Sunday, March 8, 2015


March 9, 2015, Issue 215
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1.   Quotes of The Month: Lucy Stone (1818-1893).  
2.   Photos of The Month — An Ancient people
3.   Why Do Russians Support Putin?
4.   Protests Denounce Netanyahu Speech
5.   Spitting in the Face of the President
6.   Israeli Women Protest for Peace
7.   U.N.  Meeting on  Global Women’s Rights
8.   Lucy Stone And The Women's Movement
9.   EU Squeezes Leftist Greek Government
10. Wage Stagnation Shackles Workers
11. Uruguay Bids Farewell to Pauper President
12. Turkey’s 3,000 Jailed University Students
13. Racist Incident on Subway Train
14. 2015: Showdown Year for Climate Change
15. Baltimore Youth Stop Waste Incinerator
16. Obama's Libya Debacle
17. Fidel Meets the Five
18. Stopping Killer Robots and Future Threats
19. Crocs Ruled the Ancient Amazon

20. Bacteria have Memories

1.   QUOTES OF THE MONTH: Lucy Stone (1818-1893).  
Stone was a prominent American orator, abolitionist, suffragist, and feminist. See article below, 
"Lucy Stone and The Women's Rights Movement," published in honor of March being 
Women's History Month.

·      I think, with never-ending gratitude, that the young women of today do not and can never know at what price their right to
 free speech and to speak at all in public has been earned.

·      A wife should no more take her husband's name than he should hers. My name is my identity and must not be lost.

·      The right to education and to free speech having been 
gained for woman, in the long run every other good thing 
was sure to be obtained.

·      Too much has already been said and written about 
women's sphere. Leave women, then, to find their sphere.

·      Now all we need is to continue to speak the truth fearlessly, and we shall add to our number those who will turn the scale to the side of equal and full justice in all things.

·      All over this land women have no political existence. Laws pass over our heads that we cannot unmake. Our property is taken from us without our consent. The babes we bear in anguish and carry in our arms are not ours.


An Ancient people who follow the old ways

The noted Iranian-American photographer Hamid Sardar-Afkhami captured these images of the Tsaatan (Dukha) Reindeer Nomads in Sornuk Valley, Hovsgol Province, in northern Mongolia. According to the Encyclopedia of Animals and Humans, the Tsaatan people are one of the world’s earliest domesticators of animals. They depend on reindeer for nearly all aspects of survival, as well as cultural, spiritual, linguistic, and economic identity. It is said their lives are guided by shamans and shaped by dreams and tradition.

The Tsaatan live in tents and move to different territories with each season. Urtyn duu (long song) is a means of chronicling local and family history, and is even considered to be a way of communicating with animals. In an elaborate ritual of song, the Tsaatan compose pleasing melodies to reward individual animals or “tell” the herd of the needs of the young reindeer.

These pastoralists are among the last nomadic, animal-dependent, self-subsistence cultures remaining in the world. There are now less than 200 Tsaatan remaining. They live in small groups and migrate over an area of 6 million acres in the Sayan Mountain Range.

Hovsgol is the northernmost of Mongolia’s 21 provinces, shadowing Russia’s border and sharing the great Siberian taiga (subarctic coniferous forest). Lichens in bright greens and oranges color 10,000-foot passes, while sacred rivers, rumored to never freeze, feed lakes framed by snow-tipped mountains.



[Listening to the U.S. government and the commercial mass media, President Vladimir Putin of Russia is a fiend, a tyrant, and a dictator. It is hardly unusual for Washington to so describe a foreign leader who does not bend the knee to the global leadership of the White House, and the American people usually fall in line. But if he’s so “bad” why do the great majority of Russians support him? This article is from a Russian woman educated and living in Britain and who is critical of Putin. However, she has written this fairly objective article published by the UK’s New Statesman Feb. 4. She explains there are five reasons for Putin’s popularity in Russia.]

By Jana Bakunina, March, 4, 2015

The news of the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition politician, dominated the news this weekend. It was possible to imagine – just for a day or two – that the charismatic Boris Nemtsov, who first entered the national political arena in Russia back in the Yeltsin days, had been a prominent figure without whom the opposition would struggle to have a say against Kremlin. Unfortunately, the truth is that Nemtsov was hardly a force to be reckoned with. However open his position on Putin was and however brave his last interview to the Moscow radio station Echo Moskvy was, just hours before his death, Boris Nemtsov was not important. Like any other opposition leader in Russia, he was... on the margin of current affairs. The overwhelming majority of the Russian population supports the country’s president, Vladimir Putin.

Elderly Russian woman of the countryside.
A recent poll, conducted between 20-23 February 2015 among 1,600 Russians aged 18 or more in 46 different regions of Russia by an independent Russian not-for-profit market research agency Levada Centre for Echo Moskvy radio station, found that 54% of the population agreed that “[Russia] is moving in the right direction.” [Only 31% of Americans say U.S. going in right direction.] Eighty-six% of the respondents approve of Vladimir Putin as Russia’s president. When asked to name five or six politicians or government officials they trust, 59% responded: ”Putin.”

Let’s put aside the possibility of rigged polls because there is little to suggest Putin’s popularity is fake. Putin is respected, if not revered. He is referred to as batyushka, the holy father. Many Russians are particularly upset and angry about Nemtsov’s murder because western fingers are pointing at Putin. In their opinion, Nemtsov was most likely killed as a provocation to destabilize Russia and fuel hostility between Kremlin and the west. “With all due respect to the memory of Boris Nemtsov, in political terms he did not pose any threat to the current Russian leadership or Vladimir Putin," said presidential press secretary Dmitriy Peskov. “If we compare popularity levels, Putin’s and the government’s ratings and so on, in general Boris Nemtsov was just a little bit more than an average citizen.”

Russians love and support their president. I wanted to understand why, so I spoke to a number of
Opponents in Moscow.
people in their 20s, 30s and 60s who helped me crystallize their reasoning into the following arguments.

Putin is a strong leader. Russia has always done better under formidable leaders, however autocratic and repressive. Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Josef Stalin are some examples. Old and sickly, indecisive leaders and those who, like Gorbachev, tried to please all, never inspired trust or respect. The president’s public images work to reinforce his power. ”Putin is without a doubt the strongest political leader out there. He is a brilliant public speaker, he controls every dialogue and is a strategist, whereas his counterparties are reactionary tacticians.” 

Putin built Russia’s middle class. There is a popular, if ignorant, view that Russians are either super rich or extremely poor. You don’t need to travel to Moscow (a quick trip to Cyprus or Turkey’s sea resorts would do) to see that many Russians now drive a decent car (anything other than a Lada), travel abroad, wear clothes from Zara and can afford to buy whatever else signals middle class. Since Putin came to power, Russia’s gross national product per capita increased from 49,800 rubles in 2000 to 461,300 in 2013, according to the Federal State Statistics Service of the Russian Federation. From the same source, we learn that Russian citizens travelled abroad 9.8 million times in 2000 and 38.5 million times in 2013.  

Putin has improved social welfare in Russia. A sales manager in his late 20s talked to me about Putin’s welfare reforms, raising pensions, investing in education and healthcare, infrastructure and social security laws which sought to encourage families to have children and address declining population. For the first time in the last 20 years new births in Russia were recorded as higher than deaths in 2013. Average pensions (stated in 1992 prices) went up from 694 rubles a month in 2000 to 9,918 rubles in 2012. Crime went down, including murders (from 28.2% in 2000 to 10.1% in 2012, the coefficients indicating deaths from murder per 100,000 people). There were 9.3 hospital beds in Russia per 1,000 people in 2012, as compared to 3 beds per 1,000 people in the UK in 2011

The Communist Party wins about 20% of the vote in national
elections and is second in size to Putin's party. The anti-Putin
opposition is far smaller than the CP.
Putin has restored Russian might. Throughout his time in office, Putin has demonstrated his dedication to addressing the values Russians care about most: the integrity of their country, its sphere of influence in international relations, and its ability to withstand the U.S. dictating its policies to the world at large. This is perhaps the core factor in Putin’s popularity, which came across in all the conversations I’ve had with those Russians who support the current regime. “It’s not about the economy or the welfare,” a professional woman in her 30s said to me, ”it’s about thinking on a much bigger scale and more globally.” Putin has gradually rebuilt Russia’s defense industry, making it a strategic priority. Taking Crimea, Putin protected Russia’s naval military base on the Black Sea [it’s only outlet to the Mediterranean]. This was an important maneuver at the time of the accelerating hostility from the U.S. and NATO. The Russians have regained self-respect, rising from the financial ashes of the 1990s and restoring national pride. ”The world has been looking at us as a third world country throughout the 1990s but today we are a force to be reckoned with.” 

There is no one else. Ultimately, there is no other viable candidate to lead Russia instead. If it’s a chicken and egg problem, it would take time to grow credible opposition, although the soil is hardly fertile. As it stands, even moderate supporters of Putin agree that current opposition leaders are neither convincing nor capable. Putin has a track record of delivering economic stability, however justified were his means. Russians are too used to local and national government officials helping themselves to the state pocket, so the prevalent philosophy to the change in power is that the incumbent is always ”the least worst.” A woman in her 60s said to me: ”What’s wrong with Putin? At least he holds the country together – look at what happened to the Ukraine. It’s in pieces; its people are beyond despair.”

Russian people have survived many periods of hardship since the Mongol invasion in the 13th century, which destroyed its peace, independence, culture and cities (including the then-capital, Kiev). It is perhaps this early history, as well as the civil war after the Bolshevik Revolution, the famine that followed, the Second World War and the Stalinist repressions, which indicates that Russian tolerance for austerity is higher than in the Western world. Russians do not seek prosperity but stability. They are less concerned with individual freedom than with the collective sense of status and integrity. Spanning both European and Asian continents, Russia has inherited the Eastern sense of community, attitude of acceptance and predisposition towards authoritarian government. 

In the increasingly cool climate between Russia and the West, it helps to understand each other’s values.


Protest against Netanyahu outside Capitol building. 
[The Answer Coalition and CodePink showed up at 8 a.m. March 3 to pay their disrespects to the Israeli Prime Minister before and during his controversial address to Congress.  At one point the protesters blocked an entrance to the Capitol. At least 50 Congress members boycotted the speech. Here’s a brief report.]

By Brian Becker, director of the ANSWER Coalition

Outside, in the cold streets surrounding the U.S. Congress, a strong, spirited crowd of demonstrators denounced Benjamin Netanyahu for committing war crimes against the Palestinian people and for attempting to whip up a war fever against Iran.

We were met by police lines and cops who grabbed and shoved people as they attempted to exercise their Constitutional right to protest at Congress.

Inside, from within the hallowed halls, Netanyahu was given a boisterous two-minute-long standing ovation by the millionaire politicians in Congress.

The irony of what happened today speaks volumes about the nature of democracy in this country. Netanyahu was treated as a visiting hero in that cesspool of corruption that he labeled “the greatest legislative body” on Earth. These bought-and-paid-for politicians genuflected and congratulated his every platitude.

The timid, mild voices of criticism from the Obama White House and its supporters in Congress for Netanyahu’s and [House leader John] Boehner’s “violation of protocol” were drowned out in ovation after ovation.

The only place where the actual voice of the American people could be heard was in the streets.

More than 63% of the American people thought Netanyahu's speech should have been cancelled. There is a sea change happening inside of U.S. public opinion, which is increasingly opposed to U.S. support for every Israeli aggression. This dramatic shift in public opinion is also registering very profoundly among Jewish-Americans, who are increasingly outspoken in opposition to Israeli policies.

Thirteen years ago, 100,000 people protested in Washington, D.C., in support of Palestine when the Israeli Defense Forces reinvaded the West Bank. That massive demonstration against Israel was the first of such
magnitude. Since then, this new movement has broadened, widened and extended its influence.

Instead of supporting Israel there developed mass demonstrations inside the United States when Israel went to war against Lebanon in 2006, invaded Gaza in 2008, bombed Gaza in 2012, and launched its massive slaughter in Gaza last summer. 

Public opinion about Israel is changing irreversibly inside the United States. The negative impression of Israel will grow because of Netanyahu's arrogant speech today. The fawning opportunists in Congress don't reflect the views of the people.

Netanyahu's gross performance before Congress today will be remembered at best as an ephemeral triumph for his electoral effort back home. But its lasting significance is that it will further erode support for the Israeli government among an ever-larger segment of the U.S. public that is learning year by year and day by day that the Israeli government more resembles the old South African apartheid regime rather than the idyllic picture that is spoon-fed to the people by the corporate-owned media.

We will continue to organize, mobilize and counter the lies of the Israeli propaganda machine and the U.S. mainstream media, which works as an echo chamber for its falsehoods and lies.


All that was missing was the Marine Band playing Hail to the Chief! Maybe next  time.
By Uri Avnery

I was watching The Speech by Binyamin Netanyahu before the Congress of the United States. Row upon row of men in suits (and the occasional woman), jumping up and down, up and down, applauding wildly, shouting approval.

Suddenly it reminded me of something. It was the shouting that did it. Where had I heard that before?

And then it came back to me. It was another parliament in the mid-1930s. The Leader was speaking. Rows upon rows of Reichstag members were listening raptly. Every few minutes they jumped up and shouted their approval.

Of course, the Congress of the United States of America is no Reichstag. Members wear dark suits, not brown shirts. They do not shout “Heil” but something unintelligible. Yet the sound of the shouting had the same effect. Rather shocking.

Hail to Bibi's great triumph over the people of Gaza!
But then I returned to the present. The sight was not frightening, but ridiculous. Here were the members of the most powerful parliament in the world behaving like a bunch of nincompoops.

Nothing like this could have happened in the Knesset. I do not have a very high opinion of our parliament, despite having been a member, but compared to this assembly, the Knesset is the fulfillment of Plato’s dream.

Abba Ebban once compared a speech by Menachem Begin to a French soufflé cake: a lot of air and very little dough. The same could be said about The Speech.

What did it contain? The Holocaust, of course, with that moral impostor, Elie Wiesel, sitting in the gallery right next to the beaming Sarah’le [Netanyahu] who visibly relished her husband’s triumph. (A few days before, she had shouted at the wife of a mayor in Israel: “Your man does not reach the ankles of my man!”)

The Speech mentioned the Book of Esther, about the salvation of the Persian Jews from the evil Persian minister Haman, who intended to wipe them out. No one knows how this dubious composition came to be included in the Bible. God is not mentioned in it, it has nothing to do with the Holy Land, and Esther herself is more of a prostitute than a heroine. The book ends with the mass murder committed by the Jews against the Persians.

The Speech, like all speeches by Netanyahu, contained much about the suffering of the Jews throughout the ages, and the intentions of the evil Iranians, the New Nazis, to annihilate us. But this will not happen, because this time we have Binyamin Netanyahu to protect us. And the US Republicans, of course.

It was a good speech. One cannot make a bad speech when hundreds of admirers hang on every word and applaud every second. But it will not make an anthology of the world’s Greatest Speeches.

Netanyahu considers himself a second Churchill. And indeed, Churchill was the only foreign leader before Netanyahu to speak to both houses of Congress a third time. But Churchill came to cement his alliance with the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who played a big part in the British war effort, while Netanyahu has come to spit in the face of the present president.

Bibi's men apprehend another terrorist.
What did the speech not contain?

Not a word about Palestine and the Palestinians. Not a word about peace, the two-state solution, the
West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem. Not a word about apartheid, the occupation, the settlements. Not a word about Israel’s own nuclear capabilities.

Not a word, of course, about the idea of a nuclear-weapon–free region, with mutual inspection.

Indeed, there was no concrete proposal at all. After denouncing the bad deal in the making, and hinting that Barack Obama and John Kerry are dupes and idiots, he offered no alternative.

Why? I assume that the original text of The Speech contained a lot. Devastating new sanctions against Iran. A demand for the total demolition of all Iranian nuclear installations. And in the inevitable end: a US-Israeli military attack.

All this was left out. He was warned by the Obama people in no uncertain terms that disclosure of details of the negotiations would be considered as a betrayal of confidence. He was warned by his Republican hosts that the American public was in no mood to hear about yet another war.

What was left? A dreary recounting of the well-known facts about the negotiations. It was the only tedious part of the speech. For minutes no one jumped up, nobody shouted approval. Elie Wiesel was shown sleeping. The most important person in the hall, Sheldon Adelson, the owner of the Congress Republicans and of Netanyahu, was not shown at all. But he was there, keeping close watch on his servants....

— From CounterPunch March 8.Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom.


 Israeli women hold placards during a march outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on 
March 4, 2015, as part of an initiative called "Women wage Peace," urging 
lawmakers to act for a political agreement with the Palestinians. Photo (AFP.)

By Agence France Presse

JERUSALEM: About 7,000 Israeli women, including Jews and Arabs, gathered outside parliament in Jerusalem March 4 urging a peace agreement with the Palestinians, two weeks ahead of a snap general election.

Despite intermittent rain, members of Women Wage Peace, a group formed after last year's devastating war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, were huddled a short distance from the Knesset." We will vote for a peace deal," and "We choose life," they chanted, brandishing banners.

Israelis go to the polls on March 17, in a vote that looks set to bring rightwing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a fourth term in office.

"Two weeks ahead of the elections, we've heard no word on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No candidates have given their verdict on the issue," Irit Keinan said in a speech to the rally. "We've suffered through enough wars," she said. "Among us are young women, mothers and grandmothers, people who will raise our children — the next generation of soldiers who will be forced to go to war. It's enough!"

The speech met rapturous applause from secular and religious women alike who attended the protest.

The campaign for Netanyahu's Likud party has focused on external threats it says face Israel, including Iran's nuclear program and Syria, whose civil war has brought jihadist fighters to the frontier with its northern neighbor.

Centre-left parties have slammed rising living costs under Netanyahu, but most parties have steered clear of the Palestinian conflict. "All we've heard about is Iran," said Hamutal Guri, a mother of two also addressing the crowd. "For women, security means economic, social and physical security. We live in a militarized society where the conflict is always present, creating aggressiveness that permeates every aspect of life," she said.


UNITED NATIONS, Mar 5 2015 (IPS): According to the United Nations, over 1,100 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and more than 8,600 representatives have registered to participate in this year’s session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The meeting is billed as one of the biggest single gatherings of women activists under one roof.

Described as the primary intergovernmental body mandated to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women, the 45-member CSW will hold its 59th session March 9-20. About 200 side events, hosted by governments and UN agencies, are planned alongside official meetings of the CSW, plus an additional 450 parallel events by civil society organizations (CSOs), both in and outside the United Nations.

Their primary mission: to take stock of the successes and failures of the 20-year Platform for Action adopted at the historic 1995 Women’s Conference in Beijing. The achievements are limited, say CSOs and UN officials, but the unfulfilled promises are countless.

The reason is simple, warns Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “We cannot fulfill 100% of the world’s potential by excluding 50% of the world’s people,” women.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein says the organization’s 193 member states have to go beyond “paying lip service” towards gender equality. They should “genuinely challenge and dismantle the power structures and dynamics which perpetuate discrimination against women.”

But will they?

Yasmeen Hassan, global executive director of Equality Now, told IPS in the Beijing Platform for Action, 189 governments pledged to “revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex.” But 20 years later, just over half of the sex discriminatory laws highlighted in three successive Equality Now reports have been revised, appealed or amended, she said. “Although we applaud the governments that took positive action, we are concerned that so many sex discriminatory laws remain on the books around the world,” Hassan noted.
Approximately 50% of women worldwide are in paid employment, an increase from 40% more than 20 years ago, with wage inequality persistent. At the present rate of progress, said UN Women, it will take 81 years for women to achieve parity in employment.


Statue of Lucy Stone at the Boston Women's Memorial.

[In honor of Women’s History Month we bring you this article by Sally G. McMillen, the author of “Lucy Stone: An Unapologetic Life,” published this year by Oxford University Press/USA. Stone is a famed 19th-century abolitionist and suffragist. The author is a Professor of History at Davidson College.]

Lucy Stone was born in West Brookfield, Massachusetts, in 1818 and died in Boston in 1893. She was one of the most famous women of her day — as a lecturer for abolition and women's suffrage and one of the most important leaders of the nineteenth-century women's rights movement.

Though she was born almost two hundred years ago, Lucy Stone's life and achievements resonate and inspire us today. While in her teens, she realized the importance of higher education in order to lead a meaningful life. Since her father would not pay for her education, she earned the money she needed and enrolled at Oberlin Collegiate Institute, graduating four years later at the age of twenty-nine as one of the first women in the nation and the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a college degree.

Stone then pursued a highly unusual career for a woman of her day — as a paid lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Within months, she added women’s suffrage to her speeches. For years, she campaigned tirelessly for both causes, traveling widely and attracting hundreds, sometimes thousands of people to hear her passionate oratory. By the mid-1850s, she had become one of the most famous women in America and was earning a substantial income. Her messages were uncompromising, demanding that a nation defining itself as democratic abolish slavery and give women the rights they deserved.

Stone inspires us with her messages and her unremitting commitment to those beliefs. She renounced marriage, since at that time, the law subordinated married women to their husbands, giving them no right to own their own property or to act as independent beings. But in 1855 she finally married a man who promised to let her live life as that independent being. Immediately following the ceremony, she and husband Henry Blackwell issued a written protest to the laws that made wives virtually invisible.

 A year later — again, taking action that was far out of step for the time — Stone chose to keep her maiden name, arguing that if men could do so, so could women. (In the 1920s, an organization was founded — Lucy Stoners — made up of women who kept their maiden names.) Months after Stone gave birth to daughter Alice, she made a decision that many mothers face today and curtailed her lecturing career in order to raise her daughter.

Lucy Stone also inspires us because she never gave up. While she garnered positive press and countless followers, she also attracted mobs of angry men who could not stomach the idea of a woman on stage professing radical ideas. She was pelted with rotten vegetables and books and even sprayed with ice cold water from a hose pushed through a stage window. Such actions made her even more resolute. In the latter instance, she just pulled her shawl tighter and kept on talking.

In 1869, Stone had a falling out with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony over their opposition to the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution (giving black men citizenship and the right to vote, both of which Stone favored) and their founding the National Woman Suffrage Association. Unable to work with these two women, Stone co-founded the American Woman Suffrage Association. She played a pivotal role in its state-by-state efforts to gain women the right to vote. In 1870, after the family moved to Boston, Stone founded the Woman's Journal, serving as its editor for years. This weekly newspaper, published until 1920 when women finally gained the right to vote, became the nation's most important and influential publication on women's issues.

Even in approaching death, Stone adhered to her strong principles. Never wanting to draw attention to herself, she insisted that her remains be cremated so that her body would not take up much space on earth. Stone became the first woman in New England to be cremated, and her ashes are buried in a crypt at Boston's Forest Hills Cemetery.

What Lucy Stone represents today, as she did in the past, is a woman who sought to make our world a better place — who ignored opponents because she knew right was on her side — who balanced the needs of family and career — who attracted countless converts to her causes — and who worked tirelessly and passionately to end injustice in this nation. Stone deserves an equal place alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in our telling the history of the nineteenth-century women's movement.


Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.
By Mehreen Khan, The Telegraph (UK), 3-7-15

Amid fears that Greece’s leftist government will not come good on its election promises, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has promised Syriza has "alternative plans" to plug its financing gap over the next 21 days.

Ahead of a meeting of European ministers on March 9, Varoufakis submitted an 11-page list of reforms his government intends to carry out to unlock the vital cash it needs from its creditors. The proposals include measures to fight tax evasion using students, tourists and housekeepers as undercover tax inspectors.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has accused the European Central Bank (ECB) of holding a noose around the country's neck as his government rushes to assure creditors it can avert bankruptcy this month. Speaking in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine,  he appealed to the ECB to alleviate pressure on the cash-strapped country.

The ECB "is still holding the rope which we have around our necks" said Tsipras, referring to the central bank's reluctance to resume ordinary lending to Greek banks at a meeting in Cyprus March 5.The central bank has also rebuffed Greek appeals to raise the limit on short-term debt issuance, as it faces $7.5 billion in payments over the next three weeks.

Should the ECB continue to resist Greek pleas for assistance, "the thriller we saw before February 20 will return" warned Tsipras, referring to the market turmoil that gripped the country as it carried out protracted negotiations with its creditors. Greece made its first $325 million payment to the International Monetary Fund March 6. It faces another $1.3 million in loan redemptions to the Fund before the end of the month.

Green Left Weekly reported the following March 7:

“Support for the Greek government headed by radical left party SYRIZA is growing, new polls show. The polls also found high support for SYRIZA's negotiations with its creditors, which secured a deal to extend its loans package by four months.

“The deal came with significant concessions to the institutions that have imposed austerity on Greece, which led to strong criticisms from SYRIZA's Left Platform, which believes the party should either prepare for, or at least consider, leaving the eurozone and returning to the drachma.

“At a meeting of SYRIZA's central committee, a motion moved by the Left Platform that condemned the government's deal received 41% of the vote ― with 68 members supporting the motion, 92 against and five blank votes.
However, Prime Minister Tsipras has defended the deal, saying it will grant Greece some breathing space and allow the government to start rolling back the austerity measures that have caused a social crisis in the southern European nation.


[Following is the introduction and executive summary of the Feb. 19 report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) titled “Raising America’s Pay.” The author is a senior economist at the EPI. A link to the continuation of the report is below. Implicit in wage stagnation, we must add, is the weakening of unions and the negative, virtually decisive influence of great wealth upon the political system.]

By Elise Gould

Last year was yet another year of poor wage growth for American workers. With few exceptions, real (inflation-adjusted) hourly wages fell or stagnated for workers across the wage spectrum between 2013 and 2014 — even for those with a bachelor’s or advanced degree.

Of course, as EPI has documented for nearly three decades, this is not a new story. Comparing 2014 with 2007 (the last period of reasonable labor market health before the Great Recession), hourly wages for the vast majority of American workers have been flat or falling.

Since 1979, the vast majority of American workers have seen their hourly wages stagnate or decline. This is despite real GDP growth of 149% and net productivity growth of 64% over this period. In short, the potential has existed for ample, broad-based wage growth over the last three-and-a-half decades, but these economic gains have largely bypassed the vast majority.

The poor performance of American workers’ wages in recent decades — particularly their failure to grow at anywhere near the pace of overall productivity — is the country’s central economic challenge. Raising wages is the key to addressing middle-class income stagnation, rising income inequality, and lagging economic mobility, and is essential to moving families out of poverty. EPI’s Raising America’s Pay initiative and the initiative’s overview paper (Bivens et al. 2014) explain in detail why raising wages is essential to improving Americans’ living standards.

Unfortunately, the gradually recovering economy has not translated into widespread wage gains over the last year. Though the labor market has continued to strengthen, it has not tightened nearly enough to absorb the millions of potential workers sidelined by the lack of job opportunities — and not nearly enough to generate real wage growth. Furthermore, growth in nominal wages (wages unadjusted for inflation) has failed to hit any reasonable target for the Federal Reserve to fear inflationary pressures and slow the economy by raising interest rates.

This paper details the most up-to-date wage trends through 2014, with special attention to what has happened since the last pre-recession labor market peak in 2007. Key findings include:

From 2013 to 2014, real hourly wages fell at all wage levels, except for a miniscule 3 cent increase at the 40th percentile ($12.09/hour ) and a more significant increase at the 10th percentile ($8.62/hour). Wages grew at the 10th percentile because of minimum-wage increases in 2014 in states where 47.2% of U.S. workers reside. This illustrates that public policies can be an important tool for raising wages.

Only those at the top of the wage distribution have real wages higher today than before the recession began.

Across the distribution, men’s wages remain higher than women’s, but women have fared slightly better than men since 2007.

Workers of color continue to have hourly wages far below those of their white counterparts. In 2014, the median black and median Hispanic wages were only about 75 percent and 70 percent, respectively, of the median white wage. All three groups have median wages in 2014 lower than in 2007.

Looking at wages by educational attainment, the greatest real wage losses between 2013 and 2014 were among those with a college or advanced degree. This demonstrates that poor wage performance cannot be blamed on workers lacking adequate education or skills. Those with the least education actually saw a reversal in trend, likely related to the state-level minimum-wage increases. Despite wage declines in both 2013 and 2014, those with an advanced degree are the only ones who have returned to 2007 real wage levels.

Nominal wage growth, by any measure, is far below wage growth consistent with the Federal Reserve Board’s 2 percent inflation target. There is no evidence of upward pressure on wages—let alone acceleration of wages—that would signal that the Federal Reserve Board should worry about incipient inflation and raise interest rates in an effort to slow the economy.

The rise in wage inequality (and income inequality for that matter) over the last three-and-a-half decades has been driven by a pronounced reduction in the collective and individual bargaining power of ordinary workers, for whom wages are the primary source of income (Bivens et al. 2014). It has been well documented that hourly pay for the vast majority of American workers has diverged from economy-wide productivity, and this divergence is at the root of numerous American economic challenges (Mishel et al. 2012). Productivity has increased, providing the potential for wage gains. At the same time, workers’ ability to bargain for higher wages has eroded, leaving stagnant wages for the vast majority.

The latest data from 2014 reveal evidence of the same abysmal trends experienced through the Great Recession and much of the last three-and-a-half decades. 


President Jose "Pepe" Mujica and his wife Lucia Topolansky, former guerrilla fighters.

By Wyre Davies

Whatever your own particular "shade" of politics, it's impossible not to be impressed or beguiled by Jose "Pepe" Mujica.

There are idealistic, hard-working and honest politicians the world over — although cynics might argue they're a small minority — but none of them surely comes anywhere close to the outgoing Uruguayan president when it comes to living by one's principles.

It's not just for show. Mujica's beat-up old VW Beetle is probably one of the most famous cars in the world and his decision to forgo the luxury of the Presidential Palace is not unique — his successor, Tabaré Vazquez, will also probably elect to live at home.

Former guerrilla Jose Mujica (left), sits with fellow political 
prisoners March 14, 1985, the day they were freed. (AFP/Getty)

But when you visit "Pepe" at his tiny, one-story home on the outskirts of Montevideo you realize that
the man is as good as his word.

Wearing what could best be described as "casual" clothes — I don't think he's ever been seen wearing a tie — Mujica seats himself down on a simple wooden stool in front of a bookshelf that seems on the verge of collapsing under the weight of biographies and mementoes from his political adversaries and allies.

Books are important to the former Tupamaro guerrilla fighter who spent a total of 13 years in jail, two of them lying at the bottom of an old horse trough. It was an experience that almost broke him mentally and which shaped his transformation from fighter to politician.

"I've no doubt that had I not lived through that I would not be who I am today. Prison, solitary confinement had a huge influence on me. I had to find an inner strength. I couldn't even read a book for seven, eight years — imagine that!"

Given his past, it's perhaps understandable why Mujica gives away about 90% of his salary to charity, simply because he "has no need for it."

A little bit grumpy to begin with, Mujica warms to his task as he describes being perplexed by those who question his lifestyle.

"This world is crazy, crazy! People are amazed by normal things and that obsession worries me!"

Not afraid to take a swipe at his fellow leaders, he adds: "All I do is live like the majority of my people, not the minority. I'm living a normal life and Italian, Spanish leaders should also live as their people do. They shouldn't be aspiring to or copying a rich minority." Jose Mujica is outspoken and sometimes brusque, but he can afford to be so.

Uruguay is often referred to as the most liberal country in South America. As economic and political turmoil threaten to engulf the neighboring giants of Brazil and Argentina, this country of just three million people certainly feels like a refuge.

Mujica leaves office with a relatively healthy economy and with social stability those bigger neighbors could only dream of.

Mujica's underlying principles are socialist but he's a man who has mellowed with age. Some of the most controversial political initiatives from his five years as president — like the legalization of abortion and cannabis — were done for pragmatic as much as ideological reasons.

"Marijuana is another plague, another addiction. Some say its good but no, that's rubbish. Not marijuana, tobacco or alcohol - the only good addiction is love!" says the man who in 2005 married his long-term partner and former co-revolutionary, Lucia Topolansky.

Lucia Topolansky, being placed under arrest.
She joined the Tupamaro guerrillas
 as a quite young woman. She engaged in robberies
 to finance the revolution and it is said she was an
excellent markswoman  She served
13 years in prison, during which time she helped
 organize two jailbreaks, in one of which she freed
 herself. She is a torture survivor. Over time
she and 
Mujica entered politics. She was
elected senator and he was elected president. Like
 her husband she lives on a low income, donating
most of her senate salary to charity.
"But 150,000 people smoke [marijuana] here and I couldn't leave them at the mercy of drugs traffickers," he says. "It's easier to control something if it's legal and that's why we've done this."

Although Mujica is leaving the presidency, he says he has no intention of retiring quietly
Mujica — who is sometimes described as the "president every other country would like to have" — dismisses all the adulation and attention with a waft of his hand but he is not leaving the stage just yet."I have no intention of being an old pensioner, sitting in a corner writing my memoirs —no way!" he barks at me with a grin. "I'm tired of course, but I'm not ready to stop. My journey's ending and every day I'm a little closer to the grave."
Maybe so, but this enigmatic leader remains an inspiration to many and is a reminder that politics is meant to be a humble and honorable profession.

— The author is the BBC’s Rio de Janeiro correspondent.


Student protestors chant slogans and hold up placards reading "The [ruling] AKP party robs people" and "University students will call it to account" in recent march.   AFP/Getty
By Tulay Cetingulec, Al-Monitor, 2-22-15

The entire world knows it now: being a woman, a worker or a journalist is not an easy business in Turkey. And what about being young? Bowing down to authoritarian fiats is even harder for Turkey's youth.

Leading a free and joyous life, pursuing dreams and speaking their minds are not things that young people can enjoy in Turkey today. Rather, they are constantly on alert about what they write and read, and even what they wear. Those who dare to speak their minds are not forgiven, especially if they refuse to be the “pious and vengeful” youth President Recep Tayyip Erdogan imagines.

According to Veli Agbaba, deputy chair of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), more than 3,000 university students are currently in prison, accused of various crimes but mostly of membership in a “terrorist organization.” Some have landed in jail for carrying pictures of revolutionary leaders or brandishing banners for free education, others for selling tickets for concerts of leftist bands.

Other “unforgivable” crimes they have committed include reading out statements to the press and attending such events; reading Marx’s books; supporting the “Saturday Mothers,” who have been holding weekly sit-ins for 20 years for missing relatives; celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8; visiting the offices of the leftist Halkevleri group; attending May Day events and protesting against the Higher Education Board; demanding free transport and health care; calling for a democratic university; opposing the construction of hydroelectric power plants; and advocating environmental rights.

To draw attention to the little-debated plight of imprisoned students, Agbaba organized a press conference with parents in parliament in late January. He showed journalists posters of Turkish leftist leaders from the 1960s, which the judicial authorities had used as incriminating evidence against students. The government, he said, targeted especially leftist, secularist and pro-democracy youth because it saw them as a threat.

“The men who cut the throats [of Christian missionaries] at the Zirve Publishing House in Malatya in [2007] have walked free, but those young people are in prison. Some are students of medicine in the final year of their studies. What they have in common is that they come from poor families,” Agbaba told the press conference, continuing:

“Let alone reading out a press statement, even attending such events has been considered grounds to convict them of membership in a terrorist organization. The evidence presented in those cases is ridiculous. Here is what [evidence] indictments contain: a broken red umbrella, a scarf and a shawl, a plastic horn, a headband, a loudspeaker, the Communist Manifesto, a wall calendar, a vest, a T-shirt, a cake and an mp3 player,” he said.

Agbaba stressed that even suspects accused of coup plots, military espionage and Kurdish separatism in a series of controversial court cases had been released, while university students, sentenced by the same now-defunct special authority courts, continued to languish in jail because their sentences were upheld by higher courts.


Sometimes a very blurred picture is worth a thousand words. News in the UK was dominated a couple of weeks ago by a piece of citizen journalism. British expatriate Paul Nolan used his phone to film Chelsea (England) Football Club supporters on a French subway preventing a black man from boarding at the Richelieu–Drouot station in Paris before the UEFA Champions League fixture between Chelsea and PSG. The fans chanted “We’re racist, we’re racist and that’s the way we like it.”

Photograph: Paul Nolan       


[This is a pivotal year for the future of climate change as the nations of the world conduct a showdown UN conference starting Nov. 30, 2015, in Paris that will in effect determine the fate of the Earth. At issue is whether the big industrial nations — which are responsible for climate change due to their abundant use of fossil fuels — will agree to substantial reductions of their deadly greenhouse effusions by switching to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and waterpower. At this stage, in our view, there will be an agreement that will prove to be inadequate, but no one really knows, so keep your eyes on the 21st gathering of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21).]

By Fiona Harvey, an award-winning environment journalist for the Guardian,
written for ENSIA magazine. 3-4-15

Climate change negotiations seem to crawl along interminably at the pace of the glaciers they are meant to protect, with little perceptible progress as meeting follows meeting and conference follows lackluster conference. But this year we are seeing remarkable momentum building toward a historic conference in Paris in the closing days of 2015, by the end of which we will either have a new international agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, or we will have seen the last of truly global efforts to strike a deal on saving our planet.

We began the year with the outcome of Lima, last December’s United Nations gathering at which delegates drafted the outline of such an agreement that would come into force starting in 2020. That in turn followed a landmark deal between the U.S. and China in November to set limits on their greenhouse gas output. By the end of spring, all of the world’s major economies should be coming up with similar plans. Then, after some months of considering these proposals, and as 2015 ends, Paris will host COP 21 — the most important meeting on global warming since the Copenhagen talks six years earlier. What is decided there will determine the future of Earth’s climate for decades to come.

What is supposed to happen in Paris? Governments will meet for two weeks to hammer out a new global agreement that will establish targets for bringing down global greenhouse gas emissions after 2020. Both developed and developing countries are expected to bring stringent goals to the table: absolute cuts in greenhouse gas emissions for industrialized countries, and curbs or relative reductions — such as cuts in CO2 produced per unit of GDP — in the case of poorer nations.
Why after 2020? The world’s major economies, and many smaller ones, already have agreed on targets on their emissions up to 2020. These were settled at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, which marked the first time both developed and developing countries had agreed on such aims at the UN. But that meeting was overshadowed by scenes of chaos and bitter fighting, so the 2020 targets — while still valid — could not at that time take the form of a full international and legally binding pact. The hope is that Paris will see less discord and a more constructive approach to continuing action on emissions to 2030 and beyond.

What is at stake? With the publication of the fifth report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2013–14, we know more about the science of climate change than ever before, and what we know is troubling. The research embodied in that report put it beyond doubt that the climate is changing under human influence, and warned of the dire consequences — in the form of widespread droughts, floods, heat waves and other weather extremes — if greenhouse gases are left unchecked.

What is also at stake is the future of international action on global warming. As the Copenhagen summit showed, there are deep rifts among leading countries and among populous blocs over what action should be taken, by whom and how quickly, and how to pay for it.

The UN process of negotiations on a global accord has been going on for more than 20 years, since the first IPCC report in 1990 summed up our knowledge of climate science and concluded the world should be seriously concerned. That led to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed by virtually all countries in 1992 and committing them to make efforts toward “preventing dangerous anthropogenic interference with Earth’s climate system” without specifying what or how much they should do. The Kyoto protocol of 1997 was intended to flesh out those preventive actions by stipulating cuts in emissions from industrialized nations, but that collapsed when the U.S. Congress refused to ratify the protocol because it did not impose emissions targets on developing countries such as China. There followed years of stagnation in the talks, until at Copenhagen in 2009 major developed and developing economies agreed jointly for the first time to cut their emissions or curb their rise, respectively.

After the damage done at Copenhagen, the talks limped on. But the process is fragile. If Paris witnesses scenes of discord and high drama anything like those of 2009, and if there is no clear outcome, it is hard to see that faith in the UN’s ability to hold nations together on this issue could survive.

What should governments agree on? They should agree on post-2020 emissions targets for all the leading economies, and less stringent actions on emissions for all nations. Three of the leading players have already set out their intended emissions targets, which bodes well for the outcome of Paris. The European Union has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40%, compared with 1990 levels, by 2030. By 2025, the U.S. will cut by 26 to 28%, compared with 2005 levels. And China will ensure that its emissions peak by no later than 2030.

Will these targets be enough? No. After nations have submitted their proposals for cuts or curbs, due to the UN in April, the plans will be subject to close scrutiny for several months to give all countries a chance to judge them. There is a degree of gamesmanship here: No country wants to pledge too much too soon, lest it give away a competitive advantage. The results of the scrutiny will be a key part of the talks in Paris and could be a stumbling block to agreement.

This all sounds depressingly familiar. Haven’t we been here before with Copenhagen? There are some reasons to be cheerful. Copenhagen did produce an agreement, though not in the full legal form many countries would have liked. Officially, at least, the world is committed to meeting those aims by 2020. So if Paris produces a fresh agreement lasting into the 2020s, it is a step forward.

What legal form will an agreement take? We don’t yet know. There are three main options on the table, laid out at the UN conference in Durban in 2011 at which it was agreed that the Paris meeting should take place: “a protocol, another legal instrument, or an agreed outcome with legal force under the convention applicable to all parties.” The third is the most likely.

What does that mean? We don’t quite know that, either. Some countries take it to mean that any targets agreed at Paris will be legally binding on the countries adopting them, so countries could be subject to international penalties if they are not met. Others argue that the framework agreement — a core agreement setting out the principle that countries must take on post-2020 targets — could be legally binding at an international level, while the targets themselves would be recorded separately and so not strictly binding under law.

The question of the legal form of an agreement has been a vexed one at these talks, and has a checkered
history. The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 was fully legally binding under the foundation treaty, the UNFCCC, and signed by the U.S. and nearly every other country. But that meant nothing in practice when the U.S. Congress immediately refused to ratify it and left the protocol in limbo. Other nations that did ratify later reneged on their commitments. None has suffered any sanctions as a result.

Copenhagen’s “political declaration,” outlining the pledges on emissions made by the world’s biggest economies, had to be relegated to an unofficial appendix in the legal outcome of that summit, and so was derided by some. But, though technically it had less legal force than Kyoto, it is at least still in place six years later and countries are still committed to meeting those pledges by 2020. It also forms the basis of the Paris talks.

Paris will not produce a fully articulated treaty like the UNFCCC — there is not enough time or appetite for that — but as long as it produces a definite outcome, with all of the major parties agreeing to targets even if they are not legally enforceable in the strictest sense, then it will represent significant progress and should be enough to keep the UN process intact.

What if the talks collapse at Paris? Is that likely to mark the effective end of international action on the climate coordinated by the UN?

There are divergent views on the centrality of the UN talks to preventing dangerous climate change. These are “top-down” talks: Governments decide at an international level how much of an emissions reduction they will contribute and draft national policies to cascade this through their economies. An alternative is the “bottom-up” strategy, which posits that businesses and civil society organizations are more effective in taking prompt action and will do so in their own interests while governments still argue over semicolons in an international treaty.

Ultimately, these two approaches are closely linked. Top-down targets can spur bottom-up actions, while successes in bottom-up projects can encourage governments to be more courageous in setting national climate strategies. The reverse is also true: Without top-down negotiations, some companies are likely to see a commercial advantage in acting as a free rider, stalling on emissions cuts and refusing to take part in bottom-up actions.

So it is likely that some element of both will be necessary. The UN is not the only top-down forum: the U.S. leads the Major Economies Forum, and the G7 and the G20 also discuss climate actions. But the UN is the only arena that draws all developed and developing countries together and gives small nations a voice to challenge the biggest.

And after Paris? That is anybody’s guess. No sooner had President Obama, late last year, toasted his deal on emissions with the Chinese president than Republicans vowed to strike it down. Any commitment made now for action until 2025 or beyond, in any country, runs that risk.

What can go wrong? Lots. Although China has set forth its commitment, other key developing countries — India chief among them — have yet to do so, and may stretch the deadline. The process by which countries will review each other’s targets between now and the Paris gathering is also fraught with uncertainty, and it is not clear what will happen if countries cannot agree how to judge the targets.

Another key question is over finance. Developing countries were promised at Copenhagen at least $30
billion in “fast-start financing” by 2012 to help them make the investments needed in low-carbon infrastructure and begin adapting to the effects of climate change. That promise was broadly achieved — but by 2020, those finance flows are supposed to reach $100 billion per year. Where will the money come from? Rich countries are adamant that only a minor amount will come from their taxpayers, and the rest from the private sector. Poor countries are demanding more, and not cash redirected from existing aid budgets. It may be possible to find some middle ground, but this could be a breaking point.

Paris will be a crunch conference in every sense. The fragile UN process could emerge resurgent if nations can come together, or it could be battered to an effective end. Either way, global emissions are likely to continue rising for years more, increasing the risk that warming will exceed the 2 degree C mark that scientists posit as the threshold beyond which climate change becomes irreversible. Paris will not be enough in itself to prevent that, but it could go a long way to deciding our fate.



They won.
By Grist, Feb. 19, 2015

The youth of South Baltimore have scored another round in their fight to keep a mammoth waste incinerator out of their neighborhood. Baltimore County’s regional cooperative purchasing committee voted to end their contract with the company Energy Answers, which has plans to build a $1 billion solid waste-to-energy facility in the working class neighborhood of Curtis Bay. (Ever watch “The Wire” season two? That neighborhood.)

The youth organizing group Free Your Voice, made up of students who live or attend school close to the proposed incinerator site, has been mobilizing friends, neighbors, teachers, and other school administrators over the past three years to reject the waste-burning facility. Curtis Bay is already overrun with pollution-heavy industrial operations and port activity.

Baltimore Metropolitan Council communications officer Laura Van Wert confirmed for Grist that it is preparing to part ways with the incinerator project, stating: “The Baltimore Regional Cooperative Purchasing Committee, in its continued effort to provide the most reliable and cost-effective energy to its members, voted to go in another direction on Feb. 10 and recommended termination of its contracts with Energy Answers.”


The conquering hero  of  Libya — until it blew up in America's  face.
[Following are excerpts from an article appearing in the March/April 2015 issue of Foreign Affairs, explaining the outcome of an historic blunder by the Obama Administration  — violent regime change in the North African state of Libya.]

By Alan J. Kuperman

On March 17, 2011, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973, spearheaded by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, authorizing military intervention in Libya. The goal, Obama explained, was to save the lives of peaceful, pro-democracy protesters who found themselves the target of a crackdown by Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi. Not only did Qaddafi endanger the momentum of the nascent Arab Spring, which had recently swept away authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, but he also was poised to commit a bloodbath in the Libyan city where the uprising had started, said the president. “We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi—a city nearly the size of Charlotte—could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world,” Obama declared. Two days after the UN authorization, the United States and other NATO countries established a no-fly zone throughout Libya and started bombing Qaddafi’s forces. Seven months later, in October 2011, after an extended military campaign with sustained Western support, rebel forces conquered the country and shot Qaddafi dead.

In the immediate wake of the military victory, U.S. officials were triumphant. Writing in these pages in 2012, Ivo Daalder, then the U.S. permanent representative to NATO, and James Stavridis, then supreme allied commander of Europe, declared, “NATO’s operation in Libya has rightly been hailed as a model intervention.” In the Rose Garden after Qaddafi’s death, Obama himself crowed, “Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives.” Indeed, the United States seemed to have scored a hat trick: nurturing the Arab Spring, averting a Rwanda-like genocide, and eliminating Libya as a potential source of terrorism.

That verdict, however, turns out to have been premature. In retrospect, Obama’s intervention in Libya was an abject failure, judged even by its own standards. Libya has not only failed to evolve into a democracy; it has devolved into a failed state. Violent deaths and other human rights abuses have increased severalfold. Rather than helping the United States combat terrorism, as Qaddafi did during his last decade in power, Libya now serves as a safe haven for militias affiliated with both al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The Libya intervention has harmed other U.S. interests as well: undermining nuclear nonproliferation, chilling Russian cooperation at the UN, and fueling Syria’s civil war.

Despite what defenders of the mission claim, there was a better policy available—not intervening at all, because peaceful Libyan civilians were not actually being targeted. Had the United States and its allies followed that course, they could have spared Libya from the resulting chaos and given it a chance of progress under Qaddafi’s chosen successor: his relatively liberal, Western-educated son Saif al-Islam. Instead, Libya today is riddled with vicious militias and anti-American terrorists—and thus serves as a cautionary tale of how humanitarian intervention can backfire for both the intervener and those it is intended to help....

As bad as Libya’s human rights situation was under Qaddafi, it has gotten worse since NATO ousted him. Immediately after taking power, the rebels perpetrated scores of reprisal killings, in addition to torturing, beating, and arbitrarily detaining thousands of suspected Qaddafi supporters. The rebels also expelled 30,000 mostly black residents from the town of Tawergha and burned or looted their homes and shops, on the grounds that some of them supposedly had been mercenaries. Six months after the war, Human Rights Watch declared that the abuses “appear to be so widespread and systematic that they may amount to crimes against humanity.”

ANSWER Coalition organized protests throughout U.S. bombing campaign.
Such massive violations persist. In October 2013, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that the “vast majority of the estimated 8,000 conflict-related detainees are also being held without due process.” More disturbing, Amnesty International issued a report last year that revealed their savage mistreatment: “Detainees were subjected to prolonged beatings with plastic tubes, sticks, metal bars or cables. In some cases, they were subjected to electric shocks, suspended in contorted positions for hours, kept continuously blindfolded and shackled with their hands tied behind their backs or deprived of food and water.” The report also noted some 93 attacks on Libyan journalists in just the first nine months of 2014, “including abductions, arbitrary arrests, assassinations, assassination attempts and assaults.” Ongoing attacks in western Libya, the report concluded, “amount to war crimes.” As a consequence of such pervasive violence, the UN estimates that roughly 400,000 Libyans have fled their homes, a quarter of whom have left the country altogether....

Although the White House justified its mission in Libya on humanitarian grounds, the intervention in fact greatly magnified the death toll there. To begin with, Qaddafi’s crackdown turns out to have been much less lethal than media reports indicated at the time. In eastern Libya, where the uprising began as a mix of peaceful and violent protests, Human Rights Watch documented only 233 deaths in the first days of the fighting, not 10,000, as had been reported by the Saudi news channel Al Arabiya. In fact, as I documented in a 2013 International Security article, from mid-February 2011, when the rebellion started, to mid-March 2011, when NATO intervened, only about 1,000 Libyans died, including soldiers and rebels. Although an Al Jazeera article touted by Western media in early 2011 alleged that Qaddafi’s air force had strafed and bombed civilians in Benghazi and Tripoli, “the story was untrue,” revealed an exhaustive examination in the London Review of Books by Hugh Roberts of Tufts University. Indeed, striving to minimize civilian casualties, Qaddafi’s forces had refrained from indiscriminate violence.

The best statistical evidence of that comes from Misurata, Libya’s third-largest city, where the initial fighting raged most intensely. Human Rights Watch found that of the 949 people wounded there in the rebellion’s first seven weeks, only 30 (just over three percent) were women or children, which indicates that Qaddafi’s forces had narrowly targeted combatants, who were virtually all male. During that same period in Misurata, only 257 people were killed, a tiny fraction of the city’s 400,000 residents.

The same pattern of restraint was evident in Tripoli, where the government used significant force for only two days prior to NATO’s intervention, to beat back violent protesters who were burning government buildings. Libyan doctors subsequently told a UN investigative commission that they observed more than 200 corpses in the city’s morgues on February 20–21 but that only two of them were female. These statistics refute the notion that Qaddafi’s forces fired indiscriminately at peaceful civilians.

Moreover, by the time NATO intervened, Libya’s violence was on the verge of ending. Qaddafi’s well-armed forces had routed the ragtag rebels, who were retreating home. By mid-March 2011, government forces were poised to recapture the last rebel stronghold of Benghazi, thereby ending the one-month conflict at a total cost of just over 1,000 lives. Just then, however, Libyan expatriates in Switzerland affiliated with the rebels issued warnings of an impending “bloodbath” in Benghazi, which Western media duly reported but which in retrospect appear to have been propaganda. In reality, on March 17, Qaddafi pledged to protect the civilians of Benghazi, as he had those of other recaptured cities, adding that his forces had “left the way open” for the rebels to retreat to Egypt. Simply put, the militants were about to lose the war, and so their overseas agents raised the specter of genocide to attract a NATO intervention—which worked like a charm. There is no evidence or reason to believe that Qaddafi had planned or intended to perpetrate a killing campaign.

Admittedly, the government did attempt to intimidate the rebels, promising to pursue them relentlessly. But Qaddafi never translated that rhetoric into targeting civilians. From March 5 to March 15, 2011, government forces recaptured all but one of the major rebel-held cities, and in none did they kill civilians in revenge, let alone commit a bloodbath. Indeed, as his forces approached Benghazi, Qaddafi issued public reassurances that they would harm neither civilians nor rebels who disarmed. On March 17, he directly addressed the rebels of Benghazi: “Throw away your weapons, exactly like your brothers in Ajdabiya and other places did. They laid down their arms and they are safe. We never pursued them at all.”

Two days later, however, the NATO air campaign halted Qaddafi’s offensive. As a result, Benghazi did not return to government control, the rebels did not flee, and the war did not end. Instead, the militants reversed their retreat and went back on the offensive. Eventually, on October 20, 2011, the rebels found Qaddafi, tortured him, and then summarily executed him. The regime’s last remnants fell three days later. All told, the intervention extended Libya’s civil war from less than six weeks to more than eight months....

Another unintended consequence of the Libya intervention has been to amplify the threat of terrorism from the country. Although Qaddafi supported terrorism decades ago—as witnessed by his regime’s later paying reparations for the Lockerbie airplane bombing of 1988—the Libyan leader had evolved into a U.S. ally against global terrorism even before 9/11. He did so partly because he faced a domestic threat from al Qaeda–affiliated militants, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Qaddafi’s external security chief, Moussa Koussa, met multiple times with senior CIA officials to provide intelligence about Libyan fighters in Afghanistan and about the Pakistani nuclear peddler A. Q. Khan. In 2009, General William Ward, who headed U.S. Africa Command, praised Libya as “a top partner in combating transnational terrorism.”

Since NATO’s intervention in 2011, however, Libya and its neighbor Mali have turned into terrorist havens. Radical Islamist groups, which Qaddafi had suppressed, emerged under NATO air cover as some of the most competent fighters of the rebellion. Supplied with weapons by sympathetic countries such as Qatar, the militias refused to disarm after Qaddafi fell. Their persistent threat was highlighted in September 2012 when jihadists, including from the group Ansar al-Sharia, attacked the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, killing Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three of his colleagues. Last year, the UN formally declared Ansar al-Sharia a terrorist organization because of its affiliation with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb....

The harm from the intervention in Libya extends well beyond the immediate neighborhood. For one
thing, by helping overthrow Qaddafi, the United States undercut its own nuclear nonproliferation objectives. In 2003, Qaddafi had voluntarily halted his nuclear and chemical weapons programs and surrendered his arsenals to the United States. His reward, eight years later, was a U.S.-led regime change that culminated in his violent death. That experience has greatly complicated the task of persuading other states to halt or reverse their nuclear programs. Shortly after the air campaign began, North Korea released a statement from an unnamed Foreign Ministry official saying that “the Libyan crisis is teaching the international community a grave lesson” and that North Korea would not fall for the same U.S. “tactic to disarm the country.”....

Despite the massive turmoil caused by the intervention, some of its unrepentant supporters claim that the alternative—leaving Qaddafi in power—would have been even worse. But Qaddafi was not Libya’s future in any case. Sixty-nine years old and in ill health, he was laying the groundwork for a transition to his son Saif, who for many years had been preparing a reform agenda. “I will not accept any position unless there is a new constitution, new laws, and transparent elections,” Saif declared in 2010. “Everyone should have access to public office. We should not have a monopoly on power.” Saif also convinced his father that the regime should admit culpability for a notorious 1996 prison massacre and pay compensation to the families of hundreds of victims. In addition, in 2008, Saif published testimony from former prisoners alleging torture by revolutionary committees—the regime’s zealous but unofficial watchdogs—whom he demanded be disarmed....

From 2009 to 2010, Saif persuaded his father to release nearly all of Libya’s political prisoners, creating a deradicalization program for Islamists that Western experts cited as a model....

Obama... acknowledges regrets about Libya, but unfortunately, he has drawn the wrong lesson. “I think we underestimated . . . the need to come in full force,” the president told the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in August 2014. “If you’re gonna do this,” he elaborated, “there has to be a much more aggressive effort to rebuild societies.”

But that is exactly the wrong take-away. The error in Libya was not an inadequate post-intervention effort; it was the decision to intervene in the first place.....

— Author Alan J. Kuperman is an Associate Professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

Here's Fidel with two of the Cuban Five.

Elderly revolutionary leader Fidel Castro met for five hours Feb. 28 with the Cuban Five patriots who served up to 15 years in U.S. prisons for spying not on the U.S. but on anti-Cuban terrorist organizations in Florida.  Here he talks with two of the men.

Writing the next day in Granma he said: "The Five anti-terrorist Heroes, who never did any harm to the United States, worked to anticipate and prevent terrorist acts against our people, organized by U.S. intelligence agencies which the world knows more than enough about.....Fortunately, yesterday I also had enough time to request that they invest part of their immense prestige in something that will be extremely useful for our people."


Killer robot, “warrior"model

[The University of Massachusetts Amherst reported on a poll that showed a 55% “majority of Americans oppose the outsourcing of lethal military and defense targeting decisions to machines. The opposition to autonomous weaponry is bipartisan, with the strongest opposition on the far left and far right, and among active and former members of the military.” This article, from the Feb. 22, 2015, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, explains that self-deciding military killer robots must be banned.]

By Seth Baum

Only twice in history have nations come together to ban a weapon before it was ever used. In 1868, the Great Powers agreed under the Saint Petersburg Declaration to ban exploding bullets, which by spreading metal fragments inside a victim’s body could cause more suffering than the regular kind. And the 1995 Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons now has 104 signatories, who have agreed to ban the weapons on the grounds that they could cause excessive suffering to soldiers in the form of permanent blindness.

Today a group of non-governmental organizations is working to outlaw another yet-to-be used device, the fully autonomous weapon or killer robot. In 2012 the group formed the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots to push for a ban. Different from the remotely piloted unmanned aerial vehicles in common use today, fully autonomous weapons are military robots designed to make strike decisions for themselves. Once deployed, they identify targets and attack them without any human permission. None currently exist, but China, Israel, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are actively developing precursor technology, according to the campaign.

This Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System
has the fully autonomous ability to “decide” 

when and whom to kill.
It’s important that the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots succeed, either at achieving an outright ban or at sparking debate resulting in some other sensible and effective regulation. This is vital not just to prevent fully autonomous weapons from causing harm; an effective movement will also show us how to proactively ban other future military technology.

Fully autonomous weapons are not unambiguously bad. They can reduce burdens on soldiers. Already, military robots are saving many service members’ lives, for example by neutralizing improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan and Iraq. The more capabilities military robots have, the more they can keep soldiers from harm. They may also be able to complete missions that soldiers and non-autonomous weapons cannot.

But the potential downsides are significant. Militaries might kill more if no individual has to bear the emotional burden of strike decisions. Governments might wage more wars if the cost to their soldiers were lower. Oppressive tyrants could turn fully autonomous weapons on their own people when human soldiers refused to obey. And the machines could malfunction—as all machines sometimes do—killing friend and foe alike.

Robots, moreover, could struggle to recognize unacceptable targets such as civilians and wounded combatants. The sort of advanced pattern recognition required to distinguish one person from another is relatively easy for humans, but difficult to program in a machine. Computers have outperformed humans in things like multiplication for a very long time, but despite great effort, their capacity for face and voice recognition remains crude. Technology would have to overcome this problem in order for robots to avoid killing the wrong people.

A government that deployed a weapon that struck civilians would violate international humanitarian law. This serves as a basis for the anti-killer robot campaign. The global humanitarian disarmament movement used similar arguments to achieve international bans on landmines and cluster munitions, and is making progress towards a ban on nuclear weapons.

If the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots succeeds, it will achieve a rare feat. It is no surprise that weapons are rarely banned before they are ever used, because doing so requires proactive effort, whereas people tend to be reactive. When a vivid, visceral event occurs, people are especially motivated to act. Hence concern about global warming spiked after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, and concern about nuclear power plant safety spiked after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The successful humanitarian campaigns against landmines and cluster munitions made very effective use of the many victims maimed by these weapons. The current humanitarian campaign against nuclear weapons similarly relies on the hibakusha—the victims of the 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings—and victims of nuclear test detonations. The victims’ presence and their stories bring the issue to life in a way that abstract statistics and legal arguments cannot. Today there are no victims of fully autonomous weapons, so the campaign must be proactive rather than reactive, relying on expectations of future harm
Protection from the dangers that could be caused by killer robots is a worthy end in its own right.
However, the most important aspect of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is the precedent it sets as a forward-looking effort to protect humanity from emerging technologies that could permanently end civilization or cause human extinction. Developments in biotechnology, geoengineering, and artificial intelligence, among other areas, could be so harmful that responding may not be an option. The campaign against fully autonomous weapons is a test-case, a warm-up. Humanity must get good at proactively protecting itself from new weapon technologies, because we react to them at our own peril.

Seth Baum is executive director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, a nonprofit think tank that Baum co-founded in 2011. Baum’s research focuses on risk, ethics, and policy questions about major threats to human civilization, including nuclear war, global warming, and emerging technologies.


A model of the 13-million-year-old Gnatusuchus pebasensis, a crocodylian with a short face and rounded teeth that may have shoveled through the mud at the bottom of lakes 
and swamps to find prey, such as clams and other mollusks.
By Science Now

Thirteen million years ago, the Amazon was a crocodile’s paradise. A whopping seven species of crocs roamed the ancient wetlands that once filled the Amazon Basin, paleontologists report — the largest number that have ever rubbed elbows in a single habitat.

Researchers uncovered the croc's fossils through more than a decade of excavation in Peru. Crocodilian diversity exploded thanks to the food supplied by plentiful mollusks like clams and snails, LiveScience reports. One newly discovered croc, a reconstruction of which is pictured above, had rounded teeth and a shovel-shaped snout to help it crush its prey and dig up tasty morsels from the mud.


Legionella bacteria.
[Bacteria are found all over the Earth, including within our bodies, where there are 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells. They are so small that 40 million bacterial cells exist in a gram of soil. Bacteria both help and harm human life, depending on the type. Now we learn that bacteria possess a memory, of a kind.]

By Science Daily, Feb. 20, 2015

Bacteria may not have brains, but they do have memories, at least when it comes to viruses that attack them. Many bacteria have a molecular immune system which allows these microbes to capture and retain pieces of viral DNA that they have encountered in the past, in order to recognize and destroy it when it shows up again.

Streptococcus bacteria.
Research at Rockefeller University described in Nature offers new insight into the mysterious process
by which this system works to encode viral DNA in a microbe's genome for later use as guides for virus-cutting enzymes.

"Microbes, like vertebrates, have immune systems capable of adapting to new threats. Cas9, one enzyme employed by these systems, uses immunological memories to guide cuts to viral genetic code. However, very little is known about how these memories are acquired in the first place," says Assistant Professor Luciano Marraffini, head of the Laboratory of Bacteriology. "Our work shows that Cas9 also directs the formation of these memories among certain bacteria."

These memories are embedded in the bacterial equivalent of an adaptive immune system capable of discerning helpful from harmful viruses called a CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) system. It works by altering the bacterium's genome, adding short viral sequences called spacers in between the repeating DNA sequences. These spacers form the memories of past invaders. They serve as guides for enzymes encoded by CRISPR-associated genes (Cas), which seek out and destroy those same viruses should they attempt to infect the bacterium again.

Cas9's ability to make precision cuts within a genome — viral or otherwise — has caught the attention of researchers who now use it to alter cells' genetics for experimental or therapeutic purposes. But it is still not well understood just how this CRISPR system works in its native bacteria.