Monthly Archives: February 2013

Screen Propaganda, Hollywood and the CIA

By Julie Lévesque

Global Research, February 28, 2013

CIA Hollywood

“One of the most pervasive trends in 21st century western culture has become somewhat of an obsession in America. It’s called “Hollywood history”, where the corporate studio machines in Los Angeles spend hundreds of millions of dollars in order to craft and precisely tailor historical events to suit the prevailing political paradigm.” (Patrick Henningsen, Hollywood History: CIA Sponsored “Zero Dark Thirty”, Oscar for “Best Propaganda Picture”)

Black Hawk Dawn, Zero Dark Thirty and Argo, those are only a few major recent productions showing how today’s movie industry promotes US foreign policy. But the motion picture has been used for propaganda since the beginning of the 20th century and Hollywood’s cooperation with the Department of Defense, the CIA and other government agencies is no modern trend.

With Michelle Obama awarding Ben Affleck’s Argo the Oscar for best movie, the industry showed how close it is to Washington. According to Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich, Argo is a propaganda film concealing the ugly truth about the Iranian hostage crisis and designed to prepare the American public for an upcoming confrontation with Iran:

Foreign policy observers have long known that Hollywood reflects and promotes U.S. policies (in turn, is determined by Israel and its supporters).   This fact was made public when Michelle Obama announced an Oscar win for “Argo” – a highly propagandist, anti-Iran  film.  Amidst the glitter and excitement, Hollywood and White House reveal their pact and send out their message in time for the upcoming talks surrounding Iran’s nuclear program […]

Hollywood has a long history of promoting US policies.   In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson’s Committee on Public Information (CPI) enlisted the aid of America ’s film industry to make training films and features supporting the ‘cause’.  George Creel, Chairman of the CPI believed that the movies had a role in “carrying the gospel of Americanism to every corner of the globe.”

The pact grew stronger during World War II […] Hollywood ’s contribution was to provide propaganda. After the war, Washington reciprocated by using subsidies, special provisions in the Marshall Plan, and general clout to pry open resistant European film markets […]

As Hollywood and the White House eagerly embrace “Argo” and its propagandist message, they shamelessly and deliberately conceal a crucial aspect of this “historical” event.  The glitter buries the all too important fact that the Iranian students who took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran , proceeded to reveal Israel ’s dark secret to the world.  Documents classified as “SECRET” revealed LAKAM’s activities.  Initiated in 1960, LAKAM was an Israeli network assigned to economic espionage in the U.S. assigned to “the collection of scientific intelligence in the U.S. for Israel ’s defense industry” (Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich Oscar to Hollywood’s “Argo”: And the Winners are … the Pentagon and the Israel Lobby)

For a real account of the Iranian hostage crisis, a CIA covert operation, Global Research recommends reading Harry V. Martin’s article published in 1995: The Real Iranian Hostage Story from the Files of Fara Mansoor:

Fara Mansoor is a fugitive. No, he hasn’t broken any laws in the United States. His crime is the truth. What he has to say and the documents he carries are equivalent to a death warrant for him, Mansoor is an Iranian who was part of the “establishment” in Iran long before the 1979 hostage taking. Mansoor’s records actually discount the alleged “October Surprise” theory that the Ronald Reagan-George Bush team paid the Iranians not to release 52 American hostages until after the November 1980 Presidential elections […]

With thousands of documents to support his position, Mansoor says that the “hostage crisis” was a political “management tool” created by the pro-Bush faction of the CIA, and implemented through an a priori Alliance with Khomeini’s Islamic Fundamentalists.” He says the purpose was twofold:

Zero Dark Thirty is another great silver screen propaganda piece which spurred outrage earlier this year. It exploits the horrific events of 9/11 to present torture as an effective and necessary evil:

Zero Dark Thirty is disturbing for two reasons. First and foremost, it leaves the viewer with the erroneous impression that torture helped the CIA find bin Laden’s hiding place in Pakistan. Secondarily, it ignores both the illegality and immorality of using torture as an interrogation tool.

The thriller opens with the words “based on first-hand accounts of actual events.” After showing footage of the horrific 9/11 attacks, it moves into a graphic and lengthy depiction of torture. The detainee “Ammar” is subjected to waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and confined in a small box. Responding to the torture, he divulges the name of the courier who ultimately leads the CIA to bin Laden’s location and assassination. It may be good theater, but it is inaccurate and misleading. (Marjorie Cohn, “Zero Dark Thirty”: Torturing the Facts)

Earlier this year the Golden Globe awards made some analysts criticize Hollywood’s dark “celebration of the police state” and argue that the real Golden Globe winner  was the military-industrial complex:

Homeland won best TV series, best TV actor and actress. It IS a highly entertaining show which actually portrays some of the flaws of the MIIC system.

Argo won best movie and best director. It glorifies the CIA and Ben Affleck spoke with the highest praise for the CIA.

And best actress went to Jessica Chastain of Zero Dark Thirty, a movie that has been vilified for propagandizing the use of torture.

***

The Military Industrial Intelligence Complex is playing a more and more pervasive role in our lives.  In the next few years we’ll be seeing movies that focus on the use of drone technology in police and spy work in the USA. We’ve already been seeing movies that show how spies can violate every aspect of our privacy– of the most intimate parts of our lives. By making movies and TV series that celebrate these cancerous extensions of the police state Hollywood and the big studios are normalizing the ideas they present us with– lying to the public, routinely creating fraudulent stories as covers for what’s really going on. (Rob Kall cited in Washington’s Blog, The CIA and Other Government Agencies Dominate Movies and Television)

All these troublesome Hollywood connections have been examined in an in-depth report Global Research published in January 2009: Lights, Camera… Covert Action: The Deep Politics of Hollywood. The article lists a great number of movies in part scripted for propaganda purposes by the Defense Department, the CIA and other government agencies. It is interesting to note that this year’s Oscar-winning director Ben Affleck cooperated with the CIA in 2002 as he starred in The Sum of All Fears.

Authors Matthew Alford and Robbie Graham explain that compared to the CIA, the Department of Defense “has an ‘open’ but barely publicized relationship with Tinsel Town” which, “whilst morally dubious and barely advertised, has at least occurred within the public domain.” Alford and Graham cite a 1991 CIA report revealing the sprawling influence of the agency, not only in the movie business but also in the media where it “has relationships with reporters from every major wire service, newspaper, news weekly, and television network in the nation.” It was not until 1996 that the CIA announced it “would now openly collaborate on Hollywood productions, supposedly in a strictly ‘advisory’ capacity”:

The Agency’s decision to work publicly with Hollywood was preceded by the 1991 “Task Force Report on Greater CIA Openness,” compiled by CIA Director Robert Gates’ newly appointed ‘Openness Task Force,’ which secretly debated –ironically– whether the Agency should be less secretive. The report acknowledges that the CIA “now has relationships with reporters from every major wire service, newspaper, news weekly, and television network in the nation,” and the authors of the report note that this helped them “turn some ‘intelligence failure’ stories into ‘intelligence success’ stories, and has contributed to the accuracy of countless others.” It goes on to reveal that the CIA has in the past “persuaded reporters to postpone, change, hold, or even scrap stories that could have adversely affected national security interests” […]

Espionage novelist Tom Clancy has enjoyed an especially close relationship with the CIA. In 1984, Clancy was invited to Langley after writing The Hunt for Red October, which was later turned into the 1990 film. The Agency invited him again when he was working on Patriot Games(1992), and the movie adaptation was, in turn, granted access to Langley facilities. More recently,The Sum of All Fears (2002) depicted the CIA as tracking down terrorists who detonate a nuclear weapon on US soil. For this production, CIA director George Tenet gave the filmmakers a personal tour of the Langley HQ; the film’s star, Ben Affleck also consulted with Agency analysts, and Chase Brandon served as on-set advisor.

The real reasons for the CIA adopting an “advisory” role on all of these productions are thrown into sharp relief by a solitary comment from former Associate General Counsel to the CIA, Paul Kelbaugh. In 2007, whilst at a College in Virginia, Kelbaugh delivered a lecture on the CIA’s relationship with Hollywood, at which a local journalist was present. The journalist (who now wishes to remain anonymous) wrote a review of the lecture which related Kelbaugh’s discussion of the 2003 thriller The Recruit, starring Al Pacino. The review noted that, according to Kelbaugh, a CIA agent was on set for the duration of the shoot under the guise of a consultant, but that his real job was to misdirect the filmmakers, the journalist quoted Kelbaugh as saying […] Kelbaugh emphatically denied having made the public statement. (Matthew Alford and Robbie Graham, Lights, Camera… Covert Action: The Deep Politics of Hollywood)

During the Cold War the CIA’s Psychological Strategy Board (PSB) agent Luigi G. Luraschi was a Paramount executive. He “had secured the agreement of several casting directors to subtly plant ‘well dressed negroes’ into films, including ‘a dignified negro butler’ who has lines ‘indicating he is a free man’”. The purpose of these changes was “to hamper the Soviets’ ability to exploit its enemy’s poor record in race relations and served to create a peculiarly anodyne impression of America, which was, at that time, still mired in an era of racial segregation.” (Ibid.)

The latest award-winning movie productions show that the Manichean view of the world put forward by the US foreign policy agenda has not changed since the Cold War. The Hollywood-CIA alliance is alive and well and still portrays America as the “leader of the free world” fighting “evil” around the world:

The interlocking of Hollywood and national security apparatuses remains as tight as ever: ex-CIA agent Bob Baer told us, “There’s a symbiosis between the CIA and Hollywood” […] Baer’s claims are given weight by the Sun Valley meetings, annual get-togethers in Idaho’s Sun Valley in which several hundred of the biggest names in American media –including every major Hollywood studio executive– convene to discuss collective media strategy for the coming year. (Ibid.)

Global Research offers its readers a list of articles on this topic.

Contrary to the Hollywood film industry, Global Research is not subject to any influence from the US intelligence apparatus and works to provide you the truth rather than fiction and propaganda.

We rely only on the support of our readers to continue the fight for truth and justice. If you want to contribute to independent research become a Global Research member or make a Donation! Your support is very much appreciated.

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http://www.globalresearch.ca/screen-propaganda-hollywood-and-the-cia/5324589

US Moves Towards Open Arming Of "Syrian Rebels"

By Stephen Lendman
February 28, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – Kerry replaced Clinton at State. He didn’t miss a beat. He continues her imperial arrogance. He prioritizes war. He deplores peace. He supports Israel’s worst crimes.
He’s contemptuous of rule of law principles. He supports wrong over right. He’s indifferent to human suffering. US imperial priorities alone matter.
His first overseas trip continues. He left Sunday. He’s visiting nine countries in 11 days. After meeting with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, he said:
“We all agree that the time has passed for President Assad to heed the voice of his people and the voice of the people in the world who want a peaceful transition and a new opportunity for Syria.”
“That’s why we are examining and developing ways to accelerate the political transition that the Syrian people seek and deserve.”
Plans are to assure Western-backed death squads more aid. They’re not rebels. They’re invaders. They’re terrorists. Media scoundrels don’t explain. 
Last June, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused America of arming Syrian opposition fighters. Doing so is contrary to what US officials claim, he said.
On February 28, the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) said Kerry backs anti-government terrorists. He wants Assad ousted faster. He’s involved in doing what he won’t admit. He’s sending “military vehicles and armors” to death squad killers.
He “neglected any stance that helps the political dialogue, and he only promised to back the armed groups in a way that encourages them to continue their criminal acts of killing, terrifying the innocent citizens, and destroying the government institutions.”
Doing so makes him complicit in crimes of war and against humanity. He was earlier as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman. 
He’s a longtime insider. He threatens world peace. He prioritizes war. He risks global conflict doing so.
Washington’s actively arming, funding, training, and directing anti-Syrian government terrorists. It’s been ongoing since conflict erupted. 
America planned, instigated, and directs it. Syria is Washington’s war. 
Obama wants subservient puppet leadership replacing Assad. Plans are longstanding. They’re lawless. They’re to advance America’s imperium. Kerry’s job is assuring it. It’s his top priority. He’s an imperial warrior. Don’t expect him to explain.
He’s meeting with Friends of Syria in Rome. They subvert peaceful conflict resolution. He’ll meet with Syrian National Council representatives in Istanbul.
Opposition fighters won’t be left “dangling in the wind,” he said. Aid will be significantly increased. Weapons and munitions are prioritized. Wars aren’t waged without them.
Regional allies are complicit in supplying them. Israel’s very much involved. So are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Turkey. Western war profiteers produce them. 
Kerry provides diplomatic cover. He claims he wants peaceful conflict resolution. Washington’s waging war to prevent it. 
It’s got blood on its hands. It bears full responsibility for tens of thousands of Syrian deaths. Kerry’s complicit in high crimes. He’s dismissive of anti-Assad death squad atrocities. 
He blocked a Russian-sponsored Security Council resolution. It condemned recent ones in Damascus.
Washington Post editors barely stop short of urging all-out war. On February 27, they headlined “Washington’s last chance to help Syria,” saying:
Kerry’s credibility is on the line. It’s his job to assure regime change. “US policy must (help opposition fighters) establish a full-fledged alternative government on Syrian territory and recogniz(e) it as the legal government of Syria.”
No matter that doing so has no legitimacy. No country or combination thereof may interfere in the internal affairs of others. International law is explicit. It’s unequivocal. 
Violators are war criminals. Post editors didn’t explain. Regime change matters more. So does US regional dominance. Body counts are inconsequential achieving it.
“If the Obama administration is to lead on Syria, it must commit itself to steps that can bring about the early collapse of the regime and its replacement by” a Washington acceptable alternative. Imperialism works that way.
“Only direct political and military intervention on the side of the opposition can make that happen.” No matter that doing so is lawless.
Fouad Ajami serves pro-Western interests. He’s a longtime warmonger. His credibility is for sale. He supports what pays well.
He shows up often on Wall Street Journal pages. Rupert Murdoch is likeminded. They represent the worst of demagogic propaganda. No lie’s too outlandish to be told.
On February 27, Ajami headlined “John Kerry’s Syrian Second Chance,” saying:
Kerry’s on his “get-to-know you European tour.” He’ll meet “with Friends of Syria” and opposition fighter representatives.
They “want to overthrown the murderous Assad regime.” They want more help doing so. “If Mr. Kerry wants to break the stalemate, he must will the means.”
“But there is no substitute for military aid….Syria is the place where the will of Iran could be broken.”
Ajami barely stopped short of urging all-out war. Perhaps a follow-up column will do so. He does what his paymasters demand. He shames himself in the process. So do likeminded warmonger allies. 
They support what demands condemnation. They shift focus from one conflict zone to others. They’re mindless of right and wrong issues. 
Advancing America’s imperium alone matters. The road to Tehran runs through Damascus. Balkanizing Syria is planned. Replicating Libya is likely. Out-of-control lawlessness will follow. Violence won’t end.
Today’s Libya is fragmented and violent. Two or three states exist. Central government is illusory. Tribal clans maintain local authority. Green resistance wants Libya liberated. Protracted struggle continues. 
Imagine replicating what should be avoided. Apparently it’s what Washington has in mind. So does Israel.
War remains ongoing. Syria’s being ravaged and destroyed. Hundreds of thousands may die. Greater conflict may follow. 
The entire region and beyond may explode. Might over right madness risks global war. 
It’s hard imagining what no leader should tolerate. Weren’t any past last lessons learned? Wasn’t twice bitten enough? 
The worst of possible scenarios are unfolding in real time. The worst of possible outcomes may follow.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net . His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.” http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanII.html – Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour

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Hollywood’s Propaganda

Hollywood helps Americans feel good about being part of an empire that kills other peoples at will. “Movies have become a happy arm of the United States government as they advocate for violence and war crimes.” Tales of torture and wanton killing are blockbusters in the USA.
By Margaret Kimberley
February 28, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – There isn’t any part of popular culture which allows the citizens of this country to escape the glorification of American imperialism. One can’t watch a football game without seeing an honor guard present the colors, or soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, or in the worst case scenario a flyover of military jets. Commercials advertising everything from cars to dog food present endless images of soldiers returning home from the battlefield.
The movie industry has embraced the glorification of militarism and American violence practiced abroad as eagerly as professional sports or advertising. There is scarcely a big budget action movie whose plot doesn’t include a scene on an aircraft carrier and even children’s cartoons and games are brought back to life with story lines made in cooperation with the Department of Defense.
Now the propaganda has migrated from the backdrop of action movies to being the focal point of serious drama. Two recently commercially successful and award winning movies were all about the empire. They were praised by critics and popular with audiences as they spread vicious lies and or defended the worst impulses of the American government.
Osama bin Laden had barely taken his last breath when Hollywood gave the green light to dramatize the story of his assassination. The filmZero Dark Thirty filled the bill, complete with a validation of torture, which is considered a war crime nearly everywhere on earth except the United States.
“The movie industry has embraced the glorification of militarism and American violence practiced abroad as eagerly as professional sports or advertising.”
The producers of Zero Dark Thirty were given access to classified documents, an action which ought to have impugned the film makers’ integrity and made it unacceptable to audiences and critics. The Obama administration forgot about its draconian whistle blower punishments in order to make sure that the president and his policies were lionized on film.
While in one instance propaganda demanded a speedy take on history, in another case an old story suddenly became interesting. Thirty years after Americans were taken hostage at their embassy in Iran, Hollywood came calling at an opportune moment politically. Argo won anAcademy Award at the precise moment that the Obama administration is making its most serious case for war against Iran. The story of the six hostages who escaped to the Canadian embassy would seem to be interesting enough on its own merits, but the filmmakers added a climactic but completely fictional chase down an airport runway just in case any viewers didn’t hate Iranians enough by the end of the movie. Not to be outdone in the propaganda department, the lead role was played by a white actor when the real life and still living protagonist, Antonio Mendez, is Latino.
If there was any doubt that government propaganda was the order of the day in entertainment, first lady Michelle Obama presented the best picture award for Argo at the Oscars. She was surrounded by military personnel in uniform as she did so.
It is a little known fact that the Central Intelligence Agency has a film office. Its entertainment industry liaison office came into being in the 1990s and has been used to by movie and television producers to shape the agency’s image. Of course, that means lying about history. The producers of Argo gave passing recognition of the CIA operation which over threw a democratic government in Iran and placed a monarch in power in the early 1950s. They didn’t raise the question of why all the hostages weren’t released until Ronald Reagan’s inauguration day or delve into charges that his administration thwarted Jimmy Carter’s efforts to end the standoff.
“Argo won an Academy Award at the precise moment that the Obama administration is making its most serious case for war against Iran.”
There was a time when the entertainment industry promoted an anti-establishment counter culture, consciously creating a space for nonconformity. Movies and music were means of escaping the dictates of the status quo. Now they are part and parcel of the establishment and leave no outlet for true creativity or independent thought. Movies have become a happy arm of the United States government as they advocate for violence and war crimes to be carried out around the world.
Hollywood is after all an important part of corporate media. Like other media, it is now shaped by fewer and fewer players, with large conglomerates replacing the creative people who once made films interesting. The endless sequels and big budget action movies now comprise most of what we can expect to see at the multiplex. In a country becoming more and more imperialistic every day, it isn’t surprising to see the Pentagon’s world view on screen.
While not surprising, it shouldn’t be acceptable. If Barack Obama or any other president declares that there will be war against Iran, then most Americans will approve. Sadly, that approval will be even harder to fight against if the powerful and appealing images seen on the silver screen are perceived to be part of the call to arms.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.
This article was originally posted at BlackAgendaReport.com

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Is Honesty the Best Policy? Look at the Evidence

When society rewards lying and cheating, and punishes whistleblowers, how honest are we being about our values?
By Morris Davis 
February 28, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – “The Guardian” – “Honesty is the best policy” and “cheaters never win” are among the best known sayings of all times, but are they true? Reality shows that society’s reverence for these principles is betrayed by the fact that, all too often, it is the liars and cheaters we reward.
Jonah Lehrer was a bestselling author and a respected journalist until the summer of 2012 when the former Rhodes scholar and neuroscientist was shown to have engaged in a pattern of plagiarism and dishonesty. By early fall, the man who was once heralded as a prodigy had resigned from his post at the New Yorker, was reportedly terminated at Wired magazine, and the sale of his book Imagine was suspended.
Lehrer was paid $20,000 to speak at a Knight Foundation event in Miami earlier this month where he blamed his ethical lapses on his own arrogance, need for attention and ability to make excuses to himself for his conduct. The Knight Foundation, an organization that touts its commitment to “journalistic excellence”, issued an apology the next day, saying it “should not have put itself into a position tantamount to rewarding people who have violated the basic tenets of journalism”.
The Knight Foundation is not alone; in fact, rewarding Jonah Lehrer for a talk about his dishonesty is not atypical behavior. We make millionaires and heroes out of professional athletes who swear publicly that they do not cheat when we know that they do. We idolize celebrities who lie to us about everything from their sobriety to their fidelity. We say we distrust government and that nearly all of our politicians are dishonest, yet we keep re-electing ethically challenged candidates who talk about their dedication to public service while serving their own interests.
Disgraced former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford lied when he said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail while he was really in Argentina carrying on an affair with his mistress. Even though he weathered the immediate storm and completed his term as governor, he paid $74,000 to settle dozens of ethics charges related to his campaign spending and personal travel, and he was censured by the state legislature. A few years later – and despite a chorus of public complaints about the lack of trust in the integrity of members of Congress – Sanford is a leading contender for a vacant seat in the US House of Representatives.
Former professional cyclist Lance Armstrong finally came clean and admitted that he doped, but it was years of cheating and lying that propelled him from obscurity as a mediocre racer to enormous wealth and legendary status. When the dust of the doping scandal eventually settles, and even with his reputation tarnished forever, Armstrong will still be the most famous cyclist in the world, and will likely spend his days enjoying what remains of the wealth cheating and lying earned him.
On the other hand, society often penalizes those who have the audacity to tell the truth. PJ Crowley was assistant secretary of State for public affairs when, in March 2011, he described the military’s pre-trial treatment of Army Private Bradley Manning – the person alleged to have provided classified documents to WikiLeaks – as “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid”. Crowley was gone from the State Department three days later. In January 2013, the military judge presiding over the Manning trial reached the same conclusion as had Crowley about abusive treatment, although she did not use his exact words; she awarded Manning extra time off of any sentence he might receive if he is convicted.
In 2004, Army Specialist Joe Darby came forward and turned over photographs of detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison, sparking an investigation into what would become an iconic part of the Iraq war. As a result, Darby and his family spent months at an undisclosed location under continuous security – not because of threats from the enemy, but because of threats from his fellow Americans.
The soldier with the integrity to step up and report criminal conduct was dubbed “a borderline traitor” and “a rat”, and many took shots at his patriotism. Darby said:
“People are pissed because I turned in an American soldier for abusing an Iraqi. They don’t care about right and wrong.”
If the merit of a policy can be measured by the extent society tends to reward compliance and penalize non-compliance, then the premise that honesty is the best policy is itself dishonest. Instead, as Joe Darby suggests, it is not so much a question of right or wrong, honesty or cheating, as it is a question of whether people hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see. In a tangible sense, it can be more rewarding to give the masses a false sense of well-being or pander to their preconceived notions than it is to be honest and potentially cause them doubt or disappointment.
In his farewell address, President George Washington said:
“I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy.”
Maybe, some day, Washington will be right, but today, he is not. If honesty really was the best policy and cheaters never won, then the Knight Foundation would not have made over a check that should have never been written and candidates whose conduct undermines faith in government would never get re-elected.
As a society, we should not complain about dishonesty and cheating when we keep rewarding vices as if they were virtues.

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Rep. Ellison: Hannity ‘The Worst Excuse For A Journalist I’ve Ever Seen’

Video

Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison accused Fox host Sean Hannity of engaging in fear-mongering. “What you just displayed was not journalism, it was yellow journalism.”
Posted February 28, 2013

Highlights of the interview
Full Interview

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The United States of Propaganda (What We’re Up Against)

By Mickey Z.
“The 20th century (was) characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.”
– Alex Carey
February 28, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – Recently, while at an event marking the 1,000th day of imprisonment for Bradley Manning, I began to ponder the long and storied role of propaganda that led up to his demonization and incarceration.
Yes, propaganda…
“A scientific method of managing behavior”
Given the unspeakable lessons learned from Joseph Goebbels and Nazi Germany, propaganda has long been a dirty word. But when public relations pioneer Edward Bernays got his start in the early 20th century, it was a word less charged but equally as potent. In fact, Bernays unabashedly named one of his books Propaganda.
“Edward Bernays was surely one of the most amazing and influential characters of the twentieth century,” explains PR watchdog, John Stauber. “He was a nephew of Sigmund Freud and helped to popularize Freudianism in the United States. Later, he used his relation to Freud to promote himself. And from his uncle’s psychoanalysis techniques, Bernays developed a scientific method of managing behavior, to which he gave the name ‘public relations.’”
The Vienna-born Bernays was heavily influenced, of course, by his uncle’s work, but it was in the service of war that he helped shape what we call “PR” today.
“Liberty Cabbage”
In what Stauber calls “perhaps the most effective job of large-scale war propaganda which the world has ever witnessed,” the Committee on Public Information, run by veteran newspaperman George Creel with the help of others like Bernays, used all available forms of media to promote the noble purpose behind World War I: To keep the world safe for democracy.
The average American was notoriously wary of any hint of their country entering the bloody conflict. As a result, men like Creel and Bernays were called upon to change some minds with some good old-fashioned propaganda and persuasion.
The Creel Committee (as it came to be known) was the first government agency for outright propaganda in U.S. history; it published 75 million books and pamphlets, had 250 paid employees, and mobilized 75,000 volunteer speakers known as “four minute men,” who delivered their pro-war messages in churches, theaters, and other places of civic gatherings.
The idea, of course, was to give the war effort a positive spin. To do so, the nation had to be convinced that doing their part to support global military conflict on a scale never before seen was indeed a good idea.
“It is not merely an army that we must train and shape for war,” President Woodrow Wilson declared at the time, “it is an entire nation.” The age of manipulated public opinion had begun in earnest.
Although Wilson won reelection in 1916 on a promise of peace, it wasn’t long before he severed diplomatic relations with Germany and proposed arming U.S. merchant ships — even without congressional authority. Upon declaring war on Germany in December 1917, the president proclaimed, “conformity will be the only virtue and any man who refuses to conform will have to pay the penalty.”
In time, the masses got the message as demonstrated by these (and other) results:
Fourteen states passed laws forbidding the teaching of the German language.
Iowa and South Dakota outlawed the use of German in public or on the telephone.
From coast to coast, German-language books were ceremonially burned.
The Philadelphia Symphony and the New York Metropolitan Opera Company excluded Beethoven, Wagner, and other German composers from their programs.
Irish-American newspapers were banned from the mails because Ireland opposed England — one of America’s allies — as a matter of principle.
German shepherds were renamed Alsatians.
Sauerkraut became known as “liberty cabbage.”
Buoyed by the indisputable success of the Creel Committee and armed with the powerful psychoanalytical techniques of his Uncle Sigmund, Bernays set about shaping American consciousness in a major way.
“Torches of Freedom”
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society,” Bernays wrote in Propaganda. “Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”
Bernays’ vision had a dominant economic component. As described by Tim Adams of the London Observer, Bernays “thought that the safest way of maintaining democracy was to distract people from dangerous political thought by letting them think that their real choices were as consumers.”
A fine illustration of Bernays’ approach involves his efforts — for the American Tobacco Company — to persuade woman to take up cigarette smoking. His slogan, “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet,” exploited women’s fear about gaining weight (arguably a fear manufactured through previous advertising and/or public relations work).
While Lucky Strike sales increased by 300 percent in the first year of Bernays’ campaign, there was still one more barrier he needed to break down: smoking remained mostly taboo for “respectable” women.
This is where some watered-down Freud came in handy. As Bernays biographer Larry Tye said, he basically wanted to take his uncle’s works and “popularize them into little ditties that housewives and others could relate to.” With input from psychoanalyst A.A. Brill, Bernays conjured up the now legendary scheme to re-frame cigarettes as a symbol of freedom.
“During the 1929 Easter Parade,” explains New York Times reporter Ron Chernow, “he had a troupe of fashionable ladies flounce down Fifth Avenue, conspicuously puffing their ‘Torches of Freedom,’ as he had called cigarettes.”
As Chernow reports, Bernays augmented this successful stunt by lining up “neutral experts” to “applaud the benefits of smoking, all the while concealing the tobacco company’s sponsorship of his activity.”
Bernays was also concealing his knowledge of tobacco’s deleterious effects. “As he hypocritically seduced American women into smoking, he was trying to wean his own wife from the nasty habit,” Chernow continues.
His daughter Anne Bernays, the novelist, recalls that whenever he discovered a pack of his wife’s Parliaments, ‘he’d pull them all out and just snap them like bones, just snap them in half and throw them in the toilet. He hated her smoking.'”
“Insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny”
With the legislative ground made fertile by men like Bernays and Creel, the Espionage Act was passed in June 1917. It read in part:
“Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty in the military or naval forces of the United States, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment of not more than 20 years, or both.”
This act cast a wide net and, predictably, civil liberties were trampled. In Vermont, for example, a minister was sentenced to 15 years in prison for writing a pamphlet, distributed to five persons, in which he claimed that supporting the war was wrong for a Christian.
Perhaps the best-known target of the act was noted socialist Eugene V. Debs who, after visiting three fellow socialists in a prison in June 1918, spoke out across the street from the jail for two hours. He was arrested and found guilty, but, before sentencing, Debs famously told the judge:
“Your honor, years ago, I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”
Eugene Debs remained in prison until 1921 and roughly 900 others also did time thanks to the Espionage Act.
While some of more controversial sections were repealed in 1921, the Espionage Act remains on the books today and has been used against, for example, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Daniel Ellsberg, and yes, Bradley Manning.
Never forget, comrades: This is what we’re up against.
#shifthappens
NYC Event Note: To continue conversations like this, come see Mickey Z. in person on Mar. 19 in NYC for Occupy for All Species: Social Justice in the Age of Climate Change.
Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook.
This article was originally posted at WorldNewsTrust.com
© WorldNewsTrust.com
See also – The Century of the Self – How politicians and business learned to create and manipulate mass-consumer society.

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Michael Hudson Fictitious Debt and Manipulation of People

“The whole issue about whether the United States has a debt problem is largely fictitious.”

Video

The United States is in major debt. The national debt has surpassed $14.3 trillion for the first time. This country is coming extremely close to reaching its statutory limit set by Congress last year. Will Congress increase the ceiling even more? Can the United States find a way to stop borrowing?

Posted February 28, 2013

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It’s Like Rooting for the Lions against the Christians

By David Macaray 
February 28, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – It’s astonishing that we have all these people out there—all these wildly opinionated, patriotic folks—who, without any prompting, will spontaneously burst into rhapsodic discourse about how much they admire the “checks and balances” written into the U.S. constitution by our genius Founding Fathers, but who, alas, express nothing but contempt for the working man’s best friend: labor unions.
When you try to compare those constitutional checks and balances with the de facto “checks and balances” (in the form of resistance) that labor unions contribute to the economy, these people go ape-shit. They become emotional. It’s like we’re suddenly talking about confiscating their guns. These pilgrims will defend the most gargantuan and predatory corporation before they’ll acknowledge even a modest contribution from a labor union.
Over the years I’ve had these arguments countless times—so many times, in fact, that I’ve broken down the “pro-union catechism” into six, user-friendly components: Resistance, Fair Play, Social Evolution, Consumer Economics, Personal Pride, and the Appeal to General Douglas MacArthur’s Restructuring of Post-World War II Japan.
(1) Resistance: without the ability to resist, minorities are doomed. (2) Fair Play: it shouldn’t be only the powerful who get the goodies. (3) Evolution: workers collectives are a logical point on the social axis. (4) Economics: the more affluent the consumer, the healthier the economy. (5) Pride: don’t act like sheep. (6) Douglas MacArthur (a right-wing Republican) insisted that post-war Japan establish unions. Why? Because he believed that, without unions, management would have too much of an upper-hand.
Oddly, none of these arguments have ever worked (not even the appeal to MacArthur). Indeed, the most generous reply I’ve ever gotten from these hardcases was the acknowledgement that, while unions were helpful once upon a time (presumably, they’re referring to the 1930s), those days are long gone. Unions of today are not only unhelpful, they are downright harmful. I’ve heard people describe unions as “corrupt,” as “poison,” as “job-killers,” as a “cancer on society.”
And they have the arrogance to say these things with a straight face, even with union membership hovering at only 11.3-percent, even with the wreckage of the middle-class visible to all of us, even with the so-called “working poor” growing faster than ever, even with the top 2-percent accumulating wealth at a record pace. Yet these worshippers of “checks and balances” insist that labor unions are not only an anachronism, but a curse.
But when you drop the big question on them, when you ask how workers can be expected to improve themselves, they have no answer. They have no remedy. They sheepishly admit that they have no solution. All they know for certain is that workers collectives are definitely NOT the way to go, and that unions are evil. There’s a name for ignorant bastards like these. They’re called “voters.”
David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author (It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor), was a former union rep. He can be reached at: dmacaray@earthlink.net.
This article was originally posted at Dissident Voice.

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Former British citizens killed by drone strikes after passports revoked

By Chris Woods and Alice K Ross

February 28, 2013 “Information Clearing House” –  The government has secretly ramped up a controversial programme that strips people of their British citizenship on national security grounds – two of whom have been subsequently killed by US drone attacks.

An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and published in the Independent has established that since 2010 the Home Secretary Theresa May has revoked the passports of 16 individuals many of whom are alleged to have had links to militant or terrorist groups.

Critics of the programme warn that it also allows ministers to ‘wash their hands’ of British nationals suspected of terrorism who could be subject to torture and illegal detention abroad.

They add that it also allows those stripped of their citizenship to be killed or ‘rendered’ without any onus on the British government to intervene.

At least five of those deprived of their UK nationality by the Coalition government were born in Britain, and one man had lived in the country for almost 50 years.

Those affected have their passports cancelled, and lose their right to enter the UK – making it very difficult to appeal the Home Secretary’s decision.

Last night the Liberal Democrat’s deputy leader Simon Hughes said he was writing to the Home Secretary to call for an urgent review into how the law was being implemented.

The leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce said the present situation ‘smacked of medieval exile, just as cruel and just as arbitrary’.

Ian Macdonald QC, president of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, described the citizenship orders as ‘sinister’.

‘They’re using executive powers and I think they’re using them quite wrongly,’ he said.

‘It’s not open government, it’s closed, and it needs to be exposed because in my view it’s a real overriding of open government and the rule of law.’

Laws were passed in 2002 enabling the Home Secretary to remove the citizenship of any dual nationals who had done something ‘seriously prejudicial’ to the UK, but the power had rarely been used before the current government.

The Bureau’s investigations have established the identities of all but four of the 21 British passport holders who have lost their citizenship, and their subsequent fates. Only two have successfully appealed – one of whom has since been extradited to the US.

In many cases those involved cannot be named because of ongoing legal action.

The Bureau has also found evidence that government officials act when people are out of the country – on two occasions while on holiday – cancelling passports and revoking citizenships.

Those targeted include Bilal al-Berjawi, a British-Lebanese citizen who came to the UK as a baby and grew up in London, but left for Somalia in 2009 with his close friend British-born Mohamed Sakr, who also held Egyptian nationality.

Both had been the subject of extensive surveillance by British intelligence, with the security services concerned they were involved in terrorist activities.

Once in Somalia, the two reportedly became involved with al Shabaab, an Islamist militant group with links to al Qaeda. Berjawi was said to have risen to a senior position in the organisation, with Sakr his ‘right hand man’.

In 2010, Theresa May stripped both men of their British nationalities and they soon became targets in an ultimately lethal US manhunt.

In June 2011 Berjawi was wounded in the first known US drone strike in Somalia and last year he was killed by a drone strike – within hours of calling his wife in London to congratulate her on the birth of their first son.

Sakr, too, was killed in a US airstrike in February 2012, although his British origins have not been revealed until now.

Sakr’s former UK solicitor said there appeared to be a link between the Home Secretary removing citizenships, and subsequent US actions.

‘It appears that the process of deprivation of citizenship made it easier for the US to then designate Sakr as an enemy combatant, to whom the UK owes no responsibility whatsoever,’  Saghir Hussain told the Bureau.

Macdonald added that depriving people of their citizenship ‘means that the British government can completely wash their hands if the security services give information to the Americans who use their drones to track someone and kill them.’

Campaign group CagePrisoners is in touch with many families of those affected. Executive director Asim Qureshi said the Bureau’s findings were deeply troubling for Britons from an ethnic minority background.

‘We all feel just as British as everybody else, and yet just because our parents came from another country, we can be subjected to an arbitrary process where we are no longer members of this country any more,’ he said.

‘I think that’s extremely dangerous because it will speak to people’s fears about how they’re viewed by their own government, especially when they come from certain areas of the world.’

Liberal Democrat Hughes said that while he accepted there were often real security concerns, he was worried that those who were innocent of Home Office charges against them and were trying to appeal risked finding themselves in a ‘political and constitutional limbo’.

‘There was clearly always a risk when the law was changed seven years ago that the executive could act to take a citizenship away in circumstances that were more frequent or more extensive than those envisaged by ministers at the time,’ he said.

‘I’m concerned at the growing number of people who appear to have lost their right to citizenship in recent years. I plan to write to the Home Secretary and the Home Affairs Select Committee to ask for their assessment of the situation, the policy both in general and in detail, and for a review of whether the act working as intended.’

Gareth Peirce said the present situation ‘smacked of medieval exile’.

‘British citizens are being banished from their own country, being stripped of a core part of their identity yet without a single word of explanation of why they have been singled out and dubbed a risk,’ she said.

Families are sometimes affected by the Home Secretary’s decisions. Parents may have to choose whether their British children remain in the UK, or join their father in exile abroad.

In a case known only as L1, a Sudanese-British man took his four British children on summer holiday to Sudan, along with his wife, who had limited leave to remain in the UK. Four days after his departure, Theresa May decided to strip him of his citizenship.

With their father excluded from the UK and their mother’s lack of permanent right to remain, the order effectively blocks the children from growing up in Britain.At the time of the order the children were aged eight to 13 months.The judge, despite recognising their right to be brought up in Britain, ruled that the grounds on which their father’s citizenship was revoked ‘outweighed’ the rights of the children.

Mr Justice Mitting, sitting in the semi-secret Special Immigration Appeals Commission, said: ‘We accept that it is unlikely to be in the best interests of the Appellant’s children that he should be deprived of his British citizenship… They are British citizens, with a right of abode in the United Kingdom.

‘They are of an age when that right cannot, in practice, be enjoyed if both of their parents cannot return to the United Kingdom.’

Yet he added that Theresa May was ‘unlikely to have made that decision without substantial and plausible grounds’.

In another case, a man born in Newcastle in 1963 and three of his London-born sons all lost their citizenship two years ago while in Pakistan.

An expert witness told Siac, the semi-secretive court which hears deprivation appeals, that those in the family’s situation may be at risk  from the country’s government agencies and militant groups. Yet Siac recently ruled that the UK ‘owed no obligation’ to those at risk of ‘any subsequent act of the Pakistani state or of non-state actors [militant groups] in Pakistan’.

The mother, herself a naturalised British citizen, now wants to return here in the interests of her youngest son, who has developmental needs. Although 15, he is said to be ‘dependent upon [his mother and father] for emotional and practical support’. His mother claimed he ‘has no hope of education in Pakistan’. But the mother has diabetes and mobility problems that mean she ‘does not feel able to return on her own, with or without [her son].’

Mr Justice Mitting ruled that the deprivation of citizenship of the family’s father had ‘undoubtedly had an impact on the private and family life of his wife and youngest son, both of whom remain British citizens’.

But he added that the father posed such a threat to national security that the ‘unavoidable incidental impact’ on his wife and youngest son was ‘justifiable’, and dismissed the appeal.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: ‘Citizenship is a privilege not a right. The Home Secretary has the power to remove citizenship from individuals where she considers it is conducive to the public good. An individual subject to deprivation can appeal to the courts.’

She added: ‘We don’t routinely comment on individual deprivation cases.’

Asked whether intelligence was provided to foreign governments, she said: ‘We don’t comment on intelligence issues. Drone strikes are a matter for the states concerned.’

A law unto herself: How the Home Secretary has the power to strip British citizenship

The Home Secretary has sole power to remove an individual’s British citizenship. The decision does not have to be referred through the courts.

From the moment the Home Secretary signs a deprivation of citizenship order, the individual ceases to be a British subject – their passport is cancelled, they lose the diplomatic protections Britain extends to its citizens, and they must apply for a visa to re-enter the country.

The Home Secretary can only deprive an individual of their citizenship if they are dual nationals. The power cannot be used if by removing British citizenship it renders an individual stateless.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May can use the power whenever she deems it ‘conducive to the public good’. She can act based on what she believes someone might do, rather than based on past acts.

The only way to challenge an order is through retrospective appeal. Where the deprivation is on national-security grounds, as in almost every known case, appeals go to the semi-secret Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac).

Siac hears sensitive, intelligence-based evidence in ‘closed’ proceedings – where an individual and their legal team cannot learn the detail of the evidence against them. Instead, a special advocate – a carefully vetted barrister – challenges the government’s account.  But once they have seen the secret material they cannot speak with the defendant without the court’s permission, making cross-examination ‘pretty useless’, in the words of former special advocate Ian Macdonald.

Related article: The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) explained

The government has long been able to remove the citizenship of those who acquired it in cases such as treason, but the power to do so to British-born individuals was introduced after 9/11 in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. This allowed the Home Secretary to strip the nationality of those who had ‘done anything seriously prejudicial’ to the country. At that point, no deprivation order had been issued since 1973.

Following the July 7 bombings, the law changed again, so citizenship could be stripped if it is deemed ‘conducive to the public good’. Conservative MPs called this a ‘watered-down test’ – but the Conservative-led coalition government has embraced the power, issuing over three times as many orders as under Labour.

Follow Chris Woods and Alice K Ross on Twitter.

This article was originally posted at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism

Related story: When being born British isn’t enough

Related story – Graphic detail: How the government used its powers of banishment

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article34127.htm

Bob Woodward Embodies US Political Culture in a Single Outburst

Washington’s most celebrated journalist hails the values of militarism, lawlessness, and presidential omnipotence

By Glenn Greenwald

February 28, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – “The Guardian” — Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced that it would deploy “only” one aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, rather than the customary two. This move, said the Pentagon, was in preparation for the so-called “sequestration”, scheduled to take effect this week, that mandates spending cuts for all agencies, including the Pentagon. This aircraft carrier announcement was all part of the White House’s campaign to scare the public into believing that sequestration, which Democrats blame on Republicans, will result in serious harm to national security. Shortly before this cut was announced, then-defense Secretary Leon Panetta said:

“With another trigger for sequestration approaching on March 1st, the Department of Defense is facing the most serious readiness crisis in over a decade . . . . Make no mistake, if these cuts happen there will be a serious disruption in defense programs and a sharp decline in military readiness.”

That the Obama administration might actually honor the budget cuts mandated by a law enacted by Congress and signed by Obama infuriates Bob Woodward, Washington’s most celebrated journalist. He appeared this week on the “Morning Joe” program to excoriate Obama for withholding a second aircraft carrier in the Gulf, saying:

“Can you imagine Ronald Reagan sitting there and saying ‘Oh, by the way, I can’t do this because of some budget document?’ Or George W Bush saying, ‘You know, I’m not going to invade Iraq because I can’t get the aircraft carriers I need’ or even Bill Clinton saying, ‘You know, I’m not going to attack Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters,’ as he did when Clinton was president, because of some budget document.

“Under the Constitution, the president is commander-in-chief and employs the force. And so we now have the president going out because of this piece of paper and this agreement, I can’t do what I need to do to protect the country. That’s a kind of madness that I haven’t seen in a long time.”

As Brian Beutler points out: “the obscure type of budget document Woodward’s referring to is called a duly enacted law — passed by Congress, signed by the President — and the only ways around it are for Congress to change it. . . . or for Obama to break it.” But that’s exactly what Woodward is demanding: that Obama trumpet his status as Commander-in-Chief in order to simply ignore – i.e. break – the law, just like those wonderful men before him would have done. Woodward derides the law as some petty, trivial annoyance (“this piece of paper”) and thus mocks Obama’s weakness for the crime of suggesting that the law is something he actually has to obey.

How ironic that this comes from the reporter endlessly heralded for having brought down Richard Nixon’s presidency on the ground that Nixon believed himself above the law. Nixon’s hallmark proclamation – “When the President does it, that means it is not illegal” – is also apparently Bob Woodward’s.

All of this, of course, is pure pretense. Is it even remotely plausible that Obama is refraining from engaging in military action he believes is necessary out of some sort of quaint deference to the law? Please. This is a president who continued to wage war, in Libya, not merely without Congressional authorization, but even after Congress expressly voted against its authorization. This is a president who has repeatedly argued that he has the right to kill anyone he wants, anywhere in the world, not only due to Congressional authorization but also his own Commander-in-Chief powers. If Obama really wanted to deploy that second aircraft carrier, he would do so, knowing that journalists like Bob Woodward and members of both parties would cheer him. This is just a flamboyant political stunt designed to dramatize how those Big, Bad Republicans are leaving us all exposed and vulnerable with sequestration cuts.

But whatever Obama’s motives might be, the fact is that what we call “law” really does require some cuts in military spending. To refuse to do so would be to assert powers not even most monarchs have: to break the law at will. Woodward is right about one point: not only would prior presidents have been willing to do this, this is exactly what they did. Indeed, George Bush’s entire presidency was explicitly predicated on the theory that the president has the power to break the law at will whenever he deems that doing so promotes national security. That America’s most celebrated journalist not only supports this, but demands that all presidents follow this model of lawlessness, is telling indeed.

Equally telling is the radical militarism implicit in Woodward’s outburst. Contrary to the fear-mongering from the government and its media, the military cuts compelled by sequestration are extremely modest (as opposed to domestic spending cuts, which will actually produce genuine pain for many people). As the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein documented: “even if we implement every single cut in the sequester, the fall in spending would be less than the military experienced after Korea, Vietnam, or the Cold War.” Given the massive explosion of military spending in the name of the War on Terror over the last decade (which Klein notes was “larger than the rise during Vietnam and during the Cold War”), the sequestration-mandated cuts would be but a very small step in returning to a sane level of military spending.

Then there’s the hysteria Woodward spreads about how we’ll all somehow be endangered if the US has only one rather than two aircraft carriers stalking Iran in the Gulf. What possible harm could come from that? None. This is all grounded in cartoon narrative that Iran is this frightening hegemon threatening the US at all times, and must be contained with massive assertions of military might. The reality, of course, is that even with these sequestration cuts, the US military budget is so much larger than Iran’s that they are not in the same universe. That would be true if we had multiple sequestrations. The very idea that two aircraft carriers are needed at all in the Gulf, let alone are necessary to Keep America Safe, is just laughable.

Yet here is Bob Woodward, with one rant, expressing the core values of America’s media class. The president is not constrained by law (contemptuously referred to as “this piece of paper”). He not only has the right but the duty to do anything – even if the law prohibits it – to project military force whenever he wants (even though the Constitution mandates as his prime duty not to Keep Us Safe but rather that he “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed” and thus must swear as his oath “to the best of [his] ability [to] preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States”). The US must act as empire, dominating the world with superior military force if it wants to stay safe. Any reduction in military spending and deployment will endanger us all.

It’s to be expected that these authoritarian and militaristic values shape political leaders and their followers. That these values also shape the “watchdog” media class, as embodied by one of their “legends”, explains much about US political culture generally.

Bob Woodward fulfills an important function. Just as Tim Russert was long held up as the scary bulldog questioner who proved the existence of an adversarial TV press while the reality was that, as Harper’s Lewis Lapham famously put it, he maintained “the on-air persona of an attentive and accommodating headwaiter”, the decades-old Woodward lore plays a critical role in maintaining the fiction of a watchdog press corps even though he is one of the most faithful servants of the war machine and the national security and surveillance states. Every once and awhile, the mask falls, and it’s a good thing when it does.

Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon. He is the author of How Would a Patriot Act? (May 2006), a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power; A Tragic Legacy (June, 2007), which examines the Bush legacy; and With Liberty and Justice For Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful

© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited

See also –

Bob Woodward: ‘Obama White House Threatened Me‘: Video – – Bob Woodward said this evening on CNN that a “very senior person” at the White House warned him in an email that he would “regret doing this,” the same day he has continued to slam President Barack Obama over the looming forced cuts known as the sequester.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article34119.htm

Bradley Manning Says U.S. ‘Obsessed With Killing’ Opponents

By Richard A. Serrano

February 28, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – “LA Times” — FT. MEADE, Md. – Army Pfc. Bradley Manning pleaded guilty Thursday to 10 charges that he illegally acquired and transferred highly classified U.S. materials later published by WikiLeaks, saying he was motivated by a U.S foreign policy that “became obsessed with killing and capturing people rather than cooperating” with other governments.

“I felt we were risking so much for people who seemed unwilling to cooperate with us due to the mistrust and hatred on both sides,” Manning said, reading a 35-page, hand-written statement describing his angst over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I began to become depressed with the situation we had become mired in year after year,” he added.

In a plea arrangement with military prosecutors, Manning agreed to serve a 20-year prison sentence in exchange for pleading guilty to 10 lesser charges. But he also pleaded not guilty to 12 more serious criminal charges, including espionage, and will face a court-martial in June. If convicted, he could face a life sentence.

Manning, now 25, was posted as a low-level intelligence analyst at a base outside of Baghdad until his arrest three years ago.

He said was angered at one point when 15 Iraqis were arrested as protesters, yet none were known terrorists or involved in anti-government activities. When he complained to his superiors, he said, “no one wanted to do anything about it.”

Manning said he eagerly logged into WikiLeaks’ chat rooms and submitted material to the anti-secrecy website because he was impressed with their efforts to expose the inner workings of U.S. military and diplomatic operations.

“I routinely monitored their website,” he said. “It helped me pass the time and keep motivated throughout my deployment.”

Manning, a small, thin soldier in Army blues and eyeglasses, admitted he leaked a video of a helicopter gun battle, State Department cables, an Army field manual and documents that detailed the Army’s patrol reports in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He also admitted leaking confidential assessments of detainees at the U.S. Naval Base on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and five classified records from a U.S. bombing in Afghanistan that killed numerous civilians.

Copyright Los Angeles Times

See also

Bradley Manning gives evidence to court martial: 10 things to look out for: In only the second time he’s spoken publicly since his 2010 arrest, what he says about how he came to transmit information to WikiLeaks, and why, could be of great significance

Bradley Manning Tried Going To NY Times, Washington Post, Politico Before Turning To WikiLeaks: WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning revealed on Thursday that, before turning to Julian Assange’s organization, he tried to get the New York Times, Washington Post and Politico interested in some of the explosive confidential material in his possession.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article34122.htm

Our Murderer-in-Chief

By Arthur Silber

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. — The Murderer-in-Chief’s Second Inaugural Address

February 28, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – Hey, Mr. Kill List: I am not your gay brother. Take your patronizing, mawkish, Hallmark card, gasbag philosophizing — and you know what you can do with it.

Speaking of the Kill List, I see that you’re still developing your “rules” about how to murder innocent people. You know, other organizationshave rules, too. Having considered the matter in detail, I think the Mafia’s looking pretty good by comparison. The Mafia’s Rule 8 — “When asked for any information, the answer must be the truth.” — well, that’s obviously out as far as the criminal gang known as the U.S. government is concerned. And the U.S. can’t possibly use Rule 9 — “Money cannot be appropriated if it belongs to others or to other families.” How would Wall Street and the finance industry, the health insurance industry, or Obama’s other special friends ever survive with a rule like that?

And the Mafia sure murders a lot fewer people. So, yeah, I think we should go with the Mafia here.

As for queers being “treated like anyone else under the law”: hell, yeah! Queers can be murdered by Obama whenever he feels like it — JUST LIKE ANYONE ELSE! Careful what you wish for, morons.

So much for all those who worship at the altar of the Constitution and “the rule of law,” as I recently discussed. Would you please grow up? Look, I could have been rude and said, would you please grow the fuck up? I’m trying to be polite since it’s such a majestic and inspiring day, a day that makes us so goddamned proud to be Americans and all.

Well, that didn’t work. WOULD YOU PLEASE GROW THE FUCK UP? The Constitution is not your friend. “The law” is not your friend.

AAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHH

Too much stupid. Cannot. Take. It.

Arthur Silber – arthur4801 at yahoodotcom  – Blogs at http://powerofnarrative.blogspot.com

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article34125.htm

The Century Of The Self (FULL: Episodes 1-4)

Fed chairman reassures markets on dollar-printing “quantitative easing” program

By Barry Grey 
28 February 2013
In testimony Tuesday and Wednesday before the Senate and the House of Representatives, US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke went out of his way to reassure Wall Street that his program of dollar-printing and ultra-cheap credit for the banks would continue indefinitely.
Bernanke testified before the Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services Committee, delivering the Fed’s semiannual Monetary Policy Report to Congress. Global financial markets were keyed into the hearings, anxious to see if Bernanke would dispel concerns that his massive program of bond purchases, known as “quantitative easing,” might be curtailed sooner than previously expected. By means of this program, the Fed pumps tens of billions of dollars every month into the banking system, driving up the prices of stocks and other financial assets.
Last week, stock markets around the world tumbled after the Fed released the minutes from the January meeting of its policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). The minutes reported the concerns of “many” participants about the consequences of the money-printing program ($85 billion a month, over $1 trillion a year) and questions as to how much longer it could continue.
The release of the minutes followed a speech earlier this month by a member of the Fed Board of Governors, Jeremy Stein, who warned that the Fed’s policy of near-zero interest rates into the indefinite future encouraged the type of reckless, high-risk speculation that brought down the financial system in September of 2008.
The panicked response on stock exchanges last week underscored the degree to which the financial system has become addicted to massive injections of cash from the major central banks. Taking their cue from the Fed, the European Central Bank, the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan have all launched their own “quantitative easing” programs. This flood of cheap credit from the central banks amounts to an immense subsidy to the major banks and financial institutions, which are able to leverage the virtually free money to make huge profits from speculative operations.
As a result, share values, corporate profits and executive pay have spiraled upward even as the real economies of most of the industrialized countries have contracted and unemployment and poverty have continued to soar, in large part due to brutal austerity policies aimed at making the working class pay for the vast expansion of debt. The economies of the US, Britain, the euro zone and Japan all contracted in the final quarter of 2012.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation reported Tuesday that profits at US banks jumped almost 37 percent in the final three months of 2012, reaching the highest level for a fourth quarter in six years. The agency said that for all of 2012, bank earnings rose 19 percent to $141.3 billion, the second-highest annual level ever.
The same day, the New York State comptroller reported that the average cash bonus for those employed in the financial industry in New York in 2012 rose 9 percent to $121,900. Cash bonuses on Wall Street are forecast to increase by 8 percent this year, to a total of $20 billion.
In his opening remarks to the congressional committees, Bernanke unambiguously defended his policy of near-zero interest rates and vast asset purchases. He reiterated the decision of the FOMC at its January meeting to keep the benchmark federal funds interest rate below 0.25 percent as long as the official US unemployment rate, currently at 7.9 percent, remains above 6.5 percent.
He noted that in December the Fed had decided to add $45 billion in Treasury security purchases to the $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities it was already buying every month. The expanded program of asset purchases was to continue until the Fed saw “a substantial improvement in the outlook for the labor market.”
“In the current economic environment,” Bernanke then told the congressional committees, “the benefits of asset purchases, and of policy accommodation more generally [near-zero interest rates], are clear.” Directly replying to critics of these policies both within the Fed and without, he added, “[T]o this point we do not see the potential costs of the increased risk-taking in some financial markets as outweighing the benefits of promoting a stronger economic recovery and more rapid job creation.”
Bernanke’s claim that his bank-subsidy policy is motivated by a determination to end mass unemployment is fraudulent. Since the 2008 crash, the Fed has added trillions of dollars to its balance sheet by buying up securities, with little impact on the highest jobless rates since the Great Depression. In reply to a question from a member of the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, Bernanke said a “reasonable guess” as to when the US unemployment rate would fall to 6 percent was “around 2016, about three more years.”
The real beneficiaries of the policy Bernanke reaffirmed on Tuesday and Wednesday was reflected in the response on global stock markets. They rose sharply, after having fallen in the wake of the hung election in Italy.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 115.96 points, or 0.8 percent, to 13,900 on Tuesday. On Wednesday, it jumped 175.24 points, or 1.25 percent, ending the day above the 14,000 mark at 14,075.
In the course of the question-and-answer period at the Senate hearing, Bernanke brushed aside suggestions, mainly from Republican supporters of a hard-money policy and even harsher austerity measures than those of the Obama administration, that the Fed was subsidizing the banks, inflating stock prices and fueling a global currency war by devaluing the dollar.
“I don’t see much evidence of an equity bubble,” Bernanke said of the near-record surge in stock values. On the question of currency warfare, he declared, “We don’t view monetary policy aimed at domestic goals as a currency war,” and added, “This is not a beggar-thy-neighbor policy.”
In fact, the Fed’s money-printing spree, which pushes down the dollar on world currency markets, giving US exports an advantage over its trade rivals, has triggered parallel policies in one country after another, threatening to undermine any stable world currency system and unleash competitive currency devaluations and trade war. Earlier this month, the meeting of the G20 leading economies in Russia was dominated by fears of currency war, following the decision of the new Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to print yen so as to devalue the country’s currency and make its exports cheaper on world markets.
Bernanke also used the hearings to urge Congress to avoid triggering the so-called “sequestration” process on March 1, which will initiate across-the-board cuts in civilian and military discretionary spending totaling $85 billion this year and $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. Instead, he called for a plan to slash the deficit over the longer-term, implicitly targeting the major entitlement programs—Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—for sweeping cuts.

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Quebec: PQ imposes annual hikes in university tuition fees

By Keith Jones 
28 February 2013
Using a phony “national” Education Summit as a backdrop, Quebec’s Parti Québecois (PQ) government announced Tuesday that henceforth university tuition fees will rise annually by at least 3 percent.
The banner reads: “Six months on strike for this? No to indexation!”
“It’s clear,” said Quebec Premier Pauline Marois in closing the two-day summit, “that it has been very difficult to arrive at a consensus. But at such a moment it is up to the government to take up its responsibilities. I’m doing that.”
The government had hoped that its trade union and student association allies would formally endorse the tuition fee hikes. But given the events of last year—a six-month long province-wide student strike that at its height threatened to trigger a mass movement of the working class in opposition to big business’ austerity agenda—the unions and FEUQ (Quebec Federation of University Students) and FECQ (Quebec Federation of College Students) deemed it politic to claim that they oppose the government’s decision.
Nonetheless, the union and student leaders made it crystal clear that they will do precisely nothing to oppose the tuition fee hikes, just as they have acquiesced before the PQ’s emergency budget of last November. That budget imposed the steepest social spending cuts in 15 years, including $250 million in cuts to university budgets to be implemented by March 2014, and discarded PQ election promises to eliminate a regressive per capita health care tax and partially freeze electricity rates.
FEUQ President Martine Desjardins said she was “disappointed” by the government’s decision to “index” tuition fees—in reality it is raising them by considerably more than the inflation rate. “But students,” she rushed to add, “aren’t leaving with empty hands.”
As proof of her claim, Desjardins pointed to Marois’ announcement that the government will allow one of the five working groups it has established to continue the “dialogue” on university accessibility, financing, and management to discuss its decision—announced along with tuition fee hike—to raise university administrative fees by 3 percent per year. (In addition to $2,275 in annual tuition, Quebec students pay on average $800 in administrative fees per year.)
“Unfortunately, we have to live with the hikes that are proposed,” said Daniel Boyer, the general-secretary of the Quebec Federation of Labour. Asked by reporters if there was ever question of the unions quitting the summit to protest the government’s unilateral imposition of the tuition fee hikes, Boyer gave an emphatic no: “We don’t want to act like little children every time we don’t get everything we want.”
The unions’ posturing at the summit as partisans of a tuition freeze and even the eventual abolition of tuition fees was utterly cynical.
They played the principal role in isolating and politically suppressing last year’s student strike.
There was a heavy police presence throughout Tuesday’s demonstration.
In the name of preserving “social peace,” the presidents of the QFL, the Confederation of National Trades Unions and the Centrale des syndicats du Québec joined with Charest in early May in bullying student leaders into accepting a sellout agreement. That agreement, which was overwhelming rejected by Quebec’s students, would have raised tuition fees by more than 80 percent over 7 years beginning last September.
When the Liberal government’s imposition of a draconian anti-strike law Bill 78 provoked mass opposition in the working class, the unions intensified their efforts to end the strike. The head of the QFL wrote the president of the Canadian Labor Congress to insist that no support should be given to the striking students and all the unions joined forces to divert the opposition movement behind the PQ, the Quebec elite’s alternate party of government—as exemplified by the QFL slogan “After the streets, to the ballot box.”
Assisted by the unions, the student federations, and Québec Solidaire, the PQ posed as a supporter of the striking students, with Marois for months wearing the “red square” that symbolized the strike. But at the summit, she and Education Minister Pierre Duchesne gave vent to their and the ruling class’ hostility to the students’ militant challenge to the ruling class drive to dismantle public services through cuts, privatization and the imposition of the user-pay principal. Time and again, they deplored the events of last spring as a period of “division” and “social crisis” that had “damaged” Quebec’s “image.” At one point Marois dismissed the so-called Maple Spring as a “psychodrama.”
Important sections of big business and the corporate media, have criticized the 3 percent tuition fee hike as inadequate. The Conseil de Patronat accused Marois of “buying social peace.”
But the government believes that imposing tuition increases that even in their first year will only be slightly smaller than the $100 per year increases the Liberals imposed between 2007 and 2011 is important for demonstrating—to big business and working people alike—its determination to impose right-wing measures in the face of mass opposition. In concluding the summit, Marois boasted, “The social crisis is behind us.”
Moreover, the government has established mechanisms through which more substantial increases could be imposed in the near future. One of the working groups is charged with considering whether departments that offer more costly programs should be allowed to charger higher fees, as well as whether non-native Quebec students are paying their “fair” share.
ASSE—the successor organization to CLASSE, the student group that led last year’s strike—chose at the eleventh hour to boycott the summit, on the grounds that the summit was a “political show” and that the PQ was “betraying” students by not seriously considering its demand for the gradual phasing out of tuition fees.
But ASSE itself did much to encourage illusions in the PQ and its phony “national” summit. It participated in all the pre-summit meetings, has failed to speak out against the PQ’s budget cuts, and adapted to the campaign of the unions, FECQ and FEUQ to channel the student strike behind the PQ, with leading ASSE representatives repeatedly saying Charest’s defeat would be a “victory.”
While an implicit admission of the failure of its orientation, ASSE’s boycott of this week’s summit is a continuation of its nationalist, middle-class protests perspective of pressuring the Quebec elite for concessions.
It made no criticism of the trade union leaders who participated in the summit—just as it meekly submitted to the unions and dropped its call for a “social strike” last spring, once the unions signaled their virulent opposition. And it continues to separate the struggle for education to be recognized as a social right from the struggle to mobilize the working class as an independent political force against the ruling class agenda of brutal austerity and job and wage cuts.
More than 10,000 students and their supporters participated Tuesday in a march called by ASSE through downtown Montreal, once again bearing witness to the growing radicalization of young people.
Speaking at a rally before the march, an ASSE spokesman from CEGEP de Valleyfield repeated ASSE’s claim the strike had ended in victory—no matter that the PQ had just imposed tuition fee hikes in perpetuity and has imposed social spending cuts far beyond those of its Liberal predecessor. Vowing that ASSE will continue on the same course, he declared, “Student unionism functions and makes gains … We will pull up our sleeves, return to our assemblies, and continue to do what we have done before—organize and mobilize.”
With a view to drawing the real lessons of the student strike, supporters of the WSWS distributed hundreds of copies of a statement titled, “The education summit and the bankruptcy of the politics of ASSE: to oppose the assault on public services student must turn to the working class.”

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Right-wing Supreme Court justices attack US Voting Rights Act

By Ed Hightower 
28 February 2013
On Wednesday, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case ofShelby County v. Holder, which challenges the key enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965.
Right-wing justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and John Roberts made clear their opposition to the act. Justice Clarence Thomas, the fourth member of the far-right bloc on the court was, as usual, silent, and the “swing vote,” Justice Anthony Kennedy, acidly questioned the continued relevance of the landmark ruling.
The tenor of these reactionaries suggested the existence of a five-vote majority to either overturn or eviscerate the provisions of the law that require states of the former Jim Crow South and certain other jurisdictions to pre-clear changes in voting procedures with the federal government, so as to insure the right of blacks and other minorities to vote.
The very fact that the Supreme Court agreed to hear the challenge to the Voting Rights Act, which had been rejected by the federal trial court and the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, is indicative of the ferocity of the assault on democratic rights being waged by the ruling class. It reflects the aggressive posture of the court’s right-wing bloc, which may be poised to usurp the power of Congress, as stipulated in the 15th Amendment of the Constitution outlawing voting discrimination based on race, to pass legislation to enforce the Amendment’s provisions. Congress has repeatedly voted to extend the VRA, most recently in 2006, when both houses voted overwhelmingly to extend the act for another 25 years (98 to 0 in the Senate, 390 to 33 in the House).
The Voting Rights Act marked the high water mark of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. In the preceding decades, African Americans, who were guaranteed all of the constitutional rights of whites through the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution passed in the aftermath of the Civil War, nevertheless suffered severe repression at the hands of state and local governments in the American South, including de facto disenfranchisement through poll taxes and literacy tests backed up by brutal violence and terror.
In the mass struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, hundreds of thousands of African Americans in the South backed by white workers and youth across the country fought against legal segregation in marches, sit-ins and protests, many of which met with violent attack both from state and local authorities and from organized terror groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Bombings, lynchings and beatings claimed many lives.
The outcome of these struggles was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The VRA covered all of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia and Alaska, as well as parts of Arizona, Hawaii and Idaho. In 1975, Texas was added due to findings of persistent discrimination against non-English-speaking persons. Today, all or part of 16 states fall under the pre-clearance requirement of the VRA.
Immediately after the 2006 renewal of the VRA by Congress, a Texas municipality challenged it on grounds similar to those at issue in Shelby County. In its review of that case, commonly referred to as NAMUDNO (Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder), seven Supreme Court justices signed on to an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts that depicted Sections 4 and 5 of the act, the key enforcement sections, as outdated, and the 2006 congressional renewal as failing to take into account progressive changes in the South.
Shelby County largely concerns Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the pre-clearance provision. The suit also targets Section 4 of the act, which defines which jurisdictions will be subjected to the pre-clearance requirement.
Attorneys for Shelby County, Alabama argue that jurisdictions in their state should not be treated differently from those in any other state, claiming that there is no more overt discrimination against minority voters in Alabama jurisdictions than in any other state. During oral arguments, Alabama’s attorney brushed aside evidence of recurrent and frequent attempts to disenfranchise minority voters in Alabama and the states in question, insisting that the pre-clearance requirement posed an unacceptable intrusion into the sovereign state’s interest in managing elections within its borders.
The questioning by justices Scalia, Roberts and Alito, with Kennedy largely following suit, indicates a possible if not probable overturn of at least Section 4 of the VRA, leaving it up to Congress to create a new formula for determining which jurisdictions fall under the scope of pre-clearance, a remote prospect in the present political context that would have much the same effect as striking Sections 4 and 5 altogether.
Scalia’s contributions were particularly provocative. Referring to the ever-broader support for the VRA at each successive congressional renewal, Scalia made the following extraordinary comment:
“Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement…It’s a concern that this is not the kind of a question you can leave to Congress.”
Justice Kennedy posed the unrelated and almost nonsensical question to the government’s lawyer: “If Alabama wants to have monuments to the heroes of the civil rights movement, if it wants to acknowledge the wrongs of its past, is it better off doing that if it’s an [sic] own independent sovereign or if it’s under the trusteeship of the United States Government?”
The nominally liberal justice Stephen Breyer appeared inclined to conciliate with the right-wing majority, asking the government’s attorney, “What is the standard for when it [the VRA] runs out? Never? That’s something you have heard people worried about.”
The overturning or emasculation of the VRA would serve as a green light for broader attacks on democratic rights, and the right to vote in particular.Shelby County takes place in the context of more than a decade of mounting attacks on the right to vote, beginning with the infamous Gore v. Bushdecision of December 2000, in which the Supreme Court shut down the counting of votes in Florida and handed the presidency to George W. Bush.
More recently, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that corporations had the right to donate unlimited cash to election campaigns. This term it is hearing a suit to lift all restrictions on the amount of money individuals can donate to candidates for office. The domination of the electoral process and the political system by corporate money is being institutionalized and written into the law of the land.
The recent spate of disenfranchising measures adopted by states across the US in the form of voter ID laws, the curtailment of early voting and the purging of voter rolls represents more than just a gift to the Republican Party, whose strategists fear changing demographics will contribute to future electoral losses. It represents an ongoing and escalating break with democratic norms on the part of the corporate-financial elite.
The attack on the Voting Rights Act is an attack not just on minority workers, but on the democratic rights of the working class as a whole.
American and world capitalism face the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and with it, growing resistance to relentless attacks on workers’ livings standards. This is the source of the turn by the ruling class toward police state forms of rule, from indefinite military detention and domestic spying to the authority claimed by President Obama to assassinate people branded as terrorists, including US citizens.

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The Italian election: A political watershed

28 February 2013
Last weekend’s Italian general election is a watershed event in the political development of Europe.
The point man for the European financial elite, Mario Monti, suffered a humiliating defeat and could not form a workable government with his ally, Pier Luigi Bersani of the Democratic Party. This is a major blow to the austerity policies of the European Union and the German government. Commentaries predict a new eruption of the euro crisis.
The problem for the ruling class is not so much Beppe Grillo and Silvio Berlusconi, who are now in a position to block any government decision in the Senate. While somewhat unpredictable, both men are bourgeois politicians who defend capitalism and are prepared to support brutal austerity measures. The problem is the opposition of the Italian people, who have decisively rejected a policy that brings them nothing but poverty and unemployment, while the financial elite enriches itself in a shameless fashion.
Italy is not the only country where such resistance is emerging. Across Europe, workers are exhibiting growing militancy, seeking to defend themselves against a social counterrevolution aimed at wiping out all of the social gains won over the previous 70 years. In Bulgaria, demonstrations against exorbitant electricity prices have brought down the government. In Greece and Spain, strikes and protests against the austerity measures of the European Union are assuming increasingly radical forms.
Over the past fifteen years, the European financial elite has mainly relied on the services of social democratic parties and the trade unions and their pseudo-left defenders to slash workers’ living standards and satisfy the financial markets’ hunger for profit.
Tony Blair in Britain, Gerhard Schröder in Germany and Lionel Jospin in France carried out austerity policies at the beginning of this period. After the 2008 financial crisis, José Zapatero in Spain, José Socrates in Portugal and George Papandreou in Greece continued and extended these policies. They carried out attacks against workers, pensioners and the unemployed that were unprecedented in Europe since the 1930s.
The trade unions collaborated in these social attacks, suppressing popular resistance and dissipating opposition by means of toothless protests. Pseudo-left groups criticized austerity measures in words, while in practice supporting the social democrats, and—in the case of Communist Refoundation in Italy and the Left Party in several German states—participating in their governments.
Social democratic leaders responsible for the social attacks were unseated due to the unpopularity of their policies. They handed over power to conservative governments that continued the social counterrevolution. When the latter faced mounting opposition, the social democrats returned to power to continue the same right-wing policies.
This was the game plan for the election in Italy last weekend, but it failed to come to fruition.
Monti ruled for thirteen months without any democratic legitimacy. Having been installed in power without the benefit of an election, he initiated unprecedented social attacks. He called early elections when polls predicted a clear majority for his own list and the social democratic camp led by Bersani. He hoped to achieve a stable parliamentary majority for his austerity policies.
The closer the election approached, however, the faster this majority melted away. The disastrous consequences of Monti’s policies became clearer by the day. The Italian economy is in a deep recession. It has become virtually impossible for young people to find a job. Pensioners are sinking into abject poverty. Low-income families are burdened by high taxes.
The bankruptcy of the official “left” enabled a right-wing demagogue such as Berlusconi and an unscrupulous pseudo-populist such as Grillo to profit from opposition to anti-working class austerity policies that were supported by and identified with the social democrats. But Berlusconi and Grillo have no answer to the social crisis. There are few illusions that Berlusconi is anything other than a right-winger, and time will soon dispel illusions that exist about Grillo.
The class struggle will increasingly assume more militant and open forms. European politicians have responded by publicly stating that they will not accept the electorate’s will as expressed in its vote against the austerity policies of the EU. The most blatant statement in this regard came from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
Commenting on the Italian election, he declared: “The mistake now would be to cave in to populism. We must now ask the question: Should we define our economic policy on the basis of short-term electoral considerations or by what is required to lead Europe on the path of sustainable growth? For me the answer is clear. We should… not yield to immediate party political considerations.”
In other words, the people can vote however they choose, but it will have no impact on state policy. We will stick to the social counterrevolution. Similar statements were made by other politicians and media commentators.
European ruling circles will react to Monti’s electoral disaster by increasingly turning to authoritarian methods of rule and the forcible suppression of resistance to their reactionary policies.
Workers and young people must prepare by drawing the lessons of the bankruptcy of the social democrats, the trade unions and their pseudo-left defenders, and organize themselves independently. The pseudo-left groups such as Communist Refoundation in Italy, the New Anti-capitalist Party in France, the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, SYRIZA in Greece and the International Socialist Organization in the US represent wealthy strata of the middle class whose income and social status are closely connected with the capitalist state. The more militant the resistance of the working class, the more they will move to the right.
The most urgent task now is to build a new revolutionary leadership of the working class to prepare for the coming struggles.
Social and democratic rights can be defended only by reorganizing society on a socialist basis. The major corporations and banks must be expropriated and placed under democratic control. Production must be organized according to the needs of society and not the greed for profit. At the heart of this perspective is the establishment of workers’ governments and the United Socialist States of Europe.
Peter Schwarz

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France-Qatar tensions rise over Mali war, Tunisia

By Jean Shaoul 

28 February 2013

Tensions between France and Qatar are rising, with accusations that the petro-monarchy is financing and arming separatists and Islamist militants linked to Al Qaeda in Mali, and more broadly spreading Islamic fundamentalism in Africa.

France worked closely with Qatar to oust Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. It is also currently working with Doha, as well as Riyadh and Ankara, in waging a sectarian war to overthrow Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad and isolate Iran. Now, however, blowback has developed, as Qatar’s policies cut across France’s geo-strategic and commercial interests in Mali and Tunisia, which are at the centre of French plans to recolonise its former North and West African empire.

Qatar prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani opposed French intervention in Mali, calling instead for dialogue.

The head of France’s ruling Socialist Party (PS), Harlem Désir, denounced what he called “a form of indulgence” by Qatar of “terrorist groups who occupied the northern Mali.” His remarks were followed by a visit of Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to Doha, to discuss Mali with Al Thani.

A Ministry of Defence statement noted pointedly that Qatar is “a privileged client of France” in weapons purchases, having purchased “orders totalled 450 million euros to 200 million euros” since 2007. The ministry also noted that from February 16 to March 7, a joint military exercise would be staged in Qatar—Falcon Gulf 2013—involving 1,300 French soldiers and the same number of Qataris.

The French press has accused Qatar of wanting to see northern Mali secede, just as it supported the secession of South Sudan from Sudan. This would allow Qatar to forge close ties with the new nation—which is suspected to be rich in oil and gas—and thus to extend its influence into West and sub-Saharan Africa.

Last June, the weekly Le Canard Enchaîné published an article, “Our friend Qatar is financing Mali’s Islamists”. It cited French military intelligence sources claiming that Qatar was financially supporting various groups: the Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawas (MNLA), Ansar El Dine, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and its splinter group the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) via Qatar’s Red Crescent Society, among others.

Roland Marchal, an expert on sub-Saharan Africa, suggested that Qatari Special Forces had entered Northern Mali to train recruits of Ansar El Dine, part of Al Qaeda—a charge also made in L’Express. Qatar pursued a similar strategy in Libya. In Tunisia and Egypt, the al-Thani monarchy financed the Muslim Brotherhood’s political parties in 2011 and 2012, as part of its broader strategy of bringing Sunni-based Islamist governments to power to crush opposition in the Arab working class, target the Shiite regime in Iran, and bolster its own position against Saudi Arabia.

Tunisia’s Islamist-led government that replaced France’s long-time client, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, is now furious at Paris’s campaign to discredit it and secure either a shift towards the opposition parties or the formation of a national unity government. France was angered by Tunis’s refusal to formally back France’s intervention in Mali, or to allow French military planes to fly over its air space. Presidential spokesman Adnan Manser expressed concern that the conflict would threaten neighbouring countries, including Tunisia.

Tensions increased further after reports emerged that the terrorists who carried out the attack on the gas plant in southern Algeria, apparently in retaliation for French war in Mali, had crossed into Tunisia, which also borders on Libya and Algeria. Large caches of weapons not usually found in Tunisia—RPGs, bombs and Kalashnikovs—were discovered in Medenine.

The assassination earlier this month of Chokri Belaid, the leader of the secular opposition Popular Front party, prompted then-prime minister Hamadi Jebali from the Islamist Ennahda party to accuse Al Qaeda-linked militants of carrying out the assassination and accumulating weapons in order to establish an Islamic state.

French interior minister Manuel Valls denounced the killing as an attack on “the values of Tunisia’s Jasmine revolution”. He added, “There is an Islamic fascism rising everywhere, but this obscurantism must, of course, be condemned because it denies the democracy for which the Libyan, Tunisian and Egyptian people have fought”.

Valls also called for France to support pseudo-left opposition parties in stabilising Tunisia and bringing working class opposition under control.

His remarks prompted a demonstration by Ennahda supporters, shouting slogans and carrying banners saying, “France get out!” and “Enough, France! Tunisia will never again be a French colony”. Valls’s intervention was so naked that the spokesperson for the pseudo-left Tunisian Popular Front, Tunisian Workers’ Communist Party president Hamma Hammami, was forced to declare: “As the Popular Front we are against France, US or any Arab country interfering with our internal affairs.”

France’s interest in its former colonial territories in North Africa and the Sahel is fuelled by their rich natural resources—particularly oil, gas, uranium, gold and other precious minerals—and the rise of the United States and China in an area that France sees as its own backyard.

Then-president Jacques Chirac initially sought to counter Washington’s Pan-Sahel Initiative (PSI), promulgated in 2001, whereby US military forces would train troops from Mali, Chad, Mauretania and Niger, using the pretext of the “war on terror” announced after the September 11 terrorist attacks. This was later expanded to include Algeria, Mauretania, Morocco, Senegal, Nigeria and Tunisia under the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative (TSCTI). Libya, Sudan and Somalia had already been identified as potential targets.

The PSI and TSCTI were followed in 2007 by the establishment of AFRICOM at EUCOM’s base in Stuttgart, as no African country would host it. It took control of the TSCTI. Chirac had wanted to enlist Germany’s support, inviting Germany to the Franco-African summit in 2007, but Angela Merkel declined to antagonise Washington.

The rise of China was a major factor in French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s rejoining NATO’s integrated military command structure in 2009 and signing an agreement with Britain in 2010 to integrate the two countries’ military forces. France’s role would be to serve as Washington’s lieutenant in North Africa and the Sahel, and share in the spoils of its plans to restructure the region.

Sarkozy sought to bolster France’s declining economic position by courting the Qatari Emir, selling Doha 80 Airbuses for its Qatar Airlines, supplying it with up to 80 percent of its arms, and encouraging Qatar’s Sovereign Wealth Fund to buy up US$70 billion of French assets.

France passed a special law exempting the Emir and other Qatari investors who bought up prime French real estate from tax. He even offered Doha membership in its International Organisation of Francophony (OIF)—sanctioning French-language schools in the Gulf, the Maghreb and Africa subject to Qatari administration.

 

The author also recommends:

Qatar plays key role in US Middle East/North Africa plans
[9 February 2013]

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/02/28/fran-f28.html

US Supreme Court dismisses lawsuit challenging secret wiretaps

By John Burton 

28 February 2013

The US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Tuesday that a group of United States-based attorneys, journalists and human rights activists, along with their affiliated organizations, cannot sue to establish the unconstitutionality of a 2008 amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The decision had nothing to do with the merits of the claim. Rather, the lawsuit was thrown out of court because the plaintiffs could not prove that the interception of their phone calls and emails was “certainly impending,” a legal standard never before imposed to deny someone the right to sue.

At the core of the majority decision, authored by Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and joined by the other three extreme right-wing justices—Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., Associate Justice Antonin Scalia and Associate Justice Clarence Thomas—along with the so-called “swing” voter, Justice Anthony A. Kennedy, is an obvious “Catch-22.” Because the law authorizes secret wiretaps, there is no way to prove who might be a victim, but only victims have legal “standing” to file lawsuits, and therefore nobody can bring a case for judicial review of the law’s constitutionality.

Clapper v. Amnesty International reverses a lower court ruling that said the lawsuit should go forward, in the process narrowing the doctrine of “standing” such that virtually all secret government activity can now be ruled immune from court challenges. In doing so, the Supreme Court majority adopted the positions urged by Obama administration lawyers in their briefs and at oral argument last October. (See, “Obama administration asserts unchecked powers”)

The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution forbids warrantless eavesdropping. Congress enacted FISA in 1978 following Watergate-era exposures of widespread and unchecked government spying on United States citizens engaged in constitutionally protected political and cultural activities. FISA limits wiretaps to the acquisition of “foreign intelligence information” by targeting a “foreign government or agent” outside the United States. With a nod to the Fourth Amendment, FISA requires federal agents to obtain a warrant for the specific target and facility from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington, DC, the proceedings of which are kept secret.

In 2008, Congress, with the support of key Democrats, amended FISA to eliminate the requirements that the target must be a specified “foreign power or an agent of a foreign power” and that the warrant application must identify the precise facility where the electronic surveillance is to take place. In effect, the 2008 FISA amendment authorizes “roving wiretaps” of communications between places in the United States and foreign countries that are essentially warrantless.

The plaintiffs filed their lawsuit less than an hour after then-president George Bush signed the FISA amendment into law, asking the federal district court in New York to declare the measure unconstitutional and enjoin its enforcement.

The plaintiffs described themselves as persons and organizations who communicate by telephone and e-mail with people the government “believes or believed to be associated with terrorist organizations,” with “people located in geographic areas that are a special focus” of so-called “counterterrorism” efforts, and with “activists who oppose governments supported by the United States.”

To establish standing under the law as it then existed, the plaintiffs alleged a series of specific injuries flowing from the FISA amendment, such as the fact that the threat of secret wiretapping interferes with lawyers locating and interviewing witnesses or advising clients in confidence, journalists cultivating confidential sources to obtain information for news reports, and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International interacting with foreign contacts. The threat of surveillance compelled some plaintiffs to travel abroad for in-person conversations, and others to undertake “costly and burdensome measures” to protect the confidentiality of sensitive communications.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which includes New York City, ruled that the plaintiffs’ allegations establish “an objectively reasonable likelihood that their communications will be intercepted” and therefore gave them standing to challenge the FISA amendment’s constitutionality. The Supreme Court majority reversed this ruling.

Alito’s majority opinion dramatically raised the bar for determining legal standing, ruling that the plaintiffs had to demonstrate “the threatened injury must be certainly impending ” (the italics are Alito’s), resurrecting a phrase from a long-forgotten 1923 opinion that actually found that the plaintiff in the case had standing on the basis that “one does not have to await the consummation of threatened injury to obtain preventive relief.”

The “certainly impending” language has never previously been used by the Supreme Court to deny a plaintiff standing in any case, much less one challenging the constitutionality of a clandestine government program where the evidence to meet such a standard is, by definition, unavailable.

Alito went on, at considerable length, to discount the plaintiffs’ claims that their communications would likely be intercepted as “highly speculative” and “relying on a highly attenuated chain of possibilities.” Alito seemed to taunt the plaintiffs for the absence of “any evidence that their communications have been monitored” under a secret program put into effect the day their lawsuit was filed, calling it “a failure that substantially undermines their standing theory.”

“Simply put,” Alito wrote, the plaintiffs “can only speculate as to how the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence will exercise their discretion in determining which communications to target,” and “even if [the plaintiffs] could demonstrate that the targeting of their foreign contacts is imminent, [they] can only speculate as to whether the Government will seek to use [FISA] surveillance (rather than other methods) to do so.”

In other words, the spy program’s secrecy—which is what chills the plaintiffs’ exercise of their rights in the first place—is precisely what prevents anyone from seeking review of its constitutionality.

Alito next demeaned the plaintiffs’ claims that the threat of surveillance forced them to travel and to undertake other expensive precautions to protect the confidentiality of their communications as “self-inflicted injuries” that, somehow, “are not fairly traceable” to the secret wiretapping program.

Finally, Alito wrote that even if “no one would have standing is not a reason to find standing,” meaning that the Supreme Court could insulate the secret wiretapping program from all court challenges. Underscoring his contempt for the basic democratic right of people to challenge governmental action in court, Alito concluded that “any dissatisfaction” the plaintiffs had with the new law or the secret rulings of the FISA court “is irrelevant to our standing analysis.”

Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by the other three moderate justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, pointing out the many Supreme Court precedents which give the plaintiffs standing to bring suit. The dissent explicitly declined to address the constitutionality of the FISA amendment itself, however.

Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union and the lawyer for the plaintiffs, issued a statement calling the ruling “disturbing” because it denies “meaningful judicial review and leaves Americans’ privacy rights to the mercy of the political branches.”

“More than a decade after 9/11,” Jaffer added, “we still have no judicial ruling on the lawfulness of torture, of extraordinary rendition, of targeted killings or of the warrantless wiretapping program. These programs were all contested in the public sphere, but they have not been contested in the courts.”

In contrast, the spokesperson for the Department of Justice praised the majority decision, stating that the government was “obviously pleased” with the denial of standing to the plaintiffs.

Equally obvious is the fact that the Obama administration—to no less a degree than the administration of George Bush—is developing increasingly authoritarian forms of rule in conjunction with the Supreme Court.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/02/28/fisa-f28.html

US moves towards open arming of Syrian opposition

By Chris Marsden 

28 February 2013

In the lead-up to today’s Friends of Syria summit meeting in Rome, the United States has signalled a shift in policy, towards openly arming the Syrian opposition that is fighting a US proxy war to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

This took place via carefully choreographed political theatre between US Secretary of State John F. Kerry, European countries including Britain, France, Germany and Italy, and the Syrian opposition itself.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition threatened to boycott the summit, ostensibly leaving Syria’s friends with no one to claim friendship with. This was Kerry’s cue to make repeated assurances of additional support while touring Europe’s capitals, in the run-up to the Rome summit and his upcoming tour of the Middle East.

Meeting with Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague, Kerry promised that new American support for the SNC would “come to maturity by the time we meet in Rome”. Other US measures would be discussed if the opposition attended the Friends of Syria meeting.

Kerry insisted the US was still pursuing a political resolution, suggesting that direct military aid was not on the immediate agenda. But he added: “We are determined that the Syrian opposition is not going to be dangling in the wind, wondering where the support is, if it is coming.” “I want our friends in the Syrian opposition council to know that we are not coming to Rome simply to talk. We are coming to Rome to make a decision on next steps,” he added. Hague also urged the opposition to stay involved in talks, promising that the UK believes “we must significantly increase our support for the Syrian opposition, on top of our large contributions to the humanitarian relief effort, and we are preparing to do just that.”

European diplomats said the leader of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Moaz al-Khatib, had told the Italian government his delegation would be attending the summit Thursday. Walid al-Bunni, a spokesman for the SNC, said on Monday the move came after a phone call between al-Khatib and Kerry.

The discussion of increased aid came against a background of media reports—most prominently in the New York Times —that arms shipments to the opposition were on the increase, funded by Gulf states and in some cases originating in Croatia and other eastern European states.

The weapons were reportedly shipped via Jordan and Turkey. David Ottaway of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars said, “I think it’s a US-Jordanian-Saudi operation—the same three groups that have worked together in the past trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein. I do not think Jordan would be doing this on its own.”

“Indeed, we procured new anti-aircraft and heavy defensive weapons donated from Arab and non-Arab countries recently,” Louay Almokdad, political and media coordinator for the Free Syrian Army, told CNN Sunday.

Several rebel commanders and fighters told Reuters that a shipment that reached Syria via Turkey last month comprised shoulder-held and other mobile equipment including anti-aircraft and armour-piercing weapons, mortars and rocket launchers. The weapons, along with money to pay fighters, were all being distributed through a new command structure set up to funnel foreign aid in part as a means of controlling the opposition and minimising the influence of Al-Qaeda type groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.

Reuters reported, “The rebels refused to specify who supplied the new weapons, saying they did not want to embarrass foreign supporters, but said they had arrived openly via Turkey ‘from donor countries’. ‘We have received this shipment legally and normally. It was not delivered through smuggling routes but formally through Bab al-Hawa crossing,’ said a rebel commander.”

A Reuters photographer in Damascus saw western-built rebel firearms including US pattern M4 and Austrian Steyr assault rifles.

One rebel commander said of the money and arms supplied, “So basically it’s like we have paid in advance. It is funded by the countries that will be involved in reconstruction of Syria.”

The chief of staff of the rebel military command, Brigadier Selim Idris, said the presence of foreign fighters was hindering international support for the battle against Assad, while claiming: “We are not receiving weapons from the Europeans, we do not want to embarrass them, we do not want to embarrass anyone with the weapons issue.”

Following Kerry’s declaration in London, the Washington Post and CNN both reported that the Obama administration was moving toward a major policy shift on Syria that could provide rebels with equipment such as body armour and armoured vehicles, and possibly military training.

The Washington Post said the Obama administration is looking to remove restrictions on “dual-use” equipment, involving communications, body armour, flak jackets, night-vision equipment and military vehicles. “They are doing a redefinition of what is lethal,” a source said. “They have been working on this for a while.”

CNN stated that the changes are under discussion with US allies as part of Kerry’s tour and is being done in coordination with the European powers. Each European Union nation would decide on its own what to supply, the official said.

The Post noted, “Kerry has repeatedly made indirect references to a policy shift during his travels. He told a group of German students Tuesday that the United States wants a ‘peaceful resolution’ in Syria, but if its leaders refuse to negotiate and continue to kill citizens, ‘then you need to at least provide some kind of support’ for those fighting for their rights.”

Britain and France have both pushed to lift an EU arms embargo on Syria, but met with opposition in the bloc, which led to it being renewed for three months. The EU inserted a clause, however, allowing member countries “to provide greater non-lethal support and technical assistance for the protection of civilians.”

An EU official spoke candidly to the Washington Post, explaining, “Under the old EU setup, we couldn’t do anything,” whereas the new rule will allow “things that don’t of themselves kill people.”

“We’re talking about things that can be helpful on the ground—bulletproof jackets, binoculars and communications,” another said.

The duplicity of the US and its European allies is made necessary by an attempt to preserve the illusion that they are seeking a diplomatic solution. Kerry even complained to the SNC that its boycott was undermining him on the eve of a meeting with Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, in Berlin Tuesday.

Speaking from Moscow on Monday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem offered talks with the opposition, including those that have taken up arms. Lavrov urged support for the Assad regime’s initiative, warning that further fighting could lead to “the breakup of the Syrian state”.

“The Syrian people should decide their fate without external intervention,” said Lavrov, citing “sensible forces who are increasingly aware of the necessity to begin the talks as soon as possible to reach a political settlement.”

Whatever diplomatic noises are made, Washington is pushing for regime change in Syria, working through its proxies: Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. On Tuesday, delegates from the Friends of Syria International Working Group, meeting in Sofia, called for sanctions to be imposed by “all members of the international community, especially members of the United Nations Security Council”— targeting Russia and China for their opposition to such measures.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/02/28/syri-f28.html

How Israel Legitimises Torturing Palestinians to Death

Israel’s policy of torture has left many dead and completely lacks accountability.
By Charlotte Silver
Many in the West Bank are in mourning over the passing of Arafat Jaradat, who was tortured to death in an Israeli prison – he leaves behind a pregnant widow and two children [AFP]
February 27, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – (Al-Jazeera) – Six days after Arafat Jaradat was arrested by the Israeli army and the Shin Bet, he was dead. Between the date of his arrest – February 18 – and the day of his death – February 23 – his lawyer Kamil Sabbagh met with Arafat only once: in front of a military judge at the Shin Bet’s Kishon interrogation facility.
Sabbagh reported that when he saw Jaradat, the man was terrified. Arafat told his lawyer that he was in acute pain from being beaten and forced to sit in stress positions with his hands bound behind his back.
When it announced his death, Israeli Prison Service claimed Arafat – who leaves a pregnant widow and two children – died from cardiac arrest. However, the subsequent autopsy found no blood clot in his heart. In fact, the autopsy concluded that Arafat, who turned 30 this year, was in fine cardiovascular health.
What the final autopsy did find, however, was that Jaradat had been pummelled by repeated blows to his chest and body and had sustained a total of six broken bones in his spine, arms and legs; his lips lacerated; his face badly bruised.
The ordeal that Arafat suffered before he died at the hands of Israel’s Shin Bet is common to many Palestinians that pass through Israel’s prisons. According to the prisoners’ rights organisation Addameer, since 1967, a total of 72 Palestinians have been killed as a result of torture and 53 due to medical neglect. Less than a month before Jaradat was killed, Ashraf Abu Dhra died while in Israeli custody in a case that Addameer argues was a direct result of medical neglect.
The legal impunity of the Shin Bet, commonly referred to as the GSS, and its torture techniques has been well established. Between 2001 and 2011, 700 Palestinians lodged complaints with the State Attorney’s Office but not a single one has been criminally investigated.
Writing in Adalah’s 2012 publication, On Torture [PDF], Bana Shoughry-Badarne, an attorney and the Legal Director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, wrote, “The GSS’s impunity is absolute.”
Israel’s High Court has been extravagantly helpful in securing the Shin Bet with its imperviousness to accountability to international law, and thus enabling widespread and lethal torture.
In August of 2012, Israel’s High Court rejected petitions submitted by Israeli human rights organisations Adalah, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and PCATI to demand that Israeli attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, carry out criminal investigations into each allegation of torture by the Shin Bet.
And in the first week of February, two weeks before Arafat was killed, the High Court of Justice threw out Adalah’s petition that demanded the GSS videotape and audio record all of its interrogations in order to comply with requirements of the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT) to which Israel is a signatory.
In May 2009, UNCAT condemned [PDF] Israel for exempting the Shin Bet’s interrogations from audio and video recording, noting that such oversight is an essential preventative measure to curtail torture. Yet despite this admonition, in 2012 the Knesset extended the exemption for another three years.
Rationalising its failure to comply with this most basic requirement of recording interrogations, the State maintains that it is in the interests of “national security” that its interrogation techniques not be made public.
Arafat was killed under torture. Torture is routine. But the following is not routine: upon the announcement of his death, thousands of Palestinians, already unified in solidarity with the arduous struggle waged by Palestinian hunger striking prisoners, responded in force. At least 3,000 prisoners refused their meals; thousands poured into the streets of Gaza and impassioned demonstrations erupted across the West Bank. While the State of Israel continues to deploy its deadly arsenal of weapons to repress Palestinians, the banality of the evil of this regime is, as it will always be, eclipsed by the mighty Palestinian will for self-determination.
Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in San Francisco and the West Bank. She is a graduate of Stanford University. Follow her on Twitter: @CharEsilver

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Shlomo Sand: Challenging notions of a Jewish People

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The Power to Assassinate a Compliant and Submissive People

By Jacob G. Hornberger
February 27, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – (fff) – President Obama’s nomination of John Brennan is being held up over Brennan’s refusal to state whether the president’s power to assassinate Americans (and others) extends to American soil. The controversy is summed up in a great article by Glenn Greenwald.
The fact that Brennan could not bring himself to immediately say that the president doesn’t have the power to assassinate Americans (and others) right here within the United States is revealing. He undoubtedly knows that the president does claim to wield such power and that the president just doesn’t want to alarm Americans by informing them that he now wields the power to assassinate anyone he wants, including Americans here in the United States.
I can’t see how there’s any room for doubt here. Ever since President Bush claimed extraordinary powers after the 9/11 attacks, we here at The Future of Freedom Foundation have been pointing out that the powers were not limited to foreigners or to foreign lands. When U.S. forces, both military and CIA, were kidnapping people, torturing them, and incarcerating them without trial, we kept emphasizing that such powers were not limited to foreigners. By following the logic employed by Bush and his associates, it was clear that those extraordinary powers extended to Americans as well, both abroad and here at home.
But all too many Americans comforted themselves by thinking that those extraordinary powers applied only to foreigners and that the powers were necessary to keep them “safe.” Therefore, they endorsed what was going on with much enthusiasm, simply blocking out of their minds that they were also endorsing the most revolutionary change in the relationship between the federal government and the American citizenry in U.S. history.
Then came the case of Jose Padilla. He was an American who was accused of conspiracy to commit terrorism. Rather than have him indicted and then prosecute him in federal court, the feds whisked him away to a military dungeon, where the Pentagon tortured him and threatened to keep him incarcerated for the rest of his life as an “enemy combatant” in the “war on terrorism.”
We took a leading role in opposing that extraordinary exercise of military supremacy over the American citizenry. We continually pointed out that what they did to Padilla, if upheld, they could then do to all other Americans. But because Padilla was not the most sympathetic character in the world, all too many Americans were happy over what the feds were doing to him, blocking out of their minds that the feds could now do the same thing to all other Americans.
And sure enough, the federal courts, in the fear-ridden environment of post-9/11, upheld what the president and the Pentagon did to Padilla, which means that they can now do the same to every American — and some 12 years after the 9/11 attacks!
And now we have the president’s assassination program, in which the president, along with his military and CIA, now wield the power to assassinate anyone they want, no questions asked. They’ve already killed countless foreigners as well as at least three Americans, including a 16-year-old boy. They do it all in secret and are not required to answer any questions as to who they have assassinated or why. Their power to kill people is omnipotent.
Do they claim the power to assassinate Americans right here at home? How can there be any doubt about it? From the very beginning, they simply converted a standard federal crime — terrorism — into an act of war. They called it “the war on terrorism,” and said that this war was just like World Wars I and II. They said that in war, they have the right to take captives, torture them, and execute illegal enemy combatants, and also to assassinate the enemy.
They also said that this war would go on forever or for at least the lifetimes of everyone living today, given that there were so many terrorists in the world. As part of that war, the president, the military, and the CIA would have to assume extraordinary powers, they said, ones that were inherent to the most extreme dictatorships in history.
Significantly, they repeatedly emphasized that in this war, the battlefield wasn’t limited to the Middle East or surrounding regions. Instead, in this war the entire world constituted the battlefield. That, of course, included the United States.
Thus, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to draw the logical conclusion — whatever extraordinary powers were being exercised against foreign “enemy combatants” in the “war on terrorism” could be applied against people right here on American soil, including Americans.
Of course, as we have also been pointing out since 9/11, the entire matter is just one great big sham and fraud. They took a federal criminal offense — terrorism — and used it a ruse to claim that America was now “at war” and then claimed extreme dictatorial powers in the process. It would be no different if the president used another federal war — the “war on drugs” — as a ruse to assume extraordinary dictatorial powers, such as the power to kidnap, torture, execute, and assassinate suspected drug users and dealers.
Our American ancestors tried their best to prevent this dictatorial nonsense. That’s why they used the Constitution to bring into existence a government of limited, enumerated powers. Notice that the dictatorial powers claimed by Bush and Obama are not among those enumerated powers. To make sure that federal officials got the point, our ancestors demanded the enactment of four separate amendments to the Constitution — the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendments. Those amendments stated that with respect to federal crimes, people would be guaranteed the protections of criminal indictments, due process of law, trial by jury, freedom from cruel and unusual punishments, and other protections.
And there is another important thing to note about those four amendments. Notice that the protections and guarantees apply to people in general, not just to Americans. That’s because our ancestors understood that justice requires that the rules apply to everyone equally, not one set of rules for foreigners and another set of rules for Americans. Thus, under our system of justice, President Obama has no right to be assassinating anyone or torturing anyone or incarcerating anyone without due process of law and trial by jury.
And it must be emphasized: terrorism is, in fact, a federal crime. That’s why they ultimately made Padilla a criminal defendant. That’s why terrorism is listed in the U.S. Code as a criminal offense. That’s why they have terrorism cases in federal court all the time. The truth is that there is no real war and there has never been one, any more than there has been a real war in the “war on drugs.” After all, how is the enemy supposed to surrender in this “war”? Where are the transport ships bringing invading troops to America? Where are the supply lines?
And let’s not forget something else of equal importance — the only reason that people are killing U.S. troops over there is because they’re over there interfering with the affairs of other countries. That’s what the killing is all about on both sides —not because people are trying to conquer America and enslave Americans but simply because they want the U.S. government, especially the U.S. military and CIA, out of their countries. And the more the Pentagon and the CIA continue to kill people in the process, the more they generate an endless supply of terrorists, which they then use to perpetuate their dictatorial powers. As I have long pointed out, the U.S. government is the greatest terrorist-producing machine in history.
It’s all been a sham, a fraud, and a ruse to enable the U.S. national-security state to adopt the same powers of dictatorship that it has long supported and trained, such as Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile, the military dictatorships in Guatemala, the Shah’s dictatorship in Iran, Mubarak’s dictatorship in Egypt, and many more.
But Brennan shouldn’t been concerned about alarming Americans about Obama’s power to assassinate them on American soil. As we have learned since 9/11, the American people are among the most compliant, cooperative, and submissive people on the planet. All the feds have to do is say that they are doing it to keep them safe, and except for libertarians and (a few liberals and conservatives), unfortunately all too many Americans continue to fall for anything and agree to anything the government wants to do to them.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas.

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Lords of Disorder: Billions For Wall Street, Sacrifice For Everyone Else

By Richard Eskow
February 27, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – The President’s “sequester” offer slashes non-defense spending by $830 billion over the next ten years. That happens to be the precise amount we’re implicitly giving Wall Street’s biggest banks over the same time period.
We’re collecting nothing from the big banks in return for our generosity. Instead we’re demanding sacrifice from the elderly, the disabled, the poor, the young, the middle class – pretty much everybody, in fact, who isn’t “too big to fail.”
That’s injustice on a medieval scale, served up with a medieval caste-privilege flavor. The only difference is that nowadays injustices are presented with spreadsheets and PowerPoints, rather than with scrolls and trumpets and kingly proclamations.
And remember: The White House represents the liberal side of these negotiations.
The Grandees
The $83 billion ‘subsidy’ for America’s ten biggest banks first appeared in an editorial from Bloomberg News – which, as the creation of New York’s billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg, is hardly a lefty outfit. That editorial drew upon sound economic analyses to estimate the value of the US government’s implicit promise to bail these banks out.
Then it showed that, without that advantage, these banks would not be making a profit at all.
That means that all of those banks’ CEOs, men (they’re all men) who preen and strut before the cameras and lecture Washington on its profligacy, would not only have lost their jobs and fortunes in 2008 because of their incompetence – they would probably lose their jobs again today.
Tell that to Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, or Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, both of whom have told us it’s imperative that we cut social programs for the elderly and disabled to “save our economy.” The elderly and disabled have paid for those programs – just as they paid to rescue Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, and just as they implicitly continue to pay for that rescue today.
Dimon, Blankfein and their peers are like the grandees of imperial Spain and Portugal. They’ve been given great wealth and great power over others, not through native ability but by the largesse of the Throne.
Lords of Disorder
Just yesterday, in a rare burst of candor, Dimon said this to investors on a quarterly earnings call: “This bank is anti-fragile, we actually benefit from downturns.”
It’s true, of course. Other corporations – in fact, everybody else – has to survive or fail in real-world conditions. But Dimon and his peers are wrapped in a protective force field which was created by the people, of the people, and for … well, for Dimon and his peers.
The term “antifragile” was coined by maverick financier and analyst Nassim Taleb, whose book of the same name is subtitled “Things That Gain From Disorder.” That’s a good description of JPMorgan Chase and the nation’s other megabanks.
Arbitraging Failure
Dimon’s comment was another way of saying that his bank, and everything it represents, is The Shock Doctrine made manifest. The nation’s megabanks are arbitraging their own failures, and the economic crises that flow from those failures.
These institutions are designed to prey off economic misery. They suppress genuine market forces in order to thrive, and they couldn’t do it without our ongoing help. The Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve are making it happen.
We who have made these banks “antifragile” have crowned their leaders our Lords of Disorder.
Once Dimon told reporters that he explained to his seven-year-old daughter what a financial crisis is – “something that happens … every five to seven years,” which “we need to do a better job” managing.
Thanks to fat political contributions, Dimon manages them well. So do his peers. Misery is the business model. And by Dimon’s reckoning another shock’s coming any day now.
Money For Nothing
Bloomberg’s use of the word ‘subsidy’ in this instance can be slightly misleading. Public institutions don’t issue $83 billion in checks to Wall Street’s biggest banks every year. But they didn’t let them fail as they should have – through an orderly liquidation – after they created the crisis of 2008 through fraud and chicanery. Instead it allowed them to prosper from it, creating that $83 billion implicit guarantee.
As we detailed in 2011, the TARP program didn’t “make money,” either. Banks received a free and easy trillion-plus dollars from our public institution, on terms that amounted to a gift worth tens of billions, and possibly hundreds of billions.
That gift prevented them from failing. In private enterprise, this kind of rescue is only given in return for part ownership or other financial concessions. But our government asked for nothing of the kind.
Unpaid Debts
Breaking up the big banks would have protected the public from more harm at their hands. That didn’t happen.
Government institutions could have imposed a financial transaction tax, whose revenue could be used to repair the harm the banks caused while at the same time discouraging runaway gambling. They still could.
They could have imposed fees on the largest banks to offset the $83 billion per year advantage we’ve given them. They still could.
But they haven’t. This one-sided giveaway is the equivalent of an $83 billion gift for Wall Street each and every year.
Cut and Paste
$83 billion per year: Our current budget debate is framed in ten-year cycles, which means that’s $830 billion in Sequester Speak. You’d think our deficit-obsessed capital would be trying to collect that very reasonable amount from Wall Street. Instead the White House isproposing $130 billion in Social Security cuts, $400 in Medicare reductions, $200 billion in “non-health mandatory savings,” and $100 billion in non-defense discretionary cuts.
That adds up to exactly $830 billion.
No doubt there is genuine waste that could be cut. But $830 billion, or some portion of it, could be used to grow our economy and brings tens of millions of Americans out of the ongoing recession that is their daily reality, even as the Lords of Disorder continue to prosper. It could be used for educating our young people and helping them find work, for reducing the escalating number of people in poverty, for addressing our crumbling infrastructure, for giving people decent jobs.
It’s going to Wall Street instead.
Trillion-Dollar Tribute
The right word for that is tribute. As in, “a payment by one ruler or nation to another in acknowledgment of submission …” or “an excessive tax, rental, or tariff imposed by a government, sovereign, lord, or landlord … an exorbitant charge levied by a person or group having the power of coercion.” (Courtesy Merriam-Webster)
In this case the tribute is made possible, not by military occupation, but by the hijacking of our political process by the corrupting force of corporate contributions.
The fruits of that victory are rich: Bank profits are at near-record highs. Most of the country is still struggling to dig out from the wreckage they created but, as Demos’ Policy Shop puts it, “for the banks it’s 2006 all over again.”
On Bended Knee
“Millions for defense,” they said in John Adams’ day, “but not one cent for tribute.”
Today we’re paying for both. That doesn’t leave much for the elderly, the disabled, the impoverished, the children, or anybody else who doesn’t “benefit from disorder.” Nobody’s fighting for them in this budget battle.
That leaves the public with a clear choice: Demand solutions that are more just and democratic – or submit willingly to the Lords of Disorder.
This article was originally posted at Campaign for America’s Future

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Why Many in Washington Don’t Have Half A Brain

Customers Disappearing = Higher Unemployment 
By Robert Reich
February 27, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – Can we just put aside ideology for one minute and agree that businesses hire more workers if they have more customers, and fire workers if they have fewer customers?
There are two big categories of customer: One is comprised of individual consumers. The other is government.
We tend to think of the government as a direct employer — of teachers, fire fighters, civil servants.
But government is also a major customer of the private sector. It buys school supplies, pharmaceuticals, military equipment, computers. It hires private companies to build roads and bridges, dredge ports, manage data.
One out of every five Americans works for a company whose customer is the government. 
Here’s the problem: Both categories of customer are buying less. 
Individual consumers are buying less because they have less take-home pay. Their wages are dropping (the median wage is 8 percent below what it was in 2000, adjusted for inflation). And their taxes have gone up. The expiration of the Social Security payroll tax cut will shrink the typical paycheck by more than $1,000 this year.
Less take-home pay is causing 45.7 percent of consumers to pull in their belts, according to a survey released Thursday by the National Retail Federation. A quarter of consumers are putting off big-ticket purchases. A third are cutting back on eating out. A fifth are spending less on groceries.
This is why January’s retail sales rose at their smallest rate in three months.
What about the other big customer – government? It used to be that when consumers spent less, government stepped into the breach and spent more in order to keep people employed. That’s what we were supposed to have learned from the Great Depression.
No longer. Government is cutting back, too. Deficit hawks and government-haters are insisting on it.
Last year, President Obama agreed to $1.5 trillion of spending cuts, which have already begun.
Unless Republicans and Democrats reach a budget agreement before next Friday, another $85 billion of spending cuts go into effect this year. They’ll begin almost immediately. 
With consumers and government both spending less, businesses won’t hire more workers; they’ll fire more workers. That’s likely to happen in coming months.
Anyone with half a brain should be able to understand all this. But apparently many in Washington don’t have half a brain.
Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.

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Torture Inc. Americas Brutal Prisons

Savaged by dogs, Electrocuted With Cattle Prods, Burned By Toxic Chemicals, Does such barbaric abuse inside U.S. jails explain the horrors that were committed in Iraq?

By Deborah Davies

They are just some of the victims of wholesale torture taking place inside the U.S. prison system that we uncovered during a four-month investigation for Channel 4 . It’s terrible to watch some of the videos and realise that you’re not only seeing torture in action but, in the most extreme cases, you are witnessing young men dying. 

First posted March 28, 2005
 

Torture Inc. Americas Brutal Prisons
Savaged by dogs, Electrocuted With Cattle Prods, Burned By Toxic Chemicals, Does such barbaric abuse inside U.S. jails explain the horrors that were committed in Iraq?

By Deborah Davies

They are just some of the victims of wholesale torture taking place inside the U.S. prison system that we uncovered during a four-month investigation for BBC Channel 4 . It’s terrible to watch some of the videos and realise that you’re not only seeing torture in action but, in the most extreme cases, you are witnessing young men dying.

The prison guards stand over their captives with electric cattle prods, stun guns, and dogs. Many of the prisoners have been ordered to strip naked. The guards are yelling abuse at them, ordering them to lie on the ground and crawl. ‘Crawl, motherf*****s, crawl.’

If a prisoner doesn’t drop to the ground fast enough, a guard kicks him or stamps on his back. There’s a high-pitched scream from one man as a dog clamps its teeth onto his lower leg.

Another prisoner has a broken ankle. He can’t crawl fast enough so a guard jabs a stun gun onto his buttocks. The jolt of electricity zaps through his naked flesh and genitals. For hours afterwards his whole body shakes.

Lines of men are now slithering across the floor of the cellblock while the guards stand over them shouting, prodding and kicking.

Second by second, their humiliation is captured on a video camera by one of the guards.

The images of abuse and brutality he records are horrifyingly familiar. These were exactly the kind of pictures from inside Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad that shocked the world this time last year.

And they are similar, too, to the images of brutality against Iraqi prisoners that this week led to the conviction of three British soldiers.

But there is a difference. These prisoners are not caught up in a war zone. They are Americans, and the video comes from inside a prison in Texas

They are just some of the victims of wholesale torture taking place inside the U.S. prison system that we uncovered during a four-month investigation for Channel 4 that will be broadcast next week.

Our findings were not based on rumour or suspicion. They were based on solid evidence, chiefly videotapes that we collected from all over the U.S.

In many American states, prison regulations demand that any ‘use of force operation’, such as searching cells for drugs, must be filmed by a guard.

The theory is that the tapes will show proper procedure was followed and that no excessive force was used. In fact, many of them record the exact opposite.

Each tape provides a shocking insight into the reality of life inside the U.S. prison system – a reality that sits very uncomfortably with President Bush’s commitment to the battle for freedom and democracy against the forces of tyranny and oppression.

In fact, the Texas episode outlined above dates from 1996, when Bush was state Governor.

Frank Carlson was one of the lawyers who fought a compensation battle on behalf of the victims. I asked him about his reaction when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke last year and U.S. politicians rushed to express their astonishment and disgust that such abuses could happen at the hands of American guards.

‘I thought: “What hypocrisy,” Carlson told me. ‘Because they know we do it here every day.’

All the lawyers I spoke to during our investigations shared Carlson’s belief that Abu Ghraib, far from being the work of a few rogue individuals, was simply the export of the worst practices that take place in the domestic prison system all the time. They pointed to the mountain of files stacked on their desks, on the floor, in their office corridors – endless stories of appalling, sadistic treatment inside America’s own prisons.

Many of the tapes we’ve collected are several years old. That’s because they only surface when determined lawyers prise them out of reluctant state prison departments during protracted lawsuits.

But for every ‘historical’ tape we collected, we also found a more recent story. What you see on the tape is still happening daily.

It’s terrible to watch some of the videos and realise that you’re not only seeing torture in action but, in the most extreme cases, you are witnessing young men dying.

In one horrific scene, a naked man, passive and vacant, is seen being led out of his cell by prison guards. They strap him into a medieval-looking device called a ‘restraint chair’. His hands and feet are shackled, there’s a strap across his chest, his head lolls forward. He looks dead. He’s not. Not yet.

The chair is his punishment because guards saw him in his cell with a pillowcase on his head and he refused to take it off. The man has a long history of severe schizophrenia. Sixteen hours later, they release him from the chair. And two hours after that, he dies from a blood clot resulting from his barbaric treatment.

The tape comes from Utah – but there are others from Connecticut, Florida, Texas, Arizona and probably many more. We found more than 20 cases of prisoners who’ve died in the past few years after being held in a restraint chair.

Two of the deaths we investigated were in the same county jail in Phoenix, Arizona, which is run by a man who revels in the title of ‘America’s Toughest Sheriff.’

His name is Joe Arpaio. He positively welcomes TV crews and we were promised ‘unfettered access.’ It was a reassuring turn of phrase – you don’t want to be fettered in one of Sheriff Joe’s jails.

We uncovered two videotapes from surveillance cameras showing how his tough stance can end in tragedy.

The first tape, from 2001, shows a man named Charles Agster dragged in by police, handcuffed at the wrists and ankles. Agster is mentally disturbed and a drug user. He was arrested for causing a disturbance in a late-night grocery store. The police handed him over to the Sheriff’s deputies in the jail. Agster is a tiny man, weighing no more than nine stone, but he’s struggling.

The tape shows nine deputies manhandling him into the restraint chair. One of them kneels on Agster’s stomach, pushing his head forward on to his knees and pulling his arms back to strap his wrists into the chair.

Bending someone double for any length of time is dangerous – the manuals on the use of the ‘restraint chair’ warn of the dangers of ‘positional asphyxia.’

Fifteen minutes later, a nurse notices Agster is unconscious. The cameras show frantic efforts to resuscitate him, but he’s already brain dead. He died three days later in hospital. Agster’s family is currently suing Arizona County.

His mother, Carol, cried as she told me: ‘If that’s not torture, I don’t know what is.’ Charles’s father, Chuck, listened in silence as we filmed the interview, but every so often he padded out of the room to cry quietly in the kitchen.

The second tape, from five years earlier, shows Scott Norberg dying a similar death in the same jail. He was also a drug user arrested for causing a nuisance. Norberg was severely beaten by the guards, stunned up to 19 times with a Taser gun and forced into the chair where – like Charles Agster – he suffocated.

The county’s insurers paid Norberg’s family more than £4 millions in an out-of-court settlement, but the sheriff was furious with the deal. ‘My officers were clear,’ he said. ‘The insurance firm was afraid to go before a jury.’

Now he’s determined to fight the Agster case all the way through the courts. Yet tonight, in Sheriff Joe’s jail, there’ll probably be someone else strapped into the chair.

Not all the tapes we uncovered were filmed by the guards themselves. Linda Evans smuggled a video camera into a hospital to record her son, Brian. You can barely see his face through all the tubes and all you can hear is the rhythmic sucking of the ventilator.

He was another of Sheriff Joe’s inmates. After an argument with guards, he told a prison doctor they’d beaten him up. Six days later, he was found unconscious of the floor of his cell with a broken neck, broken toes and internal injuries. After a month in a coma, he died from septicaemia.

‘Mr Arpaio is responsible.’ Linda Evans told me, struggling to speak through her tears. ‘He seems to thrive on this cruelty and this mentality that these men are nothing.’

In some of the tapes it’s not just the images, it’s also the sounds that are so unbearable. There’s one tape from Florida which I’ve seen dozens of times but it still catches me in the stomach.

It’s an authorised ‘use of force operation’ – so a guard is videoing what happens. They’re going to Taser a prisoner for refusing orders.

The tape shows a prisoner lying on an examination table in the prison hospital. The guards are instructing him to climb down into a wheelchair. ‘I can’t, I can’t!’ he shouts with increasing desperation. ‘It hurts!’

One guard then jabs him on both hips with a Taser. The man jerks as the electricity hits him and shrieks, but still won’t get into the wheelchair.

The guards grab him and drop him into the chair. As they try to bend his legs up on to the footrest, he screams in pain. The man’s lawyer told me he has a very limited mental capacity. He says he has a back injury and can’t walk or bend his legs without intense pain.

The tape becomes even more harrowing. The guards try to make the prisoner stand up and hold a walking frame. He falls on the floor, crying in agony. They Taser him again. He runs out of the energy and breath to cry and just lies there moaning.

One of the most recent video tapes was filmed in January last year. A surveillance camera in a youth institution in California records an argument between staff members and two ‘wards’ – they’re not called prisoners.

One of the youths hits a staff member in the face. He knocks the ward to the floor then sits astride him punching him over and over again in the head.

Watching the tape you can almost feel each blow. The second youth is also punched and kicked in the head – even after he’s been handcuffed. Other staff just stand around and watch.

We also collected some truly horrific photographs.

A few years ago, in Florida, the new warden of the high security state prison ordered an end to the videoing of ‘use of force operations.’ So we have no tapes to show how prison guards use pepper spray to punish prisoners.

But we do have the lawsuit describing how men were doused in pepper spray and then left to cook in the burning fog of chemicals. Photographs taken by their lawyers show one man has a huge patch of raw skin over his hip. Another is covered in an angry rash across his neck, back and arms. A third has deep burns on his buttocks.

‘They usually use fire extinguishers size canisters of pepper spray,’ lawyer Christopher Jones explained. ‘We have had prisoners who have had second degree burns all over their bodies.

‘The tell-tale sign is they turn off the ventilation fans in the unit. Prisoners report that cardboard is shoved in the crack of the door to make sure it’s really air-tight.’

And why were they sprayed? According to the official prison reports, their infringements included banging on the cell door and refusing medication. From the same Florida prison we also have photographs of Frank Valdes – autopsy pictures. Realistically, he had little chance of ever getting out of prison alive. He was on Death Row for killing a prison officer. He had time to reconcile himself to the Electric Chair – he didn’t expect to be beaten to death.

Valdes started writing to local Florida newspapers to expose the corruption and brutality of prison officers. So a gang of guards stormed into his cell to shut him up. They broke almost every one of his ribs, punctured his lung, smashed his spleen and left him to die.

Several of the guards were later charged with murder, but the trial was held in their own small hometown where almost everyone works for, or has connection with, the five prisons which ring the town. The foreman of the jury was former prison officer. The guards were all acquitted.

Meanwhile, the warden who was in charge of the prison at the time of the killing – the same man who changed the policy on videoing – has been promoted. He’s now the man in charge of all the Florida prisons.

How could anyone excuse – still less condone – such behaviour? The few prison guards who would talk to us have a siege mentality. They see themselves outnumbered, surrounded by dangerous, violent criminals, so they back each other up, no matter what.

I asked one serving officer what happened if colleagues beat up an inmate. ‘We cover up. Because we’re the good guys.’

No one should doubt that the vast majority of U.S. prison officers are decent individuals doing their best in difficult circumstances. But when horrific abuse by the few goes unreported and uninvestigated, it solidifies into a general climate of acceptance among the many.

At the same time the overall hardening of attitudes in modern-day America has meant the notion of rehabilitation has been almost lost. The focus is entirely on punishment – even loss of liberty is not seen as punishment enough. Being on the restraint devices and the chemical sprays.

Since we finished filming for the programme in January, I’ve stayed in contact with various prisoners’ rights groups and the families of many of the victims. Every single day come more e-mails full of fresh horror stories. In the past weeks, two more prisoners have died, in Alabama and Ohio. One man was pepper sprayed, the other tasered.

Then, three weeks ago, reports emerged of 20 hours of video material from Guantanamo Bay showing prisoners being stripped, beaten and pepper sprayed. One of those affected is Omar Deghayes, one of the seven British residents still being held there.

His lawyer says Deghayes is now permanently blind in one eye. American military investigators have reviewed the tapes and apparently found ‘no evidence of systematic abuse.’

But then, as one of the prison reformers we met on our journey across the U.S. told me: ‘We’ve become immune to the abuse. The brutality has become customary.’

So far, the U.S. government is refusing to release these Guantanamo tapes. If they are ever made public – or leaked – I suspect the images will be very familiar.

Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo – or even Texas. The prisoners and all guards may vary, but the abuse is still too familiar. And much is it is taking place in America’s own backyard.

Deborah Davies is a reporter for Channel 4 Dispatches. Her investigation, Torture: America’s Brutal Prisons, was shown on Wednesday, March 2, at 11.05pm.


(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Information Clearing House has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Information Clearing House endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

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America Never Really Ended Slavery

The new form of slavery has the same intent and purpose as the old: to rob us of our labor and to keep us powerless.
By Jazz Hayden
February 27, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – (AlterNet) – February is African-American History Month. For the past week, I have been watching and re-watching “The Abolitionist,” a two-and-a-half-hour documentary on PBS. It covers the Abolitionist movement from the early 19th century to the reconstruction period. Watching the dynamics of that struggle for the ending of slavery had me glued to the screen and taking notes. The chief players were William Lloyd Garrison (the printer publisher of the Liberator, an anti-slavery newspaper); Nat Turner (who led the slave rebellion that killed slave owners and freed slaves); Harriet Beecher Stowe (who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin); and Fredrick Douglass (former slave, orator, publisher of the North Star, and organizer). Oh, and the most prominent figure, Abraham Lincoln.
The Abolitionist” is an historical documentary about the struggle to end slavery. The ending of the most brutal war in American history and the passage of the 13th Amendment were supposed to be the definitive ending of that period in American history. However, when I look back from the perspective of the present I am confronted with the question — what has changed? I can’t avoid the answer: very little.
The 13th Amendment states, “involuntary servitude and slavery is abolished except for those duly convicted of a crime.” The “exception clause” leaves slavery still in effect for those convicted of crimes. Today America, with 5% of the world’s population, has 25% of the world’s prisoners. Those prisoners have been “duly” convicted of crimes and are therefore slaves. There are presently 2.5 million prisoners in the United States of America and another 5 million under the control of the criminal justice system.
These numbers are unprecedented in the history of human beings on the planet earth. There are more black men under the control of the criminal justice system than there were in slavery in 1850, 10 years before the civil war. African Americans continue to occupy the base of the social and economic pyramid. You can see them lined up outside of the criminal courts in every state in the country. You can go into those courtrooms and watch them processed as though they are on a conveyor belt into the prison system, or to the clerks office to be stripped of their meager wealth by imposition of fines and surcharges and sent to perform unpaid labor called “community service.” What has changed?
The struggle for change is unending, something we must come to realize. The new form of slavery (from private ownership to state ownership) is the new Jim Crow and has the same intent and purpose, to rob us of our labor and to keep us powerless. By placing us in these cages they have managed to do all of the things they did to us in slavery, apartheid and now mass incarceration. State and federal governments have taken our right to vote, weakened the ability of our communities to assert their interest in the political process, fractured our families, turned our schools into feeder systems for their modern slavery, and turned our communities into open air prisons.
The question now becomes “How must we change” to address the unfinished struggle of the Abolitionist movement of the past. The work I do as an organizer and community activist requires me to stay in student/researcher mode. My life experience has convinced me that we live in a world of perpetual change and chaos. This state of reality requires us to live in the world as though we are students, critical thinkers, always prepared for change. But, we can’t merely be critical thinkers on our own. There is an urgency in building unity and struggles with others of like mind, to build the strongest force possible to challenge mass incarceration.

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How is America threatened by Iran?

Infantile Conservatism

By Pat Buchanan

February 27, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – Regularly now, The Washington Post, as always concerned with fairness and balance, runs a blog called “Right Turn: Jennifer Rubin’s Take From a Conservative Perspective.”

The blog tells us what the Post regards as conservatism.

On Monday, Rubin declared that America’s “greatest national security threat is Iran.” Do conservatives really believe this?

How is America, with thousands of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, scores of warships in the Med, Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, bombers and nuclear subs and land-based missiles able to strike and incinerate Iran within half an hour, threatened by Iran?

Iran has no missile that can reach us, no air force or navy that would survive the first days of war, no nuclear weapons, no bomb-grade uranium from which to build one. All of her nuclear facilities are under constant United Nations surveillance and inspection.

And if this Iran is the “greatest national security threat” faced by the world’s last superpower, why do Iran’s nearest neighbors — Turkey, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan — seem so unafraid of her?

Citing The Associated Press and Times of Israel, Rubin warns us that “Iran has picked 16 new locations for nuclear plants.”

How many nuclear plants does Iran have now? One, Bushehr.

Begun by the Germans under the shah, Bushehr was taken over by the Russians in 1995, but not completed for 16 years, until 2011. In their dreams, the Iranians, their economy sinking under U.S. and U.N. sanctions, are going to throw up 16 nuclear plants.

Twice Rubin describes our situation today as “scary.”

Remarkable. Our uncles and fathers turned the Empire of the Sun and Third Reich into cinders in four years, and this generation is all wee-weed up over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“For all intents and purposes, (Bibi) Netanyahu is now the West’s protector,” says Rubin. How so? Because Obama and Chuck Hagel seem to lack the testosterone “to execute a military strike on Iran.”

Yet, according to the Christian Science Monitor, Bibi first warned in 1992 that Iran was on course to get the bomb — in three to five years! And still no bomb.

And Bibi has since been prime minister twice. Why has our Lord Protector not manned up and dealt with Iran himself?

Answer: He wants us to do it — and us to take the consequences.

“With regard to Afghanistan, the president is pulling up stakes prematurely,” says Rubin.

As we are now in the 12th year of war in Afghanistan, and about to leave thousands of troops behind when we depart in 2014, what is she talking about?

“In Iraq, the absence of U.S. forces on the ground has ushered in a new round of sectarian violence and opened the door for Iran’s growing violence.”

Where to begin. Shia Iran has influence in Iraq because we invaded Iraq, dethroned Sunni Saddam, disbanded his Sunni-led army that had defeated Iran in an eight-year war and presided over the rise to power of the Iraqi Shia majority that now tilts to Iran.

Today’s Iraq is a direct consequence of our war, our invasion, our occupation. That’s our crowd in Baghdad, cozying up to Iran.

And the cost of that war to strip Iraq of weapons it did not have? Four thousand five hundred American dead, 35,000 wounded, $1 trillion and 100,000 Iraqi dead. Half a million widows and orphans. A centuries-old Christian community ravaged. And, yes, an Iraq tilting to Iran and descending into sectarian, civil and ethnic war. A disaster of epochal proportions.

But that disaster was not the doing of Barack Obama, but of people of the same semi-hysterical mindset as Ms. Rubin.

She writes that for the rest of Obama’s term, we “are going to have to rely on France, Israel, our superb (albeit underfunded) military and plain old luck to prevent national security catastrophes.”

Is she serious?

Is French Prime Minister Francois Hollande really one of the four pillars of U.S national security now? Is Israel our security blanket, or is it maybe the other way around? And if America spends as much on defense as all other nations combined, and is sheltered behind the world’s largest oceans, why should we Americans be as frightened as Rubin appears to be?

Undeniably we face challenges. A debt-deficit crisis that could sink our economy. Al-Qaida in the Maghreb, Africa, Arabia, Iraq and Syria. North Korea’s nukes. A clash between China and Japan that drags us in. An unstable Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

But does Iran, a Shia island in a Sunni sea, a Persian-dominated land where half the population is non-Persian, a country whose major exports, once we get past fossil fuels, are pistachio nuts, carpets and caviar, really pose the greatest national security threat to the world’s greatest nation?

We outlasted the evil empire of Lenin and Stalin that held captive a billion people for 45 years of Cold War, and we are frightened by a rickety theocracy ruled by an old ayatollah?

Rubin’s blog may be the Post’s idea of conservatism. Ronald Reagan wouldn’t recognize it.

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?” To find out more about Patrick Buchanan and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com .

This article was originally posted at Creators Syndicate

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article34118.htm

Supreme Court Shields Warrantless Eavesdropping Law From Constitutional Challenge

The US Government Has Constructed a Ubiquitous Surveillance State

The five right-wing justices hand Obama a victory by accepting his DOJ’s secrecy-based demand for dismissal

By Glenn Greenwald

February 27, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – (The Guardian) – The Obama justice department succeeded in convincing the five right-wing Supreme Court justices to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 2008 law, the FISA Amendments Act, which vastly expanded the government’s authority to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. In the case of Clapper v. Amnesty International, Justice Samuel Alito wrote the opinion, released today, which adopted the argument of the Obama DOJ, while the Court’s four less conservative justices (Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan) all dissented. This means that the lawsuit is dismissed without any ruling on whether the US government’s new eavesdropping powers violate core constitutional rights. The background of this case is vital to understanding why this is so significant.

One of the most successful government scams of the last decade has been to prevent any legal challenges to its secret surveillance programs. Both the Bush and Obama DOJ’s have relied on one tactic in particular to insulate its eavesdropping behavior from judicial review: by draping what it does in total secrecy, it prevents anyone from knowing with certainty who the targets of its surveillance are. The DOJ then exploits this secrecy to block any constitutional or other legal challenges to its surveillance actions on the ground that since nobody can prove with certainty that they have been subjected to this eavesdropping by the government, nobody has “standing” to sue in court and obtain a ruling on the constitutionality of this eavesdropping.

The Bush DOJ repeatedly used this tactic to prevent anyone from challenging the legality of its eavesdropping on Americans without the warrants required by the FISA law. That’s another way of saying that the Bush administration removed their conduct from the rule of law: after all, if nobody has standing to obtain a court ruling on the legality or constitutionality of their conduct, then neither the law nor the Constitution constrain what the government does. Simply put, a law without a remedy is worthless. As Alexander Hamilton put it in Federalist 15:

“It is essential to the idea of a law, that it be attended with a sanction; or, in other words, a penalty or punishment for disobedience. If there be no penalty annexed to disobedience, the resolutions or commands which pretend to be laws will, in fact, amount to nothing more than advice or recommendation.”

Thus did the Bush DOJ exploit their secrecy extremism into a license of lawlessness: they never had to prove that even their most radical actions were legal because by keeping it all a secret, they prevented anyone from being able to obtain a ruling about its legality.

The Obama DOJ has embraced this tactic in full. In 2008, the Democratic-led Congress (with the support of then-Sen. Barack Obama) enacted the so-called FISA Amendments Act, which dramatically expanded the government’s warrantless eavesdropping powers beyond what they had been for the prior 30 years. The primary intention of that new law was to render the Bush warrantless eavesdropping program legal, and it achieved that goal by authorizing the NSA to engage in whole new categories of warrantless surveillance aimed at Americans.

Since its enactment, the Obama administration has been using that massively expanded eavesdropping authority to spy on the electronic communications of Americans without the need to obtain specific warrants (the law simply provides that the government must periodically obtain court approval for their general methods of eavesdropping, but not approval for their specific eavesdropping targets). At the end of last year, the Obama administration relied on overwhelming GOP Congressional support to extend this law for another five years without a single reform.

Immediately upon enactment of this new law in 2008, the ACLU filed a lawsuit alleging that the warrantless eavesdropping powers it vests violate the First and Fourth Amendments. The plaintiffs in the case are US lawyers, journalists, academic researchers and human rights activists and groups (such as Amnesty) who work on issues of terrorism, foreign policy and human rights. They argued that they have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the eavesdropping law because its very existence impedes their work in numerous ways and makes it highly likely that their communications with their clients and sources will be targeted for interception by the NSA.

Because the Obama administration insists that it is a secret who they target for eavesdropping, neither these plaintiffs – nor anyone else – can prove with absolute certainty that they or their clients have been targeted. Taking a page (as usual) from the Bush DOJ, the Obama DOJ thus argued in response to this lawsuit that this secrecy means that nobody has “standing” to challenge the constitutionality of this law. With perfect Kafkaesque reasoning, the Obama DOJ says that (1) who we spy on is a total secret, and therefore (2) nobody has the right to obtain a judicial ruling as to whether what we are doing is legal or constitutional.

It is true that “standing” is an important doctrine: the requirement that a person first prove that they have been uniquely harmed by a law they want to challenge is not only necessary to fulfill the Constitution’s limitation on the federal court’s power (which confines their authority to actual “cases or controversies”), but it also prevents the Court from acting as a free-floating arbiter that rules on every political question. Courts can only rule on actual cases where one party has concretely harmed another.

The plaintiffs, however, have argued that although they cannot prove they or their clients and sources have been targeted, they are already being harmed by the existence of this law. They have ample reason to fear, they say, that the communications they have with their clients or sources are targeted for interception by the government. That means that this law forces them to refrain from communicating, or to expend substantial sums to travel across the world to meet in person with them, or that these clients and sources refuse to speak to them out of fear of being eavesdropped on. These concrete harms mean, they say, that they have standing to sue the government and obtain a ruling as to whether this law is constitutional.

In 2011, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Obama DOJ’s arguments and ruled that plaintiffs had standing to challenge the eavesdropping law given the concrete harms they are suffering from the mere existence of these eavesdropping powers. Rather than defend the constitutionality of the law, the Obama DOJ appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, and asked the court to dismiss the suit on standing grounds, without reaching the merits of the lawsuit.

Today, the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 decision, agreed to do exactly that. Justice Alito (joined by Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Kennedy) fully embraced the Kafka-like rationale of the Obama DOJ. They rewarded the government for its extreme secrecy by using it to bar any challenges to the law; said Alito:

“[Plaintiffs] have no actual knowledge of the Government’s §1881a targeting practices. Instead, [plaintiffs] merely speculate and make assumptions about whether their communications with their foreign contacts will be acquired under §1881a. . . . [Plaintiffs], however, have set forth no specific facts demonstrating that the communications of their foreign contacts will be targeted. Moreover, because §1881a at most authorizes — but does not mandate or direct — the surveillance that [plaintiffs] fear, [plaintiffs’] allegations are necessarily conjectural. . . . Simply put, [plaintiffs] can only speculate as to how the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence will exercise their discretion in determining which communications to target.”

To call this argument ludicrous is to be generous. Every one of the plaintiffs here have been harmed by this eavesdropping law. In the course of their work, they have cause to communicate regularly with people whom the US government suspects are involved in Terrorism. When combined with the US government’s technological abilities to spy on virtually every communication anywhere in the world, along with the government’s proven propensity to eavesdrop on everyone it deems has anything to do with a terrorist group, it is a virtual certainty that the communications of these plaintiffs will be targeted, as Justice Breyer explained in dissent:

“In my view, this harm is not ‘speculative’. Indeed it is as likely to take place as are most future events that commonsense inference and ordi­nary knowledge of human nature tell us will happen. . . . .

“Several considerations, based upon the record along with commonsense inferences, convince me that there is a very high likelihood that Government, acting under the authority of §1881a, will intercept at least some of the communications just described . . . . . The Government has a strong motive to conduct surveillance of conversations that contain material of this kind. . . . [T]he Government’s past behavior shows that it has sought, and hence will in all likelihood continue to seek, information about alleged terrorists and detainees through means that include surveillance of electronic communications. As just pointed out, plaintiff Scott McKay states that the Government (under the authority of the pre-2008 law) ‘intercepted some 10,000 telephone calls and 20,000 email communications involving [his client] Mr. Al-Hussayen.’

“To some de­gree this capacity rests upon technology available to the Government. See 1 D. Kris & J. Wilson, National Security Investigations & Prosecutions §16:6, p. 562 (2d ed. 2012) (‘NSA’s technological abilities are legendary’); id., §16:12, at 572–577 (describing the National Security Agency’s capacity to monitor ‘very broad facilities’ such as interna­tional switches). See, e.g., Lichtblau & Risen, Spy Agency Mined Vast Data Trove, Officials Report, NY Times, Dec. 24, 2005, p. A1 (describing capacity to trace and to analyze large volumes of communications into and out of the United States)”.

In sum, the US government has constructed a ubiquitous Surveillance State. It has repeatedly demonstrated that it intends to eavesdrop on the communications of exactly the people who have brought this lawsuit. To prevent them from suing on the ground that the US government’s secrecy precludes them from proving with certainty that they are being targeted is to remove the US government’s surveillance actions from the rule of law and the constraints of the Constitution.

But that is what the Obama DOJ just succeeded in convincing the five right-wing members of the Court to do: allow it to conduct its Surveillance State beyond the rule of law. What’s the point of having a Fourth Amendment that bars unreasonable searches and seizures without probable cause warrants if the US government simply shrouds its unconstitutional eavesdropping with so much secrecy that it prevents anyone from challenging the legality of what it is doing?

The supreme irony here is that when Obama supported this 2008 eavesdropping law, it sparked intense anger among his own supporters as he ran for president. To placate that anger, he vowed that, once in power, he would rein in the excesses of this law that he oh-so-reluctantly supported. He has done exactly the opposite. He just succeeded in pressuring the Congress, with heavy GOP support, to extend this eavesdroppiong law for five years without a single reform. And now his Justice Department has used the five right-wing justices to completely immunize the law from judicial review (the only way the law could now be challenged is from a handful of extremely unlikely situations, such as if the US government criminally prosecutes the foreign clients and sources of these plaintiffs using information they obtained from the warrantless eavesdropping, and even then, the ability to challenge the law’s constitutionality is far from certain).

When the new 2008 FISA eavesdropping law was passed, all sorts of legal scholars debated its constitutionality, but it turns out that debate was – like the Constitution itself – completely academic. As both the Bush and Obama administrations have repeatedly proven, they are free to violate the Constitution at will just so long as they do so with enough secrecy to convince subservient federal courts to bar everyone from challenging their conduct.

Speaking dates next week

I’ll be speaking next week in various cities about civil liberties in the age of Obama as well as the rule of law in the US. The cities include Portland, Brooklyn, Washington DC, Amherst, New Haven and Brockport. All events are open to the public; event information is here.

 http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article34110.htm

Austerity USA Begins March 1st

By Shamus Cooke

————–  U.S. politicians have cried wolf over austerity long enough for the public to ignore them. A perfect time, then, for politicians to actually unleash the wolves. Barring an unlikely last minute deal, here’s a short list of some of the massive, national bi-partisan-created austerity cuts, according to the New York Times

  • 600,000 food stamp recipients will be cut from the program

  • Massive education cuts. According to President Obama: Once these cuts take effect thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off and tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find child care for their kids. “

  • $12 billion in Medicare cuts (more to come after 2013)

  • Federal funds to state governments will be cut, creating even more deficits for states and municipalities, and thus more localized cuts (the states have already made austerity cuts of $337 billion!)

  • Also, 700,000 jobs are expected to be loss, while 70,000 kids are also expected to be kicked off of Head Start

And this is just for 2013. The current plan for the austerity “sequester” cuts is $100 billion of federal cuts every year for ten years, equaling massive cuts to jobs, Medicare, education, and completely destroying federally funded social programs.

Will it actually happen this time? The New York Times reports:

In private, Capitol Hill staff members and members of Congress have admitted that there are no viable plans on the horizon to delay or offset the cuts.

The finger pointing in Washington, D.C. has already reached a crescendo, with the perverted logic being that, if both parties are to blame, it’s really no one’s fault. In reality Democrats and Republicans created these “sequester” cuts, and they can just as easily undo them with a snap of the finger.

Both parties are choosing not to delete the cuts. They just don’t want political responsibility for the fallout, which many economists have predicted will push the U.S. economy over the edge into official recession.  

Obama has predictably blamed the Republicans for this mess, even though he personally began this process by creating the “deficit reduction commission” that helped shape the cuts (keep in mind there is zero debt crisis that calls for such drastic measures).

Obama could also just as easily appeal to the American public — over the heads of congressmen — to demand that the cuts be shelved forever. Instead, he’s proposing a “grand bargain” deal that he knows the Republicans won’t go for.

What’s in Obama’s grand bargain deal? According to the White House website:

  • $130 billion in “savings” [cuts] to Social Security, by implementing a “superlative CPI”

  • $35 billion in “savings” [cuts] to the retirement of federal employees

  • $400 billion in health care “savings” [cuts], much of it Medicare cuts.

Obama cynically fails to mention the words Social Security or Medicare in the above plan, choosing instead to write in code (“superlative Consumer Price Index”). Obama’s plan to avoid the March 1st cuts still assumes that $500 billion in cuts will be implemented over the next ten years, as opposed to $1trillion.

But his plan is just a distraction. Obama knows his plan has no chance of being passed by March 1st. He’s falsely portraying his plan as the only alternative to the March 1st cuts, even though a far better idea — the one preferred by a vast majority of Americans — is to simply to shelve the sequester cuts forever. To not put forth this option makes Obama complicit in the cuts.

Many pundits have speculated that Congress will allow the cuts to go into effect for three weeks, since March 27th marks a fiscal deadline that will pressure Congress to maneuver anew.  This might trigger a new round of haggling over a new “grand bargain” that again targets “entitlement programs” and re-packages the massive cuts into a prettier box. The party that does the most effective finger pointing after the March 1st cuts will be in the best position to dictate matters post-March 27th, so say the pundits.

Whatever the actual result, the Democrats and Republicans share similar enough visions that massive cuts to cherished social programs appear to be inevitable. Much of the made-for-TV bickering is pure political posturing, meant to fool the working people most affected by these cuts into believing it’s “the other party” that’s responsible.

Politicians have been able to get away with this disgusting behavior because there are very few independent voices telling the truth about what’s happening. Many labor and progressive groups are consciously lying about the dynamic, placing blame squarely on the Republicans, thus allowing the Democrats not to be held accountable for their pandering to the corporate elite’s demand to use austerity to attack the social safety net. In reality both parties are jointly attacking working and poor people via austerity, on a city, state, and national level.

If Labor and community groups united in a demand of ‘No Cuts, Tax the Rich’ and organized massive mobilizations, there would be a very different public debate happening right now. It’s not too late for these groups to tear themselves from the jaws of their attackers.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, Occupy activist, and writer for Workers Action. He can be reached at portland@workerscompass.org

Notes

Sources cited for this article:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/us/politics/hard-budget-realities-as-agencies-prepare-to-detail-reductions.html?hp&_r=0
http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/video/obama-sequester-budget-cuts-slow-economy-eliminate-good-18574948
http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=711
http://www.ibtimes.com/cost-sequestration-700000-jobs-may-be-lost-across-board-budget-cuts-through-2014-gdp-growth-may-slow
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/22/sequester-recession_n_2741558.html
http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/deficit_reduction_table_bucketed_r8.pdf
http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21572190-ships-lie-uselessly-anchor-and-lay-offs-loom-deep-congress-imposed-spending-cuts-look

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article34116.htm

Capitalism as Disease: Spreading Governmental Tyranny and Gun Violence

The Tragedy of Being Human: A Mean Spirit

By John Kozy

February 27, 2013 “Information Clearing House” –  When I grew up in semi-rural Pennsylvania, everybody had guns, and guns were never a concern. People had guns for hunting and for skeet and target shooting. I had a 0.22 long barreled Remington rifle for varmint hunting, mainly to keep from being inundated by migrating urban rats. My brother had a shotgun; I never knew what kind. My memory is that he used that shotgun only once. He had, at the time, a desire to be a pheasant hunter, and the first time he hunted, he came home with a bloodied carcass which he proudly presented to our mother. Never having dealt with a fully feathered bird full of buckshot before, she spent an agonizing afternoon trying to make it fit for cooking. By the time she finished, my poor brother’s pride had been replaced by sorrow and chagrin. He never hunted again. Not another pheasant was ever killed by a member of my family.

But nobody had guns for protection. If guns are needed for protection, the society has already failed. The little community I grew up in had no police force; in the eighteen years I lived there, it had not a single officer. It had no jail, no courthouse, and not a single lawyer. No house was ever broken into, and no one was ever assaulted. People rarely locked their doors. The people in that little community not only liked each other, they cared for one other. They were not only pleased when the needy were helped, they eagerly took part in helping.

The government that existed was there when needed and invisible when not. People did not distrust their government, were not afraid of its becoming tyrannical, and trivial offenses were ignored. Although it was unlawful to sell alcoholic beverages on Sunday, the town had a speakeasy that was open seven days a week and no one ever cared. As a small child, I often accompanied my father when he went there. As he drank his tankard of beer, I sipped a modicum from a shot glass. And I did not become an alcoholic! A miracle, I’m sure! In the twelve years I attended public schools, no policeman or security guard was ever needed for any function, not even athletic events. (Good thing, since the community lacked one.)

That world is now gone. In less than a century, in a single lifetime! it vanished. Now many people refuse to help the needy and resent it when they are helped. A miasma of meanness now hovers over America. Although it does not afflict everyone, it afflicts enough to make meanness a dominant American attribute. It can be observed everywhere—in the halls of Congress and in our classrooms where students bully their classmates, in a college band whose members beat one of their own to death in an activity called hazing, in the killing that takes place on our streets and in our homes, schools, and places of work, in the dialogs spoken in movies and on television programs. No one likes or trusts anyone, especially the government. Americans are a poorly educated, uncouth, uncivil, uncaring people. (No, not everyone.) They have turned civil society into a mob.

I live in a sparsely populated, gated community that epitomizes this nation. With only a population of around 15,000, it boasts of 21 churches. Four of these are affiliated with the same protestant theological denomination; yet their congregations do not like one another well enough to worship together in the same building. Americans don’t live together; they merely live side by side. America’s Christians not only dislike non-Christians, they dislike each other too. In general, we are a mean spirited and spiteful people.

Americans who oppose the legalization of abortion because they claim to believe that life is sacred stand by silently as people of all ages are gunned down in their communities every day. It’s as though the births are needed to ensure that shooters will always have targets since no provision is ever made to care for the newly born. The hungry have to rely on intermittent charity, the homeless, cardboard boxes, and the sick, seemingly endless waits in emergency rooms. An asthmatic resident of my home state recently died in one while waiting to be examined. A simple injection would have saved her. Abandoned street children unite in street gangs which hunt one another. The unemployed become hunters of people and gatherers of their goods. People seethe with covert racial, religious, sexual, and other biases. Love thy neighbor as thy self has no practical meaning, no cash value, as William James would have put it.

So what has happened? Well, answer these questions and try to figure it out:

What difference is there between a President who has a kill list and squads of assassins called navy seals and a Cosa Nostra Don who orders assassinations? Is the Director of the CIA whose agents assassinate people any better than a Mafia Godfather?

How can a government that boasts of killing people in faraway places seriously lament the killing that takes place in its own cities? Many more Americans were killed avenging 9-11 than were killed on that day. Revenge, a mean spirited activity, is more important than people’s lives. Humane people never take pride in killing.

How can a nation that shrugs its shoulders over collateral killings in, say, Pakistan, bemoan the killings of bystanders in gangland crossfire or even those killed in their bedrooms during drive-by shootings?

How can a nation claim it values life while its police routinely get away with killing unarmed and often handicapped people by merely claiming a fear that their lives were in danger?

How can a government not be tyrannical when it consists of true ideological believers who seek to impose their beliefs on everyone else? Tyrannical governments are made up of tyrannical people. John Stuart Mill long ago proved in his pamphlet, On Liberty, that freedom is impossible without tolerance for differences. But even America’s university graduates haven’t read that little pamphlet. The expression “educated American” is for the most part an oxymoron.

Of course, there have always been two kinds of people—humanitarians and inhumanitarians. And a majority of the people in a mean society do not have to be mean. The amount of meanness perpetrated, not the number of people who perpetrate it, is the definitive element. The meanness evident in America is overwhelming. Civil behavior is almost entirely absent. Barbarians are at the helm of the ship of state and have been for a long time.

The meanness that has afflicted America is responsible for its domestic violence. It is also responsible for the violence Americans inflict internationally. Meanness cannot be compartmentalized. There is no such thing as a nice, mean fellow. No mean person is nice; nice guys are never mean.

The germ that carries this affliction is the predominant political economy fostered by the commercial, political, and economic communities. Capitalism is an extractive activity that exploits workers and consumers and has never succeeded in serving the needs of any nation’s entire population. Marketing is a universal lie. People always fall through the cracks in institutions and the institutional elite care nothing about those who drop. Capitalist societies always consist of first and second class citizens; they are characterized by people who agree with Henry Vanderbilt’s statement, “The public be damned.” And the public is and always has been. America’s elite have never sacrificed anything for this people in general.

Commercial competition does not foster concern for others. Individualism fosters antagonism. Looking out for number one always ends up denying what is needed to number two. Charity is not a commercial virtue. Capitalism is institutionalized meanness. It is the primeval miasma manifested in greed. It is the disease that makes human beings inhumane, and it is fatal.

Why then would those in other nations look up to America and want to emulate its culture of meanness? Why aren’t they revolted by it? Why won’t they simply stop being led by their noses?

There can only be one answer. The meanness has not only afflicted America, it has afflicted others too. The primeval miasma transcends national borders. That is the tragedy of being human.

Unless the meanness that pervades human societies can be ameliorated, no human society will ever be worthy of being called a force for good in the world. The violence in America, or anywhere else, will never be substantially reduced until the reduction of meanness itself, not its various means, becomes the object of human action.

John Kozy is a retired professor of philosophy and logic who writes on social, political, and economic issues. After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, he spent 20 years as a university professor and another 20 years working as a writer. He has published a textbook in formal logic commercially, in academic journals and a small number of commercial magazines, and has written a number of guest editorials for newspapers. His on-line pieces can be found on http://www.jkozy.com/ and he can be emailed from that site’s homepage.

This article was originally posted at Global Research

Copyright © John Kozy, Global Research, 2013

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article34117.htm

The Norwegian Prison Where Inmates Are Treated Like People

On Bastoy prison island in Norway, the prisoners, some of whom are murderers and rapists, live in conditions that critics brand ‘cushy’ and ‘luxurious’. Yet it has by far the lowest reoffending rate in Europe

By Erwin James

February 27, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – (The Guardian) – The first clue that things are done very differently on Bastoy prison island, which lies a couple of miles off the coast in the Oslo fjord, 46 miles south-east of Norway‘s capital, comes shortly after I board the prison ferry. I’m taken aback slightly when the ferry operative who welcomed me aboard just minutes earlier, and with whom I’m exchanging small talk about the weather, suddenly reveals he is a serving prisoner – doing 14 years for drug smuggling. He notes my surprise, smiles, and takes off a thick glove before offering me his hand. “I’m Petter,” he says.

Before he transferred to Bastoy, Petter was in a high-security prison for nearly eight years. “Here, they give us trust and responsibility,” he says. “They treat us like grownups.” I haven’t come here particularly to draw comparisons, but it’s impossible not to consider how politicians and the popular media would react to a similar scenario in Britain.

There are big differences between the two countries, of course. Norway has a population of slightly less than five million, a 12th of the UK’s. It has fewer than 4,000 prisoners; there are around 84,000 in the UK. But what really sets us apart is the Norwegian attitude towards prisoners. Four years ago I was invited into Skien maximum security prison, 20 miles north of Oslo. I had heard stories about Norway’s liberal attitude. In fact, Skien is a concrete fortress as daunting as any prison I have ever experienced and houses some of the most serious law-breakers in the country. Recently it was the temporary residence of Anders Breivik, the man who massacred 77 people in July 2011.

Despite the seriousness of their crimes, however, I found that the loss of liberty was all the punishment they suffered. Cells had televisions, computers, integral showers and sanitation. Some prisoners were segregated for various reasons, but as the majority served their time – anything up to the 21-year maximum sentence (Norway has no death penalty or life sentence) – they were offered education, training and skill-building programmes. Instead of wings and landings they lived in small “pod” communities within the prison, limiting the spread of the corrosive criminal prison subculture that dominates traditionally designed prisons. The teacher explained that all prisons in Norway worked on the same principle, which he believed was the reason the country had, at less than 30%, the lowest reoffending figures in Europe and less than half the rate in the UK.

As the ferry powers through the freezing early-morning fog, Petter tells me he is appealing against his conviction. If it fails he will be on Bastoy until his release date in two years’ time. I ask him what life is like on the island. “You’ll see,” he says. “It’s like living in a village, a community. Everybody has to work. But we have free time so we can do some fishing, or in summer we can swim off the beach. We know we are prisoners but here we feel like people.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect on Bastoy. A number of wide-eyed commentators before me have variously described conditions under which the island’s 115 prisoners live as “cushy”, “luxurious” and, the old chestnut, “like a holiday camp”. I’m sceptical of such media reports.

An inmate repairs a bike.

An inmate repairs a bike. Photograph: Marco Di Lauro

As a life prisoner, I spent the first eight years of the 20 I served in a cell with a bed, a chair, a table and a bucket for my toilet. In that time I was caught up in a major riot, trapped in a siege and witnessed regular acts of serious violence. Across the prison estate, several hundred prisoners took their own lives, half a dozen of whom I knew personally – and a number were murdered. Yet the constant refrain from the popular press was that I, too, was living in a “holiday camp”. When in-cell toilets were installed, and a few years later we were given small televisions, the “luxury prison” headlines intensified and for the rest of the time I was in prison, it never really abated.

It always seemed to me while I was in jail that the real prison scandal was the horrendous rate of reoffending among released prisoners. In 2007, 14 prisons in England and Wales had reconvictions rates of more than 70%. At an average cost of £40,000 a year for each prisoner, this amounts to a huge investment in failure – and a total lack of consideration for potential future victims of released prisoners. That’s the reason I’m keen to have a look at what has been hailed as the world’s first “human ecological prison”.

Thorbjorn, a 58-year-old guard who has worked on Bastoy for 17 years, gives me a warm welcome as I step on to dry land. As we walk along the icy, snowbound track that leads to the admin block, he tells me how the prison operates. There are 70 members of staff on the 2.6 sq km island during the day, 35 of whom are uniformed guards. Their main job is to count the prisoners – first thing in the morning, twice during the day at their workplaces, once en masse at a specific assembly point at 5pm, and finally at 11pm, when they are confined to their respective houses. Only four guards remain on the island after 4pm. Thorbjorn points out the small, brightly painted wooden bungalows dotted around the wintry landscape. “These are the houses for the prisoners,” he says. They accommodate up to six people. Every man has his own room and they share kitchen and other facilities. “The idea is they get used to living as they will live when they are released.” Only one meal a day is provided in the dining hall. The men earn the equivalent of £6 a day and are given a food allowance each month of around £70 with which to buy provisions for their self-prepared breakfasts and evening meals from the island’s well-stocked mini-supermarket.

I can see why some people might think such conditions controversial. The common understanding of prison is that it is a place of deprivation and penance rather than domestic comfort.

Prisoners in Norway can apply for a transfer to Bastoy when they have up to five years left of their sentence to serve. Every type of offender, including men convicted of murder or rape, may be accepted, so long as they fit the criteria, the main one being a determination to live acrime-free life on release.

I ask Thorbjorn what work the prisoners do on the island. He tells me about the farm where prisoners tend sheep, cows and chickens, or grow fruit and vegetables. “They grow much of their own food,” he says.

Other jobs are available in the laundry; in the stables looking after the horses that pull the island’s cart transport; in the bicycle repair shop, (many of the prisoners have their own bikes, bought with their own money); on ground maintenance or in the timber workshop. The working day begins at 8.30am and already I can hear the buzz of chainsaws and heavy-duty strimmers. We walk past a group of red phone boxes from where prisoners can call family and friends. A large building to our left is where weekly visits take place, in private family rooms where conjugal relations are allowed.

After the security officer signs me in and takes my mobile, Thorbjorn delivers me to governor Arne Nilsen’s office. “Let me tell you something,” Thorbjorn says before leaving me. “You know, on this island I feel safer than when I walk on the streets in Oslo.”

Through Nilsen’s window I can see the church, the school and the library. Life for the prisoners is as normal as it is possible to be in a prison. It feels rather like a religious commune; there is a sense of peace about the place, although the absence of women (apart from some uniformed guards) and children is noticeable. Nilsen has coined a phrase for his prison: “an arena of developing responsibility.” He pours me a cup of tea.

“In closed prisons we keep them locked up for some years and then let them back out, not having had any real responsibility for working or cooking. In the law, being sent to prison is nothing to do with putting you in a terrible prison to make you suffer. The punishment is that you lose your freedom. If we treat people like animals when they are in prison they are likely to behave like animals. Here we pay attention to you as human beings.”

A clinical psychologist by profession, Nilsen shrugs off any notion that he is running a holiday camp. I sense his frustration. “You don’t change people by power,” he says. “For the victim, the offender is in prison. That is justice. I’m not stupid. I’m a realist. Here I give prisoners respect; this way we teach them to respect others. But we are watching them all the time. It is important that when they are released they are less likely to commit more crimes. That is justice for society.”

The reoffending rate for those released from Bastoy speaks for itself. At just 16%, it is the lowest in Europe. But who are the prisoners on Bastoy? Are they the goodie-goodies of the system?

Hessle is 23 years old and serving 11 years for murder. “It was a revenge killing,” he says. “I wish I had not done it, but now I must pay for my crime.” Slight and fair-haired, he says he has been in and out of penal institutions since he was 15. Drugs have blighted his life and driven his criminality. There are three golden rules on Bastoy: no violence, no alcohol and no drugs. Here, he works in the stables tending the horses and has nearly four years left to serve. How does he see the future? “Now I have no desire for drugs. When I get out I want to live and have a family. Here I am learning to be able to do that.”

A convict works on Bastoy prison farm.

A convict works on Bastoy prison farm. Photograph: Marco Di Lauro

Hessle plays the guitar and is rehearsing with other prisoners in the Bastoy Blues Band. Last year they were given permission to attend a music festival as a support act that ZZ Top headlined. Bjorn is the band’s teacher. Once a Bastoy prisoner who served five years for attacking his wife in a “moment of madness”, he now returns once a week to teach guitar. “I know the potential for people here to change,” he says.

Formerly a social researcher, he has formed links with construction companies he previously worked for that have promised to consider employing band members if they can demonstrate reliability and commitment. “This is not just about the music,” he says, “it’s about giving people a chance to prove their worth.”

Sven, another band member, was also convicted of murder, and sentenced to eight years. The 29-year-old was an unemployed labourer before his conviction. He works in the timber yard and is waiting to see if his application to be “house father” in his five-man bungalow is successful. “I like the responsibility,” he says. “Before coming here I never really cared for other people.”

The female guard who introduces me to the band is called Rutchie. “I’m very proud to be a guard here, and my family are very proud of me,” she says. It takes three years to train to be a prison guard in Norway. She looks at me with disbelief when I tell her that in the UK prison officer training is just six weeks. “There is so much to learn about the people who come to prison,” she says. “We need to try to understand how they became criminals, and then help them to change. I’m still learning.”

Finally, I’m introduced to Vidor, who at 72 is the oldest prisoner on the island. He works in the laundry and is the house father of his four-man bungalow. I haven’t asked any of the prisoners about their crimes. The information has been offered voluntarily. Vidor does the same. He tells me he is serving 15 years for double manslaughter. There is a deep sadness in his eyes, even when he smiles. “Killers like me have nowhere to hide,” he says. He tells me that in the aftermath of his crimes he was “on the floor”. He cried a lot at first. “If there was the death penalty I would have said, yes please, take me.” He says he was helped in prison. “They helped me to understand why I did what I did and helped me to live again.” Now he studies philosophy, in particular Nietzsche. “I’m glad they let me come here. It is a healthy place to be. I’ll be 74 when I get out,” he says. “I’ll be happy if I can get to 84, and then just say: ‘Bye-bye.'”

On the ferry back to the mainland I think about what I have seen and heard. Bastoy is no holiday camp. In some ways I feel as if I’ve seen a vision of the future – a penal institution designed to heal rather than harm and to generate hope instead of despair. I believe all societies will always need high-security prisons. But there needs to be a robust filtering procedure along the lines of the Norwegian model, in order that the process is not more damaging than necessary. As Nilsen asserts, justice for society demands that people we release from prison should be less likely to cause further harm or distress to others, and better equipped to live as law-abiding citizens.

It would take much political courage and social confidence to spread the penal philosophy of Bastoy outside Norway, however. In the meantime, I hope the decision-makers of the world take note of the revolution in rehabilitation that is occurring on that tiny island.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article34109.htm

JPMorgan Chase to cut 4,000 jobs

By Kate Randall 
27 February 2013
JPMorgan announced plans Tuesday to cut $1 billion through trimming various costs and eliminating about 4,000 jobs. The bank claimed new regulations on Wall Street could cost up to 10 percent of its market revenues.
At the same time, the bank said it would be reducing the workforce in its mortgage banking unit by between 13,000 and 15,000 employees by the end of 2014. These jobs are considered mostly contractual and part-time, the bank insisted.
Speaking before the JPMorgan investor meeting on Tuesday, CFO Marianne Lake said that the planned cuts would be driven by savings in its mortgage unit, despite the fact that the US housing sector has shown some improvement from the post-2008 economic meltdown.
JPMorgan’s mortgage production revenue was up 70 percent in 2012. However, analysts expect refinancing volumes to ebb after several years of borrowers trying to lower their interest rates in response to the Federal Reserve keeping short-term rates close to zero.
News of the layoffs came as another banking giant, Goldman Sachs, is reportedly set to begin a new round of job cuts as early as this week, according to Reuters. Goldman usually cuts around 5 percent of its employees around this time of year, but this year’s cutbacks are expected to be deeper.
Job cuts at Goldman’s equity trading desk are likely to be in excess of 5 percent, due to weak volumes and earnings, while layoffs in the bank’s fixed-income business are expected to be less than 5 percent. Goldman has cut about 9 percent of its workforce over the past two years.
FOX Business reported in December that Goldman and Morgan Stanley were considering slashing jobs in the following weeks and months in response to declining trading volumes and mounting costs tied to regulation.
In a broader shakeup late last year, Citigroup announced plans to slash about 11,000 jobs. In October 2012, a report from the New York State Comptroller showed that employment in the Wall Street securities industry was down about 4,800 from 168,700 jobs the previous year.

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Toronto homeless advocates protest budget cuts

By Dylan Lubao 
27 February 2013
Anti-poverty advocates and homeless people held a demonstration outside Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s office February 15. Members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty erected a makeshift homeless shelter using mattresses and blankets to protest budget cuts that will eliminate approximately 115 beds from homeless shelters as well as the Personal Needs Allowance, a subsidy for daily necessities, given to those in shelters. Demonstrators strung up banners reading “Cuts Kill the Poor” and “Cuts Hurt People.”
The mock shelter was torn down by city police, who later removed protestors who had occupied the mayor’s office. Mayor Ford, a right-wing populist regularly lampooned for his lack of political acumen, was absent from the scene. Approached for comment while he attended the Canadian International Auto Show, Ford brusquely replied that there are “plenty of beds.”
The mayor’s assessment is belied by the city’s homeless death toll and shelter occupancy rates. During the first six weeks of 2013, 8 homeless individuals have died on Toronto streets. Since 1985, over 650 homeless deaths have been recorded. The number is expected to exceed 700 by the end of this year. Homeless shelters routinely experience a shortage of beds. A recent figure puts the average occupancy rate at 96 percent. During cold winter months, the beleaguered shelters must often turn away those seeking refuge.
The attacks on Toronto’s homeless and working poor reflect a concerted effort between the municipal and provincial governments to force the most marginalized sections of society to shoulder the costs of the continuing economic crisis. In January, the provincial Liberal government cut a massive $21 million, or 16 percent, from homelessness-prevention funding. Chief among the cuts was a $12.8 million reduction in the Community Start-up and Maintenance Benefit, which helps low-income families access and maintain affordable housing. Also scrapped was $3.7 million in medical benefits for Toronto’s poorest residents.
City Hall has meted out its share of eviction notices and has moved to sell-off some public housing stock. Spearheaded by the mayor, the freezing of property and vehicle ownership taxes in 2011 has eroded city revenues. The reactionary layer of city councilors grouped around Mayor Ford and his brother, Councilor Doug Ford, are now invoking the city’s fiscal crisis as political cover to savage necessary social programs.
Analysis conducted by the Wellesley Institute, a Toronto-based research centre, notes that gross operating expenditures for the city increased by just 0.2 percent between 2011 and 2012. This rate has failed to keep up with inflation and population growth. Addressing City Hall, the report reads: “There are some Toronto City Councilors who consider this reduction in real, per-capita spending a victory. This lopsided view is like a family celebrating lower grocery bills without noticing that their children are hungry.”
The sentiment is likely lost on the Fords, who are heirs to a multi-million dollar printing empire. They most recently presided over the passing of the 2013 budget, which includes further subsidies to the city’s business elite in the form of a paltry 0.6 percent increase in commercial property taxes. Even this measure was conceded unwillingly. The mayor is desperately seeking to rehabilitate his public image, which has been tarnished by a series of personal spending and abuse of power scandals.
The drive to enrich Toronto’s most affluent at the expense of its most vulnerable is a bipartisan one. “Progressive” former mayor David Miller came to power in 2003 promising to clean up corrupt backroom dealings. He left office in 2010 with a record of generous commercial property tax breaks, grants, and subsidies. His term was marked by a series of grossly undervalued commercial land assessments, allowing big developers to purchase swathes of the city for a pittance and reap unprecedented profits. These favourable business conditions saw condo developers descend upon Toronto en masse. The city is home to the most active condo industry in North America, selling 22,654 units at its height in 2007.
In this regard, the temporary closure in January of a McDonald’s location in Toronto’s upscale Yorkville neighbourhood is particularly instructive. After it was revealed in 2008 that the restaurant was paying a meager $1,250 per month for rent to the city, municipal administrators attempted to raise the rent to $195,000 per year. McDonald’s declined and instead offered to purchase the location. The obliging city council sold it to the company for $3.38 million, well below market evaluations of $7 to $9 million. It was well-known at the time that condominium developers could have constructed and sold units in that location for $2 million each.
McDonald’s then sold the property for the same price to Bazis International Incorporated, a subsidiary of Bazis-A Corporation, the leading construction company in Kazakhstan. The deal that the City had made with McDonald’s stipulated that any profit on a subsequent sale of the Yorkville property be given to the city, so McDonald’s simply flipped the land to a corporation associated with Bazis for no profit. That corporation then sold the land to Bazis itself for $9.3 million. This “healthy” windfall profit was effectively a subsidy for a large commercial developer, as city council knew that McDonald’s could easily avoid any payments to the city by organizing such a multi-flip maneuver. McDonald’s, not to miss any opportunity, then arranged with Bazis for a free retail spot in the new development.
Bazis is infamous for a failed development project in the heart of the city. Its One Bloor East condo project, touted as an 80-storey oasis of “effortless sensuality” at the “epicenter of Canada”, had potential buyers lined up around the block to make initial deposits. The developer purchased the lot for $63 million. Financed in part by American banking giant Lehman Brothers and French bank Société Générale, the project was thrust into disarray following the financial crash of 2008. As a result of their massive losses, both financiers were forced to pull their funding, causing Bazis to fall into arrears on payments related to the condo project . It sold the property to prominent developer Great Gulf Homes in 2009 and has since plunged back into the Toronto condo market with four new luxury properties.
All of this takes place over the heads of Toronto’s working families, many of whom live on the brink of homelessness. As of December 2012, the waiting list for public housing had reached a staggering 87,486 households, a 69 percent increase since the start of the recession in 2008. City Council responded to these alarming numbers by cutting the funding for new affordable housing by 50 percent, from $49 million to $24 million. In November of last year, it approved the sale of 55 of the 619 single-family homes owned by Toronto Community Housing Corporation, the city’s largest social housing provider.
Toronto has the country’s second-highest average rental cost, $1,149 per month for a two-bedroom apartment, as compared with $1,210 in Vancouver and $708 in Montréal. Average household income for those on lengthy public and or subsidized housing waiting lists is $16,155, barely enough to cover the rent. In contrast, the top 20 percent of households earn $171,900. It is these layers of the affluent upper middle-class that condominium developers are courting.
The city’s homeless are simply cut out of the picture. The same day that the McDonald’s-Bazis deal made the front pages in the local press, figures were released showing Toronto’s 2012 homeless death toll of 37 was the highest since 2007.

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Obama combines sequester cuts with demagogy

By Andre Damon 
27 February 2013
As the deadline approaches for triggering $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts, the indications are that the White House and congressional Republicans intend to allow the so-called “sequester” to take effect. The crisis over the program of cuts, set to begin on March 1 unless an alternative plan to slash the deficit is reached, is entirely manufactured, the result of previous deals reached by the Obama administration and the Republican leadership.
The impact of these cutbacks will be borne overwhelmingly by working and poor people, with billions slashed from education, anti-poverty programs, health care and other vital services. Once enacted, these cuts will never be fully restored. In effect, a new baseline will have been established for the ongoing onslaught on social programs upon which millions of working people depend.
Behind the stage-managed partisan bickering, there is a tacit consensus between the two parties that the cuts in domestic discretionary spending, estimated to reach $1.2 trillion over the next decade, can be used to create more favorable conditions for bullying the public into accepting immensely unpopular cuts in the basic social programs remaining from the reforms of the 1930s and 1960s—Medicare and Social Security.
The unstated agenda behind the demagogy of Obama and the Republicans is to deliberately create a crisis atmosphere and inflict painful cuts in order to claim, weeks or months down the road, that the only way out is a longer-term assault on the basic social “entitlement” programs.
The sequester cuts will have harsh consequences for working people, including:
* A 9.4 percent reduction in benefits for recipients of federally-funded long-term unemployment insurance.
* A loss of federal education funding affecting 1.2 million students and resulting in the possible layoff of 30,000 teachers and education staff, plus a $598 million cut in funding for special education programs.
* The removal of between 600,000 and 775,000 low-income women and children from the WIC food assistance program.
* A cut in federal housing assistance that will deprive up to 125,000 families of aid.
* Unpaid furloughs of up to 15 days of meat and poultry inspectors at the Agriculture Department, resulting in $10 billion in production losses.
* The closure of as many as 100 air traffic control towers and furlough of controllers, resulting in widening flight delays.
On Sunday, the White House released reports on the potential impact of the sequester on all 50 states and Washington DC. California, for instance, “will lose approximately $87.6 million in funding for primary and secondary education, putting around 1,210 teacher and aide jobs at risk.”
The pre-school Head Start program will be cut for 8,200 California children, $2.6 million will be cut from public health, and the state will lose $5.4 million in funding for food assistance for low-income families.
Depending on the federal agency, the cuts will amount to between 5 and 9 percent of the budget for the year.
These cutbacks will have a severe impact on the US economy as a whole. Stephen S. Fuller, a professor at George Mason University, found in a study last year that the sequester will cost 2.14 million jobs and increase the unemployment rate by 1.5 percentage points.
The sequester also includes $42.7 billion in cuts to military spending. The Pentagon has threatened to furlough 800,000 civilian Defense Department employees, beginning as early as April.
The slated military cuts have prompted howls of protest from the military brass and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who claim that they will “hollow out” the US military machine and threaten “national security.” One way or another, the Pentagon, whose base budget has soared since 9/11 from $397 billion to $557 billion, will be shielded from any significant cuts.
At the same time, the proposed cuts in defense and security spending will be used for fear-mongering propaganda about the terrorist threat. Already on Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called a press conference to declare that the cuts will make the US more vulnerable to a terrorist attack.
President Obama is continuing his demagogic campaign to place the entire blame for the sequester on the Republicans and posture as the advocate of a “fair” and “balanced” program of deficit-reduction that will “protect the middle class” and make the rich pay their “fair share.”
On Tuesday, he made an appearance at the Newport News shipyard in Virginia, a facility that is directly tied into the military and dependent on contracts from major defense contractors. In selecting this site for his latest speech on the sequester, Obama, speaking in front of a giant submarine propeller, signaled his opposition to any significant cuts in military spending.
He blamed congressional Republicans for blocking his proposal for a combination of spending cuts and token increases in taxes for corporations and the wealthy. The Republicans are insisting that there be no tax increases in any new budget deal.
“All we’re asking,” Obama declared, “is that they close loopholes for… hedge fund managers and oil companies… so we can avoid laying off workers, or kicking kids off Head Start, or reducing financial aid for college students.” The cynicism of this claim to be fighting for higher taxes for the rich is exposed by Obama’s support for a “comprehensive tax reform” that includes a cut in corporate taxes from 35 to 28 percent.
The real substance of Obama’s agenda, behind the pseudo-populist rhetoric, was indicated by his reiteration of support for cuts in entitlement programs. In a line meant to reassure his real constituency—Wall Street and corporate America—he said, “Democrats like me… have said we’re prepared to make some tough cuts and reforms, including to programs like Medicare.”
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Workers rebel against right-wing unions

27 February 2013
Four-and-a-half years after the financial collapse of 2008 there are many signs of growing militancy in the working class internationally.
In response to the crisis, the ruling class is imposing unprecedented austerity measures along with layoffs and wage cuts. The general consensus in parliaments, government chambers and corporate boardrooms is that the working class, the vast majority of the world’s population, must pay for a crisis they did not create and for which they are not responsible.
The mass social struggles that emerged in 2011 are now entering a new stage. Strikes continue in Egypt against the US-backed regime and the International Monetary Fund; transit and ferry workers in Greece have gone on strike and Spanish workers have carried out mass protests against the European Union’s austerity demands; auto workers in France have occupied factories threatened with closure; tens of million of workers in India shut down much of the country in a two-day general strike last week.
In each of these struggles common problems arise. While there is no lack of the will to fight and the courage to prevail, every section of workers has been forced to confront the question of leadership and organization. To the extent that they remain under the control of the trade unions and the so-called “left” parties, the struggles are directed back into the political establishment and betrayed.
The objective logic of the class struggle, however, is driving the working class in a different direction. Workers are seeking to break free of the decades-long stranglehold of right-wing bureaucracies and the artificial suppression of social conflict.
Late last year, South Africa platinum miners revolted against the National Union of Mineworkers, which functions as a cheap labor contractor for the global mining companies. The response of the NUM was to collaborate with the African National Congress government in the use of force to suppress the rebellion.
In Germany, auto workers at the GM-Opel plant in Bochum have begun to call for the withholding of union dues and a mass exodus from the IG Metall trade union, which has done nothing to fight the closure of the factory.
For the ruling class, the prospect of working class struggle outside of the framework of the official unions is deeply unsettling. Nowhere are the implications of this development more explosive than in the United States.
The US is the most unequal of all industrialized countries. Yet for three decades, as the wealth of the financial aristocracy has soared and the living conditions of masses of working people have deteriorated, every struggle of the working class has been isolated and defeated. In this, the official trade unions have played the central role.
Against this background, the formation of a rank-and-file committee by New York City school bus workers emerges as a highly significant development.
Workers formed the committee in the aftermath of the betrayal of the strike by 9,000 school bus drivers, matrons and mechanics by the Amalgamated Transit Union and the rest of the city’s unions. Although there was widespread support for a struggle against the city’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, the ATU, the AFL-CIO, the subway and bus unions, the teachers’ union and the rest of the city unions isolated the strike. It was shut down without a membership meeting or vote, and with none of the workers’ demands met.
From the beginning, the ATU made it clear it was willing to accept Bloomberg’s plan to reduce the school bus workers to low-paid, casual workers, as long at the ATU maintained its franchise and was allowed to continue collecting dues money from workers’ pay checks, no matter how small the checks. The ATU leaders sought to use the workers as pawns, hoping to convince Bloomberg and big business that they could accomplish their cost-cutting more effectively with the union than without it.
The course of the New York bus workers strike paralleled that of countless struggles. Confronting a ruthless ruling class, workers are trapped in organizations that accept the entire corporate-dominated framework and work actively for the defeat of the workers they claim to represent. The impoverishment of the workers does not in any way detract from the income of the upper-middle class executives who run the unions.
The precondition for a serious and effective struggle is an organizational break with the official unions. The workers themselves are beginning to recognize this.
At the start of the New York meeting to set up the rank-and-file committee, a veteran school bus driver announced this was “not a union meeting,” but a meeting “by the members and for the members.” This statement reflected the growing awareness that the interests of the union and the interests of the members are fundamentally antagonistic.
The transformation of the unions into anti-working class organizations is not simply the result of corrupt officials, but rather the failure of their entire program, which is based on the subordination of the working class to the profit system and the global needs of American capitalism, carried out centrally through the political subordination of workers to the Democratic Party.
As the struggle of workers begins to erupt outside of the framework of the unions, the growth of militancy is accompanied by a growing receptivity to the perspective of socialism. In the course of the school bus strike, many workers came to recognize that the only publication that told the truth and articulated their interests was the World Socialist Web Site. Our warnings against the treachery of the union and our exposure of the role of the Democrats were completely vindicated in the living experience of the workers themselves.
Many political issues remain to be clarified. But the growing striving of American workers to break with the pro-capitalist trade unions and their openness to socialism is a historic change with the most far-reaching implications for the class struggle internationally. Millions of workers are coming to an understanding that they confront not only a particular corporation or government official, but an entire socio-economic system.
The militancy, anger and determination of workers must be combined with and enriched by a thoroughly worked-out political program that articulates the real interests of working people in opposition to the policies of the ruling elites in the US around the world. As the experience of the New York City school bus strike shows, only the Socialist Equality Party is fighting to arm the working class with such a program. We call on workers who see the need for such a struggle to join the SEP and help build it as the new, revolutionary leadership of the working class.
Jerry White

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Bulgaria: Protests continue after government’s resignation

By Markus Salzmann 

27 February 2013

Protests and demonstrations are continuing in Bulgaria despite the resignation of the right-wing government of Boyko Borisov (Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria, GERB). Last weekend, tens of thousands took to the streets in cities across the poorest country of the European Union to protest against poverty, the rising cost of living and corruption. In the largest mass protests since 1997, demonstrators demanded the resignation of President Rosen Plevneliev and other leading politicians.

One protest took place in front of the headquarters of the Central Bank in the country’s capital, Sofia. Those taking part criticized the role of the country’s banks, which are mainly in foreign hands. Many major roads were blocked. Students and members of the country’s Roma minority took part in a rally of around 20,000 in the center of Sofia. Demonstrators chanted slogans such as “Mafia” and “We are hungry”. Under the eyes of a large contingent of police, protesters burned a puppet wearing a police uniform to protest against the brutality of the security forces. Dozens of people have been injured, some seriously, due to police brutality at previous protests.

The biggest demonstration took place in the Black Sea city of Varna, where the protests began two weeks ago. Around 40,000 people marched through the city and blocked major roads. They demanded the resignation of Mayor Kiril Yordanov. In Varna, popular anger is directed against the regional power company Energo-Pro from the Czech Republic. Banners called for the nationalization of all of the country’s power companies. Additional protests took place in Bulgaria’s second largest city, Plovdiv, and in Burgas on the Black Sea.

Prior to Borisov’s resignation a week ago, protests against the government and its policies had taken place in over 30 cities across the country, with tens of thousands demonstrating. One man set himself on fire in protest outside the town hall in Sofia last week. He was taken to hospital with severe burns. One day earlier, a 26-year-old died as a result of his self-immolation.

The ongoing protests clearly show that the social situation in the Balkan state has reached the breaking point. Euronews reported on the mood amongst demonstrators: “They should take care of us instead of leaving us to fend for ourselves”, one young woman said indignantly. Another protester said: “We are now the poorest country in Europe—why? Because we have been exploited over the years and people have no money. The little money we did receive was then taken away.”

One elderly woman on the fringe of a protest told journalists: “My pension is 160 leva (€80), my electric bill 114 leva,” Her situation is typical for most of the country’s pensioners, who belong to the poorest segments of society.

The social situation has deteriorated dramatically for the majority of the Bulgarian population since the country joined the EU in 2007 and following the economic crisis one year later. According to the National Statistics Office, unemployment rose in 2012 to 12.4 percent. Independent economists estimate that the real rate of unemployment is likely to be double that. Many families subsist only due to illegal forms of work.

Under these conditions, the Borisov government introduced policies to slash wages for those still working. Finance Minister Djankov has insured that wages and salaries in the public sector have not increased since 2009, despite substantial increases in living costs. According to the unions, one in five Bulgarians is living under the poverty line on less than the equivalent of €110 (US$145) per month. One third of the population has an income of less than €260 (US$340) a month.

The austerity policies introduced in recent years following pressure from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund are responsible for a decline in the birth rate, which in 2012 reached its lowest level since the Second World War.

The economic situation has further deteriorated in recent months. The debt crisis in neighboring Greece has hit Bulgarian exports. Greece is the main buyer of Bulgarian exports in the EU, and Greek banks play a significant role in Bulgarian financial affairs.

The resignation of the GERB government was aimed at opening the way for the Socialist Party (BSP) to take power with the task of stabilizing the situation in the interests of country’s ruling elite. This calculation has not paid off as popular anger is also directed at the totally discredited BSP. This is why President Plevneliev is now trying to permit the unions to play a bigger role.

Interrupted by loud boos at a rally on Sunday in Sofia, Plevneliev promised “to discuss with the unions what is important for our country.” The two leading unions, KNSB and Podkrepa, which have sabotaged a series of strikes and protests in recent years against plant closures, layoffs and wage cuts, have deliberately kept their distance from the current protests.

In a press release, the Podkrepa trade union confederation has called for the establishment of a transitional government to calm the situation and end the protests. This government should maintain the “economic and social stability” of the country, the statement declares. Podkrepa categorically rejects the demand for the nationalization of the country’s energy supply. The replacement of a private monopoly by a government one will not solve the problems, the union says.

The bankruptcy of the BSP and the unions as well as the absence of any progressive political formation is being exploited by right-wing forces to promote their reactionary positions and direct the popular movement into nationalist channels.

In front of the regional headquarters of the Austrian energy provider EVN in Plovdiv, members of the neo-fascist Ataka party called upon Plevneliev to withdraw licenses for foreign energy companies operating in the country. In previous protests, representatives of the Ataka party had been excluded, but reportedly in Sofia the ultra-nationalist VMRO party joined the protests for the first time.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/02/27/bulg-f27.html

Former top Obama official warns of “powder keg” in Asia

By Peter Symonds 

27 February 2013

An interview with Kurt Campbell, former US Assistant Secretary of State for Asia and the Pacific, in the Australian this week has again underlined the acute dangers posed by the tense standoff between China and Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Campbell, who was Obama’s top diplomat to the region until two weeks ago, bluntly described the situation in North East Asia as “like a powder keg.”

There has been a continual escalation of the territorial dispute since the previous Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) government “nationalised” the islands last September, provoking widespread anti-Japanese protests in China. Both Tokyo and Beijing have whipped up reactionary nationalist sentiment over their respective territorial claims.

Not prone to exaggeration, Campbell said that in his four years as assistant secretary he had faced many difficult diplomatic situations, but “none more difficult than this.” He continued: “I’ve rarely seen diplomats on both sides more white-knuckled, or on both sides the sense that no retreat or compromise is possible.”

Lack of room for compromise is not simply a matter of the intentions of individual diplomats or politicians. Having stirred up nationalism to divert from economic and social tensions at home, any retreat by either government has serious political consequences.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime speaks for layers of the Chinese bourgeoisie and middle classes frustrated that the country’s rise is being blocked by the major imperialist powers. The dispute over the islands known as Diaoyu in China has become a touchstone for ending China’s “humiliation” in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Japan took control of the rocky outcrops, known as Senkaku, after defeating China in 1895.

For the Japanese government, China’s challenge to its control of the islands has become a symbol of the country’s economic and strategic decline over the past two decades. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who assumed office in December after his right-wing Liberal Democratic Party won the election, has flatly ruled out any negotiation over the islands, ensuring a continuing confrontation.

During the interview, the Australian commented: “It is all very well for Campbell to tell us about the dangers of this problem, but up to two weeks ago he was one of the most senior people in any government dealing with it on a day-to-day basis, and expected in some sense to solve it. So what is the US doing about this?”

Campbell responded: “This is still a very challenging set of circumstances. We urge both sides to get back to dialogue and discussion. The US is not seeking to be a mediator, but privately we have offered some suggestions and help.”

These comments, however, are completely disingenuous. As assistant secretary of state, Campbell was the point-man for Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the region. For the past four years, he has been centrally involved in the US “pivot to Asia”—a comprehensive diplomatic and strategic offensive throughout Asia aimed at undercutting Chinese influence.

The Obama administration has pressed Tokyo to take a tougher stance in North East Asia towards China and to boost its military to play a more prominent “strategic role.” When DPJ leader and prime minister Yukio Hatoyama pushed for a different approach—an easing of tensions and closer Japanese relations with China—the US exploited the contentious issue of the American military base on Okinawa to push him to resign in 2010. Campbell was intimately involved in this skulduggery.

Subsequent DPJ prime ministers did not make the same mistake and stood fully behind the so-called US “pivot.” The rising tensions with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, firstly in 2010 then 2012, were the consequence.

No doubt, the Obama administration would prefer not to be drawn into a war with China over insignificant islets in the East China Sea—thus, recent US efforts to calm the situation. The same, however, is true of China and Japan—neither side “wants” a devastating war. But having deliberately inflamed the dispute between the world’s second and third largest economies, the US has set in motion forces that it does not control.

Campbell told the Australian: “We worry about unpredictable and accidental events. Both nations have assets—coast guard and military—in place.” Indeed, the room for error has narrowed considerably as China has dispatched maritime surveillance ships and aircraft into or near the disputed waters and airspace to challenge Japan’s territorial claims. Japan has responded by boosting its coastguard presence in the area and scrambling F-15 fighter jets to intercept Chinese aircraft.

Campbell highlighted the potential damage to US economic interests. “With the slowdown in Europe and difficulties in the US, you can make the case that northeast Asia really is the cockpit of the global economy,” he said. We’re anxious that the actions they’re taking are having an effect on their economies, but we could also be looking at this causing worries about shipping in these waters.” He noted that 50 percent of global trade by tonnage and 30 percent by value involved shipping lanes near the two countries.

Nevertheless, despite the obvious economic repercussions, the Obama administration is proceeding with the “pivot.” Campbell hinted at the underlying reasons when he emphasised the importance of Asia to the US. “The lion’s share of the history of the 21st century will be written in Asia. So if the US is to be relevant in the 21st century, it has to be relevant in Asia,” he said.

US imperialism is determined to offset its economic decline and maintain its global “relevance” or more accurately, dominance, by using its military and strategic might to undermine potential rivals. Nowhere is this more the case than in the “cockpit of the global economy.”

The Australian interview was conducted by the newspaper’s foreign editor, Greg Sheridan, who is notable only for his unswerving support for the US-Australia alliance and close connections to the military and foreign policy establishment in Washington. He sought to draw out Campbell on one of his hobby horses—the failure of the Gillard government in Canberra to boost defence spending.

Campbell was unwilling to antagonise a government that had so completely supported the Obama administration’s policy in Asia, including opening up Australian military bases to US Marines, warships and warplanes. But he did hint that the US expected more, saying: “Australia’s immediate and more distant environment has grown more complex and arguably more dangerous, and we’re counting on Australia to do its share.”

Sheridan expressed his amazement “that a situation Campbell describes as a powder keg between China and Japan, Australia’s largest and second-largest trading partners, has received so little attention in Australia,” adding: “This may indicate that Canberra is asleep at the wheel.”

There is nothing amazing, however, about the general silence in Australian media and political circles about the dangers of a war between China and Japan that would not only drag in the United States but also Australia. In fact, the Gillard government’s total support for Obama’s pivot has ensured that the Australian population will be on the frontline of any conflict.

The last thing that the Australian political establishment wants is for working people to be aware of the danger as that would inevitably fuel widespread, anti-war sentiment and political opposition.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/02/27/camp-f27.html

IMF demands deeper austerity measures in Sri Lanka

By Saman Gunadasa 

27 February 2013

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has rejected the Sri Lankan government’s request for a new $US1 billion loan, insisting that it impose even more drastic austerity measures on the working class.

Having just received the final installments of a $2.6 billion bailout loan obtained from the IMF in 2009, the Sri Lankan treasury requested further credit in January to help cover the government’s 2013 budget deficit.

On February 13, however, the Sri Lankan Central Bank issued a press release saying: “The IMF has indicated that the Fund may not be in a position to consider any direct or indirect budget support to Sri Lanka.”

At a press conference on the same day, John Nelmes, head of a visiting IMF mission, said that he had asked the government to reduce its budget deficit to 5.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year, as it had previously promised. He warned of declining export earnings and the necessity to reduce government debt, now 80 percent of GDP.

In particular, Nelmes called for “reforms” to reduce the losses of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC)—that is, reduced subsidies, higher prices and privatisation. He also urged the broadening of tax revenue.

In a comment asking “what exactly is going on?” the London-based Financial Times commented that the government had achieved only half its target of $2 billion of foreign direct investment during last year. “Yet despite the need for the funds,” the planned loan deal seemed to have been “undone by two major disagreements.”

The first disagreement was that the government had asked “for help fixing its fiscal problems rather than just the balance of payments.” The second was that the country’s finance ministry “was eager to get hold of the money” but “the central bank was keen to seek alternative funding sources.”

The newspaper cited a warning by Harsha Da Silva, an opposition United National Party spokesman, that the loan refusal would mean that the government could no longer introduce the required “economic reforms” on “a staggered basis.” In other words, the government must now accelerate its attacks on the social conditions of workers and the poor.

Nelmes said: “The government has agreed on the required reforms,” but said “implementation would be at their own pace.” The government’s major concern is the prospect of a social explosion, even though the trade unions have helped it to block working class struggles. The IMF, however, has made clear its dissatisfaction with the government’s “pace.”

The government faces a serious financial crisis. The Business Times wrote at the weekend that the “Treasury is struggling to meet day-to-day expenses of the government.” It has borrowed 8 billion rupees ($US6.3 million) from the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority and 800 million rupees from the National Lotteries Board.

Just 10 days after the IMF loan rejection, Petroleum Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa announced another increase in petrol and diesel prices, taking them to record levels. The cost of a litre of gasoline rose by 1.9 percent to 162 rupees and diesel by 5.2 percent to 121 rupees. Furnace oil rose by 25 rupees. Last December, the government increased the petrol price by 10 rupees, on top of rises of about 31 percent in petrol, diesel and kerosene last February that triggered mass protests among fishermen. The government also foreshadowed a 25 percent increase in electricity charges.

The government’s justification was that the CPC lost 160 billion rupees in 2012 and the CEB is projected to lose 90 billion rupees this year. Yapa said the price rises would only partly cover the losses, indicating further increases in the pipeline.

According to a Sunday Times economics columnist, debt servicing will be 1,154 billion rupees, or more than 90 percent of total estimated budget revenue for this year. The government has refused to reveal the exact debt total, but according to some estimates it could be as high as $US28 billion.

The Central Bank claims that Sri Lanka is in a comfortable position, with foreign exchange reserves of $6.8 billion at the end of 2012, but most of the reserves consist of loans. The Sunday Times columnist wrote: “The net reserves are perhaps much less, in the region of $3 billion, which is a risky reserve.” It was “most likely” that the bank’s foreign exchange reserves were “inadequate to meet its current commitments.”

During 2012, export income fell by 7.4 percent to $9.7 billion. Apparel and tea exports declined by 4.8 percent and 5.3 percent, respectively, mainly due to the downturns in the US and EU, Sri Lanka’s main export markets.

According to the IMF, tax revenues have fallen to below 11.5 percent of GDP, “among the lowest in the region.” The government has been reducing corporate taxes, now down to a maximum of 28 percent. Big corporate investors also enjoy massive tax holidays and even lower tax rates.

By contrast, taxes on the goods and services are continually increasing. According to the Sri Lanka Human Development Report 2012, compiled by the UNDP and the Institute of Policy Studies, the country’s reliance on indirect taxes for more than 80 percent of tax revenue “shifts the burden of taxation onto the poor.”

The government’s measures have fuelled cost of living increases, with the official annual inflation rate, which understates the impact on ordinary people, rising to 9.8 percent in January. The IMF said the inflation rate had since reached double digits.

The IMF’s prescription of slashing the budget deficit, accelerating privatisation and other “reforms” and raising tax revenues will have devastating consequences for jobs, working conditions, pensions and basic social rights.

A warning must be taken from Greece, where the IMF, together with the European Union and the European Central Bank, have dictated drastic cuts in wages, welfare and social spending. As a result, the official unemployment rate is 27 percent, and 62 percent among young workers, with one-third of the population living in poverty.

In Sri Lanka, where working people and the poor are already impoverished, the IMF’s austerity measures will have drastic social consequences.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/02/27/slec-f27.html

Strikes and demonstrations rock Spain

By Alejandro López 

27 February 2013

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands participated in demonstrations in over 80 cities around Spain on the 32nd anniversary of the attempted coup led by Civil Guard Lt. Col. Antonio Tejero, who seized the Congress of Deputies in 1981 to reverse the transition to bourgeois democracy back to Francoism. The main demonstrations took place in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Vigo.

The main slogan in Madrid was “No to the financial coup. We don’t owe, we don’t pay.”

In other cities the marches went ahead under banners such as “Against the coup of the markets”, “No to the brutal adjustment policies” and “The government has to resign”.

The demonstrations, known as F23, were called by the platform Citizens’ Tide (Marea Cuidadana), an organisation which includes remnants of the 15-M indignados movement, the Communist Party-led United Left, the Mortgage Victims Platform (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, PAH), and anti-austerity organisations such as the Green Tide against education cuts, the White Tide against health care privatisation, and dozens of others.

In Madrid, marches began at different points in the capital and converged at Neptune square near Congress where they were met by 1,400 riot police who blocked off a wide area around the parliament building, the Ritz Hotel and the stock exchange.

Following the mass demonstration in Madrid, the police violently attacked the protesters who did not go home and arrested 45 people, including nine minors, charged with “vandalism”, “disturbing the peace” and “assault against authority”. About 40 people were injured.

Ironically, more were arrested during last Saturday’s protest than among the army officers involved in the coup 32 years ago.

F23 was the latest in a series of mass protests in recent weeks against cutbacks to social and health care services being imposed by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party government, which has been rocked by corruption allegations of kickback payments to Rajoy and other top officials from real estate developers. (See “Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy implicated in corruption scandal”)

A week earlier, thousands marched in over 50 cities to protest harsh repossession laws that have led to 400,000 evictions. In Madrid, the Spanish-born secretary general of the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY), Beatriz Talegón, was jeered by protesters and had to be escorted away by the police. She had been heavily promoted by the media as a radical for accusing the main delegates of the social democratic parties at the Socialist International conference held in Portugal of being out of touch with the problems facing young people while meeting in a luxury hotel. But workers and youth rightly saw her as a member of the Socialist Party, which was responsible for the first round of austerity measures whilst in government.

In early February, mass demonstrations were held in Madrid and another 15 cities, including Barcelona and Valencia, in defence of public health care and against the cuts. For the fourth time this year, thousands of doctors, public health care workers and users marched on the streets against austerity policies that have seen nearly €7 billion (US$9 billion) cut from central and regional health budgets in the last three years, representing over 10 percent of total funding.

During these weeks, major companies, public administrations and banks have announced mass redundancies, adding to the ranks of the already record 6 million unemployed.

The leading Spanish tour operator Orizonia Group announced an ERE, an administrative “workforce adjustment” process required of businesses, which will involve 4,000 workers. The company announced that the February payroll is in jeopardy. The ERE at Orizonia follows one agreed between management and unions at travel company Globalia affecting 2,500 workers, involving job losses, a 25 percent cut in shifts and wage reductions.

Spanish utilities company Gas Natural Fenosa, which has 10,000,000 customers worldwide and increased its profits to €1.44 billion in 2012, has announced a “non-painful adjustment” of employees as part of its strategic plan for 2013-2015. The last time a “non-painful adjustment” occurred was in 2008, when the two major trade unions, the Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) and the UGT (Workers General Union), agreed to 600 layoffs (16 percent of the workforce)

The Polytechnic University of Madrid has announced that 301 workers will be sacked, and the remainder will have their salaries cut due to the slashing of €39 million from the Madrid regional government for the 2013 budget.

Bankia, the bailed-out, state controlled bank, has agreed with the CCOO and UGT to the sacking of 4,500 workers, and CaixaBank has announced the slashing of 3,000 jobs. Banco de Valencia has announced that 890 of its 1,613 workers will lose their jobs, on top of the 360 sacked last November. All of these arrangements are currently being negotiated with the unions, which have colluded with layoffs, salary cuts and the increase in working hours.

The restructuring of the banking sector comes after the meeting held between the euro zone finance ministers on December 3 last year that approved a €37 billion rescue package for four banks that were already functioning with Spanish state support: Bankia, Catalunya Caixa, Novagalicia, and Banco de Valencia. The terms imposed by the ministers included cutting the size of their business by 60 percent and closing 50 percent of their branches.

But the onslaught on jobs in the banking sector is not finished. The Association of Spanish Banks has stated that 30,000 jobs and 10,000 offices are surplus to requirements. Last November, CCOO general secretary for the financial sector, Luis Jiménez, defended these arguments saying, “In Europe the average employees per office is 10 workers and are more efficient than the Spanish.” In reference to redundancies, he said, “The banks enjoy a sufficient [financial] base to make comfortable adjustments for those who want to leave.”

Strikes have been a daily occurrence in the private and public sector. According to the Ministry of Employment, at least 80 national strikes will take place this year, 23 percent more than in 2012. The unions are doing their utmost to control them.

The strike by Iberia ground staff and cabin crew that commenced a week ago and which forced the cancelation of some 1,200 flights has been suspended until next month in order to give the unions more time to prepare a sell-out. (See “Iberia airline strikers clash with Spanish police”) Public Works Minister Ana Pastor announced on Thursday that Iberia and the unions had agreed to invite Gregorio Tudela, professor at Madrid’s Autónoma University, to act as mediator in the dispute.

In Seville, garbage collectors went out on strike for 11 days against the municipal collection company Lipasam. A ballot to continue the strike was nullified by the CCOO on the grounds that it included temporary workers and a second one held excluding them. The strike was finally betrayed by the CCOO, which helped impose a 3.6 percent wage cut and an increase in working hours.

In Barcelona, bus drivers took strike action for the reinstatement of Andreu de Cabo, sacked after filing an official complaint accusing the bus company of embezzlement and other irregularities. In the same city, 15 Telefónica workers are on a hunger strike for the readmission of a co-worker sacked after applying for medical leave and for the improvement of working conditions in the company.

In Madrid and Seville, workers at the multinational producer of sanitary products Roca went on a three-day strike against plans to eliminate 486 jobs. They are on indefinite strike and forced the unions to call off negotiations with the company, during which leading UGT official Julio Mateo stated: “If the [factory] plants have to remain idle we offer to make the necessary economic sacrifices.”

Last Wednesday, 2,000 judges, prosecutors and civil servants of the judiciary went on strike against new legal fees, the elimination of locum judges and the proposed reform of the CGPJ legal watchdog.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/02/27/spai-f27.html

Italian voters reject the European Union’s austerity measures

By Peter Schwarz 

27 February 2013

Italian voters have unambiguously rejected the politics of the Monti government and the European Union. This has triggered panic and outrage in Europe’s capitals and unleashed ferocious tremors on the international finance markets.

Some 55 percent of the electorate voted for parties that spoke out against the EU in their campaigns. The slate headed by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti, which was supported by Brussels, Berlin, the Catholic Church and numerous Italian businessmen, only received 10 percent of the vote.

The Five Stars Movement of the comedian Beppe Grillo has become the single strongest party in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Italian parliament, winning slightly more than 25 percent of the vote. It came just ahead of the Democratic Party of Pier Luigi Bersani. The joint slate of the Democratic Party and Sinistra Ecologia Libertà (SEL) is the strongest force in the lower house and is thus awarded 340 of the 630 seats under existing electoral law.

Grillo won support by raging against the EU and the entire political caste on his blog and on town squares. He heaped insults upon them, calling them irresponsible, incompetent and extravagant, and demanded, “They must all go.”

The election for the Chamber of Deputies was extremely close. The slate headed by media billionaire and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who had also opposed the EU, received just 0.4 percent fewer votes than Bersani’s slate. If Berlusconi had received 125,000 more votes, it would be he who now held the majority in the Chamber of Deputies.

The 29.5 percent vote for Bersani’s slate is significantly less than in the last election five years ago, which Berlusconi won. At that time, the Democrats won 33 percent themselves, and 38 percent for their combined slate with other parties.

No list has a majority in the upper house, the Senate, where the seats are not awarded nationally, but are based on the results of the twenty regions. Bersani won 119 seats, Berlusconi 117, Grillo 54 and Monti 18. Since all laws must be passed by both chambers of parliament, Bersani needs the support of Berlusconi or Grillo to form a working majority for his government.

This has led to outrage in the capitals of Europe and the media. “Italy is paralysed and ungovernable”, ran the comments in numerous editorials, which blamed the Italian electorate for this situation and berated them for it. Some read as if the author wanted to abolish free elections sooner rather than later.

For example, the Frankfurter Rundschau accused Italian voters of a “flight from reality”. “If one were being malicious, you might come to the idea that Italian voters were for sale”, the paper, which is close to Germany’s trade unions wrote. “They prefer the political show-boating of two entertainers like Berlusconi and Grillo to the sober analysis of the economic politician Mario Monti and the social democrat Pier Luigi Bersani, who do not hide the fact that the way out of the debt crisis is and will remain painful for everyone”.

In reality, Mario Monti is anything but a sober professor of economics. The former EU commissioner is a trusted steward of international finance capital. He has worked for the investment bank Goldman Sachs and was a board member of the Bilderberg Conference, an informal gathering of influential people in big business, the military, politics, the media, academia and the aristocracy.

Following his defeat, Monti will hardly play a role in the next Italian government. But it cannot be excluded that Bersani may reach an agreement with Berlusconi or Grillo to continue Monti’s austerity programme.

Berlusconi, who is primarily concerned with protecting his own wealth and ensuring his immunity in face of numerous criminal cases, has already sent the appropriate signals to Bersani. “Italy must not remain ungoverned, we must think about it”, he said on Tuesday in a TV interview, casting his glance towards the Democrats.

Grillo, despite his tirades against corrupt politicians and the wealthy, is one of the top earners in the country. In 2011, he paid taxes on an official income of €4.5 million, and said proudly: “I have really earned my money.”

Behind his populist tirades lies a right-wing liberal world view, which would not stop him from cosying up to the far right. Grillo insists that he is neither right-wing nor left-wing, and invited neo-Nazis and supporters of the racist Northern League to support his movement, “if they share our ideas”.

In the northern Italian city of Parma, where Grillo’s Five Stars Movement has held the office of mayor since May, it has made headlines mainly through implementing strict austerity measures.

Grillo’s programme is a muddled collection of unrelated demands, such as can be found with the Pirate Party, the Greens, and liberal and right-wing parties: free internet access for all, ecological energy, no money for defence and major transportation projects, benefits for all, protection of domestic industries from international competition, restriction of politicians’ salaries, cutting jobs in the state apparatus, and so on.

The fact that opposition to the austerity measures of Monti and the EU has benefited the populist Grillo and right-wing demagogue Berlusconi is a result of the utter bankruptcy of the so-called Italian left.

The Italian Communist Party (PCI), the largest in Western Europe, has defended the Italian state since the end of the Second World War. However, due to the Cold War and the party’s relationship with the Soviet Union, it was never in government; thus the PCI retained the hammer and sickle on its banner and enjoyed considerable support among workers.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it gave up these symbols and transformed itself first into a social democratic party and then, modelling itself on the Democrats in the US, into the Democratic Party. In the meantime, it has become the government party of choice not only of the Italian but also the European bourgeoisie.

Another wing of the PCI, hanging on to the old symbols, formed Rifondazione Comunista (PRC, Communist Refoundation) and absorbed numerous middle-class pseudo-left groups into its ranks. In the 1990s, the PRC was hailed throughout Europe as a model for new “left” parties. In fact, it used its considerable influence to secure a parliamentary majority for the anti-working class politics of several technocrat-led and centre-left governments.

In 2006, following Rifondazione’s entry into the government of Romano Prodi, a forerunner to Mario Monti, the PRC broke apart. Since then, none of the organizations that have emerged from the PRC have seriously challenged the politics of Monti, because they basically all agree with them.

In the 2008 parliamentary elections, Sinistra Critica, which belongs to the Pabloite United Secretariat, received 169,000 votes. This time, it opted not to participate in the elections in order not to take away any votes from Bersani. It justified this by saying that “today there is no political and organizational basis … for a broad anti-capitalist alliance”.

The PRC itself joined a slate with liberal and green parties under the leadership of the former anti-Mafia attorney Antonio Ingraio, which proclaimed the fight against corruption and criminality to be the priority, while social questions played hardly any role in its campaign. Ingraio’s slate received 765,000 votes but obtained no seats in parliament. Five years ago, a rainbow alliance led by PRC had received 1.12 million votes.

The Italian elections and the political crisis that they have triggered herald fierce social struggles in Italy and throughout Europe. To prepare for them, a new revolutionary party must be built in the Italian working class, which fights for an international socialist programme—an Italian section of the International Committee of the Fourth International.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/02/27/ital-f27.html

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