Monthly Archives: May 2013

Bush Administration Convicted of War Crimes – Dr. Francis Boyle #N3

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Syria: No wonder France and the UK were getting desperate

Syrian Rebels Massacre Christian Village

Imperialist powers threaten to escalate intervention as Assad beats back opposition

By Johannes Stern 
30 May 2013
The Syrian war is developing into a major international crisis, as Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime beats back the Western-backed Islamist opposition and plans for so-called “peace talks” brokered by Russia and the imperialist powers break down.
Yesterday on Al-Manar TV, which is affiliated to the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah, Assad announced that “the Syrian army has scored major victories against armed rebels on the ground, and the balance of power is now with the Syrian army.”
In recent weeks, the Syrian army supported by Hezbollah has launched an offensive to recapture the key strategic town of Qusayr, close to the Lebanese border, and driven back the rebels in other parts of the country.
Assad said there is “a world war being waged against Syria and the policy of [anti-Israeli] resistance … [but] we are very confident of victory.” He threatened “to retaliate for any Israeli aggression next time,” and suggested the possibility of renewed fighting in the Golan Heights, the border region between Syria and Israel occupied by Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967.
Assad warned that there is “is clear popular pressure to open the Golan front to resistance,” and that the Syrian government had received “many Arab delegations wanting to know how young people might be enrolled to come and fight Israel.”
Israel already targeted Syria with three air strikes over the last month—allegedly destroying Iranian missiles destined for Hezbollah that is backing Assad—and threatened more strikes against Syria if Russia deploys a S-300 air defence system to the country.
Asked about Russian weapons deliveries to Damascus, Assad answered that “Russia is committed with Syria in implementing these contracts. What we agreed upon with Russia will be implemented, and part of it has been implemented over the recent period, and we are continuing to implement it.”
There is much speculation in the Western media and amongst security officials over whether the delivery of the first shipment of S-300 air defence missiles has already had taken place.
On Tuesday, Russian Deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov had announced at a press conference in Moscow that Russia would go ahead with the delivery of the S-300 system to Syria, after the decision by the European powers to lift the arms embargo against Syria on Monday. The decision allows each European country to directly arm opposition forces.
The British Guardian quoted a high-ranking Israeli official: “There’s big confusion here – some people say the missiles are already there [in Syria], others are expected them to arrive at any moment. We are trying to find out exactly what the situation is but currently we just don’t know.” However, the official added, “this move will certainly change the whole dynamic [of Israeli involvement in the Syrian conflict]. This is mostly as a result of the EU’s reckless decision to lift the arms embargo.”
Major General Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser, added that strikes against the S-300 system threaten not only an Israeli war with Syria, but also with Russia: “If we do something soon after the transfer, we might have business not only with Syria but with the Russians. This is a real hot potato.”
Recently, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon had warned that if the shipments “do arrive in Syria, God forbid, we’ll know what to do.”
As the Syrian “rebels” lose ground, US-imperialism is reiterating its threats to install a “no-fly-zone” in Syria and increase its military support. At a press briefing on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney welcomed “the EU action” to lift the arms embargo against Syria, stressing that “the possibility of a no-fly-zone remains on the table.”
Amid this escalating crisis, plans for talks on Geneva over Syria have collapsed. The Western-backed opposition announced that it would not participate in the Geneva conference—a joint US-Russian initiative for talks between the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad and the opposition, scheduled for mid-June.
“The National Coalition will not take part in any international conference or any such efforts so long as the militias of Iran and Hezbollah continue their invasion of Syria,” the head of the opposition umbrella Syrian National Coalition (SNC), George Sabra, declared Thursday in Istanbul.
Pointing to the military advances by the Syrian army against the “rebels,” Sabra added that “in light of this savagery, any talk of an international conference or a political solution in Syria is just meaningless chatter.”
Assad, for his part, agreed “in principle” to participate in the so-called “Geneva peace conference”
“The only condition is that anything to be implemented will be submitted to Syrian public opinion and a Syrian referendum,” he added.
Defying calls by the imperialist powers and the Western-backed opposition to step down he vowed to stay in power until the next presidential elections in 2014 and announced that he “will not hesitate to stand again” if “there is any need” for his candidacy.
Facing a military defeat in Qusayr and without any significant support amongst the Syrian population, the “rebels” are issuing desperate appeals to their imperialist backers to escalate their intervention.
In a statement on Wednesday the SNC called on the EU to “solidify” its words by action and supply the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with “specialized weaponry to repel fierce attacks” by the regime forces.
The leader of the FSA, former Syrian general and defector, Salem Idris, made an appeal to the imperialist powers to intervene. On the BBC World Newshour program he declared: “We are dying. Please come and help us.” He warned of a possible “massacre” if the US and its allies did not intervene to assist him.
In reality, opposition forces are responsible for horrific crimes against the entire Syrian people. Earlier this week, UN high commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stated that accounts gathered by a UN monitoring team “suggest that armed groups have apparently used civilians as human shields and that abductions are increasing.” Other accounts “include allegations that certain opposition groups have forced young women and minor girls to marry combatants” and “reports of anti-government groups committing gruesome crimes such as torture and extrajudicial executions.”

The FBI murder of Ibragim Todashev—the man who knew too much?

By Bill Van Auken 
31 May 2013
FBI and other law enforcement officials revealed Wednesday that Ibragim Todashev, the 27-year-old Chechen immigrant who was shot and killed after being interrogated for days about the Boston Marathon bombings, had been unarmed.
The killing of Todashev, and the rapid disintegration of the government’s official story—that he was shot after lunging at interrogators with a knife—is an extraordinary event. It casts into further doubt everything that has been said so far about the Boston Marathon bombings.
The report that Todashev was unarmed was followed Thursday by a press conference in Moscow, where the murdered man’s father, Abdulbaki Todashev presented a series of photographs of his son’s body taken at a Florida morgue showing that he had been shot six times in the torso and once in the crown of his head.
“I would like to say that looking at these photos is like being in a movie,” he said. “I only saw things like that in movies; shooting a person, and then the kill shot. Six shots in the body, one of them in the head.”
He added: “Maybe my son knew something, some information the police did not want to be made public. Maybe they wanted to silence my son.”
Todashev, a mixed martial arts fighter, was acquainted with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston bombing suspect killed by police on April 19, as they were both ethnic Chechens and used the same gym when Todashev lived in the Boston area.
In breaking the story, the Washington Post reported that “An air of mystery has surrounded the FBI shooting” since it happened in Orlando, Florida on May 22. This is a gross understatement. The entire affair reeks to high heaven of an extra-legal execution and coverup.
The admission that the FBI shot to death an unarmed man led to calls by civil rights groups and Todashev’s widow and family for an independent investigation into the killing. The Council on American-Islamic Relations held a press conference in Orlando calling for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to launch a probe into how “an unarmed man who had not been charged or convicted of anything was shot seven times, once in the head.”
Meanwhile, at the press conference in Moscow, Zaurbek Sadakhanov of the Moscow Interterritorial Bar Association stated his belief that the case was one of extrajudicial execution and urged Todashev’s friend, who had taken the morgue photos, to return to Russia. “Being a witness in the US is not safe,” he said.
At the time of his death, Todashev had undergone prolonged interrogation by a team of FBI agents accompanied by Massachusetts state troopers and counterterrorism officials. The marathon questioning took place in Todashev’s own apartment, where he was held prisoner while denied representation by a lawyer.
After the killing, FBI and other police sources fed the media a story that Todashev had been shot after trying to attack an agent with a knife. Some media outlets went so far as to report that the young immigrant had stabbed an agent before he was brought down in a hail of gunfire, an amazing feat given that he had no knife.
All of this now is revealed as a deliberate lie that has been dutifully repeated by the media. The New York Times, it bears pointing out, has not published a single story on Todashev since the immediate aftermath of the killing in Orlando. As of late Thursday afternoon, the Times had not even posted an update on the acknowledgment that Todashev had been unarmed. No doubt, as on previously sensitive stories involving the national intelligence apparatus, someone from the Times editorial board was consulting with the White House, the FBI and other agencies on how best to handle the matter.
FBI and other police sources also put out the story that Todashev had verbally confessed that both he and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston bombing suspect, were responsible for a triple homicide that took place in Massachusetts in 2011. He was shot, the law enforcement sources claim, just before signing the alleged confession.
There is even less reason to believe this tale—also dutifully repeated as fact by the corporate media—than there was to accept the claims that Todashev had somehow concealed a knife from his heavily armed captors and then tried to attack them with it.
Todashev’s housemate, Khusen Taramov, has told the media that he had been questioned together with Todashev up until the last eight-hour session in which he was murdered. He said the issue of the murders in Massachusetts was never raised. “They were asking different questions like how did we meet these guys [the Boston bombing suspects Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his younger bother Dzhokhar], the kind of relationship we had with the guys.”
Similarly, Todashev’s widow, Reni Manukyan, 24, said that all of the questioning, to which she too was subjected, was about the Boston bombings, and no one asked her or her husband about the killings in 2011. “The interviews were always about Tsarnaev and the bombings,” she said. “How did we know him and what was the relationship with him.”
As Todashev’s father put it in an interview with the Boston Globe from Russia, “They killed my son and then they made up a reason to explain it.”
Why would the FBI and other intelligence and police officials lie about the killing of Todashev? The “air of mystery,” to use the Post’s phrase, surrounding this state murder is bound up with the unanswered questions and murky explanations for the Boston bombings themselves. The coldblooded killing in Orlando only underscores that nothing reported by government officials or the major media regarding this case can be accepted uncritically.
This includes the identity of the bombers themselves. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who survived the shoot out with police, has, according to his mother, spoken with her for the first time and has denied involvement in the bombing. Dzhokhar was severely injured after a boat he was hiding in, unarmed, was shot up by police. He is currently being held in a Massachusetts prison hospital facing the capital charge of using a weapon of mass destruction.
One thing is certain, as with the attacks of 9/11 and virtually every other real or manufactured terrorist incident since, the alleged perpetrators were known to US intelligence. In the case of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, it is known that Russian security officials alerted both the FBI and the CIA in 2011 to what they said was evident danger that he was involved with Islamist terrorism. There have also been reports that Russian agencies provided their US counterparts with a dossier on Tsarnaev’s contacts with such elements in 2012, following his six-month visit to the North Caucasus, and that Saudi authorities had issued a similar warning.
Yet, the FBI claimed it found nothing to warrant keeping open an investigation on Tsarnaev, and he was allowed to return from the Russian region, which includes Chechnya, where Islamist separatists waged two wars with Russian forces in the 1990s, without being questioned by immigration, customs or other officials.
Moreover, the FBI failed to share any of the information that it received about Tsarnaev with either state or local police in Massachusetts, despite working together with them on a joint terror task force.
Now, it emerges that one of the only individuals in the US who could have potentially shed light on Tsarnaev’s ties to Chechnya was shot to death execution-style by US agents.
Was it a case of a man who knew too much? Could Tsarnaev have shared information with Todashev that compromised covert operations by US intelligence?
The involvement of US intelligence agencies both in promoting Islamist separatist forces in the former Soviet Union and utilizing such forces as proxy troops in countries like Libya and Syria is well known. Is it possible that Tamerlan Tsarnaev became involved somehow in these links?
On the other hand, virtually every major terror incident on US soil since 9/11 has been orchestrated by the FBI using agent provocateurs, who provided everything needed to carry out an attack before arresting their patsies and announcing another victory in the “war on terrorism.” Was this such a staged incident that got out of hand, or, perhaps, allowed to proceed?
The Boston bombings served as the pretext for carrying out an unprecedented lockdown of an entire US metropolitan area in which basic democratic rights were suspended and security forces carried out what amounted to a dry run for a military coup.
The FBI murder of Ibragim Todashev is symptomatic of a country in which the military and intelligence apparatus exerts ever greater control, and the democratic rights of working people, the great majority of the population, are under relentless assault. Such state killings are a warning that preparations for dictatorial forms of rule are already well advanced in America.

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Imperialism, Syria, and the threat of world war

Syria’s Opposition Won’t Attend International Peace Talks

“Rebels” Don’t Want Peace


NBC – Video

The best hope yet for ending Syria’s civil war has suffered a serious setback. The main opposition group said it would not take part in talks in Geneva in the coming weeks. President Assad says he would send negotiators, but he did not talk up the prospects for peace in a TV interview this evening. He says Russia is still supplying him with weapons. ITV’s Bill Neely reports.

Posted May 31, 2013
 

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President Bashar Al-Assad full interview with the Lebanese al-Manar TV

Video and Transcript
May 31, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – Israel’s support of the terrorists was for two purposes. The first is to stifle the resistance; the second is to strike the Syrian air defense systems. It is not interested in anything else.
Following is the full text of the interview: May 30,2013
Al-Manar: In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Assalamu Alaikum. Bloodshed in Syria continues unabated. This is the only constant over which there is little disagreement between those loyal to the Syrian state and those opposed to it. However, there is no common ground over the other constants and details two years into the current crisis. At the time, a great deal was said about the imminent fall of the regime. Deadlines were set and missed; and all those bets were lost. Today, we are here in the heart of Damascus, enjoying the hospitality of a president who has become a source of consternation to many of his opponents who are still unable to understand the equations that have played havoc with their calculations and prevented his ouster from the Syrian political scene. This unpleasant and unexpected outcome for his opponents upset their schemes and plots because they didn’t take into account one self-evident question: what happens if the regime doesn’t fall? What if President Assad doesn’t leave the Syrian scene? Of course, there are no clear answers; and the result is more destruction, killing and bloodshed. Today there is talk of a critical juncture for Syria. The Syrian Army has moved from defense to attack, achieving one success after another. On a parallel level, stagnant diplomatic waters have been shaken by discussions over a Geneva 2 conference becoming a recurrent theme in the statements of all parties. There are many questions which need answers: political settlement, resorting to the military option to decide the outcome, the Israeli enemy’s direct interference with the course of events in the current crisis, the new equations on the Golan Heights, the relationship with opponents and friends. What is the Syrian leadership’s plan for a way out of a complex and dangerous crisis whose ramifications have started to spill over into neighboring countries? It is our great pleasure tonight to put these questions to H. E. President Bashar al-Assad. Assalamu Alaikum, Mr. President.
President Assad: Assalamu Alaikum. You are most welcome in Damascus.
Al-Manar: Mr. President, we are in the heart of the People’s Palace, two and a half years into the Syrian crisis. At the time, the bet was that the president and his regime would be overthrown within weeks. How have you managed to foil the plots of your opponents and enemies? What is the secret behind this steadfastness?
President Assad: There are a number of factors are involved. One is the Syrian factor, which thwarted their intentions; the other factor is related to those who masterminded these scenarios and ended up defeating themselves because they do not know Syria or understand in detail the situation. They started with the calls of revolution, but a real revolution requires tangible elements; you cannot create a revolution simply by paying money. When this approach failed, they shifted to using sectarian slogans in order to create a division within our society. Even though they were able to infiltrate certain pockets in Syrian society, pockets of ignorance and lack of awareness that exist in any society, they were not able to create this sectarian division. Had they succeeded, Syria would have been divided up from the beginning. They also fell into their own trap by trying to promote the notion that this was a struggle to maintain power rather than a struggle for national sovereignty. No one would fight and martyr themselves in order to secure power for anyone else.
Al-Manar: In the battle for the homeland, it seems that the Syrian leadership, and after two and a half years, is making progress on the battlefield. And here if I might ask you, why have you chosen to move from defense to attack? And don’t you think that you have been late in taking the decision to go on the offensive, and consequently incurred heavy losses, if we take of Al-Qseir as an example.
President Assad: It is not a question of defense or attack. Every battle has its own tactics. From the beginning, we did not deal with each situation from a military perspective alone. We also factored in the social and political aspects as well – many Syrians were misled in the beginning and there were many friendly countries that didn’t understand the domestic dynamics. Your actions will differ according to how much consensus there is over a particular issue. There is no doubt that as events have unfolded Syrians have been able to better understand the situation and what is really at stake. This has helped the Armed Forces to better carry out their duties and achieve results. So, what is happening now is not a shift in tactic from defense to attack, but rather a shift in the balance of power in favor of the Armed Forces.
Al-Manar: How has this balance been tipped, Mr. President? Syria is being criticized for asking for the assistance of foreign fighters, and to be fully candid, it is said that Hezbollah fighters are extending assistance. In a previous interview, you said that there are 23 million Syrians; we do not need help from anyone else. What is Hezbollah doing in Syria?
President Assad: The main reason for tipping the balance is the change in people’s opinion in areas that used to incubate armed groups, not necessarily due to lack of patriotism on their part, but because they were deceived. They were led to believe that there was a revolution against the failings of the state. This has changed; many individuals have left these terrorist groups and have returned to their normal lives. As to what is being said about Hezbollah and the participation of foreign fighters alongside the Syrian Army, this is a hugely important issue and has several factors. Each of these factors should be clearly understood. Hezbollah, the battle at Al-Qseir and the recent Israeli airstrike – these three factors cannot be looked at in isolation of the other, they are all a part of the same issue. Let’s be frank. In recent weeks, and particularly after Mr. Hasan Nasrallah’s speech, Arab and foreign media have said that Hezbollah fighters are fighting in Syria and defending the Syrian state, or to use their words “the regime.” Logically speaking, if Hezbollah or the resistance wanted to defend Syria by sending fighters, how many could they send – a few hundred, a thousand or two? We are talking about a battle in which hundreds of thousands of Syrian troops are involved against tens of thousands of terrorists, if not more because of the constant flow of fighters from neighboring and foreign countries that support those terrorists. So clearly, the number of fighters Hezbollah might contribute in order to defend the Syrian state in its battle, would be a drop in the ocean compared to the number of Syrian soldiers fighting the terrorists. When also taking into account the vast expanse of Syria, these numbers will neither protect a state nor ‘regime.’ This is from one perspective. From another, if they say they are defending the state, why now? Battles started after Ramadan in 2011 and escalated into 2012, the summer of 2012 to be precise. They started the battle to “liberate Damascus” and set a zero hour for the first time, the second time and a third time; the four generals were assassinated, a number of individuals fled Syria, and many people believed that was the time the state would collapse. It didn’t. Nevertheless, during all of these times, Hezbollah never intervened, so why would it intervene now? More importantly, why haven’t we seen Hezbollah fighting in Damascus and Aleppo? The more significant battles are in Damascus and in Aleppo, not in Al-Qseir. Al-Qseir is a small town in Homs, why haven’t we seen Hezbollah in the city of Homs? Clearly, all these assumptions are inaccurate. They say Al-Qseir is a strategic border town, but all the borders are strategic for the terrorists in order to smuggle in their fighters and weapons. So, all these propositions have nothing to do with Hezbollah. If we take into account the moans and groans of the Arab media, the statements made by Arab and foreign officials – even Ban Ki-moon expressed concern over Hezbollah in Al-Qseir – all of this is for the objective of suppressing and stifling the resistance. It has nothing to do with defending the Syrian state. The Syrian army has made significant achievements in Damascus, Aleppo, rural Damascus and many other areas; however, we haven’t heard the same moaning as we have heard in Al-Qseir.
Al-Manar: But, Mr. President, the nature of the battle that you and Hezbollah are waging in Al-Qseir seems, to your critics, to take the shape of a safe corridor connecting the coastal region with Damascus. Consequently, if Syria were to be divided, or if geographical changes were to be enforced, this would pave the way for an Alawite state. So, what is the nature of this battle, and how is it connected with the conflict with Israel.
President Assad: First, the Syrian and Lebanese coastal areas are not connected through Al-Qseir. Geographically this is not possible. Second, nobody would fight a battle in order to move towards separation. If you opt for separation, you move towards that objective without waging battles all over the country in order to be pushed into a particular corner. The nature of the battle does not indicate that we are heading for division, but rather the opposite, we are ensuring we remain a united country. Our forefathers rejected the idea of division when the French proposed this during their occupation of Syria because at the time they were very aware of its consequences. Is it possible or even fathomable that generations later, we their children, are less aware or mindful? Once again, the battle in Al-Qseir and all the bemoaning is related to Israel. The timing of the battle in Al-Qseir was synchronized with the Israeli airstrike. Their objective is to stifle the resistance. This is the same old campaign taking on a different form. Now what’s important is not al-Qseir as a town, but the borders; they want to stifle the resistance from land and from the sea. Here the question begs itself – some have said that the resistance should face the enemy and consequently remain in the south. This was said on May 7, 2008, when some of Israel’s agents in Lebanon tried to tamper with the communications system of the resistance; they claimed that the resistance turned its weapons inwards. They said the same thing about the Syrian Army; that the Syrian Army should fight on the borders with Israel. We have said very clearly that our Army will fight the enemy wherever it is. When the enemy is in the north, we move north; the same applies if the enemy comes from the east or the west. This is also the case for Hezbollah. So the question is why is Hezbollah deployed on the borders inside Lebanon or inside Syria? The answer is that our battle is a battle against the Israeli enemy and its proxies inside Syria or inside Lebanon.
Al-Manar: Mr. President, if I might ask about Israel’s involvement in the Syrian crisis through the recent airstrike against Damascus. Israel immediately attached certain messages to this airstrike by saying it doesn’t want escalation or doesn’t intend to interfere in the Syrian crisis. The question is: what does Israel want and what type of interference?
President Assad: This is exactly my point. Everything that is happening at the moment is aimed, first and foremost, at stifling the resistance. Israel’s support of the terrorists was for two purposes. The first is to stifle the resistance; the second is to strike the Syrian air defense systems. It is not interested in anything else.
Al-Manar: Mr. President, since Israel’s objectives are clear, the Syrian state was criticized for its muted response. Everyone was expecting a Syrian response, and the Syrian government stated that it reserves the right to respond at the appropriate time and place. Why didn’t the response come immediately? And is it enough for a senior source to say that missiles have been directed at the Israeli enemy and that any attack will be retaliated immediately without resorting to Army command?
President Assad: We have informed all the Arab and foreign parties – mostly foreign – that contacted us, that we will respond the next time. Of course, there has been more than one response. There have been several Israeli attempted violations to which there was immediate retaliation. But these short-term responses have no real value; they are only of a political nature. If we want to respond to Israel, the response will be of strategic significance.
Al-Manar: How? By opening the Golan front, for instance?
President Assad: This depends on public opinion, whether there is a consensus in support of the resistance or not. That’s the question. Al-Manar: How is the situation in Syria now?
President Assad: In fact, there is clear popular pressure to open the Golan front to resistance. This enthusiasm is also on the Arab level; we have received many Arab delegations wanting to know how young people might be enrolled to come and fight Israel. Of course, resistance is not easy. It is not merely a question of opening the front geographically. It is a political, ideological, and social issue, with the net result being military action.
Al-Manar: Mr. President, if we take into account the incident on the Golan Heights and Syria’s retaliation on the Israeli military vehicle that crossed the combat line, does this mean that the rules of engagement have changed? And if the rules of the game have changed, what is the new equation, so to speak?
President Assad: Real change in the rules of engagement happens when there is a popular condition pushing for resistance. Any other change is short-term, unless we are heading towards war. Any response of any kind might only appear to be a change to the rules of engagement, but I don’t think it really is. The real change is when the people move towards resistance; this is the really dramatic change.
Al-Manar: Don’t you think that this is a little late? After 40 years of quiet and a state of truce on the Golan Heights, now there is talk of a movement on that front, about new equations and about new rules of the game?
President Assad: They always talk about Syria opening the front or closing the front. A state does not create resistance. Resistance can only be called so, when it is popular and spontaneous, it cannot be created. The state can either support or oppose the resistance, – or create obstacles, as is the case with some Arab countries. I believe that a state that opposes the will of its people for resistance is reckless. The issue is not that Syria has decided, after 40 years, to move in this direction. The public’s state of mind is that our National Army is carrying out its duties to protect and liberate our land. Had there not been an army, as was the situation in Lebanon when the army and the state were divided during the civil war, there would have been resistance a long time ago. Today, in the current circumstances, there are a number of factors pushing in that direction. First, there are repeated Israeli aggressions that constitute a major factor in creating this desire and required incentive. Second, the army’s engagement in battles in more than one place throughout Syria has created a sentiment on the part of many civilians that it is their duty to move in this direction in order to support the Armed Forces on the Golan.
Al-Manar: Mr. President, Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would not hesitate to attack Syria if it detected that weapons are being conveyed to Hezbollah in Lebanon. If Israel carried out its threats, I want a direct answer from you: what would Syria do?
President Assad: As I have said, we have informed the relevant states that we will respond in kind. Of course, it is difficult to specify the military means that would be used, that is for our military command to decide. We plan for different scenarios, depending on the circumstances and the timing of the strike that would determine which method or weapons.
Al-Manar: Mr. President, after the airstrike that targeted Damascus, there was talk about the S300 missiles and that this missile system will tip the balance. Based on this argument, Netanyahu visited Moscow. My direct question is this: are these missiles on their way to Damascus? Is Syria now in possession of these missiles?
President Assad: It is not our policy to talk publically about military issues in terms of what we possess or what we receive. As far as Russia is concerned, the contracts have nothing to do with the crisis. We have negotiated with them on different kinds of weapons for years, and Russia is committed to honoring these contracts. What I want to say is that neither Netanyahu’s visit nor the crisis and the conditions surrounding it have influenced arms imports. All of our agreements with Russia will be implemented, some have been implemented during the past period and, together with the Russians, we will continue to implement these contracts in the future.
Al-Manar: Mr. President, we have talked about the steadfastness of the Syrian leadership and the Syrian state. We have discussed the progress being achieved on the battlefield, and strengthening the alliance between Syria and the resistance. These are all within the same front. From another perspective, there is diplomatic activity stirring waters that have been stagnant for two and a half years. Before we talk about this and about the Geneva conference and the red lines that Syria has drawn, there was a simple proposition or a simple solution suggested by the former head of the coalition, Muaz al-Khatib. He said that the president, together with 500 other dignitaries would be allowed to leave the country within 20 days, and the crisis would be over. Why don’t you meet this request and put an end to the crisis?
President Assad: I have always talked about the basic principle: that the Syrian people alone have the right to decide whether the president should remain or leave. So, anybody speaking on this subject should state which part of the Syrian people they represent and who granted them the authority to speak on their behalf. As for this initiative, I haven’t actually read it, but I was very happy that they allowed me 20 days and 500 people! I don’t know who proposed the initiative; I don’t care much about names.
Al-Manar: He actually said that you would be given 20 days, 500 people, and no guarantees. You’ll be allowed to leave but with no guarantee whatsoever on whether legal action would be taken against you or not. Mr. President, this brings us to the negotiations, I am referring to Geneva 2. The Syrian government and leadership have announced initial agreement to take part in this conference. If this conference is held, there will be a table with the Syrian flag on one side and the flag of the opposition groups on the other. How can you convince the Syrian people after two and a half years of crisis that you will sit face to face at the same negotiating table with these groups?
President Assad: First of all, regarding the flag, it is meaningless without the people it represents. When we put a flag on a table or anywhere else, we talk about the people represented by that flag. This question can be put to those who raise flags they call Syrian but are different from the official Syrian flag. So, this flag has no value when it does not represent the people. Secondly, we will attend this conference as the official delegation and legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. But, whom do they represent? When the conference is over, we return to Syria, we return home to our people. But when the conference is over, whom do they return to – five-star hotels? Or to the foreign ministries of the states that they represent – which doesn’t include Syria of course – in order to submit their reports? Or do they return to the intelligence services of those countries? So, when we attend this conference, we should know very clearly the positions of some of those sitting at the table – and I say some because the conference format is not clear yet and as such we do not have details as to how the patriotic Syrian opposition will be considered or the other opposition parties in Syria. As for the opposition groups abroad and their flag, we know that we are attending the conference not to negotiate with them, but rather with the states that back them; it will appear as though we are negotiating with the slaves, but essentially we are negotiating with their masters. This is the truth, we shouldn’t deceive ourselves.
Al-Manar: Are you, in the Syrian leadership, convinced that these negotiations will be held next month?
President Assad: We expect them to happen, unless they are obstructed by other states. As far as we are concerned in Syria, we have announced a couple of days ago that we agree in principle to attend.
Al-Manar: When you say in principle, it seems that you are considering other options.
President Assad: In principle, we are in favour of the conference as a notion, but there are no details yet. For example, will there be conditions placed before the conference? If so, these conditions may be unacceptable and we would not attend. So the idea of the conference, of a meeting, in principle is a good one. We will have to wait and see.
Al-Manar: Let’s talk, Mr. President, about the conditions put by the Syrian leadership. What are Syria’s conditions?
President Assad: Simply put, our only condition is that anything agreed upon in any meeting inside or outside the country, including the conference, is subject to the approval of the Syrian people through a popular referendum. This is the only condition. Anything else doesn’t have any value. That is why we are comfortable with going to the conference. We have no complexes. Either side can propose anything, but nothing can be implemented without the approval of the Syrian people. And as long as we are the legitimate representatives of the people, we have nothing to fear.
Al-Manar: Let’s be clear, Mr. President. There is a lot of ambiguity in Geneva 1 and Geneva 2 about the transitional period and the role of President Bashar al-Assad in that transitional period. Are you prepared to hand over all your authorities to this transitional government? And how do you understand this ambiguous term?
President Assad: This is what I made clear in the initiative I proposed in January this year. They say they want a transitional government in which the president has no role. In Syria we have a presidential system, where the President is head of the republic and the Prime Minister heads the government. They want a government with broad authorities. The Syrian constitution gives the government full authorities. The president is the commander-in-chief of the Army and Armed Forces and the head of the Supreme Judicial Council. All the other institutions report directly to the government. Changing the authorities of the president is subject to changing the constitution; the president cannot just relinquish his authorities, he doesn’t have the constitutional right. Changing the constitution requires a popular referendum. When they want to propose such issues, they might be discussed in the conference, and when we agree on something – if we agree, we return home and put it to a popular referendum and then move on. But for them to ask for the amendment of the constitution in advance, this cannot be done neither by the president nor by the government.
Al-Manar: Frankly, Mr. President, all the international positions taken against you and all your political opponents said that they don’t want a role for al-Assad in Syria’s future. This is what the Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal said and this is what the Turks and the Qataris said, and also the Syrian opposition. Will President Assad be nominated for the forthcoming presidential elections in 2014?
President Assad: What I know is that Saud al-Faisal is a specialist in American affairs, I don’t know if he knows anything about Syrian affairs. If he wants to learn, that’s fine! As to the desires of others, I repeat what I have said earlier: the only desires relevant are those of the Syrian people. With regards to the nomination, some parties have said that it is preferable that the president shouldn’t be nominated for the 2014 elections. This issue will be determined closer to the time; it is still too early to discuss this. When the time comes, and I feel, through my meetings and interactions with the Syrian people, that there is a need and public desire for me to nominate myself, I will not hesitate. However, if I feel that the Syrian people do not want me to lead them, then naturally I will not put myself forward. They are wasting their time on such talk.
Al-Manar: Mr. President, you mentioned the Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal. This makes me ask about Syria’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, with Qatar, with Turkey, particularly if we take into account that their recent position in the Arab ministerial committee was relatively moderate. They did not directly and publically call for the ouster of President Assad. Do you feel any change or any support on the part of these countries for a political solution to the Syrian crisis? And is Syria prepared to deal once more with the Arab League, taking into account that the Syrian government asked for an apology from the Arab League?
President Assad: Concerning the Arab states, we see brief changes in their rhetoric but not in their actions. The countries that support the terrorists have not changed; they are still supporting terrorism to the same extent. Turkey also has not made any positive steps. As for Qatar, their role is also the same, the role of the funder – the bank funding the terrorists and supporting them through Turkey. So, overall, no change. As for the Arab League, in Syria we have never pinned our hopes on the Arab League. Even in the past decades, we were barely able to dismantle the mines set for us in the different meetings, whether in the summits or in meetings of the foreign ministers. So in light of this and its recent actions, can we really expect it to play a role? We are open to everybody, we never close our doors. But we should also be realistic and face the truth that they are unable to offer anything, particularly since a significant number of the Arab states are not independent. They receive their orders from the outside. Some of them are sympathetic to us in their hearts, but they cannot act on their feelings because they are not in possession of their decisions. So, no, we do not pin any hopes on the Arab League.
Al-Manar: Mr. President, this leads us to ask: if the Arab environment is as such, and taking into account the developments on the ground and the steadfastness, the Geneva conference and the negotiations, the basic question is: what if the political negotiations fail? What are the consequences of the failure of political negotiations?
President Assad: This is quite possible, because there are states that are obstructing the meeting in principle, and they are going only to avoid embarrassment. They are opposed to any dialogue whether inside or outside Syria. Even the Russians, in several statements, have dampened expectations from this conference. But we should also be accurate in defining this dialogue, particularly in relation to what is happening on the ground. Most of the factions engaged in talking about what is happening in Syria have no influence on the ground; they don’t even have direct relationships with the terrorists. In some instances these terrorists are directly linked with the states that are backing them, in other cases, they are mere gangs paid to carry out terrorist activities. So, the failure of the conference will not significantly change the reality inside Syria, because these states will not stop supporting the terrorists – conference or no conference, and the gangs will not stop their subversive activities. So it has no impact on them.
Al-Manar: Mr. President, the events in Syria are spilling over to neighboring countries. We see what’s happening in Iraq, the explosions in Al-Rihaniye in Turkey and also in Lebanon. In Ersal, Tripoli, Hezbollah taking part in the fighting in Al-Qseir. How does Syria approach the situation in Lebanon, and do you think the Lebanese policy of dissociation is still applied or accepted?
President Assad: Let me pose some questions based on the reality in Syria and in Lebanon about the policy of dissociation in order not to be accused of making a value judgment on whether this policy is right or wrong. Let’s start with some simple questions: Has Lebanon been able to prevent Lebanese interference in Syria? Has it been able to prevent the smuggling of terrorists or weapons into Syria or providing a safe haven for them in Lebanon? It hasn’t; in fact, everyone knows that Lebanon has contributed negatively to the Syrian crisis. Most recently, has Lebanon been able to protect itself against the consequences of the Syrian crisis, most markedly in Tripoli and the missiles that have been falling over different areas of Beirut or its surroundings? It hasn’t. So what kind of dissociation are we talking about? For Lebanon to dissociate itself from the crisis is one thing, and for the government to dissociate itself is another. When the government dissociates itself from a certain issue that affects the interests of the Lebanese people, it is in fact dissociating itself from the Lebanese citizens. I’m not criticizing the Lebanese government – I’m talking about general principles. I don’t want it to be said that I’m criticizing this government. If the Syrian government were to dissociate itself from issues that are of concern to the Syrian people, it would also fail. So in response to your question with regards to Lebanon’s policy of dissociation, we don’t believe this is realistically possible. When my neighbor’s house is on fire, I cannot say that it’s none of my business because sooner or later the fire will spread to my house.
Al-Manar: Mr. President, what would you say to the supporters of the axis of resistance? We are celebrating the anniversary of the victory of the resistance and the liberation of south Lebanon, in an atmosphere of promises of victory, which Mr. Hasan Nasrallah has talked about. You are saying with great confidence that you will emerge triumphant from this crisis. What would you say to all this audience? Are we about to reach the end of this dark tunnel?
President Assad: I believe that the greatest victory achieved by the Arab resistance movements in the past years and decades is primarily an intellectual victory. This resistance wouldn’t have been able to succeed militarily if they hadn’t been able to succeed and stand fast against a campaign aimed at distorting concepts and principles in this region. Before the civil war in Lebanon, some people used to say that Lebanon’s strength lies in its weakness; this is similar to saying that a man’s intelligence lies in his stupidity, or that honor is maintained through corruption. This is an illogical contradiction. The victories of the resistance at different junctures proved that this concept is not true, and it showed that Lebanon’s weakness lies in its weakness and Lebanon’s strength lies in its strength. Lebanon’s strength is in its resistance and these resistance fighters you referred to. Today, more than ever before, we are in need of these ideas, of this mindset, of this steadfastness and of these actions carried out by the resistance fighters. The events in the Arab world during the past years have distorted concepts to the extent that some Arabs have forgotten that the real enemy is still Israel and have instead created internal, sectarian, regional or national enemies. Today we pin our hopes on these resistance fighters to remind the Arab people, through their achievements, that our enemy is still the same. As for my confidence in victory, if we weren’t so confident we wouldn’t have been able to stand fast or to continue this battle after two years of a global attack. This is not a tripartite attack like the one in 1956; it is in fact a global war waged against Syria and the resistance. We have absolute confidence in our victory, and I assure them that Syria will always remain, even more so than before, supportive of the resistance and resistance fighters everywhere in the Arab world.
Al-Manar: In conclusion, it has been my great honor to conduct this interview with Your Excellency, President Bashar al-Assad of the Syrian Arab Republic. Thank you very much. President Assad: You are welcome. I would like to congratulate Al-Manar channel, the channel of resistance, on the anniversary of the liberation and to congratulate the Lebanese people and every resistance fighter in Lebanon.
Al-Manar: Thank you.

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Western States Pouring Fuel on The Syrian Crisis

By Finian Cunningham
May 31, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – How to describe the actions of Britain and France towards Syria and by extension, the wider Middle East and Africa regions?
This week, the insane British and French mis-rulers gave notice that they intend pouring fuel on the Syrian crisis – a crisis that they largely instigated – by openly sending more heavy weapons to the Western-backed mercenaries tearing that country apart. 
It should be patently obvious that the murderous rampage against Syrian civilians that is entering its third year could not be sustained if it were not for the relentless Western government and media support. Now this Western remote-control killing machine is to be fitted with a higher murderous gear, thanks to the diplomatic engineering of Britain and France in removing the European arms embargo on Syria. 
This is the conduct of arsonists who rush to a fire that they have started, and while claiming to be firefighters, these same protagonists are laden with more inflammable material undeterred by the sound of screaming voices. 
The truly insane thing about these criminal European regimes is that the evil fruit of their nefarious work is rampant not just in Syria, but contemporaneously across the Middle East and Africa. 
London and Paris finally got their way in goading the European Union to officially lift the arms embargo on Syria, paving the way for Britain and France to begin funneling weapons to the Al Qaeda-linked militants doing the West’s bidding to sabotage the government of President Bashar al Assad and effect the long-held objective of regime change in Syria. 
Britain and France are cynically maintaining the ridiculous fiction that this increased weapons supply will bring peace to Syria – in the face of overwhelming evidence that such a move will do the exact opposite. 
Moreover, the increased British and French firepower to myriad self-styled jihadist brigades in Syria threatens to escalate sectarian bloodshed across the entire Middle East, pulling Lebanon, Iraq and other countries into an all-out internecine conflagration. 
This is not a prediction. It is a description of what is already happening as a result of the criminal foreign policies of London, Paris, Washington and their regional allies.
On Tuesday, the day after Brussels lifted its arms embargo on Syria, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was in the West African country of Niger warning about the perils of “international terrorism” and how the North and West African states must “pull together to defeat this threat.” Fabius (and Britain’s Hague) should be renamed “minister for foreign arson.
Last week, Niger was the scene of a deadly twin suicide attack in which 35 people, including 10 militants, were killed. The attacks on a Niger army barracks in the city of Agadez and a French-owned uranium mine in Arlit are believed to the first such terrorist incidents in that country since its independence from the former colonial ruler, France, in 1960. 
Fabius claimed that the militants behind the twin assaults launched their attacks from southern Libya. This was also the view of Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou. Despite a denial by the Libyan government of any such link, it is plausible that the militant groups behind the attacks in Niger have at least been materially galvanized by the various NATO-backed jihadist brigades that overthrew the Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi at the end of 2011. 
The double bombings last week in Niger were claimed to be a joint operation by the Movement for Oneness and Justice in West Africa (MUJWA) and the Signed in Blood group led by Moktar Belmoktar. Both organizations are self-declared affiliates of Al Qaeda in the Maghreb and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). 
The latter led the NATO regime-change operation, starting in early 2011, against Libya’s Gaddafi with weapons and money supplied by NATO powers and their Persian Gulf Wahhabi allies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. NATO also provided the seven-month aerial bombardment campaign that was crucial for the Libyan jihadists’ defeat of Gaddafi. This is the same nefarious nexus that is ripping Syria asunder.
NATO’s regime-change operation in Libya has since created a lawless country overrun by fractious militia, where even the former Western sponsors of the militia are no longer safe. The killing of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi in September 2012 is perhaps the most graphic indicator of the mayhem that the NATO powers have unleashed on Libya, formerly one of Africa’s most developed states. Since then, British and French consular sites and personnel have also come under attack and their staff have had to be withdrawn from that North African country.
This is a foretaste of the kind of chaos that will escalate in Syria and the wider region now that Britain and France have opened the floodgates for arming the like-minded Wahhabi mercenaries in Syria. President Assad predicted this very outcome several months ago, and he was derided for it by the Western regimes and their propaganda media. 
It is credibly reported that the Libyan jihadists have been major suppliers of NATO and Wahhabi Arab weaponry into Syria. They have also sent fighters to join the estimated 10,000-20,000 foreign mercenaries marauding in Syria. 
The NATO-Arab weapons supplied to Libya to oust Gaddafi have also found their way to the ideologically similar groups that span the vast Maghreb, Sahel and Sahara terrains. It was these arms and fighters that energized the Islamist MUJWA and Ansar Dine that took over northern Mali early last year. 
France mounted a full-scale troop invasion and aerial bombing campaign in Mali on 11 January this year allegedly to defeat “Islamist extremists” threatening the sovereignty of its former Malian colony. Securing the rich uranium and other mineral resources of Mali, as in Niger, are of course the real Western agenda. 
The same groups, along with Belmoktar’s Signed in Blood, were involved in the deadly siege of the Amenas gas plant in Algeria in January earlier this year, in which 37 workers were killed. That siege was said to be in retribution for France’s military intervention in Mali “to liberate the northern territory.” 
Now these same groups are behind the twin bombings in Niger, which destroyed a central part of the uranium mine owned by French company, Areva. The attackers said it was also revenge for the ongoing French military operations in neighboring Mali.
How clear does it have to get before the European public start to connect the criminal reality of their political rulers? These so-called governments in London and Paris are nothing but a gang of arsonists, setting whole countries on fire with explosive repercussions – all fuelled by reckless imperialist self-interest.
Like the fire-bombing tactics of cities during the Second World War by Western criminal regimes, these present-day terrorist fires in the Middle East and Africa, once unleashed, are becoming self-reinforcing and out of control. What’s more, through unremitting economic austerity, these mis-rulers are, in effect, extorting public welfare money from workers, unemployed, the elderly and sick to pay for their criminal conflagration abroad.
Finian Cunningham is a prominent expert in international affairs. The author and media commentator was expelled from Bahrain in June 2011 for his critical journalism in which he highlighted human rights violations by the Western-backed regime. He is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in journalism. He is based in East Africa where he is writing a book on Bahrain and the Arab Spring. He co-hosts a weekly current affairs programme, Sunday at 3pm GMT on Bandung Radio

This article was originally published at Press TV

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How We Lost The Syrian Revolution

John McCain: War Hero Or War Criminal?

By Philip Giraldi
May 31, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – Two time Medal of Honor recipient Marine Major General Smedley Butler once saidwar is a racket.” He might have added that while enriching the few it victimizes and degrades everyone else who is caught up in the meat grinder, soldiers as well as civilians.
Consider how accounts of soldiers who are captured and subsequently turn on their own country are as old as warfare. American soldiers taken prisoner are only supposed to provide their names, ranks, and serial numbers to their captors though in practice many find themselves agreeing with their interrogators or even signing confessions to avoid abuse or obtain better conditions in their prisons. A number of American prisoners were described as having been “brainwashed” during the Korean War, the expression initially suggesting that they had been subject to psychological conditioning and indoctrination that made them question their loyalties and which subsequently produced episodes of aberrant behavior. In some cases the psychological conditioning was combined with physical torture, but in most cases not. In nearly all cases the victims later recanted the confessions they provided to their captors, were despondent over what they had done and said while under North Korean and Chinese control, and sometimes had difficulty in readjusting to life in the United States.
Vietnam also produced its own crop of American prisoners of war, numbering perhaps as many as 2,000 when the Paris peace talks started in 1973. One of them was John McCain, now a reliably hawkish Senator from Arizona who has recently visited Syria in an attempt to jump start a new war in the Middle East. While it is well known that McCain was a captive of the North Vietnamese for more than five years after his plane was shot down while bombing a power plant, considerably less well known is his behavior while a prisoner of war in Hanoi which has long been the object of some speculation due to allegations of possible cooperation with his captors. McCain, who was saved from drowning by a Vietnamese civilian and was treated at a Hanoi hospital for his wounds, was the son of the Admiral commanding the Pacific Fleet, so he was what might be referred to as a high value captive for the North Vietnamese regime. As such he received considerable attention from his captors, was referred to by his fellow prisoners as the “Crown Prince,” and was, by some accounts, handled with kid gloves. And his connections may have ensured that he would receive additional high value treatment from the Pentagon upon his return to the U.S., he being awarded an astonishing Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his 22 missions spent bombing mostly civilian targets in North Vietnam.
McCain’s own tale of his torture and the confession he recorded for the North Vietnamese comes largely from his book Faith of My Fathers, in which he describes his shame at cooperating with the enemy. But some of McCain’s fellow prisoners, who were tortured and did not collaborate, have challenged his narrative, expressing their belief that McCain was not physically abused at all and that he was well treated. Others who were also in the prison camp dispute that claim. But by McCain’s own account he may have beguncooperating with the North Vietnamese within three days of his capture and was fully on board within two weeks, providing specific intelligence on his aircraft carrier, its aircraft, and the support vessels attached to it, information that was later featured in North Vietnamese radio broadcasts. One account that appeared on a wire service entitled “PW Songbird is Pilot Son of Admiral” reported that McCain may have gone beyond an acceptable level of collaboration in assisting the psychological warfare offensives aimed at American servicemen: “The broadcast was beamed to American servicemen in South Vietnam as a part of a propaganda series attempting to counter charges by U.S. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird that American prisoners are being mistreated in North Vietnam.”
Douglas Valentine, in a 2008 article in Counterpunch, describes how “On one occasion, General Vo Nguyen Giap, the top Vietnamese commander and a nationalist celebrity of the time, personally interviewed McCain. His compliance during this command performance was a moment of affirmation for the Vietnamese. His Vietnamese handlers thereafter used him regularly as prop at meetings with foreign delegations.”
It has also been claimed by retired Army Colonel Earl Hopper, admittedly without any corroborating evidence apart from what might be contained in inaccessible Pentagon files, that “McCain told his North Vietnamese captors, highly classified information, the most important of which was the package routes, which were routes used to bomb North Vietnam. He gave in detail the altitude they were flying, the direction, if they made a turn… he gave them what primary targets the United States was interested in…the information McCain provided allowed the North Vietnamese to adjust their air-defenses. As result…the US lost sixty percent more aircraft and in 1968 [and] called off the bombing of North Vietnam, because of the information McCain had given to them.”
If McCain indeed collaborated beyond the point that might have been understandable for any prisoner seeking to ameliorate his confinement it would be an intriguing tale, particularly if it could be plausibly demonstrated that it might have influenced his subsequent behavior as a senator cheerleading for the Pentagon while simultaneously covering up some of the more disgraceful by products of Vietnam.
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Sydney Schanberg, who was intrigued by the Vietnam POW issue, began pursuing the McCain story in the late 1980s. Schanberg, a former senior editor at the New York Times, is best known for his coverage of the war in Vietnam and his book The Killing Fields about Cambodia, which was made into an Oscar winning movie. Schanberg was unable to find a mainstream paper or magazine interested in the story but he eventually completed a feature article on the Senator and the prisoners in Vietnam entitled “McCain and the POW Cover Up,” which first appeared on the website of The Nation Institute in September 18, 2008. The article was later replayed by The American Conservative in its July 2010 edition, together with critical commentary.
Schanberg makes two key points: first that a number of American prisoners of war were left behind in Indochina in 1973 with the connivance of top levels in the U.S. government and second that John McCain has worked assiduously to obstruct any efforts to open Pentagon files and follow up on leads to determine the status of the POWs and the “missing in action.” Admittedly, the prisoner of war issue is considerably more complicated than Schanberg represents it to be with many of the sightings and other evidence subject to challenge while his assumption that the Vietnamese were interested in exchanging their remaining prisoners for U.S. financial assistance is also somewhat speculative. But it appears undeniable based on the statements of senior U.S. government officials cited in the article and accompanying commentary that at least some prisoners were left behind with the full knowledge of and even enablement by the White House and Congress. Numerous elected and appointed officials subsequently lied to cover up their mendacity. It was a national disgrace, compounded through the fully documented case Schanberg makes for subsequent obstructionism by McCain and a number of other Senators who followed his lead, including current Secretary of State John Kerry, to impede any serious search for the missing in action and POWs.
One might reasonably infer that McCain’s cover up of Vietnam era POW sightings could well have been driven by fear that some released prisoners might have unpleasant things to say about his activities while at Hoa Lo prison. But as the war is now long over and any remaining prisoners are surely dead, none of this would matter a great deal today realistically speaking except to the remaining POW families. But the past does shape the present and character surely does matter, particularly if one wants to become president and have the authority to send American soldiers to their deaths in support of questionable interventionist policies that might be rooted in a psychological need to fix what went wrong in Vietnam.
Though no longer a presidential candidate, John McCain is still a powerful voice in the Senate consistently advocating policies calling for the United States to use military force around the world. He is a reliable hawk who contrary to all the evidence continues to embrace the Iraq fiasco as if it were an American triumph and who is now the most active senator agitating for direct U.S. military action against Syria and Iran. His recent visit to Syria to demonstrate support for the rebels is, in fact, a violation of the Logan Act which forbids the conduct of foreign policy by anyone outside the executive branch of government.
More troubling perhaps, McCain has consistently and irrationally advocated an undeviating hard line against Russia, the only country with the military capability to confront and destroy much of the United States through its nuclear armed ballistic missile forces. McCain supports untouchable defense budgets, American Exceptionalism, and a proactive “defense” policy that is a holdover from the George W. Bush years. He constantly flouts his patriotism and war record, which have become essential parts of his political persona, and he might well be reasonably described as the leading advocate of militarism in the United States Senate.
Much of McCain’s chauvinistic bluster might indeed be explained by guilt over his long ago confession to the North Vietnamese, a failing for which he might be making atonement through doubling down to demonstrate his unwavering support of the military. And there is also a darker side to him, possibly fed by guilt, evident in his frequently observed volcanic temper, which has been sometimes been directed against families of former prisoners who have raised the POW issue. It has been plausibly described as the side of a man who is not at peace with himself.
So who is the real John McCain? A credible case has been made that McCain may have crossed the line and collaborated extensively while a prisoner in North Vietnam. His subsequent actions to block any inquiry into the status of possible POWs have also been examined in some detail and quite reasonably questioned. Many journalists and former government officials have long been aware of McCain’s possible misrepresentation of his deportment in Hanoi even if the story has not exactly made the front pages. The Pentagonreportedly has recordings of McCain’s radio broadcasts, which could be released if the Senator allows the Department of Defense to do so. And there would also been an intensive intelligence debriefing after the return to the United States, an unredacted version of which has never been produced. If the recordings were truly limited to an under duress script fabricated to satisfy McCain’s tormentors, as he states in his book, they would only have reinforced the image of war hero, so it raises the question of why that was not done in 2008 or when McCain made his first run for the presidency in 2000. The president of the United States has his finger on the nuclear trigger, surely making his mental state and possible betrayal of his comrades while in military service legitimate lines of inquiry. The documents relating to McCain in the Pentagon archives would reveal one way or the other at least some of the truth about the man.
There are a number of possible reasons for the unwillingness within the media and among the public to seek the truth about John McCain, also noted most recently in the broader reluctance to confront the legacy of the war against Iraq on the tenth anniversary of the invasion. No one likes to reopen old wounds, particularly since both Vietnam and Iraq were wars fought on lies and both are now widely viewed as major policy disasters. And in post-9/11 America, government secrecy has created a situation in which information can easily be managed to both protect and benefit those in the White House and in Congress while embedded journalists increasingly become part of the story as they integrate seamlessly with policy makers. This groupthink is largely driven by the intangible beltway consensus about the underlying American myth of “we are the good guys” that the public is inclined to support in an age when the country is falsely and deliberately perceived as drowning in a sea of terrorists and ungrateful foreigners. Confidence in America’s public institutions can be criticized but must not be seriously damaged so there is a well understood line that must not be crossed. If one were to read about a war hero Senator who turns out to be considerably less than that and who did his best to block the return of American prisoners it would undermine confidence in government and just might call into question the legitimacy of America’s wars since 1945. But it is perhaps not too late to take another look at McCain and the post-Vietnam POW issue while many veterans of that conflict are still alive. It might also help to discredit the Senate’s leading warmonger. Either way, it would be a reckoning that is long since overdue.
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.
This article was originally published at Antiwar
See also
McCain crosses paths with rebel kidnapper: U.S. Senator John McCain was photographed with a known affiliate of the rebel group responsible for the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims one year ago, during a brief and highly publicized visit inside Syria this week.
Humor – Family Concerned After John McCain Wanders Into Syria: Members of Sen. John McCain’s family expressed deep concern Tuesday after receiving word that the aging legislator had wandered off into Syria. “Unfortunately, this has been happening a lot lately; he’ll walk out of the Capitol building, get disoriented, and then we get a call late at night saying that John is in Syria,” McCain’s wife Cindy said

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Bush Administration Convicted of War Crimes

Father Of Unarmed Man Killed By FBI Claims His Son Was Executed

“We have confirmed through senior sources within the FBI that Ibragim was indeed unarmed when he was shot seven times in the head, what appear to be even in the back of the head,” said Hassan Shibly, executive director of the CAIR Florida. “That’s very disturbing.”

By Doug Stanglin

May 31, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – The father of a Florida man with ties to Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev said Thursday that his son was slain “execution-style” by FBI agents last week in Orlando.
Ibragim Todashev, a 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter, was shot in his Florida home on May 22 while an FBI agent and two Massachusetts state troopers questioned him about his ties to the late Boston Marathon bombing suspect, as well as a triple slaying in Massachusetts two years ago.
Todashev’s father, Abdul-Baki Todashev, told the the Moscow media that his son had multiple gunshot wounds to his torso and one to the back of his head. The elder Todashev also displayed photos he claimed were of his son’s body in a Florida morgue, according to AP.
Initially, at least one law enforcement official told USA TODAY that Todashev, an ethnic Chechen, was armed with a knife or other sharp object when he violently attacked an FBI agent during questioning, which led the agent to open fire.
Media reports, quoting FBI and law enforcement sources, reported Thursday that Todashev was unarmed when he was shot.
WESH-TV reported that unidentified FBI sources now say that Todashev was unarmed.
The Orlando NBC affiliate quotes sources as saying a sword was inside the apartment, but that the weapon was moved to the corner of the room before questioning began.
The sources said, according to WESH, that when Todashev lunged, the FBI agent opened fired because he believed that Todashev could have possibly been going for his gun or the sword in the room.
The unidentified sources tell WESH that Todashev might have been lunging toward a sword, but he was not in possession of it.
The Washington Post quoted one law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the investigation, said Wednesday that Todashev overturned a table but did not have a gun or a knife. A second official also said Todashev was unarmed, thePost reported.
An advocacy group is demanding a civil rights investigation into the death of a Chechen immigrant who was shot to death by authorities in central Florida while being questioned about his ties to one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. (May 30)
An official, the newspaper reported, said that according to one account of the shooting, the other law enforcement officials had just stepped out of the room, leaving the FBI agent alone with Todashev, when the confrontation occurred.
Todashev’s father, flanked at the news conference by Maxim Shevchenko, a member of the Presidential Council of Human Rights, said his son was never a close friend of Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev and knew nothing about the attacks in advance.
He called “absurd” the claims by some U.S. officials that Todashev had attack an FBI agent.
“Maybe my son knew something, some information the police did not want to be made public. Maybe they wanted to silence my son,” Todashev’s father said.
He also said his son was grilled for many hours about the Boston bombings.
“They tortured a man for eight hours with no attorney, no witnesses, nobody. We can only guess what was going on there, until there is an official investigation,” Todashev said.
Shevchenko told reporters at the news conference at the RIA news agency that Todashev’s killing looked like “cold-blooded murder.”
The Florida branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has called for a federal civil rights investigation into Todashev’s death.
“We have confirmed through senior sources within the FBI that Ibragim was indeed unarmed when he was shot seven times in the head, what appear to be even in the back of the head,” said Hassan Shibly, executive director of the CAIR Florida. “That’s very disturbing.”
Later, according to the Orlando Sentinel reported, Shibly told reporters that CAIR has an “intermediary” who said the FBI told him Todashev was unarmed. Shibly did not identify the intermediary.
Shibly, speaking to reporters in Orlando on Wednesday, said the group was calling for the independent investigation “to make sure excessive force was not used against this unarmed individual.”
The FBI has been tight-lipped in its public statements on the case. At the time of the shooting, the FBI said that an agent, along with two Massachusetts State Police troopers and other law enforcement personnel, were interviewing “an individual” in connection with the Boston bombing case when “violent confrontation was initiated by the individual.”
Two law enforcement officials have also told USA TODAY that Todashev was being questioned about the unsolved 2011 murders of three men in Waltham, Mass.
ABC News reported last week that Todashev was about to sign a confession to the killings when he became violent.
Todashev has not been directly implicated in the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings that killed three people and injured more than 260. The FBI has said only that Todashev, a martial arts enthusiast like Tsarnaev, knew the bombings suspect when he lived in Boston.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 27, and his brother, Dzhokhar, 19, were both named as suspects in the bombings. Tamerlan died three days after the April 15 bombings during a shootout with police that also left Dzhokhar injured.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was later captured and charged in connection with the bombings. He is being held at a prison medical center near Boston.
Contributing: Associated Press
This article was originally published at USA Today

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Ireland and the Basque Country: Massive Flight (Emigration) or General Strike?

Top UK universities call for cuts to funding for poorer students

Guatemalan high court upholds overturning of Rios Montt conviction

By Bill Van Auken 
30 May 2013
Guatemala’s Constitutional Court Tuesday upheld its May 20 decision to throw out the conviction of the former US-backed dictator Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
The order followed the concurrence of the country’s appeals court in the extraordinary upending of the trial that the high court ordered 10 days after the conviction. It dismissed appeals filed by the prosecution and representatives of the surviving victims of Rios Montt’s bloody reign in 1982 and 1983.
In the May 10 verdict, the lower court convicted Rios Montt for the massacre of 1,771 Ixil Indians in the country’s northwest highlands during a scorched-earth counterinsurgency campaign. It sentenced him to 80 years in prison. His co-defendant, former military intelligence chief Rodrigo Sanchez, was acquitted.
The high court ordered that the all of the trial’s proceedings from April 19 through the verdict and sentencing on May 10 be annulled and repealed. The April date was when the trial was briefly suspended over a jurisdictional dispute initiated by another judge who been recused from the case in November 2011. Rios Montt’s defense team seized upon the incident to denounce the trial as “illegal proceedings” and stage a walkout from the court. Rios Montt refused to use a public defender and was therefore left briefly without representation.
This was the basis for the high court’s ruling, which put forward the legally unprecedented and unfounded remedy of “rewinding” the trial to the date of the alleged judicial error.
Hector Reyes, lawyer for the Center for Legal Action on Human Rights, told the Guatemalan daily La Prensa that the overturning of the verdict took “an eminently illegal form, as the decision of the Constitutional Court lacks any foundation in law.”
Similarly, Francisco Vivar, the legal representative for the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, called the high court ruling a legal fraud.
“We are facing a juridical crisis provoked by the Constitutional Court,” he said. “No tribunal can hear a case whose proceedings are half over. Nor can one say that a trial has been annulled and should be restarted, because there is not one sentence that indicates this.”
The decision means that survivors of the mass killings must repeat their wrenching testimony, recalling the rape, dismemberment and slaughter of men, women and children by the Guatemalan military.
The most important practical effect of the ruling is that the three-judge panel that heard the case, led by Judge Jasmine Barrios, is itself being recused, and the appellate court must now put together a new panel to hear the portion of the trial that is to be repeated.
This is no easy task: scores of judges have already refused to take the case, putting forward various legal rationales, but in overwhelming measure because of well-founded fear that presiding over such a trial incurs the threat of violent retribution. The judges in the original panel received repeated death threats and were obliged to wear bulletproof vests.
A new judicial panel could well arrive at an entirely different verdict, quashing what had been greeted internationally as a landmark decision. It marked the first time that a Guatemalan court had held a former dictator and practitioner of horrific state terror responsible for some of the crimes carried out during more than three decades of military rule and civil war—in which at least 200,000 peasants, workers and students were killed.
The high court ruling provoked popular outrage in Guatemala and beyond. A demonstration of several thousand took place in Guatemala City on March 24, with members of indigenous communities, human rights groups, unions and others marching to the Constitutional Court building where they conducted a sit-in.
Demonstrations took place simultaneously in other Latin American capitals. Protesters carried signs and banners with slogans such “Yes, there was genocide,” “No to impunity” and “A national shame,” together with the names of the three judges who voted to annul the Rios Montt verdict.
Guatemala’s big business association CACIF (Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations) has been anything but subtle in its praise for the upending of the trial and its rejection of the charge of genocide.
In the most recent editorial, CACIF declares: “The business sector defends the importance of knowing how to leave the past behind in order to open a genuine channel to peace and reconciliation.” In other words, peace can only be guaranteed through impunity for Guatemala’s mass murderers.
Guatemala’s president, Otto Perez Molina, has echoed this position, having referred to the conviction of Rios Montt as a “delicate situation” and rejected the charge of genocide.
“When we are calling for people to come and invest in Guatemala, unfortunately, this is not good international news,” he said of the trial. The implication clearly is that foreign capital wants to be assured that the repressive forces can operate without restriction in suppressing struggles by the Guatemalan working class.
The role played in the bloody events of 1982-1983 by Perez Molina, also a former general, came out in testimony during the trial. A former army mechanic, Hugo Leonardo Reyes, testified that Perez Molina, who operated under the alias “Major Tito” during this period, presided over mass executions. Under his command, he said, soldiers carried out the burning and looting of Ixil villages and then massacred their inhabitants.
Those brought to be killed, he added, had been “beaten, tortured, their tongues cut off and fingernails ripped out.”
The US government had publicly indicated support for the trial of Rios Montt. In the wake of the Constitutional Court’s decision, however, it took a decidedly noncommittal position. A State Department spokesman referred to a “complex, unprecedented legal situation in Guatemala,” and Washington’s belief that “the fundamental imperative in this or any other legal proceedings should be to respect the rule of law and ensure equal justice for all.”
It is unlikely that the Obama administration would welcome “equal justice” being visited upon the many US accomplices in Rios Montt’s crimes. The ex-general was one of the favorite Latin American leaders under the administration of President Ronald Reagan, who made a point of paying a state visit to Guatemala at the height of the carnage—praising Rios Montt as “a man of great personal integrity and commitment,” who was determined “to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.”
The US military and the CIA provided indispensable support for the genocidal counterinsurgency campaign, training and arming the Guatemalan military and developing much of the strategy for destroying villages and disposing of their populations. When difficulties arose in directly supplying US arms to the regime, the Reagan administration enlisted the support of Israel, which became deeply involved in the Central American bloodbath.
Many of those most directly involved in this policy, including former State Department official Elliott Abrams, ex-Reagan national security advisor Robert McFarlane, and ex-CIA official Alfonso Sapia-Bosch, are still alive and could be indicted as Rios Montt’s co-conspirators.
Immediately after the high court’s move to abort the Rios Montt trial, Guatemala suddenly organized the extradition to the US of Alfonso Portillo, the country’s president from 2000 to 2004, to face money laundering charges involving up to $70 million in Guatemalan public funds.
Lawyers for Portillo charged that that the extradition was illegal, as there were still challenges pending in the Guatemalan courts. The ex-president himself said he had been “kidnapped.” It marked the first time ever that a former Latin American head of state has been extradited to the US to face charges.
Portillo appeared in a New York City courtroom on Tuesday and pleaded not guilty to the charges. He had been cleared of embezzlement charges in Guatemala.
The extradition was widely seen as an attempt by the Guatemalan government to divert international attention from the overturning of the Rios Montt verdict. The ex-dictator still has strong support within the country’s ruling oligarchy, as opposed to Portillo, who began his political career as a guerrilla sympathizer before becoming a political creature of the right and ultimately the standard bearer of Rios Montt’s own party.

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Trillions hidden in tax havens by super-rich, corporations

By Julien Kiemle 
30 May 2013
The ultra-wealthy, banks and corporations from around the globe have some $32 trillion of wealth hidden in off-shore tax havens, according to a cache of information leaked by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in April of this year.
The hidden wealth, consisting mostly of financial assets and bank accounts but also including assets like mansions and yachts, amounts to 44 percent of world GDP, or $4,600 for every person on earth.
This amount is nearly triple the figure of $11.5 trillion from 2005. Taxation justice activist groups previously estimated, although lacking direct proof, that the figure was between $20 trillion and $30 trillion.
Some 2.5 million leaked files trace the outlines of a largely secret section of the world economy. The files were reviewed and published in a sprawling report by the ICIJ, a watchdog organization reporting on corruption and accountability, after over a year of research.
According to the ICIJ, “The leaked files provide facts and figures–cash transfers, incorporation dates, links between companies and individuals–that illustrate how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe, allowing the wealthy and the well-connected to dodge taxes and fueling corruption and economic woes in rich and poor nations alike.”
Their reporting has focused primarily on the tax revenue lost by governments, although it is difficult to estimate what the totals are. Even though much of the wealth belongs to individuals and banks from North America and Europe, developing countries mired in widespread poverty are likely the hardest hit by the loss of tax revenue. Corrupt government bureaucrats from around the third world are well-represented in the list of tax evaders.
The issue of lost tax revenue is legitimate, especially at a time when vicious austerity programs are justified with the excuse that “there is no money.” Far from this being true, documents released by the ICIJ reveal that the overflowing wealth of the world’s richest individuals has grown to proportions never seen before.
Some of the premier tax havens include the Cayman Islands, Cook Islands, Liechtenstein and Bermuda, with the British Virgin Islands described as the “epicenter” of the hidden wealth industry.
The clients of these offshore tax havens include the super-rich from nearly every country. The clientele ranges from American billionaires to Russian oligarchs, Hong Kong property developers, corrupt government bureaucrats, and gangsters. According to the leaked documents, about $10 trillion is the property of a mere 100,000 individuals. On average, this tiny sliver of the global population is hoarding $100 million each.
Enormous banking institutions like Deutsche Bank, UBS, the Swiss private bank Clariden, ING, and ABN Amro have actively worked to set up tax evasion schemes for their clients in offshore hiding places. JP Morgan, linked inconclusively by leaked documents to a number of tax evasion schemes, has 50 subsidiaries in Bermuda, the Bahamas, and similar “treasure islands.”
Dozens of examples of high-profile fraud are presented by the ICIJ in explicit detail, including:
• Swedish real estate tycoon Han Thulin, who had around $17 million stashed away in the South Pacific, even as he owes massive outstanding debts to the Swedish government.
• Banco Amambay, owned by Paraguayan presidential candidate Horacio Manuel, which operates secret financial institutions in South Pacific tax havens. Both Manuel and Banco Amambay have previously been investigated in connection with money laundering.
• Two French banks, BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole, which specialize in creating “quick” foreign companies in under 48 hours, to be used for hiding money in a pinch.
Although the entire process reeks of criminality, most countries make it relatively easy to legally secret away enormous fortunes in unaccountable mini-nations.
The fact that stock-trading billionaires and outright gangsters stash their loot in the same places suggest the true nature of the former. Indeed, ICIJ notes that since the money of drug lords and underworld kingpins intertwines with deposits from “legitimate” businessmen, it is difficult in many cases to delineate the dividing line between the two.
But despite the talk of tax evasion, much of this wealth is spirited away from the public reach through entirely legal channels. George Kaiser, an American billionaire, provides a prime example. Kaiser started a tax-exempt non-profit called the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which owns $3.4 billion in assets. The “charity” bought a $110 million dollar natural gas tanker and gave control of it to Excelerate Energy LLC, which Kaiser also controls. As a result, Kaiser realizes the profits from his capital tax-free.
Although the ICIJ had hoped to elicit a broad response, governments have demonstrated their effective acceptance of tax evasion by the wealthy. So far, no one has been prosecuted in response to the information in these leaked documents, as much of the evasion was carried out through legal or quasi-legal means.
The announcement by five European countries that they would begin exchanging tax receipt information to catch evaders is an empty gesture. As the details of the report make clear, tax evasion is systemic in the business world and receives the tacit approval of governments.
According to ICIJ, the British government has an even larger store of leaked information which it is reviewing at its own discretion.
The ICIJ report does not probe the question of why tax and revenues authorities did not launch their own investigations of offshore banking, instead leaving it to independent journalists. In fact, governments are actively abetting theft from the public treasury, in the form of endless injections by governments into the banks.

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Spanish government imposes more austerity measures

Germany’s Left Party supports austerity in Bulgaria

US banks post record profits in first quarter

By Nick Barrickman 
30 May 2013
Profits for the US banking industry rose in the first quarter of 2013 to a record $40.3 billion, according to a report released by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation on Wednesday.
Profits surged by 15.8 percent compared to the same quarter last year. The quarterly profits top the previous record set more than six years ago, prior to the financial meltdown of 2008. It was the 14th straight quarter of banking sector profits.
The record bank profits, along with a soaring stock market, is a direct product of the policies of the Obama administration. Trillions have been handed out to the banks and financial institutions, including $85 billion every month from the Federal Reserve. Not a single bank or bank CEO has been held criminally responsible for the financial catastrophe, which they have utilized to increase their stranglehold over the economic and political system.
In his report, FDIC chairman Martin Gruenberg paints a rosy picture of the current market: “Asset quality continues to improve, more institutions are profitable, and the number of failures and problem institutions continues to decline.” The number of “troubled” institutions fell this year to 612, down from 888 in 2011.
Numerous factors are cited as contributing to the record profits, not least of which were “large, nonrecurring income and expense items at some of the industry’s largest institutions,” said Gruenberg. Significantly, major components in savings were “a reduction in expenses for litigation costs and proceeds from a legal settlement.” That is, the banks benefited from the fact that they have gotten off scot-free in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
Also cited in explaining the bank profits were reductions in provisions meant to offset potential financial losses on bad debts, which fell by $11 billion, or 23 percent from last year.
The findings illustrate that in large measure the source of major banking profits have come from reduced court costs and, increasingly, speculation. Since the financial collapse of 2008, the banks have strengthened their position, with the full backing of the political establishment, both Democrat and Republican.
Despite the surge in profits, the financial sector is far from “healthy” and the conditions are set for another steep financial collapse. Noting the one-time character of much of the bank profits, Gruenberg expressed the hope that “future earnings for the industry increasingly will be determined by revenues.”
This is essentially wishful thinking, however, as revenues remained stagnant within financial houses. Operating revenue for the banking sector in the first months of this year was only $171 billion, barely an increase from past quarters. Meanwhile, the record low interest rates that have fueled the stock market rally have also led to a drop in interest rates charged by banks.
The bank profits come in the aftermath of several reports documenting criminal activity. In late March the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a report detailing the causes of JPMorgan’s “London Whale” profit loss, which resulted in $6.2 billion in federally insured customer deposits vanishing. The report found instances of falsified accounts meant to mislead Federal regulators and the concealment of losses.
Similarly, a 2011 report also issued by the same subcommittee detailed the machinations of Wall Street in the lead-up to the 2008 economic crisis, finding “a financial snake pit rife with greed, conflicts of interest and wrongdoing.” As of yet not a single Wall Street executive has been punished for contributing to the deepest financial crisis in generations.
Last March, Attorney General Eric Holder let slip the Obama administration’s view that banks were essentially too big to prosecute, admitting that “the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them, when we are hit with indications that if we do prosecute—if we do bring a criminal charge—it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy…”
After being handed numerous sweetheart deals in lieu of prosecution in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse, banks have accumulated vast profits at the expense of the living standards of the working class.
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First US drone strike in Pakistan since Obama’s drone speech kills seven

The Chicago school closings and the way forward to defend public education

30 May 2013
The announcement by the Chicago Board of Education last week that 49 of the city’s schools will be shut down in the largest school closing in US history marks a new stage in the American ruling class’s offensive against public education.
Since taking office in 2009, the Obama administration has overseen the closing of nearly 4,000 schools and the elimination of the jobs of some 336,000 teachers and other school employees. Nearly 2,000 schools were closed in 2010-2011 alone, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The Obama administration and Democratic Party officials like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel are spearheading this attack under the guise of education “reform.” This involves expanding the use of standardized tests to victimize teachers, replacing public schools with for-profit charter schools, and removing arts, history and literature classes to make way for a “Common Core” curriculum tailored to the needs of corporate America.
With the end of the school year rapidly approaching, hundreds of thousands of teachers around the country face anxious weeks and months waiting to find out whether they will be out of a job or forced to take devastating wage and benefit cuts.
The dire situation facing teachers occurs after a year in which thousands of teachers and other school employees, along with students and parents around the country, expressed their deep opposition to the attack on public education.
The Chicago school closures are the result of the defeat of September’s strike of 26,000 teachers—one of the largest public school strikes in decades. The walkout was shut down by the Chicago Teachers Union, which forced through a concessions contract that met all of Mayor Emanuel’s demands. This paved the way for the current closures, adding to the nearly 100 Chicago schools shut down since 2001.
Chicago is not alone. In Washington, D.C., 15 schools are slated to be closed despite widespread outrage. There too, the Washington Teachers Union blocked any unified struggle against the Democratic Party by filing a lawsuit alleging the closings were “racist.” The aim was to obscure the class issues while subordinating the working class to sections of the Democratic Party.
In Philadelphia, 26 schools—one out of ten—are going to be shuttered, without any opposition by the unions there.
In New York, 8,000 bus drivers and school transportation employees face a 20 percent pay cut and layoffs after the Amalgamated Transit Union pushed through a concessions contract ending their month-long strike in February. The betrayal enabled the city’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, to press ahead with plans for more school closings and a vast expansion of charter schools. The city has closed 117 public schools over the last decade.
In schools and classrooms throughout the country, there is seething anger and resentment over these conditions.
The feelings of hundreds of thousands of educators were eloquently expressed last week by Ellie Rubenstein, a veteran teacher from the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, who submitted her resignation in a speech on YouTube in which she denounced the attack on public education.
“I have become painfully aware that neither my principal, administrators, not even my union will protect my rights or stand by me,” Rubenstein said. “There is no where to turn for support, and unless you are a yes man, you will soon find out that your only choice is to become one or leave.”
It is entirely appropriate for Ms. Rubenstein, together with thousands of her fellow teachers, to conclude that the unions have done nothing and will do nothing to oppose the attack on public education. But her conclusion that there “is nowhere to turn for support,” was upended by the enormous response to her video—which has already received half a million views.
This points to a basic fact about contemporary society: working people, students and educators are opposed to the drive to dismantle public education. Struggles by educators to defend their jobs and wages receive, despite the best efforts of the media and unions to isolate them, overwhelming public support.
However, the attempt to defend education through the unions and the Democratic Party is impossible. The claims by the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association that a Democratic president would reverse the reactionary attacks of George Bush have been left in tatters, as Obama has gone even further than his Republican predecessor in attacking teachers and public education.
The destruction of public education is a bipartisan policy. Its source is the immense growth of social inequality and the rise of a corporate and financial elite that controls every lever of government. Drunk in their pursuit of ever-greater personal wealth, the ruling class is instinctively hostile to the egalitarian and democratic principles embodied in public education. Having concluded that they require a relatively small number of skilled and educated workers, they see public education largely as a waste of money and its looting as another source of profit.
Millions of educators, parents and students recognize the socially destructive and irrational character of this. But the first step in developing a counteroffensive to defend public education and secure the resources for its vast improvement and expansion is recognizing that this essential social and democratic right is incompatible with the capitalist profit system.
Teachers and all those who defend public education must turn to a socialist perspective.
This means breaking with the pro-capitalist unions and the Democratic Party and spearheading the fight to build a mass political movement of the working class. Capitalism must be replaced by socialism, that is, the organization of society on the basis of social need, not private profit. To take up this fight, we urge you to study the program of the Socialist Equality Party and join and build our party.
Andre Damon

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Syrian Rebel Alliance Openly Threatens Ethnic Cleansing

Lifting the Fake EU Arms Embargo

By Stephen Lendman
May 30, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – On May 27, the so-called one-year EU arms embargo on Syria’s opposition ended. Officially it does so on June 1. EU nations agreed to end what never existed.
Since Washington’s war on Syria began in early 2011, arms flowed freely. Western-enlisted death squads get them. At issue is replacing Assad with a subservient pro-Western puppet. 
Syria’s being ravaged in the process. Washington, key NATO partners, Israel and rogue Arab state allies bear full responsibility.
War rages ahead of Geneva II. Planned peace talks are pretense. Syrians genuinely want it. So does Russia going all out to achieve it. Other nations urge peace.
America prioritizes conflict and instability. It does so for unchallenged dominance. Peaceful conflict resolution is illusory. Previous efforts fell short. Expect Geneva II to fare no better.
Permanent war is official US policy. The business of America is war. Obama’s waging multiple direct and proxy ones. He’s got more death and destruction in mind.
CIA and Britain’s MI 5 operatives, as well as Western special forces actively aid so-called “rebels.” They’ve been doing so throughout most of the conflict.
On February 8, 2012, Infowars headlined “British Special Forces Enter Syria to Aid Rebels,” saying:
They’re “directing rebel fighters in a repeat of how Libyan rebels were aided” to oust Gaddafi. Qatari special forces are also involved. Very likely others are.
Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists who fought US troops in Iraq and helped NATO powers overthrow (Gaddafi) were airlifted into Syria (to) topple (Assad) in November last year.
More come in regularly. They supplement existing ranks or replace elements Syria’s military eliminated. No end of conflict looms. 
Appalling atrocities are committed. Assad’s wrongfully blamed for foreign death squad crimes. He’s falsely accused of using chemical weapons. 
On May 28, Reuters headlined “Syria fighting rages, more chemical attacks reported,” saying:
“(F)urther reports surfaced of chemical weapons attacks by (Assad’s) forces on rebel areas.” These allegations and previous ones are spurious.
On May 24, Voice of Russia headlined “Russian journalists have proof Syrian insurgents used chemical weapons,” saying:
They have video proof. They gave it to the UN Secretariat. They show “chemical weapons attacks allegedly committed by opposition fighters in the vicinity of Aleppo on March 19.”
This was confirmed by the spokesman for the Deputy Secretary General Farhan Haq.
RTR journalist Anastasia Popova confirmed toxic substances use. Eyewitness accounts supplemented video evidence. Nonetheless, spurious anti-Assad accusations persist.
On May 27, the UN News Centre headlined “UN rights chief urges end to ‘intolerable’ suffering in Syria.”
Navi Pillay addressed the 23rd Human Rights Council session. She stopped short of pointing fingers the right way. She consistently blames Assad for Western-backed death squad crimes.
“A humanitarian, political and social disaster is already upon us,” she said, “and what looms is truly a nightmare.”
Civilians bear the brunt of this crisis in which human rights violations have reached horrific dimensions. 
Confronted with the flagrant disregard of international law and human life on every side, I feel utter dismay. 
I am extremely concerned at current reports suggesting that hundreds of civilians have been killed or injured, and thousands may remain trapped, by indiscriminate shelling and aerial attacks by Government forces in Al Qusayr.
She admitted that anti-government forces also commit human rights violations. She consistently blames Assad most of all. She avoids explaining Washington’s war on Syria.
She’s a reliable imperial tool. She’s been so in previous capacities. She suppresses truth. Responsible major powers are absolved. 
Victims are blamed for their crimes. She did it before. She’s doing it now. She aids and abets lawless aggression. She facilitates human rights abuses in the process.
On May 27, the Human Rights Council (HRC) convened its 23rd session. President Remigiusz Henczel addressed a days earlier request to debate deteriorating conditions in Syria.
Qatar claimed Syrian forces were massacring their people. A May 16 Financial Times report headlined “Qatar bankrolls Syrian revolt with cash and arms.”
(I)t spent as much as $3bn over the past two years supporting the rebellion in Syria, far exceeding any other government, but is now being nudged aside by Saudi Arabia as the prime source of arms to rebels.
Washington orchestrates everything. Turkey’s its main attack dog. CIA elements operate in its territory near Syria. They facilitate cross-border weapons shipments.
Syria’s representative addressed the HRC session. He objected to debate on his country. Turkey and Qatar requested it. 
He said they’re directly responsible for what’s going on. They’re encouraging terrorist attacks on Syrian soil. They’re arming and training insurgent elements.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague called ending the so-called arms embargo the right decision. He led efforts to do so. He suggested Britain would go it alone otherwise.
He claimed ending the embargo “is part of supporting the diplomatic work to bring about the political solution.” It’s “necessary and right,” he said.
Doing so will “protect civilians,” he added. Tory MP John Baron disagreed, saying:
It beggars belief, the idea that pouring more arms into this conflict could not or would not escalate the violence. Of course, its not going to do that. 
But it could do something more dangerous. That is it could escalate the conflict beyond Syria’s borders. That is why it could be a mistake of historic proportions.
Oxfam’s Anna Macdonald said supplying more weapons “add(s) fuel to the fire. We are concerned that supplying arms to the opposition won’t level the playing field. In fact, it will fuel a deadly arms race that will have even worse consequences for civilians.”
The millions of people suffering in Syria right now don’t need more arms. They need aid.
Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander asked “how does supplying weapons help to secure a lasting peace?”
Supplying them in greater numbers assures more death and destruction. Doing so complies with Washington’s longstanding agenda. 
The road to Tehran runs through Damascus. Replacing independent governments with pro-Western ones is prioritized.
Twenty-one EU nations are NATO members. It’s an alliance for war, not peace. It’s for offense, not defense. It’s a killing machine. America runs it.
Britain, France, Germany and other EU nations partner in its imperial wars. Doing so ravages one country after another.
Last October, Nobel Committee members awarded EU nations their Peace Prize. They claimed doing so reflected their decades long contribution “to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.”
They ignored their role in Eurasian conflicts and beyond. They turned a blind eye to NATO’s global ambitions. It’s part of Washington’s full spectrum dominance agenda. 
It’s potentially catastrophic if not stopped. It assures greater wars on humanity. Global war is possible. Washington controls NATO policy. Its so-called Partnership for Peace is a thinly veiled pro-war agenda.
War is peace reflects longstanding US policy. Syria’s conflict potentially could spin out of control. The entire region and beyond could become embroiled. 
During last year’s pre-election campaign, Republicans stressed “American exceptionalism.” Democrats countered saying:
We also understand the indispensable role that the United States must continue to play in promoting international peace and prosperity.
In 1996, Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal coined the term “indispensable nation.” Clinton used it as justification for NATO’s Bosnia intervention.
In several speeches, Obama stressed American exceptionalism and the term indispensable nation. Most others disagree. They do so for good reason.
America prioritizes war, not peace. Permanent war is longstanding policy. One country after another is ravaged. Millions perish. Millions more remain vulnerable. 
Where this ends who knows. Humanity may not survive the onslaught.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. His new book is titled How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War. Also 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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Syria Escalation Poses Growing Risk of Regional War

Let’s Be Clear: Establishing a ‘No-Fly Zone’ Is an Act of War

The term is a euphemism that obscures the gravity of what its advocates are suggesting — a U.S. air attack on Syria.
By Conor Friedersdorf
May 30, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – Kudos to Josh Rogin for breaking the news that “the White House has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for a no-fly zone inside Syria.” But wouldn’t it be a more powerful story without the euphemism?
Relying on the term “no-fly-zone” is typical in journalism. But that is a mistake. It obscures the gravity of the news.
Here’s how an alternative version of the story might look: “The White House has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for bombing multiple targets inside Syria, constantly surveilling Syrian airspace alongside U.S. allies, and shooting down Syrian war planes and helicopters that try to fly around, perhaps for months.”
The term “no-fly-zone” isn’t analytically useless. It’s just that folks using it as shorthand should make sure everyone reading understands that, as Daniel Larison put it right up in a headline, “Imposing a No-Fly-Zone in Syria Requires Starting a New War.” That becomes clearer some paragraphs later in Rogin’s article, when he discussed Senator John McCain’s advocacy for a “no-fly-zone.” “McCain said a realistic plan for a no-fly zone would include hundreds of planes, and would be most effective if it included destroying Syrian airplanes on runways, bombing those runways, and moving U.S. Patriot missile batteries in Turkey close to the border so they could protect airspace inside northern Syria,” he wrote.
The article also quotes Robert Zarate, policy director at the hawkish Foreign Policy Initiative. His euphemisms of choice: “No doubt, the United States and its like-minded allies and partners are fully capable, without the use of ground troops, of obviating the Assad regime’s degraded, fixed, and mobile air defenses and suppressing the regime’s use of airpower.”
Does anyone think he’d describe Syrian planes bombing a U.S. aircraft carrier as “obviating” our naval assets? The question before us is whether America should wage war in Syria by bombing its weapons, maintaining a presence in its airspace, and shooting at its pilots if they take off. On hearing the phrase “no-fly-zone,” how many Americans would realize all that is involved?
I trust “start a war against Syria” would poll poorly.
That’s why advocates of that course hide the consequences of what they propose behind a euphemism. If only there were a deliberative body that the Constitution charged with declaring war, so that it would be impossible to start any wars of choice without the voice of the people being heard.
This article was originally published at The Atlantic 

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Why US must stop Russian missiles for Syria:

Syria and the Middle East: Our Greatest Miscalculation Since the Rise of Fascism

By helping to destroy secular politics in the Middle East, the west has unleashed the Shia/Sunni conflict now tearing it apart
By Simon Jenkins 
May 30, 2013 “Information Clearing House” -“The Guardian” – There could no more dreadful idea than to pour more armaments into the sectarian war now consuming Syria. Yet that is precisely what Britain’s coalition government wants to do. The foreign secretary,William Hague, seemed on Monday to parody his hero Pitt the Younger by demanding “how long must we go on allowing … ?” and “what we want to see is …”. Who is this we? But even Pitt would never be so stupid as to declare war on Syria, which is the only morally sound outcome of Hague’s rhetorical mission creep.
For two years pundits have proclaimed the imminent fall of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. High on Arab spring, they declared he would fall from the logic of history. Or he would fall because western sanctions would bring him down. Or he would fall because the media, as in the novel Scoop, were with the rebels and had decided they would win.
Assad has not fallen. He is still there, locked in the lethal Muslim schism that resurfaced with the demise of the region’s secularist dictators. These have now almost all gone: the shah in Iran, Najibullah in Afghanistan, Saddam in Iraq, Mubarak in Egypt, Gaddafi in Libya. They had faults in abundance, but they succeeded in suppressing religious discord, instilling rudimentary tolerance and keeping the region mostly in order. This was in the west’s interest, and the rulers, like those in the Gulf, were supported accordingly.
Turning turtle and abetting their downfall may yet prove the most disastrous miscalculation of western diplomacy since the rise of fascism. Prior to the Iraq war, Saddam persecuted the Shias, but their shrines were safe and intermarriage was common. After the war, Sunni and Shia are torn asunder, with a death toll of ghastly proportions. Similar agony may soon be visited on the Afghans. Libya’s Tripoli is more unstable now the west has toppled Gaddafi, its fundamentalist guerrillas spreading mayhem south across the Sahara to Algeria, Mali and Nigeria.
These upheavals might have occurred without western intervention. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were largely self-starting. Islamist parties often came to power, because they offered an alternative discipline to the existing regimes. But the west’s sudden zest for “wars of choice”, its meddling in the politics of Pakistan and its sabre-rattling in Iran have created a cause on to which neoconservative Islamism could fasten.
Al-Qaida was in 2000 a tiny group of fanatics. America and Britain have portrayed it as an all-powerful enemy, apparently lurking in support of every anti-secularist rebellion. Cameron calls it “an existential terrorist threat… to inflict the biggest possible amount of damage to our interests and way of life”. Yet stabbings and bombings do not constitute an “existential threat”. The UK is a stronger culture than Cameron appears to believe. There is no threat to its existence, while the chief damage being done to its way of life comes from the incompetence of its government.
Syria is at present certainly a claim on the world’s humanitarian resources, to be honoured by supporting the refugee camps and aid agencies active in the area. Assad’s suppression of revolt has been appallingly brutal, but he was Britain’s friend, as was Saddam, long after his regime began its brutality. That is how things are in this part of the world. The west cannot stop them. To conclude that “we cannot allow this to happen” assumes a potency over other people’s affairs that “we” do not possess.
Pouring arms into Syria will no more topple Assad or “drive him to the negotiating table” than did two years of blood-curdling sanctions. Hague knows this perfectly well, as he knows there is no way arms can be sent to “good” rebels and not to bad ones. He knows that if you want one side to win a civil war, the only honest way is to fight on its side. We did that in Kosovo and Libya. In Syria, Hague has fallen back on Kipling’s “killing Kruger with your mouth”.
The differences between Sunni and Shia, now tearing at nations in the Middle East, are deeply embedded in Islam. As the scholarMalise Ruthven has pointed out, outsiders preaching tolerance are no use. These disputes are intractable “since the acceptance of pluralism relativises truth”. For Sunni to accept Shia and vice versa is for each to deny the faith.
Christianity, after centuries of similar bloodshed, has learned religious tolerance (though in Northern Ireland, Britain can hardly talk). Much of Islam has not. The one antidote lay in the rise of secular politics. This is the politics that Britain destroyed in Iraq and Libya, in the belief that it was bringing democracy and peace. It has brought chaos.
Britain’s military judgment is no more coherent than its political. It thinks it can conquer Syria – which is what toppling Assad would require – by proxy. But sending weapons cannot make a difference, and will merely entice Britain into promising troops, unless it wishes to desert the rebels. Like American backing for the Taliban in the 1990s, the idea that “my enemy’s enemy must be my friend” could yet see British special forces fighting alongside al-Qaida in Syria.
War holds a terrible appeal for democratic leaders. Most of Europe’s rulers have other matters on their hands, but Britain and France, two nations whose ancient empires carved up the Levant between them, cannot keep out of it. They see national interest and danger where none exists. They cannot relieve Syria’s agony, yet hope some vague belligerence might bring relief.
The reality is they hope that belligerence might draw attention from political troubles back home. That is the worst reason for going to war.

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Time for Russia to Make a Stand

Our Twisted Politics of Grief

By Norman Solomon
May 30, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – Darwin observed that conscience is what most distinguishes humans from other animals. If so, grief isn’t far behind. Realms of anguish are deeply personal — yet prone to expropriation for public use, especially in this era of media hyper-spin. Narratives often thresh personal sorrow into political hay. More than ever, with grief marketed as a civic commodity, the personal is the politicized.
The politicizing of grief exploded in the wake of 9/11. When so much pain, rage and fear set the U.S. cauldron to boil, national leaders promised their alchemy would bring unalloyed security. The fool’s gold standard included degrading civil liberties and pursuing a global war effort that promised to be ceaseless. From the political outset, some of the dead and bereaved were vastly important, others insignificant. Such routine assumptions have remained implicit and intact.
The “war on terror” was built on two tiers of grief. Momentous and meaningless. Ours and theirs. The domestic politics of grief settled in for a very long haul, while perpetual war required the leaders of both major parties to keep affirming and reinforcing the two tiers of grief.
For individuals, actual grief is intimate, often ineffable. Maybe no one can help, but expressions of caring and condolences can matter. So, too, can indifference. Or worse. The first years of the 21st century normalized U.S. warfare in countries where civilians kept dying and American callousness seemed to harden. From the USA, a pattern froze and showed no signs of thawing; denials continued to be reflexive, while expressions of regret were perfunctory or nonexistent.
Drones became a key weapon — and symbol — of the U.S. war trajectory. With a belated nod to American public opinion early in the century’s second decade, Washington’s interest in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan did not reflect official eagerness to stop killing there or elsewhere. It did reflect eagerness to bring U.S. warfare more into line with the latest contours of domestic politics. The allure of remote-control devices like drones — integral to modern “counterterrorism” ideas at the Pentagon and CIA — has been enmeshed in the politics of grief. So much better theirs than ours.
Many people in the United States don’t agree with a foreign policy that glories in use of drones, cruise missiles and the like, but such disagreement is in a distinct minority. (A New York Times/CBS poll in late April 2013 found Americans favoring U.S. overseas drone strikes by 70 to 20 percent.) With the “war on terror” a longtime fact of political life, even skeptics or unbelievers are often tethered to some concept of pragmatism that largely privatizes misgivings. In the context of political engagement — when a person’s internal condition is much less important than outward behavior — notions of realism are apt to encourage a willing suspension of disbelief. As a practical matter, we easily absorb the dominant U.S. politics of grief, further making it our politics of grief.
The amazing technology of “unmanned aerial vehicles” glided forward as a satellite-guided deus ex machina to help lift Uncle Sam out of a tight geopolitical spot–exerting awesome airpower in Afghanistan and beyond while slowing the arrival of flag-draped coffins back home. More airborne killing and less boot prints on the ground meant fewer U.S. casualties. All the better to limit future grief, as much as possible, to those who are not us.
However facile or ephemeral the tributes may be at times, American casualties of war and their grieving families receive some public affirmation from government officials and news media. The suffering had real meaning. They mattered and matter. That’s our grief. But at the other end of American weaponry, their grief is a world of difference.
In U.S. politics, American sorrow is profoundly important and revs up many rhetorical engines; the contrast with sorrow caused by the American military could hardly be greater. What is not ignored or dismissed as mere propaganda is just another unfortunate instance of good intentions gone awry. No harm intended, no foul. Yet consider these words from a Pakistani photographer, Noor Behram, describing the aftermath of a U.S. drone attack: “There are just pieces of flesh lying around after a strike. You can’t find bodies. So the locals pick up the flesh and curse America. They say that America is killing us inside our own country, inside our own homes, and only because we are Muslims.”
A memorable moment in the film Lincoln comes when the president says, “Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.” A daring leap for a white American assessing race in 1865. Truly applying the same Euclidean theorem to grief would be just as daring now in U.S. politics. Let’s face it: in the American political culture of our day, all grief is not created equal. Not even close.
*****
We might say ’twas ever thus: Countries and ethnic groups mourn their own while yawning or even rejoicing at the agonies of some “others.” And when grief weighs in on the U.S. political scale, the heaviness of our kind makes any other secondary at best. No wonder presidents have always been wary of red-white-and-blue coffins at Andrews Air Force Base. No wonder “Bring our troops home” is such an evergreen slogan of antiwar activism. If the only grief that matters much is American, then just getting Americans out of harm’s way is the ticket. The demand — like empathy for the war-torn grief of Americans — is vital. And grievously incomplete.
The world’s only superpower has been operating with vast impunity to strike targets and, in effect, summarily execute. (President Obama’s big speech on May 23 reasserted that prerogative; as the ACLU’s president Anthony Romero pointed out, Obama “still claims broad authority to carry out targeted killings far from any battlefield, and there is still insufficient transparency.”) For American politics and mass media — perennially infatuated with the Pentagon’s latest tech advances in military capacities — such enormous power to smite presumptive evildoers has fed into a condition of jingo-narcissism. Some of its manifestations could be viewed as sociopathic: unwilling or unable to acknowledge, or evidently care much about, the pain of others.
Or the terror of others, if we are causing it. In the American political lexicon, terror — the keynote word for justifying the U.S. state of warfare so far in this century — is a supreme epithet, taken as ours to confer and to withhold. Meanwhile, by definition, it goes without saying, our leaders of the “war on terror” do not terrorize. Yet consider these words from New York Times reporter David Rohde,recallinghis captivity by the Taliban in 2009 in tribal areas of Pakistan: “The drones were terrifying. From the ground, it is impossible to determine who or what they are tracking as they circle overhead. The buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death.”
As part of tacit job descriptions, the U.S. network anchor or the president is highly selective in displayed compassion for the grieving. It won’t do to be seen with watery eyes when the Pentagon has done the killing (“friendly fire” a notable exception). No rulebook need be published, no red lines openly promulgated; the gist remains powerfully inherent and understood. If well acculturated, we don’t need to ask for whom the bell tolls; we will be informed in due course. John Donne, meet Orwell and Pavlov.
The U.S. Constitution — if not international law or some tenacious kind of idealism — could prevent presidential “kill lists” from trumping due process. But, as Amy Davidson wrote in a New Yorker online column last year, the operative approach is: “it’s due process if the president thinks about it.” Stephen Colbert summed up: “The Founders weren’t picky. Trial by jury, trial by fire, rock-paper-scissors — who cares?” After all, “Due process just means there’s a process that you do.” Satire from Colbert has been far more candid than oratory from President Obama, whose May 23 speech claimed a commitment to “due process” and declared: “I’ve insisted on strong oversight of all lethal action.”
Bypassing due process and shrugging off the human consequences go hand in hand. At the same time, it can be reassuring when the commander in chief speaks so well. But Obama’s lengthy speech at the National Defense University laid out a global picture with a big missing piece: grief due to U.S. military attacks. The only mention was a fleeting understatement (“for the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss”), instantly followed by a focus on burdens of top perpetrators: “For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live…” As usual, the grief of the USA’s victims was quickly reframed in terms of American dilemmas, essential goodness and standing in the world. So, while Obama’s speech called for “addressing the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism, from North Africa to South Asia,” some crucial grievances stoking the conflicts were off the table from the outset; grief and rage caused by U.S. warfare remained out of the picture.
Transcendent and truly illuminating grief is to be found elsewhere, close to home. “The greatest country in the world” presumes to shoulder the greatest grief, with more access to profundities of death. No wailing and weeping at the scene of a drone strike, scarcely reported by U.S. media anyway, can hold a candle. For American grief to be only as weighty as any other just won’t do. We’re number one! A national narrative of emotional supremacy.
Our politics of grief, bouncing off the walls of U.S. media echo chambers, are apt to seem natural and immutable while fueling much of the domestic political rhetoric that drives U.S. foreign policy. The story goes that we’re sinned against yet not sinning, engaged in self-protection, paying to defend ourselves. Consider the Google tallies for two phrases. “U.S. defense budget”: nearly 4,000,000. “U.S. military budget”: less than 100,000.
But for those in communities grieving the loss of people struck down by the USA’s “Defense Department,” the outlook is inverted. To be killed is bad enough. But to be killed with impunity? To be killed by a machine, from the sky, a missile fired by persons unseen who do not see who they’re killing from hundreds or thousands of miles away? To be left to mourn for loved ones killed in this way?
When, from our vantage point, the grief of “others” lacks major verisimilitude, their resentment and rage appear irrational. Heaven forbid that such emotions could give rise to deadly violence approaching the level of our own. People who are uneducated and unclear on the American concept sometimes fail to appreciate that our perception is to be enforced as hegemonic reality. By a kind of fiat we can elevate with fervent validation some — some — others’ grief. As for the rest, the gradations of importance of their grief, and the legitimacy of their resort to violence, are to be determined by our judicious assessment; for further information, contact the State Department.
*****
There may be no worse feeling of human powerlessness than inability to prevent the death of a loved one. The unmatched power of bereavement forces people to cope with a basic kind of human algebra: love + death = grief. Whether felt as a sudden ghastly deluge or as a long series of sleeper waves with awful undertows, real grief can turn upbeat memories into mournful ones; remembering becomes a source of anguish, so that, as Joan Didion wrote, “Memories are what you no longer want to remember.” Ultimately, intimately, the human conditions of loss often move people to places scarcely mapped by standard news coverage or political rhetoric.
Imagine living in a village in Pakistan or Afghanistan or Yemen. From the sky, death has been visited on neighbors, and drones keep hovering. (As now-former Times reporter Rohde pointed out: “Drones fire missiles that travel faster than the speed of sound. A drone’s victim never hears the missile that kills him.”) Overhead are drones named Reaper, shooting missiles named Hellfire. Have the heavens been grabbed by people who think their instruments of death are godly?
“When scientific power outruns moral power,” Martin Luther King Jr. said, “we end up with guided missiles and misguided men.” For America, drones and other highest-tech weapons are a superb technological means of off-loading moral culpability from public agendas; on the surface, little muss, less fuss.
Disembodied killing offers plenty of pluses in U.S. politics, especially when wars become protracted. From Vietnam to Afghanistan, the reduction of troop levels has cut the number of American deaths (easing the grief that “counts”) in tandem with more bombardment from the air (causing the “other” grief). Today’s domestic politics of grief are akin to what emerged after mid-1969, when President Nixon initiated a steady withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Vietnam. During the three years that followed, Nixon reduced the number of soldiers in Vietnam by nearly half a million, to 69,000. During the same three years, the U.S. government dropped 3.5 million tons of bombs on Vietnam — more than all the bombing in the previous five years.
Then, as now, the official scenario had U.S. troops thinning on the ground, native troops taking up more of the combat burden, and the Pentagon helpfully bombing from the sky as only Americans could “know how.” Independent journalist I. F. Stone astutely identified the paradigm in 1970, when the White House struggled with fading public support for the war. The revamped policy, Stone wrote, was “imperialism by proxy,” aiming to buy “low-wage soldier-power,” an approach that “will be seen in Asia as a rich white man’s idea of fighting a war: we handle the elite airpower while coolies do the killing on the ground.” Stone would have swiftly recognized the pattern in President Obama’s upbeat statement on May 23 that “we will work with the Afghan government to train security forces and sustain a counterterrorism force.”
The number of U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan was down by one-third, to 66,000, at the start of this year, when President Obama announced plans to gradually withdraw the remaining troops over a period of two years. High-tech warfare would pick up the slack. The outgoing Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, told a news conference that a key mission in Afghanistan, persisting after 2014, would be “counterterrorism,” a buzzword for heavy reliance on airpower like drones and cruise missiles. Such weapons would give others grief.
A top “national security” adviser to the president, John Brennan, said as much in an April 2012 speech. “As we have seen,” he noted, “deploying large armies abroad won’t always be our best offense. Countries typically don’t want foreign soldiers in their cities and towns.” The disadvantages of “large, intrusive military deployments” were many. “In comparison, there is the precision of targeted strikes.”
But such “precision” is imperfect enough to be an other’s calamity. Likewise, the extreme relativity of “agony.” At his Senate confirmation hearing to become CIA director in February 2013, Brennan spoke of “the agony we go through” in deciding which individuals to target with drones. Perhaps to square some circles of cognitive dissonance, those who inflict major violence often seem moved to underscore their own psychological pain, their own mental wounds. (As if to say, This hurts me as much as it hurts them; maybe even more, given my far more acute moral sensitivities.) When the focus is on the agony of the perpetrators, there may be less room left to consider the grief of their victims.
Shifting the burden of protracted war easily meshes with a zero-sum geopolitical game. Official enthusiasm for air strikes has correlated with assurances that Americans would be facing much less grief than allied others. So, near the end of 2012, the USA Today front pagereported that “the number of U.S. deaths in Afghanistan is on track to decline sharply this year, reflecting the drawdown in U.S. forces” — while the death toll for Afghan government forces had climbed to 10 times the U.S. level. These developments were recounted as progress all the way around.
As top officials in Washington move to lighten the political load of American grief, their cost-benefit analyses find major strategic value in actions that inflict more grief on others. Political respects must be paid. Elites in the war corps and the press corps do not have infinite tolerance for American deaths, and the Pentagon’s latest technology for remote killing is a perpetual favorite. In the long run, however, what goes around tends to come around.
Advice offered by scholar Eqbal Ahmad before 9/11 bears repeating and pondering: “A superpower cannot promote terror in one place and reasonably expect to discourage terrorism in another place. It won’t work in this shrunken world.”
After the “war on terror” gained momentum, Martin Luther King III spoke at a commemoration of his father’s birth and said: “When will the war end? We all have to be concerned about terrorism, but you will never end terrorism by terrorizing others.” That was more than nine years ago.
Norman Solomon – Author, ‘War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death’

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Doubting Obama’s Resolve to Do Right

By Ray McGovern
May 29, 2013 “Information Clearing House” -“Consortium News” – An article in the Washington Post on July 6, 2010, reported me standing before the White House, announcing a new epithet for President Barack Obama: “Wuss – a person who will not stand up for what he knows is right.”
The report is correct – and so, I believe, is the epithet. And after the sleight-of-tongue speech given by the President of the United States at the National Defense University on May 23, I feel I can rest my case. (Caution: my wife insists that I mention at the outset that I’ve been angry since I listened to the speech.)
The day after Obama’s speech I found myself struck by Scott Wilson’s article on the front page of the Post, in which he highlighted the “unusual ambivalence from a commander-in-chief over the morality of his administration’s counterterrorism policies.”
And someone at the Post also had the courage that day to insert into a more reportorial article by Karen DeYoung and Greg Miller a hitting-the-nail-right-on-the-head quote from Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at Brookings: “To put it crassly, the President sought to rebuke his own administration for taking the positions it has – but also to make sure that it could continue to do so.”
Call me naïve for putting the wish before the thought, but two days later my hopes zoomed when I saw that page A5 of the Post was dominated by a long article by Glenn Kessler, the Post’s normally soporific “fact checker.” After the first seven words of the banner headline – “Red herrings, dissemblance and misleading statements …” – Kessler had me, so to speak.
You will understand my disappointment, then, when I read the rest of the headline: “… from the IRS’s Lerner,” not from Obama.
And so I read Obama’s speech again, initially with the thought of doing Kessler’s job for him. But the lies, half-truths and pettifoggery are legion and the task truly Herculean. Besides, many readers will decipher Obama’s new “transparency” as transparently self-serving, without any help from me.
Hooray! Obama ‘Gets It’
Some progressive pundits have noted, correctly, that Obama’s speech shows that he does “get it” when it comes to the many constitutional problems with his preferred violent approach to meeting external threats and his infringement on civil rights at home.
But it seems to me that this now-open sensitivity-to-the-problem is to be applauded ONLY if he also summons the courage to change course. One gets the idea from Obama’s words that he may indeed wish to, IF only this, or IF only that. … Have we not tired of applauding Obama in the subjunctive mood? I certainly have.
He has now been unusually candid about the dilemmas he faces. But lacking is any real sign – there is just hope – that he will change character. From his speech we know that he understands he needs to change course in order to discharge his duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
But I, for one, see little basis for hope that he will go beyond the carefully crafted all-things-to-all-people rhetoric in his speech. In my view, this makes him even more culpable – an even more transparent flouter of his oath to defend the Constitution.
Ah, but what about the oft-expressed hope that Obama will be freer to act more responsibly in his second term? The four months we have witnessed thus far in his second term bring to mind Samuel Johnson’s quip that a second marriage is “the triumph of hope over experience.”
We have had four years and four months of experience with Obama. Those of us who care about the Constitution and rule of law now need to be guided by experience and to stop cutting him still more slack.
Presidential Whining
The whiny tone of Obama’s speech offended me as much as his faux transparency and disingenuous words. I asked myself, are we supposed to find reassurance that, while our President is a wimp, he is an empathetic one?; that from time to time he experiences a pang or two of conscience when ordering people killed by drone?; that he claims that being responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians will haunt him for as long as he lives? Can we feel his pain?
“I have taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States,” the President reminded us. “I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen – with a drone or a shotgun – without due process,” says he – the day after the Attorney General admitted that this is precisely what happened to New Mexico-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
Could it be that the commander-in-chief has a trace of PTSD? He seems to be appealing for our understanding about how conflicted he is about ordering people killed, entreating us to imagine his anguish, to appreciate how hard it is for him – a constitutional lawyer, no less – to do these terrible things anyway.
And then the kicker: “Remember,” he adds, “that the terrorists we are after target civilians.” (Whatever happened to the “But we are better than that.”)
On Guantanamo, Obama expressed regret over how the prison “has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law” (and in the very next sentence trivializes this, lamenting only that “our allies won’t cooperate with us if they think a terrorist will end up at GTMO).”
Again regarding Guantanamo, he asks, “Is that who we are? … Is that the America we want to leave to our children?” And he notes disapprovingly that “we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike.”
And so I keep asking myself, who is this “we?” Does the President style himself as some sort of extraterrestrial creature looking from afar on the abomination of Guantanamo? Has he forfeited his role as the leader of “we?” What kind of leadership is this, anyway?
History of Leadership
In a speech on March 21, second-term Obama gave us a big clue regarding his concept of leadership – one that is marked primarily by political risk-avoidance and a penchant for “leading from behind”: “Speaking as a politician, I can promise you this: political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do. You must create the change that you want to see.”
John Kennedy was willing to take huge risks in reaching out to the USSR and ending the war in Vietnam. That willingness to take risks may have gotten him assassinated, as James Douglass argues in his masterful JFK and the Unspeakable.
Martin Luther King, Jr., also took great risks and met the same end. There is more than just surmise that this weighs heavily on Barack Obama’s mind. Last year, pressed by progressive donors at a dinner party to act more like the progressive they thought he was, Obama responded sharply, “Don’t you remember what happened to Dr. King?”
It is not as though Obama had no tutors. He entered Harvard Law School 113 years after one of its most distinguished alumni, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, began to study there. I find myself wondering if Brandeis has been redacted out of the lectures at Harvard Law.
Slick lawyers have done an effective job over the past dozen years trying, in effect, to render one of Brandeis’s most penetrating remarks “quaint” and “obsolete.” Following is a paragraph, acutely relevant to today’s circumstances; Brandeis wrote it to warn us all about how the government sets a key example on respect for the law:
“The government is the potent omnipresent teacher. For good or ill it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that the end justifies the means — to declare that the government may commit crimes — would bring terrible retribution.”
Protesting Too Much
Let me provide a couple of examples from Obama’s speech that illustrate the value of Brandeis’s warning:
One could easily infer that the President is protesting too much (four times in the speech) in claiming that his “preference” is to capture terrorists rather than kill them. Clearly, though, Obama has made targeted killing his tactic of choice. What do former insiders say? The lawyer who drew up the initial White House policy on lethal drone strikes has accused the Obama administration of overusing them because of its reluctance to capture prisoners. Holding prisoners is such a nuisance.
John Bellinger, who was a lawyer on George W. Bush’s National Security Council and worked on the legal framework for both detention of suspected terrorists and targeted drone killings, said on May 1 at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington: “This government has decided that instead of detaining members of al-Qaida, they are going to kill them.”
It should be noted that Bellinger is not opposed to targeted killings and argues that they are not only lawful but “can be good.” He said the big issue was not the administration’s claimed legality of targeted killings but rather international acceptance of Washington’s so-called global war on terrorism:
“The issue really here … is that there is a fundamental disagreement around the world, which I experienced when I was the legal adviser, as to whether the United States really is in a war at all. And we are about the only country in the world that really thinks that we are in an armed conflict with al-Qaida.”
But Obama said, four times, that his preference is capture over killing. Someone is not telling the truth.
Here’s how Spencer Ackerman posed the question in a recent piece for Wired: “Obama turned more than a few heads by declaring his ‘strong preference’ for ‘the detention and prosecution of terrorists’ over sending an armed robot to end their lives. It’s hard to know what to make of that. The simplest interpretation is that it’s a lie. Whatever Obama’s preferences are, he has killed exponentially more people than he has detained and prosecuted.”
Guantanamo Prison
Over 100 hunger strikers in the Guantanamo prison are being force-fed to prevent them from the only method of release they see open to them – death. In this part of his speech, too, Obama keeps giving a bad name to hypocrisy. His handwringing sounds as though he were some kind of liberal pundit on MSNBC; as though he were powerless to do anything; as though his hands are tied by Congress. He said:
“Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees… . Is that who we are? Is that something that our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children.”
Interrupting Obama, Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin appealed to the President to “release those 86 prisoners” (more than half of the 166 prisoners still held at Guantanamo) already cleared for release. On Jan. 22, 2010, those 86 were pronounced cleared after a year-long investigation of their individual cases by an interagency task force of officials at the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security and others.
But Congress has tied the President’s hands, you may be thinking. Congress, to be sure, has posed legal obstacles, but is not the only fly in the ointment. Congress has also given Obama considerable leeway; but he has not had the courage to take advantage of it. One of Congress’s most powerful members, Sen. Carl Levin, Chair of the Armed Services Committee, sent the White House a letter on May 6 reminding the President that, thanks to the efforts of Levin and others, Obama can release the 86 without further delay.
In other words, Medea Benjamin was right, though you would never know it from the mainstream media. Referring to congressional restrictions on detainee transfers, Levin reminded Obama: “I successfully fought for a national security waiver that provides a clear route for transfer of detainees to third countries in appropriate cases; i.e., to make sure the certification requirements do not constitute an effective prohibition.”
Moreover, Obama did say that he will lift the restrictions he himself imposed on sending detainees to Yemen. After Obama’s speech, attorney Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told Paul Jay of the Real News Network:
“All that has to happen is for the President to certify, as he is required to do by law, and send the detainees to Yemen. But then he [the President] says, “I’m going to do this on a case-by-case basis. They have already been cleared on a case-by-case basis. So Obama is going to go back through it?
“The proof will be in the pudding even on Yemen. Will he actually do it? How slowly will he do it? You know, what he should actually do is just do it and get it done and then move on to the next thing. So we’ll have to see…”
Summing Up: An Epochal Speech
Benjamin Wittes of Brookings (quoted above) is hardly alone in characterizing Obama’s May 23 speech as a rebuke to his own administration for taking the positions it has and then a defense of its intention to continue to do so.
Here’s what Norman Pollack had to say about all this, in an article he titled “Obama’s Militarism-Imperialism Lite”:
“A tissue of lies? No, the whole Kleenex box – one tissue interleaved with all the others. Obama is fortunate to be presiding over a country steeped in false consciousness on essentials (war, sacrifice of the social safety net for the glories of militarism, and … authoritarian submission, a political-cultural disposition to strong leadership reinforced by appeals to patriotism and pressures toward conformity). …
“His May 23rd address therefore fell on receptive national ears, a desperate will to believe that immorality is moral, illegality, legal, and war, the necessary defense of Homeland in its centuries’-old quest for peace, honor, the rule of law. How comforting!
“Liberals and progressives especially have taken heart in POTUS’s rhetoric that a new day in American foreign policy is dawning — has already dawned, by the simple fact of self-declaration that the United States is always bound by the constraints of the rule of law. … All else is enemy propaganda.
“With that as background (and a solid phalanx of flags as his backdrop) Obama spoke with becoming assurance — to me, arrogance — as the leader of the Enlightened World in its struggle against the forces of ignorance, darkness, covetousness, wholly oblivious to America’s moral sense and good intentions. Such a masterful speech (as judged by the New York Times and mainstream media opinion) deserves a closer look — but not too close, lest the luster wear off.”
My gratitude to those who have read down this far. And my apologies for not coming across Pollack’s article earlier. It’s pretty much what I wanted to say all along; and he says it better – and shorter.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. A former CIA analyst, he has been dissecting speeches of foreign leaders for 50 years, and of American presidents for the past 12. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

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Henry Kissinger Confronted While Receiving The Freedom Award

America Is Being Led Astray By Narcissists

The Monsanto Revolution

By Timothy V. Gatto
May 30, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – The protests against the Monsanto Protection Act were not covered by the corporately run news media in the United States. This treacherous act itself has not been discussed by the majority of people and the information about what it really means to us is being hidden by those charged to provide this information.
The very fact that the corporate media has tried to minimize the coverage of the protests, and the fact that they hid the role of Congress in protecting a company that has the potential to damage our lives is something that is actually criminal. The fact that most Americans still don’t know about the potential effects of GMO seeds to the American people cannot be defended.
It was the alternative and social media that brought this matter to the public. The marches and the gathering of concerned Americans demonstrated the power of this new way of communication. The effectiveness and coordination in over 250 cities in the United States was absolutely remarkable and a demonstration of how democracy works.
It was also remarkable how the commercial media downplayed and censored the protests of the people. The importance of the information that the demonstrators were trying to present to the American public and the effect of what Monsanto’s policies will have on the public is of significant importance.
Even though people demonstrated in almost every city in the United States, the commercial media still managed to keep the purpose and the import of the demonstrations quiet, the suppression of that information was done masterfully.
What Else are they hiding from the People?
It appears that our government has morphed into something that would be unrecognizable to those that designed and formed it. In the period of time during the American Revolution, many people in the government were indeed rich and powerful, but many were not. Today most Senators and Congressman are rich and powerful and those that are not will by the time they leave office. The majority of those in Congress are controlled by corporate money and this is what funds their campaigns.
The Monsanto debacle has proven, beyond any shadow of a doubt that the commercial media is in the hands of the rich and powerful. Information they don’t want known does not escape from the media cloud that is dispersed to the people. The importance of what Monsanto plans to do, and the effect it would have on all of the people in the United States proves that even a subject that affects us so deeply can be hidden from the people.
This should cause a seismic shift in our understanding of who and what controls the American people. The importance of The Monsanto Protection Act and the potential damage to the health and economic welfare of American citizen’s cannot be understated. What Congress has done was not done in the name of the American people; it was done to shield a corporation and thus was essentially an act of treason.
Again I’m asking the question; what else are they hiding from us? Whether it is because of corporate interests or because of what they feel is “national security”, these questions should and must be asked and the government should be compelled to answer.
The simple facts are, the people don’t work for the government in America, the government, under our law, works for the people! When they passed “The Monsanto Protection Act”, they passed a law that literally protected a corporation from the American people! Again, this is treason! Treason perpetrated against the American people is a capital offense! This may sound extreme, but every lawmaker that voted for this bill should be impeached and charged with treason against the people of the United States. The bill should be declared treasonous and overturned by The Supreme Court.
Of course, in today’s political climate, and with the perpetrators being the ones that hold power in Congress, this won’t happen at this particular time, but it can and will happen. It must happen! If the American people want control of the government instead of the government having control over them, they must take this issue to its logical conclusion.
As has happened many times in the past, it is happening here and now in the United States of America. The government has acted against the welfare of its own people for the personal gain of a corporation. This display of corporate power is contrary to our Declaration of Independence and against our Constitution.
Anyone who really cares about the welfare of their fellow man should take notice. It is apparent that one day of marches and demonstrating in the streets just isn’t enough. The only way forward is to continue to raise hell; more marches, more demonstrations, more people posting articles and more people raising awareness using any means possible. This is the only hope of stopping treason against the people.
Tim Gatto is former Chairman of the Liberal Party of America, Tim is a retired Army Sergeant. He currently lives in South Carolina. He is the author of “Complicity to Contempt” and “Kimchee Days” available at Oliver Arts and Open Press. Tim Gatto’s new book “Contempt to Outrage” will be available soon from Oliver Arts and Open

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Indian state to intensify counter-insurgency war after Maoist ambush

UK’s “Bedroom Tax” drives grandmother to suicide

Armed stand-off, mounting tensions, in the South China Sea

Job seekers camp out for applications in New York

By Dan Brennan 
29 May 2013
A tent city sprang up in the New York City borough of Queens last week as hundreds camped out in order to secure an application for elevator apprenticeships. The job seekers waited as long as six days for IBEW Local 3 to distribute the 750 applications, with just 75 openings guaranteed. Hundreds of late arrivals left empty-handed.
The elevator service and repair apprenticeships offer an increasingly rare opportunity for young workers to get jobs at decent pay. Wages start at $17 an hour, but upon completing the four-year training program, workers can earn between $35 and $40 an hour plus benefits, as a journeyman.
No special qualifications were required to apply, only a high school diploma and the ability to lift 50 pounds. A written test and physical exam will follow for successful applicants.
The scene last week was nearly identical to one in April 2010, the last time applications were handed out. Then as now hundreds of workers set up makeshift residences on the sidewalk in hopes of landing a job. The union brought in half a dozen portable toilets and hired a security guard to keep watch 24 hours a day.
Tents lined up as job seekers await applications
An IBEW official explained to the New York Times the reasoning behind this method of first-come, first-served in-person distribution of applications for apprenticeships. “If we did it online or we did it like a mail-in,” he said, “we’d have to go through 10,000 applications.”
This is by no means an exaggeration. Unemployment remains at crisis levels throughout the country, and particularly in New York City. The latest data peg the official rate at 8.4 percent, nearly one point above the national average, but these figures do not include millions who have given up looking for work or who are working part-time or at low-wage jobs and are desperate to secure work that pays enough to support a family.
While the official unemployment statistics have improved recently, the real conditions have not. Over the past year roughly half of the drop in New York is due to a shrinking labor pool, i.e., workers giving up on finding jobs. Long-term unemployment has become so endemic that nearly 60 percent of unemployed New Yorkers no longer receive jobless benefits.
Job seekers take shelter from the rain
To the extent that new jobs have been created, the vast majority have been at or near poverty-level wages. The latest report from the Center for an Urban Future reveals a tremendous increase since the start of the economic crisis. In New York City as a whole, the number of workers in low-wage jobs climbed to 35 percent last year, up from an already shocking 31 percent.
In Brooklyn, where rents are now almost as exorbitant as in Manhattan, approximately 40 percent of workers have low-wage jobs, an 8 percent increase since 2008. In the Bronx, the city’s poorest borough, the percentage of such jobs is even higher, at just under half.
This situation is replicated in city after city around the US, where low wages have become the norm for a huge section of the workforce.
Charles Keen, a 25-year-old from Maryland, traveled for hours to wait in line for an elevator apprenticeship application. “This is my first time in New York,” he explained. “I am trying to get ahead in life. There are no jobs, no work and no money to be made. I make $9.50 per hour with no benefits as a chef. My job is seasonal and I have to go on unemployment from about Halloween until April 1st. This whole economy is going to shit, with so many jobs having been lost and so much unemployment.”
“I don’t pay any attention to the politicians,” he continued. “I don’t like what they are doing. They keep passing tax increases on the ordinary people while the prices for everything you need keeps going up. It seems like the politicians want to help the rich people and not the middle and lower classes.

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Deadly fungal disease outbreak in California prisons

By Jake Dean 
29 May 2013
Over the past seven years, more than three-dozen inmates from two California Central Valley state prisons have died after contracting Valley Fever fungal disease. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stepped in to investigate the outbreak.
Between 2006 and 2011, coccidioidomycosis, or Valley Fever, contributed to the deaths of 34 inmates at the Avenal and Pleasant Valley prisons. So far in 2012, the disease has been considered as a primary or secondary cause for nine inmates’ deaths.
The coccidioides fungus is prevalent in the US Southwest, where temperatures are generally high and the soil is dry. The illness is frequently contracted when one inhales spores of the fungus, which originates in the region’s soil. Farmers, construction workers, and other outdoor workers are most susceptible.
The fungus produces symptoms of fatigue, chest pains, fever, rash and, in some instances, the development of nodules in the lungs. There is currently no cure for the condition.
California’s prison system is notoriously brutal. Last year, inmates went on a hunger strike against overcrowding and poor living conditions. The state holds a staggering 119,500 people in facilities built to hold 80,000.
As of April, California’s 33 prisons were at 150 percent capacity, and 9,000 over the federal court-ordered cap. The administration of Democratic Governor Jerry Brown has haggled with the federal government for years over the inmate population cap.
Following a 2009 federal court order, the state has shuffled prisoners around, housing them in county jails, farming them out of state to be held in private prisons, and releasing a relative handful of low-level offenders.
The Brown administration is legally mandated to reduce the incarcerated population to 137.5 percent of facility design capacity by December of this year. The state has largely flouted the courts.
In May 2011, the US Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that found conditions of overcrowding had such a dire impact on the health of inmates that their treatment constituted “cruel and unusual punishment.” The case exposed instances in which dozens of sick inmates were held in cages awaiting medical treatment, and ill and disabled prisoners were routinely denied necessary care and medication.
The Supreme Court found that overcrowding in California’s prison system resulted in at least “one needless death per week.” Even the court’s conservative assessment of the situation presents what is clearly a humanitarian disaster.
With the large majority of prison inmates brought in from outside the Central Valley, most do not have any sort of built-in-immunity, making it easier for prisoners to be infected by the fungus.
A study done by J. Clark Kelso, court receiver for prison health care, showed that African-Americans in the two prisons have a 90 percent increased risk, Latinos are at a 30 percent increased risk, and those older than 55 have a 60 percent higher risk.
Kelso accused the state of an “anemic response” to the health crisis. Six years ago the state was informed that it must transfer high-risk inmates, and possibly all inmates, out of the area if the Valley Fever infection rates did not drop. Beyond adding air filters and door seals that minimally kept out fungus-tainted dust, however, little has been done to prevent the spread of the fungus.
Between 2008 and 2011, 11 inmates filed claims related to Valley Fever with the state Victims Compensation & Government Claim Board. All were rejected.
Some 500 high-risk inmates now remain in the two prisons. Some 3,200 others are deemed at increased risk of developing a fatal reaction to the fungus, and are now being relocated.
An estimated 200 inmates are hospitalized every year due to Valley Fever, a figure that underscores the scale of the health risk within the prisons. In fact, a study conducted by the state prison health system found that the rate of Valley Fever inside Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga was 600 times higher than outside the prison walls in Fresno County.
Another study done at Pleasant Valley State Prison in April 2012 found a rate of 7,011 cases of Valley Fever per 100,000 people.

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Washington steps up hacking allegations against China

By Niles Williamson 
29 May 2013
On Monday the Washington Post published a classified list compiled by the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board of military systems and technologies allegedly compromised by Chinese hacking. Though the previously undisclosed report does not present any evidence for these claims, it is being used to escalate charges against China that it is hacking US secrets.
The allegations expanded on accusations published earlier this month that the Chinese government and its military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), were engaged in a campaign of cyber-espionage against the United States. (See: “Washington’s hacking charges escalate pressure on China”)
The Washington Post ’s report suggested that the Chinese government was utilizing cyber-espionage to steal information from military contractors in order to modernize its military and overcome the United States’ military advantage. Defense contractors whose military systems have apparently been breached include Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman.
Amongst the compromised defense systems and technologies are the Patriot missile system, THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, a system designed to shoot down ballistic missiles), and the Navy’s Aegis ballistic-missile defense system. Key combat aircraft and ships including the F-35 fighter jet, Global Hawk surveillance drone, and the Navy’s new Littoral combat ship are also included on the list. Purportedly compromised technologies include drone video and electronic warfare systems.
Oddly, while the Pentagon is claiming the Chinese hackers have compromised many of the American military’s most advanced and sensitive weapons systems, it is not alleging that any designs have been stolen. Nor does it provide any substantial evidence as to the extent or timing of the supposed compromise of military defense designs. As such, it remains unclear as to how exactly this information has been compromised.
Some reports suggest that unidentified hackers may have targeted smaller subcontractors working for major US defense contractors. The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requires defense contractors that hold classified clearance to report breaches of their networks and allow government investigators access to analyze the attacks. Attempts to require companies to secure their computer networks or lose Pentagon contracts failed last year, however.
This week’s allegations against China build on unsubstantiated reports released earlier this month that the Chinese government and the PLA have engaged in direct cyber-attacks against the United States government and its military contractors. Cyber-attacks are notoriously difficult to trace, however, as it is easy for a hacker to launch an attack from another computer that he has taken over.
The Chinese government insists that it does not engage in cyber-espionage against the United States and often raises complaints that US targets China for cyber-attacks.
The US government’s allegations against the Chinese government and PLA reek of hypocrisy. It is well established that the United States has engaged in its own systematic campaign of cyber-sabotage.
As part of Operation Olympic Games, the United States and Israel created the Stuxnet computer worm to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. The cyber-war operation was created under former President George W. Bush and expanded under President Obama. The Stuxnet worm caused centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear facility to destroy themselves by spinning out of control, temporarily setting back Iran’s nuclear program. This campaign of cyber-sabotage occurred in conjunction with a US-backed assassination campaign carried out inside Iran against Iranian nuclear scientists.
The Pentagon is raising concerns about cyber-espionage and cyber-war as the United States escalates its moves to contain China as part of the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia,” and its bid to maintain US geo-strategic hegemony worldwide. China has emerged as a major obstacle to US ambitions of enforcing economic hegemony in the Middle East. China, along with Russia, has repeatedly blocked UN Security Council votes that would have allowed direct intervention into the war in Syria.
Charges of cyber-espionage aim to place pressure on the newly instated regime of President Xi Jinping to get the Chinese government to shift its foreign policy broadly in line with US interests.
There are concerns that cyber-espionage by the PLA will undermine Washington’s technological advantage, should it start a war with China. The Pentagon also fears that China could use cyber-attacks to disrupt the critical communication networks the military relies on to coordinate and engage in attacks across the globe. According to the Washington Post, this threatens catastrophic results, including severed communication links critical to the operation of U.S. forces. Data corruption could misdirect U.S. operations. Weapons could fail to operate as intended. Planes, satellites or drones could crash.”
In tandem with the Washington Post ’s report, Australia’s ABC reported that the Australian government has also been subject to apparent Chinese cyber-attacks.
ABC reported that the plans for the Australian Security Intelligence Organization’s new $608 million headquarters were stolen in a cyber-attack on a building contractor. Security experts feared that China might use the blueprints to bug the building, which is currently under construction in the Australian capital of Canberra.
This case is a further example of the unreliability of cyber-espionage allegations, however, as the allegations were repudiated by the Australian government. Australia officials described the ABC report as unsubstantiated and Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that the report was “inaccurate.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei responded skeptically to the unsubstantiated allegations, saying, “Since it is technically untraceable, it is very difficult to find the source and identify the hacker. Therefore we have no idea what is the evidence for their report in which they make the claim with such certainty. Groundless accusations won’t solve the problem.”
The Pentagon’s accusations regarding Chinese cyber-espionage come ahead of the first meeting between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping scheduled for June 7- 8 at the Annenberg Retreat in Rancho Mirage, California. Billed as a casual “get-to-know-you” retreat, it will be the first meeting between the two leaders since Xi became President in March. According to White House spokesman Jay Carney, Obama plans to raise the issue of cyber security with President Xi during the retreat.

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Syria escalation poses growing risk of regional war

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