Category Archives: U.S.

9/11 and the World Trade Center: Propaganda Can’t Melt Steel Beams

Congressional Spending Bill Generously Funds Israel’s Killing Machine

The New York Times’ 9/11 Propaganda

Moscow’s Stance Against US-Supported Terrorism. Obama versus JFK

US Lies and Excuses for Bombing Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan

Putin Lives in the Real World, Obama Lives in a Fantasyland

The 9/11 Facts Timeline: Evidence, Opinion and Analysis From Major Media Sources

America’s Police State Is Rooted in Four Federal Wars

A Refugee Crisis Made in America

How America Double-Crossed Russia and Shamed the West

9/11 Truth: De-Bunking the Neocon 9/11 Narrative. The Workings of “Big Lie Propaganda”

New Evidence of Foreknowledge of the 9/11 Attacks: The 9/11 Consensus Panel

Washington Launches New Drone Assassination Program in Syria

The Rise Of The Inhumanes

Turkey Duped the US, and ISIS Reaps Rewards

Washington’s Financial/Currency War on China: Eclipsing of US Dollar by Yuan

America’s Killer Cops, De Facto Martial Law in Ferguson

Pentagon manual justifies war crimes and press censorship

New York Times Still Pretends No Coup in Ukraine

West ‘Seeks Russia Regime Change’ Lavrov


November 23, 2014 “ICH” – “RT” –  The ultimate goal of the anti-Russian sanctions imposed by some Western nations is to stir public protests and oust the government, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

“Western leaders publicly state that the sanctions must hurt [Russia’s] economy and stir up public protests. The West doesn’t want to change Russia’s policies. They want a regime change. Practically nobody denies that,” he told a leading think-tank in Moscow.

Lavrov said that the tensions between Russia and the West had been brewing for years before the Ukrainian crisis, adding that now the Europeans had decided to go for all-or-nothing and play chicken with Russia. But at least the positions have been made clear, Lavrov said.

‘Ideology blinds Europe’

Russia and the EU are having a moment of truth focused on Ukraine, Lavrov said, but stressed that Moscow would not be the one to break off ties with Europe. However, Russia won’t simply go back to how things were before the crisis hit, he said.

“The EU is our largest partner,” Lavrov said. “Nobody is going to shoot himself in the foot and reject cooperation with Europe, but everyone understands that it won’t be business as usual anymore.

“But we don’t need the kind of business we had. [That] was like ‘Russia must do this and must do that,’ and we want to cooperate as equals,” he added.

He laid the blame for the escalation on an “aggressive minority” among EU nations, who pursue ideologically-driven grabs of power in eastern Europe, including Ukraine, instead of focusing on the serious problems that Europe is facing due to the turmoil across the Mediterranean in North Africa and the Middle East.

“Exporting any kind of ideology, whether it is democratic or communist or any other kind, won’t do any good,” he warned.

Ideology blinds Europeans to some problems, which Russia believes need to be solved, Lavrov said. For example, EU officials are reluctant to speak about the persecution of Christians by Muslim militants in Iraq and Syria or elsewhere, because they fear that this would be perceived a is politically incorrect. Meanwhile there is a growing Christianophobia in the world, he said.

“Most of EU members avoid discussing this issue. They are ashamed to pronounce it as they were ashamed to put a phrase acknowledging the Christian roots of Europe into the EU Constitution,” Lavrov said. “If you don’t remember and don’t respect your own roots and traditions, how can you respect the traditions of other people?”

‘Russia not anti-American’

Lavrov blamed the US for claiming global leadership at a time when both its resources and leadership skills are in decline. Particularly, he said, Washington is increasingly tuning its policies with electoral cycles, as long-term goals are sacrificed for short-term gains of popularity among voters.

“We cannot accept the position of those who tell us: ‘Put up with it. Everyone has to suffer from America having elections every two years, and nothing should be done about it. Relax and take it as a given’. This won’t do. We won’t take it because the stakes are too high,”Lavrov said.

He added that while some take Russia’s opposition to America’s global influence as anti-Americanism, this is not the case.

“It’s not about anti-Americanism or forming some sort of anti-American coalition. It’s about the natural desire of an increasing number of nations to ensure their vital interests and doing it in a way they see right, not the way they are being told by a foreign party,” he said.

If the US pursues leadership not out of a false perception that it has a God-given burden to take responsibility for everybody, but by developing the skill to form a consensus, Moscow would be the first to back Washington, Lavrov said.

But now Washington is bullying other nations into toeing their line, and few dare to object publicly out of fear of reprisal, while complaining in private, he added.

© Autonomous Nonprofit Organization “TV-Novosti”, 2005–2014. All rights reserved.

Lavrov accuses West of seeking ‘regime change’ in Russia

By Polina Devitt

(November 23, 2014 “ICH” – “Reuters” – ) – Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the West on Saturday of trying to use sanctions imposed on Moscow in the Ukraine crisis to seek “regime change” in Russia.

His comments stepped up Moscow’s war of words with the United States and the European Union in their worst diplomatic standoff since the Cold War ended.

“As for the concept behind to the use of coercive measures, the West is making clear it does not want to force Russia to change policy but wants to secure regime change,” Tass news agency quoted Lavrov as telling a meeting of the advisory Foreign and Defense Policy Council in Moscow.

He said that when international sanctions had been used against other countries such as Iranand North Korea, they had been designed not to harm the national economy.

“Now public figures in Western countries say there is a need to impose sanctions that will destroy the economy and cause public protests,” Lavrov said.

His comments followed remarks on Thursday in which President Vladimir Putin said Moscow must guard against a “color revolution” in Russia, referring to protests that toppled leaders in other former Soviet republics.

Western sanctions have limited access to foreign capital for some of Russia’s largest companies and banks, hit the defense and energy industries, and imposed asset freezes and travel bans on some of Putin’s allies.

The measures have aggravated an economic downturn, which has also been worsened by a fall in global oil prices and has helped cause a nearly 30 percent slide in the rouble against the dollar since the start of the year.

Putin’s popularity has soared in Russia since the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March.

He says Western powers were behind the overthrow of a Moscow-backed president in Ukraine in February after months of street protests, but the West blames Moscow for the crisis.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in Kiev on Friday termed Russia’s behavior in Ukraine as “unacceptable”. He said Moscow must abide by a Sept. 5 ceasefire deal, which has failed to end a conflict that has killed more than 4,300 people since mid-April.

Biden urged Moscow to pull soldiers out of Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists are fighting government forces, though Moscow denies supporting the rebels with troops and weapons.

See also –

3 killed as Ukraine accuses Russia of cross-border shelling: One government soldier was killed and 18 others wounded in confrontation with rebels, according to the press service of the Ukrainian military operation. In addition, two civilians were killed in eastern Ukraine in the past day, the press service said

Propaganda? Kiev says Russia has 7,500 troops in Ukraine: Russia has 7,500 troops in the east of the country, where pro-Moscow separatists have been fighting government troops for months, Ukraine’s defense minister said.

UK troops in largest armored deployment in Eastern Europe for six years: Britain is carrying out its largest armored deployment in Eastern Europe for six years, in a joint exercise with Poland to reassure it in the wake of Russia’s (alledged) intervention in Ukraine, the Ministry of Defense said on Friday.

Chinese diplomat declares support for Russia’s approach toward Ukraine: China supports Russia’s position on measures aimed at overcoming the Ukrainian crisis, says Gui Congyou, acting director-general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry Department of European-Central Asian Affairs.

US, Canada & Ukraine vote against Russia’s anti-Nazism resolution at UN: UN General Assembly’s Third Committee passed a Russia-proposed resolution condemning attempts to glorify Nazism ideology and denial of German Nazi war crimes. The US, Canada and Ukraine were the only countries to vote against it.

Open Letter To President Obama: Your Legacy

By Alan Hart

Dear Mr. President,

August 12, 2014 “ICH” – This open letter was inspired by a friend of mine who suggested that you should be urged to resign rather than remain a prisoner of the majority in Congress who take their orders from the Zionist lobby and its so-called Christian evangelical allies and who by doing so are betraying America’s own best interests and could be called traitors not mere stooges. My friend made this suggestion after he had reflected upon what I had said to him – that because you allow Israel to act in defiance of international law with impunity, you are complicit by default in Israel’s war crimes.

Of course I know that you won’t resign but I have a suggestion about what you could do after the upcoming mid-term elections if you are to have a legacy worth having.


For democracy to exist the citizens of nations, the voters, must be informed enough about critical issues to be able to call and hold their leaders and governments to account, and not only at election time but between elections, all the time. This is most certainly not the case in America. What passes for democracy in your country is for sale to the highest lobby bidders (not only the Zionist lobby). You have the framework for democracy but not the substance.

Before I go further I want you to know that this gentile Englishman (me) is not in any way, shape or form anti-American. I have been visiting your country on and off for nearly half a century and, as I wrote in my book Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews and have said on public platforms coast-to-coast across it, I have a love-hate relationship with America. What do I mean?

On one level and generally speaking, I think Americans are the most uninformed, misinformed and therefore gullible people on the face of Planet Earth. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that deep down Americans are, I truly believe, the most idealistic people in the world. It follows that if they were aware of the truth of history as it relates to the making and sustaining of the conflict in and over Palestine that became Israel, and if as consequence of that awareness they understood who must do what and why for justice and peace, they would support a president using the leverage he has to try to oblige Israel’s leaders to end their defiance of international law and be serious about peace on terms the Palestinians could accept.

A question arising is this. What is the essence of the truth of history all Americans need to know about what used to be called the Arab-Israeli conflict if they are to be empowered to play their necessary part in making democracy work?

I’m now going to summarise very, very briefly the essence of seven truths all Americans need to know. (The detailed and documented evidence that supports them is in my book, three volumes in its American edition published by Clarity Press).

1. Very few Israeli or other Jews have any biological/ancestral connection to the ancient Hebrews. The notion that there are two peoples with an equal claim to the land of Palestine is Zionist propaganda nonsense.

2. Israel is a Zionist not a Jewish state (how could it be a Jewish state when a quarter of its citizens are Arabs and mainly Muslims?) And Zionism and modern Judaism are not one and the same as Zionism asserts they are in order to label criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism. Zionism and Judaism are, in fact, total opposites. Like Christianity and Islam, Judaism has at its core a set of moral values and ethical principles. Zionism’s policies and actions demonstrate complete contempt for these moral values and ethical principles. (Do you know, Mr. President, that in a recent article on the IDF’s delivery of death and destruction to the Gaza Strip American Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun, said he was “mourning for a Judaism being murdered by Israel”?)

3. Israel was created, mainly, by Zionist terrorism and ethnic cleansing; and without the obscenity of the Nazi holocaust Zionism almost certainly would not have been able to mobilise and command enough Jewish support – financial, political and other – to establish itself in Palestine in state form. (Prior to the Nazi holocaust a majority of the Jews of the world were opposed to Zionism’s enterprise. They believed it to be morally wrong. They believed it would lead to unending conflict. And they feared that if Zionism was allowed by the major powers to have its way in Palestine it would one day provoke anti-Semitism. Which is what it is doing today).

4. Israel’s existence has never, ever, been in danger from any combination of Arab force. Despite some stupid rhetoric to the contrary, the Arab regimes never, ever, had any intention of fighting Israel to liberate Palestine. (When Israel closed the Palestine file with its victory on the battlefield in 1948 and the Armistice Agreements that followed, the Arab regimes shared behind closed doors the same hope as Zionism and the major powers – that the Palestine file would remain closed. The Palestinians were supposed to accept their lot as the sacrificial lamb on the altar of political expediency. Their “crime” was and is their refusal to do so).

5. By the end of 1979, nearly 35 years ago, the pragmatic Arafat, on the advice of President Nasser more than a decade earlier, had prepared the ground on his side for peace on terms any rational government in Israel would have accepted with relief. He did it by persuading the Palestine National Council, more or less a Palestinian parliament-in-exile and then the highest decision making body on the Palestinian side, to endorse by 296 votes to 4 his policy of politics and compromise with Israel – compromise which until then had been unthinkable to all Palestinians because it required them to make peace with Israel in return for only 22 per cent of the land they rightfully claimed as their own. (Arafat also informed Israel’s leaders through secret channels that he and his leadership colleagues understood and reluctantly accepted that in order for a Palestinian mini state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to be acceptable to most Israeli Jews, the Palestinian right of return would have to be restricted to the territory of the Palestinian state. That meant, as Arafat told me, only about 100,000 Palestinians would be able to return. But he was not renouncing the principle of the right of return for others. His hope was that one or two generations of a two-state peace would lead by mutual consent to One State with equal rights for all and therefore the space and trust needed to allow many more Palestinians to return. His priority in 1979 was to get “something concrete” for the Palestinians instead of nothing).

6. Since 27 March 2002 there has been on the table on Arab Peace Initiative (API) which was presented at the Beirut Summit of the Arab League by then Crown Prince and today King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. In return for an end to Israel’s occupation of all Arab land grabbed in the 1967 war (actually a war of Israeli aggression not self-defence) and Israel’s acceptance of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the API offers an end to the conflict AND WITH THE SIGNING OF A COMPREHENSIVE PEACE AGREEMENT THE ESTABLISHMENT OF NORMAL RELATIONS BETWEEN ISRAEL AND THE ENTIRE ARAB WORLD. (If Israel’s leaders had been willing to explore what was on offer in the API, they would have discovered two things. One was that a comprehensive peace agreement could contain a clause limiting the Palestinian right of return to territory of the Palestinian state with compensation for the rest. The other was Arab flexibility on Jerusalem. The API has East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state, but in negotiations for a full and final comprehensive peace the Arabs would accept that the whole of Jerusalem should be an undivided, open city and the capital of two states).

7. For some years Hamas’s top leaders have been on the public record with the statement that while they will never recognise Israel’s “right” to exist, they are prepared to accept the actual existence of an Israel inside its borders as they were on 4 June 1967, and live in peace with it, if that is the wish of a majority of Palestinians as expressed in a referendum.

Two related conclusions are demanded by the truth of history.

One is that it’s not Israel that has lacked and lacks a Palestinian partner for peace. It is the Palestinians who have lacked and lack an Israeli partner for peace. (There’s a case for saying that Israeli Prime Minister Rabin might have been one but he was assassinated by a Zionist fanatic who knew exactly what he was doing – killing the peace process Arafat’s pragmatism in motion).

The other conclusion is that Israel’s leaders are not remotely interested in peace on terms that would provide the Palestinians with an acceptable amount of justice.

As I think you know, Mr. President, but dare not say, the game plan of Israel’s leaders is to make life hell for the occupied and oppressed Palestinians in the hope that they will either abandon their struggle and surrender to Zionism’s will by accepting crumbs from its table – a few Bantustans here and there which they could call a state if they wished, or, preferably, pack up and leave their homeland to make a new life elsewhere.

A question arising is what will Israel’s leaders do when they come to the conclusion that they cannot break the spirit of Palestinian resistance with bombs and bullets and humiliations of all kinds? My fear is that they will create the pretext for a final ethnic cleansing of Palestine. (They could do it by getting half a dozen of their agents to dress as Palestinians and kill 30 or 40 or more Israeli Jews. That done the IDF would be ordered to drive the Palestinians off the West Bank and into Jordan, Syria, Lebanon or wherever. Those who didn’t flee would be slaughtered. And while the IDF was doing the slaughtering Israel’s leaders would say to the world, “Surely you understand why we had to do this.”)

In the American system, and given that for various reasons the mainstream media prefers Zionist propaganda to the truth of history, there is only one person who can reach the people with the truth – the president. The how is very simple. He takes to what is called on your side of the pond the “bully pulpit”, which means that he goes over the heads of Congress with a prime time tv and radio address to his fellow Americans.

In 1957 President Eisenhower, a leader with principles and balls, did just that to prevent the Zionist lobby and its traitor agents in Congress blocking him from demanding an unconditional Israeli withdrawal from occupied Egyptian territory. (You’ll recall, Mr. President, that in 1956, in secret collusion with Britain and France, Israel invaded Egypt to trigger war with the intended purpose of overthrowing President Nasser and grabbing back control of the Suez Canal which he had nationalised). In his address from the bully pulpit Eisenhower explained why he was insisting that Israel should with without conditions.


Israel insists on firm guarantees as a condition to withdrawing its forces of invasion. If we agree that armed attack can properly achieve the purposes of the assailant, then I fear we will have turned back the clock of international order. We will have countenanced the use of force as a means of settling international differences and gaining national advantage… If the UN once admits that international disputes can be settled using force we will have destroyed the very foundation of the organization and our best hope for establishing a real world order.


The sad truth today, Mr. President, is that the UN Security Council is impotent because of your willingness as the prisoner of a political system that has been corrupted by lobby funding to follow Zionism’s orders and veto any resolution designed to call and hold Israel to account for its crimes and bring an end to its occupation of the West Bank.

Now to the main point of this letter.

If you did take to the bully pulpit after the upcoming mid-term elections in order to set in motion the process needed to give America some real democracy, you would have to do much more than tell the truth about the making and sustaining of the Israel-Palestine conflict and who must do what and why for justice and peace.

You would need above all to explain why legislation is urgently needed TO TAKE LOBBY FUNDING OUT OF POLITICS – I mean out of election campaigning and electioneering in all its forms. The case to be made in favour of that can be stated very simply. There is no other way to clean up and out the corruption of American politics. As long as those seeking election or re-election to Congress can be bought by powerful vested interests (not only the Zionist lobby) America will remain a democracy in name only not substance. And on policy for Israel-Palestine the President whoever he (or she) is will remain a prisoner in the White House.

The case for believing that a good majority of your fellow Americans would welcome and support an initiative by you to give substance to democracy can also be stated very simply. According to reputable polls over recent years the vast majority of Americans have little or no respect for Congress and many have at least a degree of contempt for it. They know it is corrupted by lobby money. (In my opinion it would be surprising if this contempt for Congress was not strengthened in the minds and hearts of some Americans when, in mid-July, the Senate passed by a vote of 100 to 0 a resolution fully supporting Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip and not mentioning Palestinian deaths).

In conclusion I’ll touch upon, again very briefly, the reasons why I think you should take to the bully pulpit after the mid-term elections to launch and lead a campaign for real democracy in your own country.

The first and prime duty of any president is to serve and protect America’s own best interests. Support for Israel right or wrong (an Israel that can be described today as a racist, going-fascist, out-of-control monster) is not in America’s own best interests. It is a major factor in the radicalization of the entire Arab and wider Muslim world which contains roughly a quarter of the human population of Planet Earth. A truth is that the vast majority of all Arabs and other Muslims would prefer to be America’s friends but American policy is turning them into enemies. With their war on Iraq “Dubya” Bush and Tony Blair became the best recruiting sergeants for violent Islamic fundamentalism in all its forms. By continuing, if only by default not design, to allow Israel to act with impunity in defiance of international law you, Mr. President, are helping to create an environment which will assist the growth of violent Islamic fundamentalism. (Yes, I know that’s what the neo-cons and probably some within the Military Industrial Complex want).

Like many Arabs and other Muslims I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I hear some of your statements. When, for example, you announced new sanctions on Russia, you said, “We stand up for rights and freedoms around the world.” Should you not have added “with the exception of the rights and freedoms of the Palestinians”?

And please, Mr. President, consider the following very, very seriously.

If Israel continues on its present course there is a real possibly that at some point in the foreseeable future the rising, global tide of anti-Israelism will be transformed into anti-Semitism, leading to Holocaust II, my shorthand for another great turning against Jews everywhere.

If that happens it will be not only because the policies and actions of Israel’s leaders awakened the sleeping giant of anti-Semitism. (In my view this giant would most likely have died in its sleep after and because of the Nazi holocaust if Zionism had not been allowed by the major powers to have its way in Palestine). If there is another great turning against Jews everywhere it will also be because successive American presidents did not use the leverage only they have to require Israel to live in accordance with international law and the norms of civilized nation state behaviour in general, and to respect the rights and freedoms of the Palestinians in particular.

Do you want that on your conscience, Mr. President?

I am, of course, aware that after the upcoming mid-term elections your main concern in what is left of your presidency will be your legacy. If on policy for Israel-Palestine you remain a prisoner of a political system corrupted by election campaign funding, I don’t think it, your legacy, will be one that you could be proud about.

But it would be an entirely different story if as I have suggested you broke out of prison by launching and leading a campaign to give your country some real democracy. If you set the necessary process in motion. and if then enough of your fellow citizens played their necessary part in keeping it going to a successful conclusion, you would go down in history as one of the greatest American presidents and arguably the greatest of them all. And you would be respected and admired by the citizens of the world instead of being seen by an increasing number of them as you are at present – a Zionist stooge (a reluctant one I believe) and a joke.

With best wishes,


Alan Hart

P.S. There’s a question I’d like to ask you about Netanyahu in the light of his absurd statements of justification for Israel’s latest war on the Gaza Strip. (I think his single most obnoxious statement was his endorsement of the assertion made by Elie Wiesel – that “Hamas engages in child sacrifice.”) My question has a context.

Way back in 1980 I had conversations with the best and the brightest of Israel’s former Directors of Military Intelligence. (I name him in my book). I said to him over coffee one morning that I had come to the conclusion that it was all a myth. What I meant and went on to say was that Israel’s existence had never, ever, been in danger from any combination of Arab force. Through a sad smile he replied, “The trouble with us Israelis is that we have become the victims of our own propaganda.”

Netanyahu is obviously a victim of his own propaganda. But is there more to it than that? Is he deluded to the point of clinical madness? In other words, is he insane?

Alan Hart is an author, former Middle East Chief Correspondent for Independent Television News, and former BBC Panorama presenter specialising in the Middle East. He has authored the three-part series Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews.

Source: ICH

NYT Dishes More Ukraine Propaganda

Major Parts of World Ignored by US TV News in 2013

By Jim Lobe

January 13, 2014 “Information Clearing House – If people outside the United States are looking for answers why Americans often seem so clueless about the world outside their borders, they could start with what the three major U.S. television networks offered their viewers in the way of news during 2013.

Syria and celebrities dominated foreign coverage by ABC, NBC, and CBS – whose combined evening news broadcasts are the single most important media source of information about national and international events for most Americans. Vast portions of the globe went almost entirely ignored, according to the latest annual review by the authoritative Tyndall Report.

Latin America, most of Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia apart from Afghanistan, and virtually all of East Asia – despite growing tensions between China and Washington’s closest regional ally, Japan – were virtually absent from weeknight news programmes of ABC, NBC, and CBS last year, according to the report, which has tracked the three networks’ evening news coverage continuously since 1988.

Out of nearly 15,000 minutes of Monday-through-Friday evening news coverage by the three networks, the Syrian civil war and the debate over possible U.S. intervention claimed 519 minutes, or about 3.5 percent of total air time, according to the report.

That made the Syrian conflict and the U.S. policy response the year’s single-most-covered event. It was followed by coverage of the terrorist bombing by two Chechnya-born brothers that killed three people at the finish line of last April’s Boston Marathon (432 minutes); the debate over the federal budget (405 minutes); and the flawed rollout of the healthcare reform law, or Obamacare (338 minutes).

The next biggest international story was the death in December of former South African President Nelson Mandela (186 minutes); the July ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and its aftermath; the coverage of Pope Francis I (157 minutes, not including an additional 121 minutes devoted to Pope Benedict’s retirement and the Cardinals’ conclave that resulted in Francis’ succession); and the birth of Prince George, the latest addition to the British royal family (131 minutes)

The continued fighting in Afghanistan came in just behind the new prince at 121 minutes for the entire year.

The strong showings by the papal succession, Mandela’s death, and Prince George’s birth all demonstrated the rise of “celebrity journalism” in news coverage, Andrew Tyndall, the report’s publisher, told IPS. He added that “a minor celebrity like Oscar Pistorius (the South African so-called “Bladerunner” track star accused of murdering his girlfriend) attracted more coverage [by the TV networks – 51 minutes] than all the rest of sub-Saharan Africa in the [11] months before Mandela’s death.”

Surveys by the Pew Research Centre for the People & the Press, among other polling and research groups, show that about two-thirds of the general public cite television as their main source for national and international news, more than twice the number of people who rely on newspapers, and about one-third more than the growing number of individuals whose primary source is the internet.

An average of about 21 million U.S. residents watch the network news on any given evening. While the cable news channels – CNN, FoxNews, and MSNBC – often get more public attention, their audience is actually many times smaller, according to media-watchers.

“In 2012, more than four times as many people watched the three network newscasts than watched the highest-rated show on the three cable channels during prime time,” Emily Guskin, a research analyst for the Pew Research Centre’s Journalism Project, told IPS.

As in other recent years, news about the weather – especially its extremes and the damage they wrought – received a lot of attention on the network news, although, also consistent with past performance, the possible relationship between extreme weather and climate change was rarely, if ever, drawn by reporters or anchors.

Last year’s tornado season, severe winter weather, drought and wild forest fires in the western states constituted three of the top six stories of the year, according to the report. Along with the aftermath of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, those four topics reaped nearly 900 minutes of coverage on the three networks, or about six percent of the entire year’s coverage.

“A major flaw in the television news journalism is its inability to translate anecdotes of extreme weather into the overarching concept of climate change,” noted Tyndall. “As long as these events are presented as meteorological and not climatic, then they will be covered as local and domestic, not global.

“An exception in 2013 was Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines,” he noted. That event captured 83 minutes of coverage among the three networks, making it the single biggest story by far out of Asia for the year.

By comparison, the growing tensions between Japan and China in the East China Sea – which many foreign-policy analysts here rate as one of the most alarming events of the past year if, for no other reason, than the U.S. is committed by treaty to militarily defend Japan’s territory – received a mere eight minutes of coverage.

Two other major U.S. foreign policy challenges received more coverage. North Korea and the volatile tenure of its young leader, Kim Jong-un, received a total of 87 minutes, including 10 minutes to visiting basketball veteran Dennis Rodman, of coverage during 2013.

Events in Iran, including the election of President Hassan Rouhani and negotiations over its nuclear programme, received a total of 104 minutes of coverage between the three networks over the course of the year, nearly as much attention as was given the British royals.

Libya received 64 minutes of coverage, but virtually all of it was devoted to the domestic controversy over responsibility for the September 2012 killings of the U.S. ambassador and three other officials there. The Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria and the civil war and humanitarian disaster in the Central African Republic received no coverage at all.

As for the Israel-Palestinian conflict which Secretary of State John Kerry has made a top priority along with a nuclear deal with Iran, it received only 16 minutes of coverage in 2013. “Palestine has virtually disappeared from the news agenda,” noted Tyndall.

As has Latin America, which received virtually no attention, according to Tyndall who suggested that the lack of coverage may be due to the growth of Spanish-language networks here. “The assumption seems to be that anyone interested in Latin American coverage would likely speak Spanish and find it in that language.”

Altogether, the three networks devoted just under 4,000 minutes, or about 27 percent of total air time, to coverage of overseas stories or U.S. foreign policy. That was somewhat under the average amount of 25-year average. Indeed, the 1,302 minutes’ worth of stories focused on U.S. foreign policy marked a nearly 50-percent reduction from the average.

“In general, foreign policy coverage has risen when the president is bellicose,” according to Tyndall, who noted that such coverage had risen sharply as a result of armed conflicts during the administrations of the two Presidents Bush and fallen under Presidents Clinton and Obama.

But the collection by the National Security Agency (NSA) of “metadata” on U.S. citizens and of private conversations and email of foreign leaders as disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden – a story with both domestic and international repercussions – also placed among the top 10 stories of the year with 210 minutes of coverage.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at

Copyright © 2014 IPS-Inter Press Service. All rights reserved.

The Police State Wants What the Police State Wants

By William Boardman 

October 20, 2013 “Information Clearing House –  [Note: Since the lifting of the federal court gag order on October 2, Ladar Levison and his company, Lavabit, have been getting some media attention (including a somewhat snide and incomplete story on page one of the New York Times). What follows in an effort to reconstruct at least the outline of a personal nightmare inflicted by our government on a small business owner who had done no wrong, even in the government’s eyes ­– at least until he started taking his constitutional rights seriously.]

The Fourth Amendment of the U. S. Constitution is anti-police-state

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” [emphasis added]

The founding document of the United States is inherently suspicious of a government’s willingness to abuse its powers, a suspicion rooted in centuries of tyranny around the world. Even the U.S. government, as well as state and local governments, have abused their powers from time to time since the country’s beginning. The drift toward an American police state intensified under the guise of anti-Communism, but that was mostly a convenient cover for state intrusion into people’s lives. The Soviet Union collapsed, but the nascent American police state kept growing. The Patriot Act of 2001, a massive assault on personal and political liberty, was largely written before 9/11 and passed, largely unexamined, in the hysterical atmosphere and raw panic of that over-hyped “new Pearl Harbor.”

Now we have a police state apparatus of almost unimagined dimension, most of which is kept secret and remains unknown, despite the efforts of a few reporters and whistle blower, who tell the truth at their personal peril.

The “American police state” is likely an abstraction in the minds of many people, and as long as they remain unknowing and passive, it’s likely to leave them alone. But even law-abiding innocence is not a sure protection of a person’s right to be secure. And when the police state comes after you in one of its hydra-headed forms, the assault can be devastating.

For starters, the state won’t always tell you when it begins

The intrusion of the police state into your life can shatter your world even before you realize it’s begun. Fight it, or surrender to it, the cost is huge. Recovery may be possible, eventually, if it’s ever allowed, but it will be hard, and it will take time.

In May 2013, Ladar Levison was 32 when the police state first came after him. The dreaded “knock on the door” was actually only an FBI business card on his door at home. And Levison’s initial interactions with the FBI were reportedly mild and civil, at first by email and later in person. The FBI was interested in Levision because he owned and operated a secure email service called Lavabit. From the FBI point of view, Lavabit was too secure, because the NSA and the rest of the security state couldn’t get into it.

Right out of college, Levison had started Lavabit as a sole proprietorship in April 2004 (the same month Google launched Gmail at a much greater scale). Having grown up in San Francisco, Levison studied computer science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he still lives. While working on his start-up, he supported himself mostly with internet security projects for financial services. He also worked as a consultant on website development for clients such as Dr Pepper, Nokia, and Adidas.

What Lavabit was selling was secure email, much more secure than anything Google, Microsoft, or most other email providers were offering. The demand was not that great at first. It took six years for Lavabit to gather enough paying subscribers to allow Levison to devote himself to the business fulltime in 2010. Even when the FBI became interested in Lavabit in May 2013, it was still a small company, with two employees and about 400,000 subscribers. But one of those subscribers was another American about Levison’s age, 30-year old Edward Snowden, the whistleblower whose leaked documents have added so much to our understanding of the dimensions and activities of the American police state. Snowden opened his moc.tibaval@nedwonsde email account in 2010.

Political repression may not be the government’s overt intent, but it works

At this point, there’s no indication that Levison and Lavabit ever had anything but a commercial relationship with Snowden. It’s even possible that Snowden had nothing to do with the FBI’s initial interest in Lavabit. It may be that Lavabit’s effective security was sufficient offense to the surveillance forces to make it an object of attack for its own sake. In May 2013, Levison says he had the impression the FBI agents who talked to him didn’t even know who or what was the subject of their investigation. The FBI hasn’t said.

Levison is not an obviously political person, he hasn’t been revealed to be involved in party politics or political causes. “Until last summer, Mr. Levison, a Republican of libertarian leanings, had not been active in politics,” according to the New York Times October 9. He seems to be the person he seems to be: a thoughtful, hardworking, physically fit, computer business guy who has had a dog named Princess since January 2010 and who spends a lot of his spare time keeping in shape playing beach volleyball.

Princess has her own album on his Facebook page, where the dominant theme by far is Levison’s competition in beach volleyball (with albums for Sunday Night, as well as Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday Nights) and there is one picture of Levison with Rep. Ron Paul. Levison’s page shows membership in just one Facebook group, “OCCUPY (Support) EDWARD SNOWDEN and All Other Whistleblowers,” to which someone else added him about two months ago. Among his 43 “Likes,” Levison lists two Interests (programming and computers), lots of volleyball Activities, and six books, including William Gibson’s Neuromancer, George Orwell’s 1984, and Dostoevski’s Crime and Punishment.

From another perspective, Levison is as political as the Fourth Amendment, which is as profoundly political as it gets. It was the Patriot Act’s assault on the Fourth Amendment, Levison says, that contributed to his decision to start Lavabit in 2004, when the act was up for renewal and much in the news. Among the many objections to the act was that it gave to federal agents excessive authority to, in effect, write their own search warrants on no other authority but their own. In the Orwellian language of the act, these personal searched warrants are known as “national security letters.” Levison designed the security architecture of the Lavabit email and storage services to be beyond the reach of unwarranted searches, even in national security letters. As Levison recalled on Democracy Now! in August:

“And as I was designing and developing the custom platform, it was right around when the PATRIOT Act came out. And that’s really what colored my opinion and my philosophy, and why I chose to take the extra effort and build in the secure storage features and sort of focus on the privacy niche and the security focus niche…. [for] people who want email but don’t necessarily want it lumped in and profiled along with their searches or their browsing history or any of their other Internet activities.”

You can’t reveal what you don’t know – and that provides more security

During May 2013, Levison met for “a couple hours” with FBI agents at his office, where he explained how his security system and his business operated. As Levison told Democracy NOW! the service included his personal pledge of security:

“I’ve always liked to say my service was by geeks, for geeks. It’s grown up over the last 10 years, it’s sort of settled itself into serving those that are very privacy-conscious and security-focused. We offered secure access via high-grade encryption. And at least for our paid users, not for our free accounts—I think that’s an important distinction—we offered secure storage, where incoming emails were stored in such a way that they could only be accessed with the user’s password, so that, you know, even myself couldn’t retrieve those emails.

“And that’s what we meant by encrypted email. That’s a term that’s sort of been thrown around because there are so many different standards for encryption, but in our case it was encrypted in secure storage, because, as a third party, you know, I didn’t want to be put in a situation where I had to turn over private information. I just didn’t have it. I didn’t have access to it.”

Over the years, Lavabit has received and complied with “at least two dozen subpoenas” from the local sheriff’s office to the federal courts, Levison says, “I’ve always complied with the law.” Each of those subpoenas targeted a specific individual and appeared to Levison to be consistent with the Fourth Amendment. As recently as June 2013, he complied with an unrelated subpoena seeking information on one of his subscribers accused of violating child pornography law.

A secret subpoena from the American police state is different

On June 6, 2013, the Guardian began publishing surveillance state revelations based on documents from Edward Snowden, the email subscriber. On June 9, Snowden revealed that he was the whistlblower who leaked documents to the Guardian and others. The first secret court order against Lavabit came the next day.

On or about June 10, the Justice Dept., on behalf of the FBI, went to federal court to compel Lavabit to provide information “relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation” involving someone with a single Lavabit email account. The FBI has not identified the subject of this investigation, but it is widely believed to be Snowden.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (the Fourth Circuit) granted the FBI’s request and issued the disclosure order against Lavabit that same day. A one-page, single-spaced attachment to the order listed the categories of information to be disclosed, including names, addresses, phone records, other subscriber identities, billing records, activity records, and “information about each communication” – in other words, everything about the email account “not including the contents of communications.” The order did not mention encryption keys, SSL keys, or the like. These are closely guarded secrets in a security business like Lavabit.

The U.S. Magistrate Judge who signed the initial order gave Lavabit 10 days to comply. He also sealed the court records from public view and further ordered that Lavabit “shall not disclose the existence of the application of the United States, or the existence of this order” to anyone except “an attorney for Lavabit.” In other words, Levison was subject to a gag order before he ever found out the FBI was definitely coming after him.

In the meantime, on June 14, the Justice Dept. filed a sealed criminal complaint against Snowden, who was then in Hong Kong. The government accused him of three offenses – theft of government property and two forms of “unauthorized communication” the Espionage Act of 1917. The criminal complaint, which was made public a week later, gave the government 60 days to file a formal indictment.

Getting unsatisfying compliance, the FBI decided to raise the stakes

According to a later Justice Dept. filing: “Mr. Levison received that order on June 11, 2013. Mr. Levison responded by mail, which was not received by the government until June 27, 2013. Mr. Levison provided very little of the information sought….” [emphasis added]

On June 28, the day after getting Levison’s belated response to the June 10 order, the Justice Dept. went back to the Fourth Circuit Court in Alexandria seeking an order “authorizing the installation and use of a pen register/trap device on an electronic mail account” – an FBI wiretap on email. Levison had no notice of the government motion and no opportunity to contest it. A new judge on the case, Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan, promptly ordered the wiretap installed on the basis that the government “has certified that the information likely to be obtained by such installation and use is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation….” Like the first order, this order did not mention encryption keys, SSL keys, or the like.

FBI special agents met with Levison in Dallas the same day to discuss the new order, which Levison had not yet received, as well as a prior summons to appear before a grand jury. The agents presumably explained to Levison that the court had issued a secret order based on a secret motion, itself based on secret evidence (or none at all) and that Levison was not only compelled to comply but was also still under court order to keep the whole secret process a secret, this time with no exception even for his attorney.

According to a later government filing, “Mr. Levison told the agents that he would not comply with the pen register order and wanted to speak to an attorney. It was unclear whether Mr. Levison would not comply with the order because it was technically not feasible or difficult or was not consistent with his business practice of providing secure, encrypted email service for his customers.”

As Levison months later explained to reporters about Lavabit: “We’re wholly focused on secure email. Without it, we have no business.” In Levison’s view, breaking Lavabit’s security without the right to tell his customers would have been to commit commercial fraud.

Judge Buchanan keeps the pressure on Levison and Lavabit

Following this meeting, the Justice Dept. immediately went before Judge Buchanan seeking an order to compel Lavabit to comply with the other Magistrate’s earlier order and install the FBI wiretap and to “furnish agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, forthwith, all information, facilities, and technical assistance necessary to accomplish the installation and use of the pen/trap device…” as ordered pursuant to federal law [U.S. Code, Title 18, sec. 3123].

Judge Buchanan immediately granted the “Order Compelling Compliance Forthwith,” based in part on her findings that “Lavabit informed the Federral Bureau of Investigation that the user of the account had enabled Lavabit’s encryption services and thus the pen/trap device would not collect the relevant information” and that “Lavabit informed the FBI that it had the technological capability to obtain the information but did not want to ‘defeat [its] own system’…”

Judge Buchanan ordered Lavabit to provide “unencrypted data pursuant to the Order.” Noting that failure to comply “forthwith” would subject Lavabit to “any penalty within the power of the court,” Judge Buchanan added in her own handwriting, “including the possibility of criminal contempt of court.” This order was issued under seal.

Previously, Levison faced the possibility of being fined for civil contempt if he failed to comply. Now he also faced going to jail. And the court’s most recent orders, in their plain language, prevented Levison from discussing his situation with anyone, not even an attorney.

According to the FBI, agents “made numerous attempts, without success, to speak and meet directly with Mr. Levison” during the next ten days. On July 9, the Justice Dept. returned to the Fourth Circuit court seeking an order for Lavabit to show cause why it “has failed to comply with the orders entered June 29” by Magistrate Buchanan, and why Lavabit should not be held in contempt of court for its failure to comply.

Judge Hilton decides a hearing with the parties present might help

Judge Claude Hilton issued the show cause order the same day, including a summons for Lavabit to appear at a hearing a week later. Judge Hilton is a secrecy case veteran, having served on the secretive FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court from 2000 to 2007. The Judge continued to keep the Lavabit case under seal, but reinstated Lavabit’s exception to the gag rule when consulting with an attorney.

The next day, Levison went to the FBI field office in Dallas for a meeting/conference call that included prosecutors and FBI agents in Washington and his attorney in San Francisco, convened “to discuss Mr. Levison’s questions and concerns… [that] focused primarily on how the pen register device would be installed on the Lavabit LLC system, what data would be captured by the device, what data would be viewed and preserved by the government… [and] whether Mr. Levison would be able to provide ‘keys’ for encrypted information.”

The parties did not reach an agreement at the meeting and the next day, July 11, Levison’s attorney informed the FBI that she no longer represented Levison or Lavabit. The same day, Levison “indicated that he would not come to court [for the July 16 show cause hearing] unless the government paid for his travel,” according to a government filing.

Rather than engage in a dispute over travel expenses, the FBI served Levison with a subpoena to appear before a Fourth Circuit grand jury, also on July 16. The government is responsible for the travel arrangements of grand jury witnesses, and the FBI so advised Levison by email. The grand jury subpoena left little wriggle room in its effort to force Lavabit to surrender the encryption keys that were essential to its business:

“In addition to your personal appearance, you are directed to bring to the grand jury the public and private encryption keys used by in any SSL (Secure Socket Layer) or TLS (Transport Security Layer) sessions, including HTTPS sessions with clients using website and encrypted SMTP communications (or Internet communications using other protocols) with mail servers;

“Any other information necessary to accomplish the installation and use of the pen/trap device ordered by Judge Buchanan on June 28….”

“I don’t trust you, but you should trust me” and vice-versa

Levison responded on July 13 with an email to the U.S. Attorney’s office, offering an alternative to the FBI-operated wiretap. Levison proposed that he would collect the court-designated data himself. While he didn’t state it in the email, this would address one of Levison’s primary concerns, that there was no effective oversight to prevent the FBI from gathering more data than the court had allowed. Levison proposed to design and implement the solution, gather the data manually, and provide it to the FBI at the end of the 60-day court order – for a price of $2,000. For another $1,500, he offered to provide data “more frequently,” which would require implementing an automated system.

The U.S. Attorney chose not to explore the offer. In a brusque and internally contradictory reply email the same day, an assistant U.S. Attorney explained “that the proposal was inadequate because, among other things, it did not provide for real-time transmission of results, and it was not clear that Mr. Levison’s request for money constituted the ‘reasonable expenses’ authorized by the statute.” The government later admitted to the court that it was “unclear” as to precise details of the proposal. The clear implication of Levison’s proposal is a willingness to provide real-time transmission for reasonable compensation. But that would leave Levison in control. The government didn’t consider that a useful compromise.

On July 15, Levison flew to Washington for his show cause hearing at 10 the next morning, although he thought it was set for 10:30 and arrived late. He was appearing pro se, representing himself without an attorney.

Even a federal court hearing can be a comedy of errors

The government goal for the July 16 hearing remained unchanged: “Lavabit LLC may comply with the pen register order by simply allowing the FBI to install the pen register devise and provide the FBI with the encryption keys.” Lacking compliance, the government asked the court to impose a civil contempt sanction of $1,000 a day until Lavabit complied.

The government also requested a search warrant for the encryption keys. Judge Hilton granted the search warrant before the hearing began.

As it turned out, the 20-minute hearing resulted in no change in the legal standing of the parties, but did produce a transcript with moments of unintentional hilarity.

Present in the courtroom were Judge Hilton and the court staff. U.S. Attorney James Trump represented the government, along with three other lawyers and an FBI agent. Levison was alone.

The U.S. Attorney wanted to know if Levison was going to comply with the wiretap order, but Judge Hilton wouldn’t ask and Levison wouldn’t say. Or rather, Levison said he had always been ready and willing to comply with installation of the wiretap, but he was reluctant to give up the encryption codes, which would give the FBI access to all 400,000 of his subscribers even though the court order named only one. “There was never an explicit demand that I turn over those keys,” Levison said.

The U.S. Attorney argued that Judge Buchanan had effectively if not specifically ordered Levison to turn over the encryption keys. Judge Hilton wasn’t touching that: “I’m not sure I ought to be enforcing Judge Buchanan’s order.” Judge Hilton said that his order was to install the wiretap and Levison had said he’d do that, so – “You’re trying to get me to deal with a contempt before there’s any contempt, and I have a problem with that.”

Levison moved to unseal all but the sensitive information in the proceedings. Judge Holton denied the motion, based on the underlying criminal investigation. Levison asked the judge to order “some sort of external audit to ensure that your oders are followed to the letter” as to FBI data collection. The judge refused. Levison moved to continue the hearing to allow him to retain counsel. Judge Hilton granted the continuance.

Levison and Lavabit get legal representation from a Virginia firm

Levison’s new attorney is Jesse Binnall of Bronley & Binnall PLLC in Fairfax, Virginia. Binnall, 34, was a communication major at George Mason University and graduated from the Law School there in 2009. Binnall and Levison would later be among the first guests on the New Ron Paul Channel in mid-August.

On July 25, Binnall filed under seal a “Motion to quash” the outstanding grand jury subpoena and the search warrant against Lavabit. The motion requested “that this Court direct that Lavabit does not have to produce its Master Key. Alternatively, Lavabit and Mr. Levinson request that they be given an opportunity to revoke the. current encryption key and reissue a new encryption key at the Government’s expense. Lastly, Lavabit and Mr. Levinson request that, if they are required to produce the Master Key, that they be reimbursed for its costs which were directly incurred in producing the Master Key….”

In support of his motion, Binnall made a number of arguments against the actions of the government, which had not faced serious legal opposition up to this point.

Binnall pointed out that giving the government access to Lavabit’s Master Key is tantamount to giving the government access to all of Lavabit’s 400,000 users. That amounts to a general warrant that is unconstitutional, Binnall wrote, and:

“It is axiomatic that the Fourth Amendment prohibits general warrants [with Supreme Court cases cited]…. The Fourth Amendment’s particularity requirement is meant to ‘prevent the seizure of one thing under a warrant describing another’ [citation omitted]. This is precisely the concern with the Lavabit Subpoena and Warrant and, in this circumstance, the particularity requirement will not protect Lavabit. By turning over the Master Key, the Government will have the ability to search each and every ‘place,’ ‘person [and] thing’ on Lavabit’s network…. Additionally, the Government has no probable cause to gain access to the other users accounts.”

The government seemed unconcerned about Levison’s business survival

Bindall also argued that the court should quash the subpoena and search warrant as creating an “undue burden” on Lavabit as defined by law [U.S. Code Title 18, sec. 2703]:

“Not only has Lavabit expended a great deal of time and money in attempting to cooperate with the Government thus far, but, Lavabit will pay the ultimate price –the loss of its customers’ trust and business – should the Court require that the Master Key be turned over. Lavabit’s business, which is founded on the preservation of electronic privacy, could be destroyed if it is required to produce its Master Key.”

Also on July 25, Binnall filed a motion to unseal court records and to lift the gag order on his client, since the “gag order infringes upon freedom of speech under the First Amendment, and should he subjected to constitutional case law. “

Unsurprisingly, the U.S. Attorney filed a motion in opposition.

At the motion hearing on August 1, Judge Hilton engaged in lengthy colloquy with attorney Binnall. Before the 25-minute hearing was half over, the judge had denied both motions and the U.S. Attorney had said little more than “Good morning.” Judge Hilton gave Levison and Lavabit until 5 p.m. Dallas time on August 2 to comply.

Levison’s compliance took an unexpected form

The next day in Dallas, at about 1:30 p.m., Levison provided information that purported to be full compliance with the court’s orders. Whether it was actual compliance remains uncertain. The government was not happy and engaged with attorney Binnall to achieve satisfactory compliance, without success. On August 5 the government filed a motion for sanctions against Levison, calling his apparent compliance “unworkable” and describing it as follows:

“Mr. Levison gave the FBI a printout of what he represented to be the encryption keys needed to operate the pen register. This printout, in what appears to be 4-point type, consists of 11 pages of largely illegible characters. See Attachment A. (The attachment was created by scanning the document provided by Mr. Levison; the original document was described by the Dal!as FBI agents as slightly clearer than the scanned copy but nevertheless illegible.) Moreover, each of the five encryption keys contains 512 individual characters — or a total of 2560 characters. To make use of these keys, the FBI would have to manually input all 2560 characters, and one incorrect keystroke in this laborious process would render the FBI collection system incapable of collecting decrypted data.”

When this compliance effort became public two months later, TechCrunch called it “an epic troll.” At the time, the government was not amused and called for the court to sanction Levison $5,000 a day, beginning at noon August 5. The court promptly granted the motion, while reminding the parties that all aspects of the matter remained under seal. Known only to the participants and some court employees, the case was still unknown to the public.

Levison makes a tantalizing public announcement

That secrecy ended on August 8, when Ladar Levison shut down Lavabit, posting a short notice on the website, together with a link to the Lavabit Legal Defense Fund. As Levison explained:

“I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on – the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.

“What’s going to happen now? We’ve already started preparing the paperwork needed to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. A favorable decision would allow me resurrect Lavabit as an American company.

“This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”

Also on August 8, Levison fully complied with the Fourth Circuit courts orders, turning over the encryption keys to a now defunct service. He had incurred 2 days of sanctions – owing the government $10,000 – which remains pending.

The next day, Silent Circle, a global encrypted communications service, stayed in business but preemptively wiped out its email service (about 5 per cent of its customers) in anticipation of a government request that the company wouldn’t want to have to obey. “Meanwhile, Silent Circle is working on replacing its defunct e-mail service with a system that doesn’t rely on traditional e-mail protocols and keeps no messages or metadata within the company’s grasp. It is based on a protocol often used for instant messages and other applications. [CEO Mike] Janke says the goal is for this to not be e-mail, but ‘for all intents and purposes it looks, feels, and acts like e-mail,’” according to MIT Technology Review.

Lavabit’s closing drew some news coverage over the next week, but any story was hampered by the gag order that severely limited what Levison and Binnall could safely say. As Levison told Forbes the day after shutting down Lavabit:

“This is about protecting all of our users, not just one in particular. It’s not my place to decide whether an investigation is just, but the government has the legal authority to force you to do things you’re uncomfortable with….The fact that I can’t talk about this is as big a problem as what they asked me to do…. The methods being used to conduct those investigations should not be secret.”

The FBI and the Justice Dept. Have not commented publicly about the Lavabit case beyond their court filings.

Being secret, federal court appeal gets no news coverage

On August 15, Lavabit attorney Binnall filed notice – under seal – that he was appealing the federal district court’s rulings of August 1 and August 5 to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. In other words, the government can not only keep the public ignorant of what it’s doing, it can also prevent the public from knowing that anyone objects to the government’s actions as unconstitutional.

In the Lavabit case, at least, this changed abruptly on October 2, when Judge Claude Hilton ordered a censored version of 23 documents (162 pages) made public. The redactions in these documents appear, from context, to be intended mostly to conceal details of the criminal investigation into Snowden or some other user. Since the unsealing of the court documents, news coverage had expansed, and Levison and Binnall have appeared in public across the country to argue their cause. As Levison put it on his Facebook page October 2:

“If the Obama administration feels compelled to continue violating the privacy rights of the masses just so they can conduct surveillance on the few then he should at least ask Congress for laws providing that authority instead of using the courts to force businesses into secretly becoming complicit in crimes against the American people.”

On 2005, a U.S. Senator addressed a similar concern, when Congress was about to pass a law creating the “national security letter,” a secret government process much more intense and unforgiving what Levison went through last summer:

“This is legislation that puts our own Justice Department above the law. When national security letters are issued, they allow federal agents to conduct any search on any American, no matter how extensive, how wide-ranging, without ever going before a judge to prove that the search is necessary. All that is needed is a sign-off from a local FBI agent. That’s it.

“Once a business or a person receives notification that they will be searched, they are prohibited from telling anyone about it, and they’re even prohibited from challenging this automatic gag order in court. Even though judges have already found that similar restrictions violate the First Amendment, this conference report disregards the case law and the right to challenge the gag order.

“If you do decide to consult an attorney for legal advice, hold on. You will have to tell the FBI that you’ve done so. Think about that. You want to talk to a lawyer about whether or not your actions are going to be causing you to get into trouble. You’ve got to tell the FBI that you’re consulting a lawyer. This is unheard of. There is no such requirement in any other area of the law. I see no reason why it’s justified here.

“And if someone wants to know why their own government has decided to go on a fishing expedition through every personal record or private document, through the library books that you read, the phone calls that you’ve made, the emails that you’ve sent, this legislation gives people no rights to appeal the need for such a search in a court of law. No judge will hear your plea; no jury will hear your case. This is just plain wrong.”

The question is: how much of a police state do we have already?

That Senator was concerned eight years ago, and that Senator was Barack Obama. Today, national security letters are part of the law of the land, the Obama administration uses them, and if you get one, talking about it is against the law. In that context, since Ladar Levison apparently did not get a national security letter, he was lucky. The country, not so much.

On October 10, in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Lavabit filed the opening brief of its appeal of the lower court’s orders. The United States has until November 4 to file its answer. This will take awhile, it will take effort to follow, but it matters.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary.

This article was first published in Reader Supported News

Obama offers environmental fig leaf in climate policy

By Bryan Dyne 
6 July 2013
Obama’s “Climate Action Plan” released last week had nothing to do with defending the planet against the polluting excesses of capitalism, or address the very real threat of global warming. Rather, it was an appeal for the support of an upper-middle-class environmentalist milieu by an increasingly isolated administration.
This is the first time in four years that the Obama administration has put forward even a fig leaf addressing climate change. In 2009, a bill passed the House of Representatives, then under Democratic control, that had weak greenhouse gas reduction targets and huge concessions to big business. Even so, the big oil companies, working through both Democrats and Republicans, blocked the bill in the Senate.
Obama’s current plan is by its very nature weaker, since it is limited to executive action within the framework of the Clean Air Act, legislation passed in 1970, long before there was any concern over the danger of global warming. Even this limited action is likely to be tied up in the courts indefinitely as the energy monopolies use their vast resources to defend their right to poison the world’s population.
Despite the token character of the effort, the plan is being presented as a great advance by the various environmentalist affiliates of the Democratic Party. Greenpeace’s Phil Radford declared Obama’s speech announcing the plan “bold, monumental,” and “the best by not only this president, but any president to date on the climate crisis.”
When Obama stated during the speech that he would only support the Keystone XL pipeline as long as it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” Jamie Henn of tweeted, “Next thing you know, @ BarackObama is going to announce he’s getting arrested at a #NoKXL sit-in.”
This fulsome praise of the “environmental president” ignores his actual record of protecting protected BP during the worst ecological disaster in US history and scaling back environmental regulations on big corporations. Moreover, the administration’s energy plan relies heavily on nuclear power, with longterm environmental consequences, as well as the dangers revealed in such disasters as Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Even if one takes Obama’s rhetoric at face value, the actual contents of the plan—in which the word “Keystone” does not appear—are a collection of proposals that are wholly insignificant to the problem they purport to solve. In 2012, Obama ordered the Department of the Interior to issue permits for the creation of “utility-scale” solar facilities, wind farms and geothermal plants to produce 10 gigawatts of power. This number means next to nothing. The power requirements of the United States are more than 3 tera watts.
The plans put forward to address the current consequences of climate change, such as more severe droughts, floods and hurricanes, are of a similar character. After a year that saw more than $110 billion in hurricane damage, a total of merely $350 million will be given to fortify coastal ecosystems. Only $200 million will be allocated for coastal communities to upgrade infrastructure to resist storms. No new funds from the Department of Transportation are going to be given to the New York and New Jersey transit systems to repair and upgrade their systems after the impact of Hurricane Sandy.
These proposals are so minimal they do not even deserve the description “drop in the bucket.” The Democrats employ pro-environmental rhetoric, like their posturing in support of gay rights or abortion rights, to present themselves as slightly more “progressive” than the Republicans, even while the Democratic president orders assassinations, mass wiretapping and intensified CIA and military subversion of targeted regimes overseas.
This lip service to environmental concerns appeases a layer of the upper-middle class, whose concern over global warning in no way challenges the profit system, and whose personal economic interests dovetail with the Obama administration’s policy of enriching the most privileged layers in American society.
The Obama plan takes as its point of departure the failure of the Copenhagen climate summit of 2009, and all previous and subsequent UN climate summits. The Copenhagen summit was presented as the forum for every member state of the UN to come together to forge an agreement that would limit carbon emissions, thus global warming, on a worldwide scale. It was seen as where the Kyoto Protocol, which expired in 2009, would be replaced.
However, even before the conference began, a legally binding greenhouse gas treaty was ruled out. At one point during the conference, 77 delegates of smaller nations staged a walkout against the demands of the wealthier nations to lock in their economic advantages. All subsequent proposals fell far short of what was recommended by scientists at the time. And all the while, police were battling and arresting protestors outside the conference.
Highlighted there was not simply the conflict between the old and the new powers, though that did play a part, particularly between the US and China. More fundamentally it pointed to the inability of the capitalist nation-state system to address, let alone solve, a global problem. No single country, even if it wanted to, could resolve global warming.
The only solution is the marshaling of the world’s resources in a planned and rational manner. The full force of human technology and ingenuity must be brought to bear to avoid an environmental disaster. There must be a restructuring of energy generation, industrial and agricultural production, and transport infrastructure to lower carbon emissions. This can only take place when the international working class, the vast majority of humanity, takes control of the levers of society to run it for social need, rather than private profit. In a word, the precondition for attacking global warming is socialism.

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Obama glorifies militarism on the Fourth of July

6 July 2013
In Fourth of July remarks delivered in a brief radio/Internet address and repeated to a military audience on the White House lawn, President Obama hailed the US armed forces, the most powerful instrument of violence on the planet, as the bearer of freedom to the world.
There was a yawning contradiction in the White House celebration. Obama was compelled to give lip service to the events associated with July 4, 1776, one of the landmarks in mankind’s ongoing struggle against tyranny and oppression. Yet the US president himself personifies modern tyranny, the domination of the world by a new aristocracy of wealth and privilege whose rule is more rapacious and bloodstained than that of King George III.
Obama invoked the heroism of the revolutionaries who took up arms against the British Empire, then the most powerful on the planet, to uphold the ideals of democracy and equality. “It was bold and it was brave,” he said. “And it was unprecedented, it was unthinkable. At that time in human history, it was kings and princes and emperors who made decisions.”
The American Revolution was successful, he continued, and now the United States is the greatest nation in the world: “A land of liberty and opportunity. A global defender of peace and freedom. A beacon of hope to people everywhere who cherish those ideals.”
In reality, the United States is a land of mass poverty and mass unemployment, in the sixth year of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. It is characterized by staggering and ever-rising levels of social inequality. It is the “global defender” of the interests of American big business, to which it systematically sacrifices the democratic rights of both the American working class and the population of the world.
Far from being a “beacon of hope,” the United States is looked on around the globe as the purveyor of death and destruction, whether raining down missiles from remote-controlled drones, or vacuuming up the private communications of virtually the entire population of the world. The American military has attacked and occupied more countries than any other since the Second World War. The United States spends more on war than the next 17 countries combined. US troops have been engaged in nearly continuous warfare for the past dozen years.
Obama gave his brief address in the midst of a campaign of persecution against a genuine defender of freedom and democracy, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who has courageously informed the American public and the people of the world of the illegal and unconstitutional mass spying being carried out by the US government.
The president should think twice before he advises the American people “to live up to the words of that Declaration of Independence,” since Jefferson’s immortal prose asserts the right of the people to revolt against oppression and to replace a tyrannical government with one based on genuine equality and democracy.
Jefferson wrote those words when the American bourgeoisie was a rising and progressive class, and could genuinely speak for the entire population against the predations of the British crown. Those days are long gone. Today the American capitalist class is the most parasitic and reactionary social force on the planet, wallowing in untold wealth while the conditions of life for the vast majority of the American population stagnate and decline.
Significantly, Obama made no reference in his remarks to the other great democratic anniversary being celebrated this week, the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the critical turning points in the American Civil War. Tens of thousands of people flocked to the battlefield to take part in the commemoration, a mass turnout that has been virtually ignored, both by the corporate-controlled media and the US political establishment.
Abraham Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, could powerfully assert the direct connection between the American Revolution and the bloody struggle for freedom and against slavery 87 years later. But the American ruling class today is instinctively hostile to the historical struggles with which it was once associated.
The American people are increasingly concerned and angry over the mounting attacks on democratic rights and the vast increase in social inequality. A Gallup poll published this week found that 71 percent felt the Founding Fathers would be ashamed of modern America. That percentage has doubled over the last decade.
It is the working class, not any section of the corrupt and reactionary political establishment, that can and must take up the struggle to defend democratic rights. The decisive question is to understand the fundamental causes of the growth of militarism and police-state repression—the deepening contradictions of capitalism as a world system—and make the defense of democratic rights an integral part of the independent political mobilization of the working class in the struggle for socialism.
Patrick Martin

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American teenager jailed as “terrorist” for Facebook post receives broad international support

US government scanning, storing billions of pieces of mail per year

By Thomas Gaist 
5 July 2013
The US government is monitoring and permanently storing information on regular mail, in a vast and previously secret program known as the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking (MICT) program.
According to an article in the New York Times on Thursday, images captured from over 160 billion pieces of mail per year are fed into a massive database, from which the government can construct in depth profiles of individuals, tracking their personal and political connections.
The MICT program parallels the National Security Agency spy programs revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. While these programs store phone records and collect email and other Internet activity, the MICT gathers this information on all mail senders, without any individualized suspicion of criminal activity. While a warrant is technically necessary to inspect the actual contents of the mail, in 2007 President George Bush authorized law enforcement to open mail without a warrant in exceptional cases.
In previous decades, under the “mail cover surveillance” program, the Postal Service granted law enforcement agencies access to mail items for 30 days based on individual requests relating to suspected criminal activity. Since 2001, this program has evolved into the MICT, which collects information indiscriminately on every piece of mail.
“In the past, mail covers were used when you had a reason to suspect someone of a crime,” Mark Rasch, who has worked on computer crimes for the Justice Department, told the Times. “Now it seems to be, ‘Let’s record everyone’s mail so in the future we might go back and see who you were communicating with.’ Essentially you’ve added mail covers on millions of Americans”
Bruce Schneier, a computer and security expert, added, “They are doing the same thing as the other programs, collecting the information on the outside of your mail, the metadata, if you will, of names, addresses, return addresses and postmark locations, which gives the government a pretty good map of your contacts, even if they aren’t reading the content,” he said.
Former FBI agent James Wedick told the Times that the mail snooping yields “a treasure trove of information,” and that “looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with—all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena.”
Wedick affirmed, “It can be easily abused because it’s so easy to use, and you don’t have to go through a judge to get the information. You just fill out a form.” The Postal Service has power to authorize law enforcement agencies to surveil mail, without judicial review, and the Times reported that these requests are rarely denied.
The Times reported that the program is used by numerous government agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services.
The MICT program was instituted and had been operating secretly for over a decade, since its was implemented after the 2001 anthrax attacks. The FBI quietly revealed its existence in a June 7 criminal complaint related to alleged ricin attacks directed at President Barack Obama.
The revelation of the MICT program adds to a long list of the information that is being systematically gathered by government agencies—from the NSA phone record and Internet data programs, to the accumulation of vast databases of photographs to be used for facial recognition. All of this is being done in violation of basic democratic rights and behind the backs of the American people.

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America chooses to win wars without bloodshed

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There are different methods of fighting a war. In today’s world, there is no need to grab a gun and kill the enemy. A war can be won without bloodshed, with the help of information attacks. The Americans have been particularly successful in this regard, take the Internet “Arab Spring” for example. The United States is using the same methods against Iran. Will they bring success?
A number of satellite television systems operated by European companies stopped broadcasting the Iranian channels. This was done under the pressure of sanctions by the United States.
In particular, the broadcasts of the Iranian channel Press TV via European satellite systems, Intelsat, Eutelsat, Hotbird and the Australian Optus have been suspended. Spanish-language Hispan TV, news channel al-Alam and entertainment iFilm are not broadcast either.
On June 19th of this year, Intelsat company gave Iran Broadcasting Service a notification stating that due to the introduction of new U.S. sanctions against Tehran the company would be no longer providing the services starting July 1, 2013. Press TV broadcast was previously blocked in Germany, the UK, France and Spain. 
Jose Manuel Toscano, General Director of the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization, in turn, urged the U.S. and Intelsat to not turn off the Iranian channels and start negotiations on the renewal of broadcasting.
This is how the Americans want to force the Iranian authorities to be more loyal to their regime. They say that in a war all means are great, so every means is used, including information warfare.
In the context of learning new techniques, forms and methods of information wars the development of the situation around Iran’s nuclear program is particularly interesting. 
The United States and its allies have repeatedly practiced the scenarios of information and psychological operations aimed at discrediting the political authorities of the countries they were not favoring. Previous armed conflicts and the “Arab Spring” have common traits because they use classic schemes. As a rule, the main objectives of this policy are: 
1. Ensuring global domination and consolidation of positions in a favorable, primarily based on the availability of resources, region of the planet;
2. Raising the rating of specific political forces and certain leaders on the eve of important electoral campaigns;
3. Justification of the need to increase military spending, as well as the development of the military-industrial complex; 
4. Testing of the new and utilization of the old types of weapons.
As a rule, measures of informational influence are accompanied and enhanced by economic sanctions, staged civil disobedience, mass protests, special acts of sabotage in the enemy territory, and demonstration of readiness to conduct military operations (various military exercises, as well as concealed concentration of weapons and troops).
The information war of the U.S. against Iran is carried out according to this scenario, but it has its own peculiarities. The emphasis is on the components in which the opponents of the Islamic state still have significant advantage. This is the cyber sphere, as well as special and psychological operations. 
Thus, Iran’s information systems related to the nuclear program are constantly subject to highly effective virus attacks. For the first time a virus called Stuxnet was used in June of 2010. Its main task was the disruption of the Bushehr nuclear power plant as well as uranium enrichment plants. At a munitions factory in Natanz there were serious technical problems that affected the work of gas centrifuges. This led to the fact that Tehran’s nuclear programs were suspended for some time. 
The second penetration occurred in April of 2011, when a virus called Stars was used, directed against the Iranian government agencies. Later, a third attack was carried out with the use of Duqu virus designed to steal confidential information.
It should be noted that the U.S. authorities take into account the fact that today Iran’s media community is rapidly evolving. The activities of the regional media, particularly electronic ones, are not left without attention. During various interviews, briefings, and other information campaigns the resources of BBC are fully utilized (primarily, BBC Persian), as well as “Voice of America”. Of great importance are social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
In particular, the BBC Persian TV channel has a million-strong audience in Iran, and online resource BBC Persian is a very popular information resource in the Middle East. 
In addition, in December of 2011, the U.S. opened its own so-called “virtual embassy in Iran.” Certain websites offer information on U.S. policy towards Iran, the advantages of studying in the U.S., as well as provide an opportunity to get a U.S. visa. The resource did not last long and was blocked by the Iranian authorities. Iran’s leaders periodically block access for their citizens to various “pro-American” internet sites and satellite television channel BBC Persian.
As part of “demonizing” the current leadership of Iran, the United States and Israel keep accusing Tehran of supporting terrorist organizations and carrying out terrorist attacks against the U.S., Israel and their allies. 
It should also be noted that by opposing the will of Iran to implement its national nuclear program, the U.S. government and Israel ignore the fact that it was Washington that gave the country nuclear technology. In 1967, the United States gave Iran a nuclear reactor of five megawatts set up by Israeli experts.
The U.S. has been methodically forming a negative image of Iran for the international community saying that this country represents a threat. U.S. special agents constantly disseminate scary information about the Iranian leadership.
In addition, the U.S. and Israel periodically carry out planned activities for misinformation of the population through the “leaks” from their governments about the readiness of the United States and Israel to take military action against Iran. Reputable Western publications regularly publish materials about this possible scenario. It must be acknowledged that these articles have the desired effect.
To date, the majority of the citizens of nearly every country form their own view of the events only on the basis of the information received from the media. Major news portals on the Internet are also of great importance. If we consider that in most cases they are controlled by the U.S. secret services, one can imagine the view formed by the ordinary citizens.
Among the main responses to the information influence from Iran is the demonstration of readiness to meet any possible military attacks, as well as the possibility of applying adequate strikes against the U.S. and its allies in the region, primarily Israel. Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei has repeatedly said that Iran’s armed forces have all the necessary means to repel possible attacks and perform a retaliatory “preemptive strike” against the enemy. 
The country’s leadership is constantly filtering information flow by blocking the resources involved in brainwashing ordinary people. The Iranian authorities also attach great importance to developing relations in different directions with their longtime allies in the international arena that in fact are the opponents and antagonists of the United States. These are Russia, China, Venezuela, Ecuador, Syria, Afghanistan and other countries.
This helps the Iranian leadership to withstand such a serious economic and information pressure from the United States.

Sergei Vasilenkov

Unions prepare to shut down Bay Area, California transit strike without a contract

By Oliver Richards 
4 July 2013
The unions representing striking Bay Area transit workers are preparing to shut down the strike, now in its fourth day, before a contract is signed.
According to workers who spoke to the WSWS, the unions are attempting to shut down the strike down by the July 4 holiday, today. The unions are currently holding secret negotiations with management to arrive at a tentative agreement. Once a tentative contract is reached, the unions intend to call off the strike and quickly return everyone to work.
Negotiations resumed earlier this week after the intervention of top Democratic Party state officials, who denounced workers for demanding significant wage increases and called for a quick end to the strike.
To facilitate the betrayal, the unions have imposed an embargo on union members from discussing any contract negotiations, past or present. When WSWS reporters attempted to speak to striking workers, a communications director for the union insisted on supervising the conversations—going so far as stopping a worker from responding to a question about the potential consequences of the cuts being promoted by management.
The 2,400 workers at the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system went on strike on Sunday at midnight after negotiations broke down between the unions and management. Talks were reopened Tuesday evening and continued on Wednesday. The BART workers, represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021 and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1555, have received no strike pay.
In their last offer, BART presented a meager pay raise of two percent annually over the next four years, the length of the new contract. However, this small increase would not even match the rate of inflation. Moreover, it is partially dependent upon ridership increases and achieving other unlikely fiscal benchmarks. Transit workers have not seen a single pay raise in the past five years.
BART management is also calling for workers to increase their contributions to health care, which is currently set at a flat rate of $92 per month, and pensions. BART workers, who are not eligible for Social Security because they do not pay into the system, had already agreed in 1991 to surrender 1.6 percent of their payroll over the next twenty years in order to improve their pension benefits. According to the ATU, a retiring station agent with 22 years of experience would bring in a monthly pension of $2,100—just over 200 percent of the poverty rate for a single individual.
Most of the media coverage of the strike has highlighted the inconvenience it has caused passengers, along with its economic and environmental impact. News reports continue to smear the workers as selfish and overpaid, while ignoring the high cost of living in the Bay Area.
An average pay for a BART employee is about $60,000, barely sufficient to get by in the Bay Area with its high cost of living.
A report released in 2011 by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development noted that a family of four in the nine counties that make up the Bay Area would need to earn at least $73,964 annually to meet basic needs without public, private, or informal assistance—the so-called Self-Sufficiency Standard. The report notes that this figure has risen by 18 percent since 2008, when it stood at $62,450. Most of this surge was based upon increases in the costs of child care (up 21 percent), health care (35 percent), and transportation and housing (13 percent).
The wages provided to transit workers vary by department. The WSWS spoke to a worker in the Utility Department who wished to remain anonymous. He said that their average income is around $42,000. Living in the Bay Area, about half of this income goes toward rent. Safety is another major concern, especially when utility workers have to work around uncovered rails and risk electrocution. When asked about ending the strike, he was emphatic: “We should not work without a contract.”
“There’s no question that our workers are highly skilled and dedicated,” said BART General Manager Grace Crunican in a June 11 press release that has since been removed from the BART web site. “But they’ve got to take a greater stake in the financial future of BART. We’ve got to normalize our employees’ pay and benefits to bring them in line with the rest of the Bay Area if we’re going to keep BART running for another 40 years.”
Crunican is paid an annual salary of $316,000. Her predecessor, Dorothy Dugger, who was pressured to resign over two years ago, continued to pull in a gross salary of $333,000 by using up her nearly 80 weeks of accrued vacation time. When news of the executive’s lavish vacation benefits was revealed in June, Dugger said, “I think BART’s track record on fiscal management is quite solid.”
Transit workers are ready to fight for their interests, indicated by the overwhelming support for a strike authorization. However, the unions, tied to the Democratic Party, are seeking to isolate the workers and ensure that the strike does not become a larger struggle among the working class.
On Monday, Oakland city employees, also represented by the SEIU, joined the transit workers in a one-day strike. This was designed to allow the workers to let off steam and give the appearance of solidarity.
The AC Transit workers, who bus commuters back and forth across the bay, have also been working without a contract since midnight on Sunday, but their union (ATU Local 192) has refused to go on strike with the BART workers, insisting on continuing negotiations instead. In essence, the trade unions are acting strike breakers for the workers they claim to represent.
On Tuesday, workers represented by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSMCE) Local 3993, whose contract also expired on Sunday night, went back to work with a contract in which the workers would have to pay more for their health insurance and would receive a measly two percent raise annually over the next two years.
The tactic of calling a strike and then quickly ending it before a contract is approved by the membership—and even before a tentative agreement is reached has become a standard practice of the unions. During the Verizon strike in 2011, the unions ended a two-week strike without an agreement, with a concessions contract eventually imposed 14 months later.
The unions function not as workers organizations, but arms of management, interested solely in maintaining their privileges and dues base from their members. Any genuine struggle among the working class will require breaking from these sclerotic organizations and forming rank-and-file committees based upon a socialist political program.

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Arizona wildfire exposes authorities’ lack of preparation

By Nick Barrickman 
4 July 2013
In the wake of the tragic deaths of 19 firefighters Sunday in Arizona, the wildfire, nicknamed Yarnell Hill, remains completely uncontrolled. As of Tuesday, it has continued to spread, burning nearly 8,400 acres. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has placed the town of Yarnell in a state of emergency, evacuating it and a number of other neighboring communities. Nearly half of Yarnell’s 500 residences have been incinerated.
The fire is believed to have been caused by a lightning storm last Friday, an occurrence which is attributed to the extremely hot and humid temperatures prevailing in the US southwest. On Sunday, several regions reported all-time high temperatures, with Death Valley in California reaching 129 degrees, a record in the United States. According to climate scientists, the decade spanning 2001-2010 possessed the hottest summer and spring seasons in Arizona ever recorded.
Similarly, many questions still remain as to why such highly-trained professionals as the Granite Mountain Hotshots could be caught off their guard by the wildfire, which they had been vigorously practiced in fighting. “Hotshot crews always assess the risks before going in…. [K]nowing Granite Mountain, they did that. They are as good a crew as is out there,” said Dugger Hughes of the Southwest Coordination Center, which manages firefighting resources in the region. “They knew what they were getting into. It had to be pretty dramatic,” he added.
The state of Arizona is mounting a ten-man investigation into the occurrence in an effort explain the background of the calamity, the single greatest tragedy involving fire responders in over 80 years.
Few officials on the ground or elsewhere have sought to connect the flames’ spread to the lack of preparation for such happenings occurring. The town of Yarnell, which along with nearby Peeples Valley, has been evacuated and practically abandoned by authorities, has not had a “controlled burn,” a precaution which reduces foliage in and around hazardous regions in over 45 years. As a consequence, it was recorded that the level of dried grass and chaparral scrub around the town had registered in the 97th percentile, meaning that the energy released by such dead fuels, should they become ignited, had been higher than any other time before.
“That reading should make the hairs on the back of any good fire manager’s neck stand up,” stated Rocky Barker, a western fire historian to website.
Furthermore, the buildup of hazardous waste material is a product of budget cuts to fire prevention agencies tasked to combat and prevent such outbreaks. Fire prevention plans have gone over to sheer extinguishing in the past decades, as authorities lack the resources needed for preventive measures.
The National Interagency Fire Center, centered in Idaho, has received a nearly 5 percent cut to its firefighting staff as a result of last March’s federal “sequester,” agreed to by the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama in league with congressional Republicans. Similarly, the removal of hazardous materials which cause infernos in the hot months has been stripped down, with the National Forest Service (NFS) receiving less than $420 million in funding this year, down from over $500 million in 2012. In the coming few months President Obama plans on further cutting funds to the program, placing it at levels not seen since nearly a decade ago.
“The Forest Service is being treated as a firefighter of last resort,” said David Pyne of the University of Arizona to the New York Times, this, he added “is not what the agency was set up for, and it’s not financed for it.”
Safety is increasingly jeopardized by populations living in close contact to such hazardous conditions, called the “wildland-urban interface.” In Colorado, one in four individuals live inside of a “red zone,” placing them in harm’s way for the outbreak of a wildfire. That state most recently experienced the most destructive fire in its history, burning nearly 500 homes and killing two. Since the 1990s, over two million homes have been built in such zones, and that number expected to rise in the coming years. (See “Worst wildfire in Colorado history destroys hundreds of homes, kills two”.)
The monsoon winds which worked to spread the Arizona fire were similarly an event induced by the record levels of heat. According to CLIMAS, the Climate Assessment Center, since 2001 lightning has been a factor in over 2,000 fires, burning nearly 277,000 acres.
The occurrence of such humid and hot temperatures serves to create low-pressure zones which act like conductors for thunderstorms. At times such instances can serve to help firefighters by dousing wildfires with precipitation; however, they also bring increased chances for lightning strikes and winds which serve to spread them. On Sunday, in the course of just an hour, winds had increased in the Yarnell area from 15-25 mph to over 30-47 mph, in addition to creating thermal gusts about 22,000 feet high, serving to spread burning embers across the region.
Similarly, wildfire seasons have lengthened by nearly two months in the past several decades, with flames burning nearly double the amount of acreage as in 1970.
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[2 July 2013]

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White House delays health care requirement for businesses

By Richard Vargas and Barry Grey 
4 July 2013
On Tuesday, the White House announced it was delaying for one year implementation of a legal requirement, part of the administration’s health care overhaul, for businesses to provide “affordable” health insurance to employees working full-time.
The requirement—which was set to take effect with the rest of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) on January 1, 2014—would have fined companies with 50 or more employees that failed to provide health insurance to those working 30 hours or more a week. The fine was set at $2,000 per employee.
The announcement represents a further cave-in to corporate interests and underscores the pro-business and anti-working class character of the entire health care scheme that was signed into law more than two years ago. From the outset, the administration sought to craft a “reform” that would slash health care costs for businesses and the government at the expense of working people and retirees.
With this latest move, businesses will be allowed to withhold insurance from their employees and suffer no consequences, while individual workers who are uninsured will still be required to buy insurance from private companies or pay hundreds of dollars in fines under the plan’s so-called “individual mandate.”
The shamefaced manner in which the announcement was made reflects the transparently pro-business character of the policy move. While President Obama was on a plane returning from his tour of African countries, the windfall for business was discreetly made public in the late afternoon in the form of a blog posted by Mark Mazur, assistant secretary for tax policy at the Treasury Department.
“We have heard concerns about the complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively,” Mazur wrote. He added, “We recognize that the vast majority of businesses that will need to do this reporting already provide health insurance to their workers, and we want to make sure it is easy for others to do so.”
This was followed by a White House blog post by Obama senior adviser and real estate multi-millionaire Valerie Jarrett headlined “We’re Listening to Businesses about the Health Care Law.”
Jarrett wrote: “From the start, this administration has encouraged an ongoing dialogue with the leaders of our nation’s businesses…In our ongoing discussions with businesses we have heard that you need the time to get this right. We are listening. So in response to your concerns… we are cutting red tape and simplifying the reporting process.
“[W]e are working hard to adapt and to be flexible in employer and insurer reporting as we implement the law.”
Popular concerns about the impact of the law, reflected in opinion polls showing majority opposition, have been brushed aside by the White House and congressional Democrats. But, as Jarrett’s cringing words make clear, the administration is ever ready to respond to complaints from big business.
Businesses big and small have lobbied against the reporting provisions of the law, requiring that they inform the government of every employee who is covered under their employer-provided plans. Companies have complained that the current reporting requirements are overly burdensome and costly. In the statements released by Mazur and Jarrett, the administration took pains to make clear its intention to simplify and otherwise ease the reporting requirements.
Business organizations, particularly those representing low-wage industries such as restaurant chains, retail stores and agriculture, have also targeted the 30-hour cut-off for defining employees as full-time, pressing instead for a cut-off of 35 or 40 hours. This would make it easier for companies to shift full-time workers to part-time status so as to fall below the 50-worker benchmark and escape the legal requirement to provide any form of insurance.
Business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation praised the announcement. Others, however, criticized it for going far enough. Cynthia Magnuson, spokeswoman for the National Federation of Independent Business, was cited by USA Today as calling for the law to mandate coverage only for employees who work at least 40 hours a week, along with “other fixes.” She told the newspaper, “We need long-term relief.”
The are doubts that, with the delay in the implementation of the requirement for medium-sized businesses to provide insurance, the individual mandate will be able to proceed in 2014 as set forth in the law. Under its provisions, people who are not covered by employer-provided insurance or government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, and are legally required to buy policies on privately-run insurance “exchanges,” are eligible for government subsidies, depending on their income. If, however, companies are not required to list their insured employees in reports to the government, it is not clear how the exchanges will be able to determine who is eligible to buy their policies, who is eligible for government assistance, and who is subject to tax penalties for failure to obtain insurance.
There are growing concerns in Democratic circles, and within the insurance and pharmaceutical industries that stand to benefit massively from “Obamacare,” that the entire scheme could unravel.
Should the plan proceed as stipulated in the law, the impact on the vast majority of the population will be sharp and negative. Recent reports have pointed out that millions of poor people who do not quality for Medicaid in states that have refused to expand Medicaid as called for in the law will not quality for subsidies to purchase private insurance. They will be left without any coverage. It is estimated that at least 30 million Americans will remain uninsured under the new scheme.
Moreover, health insurance costs for younger and healthier people legally required to purchase plans on the exchanges will, according to recent studies, double or triple. Unionized workers will see their benefits slashed and their out-of-pocket costs increased as a result of a tax on so-called “Cadiallac” employer-provided plans that presently cover millions of workers.
Under the “reform,” Medicare, the government health care plan for the elderly, will be ravaged by $700 billion in reduced funding over ten years. Funding for safety-net hospitals will be drastically cut.
There is nothing in the law to prevent insurance companies from hiking premiums, co-pays or deductibles. Nor is there anything to prevent companies from laying off workers or shifting full-time employees to part-time status so as to fall below the 50-worker level at which they will be required to provide insurance. Major corporations may find it cheaper to end their employee coverage plans altogether and pay the $2,000 per worker fine, forcing millions to buy minimal coverage at high prices on the insurance exchanges.
The Obama plan, cynically promoted as a progressive reform to provide universal health coverage, is, in fact, a scheme formulated jointly with the health care and insurance monopolies to guarantee higher profits and lower costs at the expense of the health and economic security of millions of working people. It exemplifies the incompatibility of universal, quality health care with the subordination of health care to private ownership and corporate profit.
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[7 June 2013]

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Democratic Party officials, unions, seek quick end to Bay Area California transit strike

By David Brown and Joseph Kishore 
3 July 2013
Picket at Lake Merritt BART Station
Top California state government officials intervened to press for a rapid end to the strike of Bay Area transit workers on Tuesday, with the unions involved indicating their willingness to send workers back to the job without a contract.
On Tuesday evening, union leaders and management resumed negotiations.
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The strike of 2,400 workers at the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system has had a crippling effect on the fifth-largest public transportation system in the US. The workers are eager for a struggle against demands for a cut in real wages and increased health care and pension contributions.
The major unions involved—including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU)—are working to isolate the strike and ensure its defeat.
Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, State Controller John Chiang and Insurance Commissioner David Jones issued a joint statement calling for a resumption of negotiations. To the workers they declared: “While the compensation increases you are seeking may seem fair to you given the length of time workers have gone without a raise and other sacrifices, you must recognize the need of government at all levels to balance rising employee costs with the imperative of providing crucial transportation, health care and safety net services to the people of California.”
BART management is offering a pay raise of 2 percent each year—less than the rate of inflation. Much of this increase, moreover, is conditioned on unlikely benchmarks being met. Management is also pushing for significant increases in pensions and health care contributions, resulting in an effective cut in wages of 6 to 7 percent.
The state officials postured as critics of both sides, calling on BART management to address the safety concerns raised by workers.
A rally held in Oakland on July 1 in support of striking BART workers
In its response to the letter, SEIU Local 1021 said nothing of the demand that workers give up their wage demands, while stressing that they were eager to return to the bargaining table. “We appreciate your recognition of the legitimate safety concerns raised by workers and the weakness of the District’s offer,” union officials wrote.
This was a signal that the union is looking for some sort of nominal concession on safety issues as part of a deal that would accept management’s wage and benefit demands.
The unions are working deliberately to isolate the strike. ATU workers in the AC Transit system are also without a contract, but the union has refused to call a strike. Instead, service has been increased to make up for the shutdown of BART. Oakland city workers in the SEIU, also without a contract, held a one-day strike on Monday, but on Tuesday were sent back to work by the union.
Also Tuesday, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSMCE) Local 3993, which includes 200 supervisory and professional workers in BART, announced an agreement with management and instructed their members to return to work.
Reporters from the World Socialist Web Site spoke to workers at the picket lines. Many maintenance workers in BART face unsafe or unsanitary conditions. Their wages have been frozen since the last contract, when the SEIU and ATU agreed to $100 million in cuts.
Ted, who works in the elevator and escalator division, explained, “The cost of everything is going up but we’re making the same or less. Personally I’m doing alright, but there are a lot of us living paycheck to paycheck.
“I think the economy is stronger than it was four years ago when we accepted all these concessions, but they still want us to pay more. If they want us to pay 7 percent into our pensions they need to start giving us raises.”
Ted also spoke about the safety conditions. “They closed down all the bathrooms in the BART stations after 9/11. I’m sure they could have found a safe way to open the bathrooms sometime during the past 12 years, but they’ve kept them closed.
“Now the elevators are just moving urinals. The Systems Service Department and us are constantly having to deal with feces, and it’s just not safe.”
A worker in the information technology department said that even their conditions weren’t safe. “We’ve got hallways barely two people wide half full of old computers stacked chest high.”
Other workers mentioned that several maintenance tunnels are effectively unlit, and two workers have been hit by trains in the past decade.
Wesley, another BART employee said, “Personally it would be devastating if they cut my medical benefits. I have a disabled son who’s my dependent for life. Every dollar they take from our health care coverage is going to come immediately out of my pocket.
“It can also be real tough if you don’t have enough money for health care. Last February I had heart surgery. My condition could have been fatal, and if my benefits had been cut they would have said ‘Let’s wait and see’ instead of operating.”
While BART workers face deteriorating conditions with old equipment, the situation for managers is much better. According to Wesley, “Our managers are cold and callous. They get raises and bonuses, they get ‘training conferences’ in Las Vegas, but they still say there’s no money for us to keep our health care. “You go into some of their offices and they have big mahogany desks and get BART to buy them the new iPhone 5s because they don’t like their Blackberries.
“I’m concerned about wages and health care with this strike, but there’s so much else that’s wrong with BART. We’re running old cars. They keep saying they’re setting money aside for improvements but there’s a lot of corruption. “It’s the same kind of thing across the country. They say there’s a recovery going on, but where’s all that money going. Most of us aren’t reaping any benefits from this ‘recovery.’”
Everyone who spoke to the WSWS felt that the BART strike should be joined by the AC Transit workers who have also been without a contract since midnight Sunday.
According to Wesley, “Us workers all have the same fight, but the unions keep us separate. The city workers, the bus drivers, all of them, our fights should be together.”
Another worker said that before their contracts expired, 200 bus drivers for AC Transit attended their rally. Most people at the picket agreed that the bus drivers want to join the strike.
In general the BART workers felt public opinion was on their side despite the smear campaigns in the media. According to Ted, “I see a lot of support from AC Transit people, from the fire department, from the general public. For every person who comes by to yell at us there’s at least two or three who express support.”

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Forty-three million US households burdened by excessive housing costs

By Debra Watson 
3 July 2013
More than 43 million US households pay excessive shares of income for housing according to The State of the Nation’s Housing 2013, released last week by Harvard University’s Center for Housing Studies. Thirty-seven percent of all US households are overburdened by housing costs, paying out monthly more than 30 percent of income, the housing affordability benchmark, just to keep a roof over their heads.
A staggering 20.6 million households paid more than half their total income for housing in 2011, according to the most recent Census Bureau figures available. These households are defined as severely burdened, and their numbers have been rising steadily for a decade. The number of severely burdened households rose by 347,000 from 2010 to 2011, 2.6 million from 2007 when the recession began, and 6.7 million from a decade ago.
This report examines household statistics for both types of housing tenure, those headed by renters and those residing in owner-occupied houses. It reveals that the number of cost-burdened and severely burdened households continue to rise and actually were increasing long before the 2007 crash.
It states: “The most recent increases were almost entirely among severely burdened renters, whose numbers soared by 2.5 million from 2007 to 2011, pushing the share to 27.6 percent. While up only 173,000 over this period, the number of cost-burdened homeowners had already surged by 2.7 million in 2001-2007 amid the sharp rise in house prices and the widespread availability of easy mortgage credit.
“What is remarkable on the owner side is that the incidence of cost burdens has not fallen much more dramatically, given the substantial decline in home prices and low interest rates.”
The authors of the 2013 annual report address the housing prospects for those at the bottom of the income scale. They state: “Nearly seven out of ten households with annual incomes of less than $15,000 (roughly equivalent to year-round employment at the minimum wage) are severely burdened. With income inequality worsening over the past decade, the share of households with these low incomes has continued to grow.”
The deprivation these families suffer is indicated by a citation in the report from the latest Consumer Expenditure Survey. “[S]everely burdened families in the bottom expenditure quartile (a proxy for low incomes) spend a third less on food, half as much on pensions and retirement, half as much on clothes, and three-quarters less on health care as families paying affordable shares of their incomes for housing.”
The gap between the supply of affordable housing and demand from extremely low-income renters doubled to 5.3 million in just four years.
The number of renter households with extremely low incomes (less than 30 percent of area medians) increased by 2.5 million between 2007 and 2011, while the number of available housing units that households at this income level could afford to rent declined by 135,000. Between 2001 and 2011, a total of 650,000 or 13 percent of the low-cost housing unit inventory was permanently removed from the US housing stock.
As the number and percentage of households in need of affordable housing has risen dramatically, the availability of already highly inadequate government housing assistance declined precipitously. According to recent HUD estimates, only one in four of those eligible for rental assistance get it.
Government help for extremely burdened households, chronically inadequate, is now being eviscerated. The report notes: “Funding for the Housing Choice Voucher Program has increased, but with rents rising and incomes falling, the subsidy needed per renter has also increased-leaving the number of assisted households almost unchanged. Other programs—including public housing, the HOME program, and the Community Development Block Grant program—have faced outright cuts. And at a time when the need has never been greater, federal budget sequestration will further limit the number of households receiving rental assistance.”
A broad range of housing market indicators sector finally started to tick upward in 2012. The report headlines with these upticks as a possible beginning recovery in the home market. New and existing home sales were up, as were home prices and housing starts.
An examination of the drivers of this change point to its tenuous nature and to the broader growth of inequality in the overall economy. But the report explains the market indicators were highly influenced by low interest rates. Right after the Harvard report was released, interest rates on 30-year mortgages rose to 4.56 percent up from 3.74 percent a month ago.
Sales were highly influenced by institutional and individual investors buying up modestly priced homes, often for cash. The national homeownership rate actually fell to 65.4 percent, the eighth straight year of decline. This drop reflects not only 1.1 million more households renting instead of buying, but also a net loss of 161,000 homeowners for the year.
Investment in real estate is lucrative for the owners of speculative capital. Except for 2009, return on investments for property investment has been in the black and pre- and post-recession rates of return have been at 10-20 percent.
At the same time, the possibility of home ownership is out of reach for more and more families. Low interest rates and falling home prices had not boosted the rate of first-time homebuyers. Potential owner-occupiers either cannot come up with down payments due to personal financial constraints, or have credit scores too low to qualify for mortgages if they managed to save money for the down payment.
The report notes in the section on homeownership: “In 2007, borrowers with credit scores below 620 accounted for 45 percent of FHA loans. By the end of 2012, that share was under 5 percent.” Even many with high credit scores are denied mortgages.
The face of housing tenure is changing dramatically in the US as the number and percentage of renter households go up and homeownership fails to grow in line with population demographics. For example, the share of young adults living independently dropped significantly even though the population under 35 rose, stalling potential household formation.
This has affected home ownership rates. In 2012, the rates for the 25-to-54-year-old age group were at their lowest point since recordkeeping began in 1976. The largest drop in home ownership was among families with children, dropping 7 percentage points to 72.6 percent.
Families already in their own homes are facing continuing challenges. According to the report, more than 10 million owners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.
The entire report can be found here .

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US Supreme Court ruling sparks new attacks on voting rights

By Ed Hightower 
3 July 2013
Following last week’s US Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which as a practical matter overturned the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, a number of state legislatures have quickly moved to implement new voter ID laws and other measures aimed at curtailing the right of workers, poor people and minorities to vote.
The states of Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina and Virginia have all announced the implementation of new measures that will have a discriminatory impact on minority and working class voters, as well as on students. Until the Supreme Court, in last week’s 5-4 ruling, disabled the enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act, all five of these states had been covered by the requirement that they pre-clear any changes in voting procedures with the US Justice Department.
The pre-clearance provision was the heart of the 1965 law, enacted under the pressure of the mass civil rights movement and growing working class militancy. The law targeted states, mainly in the deep South, that had for nearly a century defied the prohibition laid down by the post-Civil War Fifteenth Amendment against the abridgement by any state of the right of Americans to vote on account of race, color or “previous condition of servitude.” The Amendment expressly gave Congress the authority to pass legislation to enforce its provisions.
On June 25, the right-wing majority on the court essentially usurped the power of Congress to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment, which it had done by passing and repeatedly reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act, most recently in 2006 by overwhelming votes in both houses of Congress. The arch-reactionaries on the court intervened to upend congressional action and gut a law that upheld the right to vote, the cornerstone of the constitutional system in the US.
In so doing, they gave a green light to states to escalate the assault on the right to vote that has been underway since the theft of the 2000 president election, carried out by means of another 5-4 Supreme Court vote that halted vote-counting in Florida and handed the presidency to George W. Bush, who had lost the popular vote.
The initial wave of voter suppression measures following last week’s ruling have come in states with Republican-dominated legislatures, since the immediate electoral impact of suppressing working class and minority votes will weigh most heavily on the Democratic Party.
Arkansas, which was not covered by the Voting Rights Act’s pre-clearance provisions, has also moved to implement a voter ID law.
These developments have already shattered the claim of Chief Justice John Roberts, who authored the majority decision in Shelby County v. Holder, that the exercise of the franchise by African Americans in the states covered by the Voting Rights Act has made the law in its present form outmoded and unnecessary.
The assault on the right to vote goes far beyond the former Jim Crow states of the South. Since last year, 41 states have introduced legislation restricting voting rights, with 18 of these measures becoming law.
Within hours of the Supreme Court’s ruling last week, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott made the following statement in a press release, “With today’s decision, the State’s voter ID law will take effect immediately. Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.”
The Voting Rights Act had previously blocked both the voter ID law and the redistricting plan as having a discriminatory intent or impact on minority voters. The Texas voter ID law is one of the most reactionary in the country, permitting the use of a concealed weapons permit but not a student’s university ID card. The law requires Texans to prove their citizenship and state residency with a passport or a birth certificate, documents not readily available for many voters and not available free of charge. This aspect of the voter ID law differs from a traditional poll tax in name only.
On Wednesday, Rep. Marc Veasey, Democrat of Texas, filed a lawsuit against Texas Secretary of State John Steen under the Voting Rights Act’s Section 2, alleging that the voter ID law would have a disparate impact on Hispanic voters. Veasey represents a Hispanic-majority district in the Dallas area.
A suit under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act allows citizens to sue state officials to remedy discriminatory voting regulations, but it does not usually afford legal relief until after an election has taken place. This is in contrast to the now impotent Section 5, which required pre-clearance of any proposed changes in voting regulations prior to an election. Voting rights activists and civil liberties groups complain that Section 2 usually fails to block unfair voting regulations before they go into effect, and Section 2 cases are more expensive and time-consuming to litigate.
Last week’s ruling left Section 2 intact. It also left in place Section 3, which allows the government to require pre-clearance based on more recent discrimination.
Nina Perales, vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in San Antonio, Texas, told, “It’s going to be very costly and potentially time-consuming to litigate that (voter ID) issue under Section 2. It’s very expensive to do the kind of statistical analysis that’s required in that case.”
Mississippi, like Texas, announced that its voter ID law would go into effect immediately.
South Carolina plans to implement a voter ID law similar to that which the District of Columbia Court of Appeals found unconstitutional in 2012 because it did not provide a free means of obtaining the required state ID card. Alabama and Virginia will implement voter ID laws in 2014.
North Carolina Republican and Chairman of the state Senate Rules Committee Tom Apodaca said he would move quickly to pass a voter ID law now under consideration. Republican leaders also intend to eliminate early voting on the Sunday before elections as well as same-day registration. Both measures are designed to keep African Americans and poor people away from the polls.
African Americans comprised 29 percent of early voters and 34 percent of same-day registration voters in 2012. African Americans were 22 percent of North Carolina’s registered voters in 2012, but accounted for 34 percent of voters without a state-issued ID this year, according to Democracy North Carolina, a liberal nonprofit group.
North Carolina is already involved in a Section 2 lawsuit alleging discrimination in the shaping of 37 congressional districts. Civil rights lawyer Allison Riggs told the Los Angeles Times that the first congressional district resembled an octopus stretching in all directions to grab minority voters and minimize their electoral impact in nearby districts.
Florida will almost certainly move to eliminate voting on Sundays. Georgia will introduce new County Commission districts that are designed to favor Republicans.
There will also likely be new laws enacted to curtail voter registration drives.

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Edward Snowden: Planet without a visa

3 July 2013
Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who courageously exposed secret and unconstitutional US spying programs targeting millions of people in the US and around the world, is now unable to find a single government prepared to grant him the democratic right of asylum.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” This centuries-old right has been codified in numerous international treaties.
Snowden unquestionably deserves this right. He confronts two espionage charges carrying a possible death sentence for the sole “crime” of exposing the real crimes of systematic spying by the US government against the people of the United States and the world.
His prospects for a fair trial in the US have been irrevocably aborted by the slander campaign of the media and the government, branding him a traitor and spy. The government that seeks his extradition has arrogated to itself the right to summarily execute anyone it deems an enemy of the state, a “right” that it has exercised against at least four American citizens by means of drone missile strikes. As for the media, it has deliberately buried the revelations of wholesale domestic and international spying in order to concentrate on Snowden’s alleged “crimes.”
For the past 11 days, Snowden has been trapped in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, allowed neither to enter Russia nor proceed on to any other country. The Obama administration has mounted an international intimidation campaign against governments potentially contemplating giving him asylum.
Denouncing the US government’s actions, Snowden declared: “In the end, the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised—and it should be.” Such fear is by no means unique to the Obama administration.
While Snowden’s actions have met with support and gratitude from workers and young people in the US and across the planet, that is not the case with the governments that rule them. All of them bow to the bullying from Washington. Like the US government, they defend wealthy ruling classes under conditions of ever-widening social inequality, and like Washington, they fear that their conspiracies against their own people will be exposed to the light of day.
Russian President Vladimir Putin spelled this out on Monday, announcing that Snowden would be allowed to stay in Russia only if he agreed to “cease his work aimed at inflicting damage to our American partners.” The former KGB agent acknowledged that the word used to describe the US government sounded “strange… from my lips.”
Whatever the geopolitical conflicts between Moscow and Washington, however, both governments represent rapacious capitalist ruling strata and are united in their fear of state crimes being exposed to their respective working populations.
Snowden swiftly rejected Putin’s “offer,” which would have made him a political prisoner of the Kremlin oligarchy, and withdrew his asylum application. His action made clear his determination to continue exposing the illegal operations of the US government and at the same time underscored the fraud of the espionage charges brought against him.
Of the other 20 some governments to which Snowden submitted applications for asylum, many summarily rejected his request on technical grounds, while others, like the Brazilian Workers Party administration of Dilma Rousseff, merely announced they weren’t even going to consider it. The government of Poland bluntly stated that its asylum policy required that granting this democratic right had to serve “national interests,” a principle that could be embraced by any police-state dictatorship.
Perhaps most extraordinary is the reaction of Western European governments, which have denounced the revelations of US spying on them and the European Union as outrageous and Orwellian, and have threatened to abort a free trade agreement with the US in retaliation. Yet none of them is prepared to offer asylum to Snowden, the individual who exposed these crimes.
They are prepared to have him sent back to face a rigged trial by the government that carried out the offenses they have denounced. No doubt a major consideration in the decision to reject Snowden’s right to asylum is concern that confidential material in his possession will implicate their own governments in similar crimes.
While Snowden has sought asylum from the governments of the so-called Latin American “left,” as yet none have provided it. Their leaders have praised his courage—attempting to appeal to the popular support he enjoys among their own people—but have not shown the ability to summon one one-hundredth of the same courage themselves in the face of pressures and threats from US imperialism.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, after initially indicating his government’s willingness to grant Snowden asylum, took a personal phone call from US Vice President Joseph Biden last week and quickly changed his tune.
He condemned the London Ecuadorean consul’s decision to grant Snowden a safe-conduct pass to leave Hong Kong as a “mistake” for which there would be “consequences.” He also asserted that his government could not consider an asylum request until the ex-NSA contractor reached Ecuadorean soil—currently an impossibility with his US passport revoked, the Ecuadorean pass rescinded, and no other travel documents at hand.
Correa said that Snowden “really could have broken North American laws” and declared himself “very respectful of other countries and their laws.” He added, “I believe that someone who breaks the law must assume his responsibilities.”
Then there are Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, both of whom were in Moscow this week for a meeting of gas-producing nations. While they have held out the possibility of granting Snowden asylum, either of them could have flown Snowden out on their presidential jets, but declined to do so.
Maduro, who has initiated a policy of “normalization” of relations with Washington and accommodation with Venezuela’s billionaires, voiced the opinion that Snowden should receive “international protection,” but denied that his government had received an asylum request, despite the report from WikiLeaks that one had been submitted. Morales made similar empty statements of sympathy for Snowden, while likewise claiming not to have received the request filed for political asylum.
Under conditions where no government is interested in upholding Edward Snowden’s right to political asylum, a right that has been all but repudiated in practice across the planet, his defense can and must be taken up by working people, youth and students in the US and around the world. This must include the demand in every country that he be granted asylum now.
The defense of Snowden, as well as others targeted by US imperialism for exposing its crimes, including Julian Assange and Private Bradley Manning, must serve as the starting point for a worldwide offensive in defense of democratic rights and against the capitalist profit system, the source of war, social inequality and the drive toward police-state dictatorship.
Bill Van Auken
[3 July 2013]
* * *
The World Socialist Web Site and Socialist Equality Party are waging a campaign to defend Edward Snowden. For more information and to get involved, click here.

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The price of truth

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by Thierry Meyssan

While the international press plays up the information leaked by Edward Snowden as a revelation concerning the PRISM surveillance program, feigning to have discovered what everyone should already have known for a long time, Thierry Meyssan is particularly curious about the meaning of this rebellion. From this perspective, he attaches more importance to the case of General Cartwright, who has also been indicted for espionage.
Former commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, former Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a former military adviser to President Obama, General James Cartwright is accused of spying: leaking to the New York Times information about the secret war against Iran in order to prevent an unnecessary war.
Are American public servants, civilian or military, who face a minimum of 30 years in prison for revealing U.S. state secrets to the press, “whistleblowers” exercising power in a democratic system or are they “resistors to oppression” at the hands of a military-police dictatorship? The answer to this question does not depend on our own political opinions, but on the nature of the U.S. government. The answer completely changes if we focus on the case of Bradley Manning, the young leftist Wikileaks soldier, or if we consider that of General Cartwright, military adviser to President Obama, indicted Thursday, 27 June 2013, for spying.
Here, a look back is needed to understand how one shifts from “espionage” in favor of a foreign power to “disloyalty” to a criminal organization that employs you.

Worse than censorship: the criminalization of sources

The President of the United States and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Woodrow Wilson, tried to confer on the Executive branch the power to censor the press when “national security” or “the reputation of the government” are in play. In his speech on State of the Union (7th of December 1915), he said: “There are citizens of the United States … who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life, who tried to drag the authority and reputation of our government in contempt … to destroy our industries … and degrade our policy in favor of foreign intrigue …. We are without adequate federal laws …. I urge you to do nothing less than save the honor and self-respect of the nation. Such creatures of passion, disloyalty, and anarchy must be crushed.”
However, Congress did not heed him immediately. After the U.S. entry into the war, it passed the Espionage Act, taking in most of the British Official Secrets Act. It was no longer a matter of censoring the press, but of cutting off access to information by muzzling the custodians of state secrets. This device allows the Anglo-Saxons to present themselves as “defenders of freedom of expression“, though they are the worst violators of the democratic right to information, constitutionally defended by the Scandinavian countries.

Silence, not secrecy

Thus, the Anglo-Americans are less informed about what is happening at home than are foreigners. For example, during World War II, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada managed to keep under wraps something as big as the Manhattan Project, that created the first nuclear bomb, while it employed 130,000 people for 4 years and it was widely penetrated by foreign intelligence services. Why? Because Washington did not prepare the weapon for this war, but for the next, against the Soviet Union. As shown by Russian historians, the abdication of Japan was postponed until after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed as a warning to the USSR. If Americans had known that their country possessed such a weapon, their leaders would have had to use it to finish with Germany and not to threaten the Soviet ally at the expense of the Japanese. In reality, the Cold War began before the end of World War II [1].
In terms of secrecy, it should be noted that Stalin and Hitler were informed of the Manhattan Project from its inception. They indeed had inside agents. Meanwhile Truman was informed in his capacity as vice president, but only at the last moment, after the death of President Roosevelt.

The real utility of the Espionage Act

In any event, the Espionage Act deals only secondarily with espionage as shown by its jurisprudence.
In wartime, it is used to punish dissent. Thus, in 1919, the Supreme Court recognized in Schrenck v. United States andAbrams v. United States that calling for insubordination or non-intervention against the Russian Revolution fell under theEspionage Act.
In peacetime, the same law serves to prevent public officials from exposing a system of fraud or crimes committed by the state, even if their revelations are already known, but not yet proven.
Under the administration of Barack Obama, the Espionage Act has been invoked 8 times, a peacetime record. Let’s put aside the case of John Kiriakou, a CIA officer who revealed the detention and torture of Abu Zubaydah. Far from being a hero, Kiriakou is actually an agent provocateur funded by the Agency, whose role it was to delude the public regarding pseudo-confessions extorted from Zubaydah to justify, a posteriori, the “fight against terrorism” [2].
Let’s also eliminate the case of Shamal Leibowitz, since his revelations were never released to the public. There remain six cases instructing us about the U.S. military-police system.
Stephen Jin-Woo Kim confirmed to Fox News that North Korea was preparing a nuclear test regardless of U.S. threats; a confirmation that caused no harm to the USA other than pointing out their inability to be obeyed by North Korea. In another context, this information had already been released by Bob Woodward without provoking reactions.
Andrew Thomas Drake revealed the mismanagement of theTrailblazer program to a member of the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee. He was alleged to have informed those congressmen tasked with keeping an eye on the intelligence agencies with regard to the billions that the NSA was secretly throwing out the window. Trailblazer sought to find a way to plant viruses on any computer or mobile phone. It has never worked.
In a similar vein, Edward Snowden, an employee of the Booz Allen Hamilton technology consulting firm, published various NSA documents attesting to U.S. spying in China as well as on the guests of the British G20. Above all, he has revealed the scope of the military phone tapping and internet spy system, which no one can escape, not even the President of the United States. U.S. politicians described Snowden as “a traitor to kill” only because his documents prevent the NSA from continuing to deny before Congress activities long known to all.
Bradley Manning, a simple soldier, sent to Wikileaks videos of two blunders by the army, 500,000 intelligence reports on military bases in Afghanistan and Iraq, and 250,000 cables on the information gathered by U.S. diplomats in conversations with foreign politicians. None of this is of paramount importance, but the documentation projects a poor image of ​​the gossip collected by the State Department to serve as the basis for its “diplomacy.”
Jeffrey Alexander Sterling is a CIA employee who revealed “Operation Merlin” to the New York Times. More surprisingly, General James Cartwright was number two man in the military, in his capacity as Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and so close an advisor to the President as to be dubbed “Obama’s general“. He supposedly revealed “Operation Olympic Games” to the New York Times last year and has been placed under investigation, according to CNN.
Sterling and Cartwright don’t buy into the Israeli myth of “the atomic bomb of the mullahs.” So they tried to defuse the war into which Tel Aviv is trying to plunge their country. “Operation Merlin” consisted in sending to Iran false information about the manufacture of the bomb. In reality, it was supposed to push Iran to engage in a military nuclear program to justify a posteriori the Israeli accusation [3]. As for “Operation Olympic Games,” it was meant to implant the Stuxnet and Flame viruses in the Natanz plant, to disrupt its operation, notably that of its centrifuges [4]. It was therefore intended to block Iran’s civilian nuclear program. None of these revelations damaged U.S. interests, but they hindered Israeli ambitions.

Resistance heroes

A salon opposition presents the men indicted under theEspionage Act as “whistleblowers“, as if the United States today were a real democracy and they were alerting citizens to the need to correct some errors. In fact, what they show us is that in the United States, from a common soldier (Bradley Manning) to the second in command (General Cartwright), men are trying as best they can to fight against a dictatorial system in which they discover themselves to be a cog. Faced with a monstrous system, they ought to be celebrated as major resistance figures such as Admiral Canaris or Count Stauffenberg.
Roger Lagassé
[2] “Abu Zubaydah Poses a Real Threat to Al Qaeda” and “Forgetting Torture: Lee Hamilton, John Brennan, and Abu Zubaydah”, by Kevin Ryan, Voltaire Network, 19 January and 13 March 2013.
[4] “Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran“, by David E. Sanger, The New York Times, 1 June 2012. “Did America’s Cyber Attack on Iran Make Us More Vulnerable?“, by Marc Ambinder, The Atlantic, 5 June 2012. “The rewards (and risks) of cyber war“, by Steve Call, The New Yorker, 7 June 2012. “U.S., Israel developed Flame computer virus to slow Iranian nuclear efforts, officials say“, by Ellen Nakashima, Greg Miller and Julie Tate, The Washington Post, 19 June 2012.

Double-digit rise in American CEO pay

By Matthew MacEgan 
2 July 2013
The 200 highest paid CEOs at US public companies with revenue above $1 billion received a median compensation package of $15.1 million in 2012, 16 percent higher than the previous year, according to a report published Sunday by the New York Times. The Times compiled its report based on data provided by the executive compensation analysis firm Equilar Inc.
The Times also published an adjoining article on the ongoing practice of granting retiring and even fired CEOs multi-million-dollar “golden parachute” retirement packages. The articles provide insight into the further enrichment of the corporate elite, under conditions of declining wages and mounting poverty for millions of workers and youth in the US.
Most of the money in the CEO compensation packages came from stock and option grants, which generally rose sharply in line with the rise on US and world stock exchanges. The boom in stocks prices was, in turn, driven by the policies of the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve Board, which flooded the financial markets with virtually free credit in order to drive up share values.
Overall, the stock prices of the 200 firms included in the Times survey rose 19 percent in 2012, just 3 percent higher than the median rise in CEO compensation. In some cases, however, CEO pay shot up even though the company’s stock fell.
At the top of the list is Lawrence Ellison, CEO of the software company Oracle, with compensation totaling $96.2 million, including $90.7 million in stock options. His pay package increased by 24 percent over 2011. Oracle’s total share value, however, decreased by 22 percent.
The second highest paid executive on the list was Robert Kotick of the software publishing firm Activision Blizzard (ATVI). He took in $64.9 million, a staggering 680 percent increase over his 2011 salary. Included in that figure were stocks estimated at $55.9 million. ATVI stock, however, was down 12 percent in 2012.
The fifth highest paid executive, James Crowe, of Level 3 Communications (LVLT), received $40.7 million in 2012, an increase of 261 percent, with over $37 million coming in the form of stock options.
The continuing rise in CEO pay five years after the 2008 financial crash points to the futility of calls for reforming the capitalist system. The growth of inequality and plundering of the social wealth by the financial aristocracy are intrinsic features of the system, not merely blemishes that can be removed. The massive sums pouring into the stock portfolios and bank accounts of a handful of people represent a colossal squandering of resources.
In 2012, the total federal budget for assistance to homeless people was $2.7 billion. This was less than the approximately $3 billion that went to the 200 highest paid CEOs.
The city of Detroit, with a population of 707,000, carries a recorded deficit of $327 million, which is less than the total compensation of the top 6 executives, who took in a combined $350.6 million in 2012. The wealth going to these six individuals would be more than enough to stop the wholesale destruction of jobs, services and living standards being carried out in Detroit on the grounds that “there is no money.”
Also in 2012, the entire budget for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) was $3.5 billion. This sum, the result of budget cuts enacted by the Obama administration, is only marginally higher than the personal pay packages of the 200 top CEOs.
Many workers at the Big Three US auto plants are now making $14 an hour. This means their annual income is about $28,000. The compensation awarded to Ellison would pay the wages of 3,435 of these auto workers, and the combined income of all 200 of the top paid executives would supply wages for 107,857 auto workers.
On top of the obscenely large salaries and stock options awarded to current officers, many executives are given multi-million-dollar severance packages when they choose to retire. In many cases, retiring chief executives continue to receive millions of dollars even years after their retirement. This also applies to many CEOs who have been fired.
The biggest package in 2012 went to James Mulva, who stepped down as CEO of ConocoPhillips after 10 years, taking $156 million as an exit package, most of which came from the market value of the stock gains he received. Edward Breen, formerly of Tyco International, received an exit package of $46 million in 2012, followed by $55.8 million in deferred shares in 2013. As chairman, he will receive $30 million more as a pension payment in 2016.
While there have been savage cuts in the wages and benefits of workers since 2008, nothing has been done to rein in the compensation of top corporate executives. The opposite is the case. Nor will anything be done so long as corporate America continues to exercise a de facto dictatorship by means of its two-party system.

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US student loan interest rate doubles

By Zac Corrigan 
2 July 2013
The interest rate on subsidized Stafford loans doubled on Monday, rising from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Stafford loans are federal loans available to US college students who can’t pay out of pocket for higher education.
Under the present system, Congress sets the interest rate on these loans annually. Last summer, during the presidential campaign, Democrats and Republicans agreed to keep the 3.4 percent rate in place for one year. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called this an “election-year fluke.” Congress then set rates to double automatically for 2013 unless they intervened before the deadline, which didn’t happen.
Subsidized Stafford loans, which account for one third of government aid to college students, do not begin to accrue interest until the borrower leaves school. They are aimed at students most in need of financial assistance. If rates remain at 6.8 percent, it is estimated that a typical borrower will pay $1,000 more over the duration of his or her loans.
With more than 7 million students projected to take out subsidized Stafford loans for the upcoming school year, this would immediately result in an extra $7 billion paid out by the neediest student borrowers.
Congress can still intervene to retroactively change the rate before the beginning of the school year when it returns to session on July 10, after its Independence Day recess. The media has characterized their inaction thus far as an inability to compromise and overcome “congressional gridlock,” but in reality both parties are moving to say goodbye to the current rate.
Various plans have already been floated by both Democrats and Republicans to switch federal student loan interest from a fixed rate to a variable rate. These plans would tie the interest rate on subsidized Stafford loans to the interest rate on 10-year treasury bonds plus about 3 percent. This would destabilize student borrowers by putting them at the mercy of the market. The amount they must eventually pay could vary significantly from one year to the next.
Any increase in interest rates on student loans will add to the already devastating burden imposed on working class and middle class people, predominantly youth, seeking higher education. Student loan default rates are already on the rise, exceeding 13 percent of student borrowers nationwide. 30 percent of borrowers are “delinquent,” having missed payments for at least 90 days.
US college students are in ever-increasing need of financial assistance. Since the financial collapse of 2008, state governments have cut funding to public universities by 28 percent, and tuition has risen 27 percent nationwide. Over the same period, median household income has dropped 8 percent.
Average student loan debt among 25-year-olds in the US now exceeds $20,000—more than double what it was a decade ago. 43 percent of 25-year-olds have student debt, up from just 25 percent over the same period. Total US student loan debt now exceeds the $1 trillion mark and is rising, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), making it the largest non-mortgage debt source, more than auto loans or credit card debt.
A recent Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY) report showed that since the onset of the slump in 2009, 25-year-olds burdened by student debt are increasingly unlikely to own their own homes or purchase vehicles, and have worse credit scores than those without student debt. These figures all represent a dramatic reversal of historical trends. Before the crisis those borrowing money to pay for higher education were instead better off than those without loans in all three categories. Presently, 47 percent of employers conduct credit checks before hiring.
A lousy job market ever more dominated by low-income and part-time work ensures that a growing section of the population, particularly working class and middle class youth, face decades of indentured servitude and a declining standard of living as they are crushed under debt. Half of recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed, and average yearly incomes for 25- to 34-year-olds with a degree is down about $10,000 since 2000.
With the aid of the Obama administration, Wall Street has been able to make huge profits out of this situation. As the administration pumps $85 billion per month into the financial sector, a market frenzy for student loans has emerged. In March Sallie Mae (SLM), the former government entity that has turned into a student loan originator, collection agent and debt seller, announced that it had sold $1.1 billion worth of new student loan debt securities. SLM itself made $514 million in profits in the fourth quarter of 2012.
As students are forced to borrow and repay more and more money, a growing student loan bubble could also threaten to destabilize the economy in the same way the housing and dot-com bubbles did in the first decade of the 21st century. Securities called SLABS (Student Loans Asset-Backed Securities), first created in 1992 by Sallie Mae, now account for between a quarter and a third of the $1 trillion total of student loan debt, and are on the rise. As with the subprime loan racket, SLABS are often bundled with other kinds of loans for trading purposes.

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Snowden denounces US moves to block his asylum requests

By Alex Lantier 
2 July 2013
Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who exposed NSA spying on the US and world population, issued a powerfulstatement yesterday denouncing the global manhunt Washington is mounting against him.
In the statement, initially posted on the WikiLeaks web site, Snowden explains that he decided to leave Hong Kong on June 23 “after it became clear that my freedom and safety were under threat for revealing the truth.”
Snowden has been trapped in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport since then, hoping to fly on to Ecuador to seek asylum. Washington has revoked his US passport, and US Vice President Joseph Biden called Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa urging him not to grant Snowden asylum. Correa has rescinded a travel document granted to Snowden at the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
Snowden’s statement continues, “On Thursday, President Obama declared before the world that he would not permit any diplomatic ‘wheeling and dealing’ over my case. Yet it is now being reported that after promising not to do so, the President ordered his Vice President to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions … Sadly, this right [to asylum], laid out and voted for by the US in Article 14 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is now being rejected by the current government of my country.”
Noting that the revocation of his US passport has left him stateless though he has been convicted of no crime, he concludes: “In the end, the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning, or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised—and it should be.”
Snowden’s statement exposes the debased state of political life in the United States and internationally. Snowden has revealed pervasive Internet monitoring of US citizens and individuals and governments worldwide, carried out in blatant violation of protections in the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution against unreasonable searches. Under the cover of the “war on terror,” unelected cabals of intelligence and security officials in the US and US-allied regimes complicit in these programs have set up the surveillance infrastructure of police states.
Now, it is Snowden, and not the officials guilty of overseeing these programs, who is targeted by an intense, global manhunt. With governments internationally implicated in these programs or cowering before their perpetrators, the only remaining constituency for democratic rights and the defense of Snowden is the international working class.
The Correa government made a cowardly statement yesterday evening to justify its decision to abandon Snowden. Correa distanced himself from the Ecuadorean consul in London, Fidel Narvaez, who issued a travel document to Snowden to travel from Hong Kong to Ecuador via Moscow. Correa declared that even though this decision was taken because Snowden feared for his life in Hong Kong, it was a “mistake.”
Significantly, Narvaez cited the historical precedent of Ecuadorean diplomats in Czechoslovakia during World War II—who gave Jews visas to escape fascist mass murder in Europe—in order to justify his decision to help Snowden escape Hong Kong.
Correa repudiated Narvaez’s decision, while conceding that Narvaez’s arguments were correct: “I told him, ‘OK, if you think you did the right thing, I respect your decision, but you could not give, without authorization, that safe conduct pass. It was completely invalid, and he will have to accept the consequences.’”
Snowden’s revelations have undermined the public justifications advanced for NSA spying programs by the Obama administration, which claimed they were part of the “war on terror.” In fact, they were widely used to spy on commercial and political discussions at embassies and government installations of Washington’s European allies. Unless Washington claims that the European Union is a terrorist organization planning to attack the United States, US spying programs are manifestly being used in the strategic interests of US banks and military-intelligence forces.
This spying proceeded even though European countries—including states such as France and Germany that were labeled “third-class partners” by the NSA—reportedly shared Internet traffic data with Washington.
Embarrassed and apparently taken aback by the scale of US spying, leading European officials are protesting the NSA programs. German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrberger said, “It is beyond comprehension that our friends in the United States see Europeans as enemies.”
Elmer Brok, the chairman of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said, “the spying has reached dimensions that I did not think were possible for a democratic country … [The United States] lost all balance, George Orwell is nothing by comparison.”
Several European officials, including French President François Hollande and European Commissioner Viviane Reding, called for negotiations on a proposed US-EU free trade zone to be postponed.
Snowden has reportedly given Russian authorities applications for asylum to 15 countries, including Russia itself. Despite public support for Snowden in Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a cynical and ambiguous statement, implying that Russia might grant him asylum on certain conditions—including that he cease publishing information that embarrassed the US government.
Putin said, “If [Snowden] wants to go somewhere and they accept him, please, be my guest. If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: he must cease his work aimed at inflicting damage to our American partners, as strange as it may sound from my lips.”
Later, Putin appeared to indicate that Russia would not grant Snowden asylum: “Because he sees himself as a human rights activist and a freedom fighter for people’s rights, apparently he is not intending to cease his work. So he must choose for himself a country to go to and where to move.”
These statements make clear that, without a struggle by the working class to defend Snowden and democratic rights, his fate will be left up to the twists and turns of negotiations between the reactionary Russian and US governments.
Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia’s security council and a former head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB, the former Soviet-era KGB), said that Russian and US officials would discuss Snowden’s case: “[Putin and Obama] do not have a decision that would suit both sides. So they have ordered FSB director [Alexander] Bortnikov and FBI director [Robert] Mueller to be in constant contact and find possible solutions.”
Several media outlets have speculated that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who arrived yesterday in Moscow on a two-day trade visit, might grant Snowden asylum and fly him to Venezuela on his official jet. However, protection from the Maduro regime—which recently held talks with right-wing billionaires and with US Secretary of State John Kerry, apparently to repair relations with the US after the death of President Hugo Chavez—is no guarantee against US persecution.

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Bay Area, California transit workers launch strike

By David Brown 
1 July 2013
Thousands of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) workers went on strike at 12:01 a.m. Monday following the expiration of their contracts. At the same time, Oakland city workers were holding a one-day strike and contracts for AC Transit bus workers expired.
The BART workers are opposing management demands that they begin paying into their pensions funds, accept increased health care costs, and settle for a 1 percent annual wage increase that will further erode their real wages.
The strike, the first since 1997, promises to have a massive impact on San Francisco, Oakland and other cities and towns in the Bay Area of northern California. There are 380,000 daily riders on the BART system and 240,000 on AC Transit.
The 1997 strike lasted for six days and caused traffic across the Bay Bridge to back up all the way to Livermore, 45 miles away. There is no alternative to BART for the majority of commuters.
According to union officials, the last contract offered on Saturday amounted to a $9,700 reduction in compensation over its four-year duration.
The average station agent or train operator makes just over $60,000 a year. Given the high cost of living in the Bay Area, any drop in compensation would be devastating.
The workers are also raising safety concerns, including the demand for additional measures to prevent maintenance workers from being hit by trains.
Thousands of BART and AC Transit workers in five unions are involved in the strike. The unions include the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU). Despite an overwhelming strike authorization vote from their members, the union leaders made clear they wanted to avoid a struggle.
The ATU actually appealed last weekend to Democratic Governor Jerry Brown to impose a 60-day “cooling off” period to head off a strike. SEIU Local President John Arantes stated that his members would show up to work if the governor ordered it. Arantes was quoted in the San Jose Mercury News as saying, “We will always respect what the governor says.”
BART officials, however, have told the governor they are opposed to a “cooling off” period. They are hoping to impose more sweeping concessions by forcing the issue now and relying on the union leadership to sell the workers out.
The unions are opposed to any broadening of the struggle. The SEIU, which represents both BART workers and city workers in Oakland, is confining the city workers to a one-day protest, rather than an indefinite walkout. The ATU, which also represents AC Transit workers, has declared the earliest bus workers would go on strike is Tuesday.
Thousands of health care workers in the Bay Area are working without a contract, but the unions have no intention of seeking to mobilize them in tandem with the transit workers.
The unions fear and oppose a broader mobilization of the working class because it would threaten their political alliance with Governor Brown and the Democratic Party, which are engaged in a brutal assault across the state on social services, education, health care and the workers who provide these services.
The California state budget has sharply cut funding since the 2008 financial crash, first under Governor Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and then under Brown. Public employees have seen effective pay cuts of up to 25 percent due to furloughs, while funding for needed safety measures and BART maintenance has been delayed.

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