Friday, June 5, 2015

06-04-15 NEWSLETTER

June 5, 2015, Issue 219
ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER
Contact us or subscribe to Newsletter at jacdon@earthlink.net
The Hudson Valley Activist Calendar is at (click) 6-2-15 CALENDAR
The Hegemony Games is at 5-31-15 Newsletter Hegemony Games
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CONTENTS

1.   Photo of The Month — "A Proud Day to be Irish"
2.   Snowden's Leaks Forced NSA Reform in Congress
3.   WikiLeaks Strikes Again!
4.   The Rise of Extreme Poverty in The U.S.
5.   New Climate Deal 'Not A Silver Bullet'
6.   Out of The Closet, Non-Religious Americans!
7.   Hitler was Defeated 70 Years Ago Last Month
8.   U.S. Puts Russia-China Entente to Litmus Test
9   The Real Threat to U.S. Social Programs
10. Israel Justifies Nuclear Attack on IraN
11. Iran Calls for World Nuclear Disarmament
12. Democratic Progressives Prepare for 2016
13. Russian People Celebrate Victory Against Nazism
14. Israeli Soldiers Criticize Gaza Military Tactics

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Let us know your opinion of any article in this issue.
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1. PHOTO OF THE MONTH
"A Proud Day to be Irish"


 By the Activist Newsletter

Ireland has become the first-ever country to approve same-sex marriage by referendum, voting overwhelmingly to approve it despite opposition from clergy in the heavily Roman Catholic nation, according to official results announced May 23. It was supported by over 60% of the voters.

Leo Varadkar, Ireland's health minister who came out as gay in January just as the campaign was getting underway, said Dublin appeared to have voted 70% in favor of the measure. "We're the first country in the world to enshrine marriage equality in our constitution and do so by popular mandate," Varadkar said. "That makes us a beacon, a light to the rest of the world of liberty and equality. It's a very proud day to be Irish."

Ireland, long under the control of a stern ultra-conservative RC church, was one of the last Western countries to decriminalize homosexuality 22 years ago. Catholicism remains a popular religion but the power of the clergy and the church has been weakened by revelations of its hypocrisy, child abuse, and the influence of modernization.
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2.   SNOWDEN'S LEAKS FORCED NSA REFORMS


Edward Snowden: Will he ever come home again?
 By Trevor Timm, The Guardian, June 3, 2015

The catalyst for Congress’ historic vote on NSA reform on June 2 – the same person who led to a federal court to rule that NSA mass surveillance of Americans was illegal – remains exiled from the United States and faces decades in jail. The crime he’s accused of? Telling the American public the very truth that forced Congress to restrict, rather than expand, the spy agency’s power for the first time in over 40 years.

The passage of the USA Freedom Act is quite simply a vindication of Edward Snowden, and it’s not just civil libertarians who have noticed: he’s forced even some of the most establishment-friendly commentators to change their opinions of his actions. But it’s a shame that almost everyone nonetheless ignores the oppressive law under which Snowden was charged or the U.S. government’s outrageous position in his case: that if he were to stand trial, he could not tell the jury what his whistleblowing has accomplished.

The White House told reporters June 4 that, despite the imminent passage of NSA reform, they still believe Edward Snowden belongs in prison (presumably for life, given his potential charges), while at the same time, brazenly taking credit for the USA Freedom Act passing, saying that "historians" would consider it part of Obama’s "legacy." Hopefully historians will also remember, as Ryan Lizza adeptly documented in the New Yorker, that Obama was handed every opportunity to reform the NSA before Edward Snowden, yet behind the scenes repeatedly refused to do so. Instead, the Obama administration was dragged kicking and screaming across the finish line by Snowden’s disclosures, all while engaging in fear-mongering that would make Dick Cheney proud.

Snowden is now the most influential whistleblower of his generation. Even his biggest detractors, the same people who once all but refused to utter his name, have recently had to concede his influence. Take, for example, this amusing article at the Huffington Post quoting various Senators across the political spectrum who were forced to begrudgingly admit that they wouldn’t even be having the debate over reforming the NSA’s surveillance practices if it wasn’t for Snowden. You can almost hear the contempt coming out of their mouths as mouths as you read their reactions.

Sadly, even those in Congress who were campaigning for stronger NSA reform than the bill that passed the Senate are afraid to directly credit Snowden and, in many cases, still condemn him. Some cling to the erroneous belief that Snowden should come back to the U.S. if he’s really a whistleblower because he could "tell his story to a jury." But since he was charged under the draconian Espionage Act – a World War I-era statute meant for spies, not leakers – Snowden would not even be able to utter the word "whistleblower" in court, let alone tell a jury why he did what he did. Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg explained in great detail how any evidence Snowden wanted to bring up to a judge would be ruled inadmissible, thanks to the incredibly restrictive way the Espionage Act is written....

Without Edward Snowden, there would be no debate about the mass surveillance of Americans by the NSA. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals would not have ruled such surveillance illegal, tech companies would not encrypt our phone calls and text messages, and Congress certainly would not have passed the USA Freedom Act - no matter how meager its reforms actually are. Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the NSA used to secretly vacuum up every American’s phone records, would have been renewed in a landslide with little fanfare – it always was in the past – and the American people would have been none the wiser.

But there also might have not been an Edward Snowden if it wasn’t for the whistleblowers who risked it all before him. Lost in the national discussion about Snowden’s leaks and NSA reforms has been the U.S. government’s deplorable treatment of the NSA whistleblowers who came before Snowden: Thomas Drake, Bill Binney, J. Kirk Wiebe, Diane Roark and others. They were investigated, had their phones wiretapped, were pulled out of their houses at gunpoint, and in one case, was charged under the Espionage Act for internally protesting the NSA’s illegal and unconstitutional actions after 9/11. The USA Freedom Act vote was just as much vindication for those men and women whose lives were destroyed for telling the truth but who never became household names.

It is an ongoing travesty that the Espionage Act – a bill meant to punish spies who sell secrets to foreign governments – can be used in such a vindictive and draconian way against someone who wanted to hand the truth to the American people. Snowden told the Guardian two weeks ago that he saw the USA Freedom Act as the beginning and not the end of NSA reform. Hopefully Congress will one day soon also have the courage to give whistleblowers their normally guaranteed right to defend themselves in court, and not send them to straight to jail or worse.
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3.   WIKILEAKS STRIKES AGAIN!

[The United States is secretly orchestrating much bigger more extensive pro-corporate changes in international trade than most of us ever imagined. Yes, we know about TPP and vaguely about a U.S.-EU trade deal, but there's a lot more that's leaking out, such as the documents we link to below. WikiLeaks, incidentally, has just announced it is raising a $100,000 reward for the missing chapters of President Obama's biggest secret — the hidden text of the full TPP understanding.]

By WikiLeaks

On June 3 WikiLeaks released 17 secret documents from the ongoing TISA (Trade In Services Agreement) negotiations covering the United States, the European Union and 23 other countries including Turkey, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Pakistan, Taiwan and Israel — which together comprise two-thirds of global GDP.


"Services" (as opposed to manufacturing) now account for nearly 80% of the U.S. and EU economies and even in developing countries like Pakistan account for 53%of the economy. While the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has become well known in recent months in the United States, the TISA is the larger component of the strategic TPP-TISA-TTIP "T-teaty trinity." (TTIP stands for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.) All parts of the trinity notably exclude the "BRICS' countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The release coincides with TISA meetings at the ministerial level at the OECD in Paris June 3-5. The "T-treaty trinity" is also under consideration for collective "Fast-Track" authority in Congress this month.

The new TISA document release follows the WikiLeaks publication of the secret draft financial services annex of the TISA negotiations June 19, 2014, showing the aim to further deregulate the financial sector, despite widespread consensus that lack of oversight and regulation was the main cause of the last global financial crisis of 2008. Today's release confirms the ongoing determination to deregulate. Furthermore, standstill clauses will tie the hands of future governments to implement changes in response to changing environment.

The June 3 release is the largest on secret TISA documents and covers numerous previously undisclosed areas. It contains drafts and annexes on issues such as air traffic, maritime, professional services, e-commerce, delivery services, transparency, domestic regulation, as well as several document on the positions of negotiating parties. WikiLeaks has also published detailed expert analysis of the topics covered in today's release.

— Browse the TISA documents published by WikiLeaks at https://wikileaks.org/tisa/.
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4.   THE RISE OF EXTREME POVERTY IN THE U.S.


Excerpted From Stanford University's magazine Pathways

The prevalence of extreme poverty in the United States may shock many. As of mid-2011, our analyses show that about 1.65 million households with about 3.55 million children were surviving on $2 or less in cash income per person per day in a given month.

These estimates account for income received from the U.S. government's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and other direct cash income transfer programs, plus contributions from family and friends and income from odd jobs, among other things. Households in extreme poverty constituted 4.3% percent of all non-elderly households with children.

Worse yet, the prevalence of extreme poverty rose sharply between 1996 and 2011, with the highest growth rates found among groups most affected by the 1996 welfare reform. [Newsletter: This is a reference to the Democratic President Bill Clinton's gift to the right wing and the wealthy, which he defined as "ending welfare as we know it."

When income over the quarter is used, rather than income from a single month, the proportional increase in extreme poverty over the study period is comparable to the monthly estimates (and in some cases, is larger), although the overall incidence is lower.

The safety net is succeeding in reducing the most extreme forms of deprivation. Yet by no means does
it eliminate extreme poverty. When we recalculate the mid-2011 figures after treating the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits as equivalent to cash, this reduces the number of extremely poor households with children by 48%, and when refundable tax credits and housing subsidies are subsequently added, the number falls by 63%. We estimate that these major means-tested aid programs currently save roughly 2.38 million children from extreme poverty each month, but they leave 1.17 million children behind.

The simple but important conclusion is that a growing population of children experience spells with virtually no income. How are they getting by —If they are — and what are the human costs of subsisting on $2 a day or less?
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5.   NEW CLIMATE DEAL 'NOT A SILVER BULLET'



 [Is the UN really serious about stopping increases in global warming or not? The comments below by the UN's climate chief about the all-important December meeting in Paris to determine the future course of the effort to sharply reduce greenhouse emissions are ambiguous and worrisome. Is the effort being watered down, or does it just sound that way for public relations reasons?]

By Reuters news service

A UN deal to combat global warming due in December will seek to lift world economic growth and be based more on encouragement than threats of punishment for non-compliance, the UN's climate chief said May 13.

Christiana Figueres, laying out her recipe for a deal meant to be agreed by almost 200 nations at a summit in Paris, said it would be part of a long haul to limit climate change and not an "overnight miraculous silver bullet." The looser formula is a sharp shift from the UN's 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which originally bound about 40 rich nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions and foresaw sanctions that were never imposed even when Japan, Russia and Canada dropped out.

Figueres dismissed fears by many developing nations, which have no binding targets under Kyoto and fear that a Paris accord due to enter into force from 2020 could force them to cut fossil fuel use, undermining economic growth. "The bottom line (is that) this is an agreement and a path that is protective of growth and development rather than threatening to growth and development," Figueres told an online news conference. The deal would be "enabling and facilitating" rather than a "punitive-type" agreement, she said. The deal's main thrust would be to decouple greenhouse gas emissions from gross domestic product growth.

A UN report last year indicated that tough measures to combat climate change, shifting to renewable energies such as wind and solar power, could cut economic growth by 0.06% a year. But it would bring big long-term benefits for everything from human health to crop growth by limiting damaging heat waves, floods, desertification and rising seas.
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6.   OUT OF THE CLOSET, NON-RELIGIOUS AMERICANS!


                                                              (Credit Valero Doval)

By Jack A. Smith

America is an extremely religious country that constitutionally separates church and state and protects the right to believe or not believe in God. That's good, but even so, religion rides very high in our society and government, and the openly nonreligious tend to ride very low, almost out of sight and with little influence in day-to-day affairs as though acknowledged disbelief was a stigma.

Church-state separation or not, there are times when it feels the U.S. is a theocracy. We are expected, after all, to pledge allegiance to "one nation under God." Our currency proclaims, "in God we trust." And has President Obama ever ended a major speech without beseeching the Almighty to "bless" America? Multitudes of citizens believe the U.S. is a "Christian" nation," and shape their political and social lives accordingly.

Although Americans without religious affiliations are usually held in low public esteem, their numbers are increasing swiftly. At the same time, many remain cautious or silent about their minority views in public to avoid disapproval. This only delays the process of gaining public acceptance of those without ties to organized religion or who simply deny the existence of what the majority of Americans construe  to be a "Supreme Being."

The Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life reported May 12: "The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults [18 and up] who do not identify with any organized religion is growing." It has now attained an all-time high of 22.8%, compared to 16.1% eight years ago, an extraordinary increase. 

There are now approximately 56 million religiously unaffiliated adults in the U.S. They outnumber Catholics (20.8% of the religious population) and "mainline" Protestants (14.7%). Actually 46.5% of all Christians today belong to various Protestant churches, compared to 51.3% in 2007. All told 70.6% of all religious Americans adhere to Christian denominations, a drop of 7.8% in eight years. All the many non-Christian faiths combined only represent 5.9% of the religious community.

"Indeed," reports Pew, "the unaffiliated are now second in size only to evangelical Protestants among major religious groups in the U.S." Of the unaffiliated, merely 3.1% are acknowledged atheists. There undoubtedly are considerably more atheists than this small percentage, but many identify publicly as non-religious or non-affiliated in order to protect themselves from discrimination and actual hatred emanating from certain of the faithful.

According to an article in Scientific American (Jan. 12, 2012): "Atheists are one of the most disliked groups in America. Only 45% of Americans say they would vote for a qualified atheist presidential candidate, and atheists are rated as the least desirable group for a potential son-in-law or daughter-in-law to belong to."

The American Sociological Review has noted: "Despite the declining salience [prominence] of divisions among religious groups, the boundary between believers and nonbelievers in America remains strong. Atheists are less likely to be accepted, publicly and privately, than any others from a long list of ethnic, religious, and other minority groups. This distrust of atheists is driven by religious predictors, social location, and broader value orientations. It is rooted in moral and symbolic, rather than ethnic or material, grounds."

Discrimination against nonreligious political candidates is virtually total because the majority of Americans (Christians and smaller religions) won't vote for a candidate who does not genuflect to a deity. This is important because it influences political choices, usually for the worse in terms of social progress.

Out of over 535 members of the Senate and House in Washington there is exactly one member, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), about whom we have written before, who admits to being religiously unaffiliated. Of the remaining 534 who claim to genuflect to a Supreme Being, 91.8% profess Christianity. The remaining 8.2% in Congress submit to other religions.

Since 22.8%, of the American people consider themselves within a category ranging from atheists to the religiously unaffiliated, there undoubtedly exist a substantial number of pretenders to religion piously seated in Congress — and possibly a couple in recent decades occupying the Oval Office — concealing their non-beliefs.

People have a right to believe in God and they exercise that right openly. People also have a right not to believe in God, but a large proportion of them basically keep quiet to avoid social censure, family disapproval or job complications.

Are you secular and open about it? Most likely if you are secular at all you are not open (or particularly open) about it (except, perhaps, to a few people whom you trust). This will eventually change as society matures — but how long it takes will be greatly influenced by an ever-larger number of secularists making their views known, clearly, publicly, proudly, and possibly in an organized and public way. The sooner, the better.

As a lifelong openly non-religiously affiliated individual  I have observed how other groups more oppressed than secularists have made gains by publicly seeking equal rights and acceptance. Isn't it about time that all secular people — including atheists, freethinkers, agnostics, humanists, spiritualists and non-religiously affiliated people of all sorts — to emerge from the closet, so to speak, and openly, respectfully, express their views?

The Activist Newsletter just came across a website we didn't know existed. It's titled Openly Secular, and is at www.openlysecular.org/about. Its mission is to eliminate discrimination and increase acceptance by getting secular people to be open about their beliefs. (The ACLU is one of the site's backers.) Dozens of 2- and 3-minute videos of individuals who explain why they are openly secular are a quite interesting part of the site. Here's one example you can view immediately because it's also on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2y1xjz150PI.  Another  secular website is that of Americans United for Separation of Church and State at https://www.au.org.
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7.   HITLER  DEFEATED 70 YEARS AGO LAST MONTH

 
What a magnificent day it was in the German Elbe River city of Torgau when Russian and American soldiers met up for the first time in Europe during World War II on April 25, 1945. Hitler's criminal "Thousand-year Reich" collapsed days later with Germany's surrender May 9, 70 years ago. The U.S. and USSR were close allies then. These four photos were taken in Torgau. No captions are required. It was such a happy day, and all the images reflect this.



At war's end, the U.S. government quickly prepared the anti-Soviet groundwork for what became the Cold War. It didn't have to happen. Russia was prostrate, its economy and infrastructure a shambles and 27 million Soviet people were killed. A postwar peace could have been worked out, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt and former Vice President Henry Wallace had planned.But Roosevelt was dead and Wallace was sidelined within a Democratic Party 
drifting toward the right and racism. Hatred toward "the Communist Menace" quickly replaced the wartime honorific, "Our Great Soviet Allies."A few months after victory in Europe President Truman ordered the destruction of the civilian cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear bombs to end World War II. It wasn't necessary. Japan would have surrendered soon anyway. But it did put the people of the USSR on notice that the U.S. could destroy their state and system with the push of a button. Thereafter, one thing led to another, unnecessarily. 



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8.   U.S. PUTS RUSSIA-CHINA ENTENTE TO LITMUS TEST



By M.K. Bhadrakumar

Most certainly, if President Barack Obama is seeking to break the ice in U.S. relations with Russia it is because of the Sino-Russian entente that has recently emerged in global politics. Washington is easing the pressure on Russia and gently disengaging itself from its Middle Eastern allies (who are desperately clinging to Washington), while it is moving on to the crucial Asian theatre where China is rising. Kerry traveled to Beijing after the U.S. summit with the Gulf Cooperation Council leaders.

The U.S. officials let it be known through the media that Kerry proposed to take a “tough approach” in his talks in Beijing regarding China’s recent land reclamation work in the contested waters of the South China Sea. In addition, the Pentagon is threatening to send military aircraft and ships to challenge the Chinese military’s activities in that region.

The first country Xi visited as president was Russia.
This is coercive diplomacy at its best — openly challenging China’s growing international profile and its assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific and compelling it to react. And, call it by any other name you like, it is nothing but a replay, quintessentially, of the U.S. and NATO’s aggressive deployment on Russia’s borders in the recent months.

The diplomatic ploy will be to constructively engage Russia while stepping up pressure on China. In the process, the U.S. will also be testing the resilience of the Sino-Russian entente.

Of late, China had shed its ambivalent stance on the Ukraine crisis and begun acknowledging Russia’s legitimate concerns. The Chinese media have been explicitly critical of the U.S. for precipitating the Ukraine crisis. The Chinese President Xi Jinping's decision to participate in the Victory Day celebrations in Moscow on May 9 was both substantial in content as well as heavily laden with political symbolism, being a gesture of solidarity with Russia.

Indeed, the highlight of Xi's Moscow visit was the joint statement signed by him and President Vladimir Putin aligning China’s Belt and Road Initiatives with Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union project, stating the long-term intention to establish a free trade zone stretching across China and the EEU territories and declaring a shared commitment to ensure the stability of the Eurasian landmass.

Suffice it to say, Russia has helped China to: a) provide a land route to access the European market; b)
neutralize the U.S.’ “pivot” strategy in Asia; and, c) make the “Belt and Road Initiatives” viable and practical in immediate terms. In sum, Moscow is helping Beijing to gain “strategic depth” on a global scale that couldn’t have been imagined even one year ago.



Of course, Beijing expressed deep concern over the threat from Washington to challenge China militarily in the South China Sea and demanded “the U.S. side must make clarification on this.” The foreign ministry spokesperson said:

"The Chinese side advocates the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, yet the freedom definitely does not mean that foreign military vessels and aircrafts can enter one country’s territorial waters and airspace at will. China will stay firm in safeguarding territorial sovereignty. We urge parties concerned to be discreet in words and actions, avoid taking any risky and provocative actions and safeguard regional peace and stability."

Meanwhile, the influential Global Times, affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, has warned in an editorial May 14:

" If Washington takes this dangerous step, it will be nothing but a blatant infringement of China’s sovereignty, and the U.S. can expect potent countermeasures. If it gets worse, the South China Sea will see a showdown between China and the U.S. … Washington will be too naive to think that China will exercise forbearance and self-restraint in that scenario. It should keep in mind that China is a major power with nuclear weapons, and there is no way that U.S. forces can take reckless actions in the South China Sea. Considering China’s proximity to this area and determination to defend its sovereignty, the U.S., although equipped with the strongest military forces, will stand no chance of overwhelming China."

Much depends on how the U.S.-China tensions pan out in the coming weeks and months. A period of intense U.S.-China engagement lies ahead. (The U.S.-China Strategic Dialogue is scheduled to be held in Washington in June and Xi has accepted Obama’s invitation to visit the U.S. in September.) Nonetheless, the salient point is that the tensions are unfolding against the backdrop of a potential thaw in the U.S.-Russia relations.

Thus, Kerry’s warning to the leadership in Kiev (within a day of his talks in Sochi) against making any attempts to regain control over the strategic Donetsk airport in the Donbass region cannot but be seen as a subtle signal to the Kremlin (which Russian diplomats have promptly noted) that Washington will not precipitate matters any further in Ukraine to corner Russia.

For Russia, needless to say, Ukraine is a core issue and any conciliatory move by the Obama Administration would merit a reciprocal response. The Russian-American relationship has a glorious history of trade-offs. Without doubt, the growing military ties between Russia and China will be a cause of worry to the Pentagon.

Again, the reports from the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Turkey on May 14 (after the Sochi talks) suggest that the alliance is toning down the stridency of its rhetoric against Russia. The alliance is already taking one eye off Russia by turning toward Libya and the Islamic State as pressing preoccupations.

Above all, do not be surprised if Washington were to propose talks with Russia regarding the contentious issue of the U.S ABM system.

Thus, across the board, the Obama administration is proposing to the Russian leadership a constructive engagement over core issues affecting Russian interests — and, possibly, a d├ętente in the relationship.

Washington counts on an influential lobby within the Russian elites, which has always argued for the role of a "balancer" for Moscow in the Asia-Pacific apropos the accelerating rivalries between the U.S. and China. This lobby of "Westernists" had been somewhat marginalized as tensions began mounting in Russia’s relations with the West and a deep chill descended on the Russian-American relationship.

Beijing will be anxiously watching the drift of things in the latest U.S.-Russia dalliance. The angst in the Chinese mind is evident from an editorial in the Global Times on May 12 underscoring the criticality of Moscow’s commitment to the partnership with China. The following excerpts merit particular attention:

"The China-Russia partnership has brought in strategic benefits to both sides. Not only has it advanced their bilateral cooperation in economic affairs, but it has made both feel more secure, and the balance of power can be better sustained. Meanwhile, both sides know the restraints in their partnership. No side is willing to give up the rest of the world for the other side.… Unless both sides face the same life-or-death threats, the chance that China and Russia will become allies is remote. History keeps reminding China and Russia that an alliance is not in the best interest of both sides.

"Critical voices about the partnership can be heard in both China and Russia. Russian politics has re-adopted Western democracy, and Chinese society has been more diversified since its reform and opening-up. Some people in both countries persist in saying that the partnership needs more prudence.

"It must be noted that enhancing the strategic partnership is expected by mainstream society in both countries. The partnership cannot be destabilized simply by historical discord or the opposition of the Western world, and it has broken away from the limits of leaderships’ preference."

The signs so far are that Putin will remain guarded about the U.S. intentions. In fact, just before receiving Kerry on in Sochi, Putin took an important meeting of the Defense Ministry where he urged Russia’s strategic nuclear forces and aerospace defense forces to be ready to act on immediate orders at any time. Putin disclosed that the Russian Army would receive two sets of Iskander-M tactical ballistic missile systems before the end of this year. Once bitten, twice shy — after all.

— From Asia Times, May 14, 2015
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9.  THE REAL THREAT TO U.S. SOCIAL PROGRAMS
By Paul Buchheit


Because of irresponsible reporting by conservative sources, many Americans have been led to believe that social programs are bankrupting our nation. The mainstream media fawningly concurs, with statements like this from USA Today: “The massive deficits…[and] chronic underfunding…are largely the result of Washington’s habit of committing too much money to benefit programs.” States are now beginning to attack imagined safety net abuses, such as the use of food stamp funds to pay for fortune tellers and pleasure cruises.

But hungry people rarely waste their modest benefits, and most are eager to work to support their households. Almost three-quarters of those enrolled in food stamps and other social programs are members of working families. And according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, only 1 cent of every SNAP dollar is used fraudulently.
The real threat is the array of entitlements demanded by the very rich. As they get richer, they’re gradually bankrupting the greater part of America, the middle and lower classes. The following annual numbers may help to put our country’s expenses and benefits in perspective.

The Safety Net: $370 Billion - The 2014 safety net (non-medical) included the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), WIC (Women, Infants, Children), Child Nutrition, Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Education & Training, and Housing. These few programs, collectively termed “welfare” by those fortunate enough to survive without them, amount to a lot less than the $1 trillion per year publicized by the conservative press.

Social Security: $863 Billion - The threat of “entitlement,” in the case of Social Security, is more properly defined as an “earned benefit.” Social Security is the major source of income for most of the elderly, who have paid for it. As of 2010, according to the Urban Institute, the average two-earner couple making average wages throughout their lifetimes receive less in Social Security benefits than they paid in.

Tax Avoidance: $2,200 Billion - That’s $2.2 trillion in tax expenditures, tax underpayments, tax havens, and corporate nonpayment. It is estimated that two-thirds of tax breaks accrue to the top quintile of taxpayers.

Investment Gains: $5,000 Billion- That’s $5 trillion dollars a year, the annual amount gained in U.S. wealth from the end of 2008 to the middle of 2014. In the six years since the recession, for every $1 of safety net costs, $10 in new wealth went to the richest 10%.
Investment income welfare for the well-to-do appears in the form of capital gains tax breaks, which mean zero taxes on deferred investment gains, and zero taxes for most of the investment gains passed along to descendants.

Most Extreme: 14 Billionaires vs. 46 Million Hungry Americans - America’s 14 richest individuals made more from their investments last year than the $80 billion provided for people in need of food.

Clearly, conservative sources don’t tell us the full story. They dwell on the cost of the safety net, emphasizing its accumulating total over several years, while stubbornly ignoring the real problem.

The super-rich feel they deserve all the tax breaks and the accumulation of wealth from our nation’s many years of productivity.

That’s the true threat of entitlement.

— From Inequality.org (a project of the Institute for Policy Studies), April 29, 2015. Paul Buchheit is a writer for progressive publications and the founder and developer of social justice and educational web sites, among them UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, and RappingHistory.org.
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10. ISRAEL JUSTIFIES NUCLEAR ATTACK ON IRAN


By the Activist Newsletter

In a speech to the right wing Israeli Law Center May 4, Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon claimed his country would be justified in launching a nuclear attack on Iran under certain circumstances. Aside from indicating Israel's willingness to engage in the murder of millions, Ya'alon is one of the first government officials to admit Israel possesses nuclear weapons, a "secret" finally leaked from Washington a few weeks ago.

The U.S. has implied it, too, would use such weapons against Iran, but camouflaged its threats in the expression "all options are on the table."  Indeed they remain on the table at the talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the Security Council to halt the Teheran government's alleged nuclear weapons program (which U.S. intelligence agencies insist has been nonexistent for over a decade).

Ya'alon, an extreme racist warhawk, devoted the last few minutes of his 51 minute speech in English to answering a question from the audience about whether Israel, an alleged democracy, was “at a strategic disadvantage” in dealing with Iran, which presumably is morally inferior to the Jewish State and its "most moral army" in the world. His answer in part:

'''In certain cases, we might take certain steps that we believe that these steps should be taken in order to defend ourselves. I mentioned the discussion about the interception of the rockets’ positions on civilian houses [in Gaza]. We decided to do it.

''I can imagine some other steps that should be taken. Of course, we should be sure that we can look at the mirror after the decision, or the operation. Of course, we should be sure that it is a military necessity. We should consider cost and benefit, of course.

"But, at the end, we might take certain steps.

"I do remember the story of President Truman was asked, How do you feel after deciding to launch the nuclear bombs, Nagasaki and Hiroshima, causing at the end the fatalities of 200,000, casualties? And he said, 'When I heard from my officers the alternative is a long war with Japan, with potential fatalities of a couple of millions, I thought it is a moral decision.'

"We are not there yet [in Truman's situation]. But that's what I’m talking about. Certain steps in cases in which we feel like we don’t have the answer by surgical operations, or something like that."

History has demonstrated that Japan was on the verge of total surrender — delaying mainly until the U.S. agreed that the sacred Emperor would be allowed to remain. The U.S. agreed, after committing perhaps the greatest single war crime in history.

The tragic irony is that Israel's actions are based on past and present U.S. performance. This makes it awkward for Washington to condemn even the worst of Israel's excesses, having paved the way many times. South African apartheid (which Israel seems to imitates) was modeled on a combination of two American projects: Indian Reservations and Jim Crow segregation.)
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11. IRAN CALLS FOR WORLD NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT

The Negev Nuclear Research Center where Israel researches and developes its nuclear weapons.
[One of the greatest hypocrisies in contemporary international affairs is the sanctions and threats of war against Iran by the U.S. and Israel unless Teheran gives up its nuclear weapons program. Iran has no such program, a reality since 2003 and publicly acknowledged by the American intelligence community several times in recent years, but ignored by the Obama White House. The following article by Juan Cole focuses on an extremely important UN speech by Iran's foreign minister on behalf of nonaligned countries unsatisfied by the failures of leading nuclear countries to fulfill the mandates of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan.]

By Juan Cole

Iranian foreign minister Zarif at UN.
At a UN summit April 27, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif turned the tables on the countries demanding that Iran keep its nuclear program for solely civilian, electricity generation. Zarif called for all countries to give up nuclear weapons, including Israel and the U.S. Iran does not have a nuclear bomb and gives no signs of trying to develop one.

The speech is a welcome reminder of how topsy-turvy is Washington's discourse on Iran. The Teheran government is viewed suspiciously as going for broke to get an atomic bomb, when there is no evidence for an Iranian nuclear weapons program. That the U.S. has a massive nuclear arsenal is not mentioned. That the only nuclear-armed country in the Middle East is Israel is not mentioned. That George W. Bush was alarmed that an Israeli PM brandished the threat of a nuclear strike against Iran is not mentioned. That Israel is not inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency but Iran is, is not mentioned. That Western countries have actively connived to give Israel a nuclear weapons capability and to improve it is not mentioned.

[Washington's evident response to the Iranian initiative was contained in press reports May 6 suggesting President Obama plans to support the creation of a regional defense system in the Gulf to guard against potential Iranian missile strikes. The move appears intended to assuage Saudi and Israeli concerns about a deal with Tehran on its nuclear program.]

Zarif spoke on behalf of the Group of the Non-Aligned States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at the 2015 NPT Review Conference in New York, saying that the NPT is the essential framework for the whole world and that a complete disarmament should be the end game. He said:

"The nuclear-weapon-States have not made progress in eliminating their nuclear weapons. The role of nuclear weapons in security policies of the nuclear-weapon-States has not diminished. Some nuclear weapons States are modernizing their nuclear arsenals and planning research on new nuclear warheads, others have announced their intention to develop new delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons."

Zarif went on to point to the power imbalance between the nuclear states and the non-nuclear states, and the failure of the former to provide credible security guarantees to the latter:

"The non-nuclear-weapons states parties have not yet received unequivocal and legally binding security assurances. The transfer of nuclear technology continues to face impediments inconsistent with the Treaty, and no progress has been made to achieve universal adherence to the Treaty in the Middle East; to give but a few examples of the lack of implementation of the 1995, 2000 and 2010 agreements."

Zarif criticized violations of the spirit of the NPT by the nuclear-armed states:


The Negev Nuclear Research Center. The reactor
 under the dome (red circle has produced plutonium.
"The improvement of existing nuclear weapons and the development of new types of nuclear weapons violate the commitments undertaken by the nuclear-weapon States at the time of the conclusion of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty…. We call upon the nuclear-weapon States to immediately cease their plans to further invest in modernizing and extending the life span of their nuclear weapons and related facilities.”

He also complained about nuclear-armed states threatening to use their atomic bombs on others:

"We firmly believe that any use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would be a crime against humanity and a violation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law, in particular international humanitarian law. In this regard, we strongly call for the complete exclusion of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons from military doctrines."

As for the peaceful use of nuclear energy, Zarif added:

“We underline the right of all States parties to participate in the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. We strongly reject, and call for the immediate removal of, any restrictions or limitations posed on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, including restrictions on exports to other States parties of nuclear material, equipment and technology for peaceful purposes."

Zarif conveyed the Non-Aligned Movement’s unease with Israel being the only nuclear-armed country
in the Middle East and with continued Western technology transfers to that country’s nuclear weapons programs:

"The Heads of State or Government of the Non-Aligned Movement, in their Tehran Summit Declaration of 2012, reiterated their support for the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East and as a priority step to this end, reaffirmed the need for the speedy establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East.

"They also called upon all parties concerned to take urgent and practical steps for the establishment of such a zone and, pending its establishment, demanded that Israel, the only one in the region that has neither joined the NPT nor declared its intention to do so, to renounce possession of nuclear weapons, to accede to the NPT without precondition and further delay, to place promptly all its nuclear facilities under IAEA full-scope safeguards and to conduct its nuclear related activities in conformity with the non-proliferation regime."

— From www.juancole.com, April 29.

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12. DEMOCRATIC PROGRESSIVES PREPARE FOR 2016

[Following is report on what supporters of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party hope to accomplish in the 2016 elections by Robert Borosage, a progressive and co-director of the Campaign for America's Future. Some of the suggested programs are good and we wish them luck. But the Activist Newsletter is a left critic of the Democratic Party and does not have confidence it will adopt such programs or carry them out if it does. The best thing the Democrats have going for them is that the Republican opposition consists of such dangerous right wing buffoons that the center right looks attractive by comparison.]

By Robert Borosage

NYC's Bill de Deblasio.
On a sunlit lawn in front of the nation’s Capitol May 12, an impressive array of progressive legislators, union and civil rights leaders and public scholars lined up to sign onto New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Progressive Agenda,” a brief platform on income inequality. De Blasio plans to add thousands more signatures while calling on candidates in both parties to join.

De Blasio’s bold initiative is not alone. In April, National People’s Alliance, USAction, the Alliance for a Just Society and the Campaign for America’s Future released the Populism 2015 Platform, promising to take it across the country. The Center for Community Change joined with civil rights and progressive groups to launch Putting Families First: Good Jobs for All. The Economic Policy Institute released its agenda on Raising Wages.

The Roosevelt Institute and the Center for American Progress offered more extensive analyses, the former a report by Joseph Stiglitz, “Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy,” and the latter a report of the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity, chaired by former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.

All of these are bold efforts to address the central issue of the day: an economy of increasing inequality that does not work for working people.

Joseph Stiglitz.
Although some are far more extensive than others, they share major themes. All call for major long-term public investment to rebuild America’s infrastructure and put people to work. All advocate progressive tax reforms to hike taxes on the rich and corporations. Virtually all want a new trade policy that will deal with currency manipulation. All call for extensive reforms to insure that the rewards of growth are widely shared: raising the floor under workers (hiking the minimum wage, guaranteeing paid sick days, vacation days and family leave, adjusting overtime, etc.), empowering workers to form unions and bargain collectively and rolling back the excesses that have bloated CEO pay packages. All put basic equity at the center of economic growth – immigration reform, an end to mass incarceration, pay equity for women. Virtually all call for major investment in education from universal pre-K to affordable college. Most envision an expansion of Social Security, affordable health care, and other shared security programs.

These platforms are bold, progressive calls for government action to fix the rules that have been rigged to favor the few. All argue that inequality is not inevitable, not an act of nature, but a product of policy and of power.

The Wall Street Journal and others have argued that the triumph of the Conservative Party in Britain is a warning to America that voters are skeptical of populist big government programs based on taxing the rich. Growth trumps redistribution, they argue.

Larry Summers.
But these platforms argue that our inequality has reached such extremes – with the top 1% capturing virtually all the rewards of growth since the Great Recession – that it makes robust growth virtually impossible. The task is less one of redistribution than of fixing the rules of the economy so the rewards of growth are widely shared, providing the basis for rebuilding a broad middle class and sustained prosperity.

These platforms reflect a growing consensus among the activist base of the Democratic Party. They set up a face off between the demands of the “money primary,” where big money sets the agenda and the demands of the “ideas primary” where activists make their choice.

To date, among Democratic contenders for the presidency, only Bernie Sanders has put forth an economic agenda of similar bold scope. As Hillary Clinton is finding in the trade debate, activists will turn up the heat on the others to take a stand.

All this sets the stage for a general election battle between conservatives arguing their unaltered agenda – deregulate, cut taxes and government and let markets work – and a progressive growth agenda of government investment, fair taxes and fair share. Americans will choose between a tribune of the failed ideas of the conservative era or a candidate calling for more activist government.

Both are likely to face a skeptical citizenry. Republicans will find it hard to sell the same failed promises. And Democrats will have to convince voters that government can work for them, and not for the rich and the entrenched interests. Only the Populist 2015 Platform and the Stiglitz report emphasize the need to curb big money in our politics. Sanders, with a campaign fueled by small donations, has made it a centerpiece of his campaign. Hillary has already spoken to the need for reform, even as she opens up her own super Pac. In a campaign that will break all records for spending, the corruption of our politics will be central to the debate.
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13. RUSSIANS CELEBRATE VICTORY AGAINST NAZISM




[In observance of the 70th anniversary of Victory Day that was celebrated in Russia May 9, the Activist Newsletter joins with all Americans who honor the decisive contribution of the Red Army and the peoples of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in liberating Europe from the scourge German Nazism. Without that contribution there's no telling what awful fate would have befallen Europe. Following is an excerpt from the speech by President Putin.]

Fellow citizens of Russia, dear veterans, distinguished guests, comrade soldiers and seamen, sergeants and sergeant majors, midshipmen and warrant officers, comrade officers, generals and admirals:

I congratulate you all on the 70th Anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War!

Today, when we mark this sacred anniversary, we once again appreciate the enormous scale of Victory over Nazism. We are proud that it was our fathers and grandfathers who succeeded in prevailing over, smashing and destroying that dark force.

Hitler’s reckless adventure became a tough lesson for the entire world community. At that time, in the 1930s, the enlightened Europe failed to see the deadly threat in the Nazi ideology.

Bemedaled elderly woman veteran passes poster
 en route to the big Victory Day 
parade May 9.
Today, seventy years later, the history calls again to our wisdom and vigilance. We must not forget that the ideas of racial supremacy and exclusiveness had provoked the bloodiest war ever. The war affected almost 80 percent of the world population. Many European nations were enslaved and occupied.

The Soviet Union bore the brunt of the enemy’s attacks. The elite Nazi forces were brought to bear on it. All their military power was concentrated against it. And all major decisive battles of World War II, in terms of military power and equipment involved, had been waged there.

And it is no surprise that it was the Red Army that, by taking Berlin in a crushing attack, hit the final blow to Hitler’s Germany finishing the war.

Our entire multi-ethnic nation rose to fight for our Motherland’s freedom. Everyone bore the severe burden of the war. Together, our people made an immortal exploit to save the country. They predetermined the outcome of World War II. They liberated European nations from the Nazis.

Veterans of the Great Patriotic War, wherever they live today, should know that here, in Russia, we highly value their fortitude, courage and dedication to frontline brotherhood.

Dear friends, The Great Victory will always remain a heroic pinnacle in the history of our country. But we also pay tribute to our allies in the anti-Hitler coalition.

Things are looking  up for Xi and Putin.
We are grateful to the peoples of Great Britain, France and the United States of America for their contribution to the Victory. We are thankful to the anti-fascists of various countries who selflessly fought the enemy as guerrillas and members of the underground resistance, including in Germany itself.

We remember the historical meeting on the Elbe, and the trust and unity that became our common legacy and an example of unification of peoples – for the sake of peace and stability.

It is precisely these values that became the foundation of the post-war world order. The United Nations came into existence. And the system of the modern international law has emerged.

These institutions have proved in practice their effectiveness in resolving disputes and conflicts.
However, in the last decades, the basic principles of international cooperation have come to be increasingly ignored. These are the principles that have been hard won by mankind as a result of the ordeal of the war.

We saw attempts to establish a unipolar world. We see the strong-arm block thinking gaining momentum. All that undermines sustainable global development.

The creation of a system of equal security for all states should become our common task. Such a system should be an adequate match to modern threats, and it should rest on a regional and global non-block basis. Only then will we be able to ensure peace and tranquility on the planet....
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14. ISRAELI SOLDIERS CRITICIZE GAZA WAR TACTICS



  Israeli tank crew waiting for a target in Gaza last summer; virtually any target will do.

Peter Beaumont, the Guardian

JERUSALEM, May 4: Testimonies provided by more than 60 Israeli soldiers who fought in last summer’s war in Gaza have raised serious questions over whether Israel’s tactics breached its obligations under international law to distinguish and protect civilians.

The claims – collected by the human rights group Breaking the Silence – are contained in 111 interviews with Israeli combatants, as well as with soldiers who served in command centers and attack rooms, a quarter of them officers up to the rank of major. The 240-page  book is titled "This is How We Fought in Gaza."

They include allegations that Israeli ground troops were briefed to regard everything inside Gaza as a "threat" and they should "not spare ammo”, and that tanks fired randomly or for revenge on buildings without knowing whether they were legitimate military targets or contained civilians.

In their testimonies, soldiers depict rules of engagement they characterized as permissive, "lax" or largely non-existent, including how some soldiers were instructed to treat anyone seen looking towards their positions as "scouts" to be fired on.

The group also claims that the Israeli military operated with different safety margins for bombing or using artillery and mortars near civilians and its own troops, with Israeli forces at times allowed to fire significantly closer to civilians than Israeli soldiers.

Phillipe Sands, professor of law at University College London and a specialist in international humanitarian law, described the testimonies as "troubling insights into intention and method. Maybe it will be said that they are partial and selective, but surely they cannot be ignored or brushed aside, coming as they do from individuals with first-hand experience: the rule of law requires proper investigation and inquiry."

Describing the rules that meant life and death in Gaza during the 50-day war — a conflict in which 2,200 Palestinians were killed, the great majority civilians, including many children — the interviews shed light for the first time not only on what individual soldiers were told but on the doctrine informing the operation. [Seven Israeli civilians were killed.]

[An article sharply critical of Amnesty International's reports on the 2014 Gaza massacre — suggesting that they "criminalize Palestinian  resistance" — was published in the May 8 issue of CounterPunch at http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/05/08/amnesty-international-whitewashing-another-massacre/]

Despite the insistence of Israeli leaders that it took all necessary precautions to protect civilians, the interviews provide a very different picture. They suggest that an overarching priority was the minimization of Israeli military casualties even at the risk of Palestinian civilians being harmed.


Telling jokes while looking for for Palestinians; any Palestinians will do.
While the Israel Defense Forces Military Advocate General’s office has launched investigations into a number of individual incidents of alleged wrongdoing, the testimonies raise wider questions over policies under which the war was conducted. 

Post-conflict briefings to soldiers suggest that the high death toll and destruction were treated as "achievements" by officers who judged the attrition would keep Gaza "quiet for five years."

The tone, according to one sergeant, was set before the ground offensive into Gaza that began July 17 last year in pre-combat briefings that preceded the entry of six reinforced brigades into Gaza.

“ [It] took place during training at Tze’elim, before entering Gaza, with the commander of the armored battalion to which we were assigned,” recalled a sergeant, one of dozens of Israeli soldiers who have described how the war was fought last summer in the coastal strip.

"[The commander] said: 'We don’t take risks. We do not spare ammo. We unload, we use as much as possible.'"

"The rules of engagement [were] pretty identical," added another sergeant who served in a mechanized infantry unit in Deir al-Balah."Anything inside [the Gaza Strip] is a threat."

"The area has to be 'sterilized,' empty of people – and if we don’t see someone waving a white flag, screaming: "I give up" or something – then he's a threat and there's authorization to open fire.... The saying was: 'There' s no such thing there as a person who is uninvolved.' In that situation, anyone there is involved."

— The text, with all 111 brief testimonies is at http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/pdf/ProtectiveEdge.pdf
— Democracy Now had excellent video/sound/text coverage in its May 6 edition, including an interview with a former IDF sergeant: http://www.democracynow.org/2015/5/6/kill_anything_israeli_soldiers_say_gaza


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