Thursday, January 7, 2016

Jan. 7, 2016, Activist Newsletter

 Jan. 7, 2016, Issue #223
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1.   Photo of The Month
2.   Increase in U.S. Hunger and Homelessness
3.   The Children Of Conflict Zones
4.   Will Middle East Crisis Worsen in New Year?
5.   Busted Boy
6.   Can Tough Gun Laws Ever Pass?
7.   Don't Let the Plutocrats Win
8.   Bernie Sanders: Bringing Socialism Back?
9.   Who Will Care for Grandma?
10. Despite Pact, Unity Seems Distant in Libya
11. Iran Heading for Historic Elections
12. Gaza: Jihadists Challenge Hamas Leadership
13. What’s the Matter With New York State?
14. Obama Signs Flawed  $1.8 Trillion Spending Bill
15. NSA is Given More Authority – Watch Out
16. Elephants' Social Networks Hold Steady
17. Pete Seeger's FBI File Released
18. What Happened to the Senate Torture Report?



Volunteers from various non-governmental organizations 
arrange more than2,500 discarded lifejackets, used by refugees 
and migrants, in the shape of the peace symbol
on the Greek island of Lesbos, January 1, 2016
 (Photo Giorgos Moutafis/Reuters.)


Old Father Time is handing over a deeply troubled world to his successor.
And it could get a lot worse before it gets better.


1.   PHOTO OF THE MONTH —Children of the Combat Zones

Millions of children live today in dangerous conflict zones and many are now refugees, as are these two terrified kids. They are crying as refugees clash with Macedonian border police in an attempt to enter the country from Greece. They came from the wars in the Middle East. The Macedonian border had been closed to refugees. Photographer Georgi Licovski of EPA commented: "The situation was so horrible that for the first time in my life I saw my [journalist] colleagues cry, shaken by what was going on in front of their eyes." See article #3 below, "The Children of Conflict Zones."


By Kali Holloway, AlterNet

The U.S. Conference of Mayors Dec. 22 released its 2015 Hunger and Homelessness Survey, which gathered information on 22 cities around the country for one year ending Aug. 31, 2015. The cities reported on are led by mayors who serve on the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness.

A number of important findings emerged from the survey:

1.      Emergency food assistance requests rose by an average of 2.8% during the survey period in 61%, of the cities involved in the survey.

2.     23% of requests for emergency food assistance in the cities surveyed went unmet.

3.      Food pantries and emergency kitchens had to cut back on the amount of food given out as groceries or meals in 47% of cities involved in the survey. In 57% of cities surveyed, families and individuals had to cut down on the number of visits to charitable food outlets they could make each month. The same percentage of cities was unable to meet food requests by homeless and hungry residents demand because they lacked sufficient resources.
4.      Lack of affordable housing, an issue that continues to worsen in many places around the country, was the primary reason given for homelessness among families with children. Poverty, unemployment and low-paying jobs were the reasons that followed.
5.      In 50% of cities surveyed, mayors indicated they expected homelessness to rise “moderately” in 2016. Similarly, 65% of cities say they expect emergency food requests to “moderately” increase. 

Here are the cities that participated: ● Asheville, NC 
● Baltimore, MD 
● Charleston, SC 
● Chicago, IL 
● Cleveland, OH 
● Dallas, TX 
● Des Moines, IA 
● Los Angeles, CA ● Louisville' KY 
● McKinney, TX 
● Memphis, TN ●Nashville, TN 
● Norfolk, VA 
● Philadelphia, PA 
● Providence, RI 
● Saint Paul, MN
● Salt Lake City, UT ●San Antonio, TX 
● San Francisco, CA 
● Santa Barbara, CA 
● Seattle
● District of Columbia.



A migrant Family with  4 kids hikes through Greece to reach northern Europe.
By the Activist Newsletter

Have you ever wondered, "What kind of world are we bringing children into?" We bet most of our readers have thought about this. We sure have, many times. And there's good reason for it, particularly but hardly only regarding migration from Syria these days.

UNICEF reported Dec. 17: "More than 16 million babies were born in conflict zones in 2015 – 1 in 8 of all births worldwide this year — a figure that underscores the vulnerability faced by increasing numbers of children."

Many of those babies, toddlers and older children are among the millions  of refugees seeking to escape to the European Union and other safe locations. An untold number of these children are among the 4,000 who have perished on the journey so far, mostly from drowning at sea from overcrowded boats.

"Every two seconds, a newborn takes its first breath in the midst of conflict, often in terrifying circumstances and without access to medical care,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “Too many children are now starting their lives in extreme circumstances — from conflict to natural disasters, poverty, disease or malnutrition. Can there be a worse start in life?"

Children of refugees play next to tents in a shelter for migrants inside a hangar of the former 
Tempelhof airport in Berlin, Germany, Dec. 9, 2015. (Photo:Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch.)
In conflict-affected countries such as Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, or on perilous journeys to escape fighting, newborn children and their mothers face enormous risks. Pregnant mothers are in danger of giving birth without medical help and in unsanitary conditions. Their children are more likely to die before they reach their fifth birthdays and to experience extreme – or "toxic" – stress, which can inhibit their long-term emotional and cognitive development.

In addition to conflict, poverty, the effects of climate change and lack of opportunity are making children increasingly vulnerable and have pushed millions on dangerous journeys away from their homes.

More than 200,000 children applied for asylum in European Union countries in the first nine months of 2015, adding to the 30 million children across the globe forced from their homes by 2014 due to war, violence and persecution. More people are displaced now than at any moment since World War II.
More than a quarter of a billion children — or 1 in 9 – live in countries and areas in conflict and face enormous obstacles to their health, education and well-being.

More than half a billion children live in areas where floods are extremely common and nearly 160 million live in high or extremely high drought severity zones.

Children represent almost half of all people living in extreme poverty although they make up roughly a third of the world’s population.

“The final months of 2015 have seen the world come together around tackling climate change and a new global development agenda.  These ambitious agreements present a huge opportunity if we can translate our promises into action for the most vulnerable children,” said Lake.  “If we address the reasons so many families feel the need to uproot themselves and their children from their homes — by resolving conflict, by addressing climate change, by expanding opportunity, we can make 2016 a year of hope for millions – not a year of despair.”

Ten-year-old Zubaida Faisal, a Syrian refugee, skips at an informal camp 
on the outskirts of Mafraq, Jordan.
(Photo: Muhammed Muheisen/AP.)
We share Lake's wishes. Unfortunately, 2016 and foreseeable future years will get worse, probably much worse. In order to stop worrying about the world we are bringing children into, we obviously must change the world's political, economic and social structure to one based on equality and cooperation. In our view it's time for socialism.

Is this too extreme? No, this is too extreme:

·      U.S. military and national security spending this year amounts to $1.3 trillion, while the newest UNICEF calculation is that nearly 6 million children under the age of five die every year from malnutrition and preventable illnesses throughout the capitalist world due to the poverty that afflicts one billion children today.
·      The richest 1% of the global population owns 50% of the world’s wealth, while the bottom 40% survives on 5% of global income. This means 1.4 billion people in our market-driven globalized society live on $1.25 a day or less and nearly 3 billion live on less than $2 a day.
·      President Obama has bombed seven countries during his reign so far, while 25%  of Americans have a negative net-worth (assets minus debts) and nearly 50% are now considered low income or are living in poverty.

Writing within the context of his time in the 1800s, the great American poet Walt Whitman got it right with these few elegant words:

"The greatest country, the richest country, is not that which has the most capitalists, monopolists, immense grabbings, vast fortunes, with its sad, sad soil of extreme, degrading, damning poverty, but the land in which there are the most homesteads, freeholds — where wealth does not show such contrasts high and low, where all men have enough — a modest living— and no man is made possessor beyond the sane and beautiful necessities.”

— UNICEF’s new very brief video Born Into Danger is available here:


Advancing with help from Russian airpower, Syrian army troops prepare for another battle.
By Jack A. Smith, editor

Washington's extensive military maneuvers in the Middle East since Sept. 11, 2001, have largely failed, creating far worse calamities at great cost to the people and countries of the region — and there is little reason to suspect this will change for the better in New Year 2016.

Actually, it could get much worse despite UN talks in Vienna later this month to seek a temporary cease-fire in Syria and the beginning of discussions on an eventual new Damascus government. The abrupt break in diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, plus the formation of a new Sunni coalition to "fight terrorism" and new maneuvers by an assertive Turkey could exacerbate existing conflicts.

Here's a brief look at the three largest wars in which the U.S. is deeply involved at the moment — in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria — plus additional information about the region:

• IN AFGHANISTAN, THE TALIBAN IS ON THE OFFENSIVE, battering Afghan troops in Helmand province.  The so-called Islamic State (IS) is now a growing presence in the country. Al-Qaeda — the reason George W. Bush bombed and invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 — is making a comeback, according to the Dec. 30 New York Times which revealed:

"Even as the Obama Administration scrambles to confront the Islamic State and a resurgent Taliban, an old enemy seems to be reappearing in Afghanistan: Al Qaeda training camps are sprouting up there, forcing the Pentagon and American intelligence agencies to assess whether they could again become a breeding ground for attacks on the United States.... The scope of Al-Qaeda’s deadly resilience in Afghanistan appears to have caught American and Afghan officials by surprise." Again.

A day earlier USA Today reported "Afghanistan's security situation is so tenuous that the top U.S. commander there wants to keep as many U.S. troops there as possible through 2016 to boost beleaguered Afghan soldiers and may seek additional American forces to assist them." There are nearly 10,000 U.S troops in Afghanistan today and half are scheduled to depart by the end of 2016 — but Gen. John Campbell, the U.S.-NATO commander in Afghanistan, suggested the larger number, and perhaps more, should remain indefinitely.

The U.S. war in Afghanistan has lasted 14 years and four months and is expected to continue for more years. The cost to U.S. taxpayers so far is over  $1 trillion, according to the Financial Times, and the final cost will be much higher. The only American victory in this war will be that of the U.S. armaments industry.

IN IRAQ, WASHINGTON'S DISASTROUS WAR has lasted nearly 13 years from March 2003 with the exception of two and a half years until returning in August 2014 to fight against the Islamic State (IS) — itself a product of the first war. President Obama propelled the second intervention soon after IS captured Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, in June 2014. Late last month, after losing much ground, Iraqi forces backed by American air power recaptured the key city of Ramadi, destroying a large portion of the city in the process. The battle to recapture Mosul may take place this year.
An Iraqi Kurdish soldier fighting the IS. These women are often on the front lines.

However, many sources in and out of Congress argue that only a significant ground war will ultimately defeat the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. This could take many years. Aside from 3,500 U.S. military "trainers and advisers" in Iraq, President Obama is reluctant to engage in a ground campaign in either country, given the Pentagon's difficulties in actually winning winning a major war in the Middle East. If political pressure doesn't oblige him to deploy a large number of ground troops against IS this year, there is a likelihood his successor may do so in 2017. Regardless, the Iraq war will become more intense in 2016.

There are several other important problems regarding Iraq, but two stand out.

(1) The Islamic State is a militant Sunni "caliphate" based on Islamic fundamentalist Wahhabi doctrine mainly propagated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The IS evidently considers its main enemy to be the Shia branch of Islam, which departed from the Sunni version in the 7th century. Virtually all of the many Sunni jihadist groups follow a form of fundamentalist Wahhabism or the nearly identical Salafism, and most condemn adherents of Shia Islam.  The IS "state" occupies large portions of two Shia-governed countries, Iraq and Syria. Sunni Arabs in Iraq — most of whom do not share fundamentalist views — constitute 15 to 20% of the Iraqi population. But many oppose the Shia controlled Baghdad government. Unless a substantial number of these Sunnis turn strongly against the IS, defeating it will be more difficult.

Kurds make up 17% of the Iraqi population and are described as "mainly secular Sunnis" who seek independence from Iraq in the future to build their own independent state — but at the moment they supply the most effective ground forces against the IS. The Shia represent up to 65% of the population but have long existed under Sunni rule, usually as secondary citizens. It was only after the U.S. destroyed the minority secular Sunni government of Saddam Hussein and his B a'ath Party that the Shia won power in an election. The Bush/Cheney Administration probably knew that regime change in Iraq — Iran's enemy neighbor to the west — could strengthen the Shia government in Tehran, but since they initially planned to invade Iran (as well as Syria) after Iraq was subdued they ignored the risk. The U.S. sank so deeply in the Iraqi quagmire that it never was able to expand its ridiculous imperialist escapade.

(2) NATO member Turkey is intervening in Iraq against the wishes of the Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who leads the Sunni Islamist-leaning government in Ankara, persists in refusing a demand by Shia-governed Iraq to remove the several hundred soldiers and heavy equipment he sent to northwest Iraq Dec. 4, ostensibly to enlarge a smaller Turkish unit training Sunni and Kurdish fighters against the IS takeover of Mosul.

Reflecting the worsening relations between Iraq and Turkey, the Baghdad government did not give Ankara permission to send more troops and insisted they depart immediately. Turkey responded by declaring its soldiers would remain until Mosul is freed from IS control, and criticized the Iraqi government for not moving faster to retake the city. Interestingly, the Arab League, which usually supports Sunni states, backed Iraq's position Dec. 25, most likely because it is wary of allied but non-Arab Turkey grabbing more influence and territory in the region. (Arab lands were dominated by Turkey's Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I when British and French imperialism then rearranged the old boundary lines to serve their own interests — a scheme that has contributed to the crises in Iraq and Syria today.)

On Dec. 9, Turkey instructed all its citizens in Iraq to leave the country, except those in Kurdish Iraq. Turkey is fighting against Kurds in Syria, and its own country, but not the Iraqi Kurds, which have cordial relations with the U.S.

Erdoğan, whom the New York Times editorially described Jan. 6 as "an authoritarian leader willing to trample on human rights, the rule of law and political and press freedoms," has been taking a variety of aggressive steps in recent years to enhance Turkey's and his own power in the region.

M. K. Bhadrakumar, a journalist and former Indian diplomat, reported in India Punchline Dec. 31: "President Erdoğan paid a daylong visit on Dec. 27 to Riyadh to meet King Salman. The Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awst reported the two leaders decided to form a 'strategic cooperation council' with a view to create a quantum leap in the strength of the relationship between the two countries so that it is strategic and serves the interests of the two countries and their peoples, and contributes to the creation of security and stability in the region.

"Evidently, the Turkish-Saudi entente is based on a congruence of interests. A prominent Russian pundit Yevgeniy Satanovsky, who heads the Middle East Institute in Moscow, has warned that Turkey and Saudi Arabia may be planning to step up their longstanding covert support of the radical Islamist groups operating in Russia's North Caucasus. In recent statements President Vladimir Putin had also signaled that Moscow’s patience was wearing thin over Turkey’s support of subversive elements in Russia and things were coming to a pass in bilateral relations even before the downing of the Russian warplane."

• THE SYRIAN CONFLICT IS IN TRANSITION after nearly five years of what has become a decimating civil war, pitting the Islamic State, al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front, scores of different jihadi organizations and a small number of secular forces against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. So far over 200,000 people have died on both sides and millions of Syrians are internally displaced or have fled the country for a very uncertain future.

Al-Qadea's Al-Nusra Front troops fighting against the Syrian government.
Hostilities continue but the sudden intervention of Russia and its military forces on the side of Assad in late September dramatically changed the geopolitical landscape and strengthened Syria's military struggle against rebel forces.

The United States — the regional hegemon toward whom nearly all Arab states offer deference — became a powerful supporter of regime change in Damascus beginning 2011, even though Washington did not dispatch combat troops to join the civil war. Obama's most reliable supporters in the region are Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Gulf monarchies and other Sunni countries seeking to oust Syria's Alawite/Shia led government. All have provided the rebels with abundant political and financial aid plus military equipment.

The objective of the U.S. and its allies is to replace an Alawite/Shia government friendly to Iran, Iraq and Russia with a Sunni led regime friendly to themselves, but not the fundamentalist regime desired by many of the rebel organizations and some of the Sunni governments. The U.S. and its NATO foreign legion will not allow a jihadi government in Damascus for obvious reasons. At most President Obama will tolerate some representatives of the fighting rebel forces to have a say from obscure posts in a new regime, but nothing more. The regional allies agree because that is what the U.S. wants. If any turned against Washington regime change could be their fate. Other reasons for obeying Obama include the danger they all feel from IS and possibly a reinvigorated al-Qaeda, and the fact that Russia has now become a Middle Eastern power that may give them trouble.

Iran, Iraq and Russia supported the Assad government, but until President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian air force and navy to bombard rebel forces in Syria, their power was limited. Russia is now a major player, and when it talks Washington must listen if not necessarily act.

When Obama demanded that Assad step down in the early months of the war it had nothing to do with democracy, a frequent U.S. justification for regime change. He wanted to extract Syria from its allied relationship with Iran and its long term, mutually advantageous association with Russia, going back before its Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union in 1980 during the Cold War. Washington also acted to cultivate its power relations with Sunni governments in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia, that wanted to weaken the Shia Muslim political alliance of geographically contiguous Iran, Iraq and Syria.

The Oval Office has gradually came to realize — long after unsuccessfully seeking to create an anti-Assad leadership coalition largely composed of Syrian exiles — that jihadi militants are virtually in total command of the civil war and that unless dynamics change the removal of Assad c ould lead to a humiliating "terrorist" takeover in Damascus. Obama also was getting criticism because the military campaign against IS was not making sufficient progress.

Enter Russia — bombing rebel jihadis in Syria and the Islamic State while proposing the possibility of a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the Syria crisis. No one can predict the outcome at this stage. Although President Obama has often made clear his reluctance to share an iota of American unilateral "leadership," he knows but doesn't wish to acknowledge that Putin pulled him out of two, and now possibly three, of his most difficult dilemmas. Here's how:

The first was in 2013 when Obama was about to launch a bombing campaign against Syria for allegedly violating his "red-line" against the use of chemical weapons. A majority of the American people and many in Congress opposed the move, but Obama felt he had no alternative that would allow him to save face. Putin then convinced Assad to dispose of his entire chemical arsenal, which provided the White House with a valid reason not to launch an unpopular war. The other instance is when Putin used Russia's good relations with Iran to help bring about the now successful Washington-Tehran negotiations regarding nuclear matters.

The upcoming UN talks on a temporary cease-fire in the Syrian war and the beginning of discussions on an eventual new Damascus government largely depend on an agreement in next months or years between the U.S. and Russia, despite each supporting the other side in the war.

Most fighting Jihadi rebels and their Sunni Arab and Western supporters want Assad to resign before negotiations for a new government. The Syrian regime and its supporters, including Russia, stipulate that Assad has considerable support in Syria and that he should be part of the decision on candidates. (According to the June 4, 2014, New York Times: "There is no doubt that Mr. Assad has considerable support in parts of Syria.") It may in time be possible to resolve this exceptionally complex matter — but it is only half the equation.

Here's the other half: Regarding a cease fire several score well armed and financed Sunni Islamist jihadi rebel fighting organizations are supposed to turn their guns away from the Syrian government and toward powerful Islamic State. The U.S. is behind efforts to help organize and finance this hoped for new coalition (although U.S. troops will not take part). Some Arab countries are supposed to send troops as well as the existing jihadists. The powerful Nusra Front has not been invited to join the coalition because of its al-Qaeda connection but since it views IS as an enemy rival it may well not be a coalition target unless it advances on its own to the gates of Damascus. The Nusra Front has worked in collaboration with many of the "moderate" jihadi groups that are supposed to become part of the coalition.

Washington seems naïve or desperate to think a significant number of jihadis will stop fighting Assad in order to take on the Islamic State even if there are big bribes to do so, unless the deal is to fight IS for a while then go back to displacing Assad. Obama's latest efforts to create a "moderate" fighting coalition resulted in "four or five" recruits at the preposterous cost — hold your breath — of $500 million before the program was ended. Some rebel groups can no doubt be bought off but it seems possible others might join IS or Nusra Front or continue on their own to battle for Sunni Islamist control of the government.

Islamic State fighters stand guard at a checkpoint in Mosul, Iraq. (Photo: Reuters)
Stratfor's Dec. 29 summary of the Islamic State's present strength and weakness in Syria is of interest:

"Though far from defeated, [the Islamic State] is nevertheless being harried across several fronts, experiencing significant losses in Syria as well as Iraq.... In northern Syria, the Kurdish-dominated [and U.S. backed] Syrian Democratic Forces are driving their offensive onward, crossing the Euphrates River in numbers after seizing the Tishrin dam [and] are now advancing westward toward the Islamic State-held town of Manbij in northern Aleppo.... Syrian government forces, with backing from foreign militias and the Russian air force, have also been pushing hard into Islamic State territory. The Syrian army is expanding its control over terrain close to the formerly besieged Kweiris air base, where a number of Syrian loyalists held position for years against persistent Islamic State attacks. On Dec. 29 the Syrian government also reportedly took back the strategic town of Maheen, 16 miles from the vital M5 highway controlled by the IS.... The Islamic State is unlikely to be pushed back everywhere in the short term, and it is still capable of carrying out its own offensive operations, as it has done in Deir el-Zour in late December. However, it is increasingly difficult for the group to achieve the major battlefield victories it won previously as it stretches its forces thin and encounters persistent aerial attacks."

According to the Pentagon Jan. 5, IS lost 30% of the territory it once occupied in Iraq and Syria.


(1) The gravest charge against President Assad is that he has he killed 250,000 or 300,000 "of his own people," which has repeatedly been broadcast by many U.S. TV news stations and repeated by a number of Congressional members. (Turkey's President Erdoğan just upped the figure the other day to 400,000.) Without justifying the government's seemingly indiscriminant use of "barrel bombs" in populated territory under rebel control, exception must be taken to these intentionally misleading calculations.

The Sept. 14 New York Times reported, after thorough investigation, that there were approximately 200,000 deaths in Syria up to that time, and that there were 84,404 civilian deaths, killed by both the government and the rebel forces. This remains a terrible casualty toll, but to condemn the Assad regime for all of an exaggerated number of civilian deaths is consciously distorted propaganda.  According to the Times, the remainder of the deaths were those of government and rebel fighting forces. A few weeks earlier the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which opposes the Assad government, reported Aug. 5 that that 330,000 people died and that 111,624 were civilians killed, obviously by both sides. The total is higher but the percent of civilian deaths of lower. The Times, which opposes Assad, had to be aware of the higher estimate before it decided to rely on its own research.

(2) Long-term religious and political differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia escalated significantly after the Saudi kingdom announced Jan. 2 that it had executed prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, an outspoken resident of the kingdom who sought more rights for the Shia 15% minority mainly residing in Eastern Province, a region with very high oil reserves.

The Associated Press reported Jan 4: "Al-Nimr was a central figure in the 2011 Arab Spring-inspired protests by Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority until his arrest in 2012. He was convicted of terrorism charges but denied advocating violence." BBC reported Nimr was "a persistent critic of Saudi Arabia's Sunni royal family who was said to have a particularly strong following among Saudi Shia youth. He was arrested several times over the past decade, alleging he was beaten by Saudi secret police during one detention."

The charges against him were instigating unrest, undermining state security and making anti-government speeches and defending political prisoners. His unforgivable "crime" was openly calling for a more democratic society in a totalitarian theocracy.

Shia religious or political leaders throughout the world, especially in the Middle East, condemned the Riyadh regime for the execution. Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared: "The unjustly spilled blood of this oppressed martyr will no doubt soon show its effect and divine vengeance will befall Saudi politicians." The leader of Lebanon's Shia Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, accused Saudi Arabia of seeking to ignite a Shia-Sunni civil war across the world.

Protests began in Iran immediately after the news circulated. In one case a large group demonstrators spontaneously attacked the Saudi embassy, sacking part of the interior and starting fires. There evidently were no injuries. The Iranian government disapproved of the attack. Tehran authorities condemned the violence and police have made at least 50 arrests so far. This was not a government project.

Angry peaceful protests were continuing in Iran Jan. 3 when the Saudi regime retaliated by breaking diplomatic relations and expelling all Iran's diplomats and staff as well as recalling its own embassy staff and ending airline travel between the two countries. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded: "The Saudi government has taken a strange action and cut off its diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran to cover its crimes of beheading a religious leader in its country.... Such actions can't cover up that big crime."

Several regional Sunni led countries either broke relations with Iran or reduced diplomatic staff in solidarity with the kingdom. More mary do so. The Arab League will hold an emergency meeting Jan. 10 to discuss the issue.
Tehran protest against killing of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
What's up and what next? In our view, the House of Saud knew precisely what the reaction would be in Iran if it decided to kill al-Nimr. There would at least be a riot in Teheran and profound criticism from Iran and the Shia community worldwide.

The monarchy could have avoided an increase in tensions and a break in relations by simply keeping Nimr in prison. So they killed him, hedging their bets to confuse the situation by executing 47 men the same day. The others were alleged to be Sunni jihadists mainly connected to al-Qaeda who had attacked Saudi Arabia and had been imprisoned for a number of years. By mixing one Shi'ite with 46 Sunnis, who could possibly think the royal family was religiously intolerant?

The royal family sought an open confrontation with Iran for several reasons. Two stand out.

The first emanates from Riyadh's extreme anger about the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement and the ending of sanctions on Tehran. Only Israel can match their fury in this regard. Both countries exerted intense pressure on Washington to continue the sanctions and to forego the deal. They wanted Iran permanently impaired, each for their own reasons.

Saudi Arabia has both religious and political reasons for seeking to isolate and weaken the Tehran government and still counts on Washington's assistance to accomplish the task. As the wealthy leading Sunni country in the Middle East the kingdom is deeply affronted by the existence of a brash, self-confident, militarily superior, independent and non-Arab Muslim Shia regime glaring face to face with itself across the Persian Gulf, a name the royals choke on and wish to change. It is of consequence that the Saudis responded so theatrically after the embassy brouhaha  just two weeks after announcing the creation of an important new Sunni military "coalition against terrorism" that the kingdom will lead with U.S. backing (see below).

The Iranian government has a good idea about what's actually going on. This sectarian chess game has lasted many decades, including when Saudi Arabia last broke relations from 1988 to 1991 over different issues. Tehran doesn't fall for the one in 47 deception because both sides fully understand it's only the "one" that counts. The execution was intended to increase tensions, but apparently within limits.

The Iranian government evidently was surprised by the cynical execution of Nimr which they had vigorously warned against in the past, and expressed its rage toward the Saudi regime — but also within certain limits. Threats will go back and forth, and tensions will increase but Tehran does not want this situation to become unacceptably worse; nor, I think, does Saudi Arabia wish it to get out of hand — at lest not yet.

(3) With air support from the U.S. and Russia, or Russia alone, a combination of the armies of Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Kurds could defeat IS  on the ground — but the Obama Administration has opposed the formation of such an amalgamation. The reasons are political and geopolitical. He wants more Sunni and less Shia involvement. This will strengthen U.S. regional power.

Syrians outside Russian embassy in Damascus  thank Moscow for its intervention. (Photo: AP)
Worldwide, there are 1.6 billion Muslims — 87 to 90% Sunni and 10 to 13% Shia. As global hegemon, the U.S. knows that numbers count far more than state-sponsored religious intolerance. The Shia are thought of, and often treated, as an outcast minority by most Sunni authoritarian states in the Middle East, virtually all of which receive America's support as long as they genuflect to Washington's strategic leadership. The fact that the Saudi monarchy and others want to displace Syria's Alawite-Shia government is a prime reason why Obama has called for Assad's removal for nearly five years.

The antediluvian Saudi absolute monarchy — Washington's closest Arab ally since 1945 when the U.S. pledged to protect royal power in return for secure access to the country's fabulous supply of petroleum — is the leader of the regional anti-Shia campaign, which the Obama Administration has not publicly criticized. The White House has long been aware that the kingdom repeatedly financed Sunni jihadist adventures from the 1970s (in Afghanistan, along with Pakistan and the CIA) to the various rebel groups in Syria today.

For instance, according to Huffington Post in January last year: "A Wikileaks cable clearly quotes then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying 'donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.' She continues: 'More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT [Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Taiba which operates in East Asia] and other terrorist groups.' And it's not just the Saudis: Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are also implicated in the memo. Other cables released by Wikileaks outline how Saudi front companies are also used to fund terrorism abroad."

Also weighing heavily on White House decisions is the Israeli government's fabrication that Iran constitutes a threat to its existence, a position evidently shared by vocal majorities in the House and Senate and many liberal Democrats. Obama didn't allow the Netanyahu regime to bomb Iran, which would have been a catastrophe, and recently reached agreement with unjustly sanctioned Tehran about its nuclear program, throwing billions Netanyahu's way to calm him down. But in most other respects, except when the Israeli leader purposely humiliates him, Obama easily bends the knee to his manipulative. opportunist and obsessively mistrustful opposite number. But in nearly all cases, what Israel wants Israel gets from Uncle Sam.

Even now, after Obama's energy policies have resulted in U.S. oil output surpassing that of Saudi Arabia, the U.S. is keeping its original agreement of 70 years with the Saudis. Why? The main reason is because siding with Sunni kingdoms and dictatorships helped keep the USSR at bay at during the Cold War and now assures America's continued domination of the strategic, fuel-rich Middle East.

Obama will not give permission or any support for a three nation Shia coalition plus the Kurds to unify with ground forces to fight against the Islamic State, especially with Russian air power for a few reasons: It would require ending the regime change war in Syria. It would be a slap in the face to its Sunni allies who might retaliate. It would increase the importance of Russia.

(4) To seal the bargain with the kings and dictators the U.S. enthusiastically supports Saudi Arabia and its allied emirates in their unjust, venomous nine month bombing campaign against Shia-affiliated Houthi rebels in Yemen, the poorest country in the region. Obama has supplied and re-supplied the aggressors with all types of heavy weapons including internationally outlawed cluster bombs, earning the American "defense" industry $13 billion in sales last year. A few years earlier the kingdom stuffed $60 billion in U.S. war industry pockets.
Members of of different tribes in Yemern show support for Houthi militias against Saudi Arabia.

According to Madawi Al-Rasheed, a visiting professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science as well as a columnist for Al-Monitor: "The Saudi war on Yemen is not an inevitable war of self-defense [as the kingdom maintains].... Instead, it was a pre-emptive strike to inaugurate an aggressive Saudi regional foreign policy."

The UN estimates the human toll in Yemen last year was 8,119 casualties, including 2,795 dead and 5,324 wounded. The New York Times reported Jan 6. that UN "human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, told the Security Council in December that the Saudi-led coalition had accounted for a 'disproportionate amount' of the damage to infrastructure and civilian premises, including schools and hospitals."

Sent to do the dirty work by clean-hands-Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry was obliged Nov. 23 to tell embarrassing lies no one actually believes to the foreign minister of a member of the Saudi anti-Yemen coalition Nov. 23: "We respect what United Arab Emirates has been able to do to accomplish significant progress in Yemen. We understand completely and support the reasons that Saudi Arabia and the UAE felt compelled to take acts of self-defense and to protect the security of this region."  Meanwhile, units of both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are exploiting the occasion to grab more territory in Yemen.

(5) On Dec. 15 Saudi Arabia announced the formation of a new 34-state Sunni Islamic military coalition under its own leadership. This extremely important event is not connected to the kingdom's much smaller anti-Yemen coalition, which continues to plod along. Major countries such as Egypt and NATO's Turkey are members of the new formation. Syria and Iran were excluded from membership. Shia-governed Iraq was not excluded, evidently due to its continuing relationship with Washington.

Saudi King Salman.

Aljazeera reported: "The United States welcomed the announcement of the anti-terrorism alliance. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said: 'We look forward to learning more about what Saudi Arabia has in mind in terms of this coalition.... But in general, it appears it is very much in line with something we've been urging for quite some time, which is greater involvement in the campaign to combat IS by Sunni Arab countries.'"

Washington was obviously involved in developing the new coalition and probably functions behind the scenes as a silent partner. Our surmise is that the Sunni alliance will eventually take moderately more action against the Islamic State — a change in some degree from their miniscule efforts to fight IS up to now. In addition, this new Saudi led military coalition seeks regime change in Syria, regards Shia Islam as a religious betrayal to be shunned, and conceivably might be deployed to politically contain Iran or possible for worse purposes.

"Worse" may be near, or far. The Wahhabi Saud clan has just accumulated substantially more power and authority in the region, and — despite occasional differences in tactics —is blessed by the higher and more powerful strategic authority at the headquarters of modern imperialism on the banks of the Potomac.



Undercover police stop and frisk two innocent young men
 for the apparent crime of "walking while black."
By Simon J. Ortiz

He couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old,
likely even fifteen. Skinny black teenager, loose sweater.
When I got on Bus #6 at Prince and 1st Avenue,
he got on too and took a seat across from me.
A kid I didn’t notice too much because two older guys,
street pros reeking with wine, started talking to me.
They were going to California, get their welfare checks,
then come back to Arizona in time for food stamps.

When the bus pulled into Ronstadt Transit Center,
the kid was the last to get off the bus right behind me.
I started to cross the street to wait for Bus #8
when two burly men, one in a neat leather jacket
and the other in a sweat shirt, both cool yet stern,
smoothly grabbed the kid and backed him against
a streetlight pole and quickly cuffed him to the pole.

Plastic handcuffs. Practiced manner. Efficiently done.
Along with another Indian, I watch what’s happening.
Nobody seems to notice or they don’t really want to see.
Everything is quiet and normal, nothing’s disturbed.
The other Indian and I exchange glances, nod, turn away.
Busted boy. Busted Indians. Busted lives. Busted again.

I look around for the street guys going to California.
But they’re already gone, headed for the railroad tracks.
I’m new in Tucson but I’m not a stranger to this scene.
Waiting for the bus, I don’t look around for plainclothes.
I know they’re there, in this America, waiting. There; here.
Waiting for busted boys, busted Indians, busted lives.

— Simon Ortiz, “Busted Boy” from Out There Somewhere. The Poetry Foundation describes Simon J. Ortiz as "A leading figure in the Native American literary renaissance that emerged in the 1960s." For more about the poet:


By the Activist Newsletter

President Obama's speech on gun control Jan. 5 was excellent. He spoke at the White House surrounded by family members of people killed in shootings. We assume our readers know all about it so we'll just discuss a few facts and go on to other aspects of the issue.

His plan is to take executive action, bypassing the Republican-obstructed Congress, to curb a relatively small percent of rampant nationwide gun violence. It's small because his powers are limited. He also could have done this seven years ago.

Obama's plan will result in mandatory background checks for individuals purchasing firearms online or at gun shows. The administration is also calling for the hiring of 200 new federal agents to enforce the nation’s gun laws and $500 million to increase access to mental healthcare.

Despite the fact that a huge majority of the American people want tightened gun control laws the various gun lobbies were outraged by the president's plan. The Times stated: "Republican presidential candidates and congressional leaders greeted [the proposals] with peals of protests and angry claims of a 'gun grab' that would violate Second Amendment rights. Gun control advocates hailed them as a breakthrough in what has often been a losing battle to toughen firearms restrictions."

Right wing lawmakers will probably sabotage Obama's efforts. But his exceptional oration may well reinvigorate the gun control movement and convince more Americans to become active in the cause.

Here is some very recent information about guns in our country:

(Photo: Erich Schlegel/Getty Images.)

On Jan. 1, 2016, the "open carry" law took effect in Texas, and "2nd Amendment activists" — as they disingenuously prefer to describe themselves — held an open carry rally at the Texas state capitol that day in Austin, Texas. This means residents can parade around just about everywhere with a loaded holstered handgun. Less than a month earlier several tighter gun control measures failed in the Senate, just one day after a mass shooting in San Bernardino, CA, left 14 people dead and more than 20 injured. Republican majorities rejected both bills.

From Daily Kos Dec. 23 we found this tale about open carry in Chicago: "Freedom-loving Chicagoans are surely excited to finally be able to carry concealed firearms, especially folks with a particularly pressing need to protect themselves. Like the cell phone store owner who, defending himself from an armed robber, sprang into action to put a bullet in the chest of an innocent 27-year-old man at the bus stop across the street, and another through the wall of the apartment of a nearby family of five (and into their TV set). Take that, knave! Whoever you are, that is. Because he left the scene, unharmed. But he didn’t get away with the money! Which is a good thing, because maybe the storeowner should pick up the hospital tab for the poor fellow across the street, or the repair bills for his neighbor’s walls, not to mention the TV. Still, freedom! Where else but in America could 16 hours of training buy you such deadly accuracy?"

There are by various estimates anywhere from 270 million to 310 million guns in the United States — close to one firearm for every man, woman and child. One-third of Americans reported owning a gun, ranging from 5.2% in Delaware to 61.7% in Alaska. More Americans have been killed by guns since 1968 than in all U.S. wars. Over 32,000 people a year are killed by guns in the U.S., and that's an underestimate because not all such deaths are reported by federal, state and local concerned departments.

Every handgun owner in the U.S. is well aware that it's a serious offence to sneak a weapon onto a commercial airliner when they travel. But in the week of Nov. 27 to Dec. 3 Transportation Security Administration agents around the nation found 36 guns in carry-on bags. All but four were loaded.


By Bill Moyers

In the fall of 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11, as families grieved and the nation mourned, Washington swarmed with locusts of the human kind: wartime opportunists, lobbyists, lawyers, ex-members of Congress, bagmen for big donors: all of them determined to grab what they could for their corporate clients and rich donors while no one was looking.

Across the land, the faces of Americans of every stripe were stained with tears. Here in New York, we still were attending memorial services for our firemen and police. But in the nation’s capital, within sight of a smoldering Pentagon that had been struck by one of the hijacked planes, the predator class was hard at work pursuing private plunder at public expense, gold-diggers in the ashes of tragedy exploiting our fear, sorrow, and loss.

What did they want? The usual: tax cuts for the wealthy and big breaks for corporations. They even made an effort to repeal the alternative minimum tax that for fifteen years had prevented companies from taking so many credits and deductions that they owed little if any taxes. And it wasn’t only repeal the mercenaries sought; they wanted those corporations to get back all the minimum tax they had ever been assessed.

They sought a special tax break for mighty General Electric, although you would never have heard about it if you were watching GE’s news divisions — NBC News, CNBC, or MSNBC, all made sure to look the other way.

They wanted to give coal producers more freedom to pollute, open the Alaskan wilderness to drilling, empower the president to keep trade favors for corporations a secret while enabling many of those same corporations to run roughshod over local communities trying the protect the environment and their citizens’ health.

It was a disgusting bipartisan spectacle. With words reminding us of Harry Truman’s description of the GOP as “guardians of privilege,” the Republican majority leader of the House dared to declare that “it wouldn’t be commensurate with the American spirit” to provide unemployment and other benefits to laid-off airline workers. As for post 9/11 Democrats, their national committee used the crisis to call for widening the soft-money loophole in our election laws.

America had just endured a sneak attack that killed thousands of our citizens, was about to go to war against terror, and would soon send an invading army to the Middle East. If ever there was a moment for shared sacrifice, for putting patriotism over profits, this was it. But that fall, operating deep within the shadows of Washington’s Beltway, American business and political mercenaries wrapped themselves in red, white and blue and went about ripping off a country in crisis. H.L. Mencken got it right: “Whenever you hear a man speak of his love for his country, it is a sign that he expects to be paid for it.”

Fourteen years later, we can see more clearly the implications. After three decades of engineering a winner-take-all economy, and buying the political power to consummate their hold on the wealth created by the system they had rigged in their favor, they were taking the final and irrevocable step of separating themselves permanently from the common course of American life. They would occupy a gated stratosphere far above the madding crowd while their political hirelings below look after their earthly interests.

The $1.15 trillion spending bill passed by Congress last Friday and quickly signed by President Obama is just the latest triumph in the plutocratic management of politics that has accelerated since 9/11. As Michael Winship and I described here last Thursday, the bill is a bonanza for the donor class – that powerful combine of corporate executives and superrich individuals whose money drives our electoral process. Within minutes of its passage, congressional leaders of both parties and the president rushed to the television cameras to praise each other for a bipartisan bill that they claimed signaled the end of dysfunction; proof that Washington can work. Mainstream media (including public television and radio), especially the networks and cable channels owned and operated by the conglomerates, didn’t stop to ask: “Yes, but work for whom?” Instead, the anchors acted as amplifiers for official spin — repeating the mantra-of-the-hour that while this is not “a perfect bill,” it does a lot of good things. “But for whom? At what price?” went unasked.

Now we’re learning. Like the drip-drip-drip of a faucet, over the weekend other provisions in the more than 2000-page bill began to leak. Many of the bad ones we mentioned on Thursday are there — those extended tax breaks for big business, more gratuities to the fossil fuel industry, the provision to forbid the Securities & Exchange Commission from requiring corporations to disclose their political spending, even to their own shareholders. That one’s a slap in the face even to Anthony Kennedy, the justice who wrote the Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Citizens United. He said: “With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions.”

Over our, Congress declared in December, proclaiming instead: "Secrecy today. Secrecy tomorrow." Secrecy forever. They are determined that we not know who owns them.

The horrors mount. As Eric Lipton and Liz Moyer reported for The New York Times on Sunday, in the last days before the bill’s passage “lobbyists swooped in” to save, at least for now, a loophole worth more than $1 billion to Wall Street investors and the hotel, restaurant and gambling industries. Lobbyists even helped draft crucial language that the Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid furtively inserted into the bill. Lipton and Moyer wrote that, “The small changes, and the enormous windfall they generated, show the power of connected corporate lobbyists to alter a huge bill that is being put together with little time for lawmakers to consider. Throughout the legislation, there were thousands of other add-ons and hard to decipher tax changes.”

No surprise to read that “some executives at companies with the most at stake are also big campaign donors.” The Times reports that “the family of David Bonderman, a co-founder of TPG Capital, has donated $1.2 million since 2014 to the Senate Majority PAC, a campaign fund with close ties to Mr. Reid and other Senate Democrats.” Senator Reid, lest we forget, is from Nevada. As he approaches retirement at the end of 2016, perhaps he’s hedging his bets at taxpayer expense.

Consider just two other provisions: One, insisted upon by Republican Senator Thad Cochran, directs the Coast Guard to build a $640 million National Security Cutter in Cochran’s home state of Mississippi, a ship that the Coast Guard says it does not need. The other: A demand by Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins for an extra $1 billion for a Navy destroyer that probably will be built at her state’s Bath Iron Works – again, a vessel our military says is unnecessary.

So it goes: The selling off of the Republic, piece by piece. What was it Mark Twain said? “There is no distinctive native American criminal class except Congress.”

A plutocracy, says my old friend, the historian Bernard Weisberger, “has a natural instinct to perpetuate and enlarge its own powers and by doing so slams the door of opportunity to challengers and reduces elections to theatrical duels between politicians who are marionettes worked by invisible strings…."

— — From Common Dreams (, Dec. 22, 2015. Journalist Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and His previous shows on PBS included NOW with Bill Moyers and Bill Moyers Journal. Over the past three decades he has become an icon of American journalism and is the author of many books.


A total of 28,000 people showed up for Sander's Portland rally in August.
[The Sanders campaign for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination is resurrecting socialist electoral politics and paving the way for a more radical public discourse. In truth, Bernie's more a social democrat than democratic socialist, but he's still popularizing the term and channeling a backlash against inequality. The author of this article from is a professor of political science at Temple University. He is a Vice-Chair of Democratic Socialists of America and the author, most recently, of The Future of Democratic Equality: Reconstructing Social Solidarity in a Fragmented U.S.,  Routledge, 2009.]

By Joseph M. Schwartz

Socialism. For most of recent U.S. history, the word was only used in mainstream discourse as invective, hurled by the Right against anyone who advocated that the government do anything but shrink, as anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist once put it, “to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

How is it, then, that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a democratic socialist, has repeatedly drawn crowds in the thousands or tens of thousands in cities and towns throughout the nation and is within striking distance of Hillary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire? In a country that’s supposed to be terrified of socialism, how did a socialist become a serious presidential contender?

Young people who came to political consciousness after the Cold War are less hostile to socialism than their elders, who associate the term with authoritarian Communist regimes. In a Pew poll from December 2011, 49% of 18-to-29-year-olds in the United States held a favorable view of socialism; only 46% had a favorable view of capitalism. A New York Times/CBS News survey taken shortly before Sanders’ Nov. 19, 2015, Georgetown University speech on democratic socialism found that 56% of Democratic primary voters felt positively about socialism versus only 29% who felt negatively. Most of those polled probably do not envision socialism to be democratic ownership of the means of production, but they do associate capitalism with inequality, massive student debt and a stagnant labor market. They envision socialism to be a more egalitarian and just society.

More broadly, a bipartisan consensus has developed that the rich and corporations are too powerful. In a December 2011 Pew poll, 77% of respondents (including 53% of Republicans) agreed that “there is too much power in the hands of a few rich people and corporations.” More than 40 years of ruling class attacks on working people has revived interest in a political tradition historically associated with the assertion of working class power — socialism.

But at this point in American politics, as right-wing, quasi-fascist populists like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and others of their Tea Party ilk are on the rise, we also seem to be faced with an old political choice: socialism or barbarism. Whether progressive politicians can tap into the rising anti-corporate sentiment around the country is at the heart of a battle that may define the future of the United States: Will downwardly mobile, white, middle- and working-class people follow the nativist, racist politics of Trump and Tea Partiers (who espouse the myth that the game is rigged in favor of undeserving poor people of color), or lead a charge against the corporate elites responsible for the devastation of working- class communities?

This may be the very audience, however, for whom the term socialism still sticks in the craw. In a 2011Pew poll, 55 percent of African Americans and 44% of Latinos held a favorable view of socialism — versus only 24% of whites. One might ask, then: Should we really care that the term “socialism” is less radioactive than it used to be? With so much baggage attached to the word, shouldn’t activists and politicians just call themselves something else? Why worry about a label as long as you’re pursuing policies that benefit the many rather than the few? Is socialism still relevant in the 21st century?

Bernie Sanders supporters at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, Aug. 10. 
Fear of the ‘s’ word

To answer this question, first consider how the political establishment uses the word. The political right (and sometimes the Democrats) deploy anti-socialist sentiment against any reform that challenges corporate power. Take the debate over healthcare reform, for example. To avoid being labeled “socialist,” Obama opted for an Affordable Care Act that expanded the number of insured via massive government subsidies to the private healthcare industry — instead of fighting for Medicare for All and abolishing private health insurers. The right, of course, screamed that the president and the Democratic Party as a whole were all socialists anyway and worked (and continues to work) to undermine efforts to expand healthcare coverage to anyone.

But what if the United States had had a real socialist left, rather than one conjured up by Republicans, that was large, well-organized and politically relevant during the healthcare reform debate? What would have been different? For one thing, it would have been tougher for the right to scream “socialist!” at Obama, since actual socialists would be important, visible forces in American politics, writing articles and knocking on doors and appearing on cable news. Republicans would have had to attack the real socialists—potentially opening up some breathing room for President Obama to carry out more progressive reforms. But socialists wouldn’t have just done the Democrats a favor — they would also demand the party go much further than the overly complicated and insurance company friendly Obamacare towards a universal single-payer healthcare program. The Democrats needed a push from the Left on healthcare reform, and virtually no one was there to give it to them.

[The Sanders campaign announced Dec. 20 that it "reached a major milestone in grassroots financial support." A statement posted on its website says the campaign has now received over 2.3 million contributions. That means Sanders now holds the record for highest number of contributions for a White House bid, breaking the record held by President Barack Obama in 2011. Bernie's average donation was about $30.]

What is democratic socialism?

So what do we mean by “democratic socialism”? Democratic socialists want to deepen democracy by extending it from the political sphere into the economic and cultural realms. We believe in the idea that “what touches all should be governed by all.” The decisions by top-level corporate CEOs and managers, for example, have serious effects on their employees, consumers and the general public — why don’t those employees, consumers and the public have a say in how those decisions get made?

Cheering for Bernie at the Portland rally.
Democratic socialists believe that human beings should democratically control the wealth that we create in common. The Mark Zuckerbergs and Bill Gateses of the world did not create Facebook and Microsoft; tens of thousands of programmers, technical workers and administrative employees did — and they should have a democratic voice in how those firms are run.

To be able to participate democratically, we all need equal access to those social, cultural and educational goods that enable us to develop our human potential. Thus, democratic socialists also believe that all human beings should be guaranteed access, as a basic social right, to high-quality education, healthcare, housing, income security, job training and more.

And to achieve people’s equal moral worth, democratic socialists also fight against oppression based on race, gender, sexuality, nationality and more. We do not reduce all forms of oppression to the economic; economic democracy is important, but we also need strong legal and cultural guarantees against other forms of undemocratic domination and exclusion.

What socialism can do for you

The United States has a rich — but hidden—socialist history. Socialists and Communists played a key role in organizing the industrial unions in the 1930s and in building the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s; Martin Luther King Jr. identified as a democratic socialist; Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph, the two key organizers of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom were both members of the Socialist Party. Not only did Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs receive roughly 6% of the vote for president in 1912 [while in prison], but on the eve of U.S. entry into World War I, members of the Socialist Party held 1,200 public offices in 340 cities. They served as mayors of 79 cities in 24 states, including Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Reading, Penn., and Buffalo.

Brutally repressed by the federal government for opposing World War I and later by the Cold War hysteria of the McCarthy era, socialists never regained comparable influence. But as organizers and thinkers they have always played a significant role in social movements. The real legacy of the last significant socialist campaigns for president, those of Eugene V. Debs and Norman Thomas, is how the major parties, especially the Democrats, co-opted their calls for workers’ rights, the regulation of corporate excess and the establishment of social insurance programs.

As the erosion of the liberal and social democratic gains of the post-World War II era throughout the United States, Europe and elsewhere shows, absent greater democratic control over the economy, capital will always work to erode the gains made by working people. This inability to gain greater democratic control over capital may be a contributing factor to why the emerging social movements resisting oligarchic domination have a “flash”-like character. They erupt and raise crucial issues, but as the neoliberal state rarely grants concessions to these movements, they often fade in strength. Winning concrete reforms tends to empower social movements; the failure to improve the lives of their participants usually leads these movements to dissipate.

In the United States, nascent movements like Occupy Wall Street, the Fight for 15, Black Lives Matter and have won notable reforms. But few flash movements have succeeded in enacting systemic change. Only the revival of a decimated labor movement and the rebirth of governing socialist political parties could result in the major redistribution of wealth and power that would allow real change on these issues.

For all their problems — and there are many — this is the promise of European parties like Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain. But the Syriza government retreated back to austerity policies, in part because Northern European socialist leaders failed to abandon their support for austerity. The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the British Labor Party may represent the first step in rank-and-file socialists breaking with “third way” neo-liberal leadership.

Is Bernie really a socialist?

For Sanders, “democratic socialism” is a byword for what is needed to unseat the oligarchs who rule this new Gilded Age. THIS ARTICLE CONTINUED at


Home care workers provide invaluable services but are very poorly paid for their work.
By Marjorie E. Wood

Who will take care of grandma? It’s a question we need to answer. As baby boomers grow older, the elderly population — seniors who are 80 and older — will increase almost 200% by 2050.

Our long-term care system isn’t ready. Studies show that older Americans prefer home care over institutionalization. But because of low wages and poor working conditions, recruiting and retaining home health aides and personal care assistants is very difficult. In the end, that means a lower quality of care and fewer home care workers for grandma.

Maybe the home care industry just can’t afford to pay workers more? Hardly. The industry has boomed over the past decade. According to the National Employment Law Project, its revenue increased 48% while CEO compensation ballooned by a whopping 150%. Home care today is a multi-billion dollar industry. Because of rising demand and skyrocketing revenues, Forbes called home health care one of the hottest franchises in the market.

Sadly, home care workers haven’t shared in the industry’s prosperity. During the same period that revenue soared, average hourly wages for workers declined by 6%. And that’s not the worst of it. Because of a “companionship exemption” to federal labor laws, more than 2 million home care workers today are excluded from minimum wage and overtime pay protections. Ninety percent of them are women. More than half rely on public assistance to make ends meet.

The Department of Labor has tried to stop the industry from misusing the companionship exemption to   last January. But before the rule went into effect, several for-profit home care associations — including the International Franchise Association — successfully sued the Department of Labor to prevent the change. The industry is claiming that higher wages mean grandma won’t be able to get the care she needs.
pay home care workers less. It passed a new rule that was supposed to make these workers eligible for minimum wage and overtime pay

The truth? Studies show that higher wages mean grandma will be able to find and keep the best caregiver. And the 15 states that already provide minimum wage and overtime pay for home care workers prove that it’s feasible. All told, Grandma will be more likely to get the care she needs when her caregivers can earn a living wage.

  From Marjorie Wood is a senior staff member of the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and the editor of


Protests opposed new unity regime. This one was in Benghazi Nov. 18.  (Photo: Abdullah Doma/AFP.)
By the Activist Newsletter (plus various news reports)

Delegates from Libya's warring factions signed a UN-brokered agreement on Dec. 17 to form a national unity government, a deal that Western powers hope will bring stability and help to combat a growing Islamic State presence. There are many, however, who opposed the UN deal and offered a rival plan. How long the agreement will last is anyone's guess.

Libya has been in a state of chaos during the four years since the U.S., France and the UK deployed their military force to bring about regime change and "democracy" in Libya. This resulted in the murder of the country's leader, Muammar Gaddafi, a war between the two succesor regimes, the existence of up to 100 different militias, and the presence of a large Islamic State contingent. Most recently Washington blundered embarrassingly by sending 20 armed special forces troops into Libya only to have them ordered to leave immediately by the authorities.

The country has been split politically since 2014 when the Islamist group Dawn of Libya captured Tripoli, the capital, obliging the western backed and internationally recognized government to withdraw to the  city of Tobruk. Each is supported  by coalitions of former rebels and militias.

The UN deal calls for a presidential council to lead a unified government, but hardliners in both factions reject it and questions remain about how it will be implemented in a country where rival armed brigades hold the key to power.

Western governments — who have suffered political embarrassment about the disastrous outcome of their bombing campaign — believe war fatigue, promises of foreign aid, the strain on Libya's oil economy and the common threat of the Islamic State will help to build momentum for the national government and bring opponents on board.

Under the deal, a nine-member presidential council will form a government, with the current, eastern-based House of Representatives as the main legislature, and a State Council as a second consultative chamber. The presidential council will name a new government in a month and a UN Security Council resolution will endorse it.

The State Department said Washington was committed to providing the unified government with "full political backing and technical, economic, security and counterterrorism assistance." Still, the agreement faces questions from critics about how representative the proposed government will be, how it will set up in Tripoli, and how various armed factions on the ground will react to a new government.

The New York Times reported Dec. 18 that analysts and critics of the deal said "Western pressure might have... resulted in an agreement that was rushed and did not yet have broad enough support from powerful factions across the fractured North African country, including figures who are trying to forge a competing pact. Important questions about how the agreement will be carried out remain unanswered, including where the new government will be based, given the ongoing violence in Tripoli, the capital, and how Libya’s unregulated militias will be brought into line, they said....

"Libya has become deeply divided since the [U.S.-backed uprising]....  Rival governments project a meager authority in the east and west of the country, undermined by their internal divisions and by unaccountable armed groups that hold sway on the ground. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by violence, and the birthplace of the revolt, the eastern city of Benghazi, has been decimated by war.

The Islamic State moved into Libya after regime change war.
"The push to unify the country took on added urgency over the last year because of a collapsing economy and the rise of a branch of the Islamic State, which has taken control of the town of Surt and is increasingly regarded by counterterrorism officials as the most dangerous Islamic State affiliate."

The Telegraph (UK) reported this  month: "The Islamic State has as many as 3000 fighters in Libya and sees the country as a retreat zone and strategic hub for recruits unable to reach its Syrian heartland, according to a new United Nations report. It said the group's rapid growth was fuelled by its notoriety in Iraq and Syria, as well as weak security structures in Libya, and risked bringing more sophisticated bomb making techniques to Africa." reported Dec. 17 on a bizarre incident concerning Washington's latest military intervention in Libya: "A U.S. military ground operation began and ended without much fanfare earlier this week in Libya, the Pentagon admitted today, in a shockingly bungled effort to secretly establish a presence of U.S special forces in the country.

"A group of about 20 American soldiers, armed with assault rifles and bulletproof vests, but conspicuously not wearing uniforms, showed up in the Wattiya airbase, just south of Tripoli Dec. 14. Pictures of the troops were published by the Libyan Air Force on their Facebook page."

The accompanying  text pointed out the troops arrived with no coordination and apparently no approval, though the Pentagon claims to have gotten an okay from some government faction or other, but apparently not the right ones. Local commanders quickly demanded that the U.S. troops leave, and the Pentagon says they did to “avoid conflict.”

Pentagon officials further claimed the deployment was a “training mission” aimed at enhancing ties with the Libyan National Army, but didn’t explain why they sent the troops in wholly unannounced, nor why the troops were clearly combat-ready but out of uniform.


By M. K. Bhadrakumar

Iran’s electoral politics enters a crucial trajectory as the registration of candidates began Dec. 18 for the elections to the 290-member parliament and the 86-member Experts Assembly slated for Feb. 26. The forthcoming elections are invested with historic importance since Iran is on the cusp of change and the road not taken becomes as important as the road taken for regional and world politics. If the reformists gain ascendancy in the parliament, that will have significant bearing on the next presidential election in 2017 where the "reformist" president Hassan Rouhani is almost certain to seek a fresh mandate.

On the other hand, the upcoming election to the Experts Assembly, which has an 8-year term, becomes hugely important since the probability is high that the newly-elected body might be called upon to decide on the Supreme Leader’s successor. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is 76 years old. In the Iranian system the Supreme Leader wields enormous powers and dominates policy making and controls key organs of the state.

The former president and grey cardinal in Iranian politics Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has disclosed that the Experts Assembly is already examining a panel of potential candidates to be the next Supreme Leader. He also darkly hinted at the possibility that the Experts Assembly, which is "examining the options," might even choose to appoint a council of leaders instead of a single figure to govern for life, which has been the practice so far since the Islamic revolution in 1979. To be sure, a collective leadership holds the potential to phenomenally shift the calculus of power in Iran, with profound implications for the country’s future as an Islamic democracy.
Ayatollah Ai Khamenei.

President Hassan Rouhani.
The heart of the matter is that Iran has a vibrant democracy and electoral politics is highly competitive and elections generate surprises. Considering that the youth constitute around 60% of the population, "change" is in the air. Thus, the entry of Hassan Khomeini, the 43-year old grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (the architect of the revolution) in the election to the Experts Assembly has drawn great attention as signaling the advent of a new era. The point is, the young Khomeini is reputed to be sympathetic to the reformists and is seen as a supporter of President Rouhani. Interestingly, he has declared his intention to run as an "independent" candidate, which may cause some unease to the religious establishment.

The trump card of the reformist camp is no doubt the nuclear deal signed in July. Rouhani has worked hard to kick start the implementation of the deal by end-January or early February so that the sanctions will get lifted on the eve of the forthcoming elections, which he hopes to highlight as his government’s achievement and the vindication of the reformist path.

Equally, the Obama Administration will be hoping that the Feb. 26 elections will result in a consolidation of the reformist groups in the parliament, which would help Rouhani secure a second term as president. Meanwhile, the U.S.-Iranian engagement is in a state of suspended animation.

Simply put, it all boils down to the vision for the country that the people will choose for the period ahead.

No one expects that the Iranian political system of guardianship of the Islamic jurists is going to come under challenge in the upcoming elections. But below that threshold much can happen and a transition might be accomplished through a major reformation of the existing system that would keep Iran as an Islamic republic with few traces of authoritarianism, adapted to meeting the aspirations and hopes of a young population as well as the emergent needs of a market economy that is getting integrated with the world market.

—From Indian Punchline – Dec. 20, 2015


Gaza: Sleeping in rubble.
By the Activist Newsletter

Of necessity, this Palestinian boy (above) sleeps on a mattress inside the remains of his family’s apartment that was destroyed by Israeli shelling during the 50-day war in 2014. "This densely populated Shejaiya neighborhood was almost empty, like a ghost town," said Reuters photographer Suhaib Salem, after taking this picture Sept. 8, 2015.

Such situations and the Israeli state's continual punishment of Gaza's residents are giving rise to the growth of Sunni Salifist groups, jihadists, and a branch the Islamic State (IS) known as the "Islamic State Gaza Governorate." These entities have carried out several attacks within the small enclave.

Hamas is the target for these extremists because it is in fact a relatively moderate Islamist formation, despite accusations to the contrary. Hamas has been taking actions to neutralize or suppress these extremist elements, which seem to get stronger in the aftermath of Israel's periodic mass attacks. According to Stratfor: "From its base in Gaza, Hamas will try to avoid another direct confrontation with Israel, but Israel's policy of holding Hamas responsible for endorsing attacks, along with attempts by a fledgling Islamic State in Gaza to goad Hamas into conflict, could broaden Israel's intervention in the Palestinian territories."

A particular incentive for future conflict flows from the Netanyahu regime's continuing prevention of  rebuilding material from entering Gaza, causing thousands of Palestinian families to live in rubble following the last massive bombing and tank attack in 2014 that took the lives of 2,205 civilians, including 521 children. More than 20,000 homes were rendered uninhabitable. Hundreds of thousands of residents were displaced. A total of six Israeli civilians died. The 1.8 million people in this small territory are entirely surrounded, imprisoned in effect, and made destitute by Israel.

In Gaza, President Netanyahu's main enemy is Hamas. But while Hamas continues the struggle for independence from Israeli colonialism, its main internal political enemy is the religo-fascist IS, which has been active in the 141 square mile region for well over a year

According to Reuters, the central Islamic State in Syria broadcast a propaganda video June 30 threatening to turn the Gaza Strip into another of its Middle East fiefdoms, accusing Hamas of being insufficiently stringent about religious enforcement, not imposing sharia (Islamic law), agreeing to a truce with Israel, and seeking reconciliation with its secular rival Palestinian faction Fatah, which governs the occupied West Bank territory.
Last month, in the same destroyed Shejaiya neighborhood  mentioned above, a man waves a Palestinian flag during clashes with Israeli soldiers on  Israel-Gaza border. (Photo: Anadolu Agency.)

The IS statement declared: "We will uproot the state of the Jews (Israel) and you (Hamas) and Fatah, and all of the secularists.... The rule of sharia (stringent Islamic law) will be implemented in Gaza, despite you." Recent reports indicate IS has the support of several small extremist jihadi groups and has had success in recruiting to its ranks some jobless Gaza youth and a number of ex-members of Hamas's security forces.

Responding to the video the same day, Israel's intelligence minister, Israel Katz, accused Hamas on of partnering with Islamic State affiliates in the Egyptian Sinai — a charge long denied by the Palestinian group. Katz repeated it to minimize the importance of the IS rebuke to Hamas and to block the possibility of improved relations between Hamas and Egypt.

The United States, Israel and the European Union have long identified Hamas as a terrorist organization, principally because it tries to fight back against Israeli domination, as though resistance to occupation and oppression was a criminal offense.

In relation to these three rich and warlike accusers, and to the Islamic State as well, a quote from Malcolm X is appropriate: "I just don't believe that when people are being unjustly oppressed that they should let someone else set rules for them by which they can come out from under that oppression." This is doubly the case when those rules are intended to continue the status quo.


In better days: From left: former State Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, 
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and former State Senate majority leader Dean Skelos.
By Zephyr Teachout | Dec. 15, 2015

In his extraordinary book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? Tom Frank asked why blue-collar workers in his home state repeatedly voted against their own economic interest, casting ballots in favor of Republican policies that favored the rich and powerful.

You could as easily ask, “What’s the Matter with New York?” But here it’s a different mystery, although with just as devastating consequences. In the state with one of the richest progressive traditions, we have the highest inequality and the most segregated schools, and the tax code allows hedge funders to get away with murder, extracting cash from the poor and middle class New Yorkers because they can.

Because of the extraordinary amount of money involved, the political pathologies of the country are all exaggerated in New York State. In an accelerating, out of control, downward spiral, the income inequality here begets political inequality (which also leads to lower voter turnout), which begets further income inequality which begets more political inequality and on and on.

And yet it is an overwhelmingly Democratic state — twice as many Democrats as Republicans. Voters support public infrastructure. They support paying for public schools. They support progressive taxation. Historically, New York has been an innovator and leader in anti-corruption efforts and populist, progressive reform. From the outside — if you’re a Democrat in North Carolina or Ohio — it may sound like a great place to care about decent politics.

But in practice, it’s a mess. We have one of the most profoundly corrupt states in the country, no matter how you measure or think about it. And that corruption goes deep:

·      The head of the state assembly, Democrat Sheldon Silver, was just convicted on 7 counts of bribery and extortion charges.
·      The leader of the state senate, Republican Dean Skelos, was just convicted on 8 counts of federal bribery and extortion charges.
·      This summer, a powerful state senator, Thomas Libous, was convicted of lying to the FBI.
·      The governor, Andrew Cuomo, is under federal investigation for giving donors kickbacks in major projects in Buffalo.
·      Last year, Andrew Cuomo shut down an anti-corruption commission several months before its planned ending, giving various, inconsistent reasons for its demise.
·      Credible New York Times reporting alleges that Cuomo’s top aide interfered with deputized State Attorneys General in their corruption investigations
·      The luxury development company behind three of these corruption scandals — Silver, Skelos and Cuomo — Glenwood Management, incredibly claims to be shocked that bribery, which allegedly it was a party to, was occurring.

An old story, via Thomas Nast in the later 1800s.

New York State, which should lead the country, is a swamp. It would simply be an embarrassment were it not for the terrible human cost: families that can’t afford to live in New York City, second graders in classrooms with 33 kids, children having to sell coupons to pay for their own chemistry equipment, collapsing infrastructure, dangerous old pipes exploding, a transit system that is a broken shadow of its former glory, a total failure to build, lead and dream in a state known for building, leading and dreaming.

The cost of this cancer of corruption is the quality of all of our lives, collectively and individually. The once most progressive state in the country has the highest level of inequality of any state.

Why? What’s the matter with New York? For starters, it is not that voters don’t care about issues, but many simply don’t vote. And politicians use public statements as tools, not as evidence of actual commitments. Gov.  Cuomo consistently says he supports things he simply doesn’t show any evidence of supporting, like public financing of campaigns. Cuomo says he has “zero tolerance” for corruption, yet the corruption continues.

That’s the problem in New York State and around the country: our leaders aren’t leaders, they are servants. This doublespeak runs deep. Andrew Cuomo and Sheldon Silver both heavily identify as Democrats, but both actively worked to sabotage Democratic power in the state. These top two state Democrats opposed a fair redistricting that would have given Democrats proportionate power, choosing instead a districting model that gives Republicans a permanent veto. They didn’t have to do that: they seem to want the Republican veto to allow leadership to shirk responsibility.

Also, in New York State, we have internal rules that are not justifiable: corporations in New York are allowed to donate directly to candidates, an easily fixable problem that the Governor claims there is no “appetite” to fix. Power is heavily concentrated in the three leadership positions — governor, state senate leader and state assembly leader — so despite great transparency on lots of relatively unimportant matters, we have no meaningful understanding of how local elected officials vote: it is a black box. Legislators are allowed to make unlimited outside salaries, creating a systematic conflict of interest among many of our leaders.

I ran against Andrew Cuomo [in the Democratic primary, gaining 34% of the votes] in 014. It was a strange experience to run against someone who claims the same ideology, but doesn’t share it. The words he uses in press conferences are not connected to his real intentions. His economic ideology, such as it is, is Reagan’s, not FDR’s: it is openly trickle down.

Or perhaps it doesn’t exist at all. More terrifying than a neoliberal ideology is the absence of any ideology except that which seeks to maintain power. That ideology — that greed for power — inevitably leads to servitude. To hold onto power, it is safest to serve the big money masters instead of the public. Cuomo can give all kinds of gloss to why a Democratic governor supports a Republican state senate and tax breaks for the wealthiest NYC developers, but the most likely reason for his policies is the most obvious: his biggest donor, Glenwood Management, wants those things. To stay in power he must keep currying their favor.

That’s the problem in New York State and around the country: our leaders aren’t leaders, they are servants. Yes, we need some New York-specific fixes, like limiting outside income. But the fundamental corruption in New York won’t change until we build a new, clean machine that allows normal, moral, public-spirited candidates to run – the kind of public financing machine that should be in place all across the United States.

The weight of corruption from private financing is pushing us deeper into the swamp. New York is full of extraordinary, caring, serious women and men who could take over in Albany and build something amazing with our state. The fractivists and Fight for 15 campaign taught us that Cuomo won’t lead unless we start regularly protesting — at his fundraisers and in our streets. Citizen Action and other groups in New York and around the nation have built the basic public support for a public financing resolution — now we need to make our anger heard and out into legislative action.

— From Moyers and  Company, 12-15-15. Zephyr Teachout is an associate professor of constitutional la at Fordham Law School.

Democracy Now, 12-21-15

President Obama has signed a $1.8 trillion spending and tax cut package after Congress passed the deal in a rare moment of bipartisan unity. The measure expands military spending and provides a billion-dollar tax loophole sought by the hotel, restaurant and gambling industry, among other shortcomings.

In addition to making it easier for the government to examine your private information — see  story directly below from the ACLU — it also lifts the 40-year ban on exporting U.S.-produced crude oil, a move Oil Change International called "a disaster for the climate." Democratic leaders said lifting the ban was crucial for winning Republican support. Obama praised Congress for passing the bill.

Among other provisions are new restrictions on the Visa Waiver Program, which could force Europeans and others deemed to be nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan — or people who have visited those countries since 2011 — to obtain a visa before entering the United States. Since the move is likely to trigger reciprocal restrictions from other countries, including in Europe, critics warn Iranian Americans could now be treated as "second-class citizens" when traveling abroad.


By Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU Legislative Counsel

Congress just made it easier for the National Security Agency and FBI to get your private information. 

Tucked into Congress’ 2,000 page spending bill passed Dec. 18 was a controversial cyber-surveillance rider. This provision, which was strongly opposed by the ACLU, is yet another iteration of the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, which we have repeatedly criticized as a surveillance bill that would have done nothing to stop cyber breaches.

In an apparent flip-flop, President Obama  appears to support inclusion of the rider, despite his opposition to similar proposals in the past.  Here is what the bill means for your privacy:

1. Companies can now share your private information with the government, preempting all other privacy laws. 

The bill allows companies to share “cyber threat indicators” with DHS, the FBI, and other federal agencies.  “Cyber threat indicators” are broadly defined and could include private information, such as your IP address (indicating location), email attachments,  other personal identifying information, even your private communications.  By default, there is no requirement that companies strip all personally identifying information before sharing this information with the government.  Though there are several laws on the books that prevent companies from sharing certain types of private information, these laws are explicitly preempted by the provisions.

Companies will face no liability for sharing your personal information with DHS — even if there are negative consequences.

2. Companies face no liability — even when bad things happen — for information that is shared with DHS or potentially other agencies designated by the president (which could include the FBI).  So, consumers have little opportunity for redress in cases where their private information is shared without consent or even notice. 

Given that the liability provisions amount to a virtual blank check for companies that decide to share private consumer information with the government, it is no surprise that the some business  groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, strongly supported the cyber-surveillance provisions.  

3. Any information shared also goes to the NSA and FBI. Any information that is provided to agencies will be automatically sent to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, such as the NSA and FBI.  By default, all personal identifying information does not have to be stripped before these agencies get this information.  

4. Private information shared can be used to prosecute you for crimes that have nothing to do with cybersecurity.

The bill allows the FBI and other agencies to use information they receive to investigate and to prosecute crimes that have nothing do with cybersecurity.  Under the bill, this information can be used for crimes relating to protection of trade secrets,  fraud and identify theft, or the Espionage Act, which has been used to target whistleblowers.

So, what can you do to protect yourself? Companies are free to decide whether to participate in these new “cyber sharing” programs.  They can choose to put their consumers’ privacy and liberty first — and keep private information truly private.   

That is exactly what consumers should demand.  And, if companies aren’t willing to make this commitment, we should take our information elsewhere.  

— From the ACLU, 12-18-15


Two young females from different elephant families interact while an older relative watches 
nearby. "Studies of the elephants' social structure conducted over many years have found 
a level of complexity that rivals that of human societies." (Photo: Shifra Goldenberg.)
 From EurekAlert

While the demand for ivory has put elephants under incredible pressure from poachers, their rich social networks have remained remarkably steady. That's according to evidence on the grouping patterns among adult female elephants living in northern Kenya over a 16-year period, which show that daughters often step up to take the place of their fallen mothers. The findings are reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on Dec. 17
"We were surprised at just how important a mother's associates were to her daughter's new bonds," says Shifra Goldenberg of Colorado State University. "In the past we've seen young females hanging out together that we wouldn't expect to, but then later as we do the analysis we see that their mothers did know each other and spent some time together."

According to estimates, poachers killed about 100,000 of Africa's elephants for their ivory between 2010 and 2012. Older and more experienced individuals are at greater risk of poaching because of the size of their tusks. As a result, the average age of adult female elephants in Kenya's Samburu National Reserve has declined significantly.

Studies of the elephants' social structure conducted over many years have found a level of complexity that rivals that of human societies. In the new study, the researchers analyzed the patterns of elephants' social networks over time. They also examined how elephant mothers, who hold an important role as matriarchs in elephant societies, shape their daughters' social lives.

The researchers, including Colorado State's George Wittemyer and Save the Elephants Founder Iain Douglas-Hamilton, found that the structure of the Kenyan elephants' social network was maintained over time, despite a 70 percent turnover of individuals. Generally speaking, the oldest and most experienced remaining individuals stepped up to fill socially central "hubs" in the network.

The researchers also found that they could predict the social positions of daughters after a disruption based on that of their mothers in the years before. That ability of daughters to fill the social network roles of their mothers drove the observed network resilience. In extreme situations where families had lost most of the mature adults, elephants created new networks from previously distant connections.

"The fact that elephants are socially resilient is an important and exciting finding, showing their innate resilience to this unfortunate human pressure," Goldenberg says. "You might expect a society centered around matriarchs to collapse with the loss of group matriarchs, but our study shows that they can adapt to these changes."

While the findings show reason for hope, it's clear that poaching has reached an unsustainable level, the researchers say.

"This social robustness was demonstrated across groups that experienced major and minor disruption," Wittemyer said. "It provides optimism regarding the ability of elephants to recover from human disturbance once we manage to offer them a respite from the pressure."


That's Pete Seeger with the banjo in 1943 during his years in the Communist Party.
 Woodie Guthry is on the left, strumming his "This Machine Kills Fascists" guitar.
By the Activist Newsletter

Pete again, many years later, 

singing in our Hudson Valley,
probably at a rally or a
fund raiser for a  fine cause.
 He seemed young, 

and pleased as an old man who 
did so  much good in his life and
made so very many  children laugh.
From the 1940s through the early 1970s, the U.S. government spied on singer-songwriter Pete Seeger because of his political views and associations. According to documents in Seeger's extensive FBI file —nearly 1,800 pages (with 90 pages withheld) and was just obtained by Mother Jones magazine under the Freedom of Information Act — the bureau's initial interest in Seeger was triggered in 1943 after Army private Seeger wrote a letter protesting a proposal to deport all Japanese American citizens and residents when World War II ended.

Seeger, a much beloved Hudson Valley (NY) resident until his death at 94 in 2014, was a champion of folk and progressive music music  — and the writer, performer, or promoter of hundreds of now-classic songs such as "This Land Is Your Land," one of his favorites.  Pete was a member of the Communist Party for several years in the 1940s, as he subsequently acknowledged. His government file shows that the FBI, which kept trying to tie him to communism long after he had left the organization, hounded Seeger, for decades. Pete — America's most renowned folk singer — remained a left activist, walking on local picket lines and singing at peace rallies nearly until he died, 



By Murtaza Hussain, The Intercept

Just over a year ago the Senate Intelligence Committee published a highly redacted executive summary of its investigation into the CIA’s torture and rendition program. The 525-page summary was shocking in many of its details, revealing the torture and rape of detainees held in CIA custody and encompassing treatment far in excess of even the torture techniques formally authorized by the Bush administration.

Despite the passage of 13 months, the actual report, comprising 6,700 pages, still has not been made publicly available. In fact, reading it appears to be prohibited among officials in the executive branch. Nearly a month and a half after the report’s initial release, it had not even been taken out of the package in which it was delivered to the Department of Justice and Department of State, according to government lawyers. Even the organization that was the subject of the report, the CIA, tightly controlled internal access and made “very limited use” of it, as had the Department of Defense, the lawyers said in a court filing.

That shunning of the torture report appears to be ongoing and very much by design: It turns out the Department of Justice has “refuse[d] to allow executive branch officials to review the full and final study,” Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Patrick Leahy wrote in a letter last month to the attorney general and FBI director, urging that they or their “appropriately cleared” underlings read the full report.

“The legacy of this historic report cannot be buried in the back of a handful of executive branch safes, never to be reviewed by those who most need to learn from it,” they added.

Elizabeth Beavers, a policy coordinator focusing on torture at Amnesty International, believes that no one in the Obama administration, including at the Department of Justice, has read the full report. “They appear to be taking a "see no evil, hear no evil" [stance] with regards to the proof of criminal acts it may contain,” she said. But “for the administration not even to read the whole report, and to look the other way while it is possibly buried or even destroyed, sets a dangerous precedent by excusing major crimes like torture and forced disappearance.”