Monday, April 14, 2014

04-15-14 Activist Newsletter

April 15, 2014, Issue 201

1.   Quotes Of The Month: Jimmy Carter
2.   Volatile Ukraine
3.   Climate Change Crisis Is Here
4.   Air Pollution Kills 7 Million A Year
5.   NSA Spies On Human Rights Groups
6.   The Red Line And The Rat Line
7.   The Status Of Assad’s Forces
8.   Carter Blasts Violence Against Women
9.   The Most, And Least, Religious States
10. New York Schools: The Roar Of The Charters
11. Ukraine: And The Winner Is . . . China?
12. India’s Dilemma Over Crimea
13. Hungary’s Far Right Gains In Election
14. The Truth About Venezuela
15. Venezuela Protests Failing
16. U.S. Twitter Plot Against Cuba
17. Pentagon Increasingly Active In Africa
18. NYC Rally Supports 250 Fired Ups Workers
19. Noteworthy Election In Mid-Hudson 19th CD

1.   QUOTES OF THE MONTH: Jimmy Carter (1924 - )

He's aged well, politically.
As president, born again Christian Carter, who will be 90 in October, was as undistinguished as the generality of American chief executives with three or four exceptions over the years. However, he is without doubt the best ex-president America has ever had, increasingly supporting progressive causes since he left office. His latest book, “ A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power,” is the subject of an article below. Here are some of his thoughts

·      The rest of the world, almost unanimously, looks at America as the No. 1 warmonger. That we revert to armed conflict almost at the drop of a hat — and quite often it’s not only desired by the leaders of our country, but it’s also supported by the people of America.

·      Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law…. The United States is squandering international prestige and goodwill and intensifying global anti-American terrorism by unofficially condoning or abetting the Israeli confiscation and colonization of Palestinian territories.

·      "I am convinced that discrimination against women and girls is one of the world’s most serious, all-pervasive and largely ignored violations of basic human rights…. Violence against women is the worst and most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violation on Earth…. It is disturbing to realize that women are treated most equally in some countries that are atheistic or where governments are strictly separated from religion.

·      Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. In all of his teachings about multiple things — he never said that gay people should be condemned. I personally think it is very fine for gay people to be married in civil ceremonies.

·      “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use.

·      “Go out on a limb. That's where the fruit is.”
Pro-Russian protest in eastern Ukraine April 10.
By The Activist Newsletter

Updated, April 17: The four-party Geneva talks on Ukraine produced an  agreement that will mitigate but not yet totally end the crisis that developed after a U.S.-supported coup ousted democratically-elected President Viktor Yanukovych. Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and the European Union each compromised to lower tensions.  Some contentious issues were evidently left for another day.

[However, pro-Russian insurgents who have occupied government buildings in more than 10 Ukrainian cities said April 18 they will not leave them until the country's interim government resigns. Denis Pushilin of the self-appointed Donetsk People's Republic told reporters the insurgents do not recognize the Ukrainian government as legitimate. Donetsk is an industrial city located in eastern Ukraine with a metropolitan area population over 2 million people]

According to press reports, all sides in the Ukraine dispute  must refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions. The participants strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism. Russia considered these latter points to be of great importance given the powerful right wing and neo-fascist forces that exist in Ukraine, including within the new government.

The parties agreed illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated. Amnesty will be granted to protesters and to those who have left buildings and other public places and surrendered weapons, with the exception of those found guilty of capital crimes.

It is understood Ukraine will begin decentralizing some state power to the regions but it did not accept the Russian call for federalization of the state. No mention was made of Crimea, which voted to join Russia after the right wing coup. As far as Moscow and Crimea are concerned it is a fait accompli. President Obama's repeated insistence that Russia pull back some 40,000 troops he alleged are on Ukraine's border was likewise unmentioned in the agreement. 

According to Stratfor: "The European Union is very divided in its view of what form the next round of sanctions should take, while the United States, despite providing the Ukrainian military with some non-lethal aid in the form of rations, is unlikely to lend the government in Kiev significant military protection. Like many European governments, Washington is hesitant to impose more sanctions on Russia, fearing the potential negative impact on U.S. companies operating in the country. Both sides, therefore, are advocating for de-escalation and willing to make significant concessions in order to stabilize the situation in eastern Ukraine — although the agreement reached April 17 is merely an initial step that is far from a definitive end to the crisis."

On April 16, pro-Russian  forces commandeered six Ukrainian armored vehicles along with their crews and hoisted Russian flags over them, dampening the central government's hopes of re-establishing control over restive eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian soldiers manning the vehicles offered no armed resistance, and masked pro-Russian militias in combat fatigues sat on top as they drove into the eastern city of Slovyansk, a hotbed of unrest against Ukraine's interim government.The crisis in Ukraine took dramatic turn  April 15 when government security forces launched an operation against pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country. 

April 14 article: The situation is changing every day in Ukraine. The government may crackdown any minute or it may not.

Ethnic Russian residents of eastern Ukraine are taking over buildings and demanding a referendum on a federal system of government giving each region more power, and freedom for arrested pro-Russian protesters. In some cases, demonstrators seek more autonomy while others demand independence and association with neighboring Russia, as Crimea achieved last month.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is reported late April 14 to be “anxiously watching events and has received many requests for help from people there,” a Kremlin spokesman said, according to Radio Free Europe/RL report. 

Heavily armed pro-Russian separatists have captured an airfield in Slovyiansk, eastern Ukraine, 5 Kanal TV reported April 14. Over the weekend, unidentified protesters stormed and occupied government buildings in at least six eastern Ukrainian towns.

In Washington, an adviser to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that supplying arms to Ukraine is an option under consideration, Reuters reported. Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov has said Kiev may use military action against pro-Russian activists who are occupying government buildings in the east.

Russian speaker demands change in east Ukraine.
According to an analysis by Stratfor: “The occupation of government buildings across eastern Ukraine demonstrates Russia's ability to destabilize Ukraine through non-military means and thus gives the Kremlin leverage in its negotiations with Ukraine and the United States April 17 in Geneva. Pointing to alleged violations of the rights of Russian speakers in Ukraine, the Kremlin has been pressuring Kiev to move toward federalization.”

Following is a report Feb. 14 from The Economist’s correspondent in Slovyansk, published under the headline, “The disappearing country”:

The Kiev authorities' hold on Donbas and much of the wider region of eastern Ukraine has disappeared. President Turchynov had said that a military operation was imminent and that anyone who left the seized buildings by 6am on April 14th would not be prosecuted.

But by nightfall, as fog covered the Donbas, it was clear that no concerted government action to take back the region was under way. The region’s police appear to have defected en masse to the pro-Russian side. Police buildings in the town of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk fell to armed men on April 12th and there were reports of other municipal buildings being taken elsewhere. A Ukrainian security services operation to restore authority in Slovyansk failed. Military or police helicopters flew over the town and unconfirmed sources said crowds prevented them from landing. 

Along the highway leading from the regional capital, Donetsk, barricades have gone up, manned by men wielding clubs and metal batons. Some are armed with guns. At the entrance to Sloviansk, bigger barricades have been erected. In nearby Kramatorsk, small groups of men stood by the police station and nearby barricades.

On the morning of April 13 Arsen Avakov, the Ukrainian interior minister, announced that a fight-back for the east of the country was beginning. A few hours later a film was circulating of stalled armored personal-carriers, a slumped man who appeared dead and another one on the ground apparently wounded. Avakov said that one had died and five had been wounded in the shootout.

Another film showed a group of well-organized men in military uniform storming the police station in Kramatorsk. They are seen to be followed by men in civilian clothes. On April 13 a few dozen unarmed men were manning new barricades by the police station. The military unit seen in the film was no longer in evidence, having possibly moved elsewhere. Ukrainian officials say they are troops from Russia.

Earlier in the day, at the barricade leading into Slovyansk  the first line of defense was a group of elderly women holding icons and saying they wanted nothing but peace. Behind them was tire barricade. On the side Molotov cocktails were being prepared. Behind this were men with clubs, who appeared to listen to orders being given by two uniformed armed men. Russian flags and those of the self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic were flying at all the barricades and seized buildings.


[The world has reached the point, according to a leading scientist involved in creating the new UN report on climate change, where "we may already be on the threshold or over the threshold of the sixth mass extinction in earth's history." The times call for immediate drastic reductions in the burning of fossil fuels to sharply reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere responsible for climate change. The United States is a major offender, but despite deceptive rhetoric and token steps by Washington it is actually producing more oil and gas today than ever before — earning it the nickname Saudi America. Following is an article about the new report.]

By David Biello

The rich play with fire and the poor get burned. That sums up a report issued March 31 by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) about the worsening risks of climate change. Yet even rich nations will face serious challenges. "Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by climate change," said IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri at a press conference releasing the report in Yokohama, Japan.

According to Pachauri and the hundreds of scientists who prepared the report, climate change is no longer something that will happen in the future. It is already here, and it is already impacting people on all seven continents and seven seas. The world now has a different climate than it had only a few decades ago, thanks to fossil fuel burning, forest clearing and other human activities.

As a result, the need for nations everywhere to adapt is already here, according to the report of the second team of IPCC scientists (known as Working Group II), who assessed more than 12,000 scientific papers to deliver an authoritative consensus on the impacts of climate change, the vulnerabilities of society and the natural world, as well as how we might adapt to a changed climate. "We see impacts from the equators to the poles and the coast to the mountains," noted biologist Christopher Field of Stanford University, co-chair of Working Group II at the press event.

The opportunity to prevent catastrophic global warming has not disappeared, even if the world has burned through half the fossil fuels it can, according to the first team of IPCC scientists who assessed the fundamental physics of climate change and released their report in September. But the world must drop its carbon habit soon. Since 1880, 531 gigatons of carbon have been emitted, and the IPCC scientists estimate that no more than 800 gigatons should be emitted for a better-than-even chance of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius [3.6 degrees Fahrenheit]. If warming rises beyond that threshold, the scientists say, serious harm will be done to ecosystems and societies everywhere. The more warming, the greater the risk of "severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts," the new report states.

Unfortunately, in just the time between this report and the last iteration in 2007, climate change has
grown 40% thanks to ever increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. Already, the world has warmed 0.85 degree C since 1880. Global warming is now "unequivocal" and concentrations of CO2 have reached levels "unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years." Or as Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization put it at the press conference: "Ignorance is no longer an excuse. We know."

In that light, climate change becomes a risk management proposition, particularly given the uncertainty about exactly how bad impacts might become and when. The worst risks include sea level rise for small islands and coasts, flooding, the breakdown of infrastructure in the face of extreme weather, loss of livelihoods for farmers and fishers, food insecurity and heat-wave deaths. Expect a big demand for energy for air conditioning as the 21st century continues.

Some of these impacts are already here, from a meltdown of polar ice and glaciers everywhere to higher rates of sea level rise than the IPCC predicted in the past. Crops, such as wheat and maize (corn), have been hurt more by heat waves and drought than helped by higher levels of CO2, which can sometimes permit more luxuriant plant growth. Some crop yields in places like northern Europe and southeastern South America where drought has not set in have actually improved.

[Science Daily reported April 9 “Florida State University researchers have found new evidence that permafrost thawing is releasing large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere via plants, which could accelerate warming trends. Permafrost is soil that is frozen year round and is typically located in polar regions. As the world has gotten slightly warmer, that permafrost is thawing and decomposing, which is producing increased amounts of methane.”]

The bad outweighs the good to date. Reductions in yields of wheat and maize have already had an impact on food prices, and some argue on the stability of nations as well. Extreme weather — from floods to wildfires — continues to take an increasing toll, and climate change will likely exacerbate existing health problems such as malaria and heat stroke. The biggest impact may prove to be changes to the availability of fresh water. All of these hazards, laid out in detail in the new report, afflict the poorest the most, particularly subsistence farmers throughout the world who depend on consistent rains for adequate food. "They are threatened in their very existence," Pachauri argued at the press conference.

Climate change will also raise the risk of conflict, whether civil war or fights between nation states over critical resources or boundaries, according to the new report. In short, climate change will make remedying existing poverty that much harder.

Opportunities still exist for adaptation, however. Communities, cities, states and nations have begun to adapt, whether improved water management in San Diego, Calif., or planting mangroves to stabilize seashores in the island nation of Tuvalu. Climate change can be ameliorated both by cutting back on the pollution that causes it as well as by improving society to decrease vulnerability.

Future adaptation may include, for the poorest people, moving, either voluntarily or when displaced by disaster. And how societies choose to adapt will be vital as certain choices — geoengineering with artificial volcanoes or building sea walls, for example — may prove maladaptive in the long term.

The natural world has had to adapt as well, with animals and even plants moving or shifting seasonal behaviors or migration. Some marine animals have shifted their range by as much as 400 kilometers [250 miles] in pursuit of equally cold climes, and ocean acidification is accelerating. As the climate continues to change, species will face even greater challenges, and many may go extinct as global warming tips them into disaster when paired with other threats such as habitat loss. Entire ecosystems will be transformed, like the march of shrubs into the former tundra of Siberia and North America. "We may already be on the threshold or over the threshold of the sixth mass extinction in earth's history," co-chair Field noted.

Undercutting the optimism for ongoing adaptation is the fact that the IPCC has consistently underestimated the speed and scale of climate change. Continuing to improve the data about impacts is an ongoing challenge for the scientific community. And, in the larger view, as Field put it in his speech to open the session finalizing the new report: "Dealing effectively with climate change is one of the defining challenges of the 21st century."

— From Scientific American March 30, 2014. Accompanying the climate report is a quite useful 12-minute video summing up what is known so far about climate change. To access, go to, then press “WGII Video” on the screen.

Excerpted from Climate and Capitalism

From the big outdoor  smokestacks….
In new estimates released in late March, the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO) reported that in 2012 around 7 million people died — one in eight of total global deaths — as a result of air pollution exposure.

This finding more than doubled previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk. Reducing air pollution could save millions of lives.

…. to Africa's indoor foodstove  fires.
In particular, the new data reveal a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and ischemic heart disease, as well as between air pollution and cancer. This is in addition to air pollution’s role in the development of respiratory diseases, including acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

In another report last month, the World Meteorological Organization’s Annual Statement on the Status of the Climate disclosed that 2013 once again demonstrated the dramatic impact of droughts, heat waves, floods and tropical cyclones on people and property in all parts of the planet.

The report confirms that 2013 tied with 2007 as the sixth warmest on record, continuing the long-term global warming trend. It provided a snapshot of regional and national temperatures and extreme events as well as details of ice cover, ocean warming, sea level rise and greenhouse gas concentrations – all inter-related and consistent indicators of our changing climate.

By Sarah Lazare

The National Security Agency has spied on renowned human rights organizations, snooped on "trillions" of private communications, and directly violated EU privacy laws, whistle-blower Edward Snowden disclosed April 8 to the Council of Europe.

Speaking from Moscow, Snowden appeared via video-link before this EU human rights body's hearing on mass surveillance in Strasbourg, France, during which he revealed that the NSA deliberately spied on human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. "The NSA has targeted leaders and staff members of these sorts of organizations, including domestically within the borders of the United States," he told members of European parliament.

Furthermore, Snowden revealed that the NSA is using data-mining tools like XKeyscore to track "trillions" of private communications. This includes spying on the travel patterns of EU citizens with connection to wrongdoing. According to Snowden, "This technology offers the most significant new threat to civil liberties in the modern era."

“The screening of trillions of private communications for the vaguest of association or some other nebulous pre-criminal activity is a violation of the human right to be free from unwarranted interference, to be secure in our communications and private affairs – and it must be addressed," he stated.
“These processes are abusive," he charged. "This is clearly a disproportionate use of an extraordinarily intrusive authority."

— From Common Dreams. A brief video news report of Snowden’s remarks is at

Obama, Turkey and the Syrian rebels

[The Activist Newsletter has published several articles in the last year expressing doubt that the Damascus government deployed chemical weapons against its own people or rebel forces, as Washington and the opposition it supports have claimed. Seymour Hersh, the legendary Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist, has written another major article on this subject — based on his extensive insider news sources — and he presents an argument contrary to the U.S. version.

[Hersh strongly emphasizes the role of Turkey in facilitating use of sarin gas by the rebels in order to
blame Assad and bring the U.S. into the war. Given the Obama Administration’s extreme crackdown on whistleblowers and secret government informants, Hersh does not identify his sources in this article, but we have confidence in the veracity of this experienced reporter. The London Review of Books published this article April 4.]

By Seymour M. Hersh

In 2011 Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya without consulting the U.S. Congress. Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the “red line” he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons. Then with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was postponed as Congress prepared for hearings, and subsequently cancelled when Obama accepted Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia.

Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.

Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defense laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin [gas] used in the August 21 attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack. [Additional considerations included opposition by a majority of the American people.]

Al-Nusra fighter in Syria, killing captives.
For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbors, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist [al-Qaeda] faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. “We knew there were some in the Turkish government,” a former senior U.S. intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, “who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.”

The joint chiefs also knew that the Obama administration’s public claims that only the Syrian army had access to sarin were wrong. The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons. On June 20 analysts for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page “talking points” briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell: its program, the paper said, was “the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort.” (According to a Defense Department consultant, U.S. intelligence has long known that al-Qaida experimented with chemical weapons, and has a video of one of its gas experiments with dogs.) The DIA paper went on:

“Previous IC [intelligence community] focus had been almost entirely on Syrian CW [chemical weapons] stockpiles; now we see ANF attempting to make its own CW … Al-Nusra Front’s relative freedom of operation within Syria leads us to assess the group’s CW aspirations will be difficult to disrupt in the future.” The paper drew on classified intelligence from numerous agencies: “Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators,” it said, “were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.” (Asked about the DIA paper, a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence said: “No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.”)

Last May, more than 10 members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in southern Turkey with what local police told the press was two kilograms of sarin. In a 130-page indictment the group was accused of attempting to purchase fuses, piping for the construction of mortars, and chemical precursors for sarin. Five of those arrested were freed after a brief detention. The others, including the ringleader, Haytham Qassab, for whom the prosecutor requested a prison sentence of 25 years, were released pending trial. In the meantime the Turkish press has been rife with speculation that the Erdoğan administration has been covering up the extent of its involvement with the rebels. In a news conference last summer, Aydin Sezgin, Turkey’s ambassador to Moscow, dismissed the arrests and claimed to reporters that the recovered ‘sarin’ was merely “anti-freeze.”

The DIA paper took the arrests as evidence that al-Nusra was expanding its access to chemical weapons. It said Qassab had “self-identified’ as a member of al-Nusra, and that he was directly connected to Abd-al-Ghani, the ANF emir for military manufacturing.” Qassab and his associate Khalid Ousta worked with Halit Unalkaya, an employee of a Turkish firm called Zirve Export, who provided “price quotes for bulk quantities of sarin precursors.” Abd-al-Ghani’s plan was for two associates to “perfect a process for making sarin, then go to Syria to train others to begin large scale production at an unidentified lab in Syria.” The DIA paper said that one of his operatives had purchased a precursor on the “Baghdad chemical market,” which ‘has supported at least seven CW efforts since 2004.”…

A series of chemical weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was investigated over the next few months by a special UN mission to Syria. A person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on  March 19 in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: “Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.”

Young Syrian victims of sarin gas attack last August.
In the months before the attacks began, a former senior Defense Department official told me, the DIA was circulating a daily classified report known as SYRUP on all intelligence related to the Syrian conflict, including material on chemical weapons. But in the spring, distribution of the part of the report concerning chemical weapons was severely curtailed on the orders of Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff. “Something was in there that triggered a shit fit by McDonough,” the former Defense Department official said. “One day it was a huge deal, and then, after the March and April sarin attacks” – he snapped his fingers – “it’s no longer there.” The decision to restrict distribution was made as the joint chiefs ordered intensive contingency planning for a possible ground invasion of Syria whose primary objective would be the elimination of chemical weapons.

The former intelligence official said that many in the U.S. national security establishment had long been troubled by the president’s red line: “The joint chiefs asked the White House, ‘What does red line mean? How does that translate into military orders? Troops on the ground? Massive strike? Limited strike?’ They tasked military intelligence to study how we could carry out the threat. They learned nothing more about the president’s reasoning.”

In the aftermath of the Aug. 21 attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, “the White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently ‘painful’ to the Assad regime. The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the U.S. attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. Every day the target list was getting longer,” the former intelligence official told me. “The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.” The new target list was meant to “completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had,” the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.

Britain and France were both to play a part. On Aug. 29, the day Parliament voted against Prime minister Cameron’s bid to join the intervention, the Guardian reported that he had already ordered six RAF Typhoon fighter jets to be deployed to Cyprus, and had volunteered a submarine capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. The French air force – a crucial player in the 2011 strikes on Libya – was deeply committed, according to an account in Le Nouvel Observateur; François Hollande had ordered several Rafale fighter-bombers to join the American assault. Their targets were reported to be in western Syria.

By the last days of August the president had given the Joint Chiefs a fixed deadline for the launch. “H hour was to begin no later than Monday morning [Sept. 2], a massive assault to neutralize Assad,” the former intelligence official said. So it was a surprise to many when during a speech in the White House Rose Garden Aug. 31 Obama said that the attack would be put on hold, and he would turn to Congress and put it to a vote.

At this stage, Obama’s premise – that only the Syrian army was capable of deploying sarin – was unraveling. Within a few days of the Aug. 21 gas attack, the former intelligence official told me, Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analyzed it and passed it on to British military intelligence; this was the material sent to Porton Down. (A spokesperson for Porton Down said: “Many of the samples analyzed in the UK tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.” MI6 [the British Secret Intelligence Service] said that it doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.)

The former intelligence official said the Russian who delivered the sample to the UK was “a good source – someone with access, knowledge and a record of being trustworthy.” After the first reported uses of chemical weapons in Syria last year, American and allied intelligence agencies “made an effort to find the answer as to what if anything, was used – and its source,” the former intelligence official said. “We use data exchanged as part of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The DIA’s baseline consisted of knowing the composition of each batch of Soviet-manufactured chemical weapons. But we didn’t know which batches the Assad government currently had in its arsenal. Within days of the Damascus incident we asked a source in the Syrian government to give us a list of the batches the government currently had. This is why we could confirm the difference so quickly.”

The process hadn’t worked as smoothly in the spring, the former intelligence official said, because the studies done by Western intelligence “were inconclusive as to the type of gas it was. The word ‘sarin’ didn’t come up. There was a great deal of discussion about this, but since no one could conclude what gas it was, you could not say that Assad had crossed the president’s red line.” By Aug. 21, the former intelligence official went on, “the Syrian opposition clearly had learned from this and announced that ‘sarin’ from the Syrian army had been used, before any analysis could be made, and the press and White House jumped at it. Since it now was sarin, ‘It had to be Assad.”’

The UK defense staff who relayed the Porton Down findings to the joint chiefs were sending the Americans a message, the former intelligence official said: “We’re being set up here.” (This account made sense of a terse message a senior official in the CIA sent in late August: “It was not the result of the current regime. UKand U.S. know this.”) By then the attack was a few days away and American, British and French planes, ships and submarines were at the ready.

This article, including Turkey’s role, is continued at:
— Hersh was interviewed on Democracy Now. The video is available here:


By The Activist Newsletter

Syrian loyalist army on parade holding Assad's picture.
After three years of civil war between the now mainly Sunni jihadist rebels and the Syrian government
led by President Bashar al-Assad, the death toll has reached 150,000 and about 2.5 million Syrian refugees have registered in neighboring countries with the UN Refugee Agency. At this stage there is no end in sight.

 Several Sunni Arab countries, Turkey, the U.S. and its “Western” retinue, back the national and international rebel forces seeking regime change in Damascus. This support is compromised by the U.S. fear of supplying heavy equipment to jihadist sectors which seek to establish a Sunni Islamist regime, particularly those associated with al-Qaeda.

Syria is mainly supported by Shi’ite Iran and Russia. Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite self-defense organization, has sent troops. The Shi’ite-led Iraqi government is sympathetic to the neighboring Syrian regime but is preoccupied by a virtual war against the Baghdad government by al-Qaeda and Sunni elements.

Here is a brief account of the condition of the Assad regime, excerpted from a longer article by Stratfor this month:

The regime holds a clear advantage in the coastal regions, in the city and province of Homs and in the greater Damascus area. The rebels have the advantage in the cities and provinces of Raqqah, Deir el-Zour and Daraa, while Aleppo remains in the balance. The war will continue unabated for at least the next year….

The Syrian regime was able to reverse a string of early losses at the beginning of 2013, moving to an offensive posture and making headway in a number of key provinces. Despite pushing forward aggressively, various constraints prevented loyalist forces from retaking crucial swathes of the countryside and significant rebel strongholds.

Government forces remain locked in heavy combat against rebel elements spread across the western half of the country. In many cases, this combat has settled into siege warfare on both sides. In cities such as Aleppo, the fighting has become entrenched urban combat with hardened and consistent frontlines….

Rebel fighters prepare for battle.
The Syrian regime has three main advantages. First, there is cohesive support for al Assad, especially among the elite and the Druze, Alawite and Christian minorities. [The Alawites, to which Assad and most of the governing elite belong, are an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.]  Second, the regime has superior training, equipment and command and control. And third, the regime enjoys more effective external support.

The regime greatly benefits from the support of a considerable portion of the Sunni Arab population. This demographic base, while not as large as the rebels, enables Damascus to maintain a solid hold on critical terrain, particularly in the Syrian core and the cities. While there have been signs of fractures within this population demographic, the perceived lack of an alternative to al Assad and the threat of extremist jihadists has ensured continued support for the regime. Furthermore, major defections from the central Syrian leadership have been exceedingly rare, indicating few notable schisms after three years of conflict. There have even been reports of defectors regretting their decision to join the rebellion.

Despite the weakening of the army, the regime has been able to depend on a trained force of men with superior equipment and weaponry, ranging from battlefield communications to artillery and airpower. This advantage has been crucial in countering rebel advances as well as staging concerted assaults that have been all but unstoppable by the underequipped rebels….

There is no easy solution to the conflict in Syria, and a political solution remains highly unlikely. The stalemate is likely to endure, potentially for years, until either the regime or the rebellion can deliver a decisive blow. Assad's regime has shown tenacity and endurance, while the rebels have struggled through crises that could have undermined the core of the movement…. Syria's problems will not end with a clear rebel or regime victory; they will simply evolve into a new phase.


[Former President Jimmy Carter left his church, the Southern Baptist Convention, in 2009 because of its backward stance on women. He wrote an extremely powerful statement at the time, saying in essence “the words of God do not justify cruelty to women.” The public largely ignored this statement. Find it at Now Carter has just published a book on the matter of violence against women that is receiving considerable attention at a time when the women’s movement appears to be speaking up once again.]

By Tara Culp-Ressler

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter at 30th anniversary
Habitat for Humanity work project last October.
Former President Jimmy Carter is issuing a call to action to end the abuse and subjugation of women,
which he refers to as the “worst and most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violation on Earth.”

Carter issued his strong statements about gender equality in a recent interview with NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell and in many other interviews in recent days. The former president is currently doing media appearances to promote a new book, “A Call To Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power,” which discusses the issue of women’s victimization around the world.

In his book, released two weeks ago, Carter — a born again Christian — argues that many conservative faith leaders have contributed to the ongoing violence against women: “Religious leaders say women are inferior in the eyes of God, which is a false interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. When [people] see the Pope, the Southern Baptist Convention, and others say that women can’t serve as priests equally with men, they say well, I’ll treat my wife the way I want to because she’s inferior to me,” Carter told NBC News.

Carter and his wife Rosalynn decided to leave the conservative Southern Baptist convention because the denomination refused to ordain women as pastors and believes that wives should remain submissive to their husbands. The couple now attends a more moderate Baptist church that has a female pastor.

In an interview with NPR, Carter explained that he’s written to Pope Francis to challenge him on the Catholic Church’s official policy on women in leadership roles. He’s not optimistic that anything will change anytime soon. “But at least the pope, the new pope, is aware of it and is much more amenable, I think, to some changes than maybe some of — or most of — his predecessors,” he said.

Carter’s book makes the case that the United States is at least partly responsible for perpetrating the ongoing violence against women around the globe, since the U.S. wields such great international influence. The former president also sees issues of violence and abuse occurring within America’s borders, particularly as the issue of properly handling sexual assault causes on college campuses and military bases has recently come to a head.

“Exactly the same thing happens in universities in America that happens in the military. Presidents of universities and colleges and commanding officers don’t want to admit that, under their leadership, sexual abuse is taking place,” Carter noted. “Rapists prevail because they know they’re not going to be reported.”

— From Think Progress, March 24.

By the Activist Newsletter

Which of our 50 states is the most religious  — and the least?  Gallup released a poll with the results Feb. 3, based on the percentage of residents who described themselves as “very religious,” “moderately religious” and “nonreligious.”

Mississippi is the most religious state with 61% “very religious,” 29% moderately religious and only
10% “nonreligious.” Utah is second with 60% “very,” 14% “moderately” and 26% nonreligious. Third is Alabama, 57% “very, 28% “moderate,” and 15% ‘nonreligious.” Most of the southern states come next.

The least religious is Vermont, with 22% “very,” 21% “moderate,” and 56% “nonreligious.” Second is New Hampshire, with 24% “very,” 26% “moderate,” and 51% “nonreligious.” Third is Maine, with 27% “very,” 28% “moderate,” and 45% “nonreligious.” The next three states are Massachusetts, Oregon, Nevada.

Of the 50 states, New York at number 40 is among the less religious, with 34% “very,” 29% “moderate,” and 37% “nonreligious. 

The results were based on interviews with 174,000 Americans last year. All told 41.4% consider themselves “very religious,” 29.2% “somewhat religious,” and 29.4% “nonreligious.”

Gallup says it “classifies Americans as very religious if they say religion is an important part of their daily lives and that they attend religious services every week or almost every week.” The moderately religious say “religion is important in their lives but that they do not attend services regularly, or that religion is not important but that they still attend services.”

Gallup didn’t explain what constituted the “nonreligious,” who account for nearly 30% of the people. About half are atheists. Others are agnostics or hold spiritual beliefs not conventionally categorized as religious.

The percentage of nonbelievers is higher than most Americans think. It appears virtually everyone is religious, given the dominant role of religion throughout the U.S. or from the virtual absence of self-identified nonbelievers in political office or positions of national power and certainly from the fact that President Obama has not once — out of perhaps a thousand occasions — ended a speech without calling upon his deity to “bless America.” But it’s not true. The broad category of non-religious” is a fairly substantial minority.

Kyrsten Sinema, the only  religiously
unaffiliated Member of Congress out of 533.

Although the non-religious (who acknowledge their status) constitute 30% of the adult population, only
one member of Congress, Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), is religiously unaffiliated, according to information gathered by CQ Roll Call. Sinema is the first member of Congress to publicly describe her religion as “none.”

Here is how the 533 members of the Senate and House line up, according to Roy Speckhardt of the American Humanist Association: “There are 482 Christians, 33 Jews, 3 Buddhists, 2 Muslims, 1 Hindu, 1 Unitarian Universalist, and 1 religiously unaffiliated member.”

It seems logical to surmise that if members of Congress are more or less “average” Americans in their thinking, a not insignificant number of them are concealing their true beliefs in order to get elected by religiously minded constituencies. This suggests the enormous, unjustified power of religion in the U.S. political system. In essence, with apologies to Matthew 19:24, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a nonbeliever — however gifted and good for the country — to be elected president of the United States.”


 NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio reading  Sendak’s 'Where the Wild Things Are' to school kids.
Credit Bryan Smith/ZUMA Press/Corbis  

 By Diane Ravitch

In his speech at Riverside Church March 23, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to end weeks of attacks on his schools policies by striking a conciliatory tone toward the city’s privately managed charter schools. He used the charter sector’s own rhetoric of “crisis” and “failure” to describe the school system that he inherited from Mayor Bloomberg. He spoke of parents eager to escape failing schools and condemned the “status quo” without noting that it was Bloomberg’s status quo. He opposed the idea that public schools and charter schools are competing and called for a new era “in which our charter schools help to uplift our traditional schools.” According to The New York Times, he called some of the financial leaders on Wall Street, the billionaires who have paid millions of dollars for the ads attacking him, to plead for a truce.

De Blasio decided he could not win this war. The other side had too much money and proved it could
drive down his poll numbers. He said that the charter schools could help public schools, but in reality, charter schools could learn a few things from the public schools, like how to teach children with disabilities and second-language English learners. Contrary to popular myth, the charter schools are more racially segregated than public schools and have performed no better than the public schools on the most recent state tests. But what they have behind them is vast resources, and de Blasio capitulated.

The underlying question remains: How did a privately managed school franchise that serves a tiny portion of New York’s students manage to hijack the education reforms of a new mayor with a huge popular mandate?

When Bill de Blasio was running for mayor of New York City last year, he set out an ambitious plan
for reforming education. After twelve years of Mayor Bloomberg’s obsession with testing, the public was eager for a fresh approach, one that was focused more on helping students than on closing their schools. Bloomberg’s haughty indifference to public opinion did not endear him to parents. He displaced tens of thousands of students from their public schools, with never a show of remorse, as he opened hundreds of new small public schools and nearly two hundred privately managed charter schools.

Bloomberg’s preference for small public schools came at a price; they were unable to offer the full array of advanced courses in math and science, electives, and the choice of foreign languages that larger schools offered. He appointed three chancellors who were not professional educators, one of whom—a publisher—lasted all of ninety days before he removed her. He showed preferential treatment to the hundreds of small public schools that his administration opened, granting them extra resources and allowing them to exclude the neediest students. And he boasted about the explosion of privately managed charter schools, which now enroll 6 percent of the city’s children, on whose boards sit titans of Wall Street, the hedge fund managers who belong to Bloomberg’s social set.

During the campaign, de Blasio wanted to change the subject from Bloomberg’s boutique ideas to a larger vision. He wanted to address the needs of the vast majority of New York City’s 1.1 million students. His big idea was to provide universal access to pre-kindergarten, a research-based program that would give a better start to the city’s neediest children, and after-school activities for adolescents in middle schools. During the campaign, the public widely supported de Blasio’s plans, while Bloomberg’s education policies usually registered about 25 percent approval.

Charter school families protest against New York Mayor de Blasio. Jessica Earnshaw/Demotix/Corbis
When asked about charter schools, de Blasio made clear that he felt they had gotten far too much media attention, considering that they serve a small fraction of the population. He pledged that he would charge them rent for use of public space and would not allow any more co-locations—the practice of inserting a new school into a building with an existing school—without community hearings. Co-location happens when a charter school is offered shared space in a building with a public school; it also happens when large schools are divided into four, five, or six small schools operating under the same roof. Public school parents strongly oppose these arrangements. The host public school is often forced to give up its art room, its dance room, its computer room, every room used for any purpose other than classroom instruction, to make way for the unwelcome newcomer. The co-located schools must negotiate over access to the library, the auditorium, the playground. Co-locations cause overcrowding, as well as a competition for space and resources among students and multiple administrators within a single building.

De Blasio’s skeptical campaign comments about charter schools unleashed the wrath of New York City’s most outspoken charter school leader, Eva Moskowitz. Her Success Academy chain of twenty-two charter schools now enrolls 6,700 students. Because she doesn’t have to follow the public school regulations forbidding political activities on school time, she can turn her students and their parents out on short notice for political demonstrations and legislative hearings, dressed in matching t-shirts, carrying posters and banners. A few weeks before last fall’s mayoral election, she closed her schools and led a march of students and parents across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest de Blasio’s criticism of charter schools. She was accompanied by de Blasio’s Republican opponent, Joe Lhota. Voters were unconvinced, however, and de Blasio won in a landslide.

After coming to office, the newly elected mayor focused his energies on trying to persuade Governor Cuomo and the legislature to enact a new tax in New York City to pay for his goal of universal pre-kindergarten. De Blasio called for a modest tax increase for those who earn over $500,000 a year. It would cost each of them, he said, about $1,000 a year, or less than a cup of soy latte every day at Starbucks. The billionaires were not amused. Nor was Governor Cuomo, who wants to be perceived as a conservative, pro-business Democrat who does not raise taxes.

While de Blasio was pressing for universal pre-kindergarten (or UPK, as it is known), he was faced with a decision about how to handle the dozens of proposals for co-locations and new charter schools that had been hurriedly endorsed by Bloomberg’s Panel on Education Policy in the last months of his term. The panel had approved forty-five new schools, seventeen of which were charters. De Blasio decided to approve thirty-six, including fourteen of the seventeen charter school proposals. He did not hold community hearings, as he had promised, so he managed to enrage public school parents whose schools would now suffer the unwanted entry of a new school into their building and, in many cases, an overcrowded building.

The three charter proposals the mayor rejected were part of the Moskowitz charter chain. She had asked for eight new schools—more than any other single applicant—and de Blasio gave her five. Most school leaders would be thrilled to win five new schools. But Eva cried foul and publicly accused the mayor of “evicting” her students. This was despite the fact that two of the three rejected schools did not exist, so no students were affected. The third was Moskowitz’s request to expand her elementary school that was already co-located with P.S. 149 in Harlem; Moskowitz wanted to add a middle school. But adding a middle school meant kicking out students with disabilities in P.S. 149, which de Blasio refused to do.

Moskowitz was ready. Her friends on Wall Street and the far-right Walton Family Foundation paid out nearly $5 million for television ads attacking Mayor de Blasio as a heartless, ruthless, possibly racist politician who was at war with charter schools and their needy students. The ads showed the faces of adorable children, all of them being kicked out of “their” school by a vengeful Mayor who hates charter schools. The ads never acknowledged that the Mayor had approved fourteen out of seventeen charter proposals. Moskowitz, whose charter chain pays more than $500,000 a year for the services of for SDK Knickerbocker, a high-powered D.C. public relations firm, also made the rounds of television talk shows, where she got free air time to lash out at de Blasio for allegedly “evicting” her needy students from “the highest performing school in New York state.” Meanwhile, the Murdoch-owned media—not only The New York Post but also The Wall Street Journal and Fox News—kept up a steady barrage of hostile stories echoing Moskowitz’s claims against de Blasio.

None of the talking heads checked the facts. None knew or acknowledged that approving the middle school Moskowitz was denied would have meant the actual eviction of the most needy students of all—students at P.S. 149 with special needs. Or that her own existing school in that building has no students with high levels of disability, in contrast with Harlem’s neighborhood public schools, where such students account for 14 percent of the school population. Or that Moskowitz’s school has half as many students who are English learners as the neighborhood public schools. Or that her school is not the highest performing school in the state or the city. (In English language arts, Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academy 4 ranked eighty-first in the city, with 55 percent of its students passing the latest state test; in math, the school was thirteenth in the city, with 83 percent of students passing the state test.) Or that nearly half her students leave within a few years. Or that her schools spend $2,000 more per student than the neighboring schools. Or that Moskowitz is paid $485,000 a year to oversee fewer than seven thousand students.

Parents and public school advocates protested outside New York City Education Dept. April 8 against a bid, backed by Gov. Cuomo and financed by Wall Street lobbyists, to evict special needs students in order to make room for charter school expansion. Outraged parents and supporters railed against Cuomo's charter-friendly budget.

All of these facts were known by the de Blasio administration. But the new mayor seemed helpless. Somehow this man who had run a brilliant campaign to change the city was left speechless by the charter lobby. His poll numbers took a steep dive. He never called a press conference to explain his criteria for approving or rejecting charter schools, each of which made sense: for example, he would not approve a charter if it displaced students with disabilities; if it placed elementary students in a building with high school students; if it required heavy construction; or if it had fewer than 250 students. Reasonable though his criteria were, they were not enough for the charter lobby. His speech at Riverside Church offered an olive branch, all but conceding that the charter lobby had beaten him. He followed up his conciliatory remarks by creating a committee to review the space needs of the city’s schools and appointed to it representatives of the charter sector, which remains hungry for more free space from the Mayor.

Meanwhile, Moskowitz began using political leverage as well. On the same day that de Blasio organized a rally in Albany on behalf of raising taxes on the rich to pay for UPK, she closed her schools and bused thousands of students and parents to Albany for a pro-charter school rally. Governor Andrew Cuomo stood by her side, pledging to “save” charter schools and to protect them from paying rent; his ardent devotion to the charter cause may have been abetted by the $800,000 in campaign contributions he received from charter advocates in the financial industry.

For its part, the Republican-dominated State Senate demonstrated loyalty to Eva Moskowitz by passing a budget resolution with language forbidding the mayor from displacing a co-located charter school and forbidding him from charging rent to a private corporation (a charter school) using public space. Not only had Moskwitz cleverly portrayed herself as a victim; she had managed to make her narrow cause more important than universal pre-kindergarten and after-school programs for teens. She demonstrated that she was more powerful than the mayor or his schools chancellor. She won the battle of the moment.
But Moskowitz unknowingly taught the public a different lesson, which may be important in the future. Her schools do not operate like public schools. They are owned and managed by a private corporation with a government contract. They make their own rules. They choose their own students, kick out those they don’t want, and answer to no one. No public school would be allowed to close its doors and take its students on a political march across the Brooklyn Bridge or bus them to Albany to lobby the statehouse; the principal would be fired instantly.

Consider the court battle initiated by Moskowitz that played out in the midst of the confrontation with the mayor: a judge in New York’s State Supreme Court ruled, as Moskowitz hoped, that the State Comptroller has no power to audit her schools, because they are “not a unit of the state.” Put another way, her schools are not public schools. And, as the public begins to understand what that means, that lesson may ultimately be the undoing of this stealth effort to transfer public funds to support a small number of privately managed schools, amply endowed by billionaires and foundations, that refuse to pay rent and are devoted to competing with, not helping, the general school population.

What will it mean for New York City to have two school systems, both supported with public money, with one free to choose and remove its students and the other required to accept all students? A recent study found that New York State has the most segregated schools in the nation, and that the charters are even more segregated than the public schools. In 2014, the year that we remember the sixtieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, it is passing strange to find that New York City—and school districts across the nation—are embarked on the re-creation of a dual school system.

— From New York Review of Books blog March 27. Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education.


[This analysis from the Foreign Policy Research Institute (U.S), is an expanded version of an article published originally by the Russian International Affairs Council in March. The author is Deputy Director for Research at the School of Regional and International Studies, Far Eastern Federal University, Vladivostok, Russia.]

By Artyom Lukin

There is one international player that stands to gain from the recent turn of events in Ukraine, regardless of its outcome. This player apparently has nothing to do with the crisis, which has engulfed Russia, the EU and the United States, and makes a point of staying on the sidelines. The country in question, of course, is China.

The leadership in Beijing must be secretly delighted watching the struggle between Russia and the West. The Ukraine mess can seriously poison Moscow’s relations with Washington and Brussels for a long time to come, thus reducing their mutual ability to coordinate policies on the major issues in world politics. One such issue, perhaps the most important, concerns geopolitical risks associated with China’s rise and its impact on the global economic and military balance.

Up to the present, Russia has pursued a relatively balanced and circumspect policy toward its giant Asian neighbor. Although the Chinese side recently has signaled that it would welcome closer strategic ties with Russia, even a security alliance perhaps, Moscow so far has been reluctant to transform their current “strategic partnership” into a full-blown geopolitical entente. In particular, Russia has not been ready to back Beijing’s assertive stance on the various territorial disputes in East Asia.

Political and economic sanctions, now threatened against Russia by the West, will inevitably push Moscow toward Beijing, increasing the likelihood that the sides will align their policies toward the West. This, in turn, will reinforce the Middle Kingdom’s strategic positions in Asia. Having acquired Russia as a safe strategic rear area, as well as privileged access to its vast energy and minerals base and advanced military technologies, China would feel far more confident in its rivalry with the United States for primacy in the Asia-Pacific. For one, just watch Putin’s visit to China in May. The Ukraine events are likely to finally clinch a Russia-China gas pipeline deal long delayed by haggling over the fuel price. Western sanctions will certainly make Moscow more compliant with Beijing, landing China a bargain which will provide it with a stream of cheap Siberian gas.

Presidents Xi and Putin — getting closer?
China’s response to the recent developments around Ukraine is telling. Ever since the crisis began to   PRC’s Foreign Ministry blandly urged “the relevant parties in Ukraine to resolve their internal disputes peacefully within the legal framework so as to safeguard the lawful rights and interests of all ethnic communities in Ukraine.” Discussing the crisis with Putin, China’s President Xi Jinping remarked, somewhat enigmatically, that “the situation in Ukraine, which seems to be accidental, has the elements of the inevitable.” So far there has been no sign whatsoever of Beijing’s condemnation of the Kremlin’s moves in Crimea and the rest of Ukraine. China’s official press commentary is sympathetic with Moscow, stressing that Putin’s determination to protect the interests of Russia and Russian-speaking citizens is “quite understandable.” Many of China’s netizens blogging on the websites like Weibo have displayed admiration for Putin’s defiance of the West.
develop last fall, the Chinese media have tended to blame the Western meddling for what was happening there. After Russia took over Crimea and declared its readiness to use military force, the

Beijing’s abstention at the UN Security Council vote on Crimea can hardly be interpreted as opposition to Russia. In fact, Beijing has made it quite clear that it disapproves of using the UN stage to pressure Russia, with China’s foreign ministry commenting that the Security Council’s vote on the draft resolution prepared by the United States “will only lead to confrontation among all parties, which will further complicate the situation.

What really matters is China’s willingness to go along with the sanctions against Russia. However, there is zero probability that Beijing will support any political or economic penalties on Moscow. In terms of international diplomacy, such a stance by China can be interpreted as nothing other than benevolent neutrality toward the Kremlin. One may suspect that, in exchange Beijing would expect from Moscow the same kind of “benevolent neutrality,” for example, regarding its actions in East Asia and the Western Pacific.

In the 1990s, Zbigniew Brzezinski likened Eurasia to a grand chess board, emphasizing the geopolitical interconnectedness of various parts of the supercontinent. That metaphor is now even more relevant, with Eurasia being geopolitically interdependent more than ever. What is now occurring in Ukraine and around it will inevitably affect the games being played out on the opposite side of the board, if only because the players are oftentimes the same. This is well understood by some American strategists, who worry that, excessive pressure from the West “may alter the geopolitical balance by putting Russia closer to China.” However, Washington has not still made up its mind as to who is America’s top geopolitical competitor in this grand chess game – Russia or China?

When the US enjoyed its “unipolar moment” in the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s, Washington could easily pursue a dual containment policy – against both Russia and China. Since that time, the balance of power has changed significantly. Now America is hardly in a position to confront two great powers in Eurasia simultaneously. Americans have to decide which region is more important to them – the post-Soviet Eastern Europe (whose heart is constituted by Ukraine) or East Asia. The choice may be unpalatable, but indefinitely postponing it will have consequences. Today engaging Russia in the uncompromising battle over eastern Ukraine, the U.S. may, in 10 or 15 years from now, pay the price of losing East Asia.

It is a cruel irony that the Ukraine crisis should have broken out at the year of hundredth anniversary of the First World War. That war was triggered by the mess in the seemingly insignificant Balkans. To continue with the pre-World War I analogies, Russia’s current stance toward Crimea and eastern Ukraine is reminiscent of how, in the late 19th and early 20th century, Austria-Hungary felt about the Balkans, which it deemed its vital sphere of influence. The fear of losing control over the Balkans drove Austria-Hungary into the embrace of Imperial Germany, even though Vienna and Berlin had traditionally vied for control of Central Europe and fought a war in 1866. The alliance of Germany and Austria-Hungary contributed to Europe’s splitting into two camps and eventually the general war. Sino-Russian relations, of course, have been historically complicated, but this may not preclude them forming an entente, as long as they perceive the common adversary. Hopefully, the current Ukraine situation will not result in war, but it can well become a major step toward transforming the international order into a confrontational bipolarity, with the US-led West facing a Sino-Russian axis. The Western push to “isolate” Russia may prove self-defeating. Rather than forcing Moscow to withdraw from Ukraine, it will draw it closer to Beijing.


By Harshita Kohli

Russia’s annexation of the Crimea last month has caught India on the horns of a diplomatic dilemma.

On the one hand, New Delhi’s decision not to back the sanctions levied by the United States and the European Union against Russia is in line with its policy of only supporting sanctions approved by the United Nations. This stance, however, could have adverse effects on India’s relations with the U.S. and EU.
On the other hand, taking an active stance against Russia could damage relations with a longstanding ally that has been a source of diplomatic support for India in the international arena, the major arms supplier for the Indian military and a source of technology transfers for decades.

When the crisis in the Ukraine unfolded, the Ukrainian ambassador to India met with senior government officials and asked India to take a decisive stand against Russia. The silence from India was deafening; India’s only action was to issue an advisory to Indians in the Ukraine to register with the Indian Embassy in Kiev.

However, on March 6, India broke its silence only to take an ambiguous stance. At a briefing for the media, India’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Shivshankar Menon publicly acknowledged that Russia had “legitimate interests” in Crimea. Menon’s statement was interpreted as being pro-Russia. Yet on the same day, the Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement calling for a diplomatic resolution of the Russo-Ukraine crisis.

The situation became more complicated following the March 16 referendum in Crimea in which the population voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining the Russian Federation. Russian President Vladimir Putin singled out India and China for praise in his address to the Parliament two days later. Specifically, he thanked India for its “reserve and objectivity” towards Moscow. Shortly thereafter, Putin conversed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during which he explained Russia’s point of view on the Ukraine crisis.

As the U.S. and EU ramped up their condemnation of Russia following the referendum, India issued yet another anodyne statement which failed to condemn Russia; instead, it pointed to the “close relationship and mutually beneficial partnership between India and Russia”. Subsequently, television and other media quoted government sources stating India will “not support any unilateral measures by a country or group of countries”, adding that New Delhi is also likely to abstain from voting at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) session on Crimea if the resolution tabled by Ukraine is condemnatory of Russia. At the UNGA special meeting that took place on March 27, India did abstain from voting even as the Ukrainian resolution received overwhelming support from other countries.

Given the shared history between the India and Russia, Prime Minister Singh’s lack of condemnation of Putin’s actions can be interpreted as tacit support. However, should the actions of the West intensify in an effort to isolate Moscow, India may need to choose between two of its most strategically important partners – Russia and the U.S.

Bilateral Indo-Russian ties are extensive. Traditionally, Moscow has backed New Delhi at critical junctures. It supported India in its war against Pakistan in 1971 when support from the U.S. was not as forthcoming. Similarly, after India’s nuclear tests in 1998, when other Western countries were vehemently criticizing India, Moscow continued to engage with New Delhi. India has also witnessed a referendum similar to the one organized in Crimea when the state of Sikkim merged with India in 1975 after 98% of residents in Sikkim voted favorably for a merger with India. Moscow had explicitly supported the merger.

Currently, India is the world’s largest arms importer and relies on Russia for 75% of its arms imports. Economically too, Russo-Indian trade is rapidly rising and there is significant Indian investment in Russian businesses. India and Russia have also signed a bilateral nuclear agreement that is worth billions of dollars.

With the U.S. taking a firm stand against Russia, India’s implicit support for Russia is likely to have an adverse effect on the Indo-U.S. partnership, which is already besieged with problems.

Many U.S. policymakers have banked on India to play a critical role in the “rebalance” efforts of the US pivot to Asia. Continuing bureaucratic hurdles in both states restricting trade and investment, lack of progress on the civilian nuclear energy deal and, most recently, India’s strong retaliation to the arrest of the Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade have led many to question whether the strategic bet on India will pay off….

— From Eurasia Review, April 4, 2014. Harshita Kohli is an Associate Research Fellow with the U.S. Studies Program at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Nanyang, China. She was previously a journalist based in Mumbai, India.


[The political far right is becoming more popular in several European countries. The recent election in Hungary, which continued the rule of the reigning right wing Fidesz party, has also seen the increasing rise of the fascist Jobbik party.]

Neofascist, anti-Semitic Jobbik Party marches in in Budapest.
By Stratfor

The strong performance of Hungary's far-right Jobbik party in the country's April 6 parliamentary elections presents a challenge both for the ruling Fidesz party and for the European Union. Jobbik's popularity puts pressure on Fidesz to appeal more to far-right constituencies, and the rise of a viable Central European far-right political party will test the willingness of other European countries to continue sidelining extreme-right groups as illegitimate political actors. 

However, despite the party's popularity in Hungary, European governments, as well as other far-right parties, will continue to isolate Jobbik, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government will be forced to balance domestic pressure to offer concessions to the far right with international imperatives to comply with European rules.

As Hungary's ruling right-wing party Fidesz won 44% the popular vote and took control of more than 66% percent of seats in the country's parliament, the far-right Jobbik party recorded its best-ever performance, winning 20% of the popular vote. Under Hungary's new electoral system, this means Jobbik won 11% percent of the seats in parliament. In 2010, Jobbik won about 16% of the popular vote.

Gabor Vona, Jobbik Party leader.
Founded in 2002 by a group of young far-right activists, Jobbik is an openly anti-Roma and anti-Semitic party with ties to illegal paramilitary groups. Its members have been linked to acts of violence against minorities, especially Hungary's Roma population. Jobbik's strong performance in the parliamentary elections makes it one of the most politically successful far-right parties in the European Union.

While Jobbik will probably do well in the upcoming EU parliamentary elections, similar parties in Western Europe are likely to exclude Jobbik from their efforts to unite Euroskeptical parties throughout the continent. Parties such as France's National Front have been working to soften their rhetoric and reject links to violent groups in an effort to reach out to a broader voter base. They are therefore likely to avoid cooperating with Jobbik or Greece's Golden Dawn regardless of electoral successes.

Although Jobbik is regarded as an illegitimate radical group in most European capitals, Orban has demonstrated his willingness to adopt far-right views in order to achieve his goals. While officially condemning Jobbik's ideology, Fidesz has used much of Jobbik's nationalist rhetoric and policy proposals, especially those regarding cultural and economic policy, since 2010 in an effort to compete for votes. For example, tightening national control over the energy sector and lowering utility prices were among the top proposals of the Jobbik election campaign in 2010 and later became central policy goals of the Orban government.

Moreover, once in power Fidesz introduced to the national school curriculum interwar-era anti-Semitic writers favored by Jobbik. They also introduced a national day of commemoration for the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, in which Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory.

Although votes are still being counted, the April 6 elections are likely to result in Fidesz winning between 133 and 134 votes in parliament -- just enough for the two-thirds majority required for amending the country's constitution with little or no support from other parties. Regardless of whether Fidesz reaches a two-thirds majority, Orban's government will face increasingly contradictory pressures from domestic constituencies and the European Union.

Anti-fasciats picketing Jobbik demonstration.
With far-right Jobbik enjoying unprecedented popularity, Fidesz will try to compete for the support of
far-right constituencies by either continuing to co-opt extreme-right policies or by openly cooperating with some elements within Jobbik. But as Orban moves further to the right, the European Union will be more likely to try to set limits on Budapest to prevent other governments within the union from following a similar path.

Thus far, the European Union has been unable to prevent the Fidesz government from violating EU rules. As the Orban government solidified its control of the media, pressured banks and energy companies and limited the powers of independent institutions, the European Union failed to take action. However, if Fidesz moves further to the right and takes more steps to increase national control over key industries, especially banking and utilities, the European Union may take punitive steps, such as withholding EU funds. The European People's Party, the center-right bloc of which Fidesz is a member, will also be under pressure to distance itself from Fidesz. 

With the National Front becoming more popular in France and with Ukraine's Svoboda party gaining recognition as a legitimate political group in many European capitals, some far-right parties are moving toward becoming viable political actors. However, like Greece's Golden Dawn, Jobbik has remained sidelined as an undemocratic party because of its overt racism and ties to violent groups. Although Fidesz will compete with Jobbik by moving further to the right in terms of its rhetoric and policy agenda, Orban's government will continue to avoid openly embracing the far right. Fidesz will balance its domestic goals of appealing to far-right voters with Hungary's need to remain a member of the European Union.

— From Stratfor, April 9, 2014. Stratfor describes itself as “a geopolitical intelligence firm that provides strategic analysis and forecasting to individuals and organizations around the world.” It is at
— For a 10-minute video about the anti-Semitic, anti-Roma Jobbik,


[The United States, under the government of President George W. Bush and now that of President Barack Obama, has been supporting regime change in Venezuela for over a decade. Guidance and money from the Bush Administration in 2002 almost succeeded in toppling the government of elected President Hugo Chávez. Now, Washington is supporting the right wing forces seeking to overthrow elected President Nicolas Maduro, successor to Chávez who died in office last year. The “crime” of Chávez and Maduro is  that they were socialists, trying to create a true democracy for the poor and working class, not just the upper classes of Venezuela. Following is an Op-Ed that was published in the April 2 New York Times, written by President Maduro.]

By Nicolas Maduro

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro.
CARACAS, Venezuela — The recent protests in Venezuela have made international headlines. Much of the foreign media coverage has distorted the reality of my country and the facts surrounding the events.

Venezuelans are proud of our democracy. We have built a participatory democratic movement from the grass roots that has ensured that both power and resources are equitably distributed among our people.

According to the United Nations, Venezuela has consistently reduced inequality: It now has the lowest income inequality in the region. We have reduced poverty enormously — to 25.4% in 2012, on the World Bank’s data, from 49% in 1998; in the same period, according to government statistics, extreme poverty diminished to 6% from 21%.

We have created flagship universal health care and education programs, free to our citizens nationwide. We have achieved these feats in large part by using revenue from Venezuelan oil.

While our social policies have improved citizens’ lives over all, the government has also confronted serious economic challenges in the past 16 months, including inflation and shortages of basic goods. We continue to find solutions through measures like our new market-based foreign exchange system, which is designed to reduce the black market exchange rate. And we are monitoring businesses to ensure they are not gouging consumers or hoarding products. Venezuela has also struggled with a high crime rate. We are addressing this by building a new national police force, strengthening community-police cooperation and revamping our prison system.

Since 1998, the movement founded by Hugo Chávez has won more than a dozen presidential, parliamentary and local elections through an electoral process that former American President Jimmy Carter has called “the best in the world.” Recently, the United Socialist Party received an overwhelming mandate in mayoral elections in December 2013, winning 255 out of 337 municipalities.

Popular participation in politics in Venezuela has increased dramatically over the past decade. As a former union organizer, I believe profoundly in the right to association and in the civic duty to ensure that justice prevails by voicing legitimate concerns through peaceful assembly and protest.

The claims that Venezuela has a deficient democracy and that current protests represent mainstream sentiment are belied by the facts. The antigovernment protests are being carried out by people in the wealthier segments of society who seek to reverse the gains of the democratic process that have benefited the vast majority of the people.

Antigovernment protesters have physically attacked and damaged health care clinics, burned down a university in Táchira State and thrown Molotov cocktails and rocks at buses. They have also targeted other public institutions by throwing rocks and torches at the offices of the Supreme Court, the public telephone company CANTV and the attorney general’s office. These violent actions have caused many millions of dollars’ worth of damage. This is why the protests have received no support in poor and working-class neighborhoods.

The protesters have a single goal: the unconstitutional ouster of the democratically elected government. Antigovernment leaders made this clear when they started the campaign in January, vowing to create chaos in the streets. Those with legitimate criticisms of economic conditions or the crime rate are being exploited by protest leaders with a violent, antidemocratic agenda.

In two months, a reported 36 people have been killed. The protesters are, we believe, directly responsible for about half of the fatalities. Six members of the National Guard have been shot and killed; other citizens have been murdered while attempting to remove obstacles placed by protesters to block transit.

A very small number of security forces personnel have also been accused of engaging in violence, as a result of which several people have died. These are highly regrettable events, and the Venezuelan government has responded by arresting those suspected. We have created a Human Rights Council to investigate all incidents related to these protests. Each victim deserves justice, and every perpetrator — whether a supporter or an opponent of the government — will be held accountable for his or her actions.

In the United States, the protesters have been described as “peaceful,” while the Venezuelan government is said to be violently repressing them. According to this narrative, the American government is siding with the people of Venezuela; in reality, it is on the side of the 1% who wish to drag our country back to when the 99% were shut out of political life and only the few — including American companies — benefited from Venezuela’s oil.

Let’s not forget that some of those who supported ousting Venezuela’s democratically elected government in 2002 are leading the protests today. Those involved in the 2002 coup immediately disbanded the Supreme Court and the legislature, and scrapped the Constitution. Those who incite violence and attempt similar unconstitutional actions today must face the justice system.

The American government supported the 2002 coup and recognized the coup government despite its anti-democratic behavior. Today, the Obama administration spends at least $5 million annually to support opposition movements in Venezuela. A bill calling for an additional $15 million for these anti-government organizations is now in Congress. Congress is also deciding whether to impose sanctions on Venezuela. I hope that the American people, knowing the truth, will decide that Venezuela and its people do not deserve such punishment, and will call upon their representatives not to enact sanctions.

Now is a time for dialogue and diplomacy. Within Venezuela, we have extended a hand to the opposition. And we have accepted the Union of South American Nations’ recommendations to engage in mediated talks with the opposition. My government has also reached out to President Obama, expressing our desire to again exchange ambassadors. We hope his administration will respond in kind.

Venezuela needs peace and dialogue to move forward. We welcome anyone who sincerely wants to help us reach these goals.

Excerpted from Stratfor, April 4, 2014

A delegation of South American foreign ministers arrived in Venezuela on April 7 to lay the
groundwork for a settlement between the government and opposition, but lately the protest situation in the country has been shifting in the government's favor.

The wave of protests that began Feb. 12 has so far failed to seriously threaten the administration of President Nicolas Maduro. The frequency of protest marches and barricades has tapered off, and Caracas' law enforcement efforts appear to be effectively disrupting protest activity.

The underlying causes of the protests are no closer to being resolved, however, and demonstrations will continue and could even swell to the extent that they could threaten Maduro's hold on power.

After nearly two months of street demonstrations and makeshift barricades across Venezuela, the protesters are no closer to achieving their stated goal of ousting Maduro. The movement's most visible leaders, opposition legislators Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado, began calling for protests in November. However, the first major outbreak of protests  — which included a gathering of tens of thousands in the capital alone — did not begin until the Venezuelan student movement joined Lopez's Voluntad Popular ("Popular Will") for sustained protests in early February….

One problem for the opposition movement is that its protests have failed to attract the support of a significant amount of the president's followers. As the results of the April 2013 presidential election show, the electoral gap has narrowed between the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, known as the PSUV, and the opposition coalition, Mesa de Unidad. Still, enough Venezuelans have remained loyal to the government—or at least conspicuously absent from the protests.

Venezuela's anti-government demonstrations will continue in some form for a while. Various events can and will keep the protests alive, but overall the Maduro administration can handle the unrest so long as the military, oil workers and other key supporters continue to back it….

By the Activist Newsletter

Twitter? What will Uncle Sam think up next?
Washington’s clandestine efforts to destabilize Cuba seem endless — 55 years and counting. Here’s the
latest that has been uncovered, though other subversive programs undoubtedly still, or will in future, exist:

The Associated Press revealed April 3 the existence of a secret Washington program that established a cellphone-based social network in Cuba that concealed its true source. The agency said the network — which was built using secret shell companies and financed through a foreign bank — sought to build a twitter-type audience of mostly young people and then propel them toward anti-government dissent.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) managed the project titled “ZunZuneo” (a Cuban slang term for a hummingbird’s tweet) from 2009 to 2012 when it suddenly ended. AP reported that 40,000 island cellphone users signed up and used ZunZuneo to receive and send text messages, mostly innocuous jokes or snippets of international, sports and entertainment news.

A day after the revelations, Josefina Vidal, director of U.S. affairs at Cuba's foreign ministry, demanded that Washington halt "its illegal and clandestine actions against Cuba.” She said the ZunZuneo case "shows once again that the United States government has not renounced subversion against Cuba."

The Cuban News agency Prensa Latina reported that "ZunZuneo joins an extensive list of secret anti-Cuban operations" including the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 and scores of plots to assassinate Fidel Castro. In a speech last January President Raúl Castro warned of "attempts to subtly introduce platforms for neoliberal thought and for the restoration of neocolonial capitalism.”

The Cuban news media spread the story throughout the socialist island of only 12 million people living in the very shadow of the Yankee colossus. No poll was taken but it’s doubtful many Cubans were surprised.

In addition to Cuba, it has been reported, USAID has also engaged in efforts to undermine the democratically elected governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Haiti, among others. This doesn’t include the CIA, which has actively overthrown several governments in Latin America and the Caribbean.


U.S.Special Forces trainer in South Sudan. Pentagon now operates in most African states.
By Nick Turse

The numbers tell the story: 10 exercises, 55 operations, 481 security cooperation activities.

For years, the U.S. military has publicly insisted that its efforts in Africa are small scale. Its public affairs personnel and commanders have repeatedly claimed no more than a “light footprint” on that continent, including a remarkably modest presence when it comes to military personnel. 

They have, however, balked at specifying just what that light footprint actually consists of.  During an interview, for instance, a U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) spokesman once expressed worry that tabulating the command’s deployments would offer a “skewed image” of U.S. efforts there.
It turns out that the numbers do just the opposite.

Last year, according to AFRICOM commander General David Rodriguez, the U.S. military carried out a total of 546 “activities” on the continent -- a catch-all term for everything the military does in Africa.  In other words, it averages about one and a half missions a day.  This represents a 217% increase in operations, programs, and exercises since the command was established in 2008.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, Rodriguez noted that the 10 exercises, 55 operations, and 481 security cooperation activities made AFRICOM “an extremely active geographic command.”  But exactly what the command is “active” in doing is often far from clear.

AFRICOM releases information about only a fraction of its activities.  It offers no breakdown on the nature of its operations.  And it allows only a handful of cherry-picked reporters the chance to observe a few select missions.  The command refuses even to offer a count of the countries in which it is “active,” preferring to keep most information about what it’s doing -- and when and where -- secret.

While Rodriguez’s testimony offers but a glimpse of the scale of AFRICOM’s activities, a cache of previously undisclosed military briefing documents obtained by TomDispatch sheds additional light on the types of missions being carried out and their locations all across the continent.  These briefings prepared for top commanders and civilian officials in 2013 demonstrate a substantial increase in deployments in recent years and reveal U.S. military operations to be more extensive than previously reported. 

They also indicate that the pace of operations in Africa will remain robust in 2014, with U.S. forces expected again to average far more than a mission each day on the continent.

U.S. troops carry out a wide range of operations in Africa, including airstrikes targeting suspected militants, night raids aimed at kidnapping terror suspects, airlifts of French and African troops onto the battlefields of proxy wars, and evacuation operations in destabilized countries.  Above all, however, the U.S. military conducts training missions, mentors allies, and funds, equips, and advises its local surrogates.

U.S. Africa Command describes its activities as advancing “U.S. national security interests through focused, sustained engagement with partners” and insists that its “operations, exercises, and security cooperation assistance programs support U.S. Government foreign policy and do so primarily through military-to-military activities and assistance programs.”

—This article continues at
—, March 27, 2014, where the author is managing editor. Nick Turse a fellow at the Nation Institute, is the author most recently of the New York Times bestseller Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (just out in paperback).

By Fight Back News, April 3, 2014

NEW YORK – Hundreds of union members and community supporters rallied on the steps of city hall here April 3 in support of the 250 UPS drivers who were issued terminations for walking out to defend their fellow co-worker.

Workers walked out to defend union activist and 24-year worker, Jairo Reyes, after UPS tried to fire him through an abuse of the grievance procedure. The procedure is a common practice to retaliate against workers who are trying to enforce their rights. UPS issued working terminations to the 250 brave drivers from Teamsters 804, claiming they could maintain the right to dismiss them at anytime.

Union members from Teamsters locals all across the city were joined by MTA workers from Transport Workers Union Local 100, SEIU 32BJ and members of Communication Workers of America and other union supporters.

President of Teamsters Local 804 Tim Sylvester told the crowd, “UPS is threatening to bankrupt 250 families,” and described the attacks as a heartless attack on drivers and their families. The crowd responded with shouts of “shut ‘em down!” and “Save the 250!”

New York Public Advocate Letitia James spoke and threatened UPS with ending their $43 million in tax breaks provided by New York City. She pointed out that a sweetheart deal on parking tickets is also on the line. She went on to proclaim, “This ain’t Wisconsin!”


[The website Politico is publishing occasional articles “on the hottest races of the 2014 midterm election,” and this month focused on the Mid-Hudson Valley’s 19th Congressional District campaign between Democrat Sean Eldridge and two-term incumbent Republican Chris Gibson. A major redistricting in 2012 primarily merged the 22nd and 20th CDs to become the new 19th. The liberal 22nd district had sent Democrat Rep. Maurice Hinchey to Congress for 20 years, 1993-2013, until he retired and did not run again in 2012. Gibson, who represented the 20th Republican district, was reelected with 52.9% of the vote in the merged 19th two years ago. Eldridge is backed by the Working Families Party and is expected to get the Democratic nod soon.]

By Alex Isenstadt

KINGSTON, N.Y. — Wealthy people who run for public office typically stick to the same basic blueprint: Plow millions of their personal fortunes into the campaign. Hire big-name consultants. Flood the TV airwaves with ads.

Sean Eldridge is making all of that look quaint. The 27-year-old husband of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has turned his congressional campaign for New York’s 19th District into a multimillion-dollar start-up — a gambit that veteran election watchers say is as unique as it is brazen.

It has unfolded in rapid-fire sequence. After Eldridge decided he wanted to run for office, he and Hughes in 2011 bought the first of two luxurious homes in the Hudson Valley region. Soon after, Eldridge set up a venture capital firm, Hudson River Ventures, that has provided millions in loans and equity lines to local companies. And now the first-time candidate, who’s running his first business, is touting the jobs he’s created in the blue-collar district.

Democrat Sean Eldridge.
“I know firsthand what it takes to support small businesses and create good jobs,” reads one pamphlet his campaign is plastering throughout the area.

Like no other 2014 candidate, Eldridge is testing the limits of dollars and cents to secure a seat in the House of Representatives. The Democrat is tapping Hughes’s vast wealth — estimated at $700 million — to build an elaborate campaign apparatus in a district where he remains a stranger to many. In addition to his firm’s investments, Eldridge has spent more than $700,000 on his campaign, and that figure is sure to rise exponentially because he’s promised to match each contribution he receives, dollar for dollar.
Republican Chris Gibson. 

His efforts are all the more striking in contrast with incumbent GOP Rep. Chris Gibson, a 49-year-old decorated war veteran and former college professor who lives in the same middle-class neighborhood where he grew up. Gibson’s financial disclosure report filed with the House lists a savings account of $100,000 to $250,000, and the Center for Responsive Politics ranks his personal wealth in the bottom fifth of House members.

Gibson does little to hide his disdain for Eldridge, whom he calls a “young man with virtually no experience.” The district, encompassing a vast swath of the northern Hudson Valley and Catskills, is one of the most evenly divided in the country. Gibson won there in 2010 on the strength of the Republican wave and secured reelection in 2012 even as President Barack Obama carried the district by 6 percentage points.

 “This is about him and his political aspirations, and I think that’s going to be a problem for him. He married well, he married into money,” Gibson said of Eldridge. “But there are some things money can’t buy.”

It’s difficult to size up the person behind the polished image Eldridge and his campaign are projecting to voters. He’s been running for more than half a year but remains mostly an enigma.

Congressional challengers typically seek maximum media exposure; Eldridge allows few chance encounters with the media. His campaign frequently posts pictures on his Facebook page of the candidate out and about in the district, but local reporters say they’re usually not made aware of his public schedule ahead of time. He declined to be interviewed by POLITICO, and the door to his campaign headquarters in Kingston was locked on a recent visit. No one answered a call on an intercom….