“...when [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren has spoken on national security, she has invariably spouted warmed-over, banal Democratic hawk tripe of the kind that she just recited about Israel and Gaza. During her Senate campaign, for instance, she issued wildly militaristic – and in some cases clearly false – statements about Iran and its nuclear program that would have been comfortable on the pages of The Weekly Standard.” –Glenn Greenwald
Elizabeth Warren Breaks Silence on Israel/Gaza, Sounds Like Netanyahu
http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/elizabeth_warren_breaks_silence_on_israel_gaza_sounds_like_20140829/ VIA Steve Weiss
Responding to constituents at her regularly scheduled “office hours” last week, Massachusetts senator and celebrated left-wing icon Elizabeth Warren defended her vote to send $225 million of American taxpayer money to Israel for its Iron Dome missile defense system and explained her support of Israel in that country’s summer military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.
“I think the vote was right, and I’ll tell you why I think the vote was right,” she said. “America has a very special relationship with Israel. Israel lives in a very dangerous part of the world, and a part of the world where there aren’t many liberal democracies and democracies that are controlled by the rule of law. And we very much need an ally in that part of the world.”
Describing Warren’s event for the Cape Cod Times, reporter C. Ryan Barber noted that the senator said Hamas attacked Israel “indiscriminately” and that she believed civilian casualties from Israeli attacks are “the last thing Israel wants.”
Drawing applause, Barber reported, Warren said, “But when Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they’re using their civilian population to protect their military assets. And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself.”
Writing at The Intercept about the senator’s statements, Glenn Greenwald observed:
In her defense, Warren has long been clear that this is what she would do. Her Senate campaign website still contains statements such as “it is a moral imperative to support and defend Israel” and ”as a United States Senator, I will work to ensure Israel’s security and success.”
During her time in the national spotlight, Warren has focused overwhelmingly on domestic issues, rarely venturing into foreign policy discussions. Many of those domestic views, particularly her strident-for-D.C. opposition to banks, have been admirable, elevating her to hero status for many progressives.
But when Warren has spoken on national security, she has invariably spouted warmed-over, banal Democratic hawk tripe of the kind that she just recited about Israel and Gaza. During her Senate campaign, for instance, she issued wildly militaristic – and in some cases clearly false – statements about Iran and its nuclear program that would have been comfortable on the pages of The Weekly Standard.
Greenwald went on to note that British newspaper The Telegraph has published the names of all 504 children who were killed in Gaza “over the last 50 days.” Warren’s “clear position,” he continued, “is that Israel bears none of the blame for any of this. … That, ladies and gentlemen, is your inspiring left-wing icon of the Democratic Party.”
“Ferguson shares a border with a little black town, Kinloch.
Many ended up in the Canfield Green apartment complex, where Mike Brown lived and died.
So when protests erupted over Brown’s death, some former residents of Kinloch were more than ready to carry its memory with them in the streets.
“I used to live in Kinloch,” Ray said. “You should see my old apartment. There’s nothing left.”
Only minutes from the protests in Ferguson, the near-vacant city has long been a symbol of what many African-Americans in north St. Louis County feel is representative of a social and governmental system in which they have little voice and that they say consistently works against them.
Some 30 years ago, the City of St. Louis started a buyout program in Kinloch to collect land in order to build a new runway at the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. While voluntary on paper, those who lived there at the time describe the atmosphere as “arm-twisting.”
Eminent domain was in the back of everybody’s mind.
“Whether you chose to accept it or you chose to fight it, you knew eventually you’d have to leave,” Steven Peebles, who grew up in Kinloch, told Al Jazeera in April as part of a look at Missouri’s disappearing black towns. “There was this feeling of helplessness. We were essentially and effectively gobbled up.”
“The airport took that sense of community,” he added, “and eradicated it.”
Whether you chose to accept it or you chose to fight it, you knew eventually you’d have to leave. There was this feeling of helplessness. We were essentially and effectively gobbled up.
In 1980, more than 4,000 people lived in Kinloch. Today there are not even 300, and the entire municipality has been reduced to less than one square mile of land, drained of most of its tax base. What used to be streets lined with houses, churches and corner stores now resembles an undeveloped plot of land, sprinkled with decaying buildings and cracked, empty streets. Much of the land belongs to the City of St. Louis.
Nearly the entire town was torn down to accommodate a runway that, in the end, was never built. The ground shakes when landing planes pass over, an ironic homage to the fact that the city’s first airstrip was in Kinloch, a point of pride for many of its former residents.
Tony Ambus, a long-time resident of the area who was also out protesting in Ferguson, knew the story of Kinloch well.
“What they did in Kinloch,” he said, “was destroy the sense of community there.”
Umar Lee, a life-long resident of north St. Louis County and local writer, told America Tonightthat a sense of displacement has contributed to the frustration in Ferguson and is now being broadcast all over the world.
“You have a lot of displaced youth,” Lee said. “Either they came from Kinloch, or their families came from Kinloch. You know, a lot of these families are so transient and moving from one apartment complex — like Canfield Green — to another.”
He added: “Just constantly moving and no real sense of place or direction.”
Lee and the Al Jazeera film crew were later threatened by two Kinloch police officers for filming a sign on one of its abandoned streets. In recent years, the remnants of the city have become notorious for crime and violence, due to the abandoned buildings, former Kinloch residents said.
“You want to know what they did to that church?” Ray asked of the Catholic parish she and her children went to when they lived in Kinloch.
A scowl formed on her face. “It’s a nightclub now.”
Kinloch, Lee said, is one of the many factors playing into the protests in Ferguson. To understand Ferguson, one must understand Kinloch.
“It’s not just Mike Brown,” he said. “It’s life — times of bad dealings with the police and seeing your family dealt with by the police in that manner. It’s so many things, and it’s not just Mike Brown.”
“[Kinloch] is an issue they had back then,” said a Ferguson protester named Susan, who wished to have her last name withheld. “They tried to brush it under the rug there. Now it’s back up in their face.”
Susan was a property manager in Kinloch for several years. The apartment complex she managed was foreclosed on, and she was charged with the task of evicting its residents.
“They didn’t understand,” she said softly. “It was home to a lot of people for generations. They were heartbroken. That was their home.”
For those who lived in Kinloch, the city was the village it took to raise their children. It’s a community many are nostalgic for, and many who lived there feel the system that took Mike Brown is the connected to the one that bulldozed their hometown.
“It’s a festering wound,” Susan said. “They feel like they weren’t ever heard.”
Visit my website www.michaelmunk.com
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Also: see my earlier post attached
Stepan Bandera celebrated on a 2009 Ukrainian stamp
Behind the Ukraine crisis is a revision of World War II history that seeks to honor eastern European collaborators with Hitler and the Holocaust by repackaging these rightists as anti-Soviet heroes, a reality shielded from the U.S. public.
by Dovid Katz
[Dovid Katz, formerly professor of Yiddish Studies at Vilnius University, is a New York born, Vilnius-based independent researcher. He edits DefendingHistory.com. His personal website is www.dovidkatz.net.]
Would America support any type of Hitlerism in the course of the State Department's effort to turn the anti-Russian political classes of Eastern Europe into paragons of PR perfection that may not be criticized, howsoever mildly?
It was frankly disconcerting to see Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, embracing the leader of Ukraine's far right, anti-Semitic, pro-fascist Svoboda party last December. It was disturbing to learn of the neo-Nazi elements that provided the "muscle" for the actual Maidan takeover last February (BBC's Newsnight was among the few major Western outlets to dare cover that openly).
Most disturbing of all has been the mainstream Western media's almost Soviet-grade wall somehow erected against critical mention of the far-right component of Ukraine's 2014 history, rendering any such thought as worthy of ridicule on New York Times opinion pages last spring.
Most hilarious was the Times's May 2014 publication of an (obviously ghost-written, State Department-scripted) op-ed by Ukrainian presidential candidate Yulia V. Tymoshenko which quotes Churchill writing to Roosevelt, "Give us the tools, as we will finish the job," rumbling on about "the just and open democracy that is America's greatest bequest to the world."
This, from the far right politician who had shortly before that expressed genocidal musings for the millions of Russian-speaking citizens of her country, and who was, during her tenure as prime minister, a prime devotee of the wartime fascist leader Stepan Bandera, whose organization slaughtered tens of thousands (many historians put it at hundreds of thousands) of Polish and Jewish civilians based on ethnicity, in the Aryanist drive for an ethnically pure state precisely on the Nazi model.
It was therefore refreshing to read in last Saturday's Times a report that had, albeit buried near the end, a single line informing readers that "One [militia active in the Kiev government's military campaign] known as Azov, which took over the village of Marinka, flies a neo-Nazi symbol resembling a Swastika as its flag." By contrast, London's right-of-center Daily Telegraph ran a whole report Monday titled "The neo-Nazi brigade fighting pro-Russian separatists," rightly including the observation that the neo-Nazi forces being used by the Ukrainian government to do military heavy lifting "should send a shiver down Europe's spine."
This goes to the heart of what is being kept from so many Western, and especially American readers. Putin — for all his authoritarianism, anti-democratic bent and revanchism — is not the cause of the Ukrainian conundrum (though he is certainly exploiting it). There is a genuine divide in Ukraine between a nationalist-dominated west and a Russian-speaking east.
Anybody who has traveled the country will tell you that these "Russians" in the east, and wherever else they are to be found, would much rather be living in a European Union-type country than in a Russia-type country. What then is the problem? They do not want to live in an ultranationalist-dominated state that is anti-Russian in a 1930s Aryanesque sense of ethnically and linguistically pure Ukrainism. They much prefer the Russia-model state to that.
Now those anti-racist values, including the revering of the Anglo-American-Soviet alliance that brought down Hitler, and the disdain of societies founded on models of racist purity, are in fact also American values. But that affinity between Western values and the easterners would never even be guessed at in the avalanche of Cold War II newsfeed coming our way.
Incidentally, some Western reports that caricature the Putinist press's use of the word "fascists" for Ukrainian nationalists don't appreciate the colloquial Russian usage where it refers not necessarily to swastika-wielding thugs but even to high society that holds in esteem the likes of Bandera and other World War II-era Nazist fascists as supposed mythical "freedom fighters" to be revered today by the state, in street names, statues, museums, and more.
That is not to say that America's allies among the western Ukrainian nationalists are all pro-fascist. They are not. But there are two salient issues that go beyond Ukraine and cover all of "anti-Russian" Eastern Europe, particularly the new member states of NATO and the EU.
The first is casual acceptance of neo-Nazi elements, symbolism and ideology as part of any kind of supposedly centrist mainstream. In Latvia and Estonia, this is exemplified by tacit (or not so tacit) state support for honors for those countries' Waffen SS divisions. In Lithuania, it can be manifest in state-sponsored shrines to the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) killers who unleashed the Holocaust on Jewish neighbors before the first German soldiers had quite arrived.
But there is a second issue that is much deeper, and has nothing to do with these more ostentatious kinds of Nazi worship. That issue is history.
While World War II is indeed "history" for the West, it is very much part of Now in Eastern Europe. State-sponsored institutions in the three Baltic countries, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, especially, and also at times in Croatia, Romania and elsewhere have invested a fortune in a kind of Holocaust revisionism that would whitewash their own nationalists' collaboration with Hitler and turn the Soviet Union into the real Hitler.
Known as "Double Genocide," it posits the absolute theoretical equality of Nazi and Soviet crimes. Its constitution is the 2008 "Prague Declaration," which most Americans have never heard of, that sports the word "same" five times in reference to Nazi and Soviet crimes. Even fewer Americans know that one of its demands, that the world accept a unitary mix-and-match day of remembrance for Nazi and Soviet victims, was snuck under the radar into last June's congressional military appropriations bill.
The issue across the board is the choice made by nationalist elites in Eastern Europe to construct national myths not on the merits of a country's great artists, poets, thinkers and genuine freedom fighters, but all too often, on the basis of Nazi collaborators whose claim to fame is that they were also "anti-Soviet patriots."
The fact of the matter is that virtually all of Hitler's collaborators in Eastern Europe were "anti-Soviet." In fact, the Soviet Union was the only power putting up resistance to Hitler in Eastern Europe. If the Soviets had not pushed the Nazi armies back by the spring of 1944, at huge sacrifice to all the Soviet peoples, there would have been no D-Day or opening of a Western front.
Whether it is hero-worship of Hungary's Miklós Horthy, leaders of Croatia's Hitlerist Ustasha, the Nazis' Waffen SS divisions in Latvia and Estonia, or the likes of Ukraine's Bandera and his OUN and UPA, and the Waffen SS, it is an offense to Western values that a NATO or EU state, or NATO/EU-aspiring state, would disburse state funds on the distortion of history, obfuscation of the Holocaust and construction of societies that admire the worst of history's racists.
To do so quite simply implies that all the minority citizens they butchered, or whose butchering they supported, were quite unworthy of continued existence. Incidentally, all these countries have real heroes from that darkest moment in their history: those (often the simplest of people) who just did the right thing and risked all to rescue a neighbor from the Nazist establishment collaborationist leadership of their own nationalists.
A High Low Point
The trend reached an unseemly highpoint in 2012, when the Lithuanian government financed the repatriation from Putnam, Connecticut, to Lithuania of the remains of the 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister Juozas Ambrazevičius Brazaitis, who had personally signed documents confirming Nazi orders first, for Jewish citizens of his city, Kaunas, to be sent to a concentration camp (it was actually a mass murder site), and a few weeks later, for the remainder to be incarcerated in a ghetto within four weeks.
Instead of politely protesting, the American embassy in Vilnius helped camouflage the event with a symposium on the war and the Holocaust that did not even mention the reburial underway.
According to some in State Department circles, the Obama administration, shaken by criticism of its long-standing anti-neocon caution in Iraq and Syria, and rueful over Libya, has tried to show its muscle, and satisfy the contingent led by Robert Kagan and his wife, Victoria Nuland, now assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, with sheer one-sidedness over Ukraine.
That is the Ms. Nuland who was caught telling the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine "Fuck the EU," which would have preferred peaceful, democratic change in Ukraine. She was also plotting which politician would emerge as prime minister in that nation in the worst neo-con tradition of organizing who will emerge as ruler after the next fixed case of foreign regime change.
In Ukraine, a negotiated solution could maintain the nation's independence and freedom to join the EU but not the military alliance NATO that is the huge humiliation for Russia (a hostile military alliance coming right to more of its borders).
Any viable solution needs to take into account that it is a deeply divided country even in the absence of (ever-present) Putinist mischief. It therefore needs to also take into account the many millions of Russian speakers who oppose the racial chauvinism of some of the nationalist elite now in or close to the government, and who have very different ideas about Twentieth Century history.
That is the way forward, not the Cold War II nonsense of spreading the word that the westerners are pure angels and the easterners pure demons, not the neocon nonsense that America's greatness depends on endless foreign military misadventures in regime change that lead to long , unpredictable, and uncontrollable cycles of violence.
That America shares with Russia the magnificent legacy of having in tandem brought down Hitler's empire is a heritage worth invoking for building better understanding, not a fact to be buried in deference to the far-right revision of Holocaust history with which much of nationalist Eastern Europe is so obsessed.
Among the points new to me are his explanation for his disillusionment
with President Obama and the incident that triggered his decision to blow the whistle -mm.
1) Snowden “ began to consider becoming a whistle-blower, but with Obama about to be elected, he held off. “I think even Obama’s critics were impressed and optimistic about the values that he represented,” he says. “He said that we’re not going to sacrifice our rights. We’re not going to change who we are just to catch some small percentage more terrorists.” But Snowden grew disappointed as, in his view, Obama didn’t follow through on his lofty rhetoric. “Not only did they not fulfill those promises, but they entirely repudiated them,” he says. “They went in the other direction. What does that mean for a society, for a democracy, when the people that you elect on the basis of promises can basically suborn the will of the electorate?”
He decided when DNI James Clapper lied to the Senate under questioning from Oregon senator Ron Wyden. More recently, Clapper lied to the Senate again when he denied the CIA had spied on its investigation of CIA kidnapping and torture. The Senate report, censored heavily by Obama, still remains secret from the public.-MM
2) “On March 13, 2013, sitting at his desk in the “tunnel” surrounded by computer screens, Snowden read a news story that convinced him that the time had come to act. It was an account of director of national intelligence James Clapper telling a Senate committee that the NSA does “not wittingly” collect information on millions of Americans. “I think I was reading it in the paper the next day, talking to coworkers, saying, can you believe this shit?”
Snowden and his colleagues had discussed the routine deception around the breadth of the NSA’s spying many times, so it wasn’t surprising to him when they had little reaction to Clapper’s testimony. “It was more of just acceptance,” he says, calling it “the banality of evil”—a reference to Hannah Arendt’s study of bureaucrats in Nazi Germany.
“It’s like the boiling frog,” Snowden tells me. “You get exposed to a little bit of evil, a little bit of rule-breaking, a little bit of dishonesty, a little bit of deceptiveness, a little bit of disservice to the public interest, and you can brush it off, you can come to justify it. But if you do that, it creates a slippery slope that just increases over time, and by the time you’ve been in 15 years, 20 years, 25 years, you’ve seen it all and it doesn’t shock you. And so you see it as normal. And that’s the problem, that’s what the Clapper event was all about. He saw deceiving the American people as what he does, as his job, as something completely ordinary. And he was right that he wouldn’t be punished for it, because he was revealed as having lied under oath and he didn’t even get a slap on the wrist for it. It says a lot about the system and a lot about our leaders.” Snowden decided it was time to hop out of the water before he too was boiled alive.
Then there’s this:
3) “Among the discoveries that most shocked him was learning that the agency was regularly passing raw private communications—content as well as metadata—to Israeli intelligence. Usually information like this would be “minimized,” a process where names and personally identifiable data are removed. But in this case, the NSA did virtually nothing to protect even the communications of people in the US. This included the emails and phone calls of millions of Arab and Palestinian Americans whose relatives in Israel-occupied Palestine could become targets based on the communications. “I think that’s amazing,” Snowden says. “It’s one of the biggest abuses we’ve seen.” (The operation was reported last year by The Guardian, which cited the Snowden documents as its source.)
“Does anyone remember what Iraq looked like a dozen years ago, when Saddam Hussein still ruled the country and the United States was about to invade? On the one hand, Iraqis, especially Shiites and Kurds, suffered under the iron heel of an oppressive dictator -- who may have killed 250,000 or more of his own people during his 25-year reign. They also struggled against the privation caused by U.S.-led sanctions -- some estimates at the time placed the number of sanction-caused infant deaths alone at 500,000.
On the other hand, the country had a number of successful export-oriented industries like leather goods and agricultural products like dates that offered employment to hundreds of thousands of relatively well paid workers and entrepreneurs. It also had a resilient electrical, water, and highway infrastructure (though increasingly decrepit thanks to those sanctions). In addition, it had a best-in-the-region primary and higher educational system, and the finest (free) health care in the Middle East. In a nation of 27 million people, it also had -- in comparison to other countries in the area -- a large, mainly government-employed middle class of three million.
These pluses all flowed from a single source: the 2.5 million barrels of oil that Iraq produced each day. The daily income from the sale of the “national patrimony” undergirded the country’s economic superstructure. In fact, the oil-based government budget was so ample that it supported Hussein with multiple palaces, enriched all his relatives and allies, and financed his various wars, both on other countries and on Iraq’s Kurds and Shiites.
This mixture of oppression and prosperity ended with the U.S. invasion. Despite denials that it would ever touch the Iraqi “patrimony,” the Bush administration went straight for those oil revenues, diverting them away from the economy and into “debt payment” and soon enough, a pacification campaign. Despite promises from Washington that, under an American occupation, production would soon rise to six million barrels per day, the struggle to take control of energy production out of Iraqi hands ended up crippling the industry and reducing production by 40%.”
Read the rest at the ULR (above)
Declassified memo reveals US justification of drone strikes on Americans
DOJ memo from 2010 says killing of Anwar al-Awlaki was legal because the US citizen was 'operational leader' of Al-Qaeda
A federal appeals court on Monday released a previously secret memo in which the U.S. Department of Justice provided legal justification for using drones to kill Americans suspected of links to Al-Qaeda operations overseas.
The memo concluded that the September 2011 drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Al-Qaeda leader, was legally justified. The memo said that because the U.S. government considered Awlaki to be an "operational leader" of an "enemy force," it was legal for the CIA to attack him with a drone as part of the United States' ongoing “armed conflict with Al-Qaeda," even though he was a U.S. citizen.
The document noted that the authority to use lethal force abroad might apply in appropriate circumstances to a U.S. citizen who is part of the forces of an enemy organization. It said the Awlaki killing in Yemen was justified as long as it was carried out in accord with applicable laws of war.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan released the memo, portions of which are blacked out, after the American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU lawyer who argued the case before the 2nd Circuit, said the memo's release "represents an overdue but nonetheless crucial step towards transparency. There are few questions more important than the question of when the government has the authority to kill its own citizens."
Awlaki was killed in what U.S. officials acknowledged at the time was a CIA drone strike in Yemen on Sept. 30, 2011. Another American citizen, Samir Khan, was killed in the same attack, although U.S. officials have said that Khan was not intentionally targeted.
Although other Americans have appeared in Internet postings or propaganda as spokesmen or representatives for Al-Qaeda or its affiliates, Awlaki is the only American citizen who U.S. government officials have acknowledged was directly targeted for a U.S. drone strike.
Some legal scholars and human rights activists complained that it was illegal for the U.S. to kill American citizens away from the battlefield without a trial.
Pardiss Kebriaei, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, said the memo's justification was based on "highly aggressive and controversial interpretations of international law."
Lawyers for the Times and ACLU had said that the government's continued delays regarding the document were cheating the public of a fully informed and fair debate over the highly classified "targeted-killing" program.
“The most appalling result of this process in the United States is that some human rights activists now regularly call for using force to resolve the world’s problems. At one time, “human rights” implied opposition to war. Now some of the most outspoken warmongers in Washington are self-proclaimed human rights advocates.”
ALMOST EVERYONE likes the idea of human rights. The phrase itself is freighted with goodness. Supporting human rights is like supporting world peace.
The modern human rights movement began as a band of outsiders, fighting governments on behalf of the faceless and voiceless. President Jimmy Carter brought it into the American foreign policy establishment by naming an outspoken assistant secretary of state for human rights. This meant that concern for the poor, the brutalized, and the imprisoned would be heard in the highest councils of government.
Now, several decades after the human rights movement traded its outsider status for influence in Washington, it is clear that this has produced negative as well as positive results. The movement has become a global behemoth. Sometimes it functions as a handmaiden to the power it was once dedicated to combating.
The most appalling result of this process in the United States is that some human rights activists now regularly call for using force to resolve the world’s problems. At one time, “human rights” implied opposition to war. Now some of the most outspoken warmongers in Washington are self-proclaimed human rights advocates.
They were among the loudest promoters of war to depose the Libyan dictator Moammar Khadafy. That war cast Libya into chaos and set off a chain of events that has brought radical jihadist rule to large parts of Mali.
In recent months, President Obama’s “human rights” team has pushed for escalated intervention in Syria and the dispatch of more troops to Afghanistan. Human rights activists — sometimes supported by well-meaning but pitifully ignorant celebrities — have urged that American military power be used to capture a warlord in Uganda, impose order in the Ivory Coast, crush rebels in South Sudan, and locate kidnap victims in Nigeria.
This is a radical development in the history of the human rights movement. Once it was generals, defense contractors, and chest-thumping politicians who saw war as the best solution to global problems. Now human rights activists play that role. Some seem to have given up on diplomacy and statecraft. Instead they promote the steady militarization of American foreign policy.
These trigger-happy human rights activists rotate in and out of government jobs. This month more than 100 scholars, activists, and Nobel Peace Prize winners protested against this revolving door in an open letter to Human Rights Watch, which, thanks to an astonishing $100 million gift from the financier George Soros, has become king of the human rights hill.
Their letter says that, although Human Rights Watch claims to defend and protect human rights, its ties to the American military and security establishments “call into question its independence.” It names prominent Human Rights Watch figures who have served in the State Department and CIA; condemns the group for supporting “the illegal practice of kidnapping and transferring terrorism suspects around the planet”; and asserts that it produces biased reports exaggerating human rights abuses in countries the United States dislikes, like Venezuela, while being gentler to American allies like Honduras.
“HRW’s close relationships with the US government suffuse such instances with the appearance of a conflict of interest,” the letter says.
Also this month, news came that a French publisher will issue a book version of a devastating essay by a former American diplomat, Richard Johnson, called “The Travesty of Human Rights Watch on Rwanda,” that has been circulating on the Internet for the last year. It is a detailed indictment of the policies Human Rights Watch wants Rwanda to adopt. They include demands that the Rwandan government end restrictions on hate speech and invite the former genocide army back from its bases in the Congo so it can compete for power.
In his paper, Johnson accuses Human Rights Watch of waging a “viscerally hostile” campaign against Rwanda from behind an “aura of sanctity.” He asserts that this campaign “is a threat to that country’s peace and stability.”
“The mendacity and bias of HRW’s political campaign against the post-genocide Rwandan government undermines the overall credibility of Western human rights advocacy,” he concludes.
The world needs fearless truth-tellers. Some human rights advocates are. Others have succumbed to the temptations of power. Their movement is in danger of losing its way.
Stephen Kinzer is a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.
On her Facebook page, Judy Gross, who is married to Alan Gross, has addressed Secretary of State Kerry:
"Come on Secretary Kerry, are you still so worried about Menendez, Rubio and Ros-Lehtinan that you can't make a simple swap for the now Cuban 3 and Alan Gross?"
She adds her recognition that the "Cuban 3" "never had a fair trial to begin with."
In the statement (see below), from the official website of the Cuban Foreign Ministry (MINREX), Josefina Vidal, the
General Director of the US Division of MINREX, says:
"The Cuban government reiterates its willingness to find, together with the US government, a solution to the case of Mr. Gross that is acceptable for both parties, taking into account Cuba’s humanitarian concerns with regard to three of the Five Cubans who have remained unjustly imprisoned in the United States for more than fifteen years."
All the necessary parties for an agreement for the release of Alan Gross and the Cuban 3 are here -- EXCEPT for President Obama. One swift humanitarian arrangement would allow all four prisoners to be home with their loved ones. The world would be a happier place and nobody anywhere would be endangered by this achievement. We should all be begging the White House to respond to the loved ones of all four prisoners. Let them go home now!
We have read with concern the press communiqué issued in the morning of April 8 in Washington stating that “Alan Gross, the USAID subcontractor imprisoned in Cuba for the last four years and four months, launched a hunger strike last week.”
The Cuban government reiterates its willingness to find, together with the US government, a solution to the case of Mr. Gross that is acceptable for both parties, taking into account Cuba’s humanitarian concerns with regard to three of the Five Cubans who have remained unjustly imprisoned in the United States for more than fifteen years.
As is well known, Mr. Gross has been accorded a decent and appropriate treatment. Since his detention, he has remained interned in a hospital, not because his health condition required so, but because there he is guaranteed specialized assistance by a highly qualified medical staff.
Alan Gross remains physically fit and his health condition is normal and stable. The chronic diseases he suffers from, which are proper of a person his age, for which he is receiving medical treatment, are under control. He has been visited by his wife and his lawyer, with whom he also maintains regular communications by phone and e-mail, as he does with other relatives and friends. He is visited by US diplomatic officials on a monthly basis and also by political and religious personalities.
Mr. Gross was detained, tried and convicted for violating the Cuban laws while he was implementing a subversive program financed by the US Government which involved the establishment of illegal and covert communication systems with the use of non-commercial technology.
Phony state regulators have been recently exposed as close friends of the corporations they “regulate” and consider them to be clients. To wit:
1) Oregon allowed every railroad in the state to keep information about their dangerous oil trains secret.
2) North Carolina allowed Duke Power to pour toxic coal ash waste into its Dean River.
3)West Virginia allowed Freedom Industries to spew cancer-causing chemicals into its Elk River.
4)Washington allowed Grandy Lake Forest to clear cut right above the massive Oso mudslide that has just killed at least 29 people.
And the 1% responsible for these disasters have bought the media and bamboozled enough of the public to make “government regulation” a dirty word.-MM
Visit my website www.michaelmunk.com
Obama won the ‘08 primary because he opposed the invasion while Hillary defended it. He even tried to keep the US occupation going (as he is trying to do in Afghanistan) but the Iraqis, recalling war crimes by US troops, refused to immunize them from their justice system as Obama demanded.
Any deadender Obamatons left after this disgraceful rant?-MM
Anger, Disbelief as Obama Defends US Invasion of Iraq
'In order to not appear hypocritical, Obama rewrites history around Iraq War while denouncing Russia'
President Barack Obama delivers a speech Palais des Beaux-Arts (BOZAR) in Brussels. (Reuters)President Obama is on the receiving end of scorn for remarks made during a high-profile speech in Brussels on Wednesday in which he defended the U.S. invasion of Iraq in an attempt to chastise Russia for recent developments in Crimea and Ukraine.
Speaking to the international community about the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and fending off repeated accusations that the U.S. has lost its moral authority given the invasion of Iraq and other breaches of international law in recent years, Obama said:
Russia has pointed to America’s decision to go into Iraq as an example of Western hypocrisy. Now, it is true that the Iraq war was a subject of vigorous debate, not just around the world but in the United States, as well. I participated in that debate, and I opposed our military intervention there.
But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people in a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about its own future.
But instead of tamping down accusations of hypocrisy, Obama inflamed it.
Responding to the speech on FireDogLake, DSWright shot back: "Worked within the international system? So if Russia had gone to the UN to get a resolution, failed, then annexed Crimea it would have been OK?"
Reaction on Twitter was swift—and among those with a seemingly better memory of the devastation caused by the U.S. invasion of Iraq than the president—fierce:
Visit my website www.michaelmunk.com
For those organizing protest demos in public, take heed of Clancy Segal’s challenge when he writes:
“... another of those terminally boring mass meetings... in which every conceivable faction and constituency grimly demands their square foot of platform space to have their (long, long) say.”
Read the rest of his rant, disguised as a movie review, below
A couple of years ago the Chileans made a movie called simply “No”. It’s askew in important ways, but stunningly apt for our situation.
In 1988 the Chilean dictator Pinochet, he of the torture cells and “desapariciones”, confident in his powers, orders a people’s plebiscite to decide if he should stay in power for another eight years. Even though the vote probably will be fixed, the opposition – liberals, good conservatives and radicals – persuade a young advertising executive, Rene, to brainstorm their campaign. The format is for each side to have 15 minutes of nationwide TV time for 27 nights. A “yes” vote is to keep Pinochet, a “no” promises a democratic election.
The rightwing government has the big battalions on its side, including the military and police and almost total control of propaganda. All the liberals have is most of Chile’s artistic community which pitches in to help Rene create an effective “no” campaign.
Rene’s problem as ad-master is that he may lose his conventional ad-agency job by working for the opposition. More poignantly, he is compelled to argue with his own side composed of jowled politicians emasculated by Pincochet’s tyranny and by oppositionals who suffered terribly under the dictatorship. Rene’s comrades demand “a right to be heard” and want the campaign to dignify and articulate their pain…at length.
Rene, more in tune with popular appetites because he’s worked on “Live on the Coke Side of Life”, we-are-the-world type of ads while in exile, tells his comrades their grim idea is a drag. The Chilean people have had a bellyful of depressing news. Let’s give them something to live for and laugh about and dance with. Many of his comrades are offended by Rene’s trivialization of their agony. Should political activism be turned into marketing rather than a discussion of principles? Much of the story is taken up by this heated, sometimes personal and ugly debate.
In the end, despite Pinochet’s intimidation, Rene’s ideas win and so does the “no” vote. Against all the odds and probability, Pinochet – under pressure by his own military who understand the logic of the “no” vote – bows out.
The meat of the film, directed by Pablo Larrain, is the sparkling series of visual images that Rene flashes up on the TV scene of smiling Chileans confronting not their grisly past but looking forward to a better future. He’s not afraid of using soap opera actors and high fashion models. Pushing the envelope, Rene even convinces the mothers, sisters and wives of murdered victims to give witness…by singing and dancing. An extraordinary moment.
It was a gamble to go against an encrusted, traditional, progressive mind-set and exploit the crass, shallow, pandering marketing tools and thus win the “no” campaign.
I take this film personally. Some time ago my stomach rebelled against much of the progressive writing and speechifying I’ve spent a lot of my life doing. All that shock-horror-misery. The awful word “plight”. Wallowing and even glorying in unhappiness, exploitation, inequality, discrimination etc. because there’s so much of it that activists feel we can change. Like Atlas we carry the world on our shoulders. Lightness of spirit is not one of our many virtues. I guess we leave the joy and optimism to comics like Bill Maher, Doonesbury, Colbert and rock concertgoers.
In a way the Chileans had it easy. They had only a single product to sell, democracy, while we have a spectrum of “issues”, agendas, points of view, studies, and Nobel Prize economists on our side. As a matter of fact I’m not sure WHAT we are selling to the people Out There.
“No” has flaws. It bypasses the undramatic grass roots effort that turned out the anti Pinochet vote, and the director's camera is so in love with his leading man, Gael Garcia Bernal (who played Che Guevera in Motorcycle Diaries) that some potentially fascinating side characters are unattended . Still, “No” is salutary for those of us stuck in the same old ditch. At the very least it may obstruct another of those terminally boring mass meetings – TROOPS OUT! EAT THE RICH! - in which every conceivable faction and constituency grimly demands their square foot of platform space to have their (long, long) say. Attending such meetings is where I learned to fall dead asleep on my feet, no small talent.
US foreign fighters in the AfPak theater under Commander-in-Chief Obama suffered four casualties
during the week ending March 19 the official casualty total for the Iraq and AfPak wars* rose to 121,786.
As everyone knows, Diane Feinstein has been a reliable supporter of the NSA and CIA, so her outburst against the CIA pushback on her senate intelligence committee staffers is a surprise probably explained more by her need to defend the power of the legislative branch against the White House than a belated revulsion against the notorious CIA kidnapping and torture programs.
But her charges and the CIA counter-charges against her staffers for stealing documents are all consequences of what Obama decided in his first month in office. In January 2009, the new president announced to the dismay of many of his supporters that he was letting the CIA agents who conducted the torture and their bosses off scot free. Obama said that while he did not “believe that anybody is above the law,” he preferred “to look forward as opposed to looking backwards” and that he did not want C.I.A. employees to “suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering.” As a NYT editorial observed, “ The lingering fog about the C.I.A. detentions is a result of Mr. Obama’s decision when he took office to conduct no investigation of them.”
Obama’s announcement influenced a series of decisions by his AG Holder not to prosecute CIA employees for a variety of acts ranging from murder to destruction of videotapes depicting torture by the CIA at its secret prisons, including in Thailand, Afghanistan and the former socialist countries of Poland,Romania and Lithuania
1) InNovember 2010, the Justice Department said there would be no charges in the destruction of the videotapes of C.I.A. interrogations. Note
that the CIA’s acting general counsel who referred the accusation against the committee staffers to DOJ as a possible criminal offense, was Robert Eatinger, who in 2005 was one two CIA lawyers in its Counterterorism Center who signed off on the torture tapes’ destruction. He is mentioned “more than 1,600 times” in the committee’s hitherto secret report but not by Feinstein in her public statements.
2) In June, 2011, Holder announced that the CIA torturers “would not be charged if they had acted strictly in accordance with the department’s legal advice, though the legal opinions involved were later withdrawn. His review focused more narrowly on more than 100 cases in which interrogators exceeded legal guidelines, including instances of prisoners waterboarded more often than permitted and of one prisoner who was threatened with an electric drill. That left only the cases of Gul Rahman who died in 2002 after being shackled to a concrete wall in near-freezing temperatures at a secret C.I.A. prison in Afghanistan known as the Salt Pit; and Manadel al-Jamadi, who died in C.I.A. custody in 2003 at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where his corpse was photographed packed in ice and wrapped in plastic.
3) Finally, in August, 2012, Holder announced no one would be prosecuted for the deaths of Rahman and al-Jamadi, eliminating the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the C.I.A.
The march was held in Ukraine's capital on what would have been Bandera's 105th birthday, and many of the celebrants carried torches.
Some wore the uniform of a Ukrainian division of the German army during World War II. Others chanted "Ukraine above all!" and "Bandera, come and bring order!"
However, many of Bandera's followers sought to play down his collaboration with the Germans in the fight for Ukraine's independence as the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, Ukraine's foremost nationalist organization in the first half of the 20th century.
Bandera, who died 55 year ago, remains a deeply divisive figure in Ukraine, glorified by many in western Ukraine as a freedom fighter but dismissed by millions in eastern and southeastern Ukraine as a traitor to the Soviet Union's struggle against the occupying German army.
Bandera was a leader of Ukraine's nationalist movement in the 1930s and 1940s, which included an insurgent army that fought alongside Nazi soldiers during part of the Second World War. Bandera's supporters claim they sided with the Nazis against the Soviet army, believing that Adolf Hitler would grant Ukraine independence.
Ihor Mykolaiv, one of Wednesday night's torch bearers, described Bandera as a man "who fought for the country, the faith and the ideals," but insisted that "Bandera never was on the Germans' side."
However, Bandera did collaborate with the Nazis and receive German funding for subversive acts in the USSR as German forces advanced across Poland and into the Soviet Union at the start of the war.
He fell out with the Nazis in 1941, after the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists declared Ukraine's independence, and he was sent to a concentration camp.
Bandera won back Germany's support in 1944, and he was released. The German army was hoping the Ukrainian insurgents could stop the advance of the Soviet army, which had regained control over much of eastern Ukraine by then. Bandera set up a headquarters in Berlin and oversaw the training of Ukrainian insurgents by the German army.
His group also was involved in the ethnic cleansing that killed tens of thousands of Poles in 1942-44. The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists portrayed Russians, Poles, Hungarians and Jews — most of the minorities in western Ukraine — as aliens and encouraged locals to "destroy" Poles and Jews.
Bandera was assassinated in 1959 by the KGB in West Germany.
In January 2010, less than a month before his term in office was to end, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko posthumously decorated Bandera with the Hero of Ukraine award. That led to harsh criticism by Jewish and Russian groups. The award was annulled by a court in January 2011 under President Viktor Yanukovych.
Kiev has been the scene of massive pro-European protests for more than a month, triggered by Yanukovych's decision to ditch a key deal with the European Union in favor of building stronger ties with Russia.
The nationalist party Svoboda [Freedom], which organized Wednesday's rally, was one of the key forces behind the protests, but other opposition factions have said the Bandera rally is unrelated to the ongoing protest encampment in central Kiev.
A new analysis of rockets linked to the nerve-agent attack on Damascus, Syria, in August has concluded that the rockets were most likely fired by multiple launchers and had a range of about three kilometers, according to the two authors of the analysis.
The authors said that their findings could help pinpoint accountability for the most lethal chemical warfare attack in decades, but that they also raised questions about the American government’s claims about the locations of launching points, and the technical intelligence behind them.
The new analysis could point to particular Syrian military units involved, or be used by defenders of the Syrian government and those suspicious of the United States’ claims to try to shift blame toward rebels.
The rockets in question were not seen before the Syrian civil war. There is little publicly available information about their internal construction, their manufacturing provenance or their flight characteristics.
But remnants of expended rockets have been videotaped and photographed, including at sites in eastern Damascus that were struck by sarin-filled warheads on Aug. 21.
That attack is broadly believed to have caused at least hundreds of civilian deaths. It led the Obama administration, which blamed the government of President Bashar al-Assad, to threaten military action. That threat was deferred in mid-September after Russia and the United States reached an agreement to dismantle the Syrian government’s chemical weapons program.
The authors of the new analysis —Theodore A. Postol, a professor of science, technology and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Richard M. Lloyd, an analyst at the military contractor Tesla Laboratories — evaluated the exteriors of the implicated rockets, visible in videos and photographs. The analysis suggested that they were propelled by motors taken from a common family of 122-millimeter conventional artillery rockets known as the BM-21, the authors said.
The BM-21 line is a globally abundant system of ground-to-ground rockets, colloquially called Grads, that originated in the Soviet Union but have been reproduced and updated by many countries, including post-Soviet Russia, China, Egypt and Iran. Both the Syrian army and the rebels possess them.
An examination of the territory to the northwest of the cluster of reported impact strikes shows many positions that have been firmly under military control throughout 2013, including factories and a bus station complex that are part of Mr. Assad’s defense around his seat of government.
Eliot Higgins, a blogger who has collected and analyzed many online videos related to the attack, the munitions and the Syrian government’s military positions in Damascus, said the new analysis of the rockets’ range aligned with assertions that the government was culpable.
“A range of beyond 2.5 kilometers would put potential launch sites in an area between Jobar and Qaboun, to the north and northwest of the impact locations, that has been a hive of government activity for months,” Mr. Higgins wrote in an email on Friday.
But the analysis could also lead to calls for more transparency from the White House, as Dr. Postol said it undermined the Obama administration’s assertions about the rockets’ launch points.
On Aug. 30, the White House released its assessment of the attack, saying that, among other forms of intelligence, “satellite detections corroborate that attacks from a regime-controlled area struck neighborhoods where the chemical attacks reportedly occurred.”
Dr. Postol said those statements created a public impression that the rockets had been launched from areas at the center of government control.
“It is clear that if the U.S. government’s claims that the allegedly observed launches came from ‘the heart’ of Syrian government controlled areas, there is a serious discrepancy between the meaning of this claim, the technical intelligence it relies on, and the technical properties of this munition,” he wrote.
Using published data about characteristics of motors in various Grad rockets and derivatives, Dr. Postol and Mr. Lloyd calculated potential maximum ranges for the sarin-filled rockets, with an emphasis on a common Grad variant’s motor.
“The dimensions of the inserted rocket motor very closely match the dimensions in the 9M22-U artillery rocket,” Dr. Postol wrote in an email on Thursday. “If the inserted motor is the same as the standard 9M22-U motor, then the maximum range of the munition would be no more than three kilometers, and likely less.”
That would be less than the ranges of more than nine kilometers calculated separately by The New York Times and Human Rights Watch in mid-September, after the United States had dropped its push for a military strike. Those estimates had been based in part on connecting reported compass headings for two rockets cited in the United Nations’ initial report on the attacks.
The published range for a 9M22-U rocket is about 20 kilometers, or 12.4 miles. But the Syrian rockets carried a bulky and apparently flat-nosed warhead — Dr. Postol called it “a soup can” — whose range would have been undermined by its large mass and by drag, the authors said.
Depending on the motors propelling different Grad models, the projected maximum ranges can vary from 2.5 to 3.5 kilometers, or 1.5 to 2.2 miles, Dr. Postol and Mr. Lloyd said.
The longer estimates seem unlikely, Dr. Postol said, because as a sarin-filled rocket was pushed to greater air speeds by a more powerful motor, the stresses created by its non-aerodynamic shape could cause it to tumble or break apart.
Mr. Lloyd said on Friday that his separate analysis of the reported impact sites suggested that two to four launchers were involved in the Aug. 21 strikes.
Dr. Postol agreed. The details, he said, might indicate a canny attacker.
“The line of impacts suggests a launcher that changed loft angle,” Dr. Postol wrote. “This is consistent with a strategy aimed at spreading the nerve agent over a wide area.”
The new analysis has limits. It relies on secondhand measurements of and assumptions about the rockets’ components and construction, but no handling, X-rays or other examination of the real items. The central claim, about a particular rocket-motor insert, regards an item that has not yet been seen in any publicly available images.
Nonetheless, a core assertion in the two authors’ previous analysis of the sarin-filled rockets, also based on dimensions, has stood for months.
That study proposed that the warheads contained a large volume, about 13.2 gallons, of sarin. The United Nations implicitly seconded that suggestion when it included a similar estimate in its own report in September.
The assumption that the warheads contained a large volume of nerve agent also helped shape another prominent analyst’s assertion that the details of the Aug. 21 attack implicated the Syrian government.
Another post I sent out on Dec 13:
A puzzling report that carefully avoids focusing on the report’s clear suggestion that the armed opposition used CWs to attack “soldiers and civilians” at Khan al Assal last March, as well as sarin against “soldiers”in Ashrafia Sahnaya and Jobar in August. Usually only Syrian soldiers are described as such in the western media. Those locations were also identified by Syria at the time as being targeted by the armed opposition and the Khan al Assal attack has been widely reported (outside the US) to have been a chemical strike against Syrian forces.
Recall that, much to the regret of Angela Kane, the UN’s top disarmament official, the US prevented UN inspectors to investigate the Khan al Assal attack by insisting other sites must be included. Kane said in October that “the missed opportunity now haunted her.”-MM
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Chemical weapons were probably used in four locations in Syria this year, in addition to the confirmed attack near Damascus in August that forced the government to abandon its secret chemical stockpile, U.N. inspectors have said.
In a report released Thursday, the experts, led by Swedish professor Ake Sellstrom, examined seven alleged chemical weapons attacks and said it lacked information to corroborate the allegations at two locations.
The inspectors' limited mandate barred them from identifying whether the government or opposition fighters were responsible for any of the attacks.
Thursday's report said evidence indicated chemical weapons were probably used in Khan al Assal outside Aleppo, Jobar in Damascus' eastern suburbs, Saraqueb near Idlib in the northwest, and Ashrafiah Sahnaya in the Damascus countryside. In two cases, it found "signatures of sarin."
The government and opposition accused each other of using chemical weapons at Khan al Assal and the report said none of the parties in Syria denied their use in the village. The allegations of chemical weapons use at Jobar and Ashrafiah Sahnaya were made by the Syrian government, while Britain and France raised the allegations about Saraqueb.
In an initial report on Sept. 16, Sellstrom's team concluded that evidence collected in the Ghouta area of Damascus following an Aug. 21 attack provided "clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used." Graphic video footage showed dozens of people gasping for air and bodies lined up and the U.S. government said [not the UN] more than 1,400 people were killed.
The confirmed use of chemical weapons in Ghouta, and the threat of possible U.S. military action, led to a U.S.-Russian agreement to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons by mid-2014. The process of getting Syrian chemicals that can be used to make weapons out of the country is currently underway.
The experts said they collected "credible information that corroborates the allegations that chemical weapons were used in Khan al Assal on March 19, 2013 against soldiers and civilians." The report said information from medical, military and health personnel corroborated the occurrence of rapid mass poisoning "by an organophosphorous compound."
But the inspectors said the release of chemical weapons at the site couldn't be independently verified because it lacked "primary information" on how the chemical agents were delivered and because environmental and medical samples weren't scientifically collected, preserved and analyzed.
The U.N. mission said it collected evidence "consistent with the probable use of chemical weapons in Jobar on Aug. 24, 2013 on a relatively small scaleagainst soldiers." But it said it lacked information on the delivery system and the chain of custody for samples, and said therefore it could not "establish the link between the victims, the alleged event and the alleged site."
The report said Jobar was "compromised by previous demining activities and by visits of representatives of the Syrian Government who had reportedly moved the remnants of two explosive devices alleged to be the munitions used in the incident." The U.N. team was able to examine those remnants at a storage location.
The inspectors said interviews with survivors and clinicians and medical records confirmed symptoms of "organophosphorous" poisoning. They said blood samples recovered by the Syrian government on Aug. 24 and authenticated by the U.N. using DNA techniques "tested positive for signatures of sarin," and one blood sample from the same patients on Sept. 28 tested positive for sarin.
At Saraqueb, the inspectors said they collected evidence "that suggests that chemical weapons were used ... on April 29, 2013 on a small scale, also against civilians." Again, they said they lacked information on the delivery system and the chain of custody for environmental samples and therefore couldn't link the event, the site "and the deceased woman."
The inspectors said samples of several of her organs, taken during an autopsy performed in the presence of inspectors, "tested positive for signatures of sarin."
The U.N. mission said it collected evidence "that suggests that chemical weapons were used in Ashrafia Sahnaya on Aug. 25, 2013 on a small scale against soldiers." But it said it lacked primary information on delivery systems and said samples collected by the U.N. experts one week and one month after the alleged incident tested negative.
The report says the U.N. investigative team was unable to make on-site visits to almost all of the sites where chemical weapons allegedly were used, mostly because of poor security conditions. Of the seven sites in the final report, the team did visit Ghouta and Jobar.
Sellstrom handed his final report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The report was then sent to members of the U.N. Security Council. Ban said he would address the 193-member General Assembly on Friday and the council on Monday about the report's findings.
Does Being a Pundit Ever Mean Having to Say You're Sorry?
It's been said that being a pundit means never having to say you're sorry. That's probably more true than not, given that there are few penalties for being spectacularly wrong about the big things.
But that doesn't mean pundits can't decide to tell readers that they made a mistake. And that's exactly what Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen did today (10/22/13) .
"The early denunciations of Snowden now seem both over the top and beside the point," Cohen writes. He should know–he wrote one of them. And now he says his initial reaction was "just plain wrong."
Cohen's earlier piece (6/11/13) called Snowden a "self-proclaimed martyr for our civil liberties," and predicted that he would "go down as a cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood." Cohen closed with this:
Everything about Edward Snowden is ridiculously cinematic. He is not paranoiac; he is merely narcissistic. He jettisoned a girlfriend, a career and, undoubtedly, his personal freedom to expose programs that were known to our elected officials and could have been deduced by anyone who has ever Googled anything. History will not record him as "one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers." History is more likely to forget him.
A few months later, Cohen is telling readers that "my mouth is agape at the sheer size of these data-gathering programs." Snowden is no longer some cross-dressing martyr; he is "an authentic whistleblower" who might be compared to Paul Revere; he's even "a bit like John Brown, the zealot who intensely felt the inhumanity of slavery and broke the law in an attempt to end the practice."
Well, that's something. Cohen is to be credited for re-evaluating his work, and doing something to clear up the record. Here's to hoping that some day he might do the same thing about his support for unconstitutional stop-and-frisk police harassment. But in the meantime, this is a remarkable turnaround that deserves to be noted.
Especially since his hysterical performance during the debate over attacking Syria, Kerry had earned a reputation for consistently wrong declarations and factual untruths. Here’s the most recent example. We should stress, however, that those “friendly host nations”against which the US has fought wars and from which has never withdrawn its forces (Germany, Japan and the southern part of Korea), legal jurisdiction of the hosts is usually waived.-MM
The truth about criminal jurisdiction over US troops in Afghanistan
Commentary: Secretary of State Kerry jeopardizes US-Afghan security agreement with misstatement
During an Oct. 12 press conference in Kabul, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that under the pending U.S.-Afghan security agreement, the United States would retain exclusive jurisdiction over its service members for any crimes they commit in Afghanistan.
Kerry unfortunately misstated U.S. law, policy and practice. What's worse, he did so at a critical juncture in the negotiations for an agreement to enable American troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014. And he did this while standing next to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Kerry's misstatements undermined Karzai's ability to explain and advocate for the jurisdiction provisions at an upcoming loya jirga, or political assembly.
Here is what Kerry said:
"We have great respect for Afghan sovereignty. And we will respect it, completely … But where we have forces in any part of the world … in Japan, in Korea, in Europe … wherever our forces are found, they operate under the same standard. We are not singling out Afghanistan for any separate standard. We are defending exactly what the constitutional laws of the United States require."
Returning to the U.S., Kerry repeated his misstatement, claiming that there is "the question of who maintains jurisdiction over those Americans who would be (in Afghanistan after 2014). Needless to say, we are adamant it has to be the United States of America. That’s the way it is everywhere else in the world." This led The Washington Post to award Kerry "three Pinocchios," for statements containing "significant factual errors and/or obvious contradictions."
The secretary may, in fact, have doomed the very security agreement he was in Afghanistan to save. His comments are also strategically counterproductive on a larger scale: They perpetuate the myth that the U.S. does not "allow" the courts of another country to prosecute U.S. service members for their criminal actions in that country.
Variety of standards
Foreign countries prosecute and imprison U.S. service members each and every year under the terms of security agreements — which, contrary to Kerry's claim, apply very different standards than the U.S.-Afghan agreement. Since Kerry is a lawyer and former district attorney, his false contention that the U.S. Constitution requires that the U.S. and only the U.S. prosecute its service members is perplexing.
The criminal jurisdiction sections of security agreements between the U.S. and other countries vary. But for a foreign country in which a large number of American service members are stationed, such as Japan, South Korea and Germany, that country has primary jurisdiction over U.S. service members in the vast majority of c
The only crimes for which the U.S. retains primary jurisdiction under those agreements are offenses that arise from service members' official duties (think convoy vehicle accident or military aircraft incident) or from crimes in which the victims are exclusively American. In all other instances in which the offense violates laws of both the U.S. and the foreign country, the foreign country has primary jurisdiction to prosecute U.S. service members.
The current Afghan criminal justice system lacks the procedural safeguards guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution to ensure a fair trial.
American policy is to maximize U.S. jurisdiction over its service members. For foreign countries that have a primary right of jurisdiction over U.S. service members, the United States requests that those countries waive their right so the American military may take appropriate action. And in the overwhelming number of cases, countries such as Germany, Japan and South Korea do waive their right, because they know from decades of experience that the U.S. does in fact hold its service members accountable.
In the small number of cases in which the foreign country declines to waive its jurisdiction — generally in high-profile offenses such as rape and murder — the U.S. provides its service member a foreign attorney at no charge to the service member; another representative to ensure that the foreign country respects the rights and privileges the agreement affords the service member; and a dedicated military lawyer to observe, monitor and report on the proceedings.
Under the current U.S.-Afghan arrangement, Afghanistan waives jurisdiction over U.S. service members regardless of the crime. Thus, when U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Bales sneaked out of a forward operating base in the middle of the night on March 11, 2012, and slaughtered 16 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children, Afghanistan did not have criminal jurisdiction. Had Bales committed his offense in Japan, South Korea or a NATO country, that country could and would have prosecuted him.
The jurisdictional scheme in the pending U.S.-Afghan security agreement would lead to the same outcome as in the Bales case. If, in 2015, a U.S. service member stationed in Afghanistan commits wanton criminal misconduct against Afghan civilians, Afghanistan would still not have primary jurisdiction over the offender.
Kerry was right to push back on the claim that the agreement results in immunity. It does not. That the U.S. Army court-martialed Bales, convicted him of murder and sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole is anything but immunity.
But the proposed criminal jurisdiction arrangement is fundamentally different from the arrangement the U.S. has with other countries, including those the secretary mentioned. Kerry undermines American credibility by falsely claiming the U.S. is not singling out Afghanistan for a separate criminal jurisdiction standard. In fact, there are legitimate reasons for that separate standard. For instance, the current Afghan criminal justice system lacks the procedural safeguards guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution to ensure a fair trial.
Making that point is diplomatically delicate, if not awkward — especially when President Karzai is standing next to you. But if Afghanistan is to be treated as a partner, now and moving forward, the U.S. cannot afford such careless statements by its top foreign-affairs official.
US foreign fighters in the AfPak theater under Commander-in-Chief Obama suffered 18 casualties
during the week ending Oct 24 as the official
total for the Iraq and AfPak wars* rose to 121,514.
total includes 81,330 casualties since the US invaded Iraq in March, 2003 (Operations "Iraqi Freedom" and "New Dawn"), and 40,184 since the US invaded Afghanistan in November, 2001 (Operation "Enduring Freedom")
AFGHANISTAN THEATER: US foreign fighters suffered 17 combat casualties during the week ending Oct 24 as the total rose to 40,184 The total includes 21,230 dead and wounded from what the Pentagon classifies as "hostile" causes and 18,954 dead or medically evacuated (as of Dec.3, 2012) from what it calls "non-hostile" causes. IRAQ THEATER: The total of US military personnel in Iraq is unclear, with estimates ranging from a few hundred to several thousand. Most armed US employees are designated as civilians. The casualty total has been revised several times recently and has risen to 35,762 dead and wounded from “hostile" causes and 45,568 dead or medically evacuated (as of Dec 3, 2012) from "non-hostile" causes. US media divert attention from the actual cost in American life and limb by reporting regularly only the total killed (6,774- 4,489 in Iraq, 2,285 in Afghanistan) but rarely mentioning those wounded in action (51,571- 32,235 in Iraq;19,436 in Afghanistan). They ignore the 59,908 (44,607 in Iraq,18,463 in AfPak (as of Dec 3, 2012) military casualties injured and ill seriously enough to be medevac'd out of theater, even though the 6,774 total dead include 1,452 (961 in Iraq, 491 in Afghanistan) who died from those same "non hostile" causes, of whom almost 25% (332) were suicides (as of Jan 9, 2013) and at least 18 in Iraq from faulty KBR electrical work. NOTE: It’s unclear whether the AfPak number for WIAs at some point started to include medical evacuations for non hostile injuries and disease. *LIBYA :Operation "Odyssey Dawn" launched in March,2011 officially ended Oct 31, 2011 with no reported US casualties.
WIAs are usually updated on Wednesday at www.defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf -------------------------------------------- visit my website www.michaelmunk.com
The 400 managing partners ands top execs atGoldman Sachs arecovered by a medical and dental plan that vcosts over $40,000 /year for a family. They payno co-payments or deductibles, have no limits on doctors or procedures, no restrictions on pre-existing conditions and no requirements for referrals, according to Paul Fronstin, an analyst at the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a Washington nonprofit that studies benefits. Ted Cruz’s wife is one of those covered, so the Senator was able to decline federal employee health coverage.- MM
US fighters in the AfPak theater under Commander-in-Chief Obama suffered 38 casualty total for the Iraq and AfPak wars* rose to 121,343.
The total includes 81,326 casualties since the US invaded Iraq in March, 2003 (Operations "Iraqi Freedom" and "New Dawn"), and 40,017 since the US invaded Afghanistan in November, 2001 (Operation "Enduring Freedom")
While it isn't a secret that the U.S. government aided Iraq's military to prevent an Iranian victory in the nearly decade-long war between the two countries, it is the first time that official documents reveal the scale of the United States’acquiescence to some of the largest chemical-weapons attacks in recent history, including the gassing of thousands of Kurds in Halabja, Iraq in 1988.
The CIA documents are part of a secret program where the U.S. government shared military intelligence with the Iraqi regime, detailing the positions of Iranian forces after they had discovered a hole in Iraqi defenses and were planning a strike. The information resulted in several chemical attacks on Iran and eventually forced the country to the negotiating table, FP reports.
American officials, including the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who supervised the program denied the attacks. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, told FP that the U.S. government was well aware of Saddam Hussein’s deadly intent.
"The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn't have to. We already knew," he said.
Iraq's gas wars against Iran from 1981 to 1988 were frequently employed to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which happened without prior consent from the United Nations Security Council and under the guise of exposing Hussein’s stock of weapons of mass destruction.
In 1983, the U.S. government gathered evidence of Iraqi chemical-weapon attacks as Iran was building its case for the U.N., but prevented the information from becoming public, according to FP.
CHICAGO (AP) — It will make you stronger. It will give you peace of mind and make you feel like a winner. Health insurance is what the whole country has been talking about, so don't be left out.
Sound like a sales pitch? Get ready for a lot more. As President Barack Obama's health care law moves from theory to reality in the coming months, its success may hinge on whether the best minds in advertising can reach one of the hardest-to-find parts of the population: people without health coverage.
The campaign won't come cheap: The total amount to be spent nationally on publicity, marketing and advertising will be at least $684 million, according to data compiled The Associated Press from federal and state sources.
About 16 percent of Americans are uninsured, but despite years of political debate and media attention, more than three-quarters of them still know little about the law known as "Obamacare," according to recent surveys.
"It's not sugar cereal, beer and detergent," said Brooke Foley, chief executive officer of the Chicago-based Jayne Agency, one of the advertising firms crafting messages to reach the uninsured.
The Obama administration and many states are launching campaigns this summer to get the word out before enrollment for new benefits begins in October.
The targets are mostly the working poor, young people who are disengaged, or those who gave up their insurance because of the cost. Three-quarters are white. Eighty-six percent have a high school education or less. Together they make up a blind spot in the nation's health care system.
"They've been shut out. It's too expensive and it's incredibly confusing," said David Smith of the advertising agency GMMB, pitching the health law's benefits in Washington and Vermont.
Their confusion might only have been magnified by the administration's surprise announcement recently postponing part of the system that affects businesses. But that change should not affect many individuals. A bigger complication is that in about half the states, Republican governors are declining to cooperate, which will limit the marketing.
The states that have been more receptive to the health care overhaul and are further ahead in their planning will receive proportionally more federal money for outreach, advertising and marketing than Republican-led states that have been hostile to the law.
AP research from all 50 states shows the amount of government spending will range from a low of 46 cents per capita in Wisconsin, which has ceded responsibility for its health insurance exchange to the federal government, to $9.23 per capita in West Virginia, which opted for a state-federal partnership.
About $4.8 million in public money will be spent trying to sign up New Jersey's 1.3 million uninsured, for example, compared to the nearly $28 million spent reaching out to Washington state's much smaller 960,000.
Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured people in the nation, three times more than Illinois. But only a fourth as much public money will be spent on getting people enrolled in Texas.
Austin resident Caryl Mauk, 46, remains confused about the Affordable Care Act even though Texas' federally run exchange is just two months away from opening for enrollment.
She hasn't had insurance since she had to quit her nursing job in 2011 because of a heart condition. She's been struggling with chest pains, arthritis and fatigue but doesn't know what to make of the new program.
"Sometimes I just get overwhelmed," Mauk said. "I don't want to get bad news again, and that slows me down in making calls."
In the GOP states, community groups with federal grants will lead the effort.
Ads based on research about the uninsured will soon start popping up on radio, TV and social media. Grassroots organizers are recruiting their pastors, barbers and mothers and arming them with carefully worded messages. In some neighborhoods, volunteers will go door-to-door.
The pitch: If you don't make much money, the government can pick up some of the cost of your health insurance. If you can afford a policy, by law you have to get one. By getting more people insured, the government hopes they'll get health care earlier, before winding up in emergency rooms with expensive problems that could have been prevented.
The political stakes for the Obama administration in a big response are high. If only the sickest people sign up, the cost of their medical care could overburden insurance carriers and sink the new marketplaces. The new system depends on a balanced pool.
The ad campaign already underway in Colorado demonstrates the search for an effective message.
There, TV commercials show people being magically transformed into champions. One minute they're shopping for health insurance on a computer, the next they're winning at a horse race, in a casino or at the World Series with champagne corks flying. The slogan: "When health insurance companies compete, the only winner is you."
That's because market research shows Coloradans like competition, said Tom Leydon, CEO of Denver-based advertising and digital marketing agency Pilgrim.
The celebratory scenes "remind people of the good feeling they get when they win," he said.
Despite the focus on winning and champions, there may be little if any cooperation for the publicity blitz from the professional sports leagues, which would have the potential to reach tens of millions of people. Two Republican Senate leaders warned the leagues about getting involved in "a highly polarized public debate."
In states where there will be no official cooperation, Enroll America, a coalition of health companies and advocates, has deployed volunteers to hand out brochures at a farmers market in Austin and hold house parties in Cincinnati, and plans a seven-figure ad buy across the nation.
"There has to be an echo chamber," said John Gilbert, national field director for the Enroll America media campaign. "If I'm uninsured and it's October, I won't be able to go anywhere without (hearing) the message of enrollment."
Chicago resident Martin Upshaw, whose fast food job doesn't provide health benefits, said the cost has kept him uninsured.
"The bottom line is the dollar sign," said Upshaw, 27, who survived a shooting three years ago. "I would love to be able to go in and see a doctor and make sure I'm OK."
In Chicago, the Jayne Agency's staff talked to more than 50 patients at an emergency room to hone the best message. The slogan they chose: "Don't Just Get By." The ad campaign features real people and their health stories.
On a recent Sunday in southwest Houston, volunteers recruited by Blue Cross Blue Shield set up information tables at a community center where three Methodist church services are held.
"I'm looking to get where I can go to the doctor and have a $25 to $30 co-pay," said churchgoer Yolanda Boykin, 60, whose current job through a temp agency does not provide health insurance.
Another part of the campaign nationwide, focused on young men, is refining messages for their mothers.
Market research has shown that young adults say it's often a parent, a girlfriend or a sibling who will push them to sign up for something like health insurance, said Julie Bataille, helping lead the outreach for the Obama administration, so the campaign will "make sure moms are aware."
Subject: Greenwald.. "Shame on Feinstein"
Norman Solomon’s challenge to secret program defender Feinstein http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/06/07 quotes Glen Greenwald “The reason there are leakers is precisely because the govt is filled with people like Dianne Feinstein who do horrendous things in secret.”
But all he could do was vaguely warn since he couldn’t describe the secret phone data program without violating his oath to keep it secret. Wyden and Feinstein are both “Israel Firsters” but he’s been vindicated as a righteous politician on this one.-MM
Subject: An Example of Bradley Manning's whistleblowing...
If you follow the story of the IAEA and Iranian nukes, you may have noticed a pro-US bias in the IAEA’s bureaucracy in Vienna. That was precisely the result the US expected when it pushed Yukiya Amano of Japan, a nation with a military alliance with the US, to be secretary general.
This is an example of the important information the US tries to keep secret from the public and for which it is trying Bradley
Manning under the 1917 Espionage act.-MM
Visit my website www.michaelmunk.com
Remember the “Cold War Liberals” who pushed for aggressive US military policy (like Vietnam) and fronted the Military-Industrial Complex? These days they’re “Liberal Hawks” or “’Humanitarian’ Interventionists” and like Rice and Power want even more aggressive US intervention in Syria than is already underway (More Patriot missiles to Jordan after sending them to Turkey).-MM
At White House, liberal hawks ascend
The elevation of Susan Rice as national security advisor and Samantha Power as U.N. envoy hints at a foreign policy fight.
By Jacob Heilbrunn
Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2013
latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-heilbrunn-obama-rice-power-20130607,0,4704730.story VIA Steve Weiss
With his decision to elevate Susan Rice to become his national security advisor and the nomination of Samantha Power as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, President Obama is not simply rewarding the loyalty of two women who have backed him from the start. Nor is he merely increasing the diversity of his foreign policy team. Rather, their promotions hints at a new source of fireworks in a growing foreign policy battle in the Obama administration. Liberal hawks and doves in the White House and the Democratic Party are struggling for hearts and minds over whether it makes sense to intervene in Syria and to attack Iran.
Democratic hawks believe that America has a crusading mission to champion humanitarian intervention. Their credo is exemplified by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's reference to America as the "indispensable nation," one that should intervene abroad whenever and wherever necessary to defend the oppressed. Count among the hawks New York Times commentator Bill Keller, who has been demanding intervention in Syria; Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of policy planning at the State Department [and head of the $20M/yr New America Foundation]; and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a staunch liberal who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee and is urging limited military strikes on Syria.
On the other side are the realist skeptics of intervention in Syria, such as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. And although Secretary of State John F. Kerry wants to bolster the Syrian rebels, he's not big on regime change; he favors increased aid as a measure to strengthen diplomatic efforts to force President Bashar Assad to negotiate.
Both men have been deeply shaped by the Vietnam War, in which they served with distinction, and the Iraq war. The fear of a repetition of Iraq is what is prompting liberal pundits such as David Rieff to plead, "Save us from the liberal hawks." The liberal realists worry that the very military steps taken to help embattled populations abroad may inadvertently end up triggering even greater havoc. Like John Quincy Adams, they believe "America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy" for fear that America itself will become the monster.
The conflict between the two camps is probably best understood as the latest installment in a running dispute over the lessons of the Vietnam War. Vietnam was originally promoted by Cold War liberals such as Dean Acheson and Dean Rusk. A younger generation, led by Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.), said that the U.S. had lost its way in Southeast Asia and was becoming an international bad guy. The warriors recoiled. Some became neoconservatives and left for the GOP; others remained behind to try to stage an insurgency inside the party.
Ever since, the Democratic Party has been divided when it comes to foreign policy. During the 1970s and '80s, the doves mostly had the upper hand, decrying U.S. militarism everywhere, from the invasion of Grenada to the Nicaraguan revolution. It may have been emotionally satisfying, but the Democrats also looked weak on foreign policy, a vulnerability that Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush exploited.
Then came the Clinton administration. Initially, Secretary of State Warren Christopher and National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, both of whom were scarred by Vietnam, kept America out of the conflict. But as atrocities mounted in the Balkans, the calls for intervention, including from Samantha Power, who made her name as a journalist covering Serbian aggression, and from Albright, then ambassador to the U.N., became increasingly prominent. In 1995, the administration intervened militarily in the Balkans to bring the Serbs to heel. Hand-wringing about American power was out. A new taste for intervening abroad under the banner of humanitarianism was in. The liberal hawks were once again ascendant.
Despite the fiasco in Iraq, key Obama advisors such as Rice and Power were undaunted when it came to Libya. They argued that regime change was essential, that the United States could put together a genuine international coalition, and that it had a profound obligation to save the civilian population of Benghazi from being annihilated by Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi's marauding forces. It was supposed to be the Balkans all over again. Instead, Islamic militant forces have been emboldened and are spreading the fight to Syria with Kadafi's weaponry.
The chaos in Libya has chastened Obama, who is resisting attacking Syria militarily. But Libya's travails aren't stopping a chorus of warrior intellectuals from denouncing what they consider his morally culpable passivity. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, for example, complains, "Liberals, once characterized as bleeding hearts, seem now to have none at all."
Will Obama remain aloof in Syria, or will a liberal president once again accede to the cries of the hawks? His elevation of Rice and Power suggests that the pressure will be on from within his own administration. Both Rice and Power are personally much closer to the president than Kerry and could seek to undermine him. Even as Rice controls foreign policy from the White House, Power will occupy a potent pulpit at the United Nations, historically a highly visible platform for moralistic defenses of America and denunciations of evildoers abroad.
In naming Rice and Power, Obama, you could say, is staging his own potent intervention on behalf of the liberal hawks.
Jacob Heilbrunn, a senior editor at the National Interest, is the author of "They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons."
The media, which depend on a “recovery” are leading the cheers heralding its arrival. But stagnation seems to a better term to apply to today’s global capitalism.
What happens to the US economy when the Federal Reserve stops printing money to buy mortgage based securities, treasury notes, and other bonds? What happens when that body stops injecting 85 billion dollars into the US economy every month?
These questions torture the economic pundits in the mainstream press.
Contrary to what most believe there has been no recovery. The reports from the other principal global economies have been dismal, recording stagnation or anemic growth. In the mean time, the US economy has been sustained by forced feeding. The Federal Reserve quietly prints notes and takes around 85 billion dollars worth of various securities off the market and parks them on the Fed's balance sheets. The announced reasons for this action are to keep interest rates low, attracting borrowers, and to thus stimulate business growth and job creation. An unannounced consequence of the 85 billion dollar injection has been a surge in equity markets and housing prices. Since both stock portfolios and home values are the principal components in the psychological “wealth effect” -- the subjective, personal sense of financial well-being -- they have spurred the impression of recovery and consumer confidence. Behind this conjured image of recovery, the US economy continues to stagnate and erode.
Whenever the Federal Reserve has suggested that it might slow or end this life-support, markets have dropped precipitously.
Obviously, the Federal Reserve program, dubbed “quantitative easing,” is a back-door stimulus program.
Not a stimulus program of the New Deal type, not public works and public jobs, but more a reclamation of the garbage piled up after the massive, destructive party thrown by the financial sector and a rekindling of the pre-crisis euphoria. No one in the political establishment, neither Republican nor Democrat, had the stomach for a full-blown New Deal program, nor did they have any desire to pass even a little of the cost of a fix-up on to their corporate masters.
So the task of recovery fell in the lap of the Federal Reserve, an ostensibly independent non-political body. The Federal Reserve is not political, except when it is. While it can't be dictated to by the branches of government, its make-up of ivy league professors and financial industry veterans guarantees loyalty to corporate moguls. It also keeps an ear open to the powerful as well as the rich. On occasion the Fed even hears the voices from the barricades, but only when they are at the barricades!
It shares that “independence “ with the Supreme Court. Like the Supreme Court, the Fed gets occasionally chastised when it either missed or failed to get the message of a ruling class change in policy.
All central banks boast of their independence, but all listen closely for a shift in political favor. The Central Bank of Japan recently demonstrated its fealty to political change. With the election of Shinzo Abe as Prime Minister, the Bank relented to his pressure and began a policy of quantitative easing with the goal of doubling Japan's money supply in two years. Abe, a right-wing nationalist, advocates purchasing securities and bonds through a speed-up of the Bank's printing presses, but makes no effort to conceal his real goal: radically reducing the exchange rate of the national currency, the Yen.
Like his foreign policy initiatives, Abe's currency policy is a bold act of aggression, in this case, economic aggression. A weak yen makes Japanese manufacturing products cheaper in global markets, giving Japan a competitive edge against other global manufacturers. The rise of Japanese nationalism has not gone unnoticed by other Asian powers. Chinese demonstrators have trashed Japanese cars in a way reminiscent of similar spectacles in the US decades ago. Japanese automobile sales have dropped sharply in the PRC.
While retaliation may well be on the horizon, the Abe policies have brought a sharp drop in the Yen's value, but also great volatility in Asian equity markets.
Similarly, for all the US Federal Reserve's aggressiveness in printing money, the stock market's surge and the recovery of housing prices have masked serious issues plaguing the real US economy.
[June 2: “Investors have ignored poor economic news as stocks have risen... The Basil, Switzerland based Bank of International Settlements said... that central banks' policies of record low interest rates and monetary stimulus had helped investors “tune out” bad news-- every time an economic indicator disappointed, traders simply took that as confirmation that central banks would continue to provide stimulus.” as reported by Fox News.]
Disposable personal income growth is collapsing, for example. Excepting the 2008-2009 collapse, disposable personal income growth was lower in 2012 than any time since 1959 and is trending even lower in 2013. Not surprisingly, the personal savings rate-- a rate that grew dramatically after the frivolity leading to the 2008-2009 collapse-- has now dropped sharply. Clearly, workers are taking home less while reducing their savings to pay the bills. While unsustainable, this tact has buoyed consumer spending.
[May 31: The Commerce Department reported a .2% pull back in consumer spending for April, 2013.]
Manufacturing production in the US has declined for three of the last four months. Caterpillar Inc., a bell weather of the basic manufacturing sector, has witnessed factory orders of machines, calculated on a rolling three-month average, decline steadily throughout 2012, moving into negative territory at year's end.
Hyper-exploitation in 2009, in the form of unprecedented gains of productivity growth, pulled the US economy from its nadir. But since 2009, productivity gains have slackened with a substantial decline in the last quarter of 2012 and only a very modest recovery in the first quarter of 2013. Consequently, anemic corporate revenue growth is increasingly crimping earnings, once again threatening the rate of profit.
Pressures on profit are demonstrated by the falling yield on junk bonds. The demand for yield-- the never-ending search for a higher rate of profit-- has driven the yield on the riskiest investments lower than at any time in recent memory (a leading high-yield bond index records a return below 5%, the lowest since records began in 1983!). Conversely, treasury bonds, once popular as a safe haven, are now commanding greater and greater yield despite the fact that the Federal Reserve gobbles them up and removes them from bond markets. Obviously, investors do not want safe Treasuries; investors do want risky junk bonds! The gap between Treasury yields and junk bond yields are narrower than any time since 2007. Are we skating on the same thin ice, the same crisis of accumulation?
Accelerating private debt in Asia suggests that much of the capital seeking higher profit growth rates has landed there. But Asia is not the hot bed of growth that it was a few years ago. The mounting private debt in Asian economies supports risky, speculative projects and services like commercial and residential real estate. With international trade tepid, these once export-leading countries are attempting to sustain growth through speculation and the hope of global recovery. The new Chinese leadership seems determined to reduce the role of the state sector, market regulation, and public financing, the very factors that allowed the PRC to painlessly weather the global crisis. They are determined to entrust the fate of the economy to global markets. The simultaneous shrinking of government debt and the explosion of private debt underline this policy shift.
[May 31: The Reserve Bank of India reported the lowest annual GDP growth rate in a decade for the end of the fiscal year, March 31.]
The once robust South American economies are also slowing. Exports to the PRC are declining and exports to the EU are on the skids, retarding growth throughout the region. Stagnant growth presents new challenges to the conservative neo-liberal regimes on the continent as well as the more progressive social democratic governments. Nor do South American economies offer any relief, as they have until recently, to the global economy.
And, of course, Europe is in a depression-- a deep and profound depression. The EU as a unity faces both centrifugal and centripetal forces that challenge any policy resolution. Moreover, the major parties – conservative, liberal, and social democratic-- have exhausted their policy toolboxes. Until a new road is chosen, the European Union will only drag the world economy towards a similar fate.
[May 31: Eurostat reports the EU unemployment rate reached a new high-- 12.2% in April-- the highest level ever recorded since euro-wide tracking began in 1995.]
The global economy faces two stubborn challenges: first, a crisis of accumulation and second, an insufficiency of global demand. They are, of course, inter-related, continuation of the 2008-2009 collapse, and immune to conventional treatment. The vast inequalities of wealth and the resultant massive accumulation of capital hungering for investment opportunities (driven by Marx's tendency for the rate of profit to fall) stand at the center of the lingering crisis. Capital continues to seek increasingly risky and unproductive profit schemes, schemes that strangle productive, socially useful (but unprofitable!) activities. At the same time, the crisis has immiserated millions and idled a vast mass of human capital. Left with limited resources and limitless insecurities, these casualties of the crisis have necessarily reduced their patterns of consumption. A shrinkage in global demand followed.
Some still harbor illusions of taming capitalism and slaking its thirst for profit. As the years of crisis continue, it looks more and more like the beast must be slaughtered.
Last week, I warned that the Big O continues will resume its efforts to minimize US losses in the AfPak war by recognizing only those who died inside Afghanistan if its “US deaths” box reports less than 2,220.
Today it reports only 2,092, despite the last (My 31) Pentagon report of 2,221.
That means its editors ignore 129 American servicepersons who the Pentagon counts as official Afghan war casualties because they died supporting the war outside Afghanistan. Last week, in a rare acknowledgement of all those killed in that disastrous war, the O. reported that 2,220 had died.
The paper has been aware for years that the AP unofficial “in-country only”numbers it relies on is lower than the official one. It has never
reported the 120,608 total casualties which include those wounded in action and injured or sickened from “non-hostile”sources. Together with its now rare “US deaths” box, the Big O tries to divert attention from the fact that US troops are still taking casualties (29 last week) in a war most Americans do not support.
My weekly casualty updates are available on request.
Visit my website www.michaelmunk.com
Subject: [pdx] KBOO:Not just for Communists anymore
(See below for the source of the quote)
May 20, 2013 If you are NOT a KBOO member, there's never been a better time to join.
There will be an important election for the board in September and we need your vote!
Only members can vote. The bylaws are vague but it is clear that if you are a member 60 days before the election you can vote. Volunteering also makes you a member. If you ARE a KBOO member, please consider attending the next board meeting, June 3, 6pm at the station, 20 SE 8th.
We need to make clear to the board that the current trajectory is unacceptable. And see link to petition for members below.
Latest outrage: Laurelhurst Theatre has an on-screen ad for KBOO saying "not just for communists anymore" There was a call-in with the station manager last night. I was only able to listen to the first part which was awful--her bragging about what a fabulous fundraiser she is without being asked then why is there a financial problem. I didn't hear them take any calls.
If you have the stomach for it you can probably listen online. see info below for name of show. She is doing it again tonight from 7-8. Sorry I didn't get this out in time for last night's show--I've been trying to find out the minimum contribution to be a voting member so I could include it above--a question not answered on the website!
Friends of KBOO, We need your help to convince the KBOO Board to dump the “union-avoidance” consultants, Bullard Law.Here are several ways you can weigh in
– 1.*Call in to the live talk show* “Naked, Raw and Exposed” with the Executive Director
(aka Station Navigator) Lynn Fitch, where she will be talking about “…financial concerns, fundraising plans, a staff unionization update, why there is a need for change at KBOO…”
Monday 7 – 8 pm*** (503-231-8187)
2.If you are a KBOO member*, show up at the next KBOO Board meeting,
Monday, June 3, 6pm at the station, 20 NE 8th (s. of Burnside)*
The "Lesser Evil regime" and its media ignore the declared motives of bombers as retaliation
for US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as support for Israel.
Ray McGovern has written similar but extended remarks. The 9/11 attackers declared they
were retaliating against US support for Israel and the House of Saud and so have most of
the actual and entrapped bombers.
I submit the serious fragmentation is not primarily among rigid sectarian groupings but rather among the numerous single issue groups committed to identity, environment, education and legal reform, peace, jobs et al. An effective “left” would require melding those movements around an agreement that the source of their complaints is common to all and must be reformed to achieve their disparate goals. -MM
‘We have been through some bitter experiences and we need to learn from the past.'
When Ken Loach launched an appeal to discuss founding a new party to the left of Labour in March, it sparked a wave of enthusiasm. Within a few weeks, more than 8,000 people signed up and around 100 local groups were established across the country.
It isn’t hard to see why. Austerity is devastating Britain. While the Conservative-led government is giving tax breaks to the richest individuals and biggest corporations, it is driving the most vulnerable people in the country deeper into poverty with public service cuts and the bedroom tax, which tragically claimed its first victim when Stephanie Bottrill committed suicide because she could not afford the £80 a month charge. Labour’s response to the Tories’ ideological assault on the poor has been weak, and its abstention on workfare a betrayal. The need for a new party to represent the interests of the working class, which have been ignored far too long by the three main parties, has never been greater.
On Saturday, Left Unity held its first national meeting, bringing together around 100 elected delegates from many of the local groups that have sprung up over the last few weeks in answer to Loach’s call. Some came from small towns where groups had only a handful of members. Others, such as the delegates from Brighton, spoke of vibrant and big meetings – Brighton already has a signed-up membership of more than 200 people.
Sitting in the same room together, these were no longer names on a signature sheet, but passionate activists from a vast range of left-wing traditions. Many of the familiar old alphabet soup far-left groups were represented. But there were also young campaigners from Occupy and UK Uncut, anarchists, Greens, trade unionists, disaffected Labour supporters and dozens who had never been involved in any party before, but wanted to change the world all the same.
With such a diverse group coming together for the first time, there were inevitably going to be disagreements. It proved too difficult to agree a statement of principles in such a short space of time, for example. But the meeting voted to move towards a founding conference in November and overwhelmingly supported the idea that a new party of the left should not be a patchwork coalition of far-left groups hastily thrown up as a temporary electoral front, but should be an active campaigning organisation built around the basic democratic principle of one member one vote.
‘We have been through some bitter experiences and we need to learn from the past,’ Loach said to the meeting. ‘We absolutely need to be a democratic party and I support the principle of one member, one vote. We’ve had groups trying to take projects over, we’ve had manipulations behind closed doors and we don’t want that again.’
‘Just like we don’t want one dominating group, we don’t want any charismatic leaders,’ he added, clearly expressing his desire not to be an unaccountable figurehead for the new party. Indeed, despite Loach’s appeal, much of the hard work has been done by the local groups, which have grown organically with their own ideas and ways of working, and Left Unity has been built from the bottom up. This must continue over the coming months as Left Unity moves towards its founding conference and the beginning of a vital new party of the left.
For too long the left has been divided and weak, its energies exhausted on sectarian splits. And absolutely no one in the real world cared. If, as Loach said, Left Unity is to learn from the mistakes of the past, it must be transparent, open, inclusive and democratic. If, as so many people at Saturday’s meeting said, we want to make a difference, we must first put aside our own differences.
Unfortunately for unions and employees, permanent replacement of strikers is not the only blow to the power of strikes. The court, followed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and lower courts, has limited union strikes in many other ways.
In the early days after passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the law was widely resisted by employers. One of those employers was Fansteel Metallurgical. In 1936 and 1937, Fansteel not only refused to bargain with its employees' union, it also isolated the union president from the other workers and tried to impose a "company union" in place of the union the workers had chosen. A "company union" is just what it sounds like. It is a union in name only. It does not represent the employees because it is controlled by the employer instead of the employees. The NLRA made company unions illegal.
The Fansteel employees reacted to their employer's blatant resistance to the law by starting a peaceful sit-down strike, refusing to leave the plant until they were ultimately forced out and arrested. The employer fired the sit-down strikers, but the NLRB ordered their reinstatement because they were only responding to their employer's illegal conduct.
In 1939, the Supreme Court in NLRB v. Fansteel Metallurgical Corp. reversed the NLRB. The court decided that the employees could be fired because they were illegally trespassing on their employer's property. It did not matter that they were protesting the employer's clear violation of the NLRA. The Supreme Court held that the NLRB could not order the employer to reinstate its employees as a remedy for the employer's unlawful conduct. As for the right to strike, the court said the NLRA protected only "lawful strikes." Occupying the plant was not lawful and, therefore, it was not protected by the law. That decision meant that employers who violated the NLRA were given a "get out of jail free" card if their employees committed any illegal action.
While it seems only fair that an employer should not have to employ workers who violate the law, the context is important. These workers were among thousands who were using the most powerful weapon available to them to protest the many employers who simply ignored and blatantly violated the new law that labor had fought so hard to win.
What has followed from the Fansteel decision are a multitude of restrictions on unions' right to strike. When the right to strike is unprotected, as in Fansteel, employees may be fired, not just replaced. An employee who has been fired has no right to return to work. An employee who has been permanently replaced has a right to be recalled to work if the replacement leaves. While being recalled is a slim right, it is better than none.
Although the NLRA does not limit the definition of "strike," the only strike now protected by the NLRA is one where employees stop all work, leave the workplace, and give up all their pay for a period of consecutive days. The union cannot even lawfully time its strike to target an employer when it is most vulnerable. As a result, the strike has been weakened to a point where it is almost useless.
What is particularly shocking is that the right to strike has been eaten away by the courts when the NLRA in Section 13 says that the right to strike is not to be interfered with or impeded or diminished in any way, except by clear language in the NLRA itself. The NLRA nowhere limits the right to strike as the courts have done.
Here are a few examples of judicial amendments that have eroded the right to strike. In addition to the sit-down strike, employees can be fired for a slowdown strike. Employees cannot work at a slower pace to pressure their employer, even when the slowdown reduces the amount of their work to match a paycut by the employer.
A partial strike is also not protected. This means the employees can't do just part of their work. Doing part of their work, but not all of their work, would allow employees to retain some pay while still pressuring the employer.
Intermittent strikes are not protected, either. Employees cannot strike for a few days, return to work for a few days and then strike again. If they strike, they must stay on strike, and if they return to work, striking again risks termination.
Each of these union tactics could be powerful employee weapons to pressure the employer while still earning income and making the employees' replacement by the employer difficult. It is the very power these tactics give employees that has led judges to limit their use. None of these tactics is illegal, according to the courts, yet each is unprotected, so employees who try these tactics risk discharge.
Last but not least, employees may not strike when the employer is most vulnerable to pressure, lest their conduct be found "indefensible." Employees may be fired if they fail to take what the courts decide are appropriate steps to protect the employer from damage resulting from the decision to strike. Employees cannot walk off the job when it might cause damage to the employer's equipment or leave the employer's facilities unprotected. While these decisions may seem reasonable to avoid serious damage for employers, they each limit the power of employees in ways not contemplated by the NLRA.
Beginning with Fansteel, employees' right to strike has been eroded by judicial decisions. As a result, the right to strike does not balance power between employees and employers. Instead, it erodes employee power by creating a quagmire of law where legal protection is uncertain and strikes are extremely risky for employees. No wonder that strikes are now so rare.
At the same time, employers' power has been amplified by Supreme Court decisions interpreting the NLRA, exactly the opposite of what Congress intended. For the next several weeks, our articles will discuss other decisions that judicially amended the NLRA to increase employer power, perverting the workers' law into a law that is more protective of employers.
An excerpt from Chris Hedges, “When War Hawks Become Human Rights Officials” read it all at
The appointment of Suzanne Nossel, a former State Department official and longtime government apparatchik, as executive director of PEN American Center [US branch of an international organization which professes to defend “the right to write, speak, read and publish”] is part of a campaign to turn U.S. human rights organizations into propagandists for pre-emptive war and apologists for empire. Nossel, who was deputy assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs under Hillary Clinton in a State Department that was little more than a subsidiary of the Pentagon, is part of the new wave of “humanitarian interventionists,” such as Samantha Power, Michael Ignatieff and Susan Rice, who naively see in the U.S. military a vehicle to create a better world.
Suzanne Nossl (photo: Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights)
Visit my website www.michaelmunk.com
Our new mayor is stonewalling the public about how his police bureau's
resurrected (2011) cooperation with the FBI in the Joint Terrorism Task
has been going.
Read Dan Handelman's detailed report which concludes:
"Given the very few differences between this report and last year's, it's
astounding that the Chief needed an extra two months to put it together.
We certainly deserve better and more information."
Sometime on Wednesday, the City posted the (draft?) copy of Chief Reese's
mandated annual report on the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) at
http://www.portlandoregon.gov/mayor/article/435908 . The report will be
discussed and voted on for adoption at City Council next Wednesday, March
27 at 9:30 AM (or so, probably actually closer to 9:45).
The report is actually nearly a verbatim copy of the Chief's report from
last year with few exceptions:
1-- after stating how revealing how many cases the Bureau has helped the
JTTF investigate may compromise their investigations (which still makes no
sense), the Chief says the Bureau has worked on at least one domestic
2-- The description of the two officers in the Criminal Intelligence Unit
(CIU) who are assigned to help the JTTF no longer describes them as "very
3-- Whereas last year, the Chief stated the officers did not work outside
of Portland, this year he says "I assigned officers to work on a JTTF
investigation outside the City of Portland, after consultation with the
Commissioner-in-charge." Now, does "this year" mean 2012, or 2013? Was the
Commissioner Adams or Hales? Did they work within Oregon or leave the
state? Who knows.
4-- Explaining why the officers received "Secret" clearance instead of
"Top Secret" clearance, the report explains the difference would be if
they needed to "access FBI facilities unescorted or obtain access to
informant source information." It occurs to me that the Chief reports he
"will not need clearance above the 'Secret' level to manage [the
officers'] work with the JTTF," but doesn't say whether he might seek to
obtain that level of clearance anyway. That his clearance level might be
higher than the Mayor/Commissioner's was the main reason Mayor Potter
pulled out of the JTTF in 2005.
--5 Instead of saying he'd met with the FBI Special Agent in Charge
"numerous" times and "certainly at a rate of more than twice a year," the
Chief now says he conferred on "several occasions" and receives briefings
"a few times a year."
--6 There is no longer a link to the Standard Operating Procedure for the
JTTF, and when I pasted in the old link it led me to a generic page for
If you're wondering about the man recently arrested on charges of
supporting terrorism, a Q&A on the Mayor's website
< http://www.portlandoregon.gov/mayor/article/438826 > says:
> "The Joint Terrorism Task Force:
> The agreement with federal authorities and the city of Portland was not
> invoked in this case. No Portland Police officers were involved in the FBI
> investigation. One patrol car was in the area of the search warrant for
> traffic control only."
Last year, we wrote (with the support of the Japanese American Citizens
League, the National Lawyers Guild, th
e League of Women Voters, the Arab
Muslim Police Advisory Council, CWA Local 7901, and Portland School Board
member Martin Gonzalez) a letter to Council outlining the deficiencies in
the report(s). We asked for more detailed information, particularly how
many hours officers were working give
n the tight city budget, and exactly
how many cases were involved. The new report does not adequately address
any of the concerns raised in that letter. The most concerning one is that
the term "criminal nexus" is still not defined, and we believe the FBI
will invoke need for Portland Police at a lower threshold than would be
appropriate under Oregon law (ORS 181.575, requiring reasonable suspicion
of criminal activity).
I also noticed that the resolution guiding the report requires the City
Attorney to check in with the Oregon Attorney General each year to be sure
that Oregon law. Since no report is required from the City Attorney, we
don't know whether that has happened.
The only item regarding the Commissi
oner in Charge that is noted in this
report is that Mayor Hales met with the FBI on February 14.
There are still no names named (even the Assistant Chief of
Investigations, who was Eric Hendricks until January, and is now Donna
Henderson, nor City Attorney David Woboril, who is again referred to as a
"Senior Deputy City Attorney who has provided legal advice to the Police
Bureau for over fifteen years").
The report still refers to "acts of war" in its section defining
"terrorism" even though there is no mention of "acts of war" anywhere else
in the document.
Given the very few differences between this report and last year's, it's
astounding that the Chief needed an extra two months to put it together.
We certainly deserve better and more information.
I am reminded that the Human Rights Commission issued an analysis of the
JTTF in early 2011 when the debate opened up whether Portland should
re-join (after the 2010 "Holiday Tree bombing" sting).
I hope to round up many of our same community partners, and of course the
ACLU who had been working more directly with the City on the resolution
last year, to testify on Wednesday. I hope others who are interested in
The number of detainees on hunger strike at Guantanamo has nearly doubled since last week, with at least two prisoners hospitalized due to dehydration, officials at the military prison said.
Captain Robert Durand, Guantanamo communications director, confirmed on Tuesday that 24 prisoners were on hunger strike, up from 15 since March 11, AFP reported.
However, he rejected claims that the majority of detainees were involved in a more widespread protest.
"Today, Tuesday, March 19, 2013, we have 24 hunger strikers, with eight on internal feed," he said. "The reports of hunger-strike-related deteriorating health and detainees losing massive amounts of weight are simply untrue."
In recent weeks, lawyers returned from the US base in Cuba where the prison is located with accounts of clients weak from hunger and an angry standoff with guards.
The military had said no more than a handful of prisoners met the definition of being on hunger strike, which includes missing nine consecutive meals.
That figure rose to 14 on Friday, and then grew by seven over the weekend.
It has become the largest and most sustained protest at Guantanamo in several years, but Durand insisted there is no evidence to support reports of a strike involving most of the 166 men held there.
"The detainees certainly have the support of one another," Durand said on Monday. "But if it was 166, I would tell you it was 166. I don't have a reason to lowball or pad the numbers.''
A prisoner from Yemen, Yasein Esmail, told his attorney that he lost about 15 kg after striking for 29 days and was struggling to keep his balance, according to notes taken by the lawyer, Washington-based David Remes, during a March 5 visit.
"Many of the detainees are desperate," Esmail told Remes. "They feel like they're living in graves."
Omah Farah, from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), said several prisoners in Camp 6 where there are 130 prisoners had lost between 18 and 22 kg and most had lost between 9 and 13 kg.
Farah accused camp authorities of seeking to downplay the strike, which began on February 6 to protest searches carried out by prison guards.
Detainees have accused guards of "desecrating" Qurans during the searches.
Camp officials have strongly denied any mistreatment of the religious books.
Another apparent factor in the protest is the fact that the US has largely stopped transferring and releasing prisoners because of security restrictions imposed by Congress and the administration of President Barack Obama.
Durand said there had been no changes in the way searches are conducted.
He said Qurans are searched for contraband by Muslim translators, not guards, and are treated in a respectful way.
The protest is simply a way to attract attention, he said.
"They have sort of fallen out of the public view and most of the legal issues have been settled," Durand said. "If you want to burst back into the media then you have to start complaining about either Quran abuse or detainee abuse or deteriorating conditions."
Guantanamo prison was opened in 2002 to house prisoners rounded up in the so called War on Terror waged by the President George Bush administration following the 9/11 attacks.
Remember Madeleine Albright’s infamous declaration on “60 Minutes” that the death of a half million Iraqi children from the sanctions imposed by her Clinton administration was “worth it” ? Today, noted pacifist Kathy Kelly recalled tp://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/war-without-end/:
“Ten years ago, in March of 2003, Iraqis braced themselves for the anticipated "Shock and Awe" attacks that the U.S. was planning to launch against them. The media buildup for the attack assured Iraqis that barbarous assaults were looming. I was living in Baghdad at the time, along with other Voices in the Wilderness activists determined to remain in Iraq, come what may. We didn't want U.S. - led military and economic war to sever bonds that had grown between ourselves and Iraqis who had befriended us over the past seven years. Since 1996, we had traveled to Iraq numerous times, carrying medicines for children and families there, in open violation of the economic sanctions which directly targeted the most vulnerable people in Iraqi society, - the poor, the elderly, and the children. I still feel haunted by children and their heartbroken mothers and fathers whom we met in Iraqi hospitals.
"I think I understand," murmured my friend Martin Thomas, a nurse from the U.K., as he sat in a pediatric ward in a Baghdad hospital in 1997, trying to comprehend the horrifying reality. "It's a death row for infants." Nearly all of the children were condemned to death, some after many days of writhing in pain on bloodstained mats, without pain relievers. Some died quickly, wasted by water-borne diseases. As the fluids ran out of their bodies, they appeared like withered, spoiled fruits. They could have lived, certainly should have lived - and laughed and danced, and run and played- but instead they were brutally and lethally punished by economic sanctions supposedly intended to punish a dictatorship over which civilians had no control.
The war ended for those children, but it has never ended for survivors who carry memories of them.”
Now something similar seems to be developing from the Lesser Evil’s sanctions policy against Iran. The sanctions don’t specifically ban medical materials, although there are efforts to define them as potentially military supplies, but the sanctions make it difficult for Iranian importers to buy them because of financial restrictions on Iranian banks.
The US has just complained that its sanction are not yet sufficiently effective in persuading the people to overthrow their government-MM
Surgeons struggle in Iran as sanctions squeeze drug supplies
Doctors and pharmacists warn operating theatres will close as medics turn to "old drugs" to make up shortfall in vital supplies
Iranian women buy medicine from a pharmacy in Tehran. Photograph: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images
Operating theatres in Iran are running out of anaesthetics due to a shortage of medicine caused by the unintended consequences of international sanctions.
Iranian doctors and pharmacists have warned that hospitals across the country are facing difficulties finding the drugs used during life-saving surgery.
"Drugs such as Atracurium, Isoflurane and Sevoflurane are either not available in the market or are very scarce," said Kheirollah Gholami, a leading pharmacist from Tehran University of Medical Sciences.
"If these drugs are not supplied, our operating theatres will have to close," he said, according to quotes carried by the semi-official Ilna news agency. "You can't just use a hammer to make patients become unconscious... If you don't have anaesthetics, patients in need of operations may simply die."
Gholami's warning has been echoed by many of his colleagues and medical officials, including Mohammad-Mehdi Ghiyamat, who is the head of the Iranian society of anaesthesiology and critical care. "In the wake of [the Persian new year] Nowruz holidays, only patients in emergencies can be transferred to operating theatres and we don't know what to do with the others," Shafaonline, a medical news website, quoted Ghiyamat as saying.
"Despite repeated warnings, the officials are yet to wake up and face the problem," he said. "It's the people and patients who pay the price for the difficulties."
According to Ghiyamat, the shortage has forced hospital to resort to procuring "old drugs", which he suggested should raise concerns. It was not clear whether he was referring to expired medicine or merely older types of anaesthetics no longer in use.
A combination of trade sanctions that limit Iran's access to global markets, banking restrictions, the plummeting value of the country's currency and government incompetence in allocating necessary funds are accused of contributing to the current crisis.
There are conflicting views on whether the sanctions or government incompetence played a bigger role in the shortage of medicine, which potentially affects hundreds of thousands of Iranians with serious illnesses at risk, especially patients suffering from haemophilia, multiple sclerosis and cancer.
Many believe that sanctions are blanket restrictions and waivers considered to make sure humanitarian and medical goods can get through are not working. Others say the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has failed to find appropriate channels to overcome the problem.
In his latest report on the situation of human rights in Iran, UN special rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed expressed concerns about "the potentially negative humanitarian effect of general economic sanctions" and called on the countries behind the punitive measures to make sure that "humanitarian exemptions are effectively serving their intended purpose".
Marietje Schaake, an MEP, called on the EU last month to reconsider sanctions so that Iran's ability to undertake life-saving operations is secured.
"Crippling sanctions are only justifiable if they target the Iranian regime and not the civilian population," she wrote to the EU's high representative Catherine Ashton. "The EU should stand with the Iranian population, instead of making their lives even harder."
Schaake said: "The restricted access to medicines is another undesirable side-effect of the US sanctions. The EU should consider the wellbeing of Iranian people because they will be instrumental in creating a freer and less threatening Iran."
The Military-Industrial Complex’s “Global development” front targets Africa
“The Kyle House Group, a political consulting firm that focuses on international affairs and global development issues, hosted a candlelight dinner and discussion with the Consensus for Development Reform (CDR). CDR is a small group of high level former policymakers and business leaders launched last year to provide a new strong voice for private sector led strategy for global development. The dinner featured two dozen military and business leaders, and was keynoted by General Jim Jones, former White House national security adviser, NATO Supreme Allied Commander and Marine Corps commandant. "Africa is the continent of the future," Jones told the group.
Other presenters included: Veronica Varekova, goodwill ambassador of the Africa Wildlife Foundation [*], who had spoken at Davos; Gen. Kip Ward, retired commander of U.S. Africa Command; Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and NSA; and two CDR co-chairs, former Ambassador to Tanzania Mark Green and Rob Mosbacher, former president and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.” –Politico
Attorney General Eric Holder speaks at a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Oct. 9, 2012. Holder has told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Justice Department may have to restrain its prosecutors in dealing with the big banks. (Photo: Luke Sharrett / The New York Times) The Wall Street gang must really be partying these days. Profits and bonuses are as high as ever as these super-rich takers were able to use trillions of dollars of below-market government loans to get themselves through the crisis they created. The rest of the country is still struggling with high unemployment, stagnant wages, underwater mortgages and hollowed-out retirement accounts, but life is good again on Wall Street.
Their world must have gotten even brighter last week when Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Justice Department may have to restrain its prosecutors in dealing with the big banks because it has to consider the possibility that a prosecution could lead to financial instability. Not only can the big banks count on taxpayer bailouts when they need them; it turns out that they can share profits with drug dealers with impunity. (The case immediately at hand involved money laundered for a Mexican drug cartel.) And who says that times are bad?
It's hard to know where to begin with this one. First off, we should not assume that just because the Justice Department says it is concerned about financial instability that this is the real reason that they are not prosecuting a big bank. There is precedent for being less than honest about such issues.
When Enron was about to collapse in 2002 as its illegal dealings became public, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who was at the time a top Citigroup executive, called a former aide at Treasury. He asked him to intervene with the bond-rating agencies to get them to delay downgrading Enron's debt. Citigroup owned several hundred million dollars in Enron debt at the time. If Rubin had gotten this delay, Citigroup would have been able to dump much of this debt on suckers before the price collapsed.
It is entirely possible that the reluctance to prosecute big banks represents the same sort of fear of financial instability as motivated Rubin. In other words, it is a pretext that the Justice Department is using to justify its failure to prosecute powerful friends on Wall Street. In Washington, this possibility can never be ruled out.
However, there is the possibility that the Justice Department really believes that prosecuting the criminal activities of Bank of America or JP Morgan could sink the economy. If this is true, then it makes the case for breaking up the big banks even more of a slam dunk, since it takes the logic of too big to fail one step further.
Just to remind everyone, the simple argument against too big to fail is that it subsidizes risk-taking by large banks. In principle, when a bank or other company is engaged in a risky line of business, those who are investing in the company or lending it money demand a higher rate of return in recognition of the risk.
However, if they know that government will back up the bank if it gets into trouble, then investors have little reason to properly evaluate the risk. This means that more money will flow to the TBTF bank, since it knows it can undertake risky activities without paying the same interest rate as other companies that take on the same amount of risk. The result is that we have given the banks an incentive to engage in risky activity and a big subsidy to their top executives and creditors.
If it turns out that we also give them a get-out-of-jail free card when it comes to criminal activity, then we are giving these banks an incentive to engage in criminal activity. There is a lot of money to be gained by assisting drug dealers and other nefarious types in laundering their money. In principle, the laws are supposed to be structured to discourage banks from engaging in such behavior. But when the attorney general tells us that the laws cannot be fully enforced against the big banks, he is saying that we are giving them incentive to break the law in the pursuit of profit.
Our anti-trust laws are supposed to protect the country against companies whose size allows them inordinate market power. In principle, we would use anti-trust law to break up a phone company because its market dominance allowed it to charge us $10 a month too much on our cable. How could we not use anti-trust policy to break up a bank whose size allows it to profit from dealing with drug dealers and murderers with impunity?
Pakistan defies US with gas pipeline to Iran
Pakistani media reports the government made the deal to attract support anti US support from the public in coming elections. Its opponents may remain silent to get US support. Regime change, anyone?
Construction of pipeline, intended to help Pakistan overcome its increasing energy needs, begins despite US opposition.
The pipeline is intended to help Islamabad overcome an worsening energy shortage [EPA]
Iranian and Pakistani leaders have inaugurated the construction of a much-delayed section of a $7.5bn gas pipeline linking the two neighbors, defying the threat of US sanctions.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched the project with his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari at a ceremony on the border on Monday, hailing the agreement as a blow to US-led sanctions targeting his country's oil and gas sector.
The two leaders unveiled a plaque before shaking hands and offering prayers for the successful conclusion of the project, which involves the laying of a 780km section of the pipeline on the Pakistani side, expected to cost some $1.5bn.
The pipeline is intended to help Islamabad overcome its increasing energy needs at a time when the country is facing increased blackouts and energy shortages.
There are serious doubts, however, about how Pakistan can finance the project and whether it can go through with the project without facing US sanctions, which Washington has put in place to pressure Iran over its nuclear program.
Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad, said the agreement with Iran could "entail a heavy price" on Pakistan.
"Pakistan is also very dependent on the United States when it comes to conventional weapons," Hyder said.
But Pakistan also faces an energy crisis and its needs gas that Iran can supply, he added.
Monday's event comes just days before the government's term is set to expire and could be designed to win votes by making the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) look like it is addressing the energy crisis.
The US has opposed the project, instead promoting an alternative pipeline [sponsored by US ally the House of Saud-mm] that runs from the gas fields of Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and then to India.
Washington has also championed a number of electricity-generation projects within Pakistan such as helping to renovate hydropower dams.
Iran says it has already finished its side of the pipeline, which travels 1,150km from the gas fields to the Iran-Pakistan border.
Gas is supposed to start flowing in by the end of 2014, although few see that deadline as realistic considering the delays so far in the project.
"If this deal is finalized for a proposed Iran-Pakistan pipeline, it would raise serious concerns under our Iran Sanctions Act," said Victoria Nuland, the US state department spokeswoman, during a news briefing in Washington last week.
"We've made that absolutely clear to our Pakistani counterparts."
Under US regulations, a wide-ranging list of business-related activities with Iran can trigger US sanctions.
Certain sales of technology or equipment that allow Iran to develop its energy sector are barred, as are most transactions involving gas or other fuels, according to a January report by the Congressional Research Report.
The regulations also bar business dealings with Iranian financial institutions.
Iran also faces separate EU and UN sanctions over its controversial nuclear program, which the West believes is geared for building nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the charge, insisting the program is purely for peaceful purposes.
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OPEN LETTER TO CONCERNED TRADE UNIONISTS
[PLEASE FORWARD WIDELY]
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Please be advised that a national Labor Fightback Conference for concerned
trade unionists who want to do something about labor's plight will be held
May 10-12, 2013 at the Rutgers University Student Center, New Brunswick, New
Jersey. The undersigned urge attendance at this critically needed
conference, with any interested union free to send as many representatives
This conference will address the key question: "What strategy will enable
labor to mount the most effective and powerful fightback possible against
the corporate assaults?"
The conference is being held in the aftermath of enactment of right-to-work
in Michigan and Indiana; destruction of bargaining rights for Wisconsin
public employees; the all-out assault on defined pension plans; demands by
large corporations making huge profits for substantial concessions; layoffs,
curtailment of benefits, and other austerity measures in cities and states
across the country; 25 million unemployed or underemployed; and the list
And in the months to come, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other
vitally needed social programs will be targeted for steep cuts, which could
imperil the health, safety, welfare and very lives of the tens of millions
of people who are dependent on these programs.
Labor's plight ─ and the plight of the working class as a whole ─ is dire
but by no means hopeless.
Despite the defeat of the recall, we take heart in the mobilization of over
100,000 Wisconsin workers and the occupation of the state's capitol
building, labor's stunning referendum victory in Ohio, the outcome of the
Chicago Teachers strike, victories of the West Coast longshore workers, and
the new winds blowing in the struggles of low paid retail workers at Walmart
and many food centers for a living wage and basic human rights, including
the right to have union representation.
The purpose of the Rutgers conference is to explore how we in labor can most
effectively mount an independent fightback action campaign based on such
united front demands as putting America back to work; preserving and
expanding safety net programs based on No Cuts, No Concessions, No Shared
Sacrifice; Medicare for All; retirement security; and redirecting war
spending to fund human needs.
We also strongly believe that labor must resurrect campaigns to organize the
South and repeal repressive anti-labor legislation, especially Taft-Hartley.
In this regard, we welcome the development of the Southern Workers Assembly
at its recent meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, which drew hundreds of
trade unionists and others.
At the centerpiece of a fightback action campaign, in our opinion, is the
building of labor-community coalitions. The Chicago teachers set an example
for the entire labor movement by the way they forged an alliance with
community groups and activists, which was key to the teachers' victory. The
Rutgers conference can help advance the formation of such coalitions on a
local and national level.
It is through building labor-community coalitions that we will be able to
mobilize the largest number of people. Confining ourselves to lobbying and
nothing more will not get the job done. Street heat that will move hundreds
of thousands ─ even millions when you consider the 90 million people who
depend on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid ─ is what is needed now
more than ever.
Finally, at Rutgers we can discuss how to hold accountable politicians whose
loyalty is to the corporations, not the working class majority ─ politicians
we often supported in the past and who betrayed our trust. How best can we
fight for our own agenda? Isn't it high time to assert labor's political
independence in our workplaces, in the streets, and in the electoral arena,
starting with running independent, local, labor-community candidates for
public office, who run on a platform that reflects the interests of the
We hope that you agree that there is a compelling need for trade unionists
concerned about the issues cited above to convene for a free-wheeling
discussion and debate leading to an action program. Please plan to join us
for the Rutgers conference (a registration form will be posted separately).
We look forward to seeing you there!
An endorsement form is below. We encourage your union to endorse the
conference and do everything possible to build and publicize it.
For further information, please call 973-944-8975 or email
email@example.com or write Labor Fightback Conference, P.O. Box
187, Flanders, NJ 07836 or visit our website at http://laborfightback.org/conference/
Ken Riley President South Carolina AFL-CIO
Donna Dewitt Retired President South Carolina AFL-CIO
Kevin Gundlach President South Central Federation of Labor, Wisconsin
Charity Schmidt Co-President University of Wisconsin-Madison Teachers
Assistants' Association (TAA)
Executive Board, South Central Federation of Labor, Wisconsin
From the Emergency Labor Network www.laborfightback.org.
The Sequestra Conspiracy
As the smoke clears on the implementation of the across-the-board cuts in
vitally needed domestic programs, it must be acknowledged that the labor
movement and our allies, together with the overwhelming majority of the
population, have suffered yet another devastating blow, this one
administered by politicians of both major parties, as well as by the
president himself. It is estimated that as a result of the cuts, over
700,000 workers will lose their jobs by the end of this year.
The cuts, known as sequestration, were authorized by the Budget Control Act
of 2011, enacted by large majorities of both Democrats and Republicans and
signed into law by the president, who was the first to advocate
sequestration. Nothing that has happened since and nothing that has been
said since can change that basic truth.
The Obama administration admits its miscalculation. They thought that by
linking cuts in social programs to cuts in military spending, the
Republicans would come around and agree to revenue increases. But it did not
work out that way. The military hawks in the Republican Party were
outnumbered by the Tea Party-backed fiscal hawks, and the Party refused to
budge or rescind sequestration. No surprise there.
Yes, the Republicans bear significant responsibility for what has occurred.
They are the outspoken champions of the wealthy, Wall Street banks, and the
big corporations. And the Republican Party is clearly controlled these days
by the most extreme right wing forces, which has resulted in the Party's
approval ratings sinking to 29 percentile.
But as we go forward and face the danger of more massive cuts to the social
safety net, it is essential that a broad, powerful, inclusive mass movement
be built that is independent of the Democratic Party, which has proved
itself once again to be no friend of labor, the unorganized, the unemployed,
low and middle-income workers, communities of color, and other progressive
sectors of our society.
Look at the recent record. On January 29, 2010, President Obama addressed
the House Republican retreat and said that "the major drive of our long-term
liabilities, everybody here knows, is Medicare and Medicaid and … health
care spending. Nothing comes close." In the summer of 2011, while attempting
to negotiate a "Grand Bargain" with Speaker Boehner, the president offered
to support raising the eligibility age for Medicare and also to change the
cost of living formula for Social Security, which would drive down monthly
payments to seniors. The three leading Democrats in the House of
Representatives -- Nancy Pelosi, Stenny Hoyer and James Clyburn -- all
weighed in on the need to cut earned income benefits ("entitlements"). In
August of 2011 the Democrats and Republicans collaborated in enacting the
Budget Control Act, which included the sequestration feature. This bill
provided for establishing a "Super Committee" of 12 -- six Democrats and six
Republicans -- and charged them with coming up with a plan to cut the
deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next ten years. All six Democrats on that
committee made clear they were for cutting "entitlements" so long as there
were corresponding increases in revenue.
The failure of the Super Committee to reach agreement led to the
sequestration, which is what we have arrived at now. And every member of
Congress who voted for the Budget Control Act that led to this juncture
ought to be held accountable.
The next major challenge faced by advocates of NO CUTS, NO COMPROMISES, NO
CONCESSIONS when it comes to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the
other social programs -- many of which have now taken a major hit -- is
March 27, 2013, by which date Congress must act on a continuing resolution
to keep the government running for the rest of the fiscal year. The same
arguments, charges and counter charges that have filled the airwaves these
past weeks by politicians from both major parties will be heard again.
There are differences between the Democrats and Republicans on the question
of coping with the deficit and the debt -- no doubt about that -- but what
happens if the Republicans cave in and agree to added revenue? Then,
President Obama has repeatedly said, he will support major cuts in
"entitlements," even if it means taking on the liberal wing of his party.
Our labor movement now faces a fateful choice: either rewrite history and
place all the blame on the Republicans for the cuts taking place, while
calling for continued support for the president and the Democratic Party to
protect our cherished benefits; or take an independent path and spearhead
building a broad, massive movement capable of mobilizing millions, including
occupying the nation's Capitol if that becomes necessary, to defeat those
hellbent on placing the burden of the economic crisis and austerity on the
backs of the working class and the great majority, including beneficiaries
of safety net programs that tens of millions depend on for their survival.
It is in this context that we urge the trade union movement to endorse the
conference scheduled for Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, on
May 10-12, 2013. Any union endorsing this conference is free to send as many
representatives as it wishes.
The conference is co-sponsored by two labor organizations: the South Central
Federation of Labor, Wisconsin and the South Carolina AFL-CIO. Its stated
purpose is "to explore how we in labor can most effectively mount an
independent fightback action campaign based on such united front demands as
putting America back to work; preserving and expanding safety net programs
based on No Cuts, No Concessions, No Shared Sacrifice; Medicare for All;
retirement security; and redirecting war spending to fund human needs." The
"Open Letter to Concerned Trade Unionists" announcing the Rutgers conference
This is a watershed moment in the life of the labor movement and the nation.
Let's rise to the challenge, recognizing that if we do not, we face the
prospect of further damaging setbacks down the road. We have the numbers and
the power to avert such defeats, but only if we mobilize to do so.
Issued by the Emergency Labor Network (ELN)
For more information write firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 21004,
Cleveland, OH 44121 or call 216-736-4715 or visit our website at
NEW YORK — A huge majority of Americans view Iran’s nuclear program as a “critical threat,” alongside the North Korean nuclear program and “international terrorism,” according to a poll released Monday.
The Gallup poll found that 99 percent of Americans believe the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program is a threat “to the vital interests of the United States in the next 10 years,” with 83% saying it was a “critical threat” and another 16% saying it was an “important, [but] not critical” one. Just 1% declined to say it was at least an important threat.
The poll was conducted February 7-10 among 1,015 respondents aged 18 and older. It has a margin of error of 4%.
The poll asked respondents to comment on nine possible threats. Iranian nuclear weapons generated the most concern, though only by the slimmest of margins.
North Korean nuclear weapons garnered nearly identical levels of concern, with 83% calling them a “critical threat” and 14% an “important” one, though these answers came before last week’s nuclear test by the communist regime.
“International terrorism” rounded out the three leading threats perceived by the American public, with 81% and 17% calling it a “critical” and “important” threat, respectively. The remaining threats included Islamic fundamentalism (53%-28%), China’s economic and military power (52%-39%), the military power of Russia (29%-53%) and the conflict between India and Pakistan (25%-55%).
The widest gap by party affiliation related to the perception of the threat from Islamic fundamentalism, with 70% of Republicans saying it was a critical threat, compared to 46% of Democrats.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has continued to decline as a perceived threat, with 44% of those polled saying it was a “critical threat” to US interests, a drop from 58% in a 2004 poll. Forty-four percent said the conflict was an “important” threat, and 9% said it was not important.
Islamic fundamentalism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict both ranked lower as threats among the young compared with older Americans. Among Americans under 34 years old, just 35% said Islamic fundamentalism was a critical threat, compared with 64% among those 55 and older. When it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 32% of the young saw it as a critical threat, compared to 54% of those over 55.
According to Gallup, “this year’s poll marked the first time Gallup asked about North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons specifically. In 2010 Gallup asked about the two countries’ ‘military power,’ and found 61% rating each as a critical threat to the United States, second only to international terrorism. In 2004, the ‘spread of weapons of mass destruction to unfriendly powers’ ranked second only to terrorism. Thus, Americans have previously seen North Korea and Iran, and nuclear weapons in general, as serious threats to the US.”
The findings on American perception of Iran correspond to other polling in recent years. A Gallup poll conducted in early February 2012 asked Americans whom they considered to be the United States’ “greatest enemy today.” The question was open-ended. Nearly one-third, or 32%, named Iran — more than any other country.
“The high level of concern Americans give to North Korea, as well as to Iran and to international terrorism, suggest these are areas on which the public would like the Obama administration and its new foreign policy team to focus its efforts,” Gallup noted.
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With Virginia Shipyard as Backdrop, Obama Warns Again on Cuts
On Tuesday, President Obama told employees at Newport News Shipbuilding, a builder of nuclear-powered carriers, that their work was in jeopardy because of cuts set to take effect on Friday.
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — President Obama flew on Tuesday to the vast shipyard where the nation’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers are built to send a warning that automatic cuts in the Pentagon budget, only three days away, threatened the jobs of tens of thousands of workers and America’s fragile economic recovery.
“This work, along with hundreds of thousands of jobs, are currently in jeopardy because of politics in Washington,” the president told a crowd of several hundred at Newport News Shipbuilding, which employs 21,000 people in Virginia and is the state’s largest industrial employer. “These cuts are wrong. They’re not smart. They are not fair. They are a self-inflicted wound that doesn’t have to happen.”
Robert Gibbs, President Barack Obama's former press secretary, says that he was once instructed by the White House not to acknowledge the administration's use of drones.
"When I went through the process of becoming press secretary, one of the first things they told me was, you're not even to acknowledge the drone program," Gibbs said on MSNBC's "Up With Chris Hayes" on Sunday. "You're not even to discuss that it exists."
Or, to paraphrase an oft-quoted line from David Fincher's 1999 film "Fight Club": The first rule of the drone program is you do not talk about the drone program.
Gibbs, who was recently hired by MSNBC as a contributor, called the proposition "inherently crazy."
"You're being asked a question based on reporting of a program that exists," Gibbs, who served as White House press secretary from 2009 to 2011, said. "So you're the official government spokesperson acting as if the entire program—pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."
Obama's former spokesman said that while the administration has recently expressed the need to be more transparent about its use of drones, certain aspects of that program are "highly sensitive" and will likely remain secret.
“I have not talked to him about this, so I want to be careful," Gibbs said, "but I think what the president has seen is, our denial of the existence of the program when it’s obviously happening undermines people’s confidence overall in the decisions that their government makes.”
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Columbia River Crossing is a bad deal for Oregon
By Joe Cortright
Joe Cortright is an economist with Impresa Inc. in Northeast Portland.
The Interstate 5 bridge looking east from Hayden Island
After years of postponing a discussion of how to pay for the $3.4 billion Columbia River Crossing, the state has finally hit on a plan: Just borrow the money, and worry about paying later.
While proponents describe it as having a $450 million Oregon price tag, everyone should be clear that if we move forward with CRC, the state's financial liability is open-ended and unlimited: Oregon will be responsible for any shortfalls in revenue from other sources -- both the federal government and tolls -- and for cost overruns.
This is troubling because the CRC financial plan is based on a series of Pollyanna-like assumptions. It counts on a $400 million federal earmark that failed to appear in the latest national highway bill. It is based on outdated and flawed traffic projections that overestimate potential toll revenues by hundreds of millions of dollars. It counts on the federal government paying almost 100 percent of the cost of light rail when it typically pays only half. CRC has yet to deliver an independent "investment grade" toll-revenue forecast that private investors and the federal government will insist on before lending a dime of the billions of dollars needed for this project. And the Oregon Department of Transportation has a well-documented history of huge cost overruns on major projects, like the U.S. 20 project that is more than $200 million over budget.
In theory, the bill legislators are considering now, House Bill 2800, contains "triggers" to make sure other partners contribute to the project. In reality, the fine print makes it clear they're an illusion.
A promised $1.25 billion federal contribution? Nothing in HB2800 requires a specific dollar amount of federal funding. The bill makes no reference to the hoped-for earmark of $400 million in federal highway funds -- which has already evaporated. It only requires that an application for $850 million in federal transit funding be submitted, not approved, before the state issues its bonds. The project could move forward even if the federal government provides much less than the amounts hoped for.
The HB2800 triggers are worded so vaguely that Oregon bonds can be issued as soon as an application for federal money is submitted, without Washington matching Oregon's contribution to the project, and even if independent estimates show that the CRC will generate much less than the hoped-for $1.3 billion in toll revenue. A legislated cost cap, as The Oregonian's PolitiFact Oregon reported Feb. 20, is meaningless and unenforceable.
HB2800 will likely lead to more than a billion dollars of additional state debt. That's not how we've traditionally paid for highways. As recently as 2001, ODOT was essentially debt-free. Since then, it's gone on a borrowing binge, and now 29 percent of all state transportation revenue goes to pay off bonds for past projects -- a number that would grow much larger with the CRC. And because HB2800 doesn't provide any revenues, repaying CRC borrowing will require cutting other urgent transportation needs or raising future taxes.
As we pass this huge new debt on to future Oregonians, it's ironic that the CRC is a project literally designed for a bygone era. The project's traffic projections, based on 2005 data and not updated since, assume gas prices of about a dollar a gallon and steeply growing increases in driving. In fact, traffic levels have gone down and are back to 1990s levels on the Interstate 5 bridges. Numerous studies have pointed out that there are cheaper and faster ways to reduce congestion than a decadelong, $3.4 billion freeway-expansion project. The CRC is a bad project and a bad financial deal for Oregon.
Back in the 1930s, New York's Machiavellian highway builder, Robert Moses, hit on a clever strategy to get projects he wanted: He'd take a small amount of money and get the project started, and then dare the Legislature not to fund the rest of the project and leave it unfinished. It's a classic gambit being used to sell the CRC. We shouldn't fall for it.
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The Organizer: Description of a Struggle
By J. Hoberman
An unverifiable, if heartfelt, assertion: For the quarter century between 1945 and 1970 (or from Rome Open City to Fellini Satyricon), the world’s greatest popular cinema was produced in Italy—a realm of glamorous superstars, sensational comedians, and great genre flicks. A half dozen maestros were backed by a remarkably deep bench, including writer-director Mario Monicelli (1915–2010), whose 1963 strike drama I compagni (The Comrades), released in the U.S. as The Organizer, is popular cinema in the best sense.
The son of a political journalist who moved from socialism to anarcho-syndicalism to fascism (briefly) to antifascism, and who also founded Italy’s first film journal, Monicelli is best known for his socially aware tragicomedies. Still, his oeuvre is not easily synopsized. He directed some sixty films and wrote or cowrote more than seventy over the course of a career that began in 1935 with a precocious 16 mm feature based (like Frank Borzage’s No Greater Glory, 1934) on Ferenc Molnár’s novel The Paul Street Boys and ended seven decades later, when he was ninety-one, with The Roses of the Desert (2006), a comedy about an Italian medical unit sent to Libya in 1940.
Monicelli characterized his first studio features, made in the early fifties and mainly starring the great sad-faced clown Totó, as “neorealist farce”—shot on location and affectionately satirizing the struggles of the urban poor. (“The themes that make one laugh always stem from poverty, hunger, misery, old age, sickness, and death,” the director maintained. “These are the themes that make Italians laugh, anyway.”) With the genially caustic A Hero of Our Times (1955), featuring the young Alberto Sordi as a craven lower-middle-class schemer, and Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958), an enormous international hit, not least in the U.S., Monicelli pioneered what would be called commedia all’italiana—tales of hapless schemers, in Big Deal played against type by matinee idols Vittorio Gassman and Marcello Mastroianni.
However cowardly or amoral, Monicelli’s protagonists are essentially sympathetic in their ineptitude—and their privation. The Great War (1959), cowritten, like Big Deal, with the team of Age-Scarpelli (Agenore Incrocci and Furio Scarpelli), paired Sordi and Gassman as dim-witted crooks dragooned into the Italian Army during World War I. Not simply antimilitarist but antipatriotic, it shared the Golden Lion with Rossellini’s World War II drama Il generale della Rovere at the 1959 Venice Film Festival. The Passionate Thief (1960), with Anna Magnani as a would-be con artist, followed, along with a contribution to the anthology film Boccaccio ’70, a frothy yet piquant comedy about the oppression, sexual and otherwise, of two young factory workers.
Monicelli always had an ambivalent relationship with engaged cinema. One of his last works documented the protests around the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa; late in his life, he thanked Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi “for making me feel young again by joining in protests against him who has all the makings of a modern tyrant.” At the same time, his movies are characterized by a marked skepticism: “I always look at a group of people who want to attempt an enterprise greater than their means. They begin this enterprise, and they fail.” The bumbling burglars and botched heist of Big Deal on Madonna Street offer the purest example of such collective failure. The Organizer, a French-Italian coproduction made soon after Monicelli started his own production company, is a more complex dramatization of defeat.
Inspired, according to its director, by the revolutionary ghosts of Paris’s no longer extant Bastille and set in the slums of late-nineteenth-century Turin, The Organizer accepts what the influential Italian Marxist leader Antonio Gramsci saw as “the challenge of modernity,” namely, “to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned.” Life is struggle, and to struggle against one’s lot is to flirt with futility. To that end, The Organizer is variously (and, for some, disconcertingly) jaunty, sentimental, comic, and baffling, as Monicelli applies the tonal shifts associated with the French New Wave to a straightforward saga of working-class solidarity. Stanley Kauffmann, who reviewed the movie for the New Republic when it opened in the U.S. in May 1964, found The Organizer “very interesting and very odd”—by which he meant anachronistic. Other critics who, like Kauffmann, had lived through the 1930s also saw The Organizer as a peculiar throwback to the socially significant movies of that period. “What prompted Mario Monicelli . . . to make this picture just now?” Kauffmann wondered. Hadn’t the struggle for workers’ rights long since been won?
Kauffmann was likely unaware of the convulsive autoworkers’ strike that had shaken Turin—and Fiat—in 1962, and yet his puzzlement is understandable. Notable for its period detail and Giuseppe Rotunno’s accomplished faux-daguerreotype cinematography, The Organizer is not so much a call to action as to recollection—both a historical monument and a taboo-breaking depiction of a specific moment. Monicelli meant to remind contemporary viewers that decent working conditions and wages were gained over time and at considerable cost. The Organizer, which had its Italian premiere at the 35th Congress of the Italian Socialist Party, is, above all, a movie about how difficult it is to organize collective action, set in a period when Italian unions barely existed.
Italy’s first capital after the Risorgimento ended in the 1870s, Turin was in the midst of rapid industrialization during the period of The Organizer, although the film unfolds some years before the growth of the industry that made the city Italy’s Detroit, and a quarter century in advance of the great strikes and occupations of 1920 that so influenced Gramsci. It’s a grim place. Workers rise at 5:30 a.m. to trudge from their overcrowded hovels or prisonlike apartment blocks toward the massive textile factory that squats at their world’s center. As in Metropolis (1927), men exist to serve their machines—the roaring, relentless signifiers of the brutal, fourteen-hour, dawn-to-dusk regime that chews up the workers, literally, in one case.
Populating his densely inhabited film with actual workers, Monicelli was attempting, three years before The Battle of Algiers (1966), to create a sort of neorealist period piece; using a strategy that would subsequently be seen in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), The Organizer opens with a montage of historical photographs that skillfully segues into contemporary facsimiles. Throughout, Rotunno’s black-and-white cinematography makes evocative use of flat lighting and gray skies to accentuate the sense of soot and smoke. (Because little was left of nineteenth-century Turin, the movie was actually shot in the nearby Piedmontese cities of Cuneo, Fasano, and Savigliano, with the vast factory interior filmed in Zagreb, Yugoslavia.) “The past is the present, and the spectator feels as if the film had actually been made in 1895,” wrote Dwight Macdonald, another man of the thirties, who, as Esquire’s film critic, gave The Organizer its best U.S. notice. “The camera work has the bleak, grainy quality of photographs by Jacob Riis,” he noted, a comparison to the author of How the Other Half Lives that was also made by New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther, who in turn also invoked the novels of Émile Zola (“It has the same feeling for the underprivileged”).
Gathering in the hospital where their maimed comrade has been taken, the largely illiterate workers spontaneously form a committee and plan a job action that proves to be an abject failure. Then, suddenly, half an hour into the movie, a most unlikely messiah hops off the freight train of history and raps at a window of the fetid basement where the workers doze through their evening literacy classes. Indelibly played by Marcello Mastroianni, Professor Giuseppe Sinigaglia is a Chaplinesque conspirator, a hobo in a battered hat and a greasy, threadbare cloak, a stooped fugitive on the run from the police in Milan. In a movie where neither Karl Marx nor any of Italy’s working-class heroes are ever mentioned, Mastroianni’s professor is a stunningly perverse embodiment of revolutionary hope.
At once shabby and genteel, timid and brash, idealistic and clumsy, practical and absentminded, this furtively scuttling, hopelessly myopic intellectual may be a professional agitatore, but—part holy fool, part wily picaro—he is hardly the positive hero of a Soviet proletarian drama. (For one thing, he’s no stoic—in one quintessential Monicelli moment, the famished fugitive greedily seizes a sandwich that a worker has left behind and then hands it back, abashed, when the man returns to retrieve it.) And though he has apparently betrayed his class—and also, it would seem, abandoned his family—the proles are not always appreciative of his sacrifice. Suspicious of their would-be organizer, they are frequently divided among themselves, easily intimidated, and readily bamboozled by their bosses.
In some respects, The Organizer is a comedy of uneven development. More stubborn, driven, and successfully manipulative than he initially appears, the professor matures as an organizer, swaying a crowd with his hitherto unsuspected oratorical gifts—if not the power of his logic or his interpersonal savvy. “Why the long faces?” he cries, bursting into the home of a worker accidentally killed during a demonstration and brandishing a newspaper: thanks to the dead man’s martyrdom, the public is now on their side. The mourners are singularly unimpressed.
While the movie’s American title puts the emphasis on the star, the original Italian title stresses a sense of solidarity. So does the movie itself, which is essentially an ensemble piece. “Monicelli has integrated the star into the drama, counterpointing him against the others instead of reducing them to background music,” Macdonald noted. “For considerable periods, we don’t see the organizer at all, and when he does reappear—often materializing with a magical yet quite logical opportuneness—[he is] first among equals, rather than the usual star-dictator.” Recurring deflationary bits of business throughout suggest the futility of individual action: one irate worker confronts his boss, pulls out his knife, and can’t open the clasp; another makes a fiery speech in a dialect that his comrades don’t understand.
Toward the end, Monicelli switches gears, as, sought by the authorities and rejected by those he would lead, the professor lies low, taken in by a good-hearted prostitute (Annie Girardot, the co-pro’s requisite French star). Abruptly, he emerges from hiding to address a mass meeting and, coming into his own as an orator, inspires the workers to occupy the factory. Still, The Organizer has no happy ending. The strikers march singing through the streets as the militia is mobilized; the confused soldiers open fire, an innocent is killed, and the strike is broken. The professor is berated by the workers he led, his glasses are knocked from his face, and he begins searching for them on the ground—a startling metaphor.
And yet, although the movie closes with a long shot of the defeated workers reentering their factory prison, including a child forced to take his older brother’s place at the machines, the mood is not exactly unhappy. The gates close, yet minds have been opened. The Organizer is a historical comedy that demonstrates a very Gramscian formulation (pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will) and a very popular one, to take another Monicelli title: Viva Italia!
A thirty-three-year veteran of the Village Voice and a proud member of United Auto Workers Local 2110, J. Hoberman thanks Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan and Dave Kehr for their help in scaling Mount Monicelli.