high-profile suicides by people who were about to be evicted from their homes. The most paradigmatic case was that of a 53-year-old woman in the Basque Country, who jumped from her balcony and plunged to death as foreclosure agents made their way up the stairs of her apartment. The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, tells the harrowing story of a Spanish locksmith who was taken aback when he pried open the door of a foreclosed apartment for police, and encountered a woman giving birth inside. According to the locksmith, it was “evident that the stress of the foreclosure had induced premature birth.”
Since then, a number of high judges have spoken out against the “inhumane” foreclosure laws in Spain, which they consider to be “overly protective of the politically influential banks”. Under immense media pressure, the conservative government finally passed an emergency law allowing the most vulnerable families to be spared from eviction. Still, the new law will only cover some 120.000 people and does not tackle the root of the problem, which is the fact that the government keeps squeezing workers, students, homeowners, pensioners and the sick and disabled in order to pay for the folly of a tiny elite of gambling bankers.
The human tragedy, after all, is only part of the story. The other part, as the Spanish indignados rightly point out, is the estafa: the fraud. Many of the mortgages that now shackle millions of families to unpayable debt loads, came about under highly dubious circumstances to begin with. The banks never cared if people would be able to repay their debts: as long as house prices kept rising, a defaulting family could still be evicted and replaced by another. After the bank reclaimed the property, it could just re-sell it at a profit. The fact that lives are being destroyed and families shattered in the process is wholly irrelevant for the financial imperatives of the bank.
And thus, the people end up paying the banks triple: first through the usurious interest rates they pay on their mortgage loans (which are essentially conjured up out of thin air by the banks); second through the tax-payer-funded bailouts of the same banks, after many of these mortgages started going bad; and third through the homes they are losing and which subsequently fall back into the property of the bank, which can — a few years down the line, when real estate prices will have recovered somewhat — sell on the property to a third party.
Spanish banks are suspending evictions for the next two years for the most vulnerable people.
An estimated 350,000 families have been evicted from their homes since Spain’s property market crashed in 2008.
It comes three days after Amaia Egana, who was 53, died after jumping from her fourth floor apartment in northern Spain, just before she was due to be evicted.
Her death has inflamed public anger at banks, accused of being heartless.
… There have been demonstrations in Spain, with an organisation called Platform for Mortgage Victims blocking access to houses, to prevent evictions.
The public pressure has prompted the Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, to call for officials from his conservative People’s Party and the opposition Socialists to speed up negotiations on reforming the eviction laws during talks on Monday.
Juliane Kokott, the European Court of Justice’s advocate general, has criticised the current rules on evictions, saying they violate European consumer protection rules.
Tens of thousands of people marched in 56 Spanish cities Sunday to protest punishing austerity cuts they say will only increase unemployment and job insecurity in a country experiencing its second recession in three years and record high unemployment.
Around 20,000 people marched in Madrid behind a banner that said, “They want to ruin the country. We have to stop them.” The rally in Spain’s capital was supported by 150 organizations.
Protesters chanted slogans against cuts and waved placards reading “youth without jobs, society with no future.” That is a reference to the youth unemployment rate, which surpasses 50 percent. Spain’s overall jobless rate is nearly 25 percent and social unrest is on the rise.
“They are abusing the lower social classes,” 54-year-old teacher Luis Diaz said. “By backing banks, they are torturing the working class and badly affecting public education, health care and pensions when what they should be doing is exactly the opposite.”
Trade union leaders said the marches warned the government that tempers were rising and a general strike was brewing.
Workers Commissions union spokesman Ignacio Fernandez Toxo said a likely date for the strike could be as early as Nov. 14.
If Greece was the problem child of Europe, Portugal was the poster child. It has a relatively clean and efficient government, and it volunteered for austerity. “We did everything they asked of us, and we even went beyond their demands,” former Cabinet Minister Elisa Ferreira told me.
Portugal intensified privatization, raised taxes, cut spending, and reduced pensions. Portugal has a system where salaried workers are paid wages in 14 monthly installments, so they get seasonal bonus checks before Christmas and in the summer. It’s part of their regular pay. As part of the austerity package, the Christmas check and the summer check were eliminated—a 14 percent pay cut.
The Troika showered Portugal with praise … but guess what? Austerity didn’t work any better as a recovery strategy in Portugal than it did in Greece.
Unemployment has risen to 15 percent. The Portuguese economy will shrink by 3.3 percent this year, one of the worst downward spirals in Europe. Reduced wages and idled workers, of course, reduce revenue collections. The debt ratio is still rising. Portugal still cannot access money markets to roll over its bonds, absent IMF support.
A group of international human rights organizations and experts filed a brief today before the Spanish Supreme Court, arguing that the continued failure of U.S. authorities to investigate or prosecute torture binds the Spanish judicial system to resume its inquiry into these practices.
The amicus filing in the case, which argues that international law requires Spain to act, comes only weeks after the U.S. Department of Justice announced it had closed its investigation into the torture and death of detainees held in CIA custody, an investigation that ended without charges being brought against a single person.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) filed the brief with 10 additional organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), World Organization Against Torture, and The International Commission of Jurists; and 15 individuals, including former United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Torture Manfred Nowak and Theo van Boven, and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism Martin Scheinin; retired members of the U.S. military Col. Morris D. Davis, former Chief Prosecutor for the U.S. military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, and Major General Antonio M. Taguba, author of the Taguba Report on the “sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuse” at Abu Ghraib; and academics with an expertise in international law and accountability.
The brief asks the Spanish Supreme Court to overturn a decision by an investigative magistrate, upheld by a majority on appeal not to pursue a criminal case against six former officials from the Bush administration for their role in directing and implementing a systematic torture program. In April 2011, Judge Eloy Velasco of the Audiencia Nacional ordered the case transferred to the U.S. Department of Justice “for it to be continued,” after the DOJ said it was already investigating the allegations.
The case was originally filed in 2009 by the Association for the Dignity of Male and Female Prisoners of Spain. The defendants named in the complaint are David Addington, Jay S. Bybee, Douglas Feith, Alberto R. Gonzales, William J. Haynes, and John Yoo.
“The United States’ claim that it has ongoing investigations related to the six named defendants in this case is simply not true. Torturers must be held accountable for their actions, and that is what we urge the Spanish Supreme Court to do in this case,” said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Katherine Gallagher. “The very limited and preliminary investigations related to the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody explicitly excluded the so-called “torture memos” as well as legal advice given by these men, both of which served to advance the torture program and immunize its participants. The recent decision by the U.S. Department of Justice to not charge anyone involved in the torture and death of two men held in CIA custody make clear that the U.S. has no intention whatsoever of prosecuting any government official responsible for torture.”
ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck emphasizes “the importance of the proceedings in Spain for upholding equal international legal standards worldwide. If the U.S. fails to apply the same legal standards to their administration officials as to foreign state officials, courts in third states are the right forum to prosecute these cases for the time being.”