Tuesday, July 24, 2012

07-24-12 Activist Newsletter

July 24, 2012, Issue #181
jacdon@earthlink.net, P.O. Box 662, New Paltz, NY 12561



QUOTE OF THE MONTH — Howard Zinn (1922-2010)

Activist, author and left academic Zinn was best known for writing "A People's History of the United States," but he also made a lifetime of contributions to the struggles for peace, civil rights, and the building of a better society and world. He declared:

"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that numbers of people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience.... Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty."

By Jack A. Smith, Activist Newsletter

After several months of talking diplomacy while simultaneously strengthening rebel forces in Syria and demonizing the Damascus government, the Obama Administration has openly decided to go for the kill. Violent regime change will not happen immediately, but it is obviously President Obama's goal.

The White House is now "redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries to forcibly bring down the government of President Bashar al-Assad," the New York Times reported July 21. "Administration officials have been in talks with officials in Turkey and Israel over how to manage a Syrian government collapse."

McClatchy Newspapers reported July 23 that "Despite reports last week that suggested rebel forces were on the verge of major triumphs in Syria, the last few days of fighting there show that a long battle still looms. Forces loyal to Assad in recent days have tightened their grip on the Lebanese border, re-established control over at least one neighborhood in Damascus and perhaps reached an accommodation with the country’s Kurds that will free up more troops for battle."

According to the U.S. and its NATO allies, the Damascus regime is engaging in a one-sided, murderous war against its own people, who simply seek democracy. At the same time, the Tehran government is characterized as a "terrorist" regime intent upon building and using nuclear weapons in order to destroy Israel and rule the Middle East. The U.S. news media, as expected, propagates without question Washington's campaign against Syria and Iran.

The United States suggests that its principal reason for seeking regime change in Syria is to promote "democracy" — a tarnished rationale often employed in recent decades to undermine or destroy governments that displease the U.S. superpower, such as in Iran in the 1950s, the Dominican Republic in the 1960s, Chile in the 1970s, Nicaragua in the 1980s, Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Iraq in the 2000s, and Libya in the 2010s, among other instances.

Democracy has nothing to do with Washington's objectives in Syria. America's closest regional ally in the anti-Assad endeavor is the repressive anti-democratic monarchy of Saudi Arabia, which finances and arms the rebel opposition in Syria along with resource-rich Qatar. Both Arab countries played a similar role last year in the U.S./NATO overthrow of the Gaddafi government in Libya.

Having learned a bitter lesson after agreeing to support a no-fly zone in Libya — and seeing that mandate illegally expanded by U.S.-NATO forces in order to wage a vicious war for regime change — both Russia and China have three times exercised their right to veto U.S. measures in the UN to escalate the conflict in Syria. The Security Council approved a 30-day extension of the UN monitor mission July 20, but Susan Rice, Washington's ambassador to the world body, implied it may be the last continuation.

Both Moscow and Beijing seek to bring about a negotiated solution to the crisis based on a cease-fire, talks and reforms. According to  Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin "the only way to put an end to this tragic conflict is to get to the negotiating table." The Syrian government agrees, but the opposition forces — aware that Washington and its allies seek a swift regime change — reject negotiations.

Churkin warns: "Don’t be duped by humanitarian rhetoric. There is much more geopolitics in their [U.S.] policy in Syria than humanism.... Our concern is that the Syrian people have to suffer the consequences of this geopolitical struggle."

There are two principal and interlocking reasons the U.S. and its NATO and Mideast coalition allies are conspiring to oust the Assad government.

(1) The first is to secure Washington's geopolitical position in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), particularly as President Obama prepares to focus additional military and economic resources on East Asia to contain the rise of China, and on Eurasia reduce Russian influence.

British news analysis Patrick Seale, whom we consider an objective source, wrote July 19: "The keys to the Syrian crisis lie outside Syria. Indeed, the Syrian crisis cannot be separated from the massive pressures being put on Iran. President Obama is now fully mobilized against both regimes. He seems to have given up trying to secure a win-win deal with Iran over its nuclear program, and he is sabotaging Kofi Annan’s Syrian peace plan by conniving in the arming of the rebels. He seems to want to bring down the regimes in both Tehran and Damascus — either because he sees Iran as a rival in the Gulf region or to win the favors of Israel’s American supporters in an election year."

According to a July 10 report from Stratfor, the non-government commercial intelligence organization close to certain U.S. spy sources: "Human rights interests alone do not come close to explaining why this particular uprising has received a substantial amount of attention and foreign backing over the past year. The past decade enabled Iran to wrest Baghdad out of Sunni hands and bring Mesopotamia under Shi'ite control. There is little question now that Iraq, as fractured as it is, sits in the Iranian sphere of influence while Iraqi Sunnis have been pushed to the margins. Iran's gains in Baghdad shifted the regional balance of power."

(2) The second reason is to enhance the power of Sunni Islam in MENA and limit possibility of a larger regional role by the Shia Muslim minority.

There are about 2 billion Muslims in the world today. Statistics vary somewhat, but about 87% are said to be Sunnis, and the remainder are Shia — a minority that has suffered discrimination from the majority. Iran has the largest Shia population in the world — up to 95% of its 75 million people. Iraq has the second largest Shia population — over 60% of its 30 million people.

About 87% of the 26 million Syrians are Muslims — 74% of these Sunni and 13% Shia — but members of the Shi'ite Alawite sect, led by the Assad family that dominates Syria's Ba'athist regime, have essentially controlled the country for over 40 years.

The principal Obama Administration target in this complex affair is Iran, not Syria. The Syrian government must fall because it is Iran's main Arab ally (as it also is Russia's, a not insignificant factor). Washington has been intent upon gravely wounding Iran after the Iraq war blew up in its face, resulting in the Shia assumption of power in Baghdad.

Until the 2003 U.S. overthrow of the secular Ba'athist regime in Baghdad led by President Saddam Hussein, Iraq's 30% Sunni minority historically dominated the state. Sunni Iraq was in fact Iran's biggest enemy. President Hussein launched a mutually devastating, unnecessary eight-year war against Iran in 1990 with tacit U.S. support. Now, while not yet an official ally, Baghdad is friendly to Tehran.

President Obama labored long to compel Shia President Nouri al-Maliki to allow tens of thousands of U.S. troops and government "advisers" to remain in Iraq after the bulk of forces were to withdraw at the end of 2011. One purpose was to monitor and reduce future Iranian influence. But the Iraqi leader ultimately refused at the last moment — a huge setback for the administration, though Washington no doubt is continuing its efforts to manipulate Baghdad covertly while crushing Iran's ally in Damascus.

The U.S. now views Iraq as positioned within neighboring Iran's sphere of influence, a significant shift in the regional balance of power. This can only be perceived as a serious danger to American hegemony throughout the region and particularly the Persian Gulf/Arabian Peninsula, from whence much of the world's petroleum issues. Washington's greatest fear is that Iran and Iraq — two of the world's principal oil producers — might develop a genuine alliance.

This is a chief reason why the Obama government has contrived pretexts to impose heavy sanctions and threaten military action against the Tehran government. This also explains why ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia so enthusiastically backs sanctions and threats against Iran and is investing heavily in overthrowing Assad. The Saudi royal family, devotees of a fundamentalist brand of Sunni religion, wants to expunge Shia influence throughout the region, as well as keep its own discriminated-against 15% Shi'ite minority under tight control.

One pay back for the Saudis is Washington's indifference to the cruelty toward the Shi'ite majority demanding a modicum of democracy in Bahrain, which is ruled by a dictatorial Sunni monarchy under the protection of Saudi Arabia.

Obama's immediate goal is to break up the developing relationship between three contiguous Shia-led countries  — Persian Iran and Arab Iraq and Syria — covering some 1,600 miles from the Afghan border to the Mediterranean.

All other states in MENA circulate well within Washington's hegemonic orbit. The Arab Spring has not diminished U.S. hegemony in the region where regimes were overthrown —Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen. Indeed, U.S./NATO control  of Libya and now the Syrian situation appear to have enhanced Washington's regional power. Last week the Arab League, representing all the Arab states, proposed Assad should resign and that the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which leads the armed struggle, should form a transitional regime. Iraq dissented, declaring that it was for the Syrian people alone to decide his fate.

Most Arab countries, and non-Arab NATO member Turkey as well — which flaunts the opportunity to flex its Sunni credentials as it strains to reassert its influence and even leadership in the Middle East — are part of the regime change coalition. Turkey is playing a key role, providing a reliable rear area for the FSA and as a transmission point for arms bound for the opposition.

Even Israel shows public signs of getting directly involved in Assad's downfall. Last week right wing Prime Minister Netanyahu told Fox News Israel "was ready to act" in Syria. Over the years, Tel-Aviv had been more than willing to tolerate the Assad government rather than a Sunni regime until the recent period when Tehran and Damascus began developing much closer ties.

Interestingly, Hamas — the Islamic organization elected to govern the Palestinian territory of Gaza — has recently announced its support for the Sunni rebels in Syria, after receiving decades of solidarity and support from the Assad government. Hamas is connected to the Muslim Brotherhood now leading Egypt which recently guaranteed it would maintain peace and commerce with Israel. Another branch of the Brotherhood is expected to acquire greater political power in Syria if regime change succeeds.

Syria is a strongly nationalist capitalist country which promoted pan-Arabism when it was in vogue in the 1960s. It has been ruled by the Ba'ath Party for over four decades. There are a number of other parties but they are subordinate to the Ba'athists. It is not a western-type democracy and the government is repressive toward dissent. Further, Syria dealt harshly with peaceful demonstrators before the armed opposition was a major factor.

The Damascus government also has positive aspects. The Assad regime is secular in nature, is opposed to colonialism and imperialism, and does not bend the knee — as so do many Arab governments these days — to the U.S. The Assad government strongly opposed America's war in Iraq. It materially and politically backs the rights of the Palestinian people and the Shia Lebanese political party Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran.

In addition, the government appears to have the allegiance of a substantial proportion of the population, including the several minority sects — Christians (10% of the population), Druze, Turkmen, Jews, Yazidis and others. All seem to prefer a secular government to the possibility of a more religious Sunni state, perhaps led by  the Muslim Brotherhood.

The oppositional forces include various often contending civil and exile organizations and individuals associated with the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition group, and the approximately 100 different armed urban guerrilla groups broadly identified with the Syrian Free Army. Disunity characterizes the relations between many of these groups, virtually all of which are Sunni. Major rivalries have been reported between a number of military commanders, and sharp splits have taken place within the SNC and between leaders within Syria and influential exiles largely based in Turkey and Egypt. The U.S. has been working for months to identify and promote the leaders it wishes to put into power.

According to Middle East correspondent Pepe Escobar writing July 24 in Asia Times, "There's no way to understand the Syrian dynamics without learning that most FSA commanders are not Syrians, but Iraqi Sunnis. The FSA could only capture the Abu Kamal border crossing between Syria and Iraq because the whole area is controlled by Sunni tribes viscerally antagonistic towards the al-Maliki government in Baghdad. The free flow of mujahedeen, hardcore jihadis and weapons between Iraq and Syria is now more than established.... As it stands, the romanticized Syrian 'rebels' plus the insurgents formerly known as terrorists cannot win against the Syria military — not even with the Saudis and Qataris showering them with loads of cash and weapons."

Repeated reports from many sources indicate that contingents of fundamentalist jihadists have joined the anti-Assad campaign. Stratfor comments that "The Syrian rebellion contains a growing assortment of Sunni Islamists, Salafist jihadists and transnational al Qaeda-style jihadists. Foreign fighters belonging to the latter two categories are believed to be making their way into Syria from Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq." 

According to a report this week in the German daily Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,
German intelligence estimates that "around 90" terror attacks that "can be attributed to organizations that are close to al-Qaeda or jihadist groups" were carried out in Syria between the end of December and the beginning of July.

Even the New York Times, a vigorous proponent of overthrowing Assad had to acknowledge July 25 that "evidence is mounting that Syria has become a magnet for Sunni extremists, including those operating under the banner of Al Qaeda.,,, Al Qaeda, through an audio statement, has just made an undisguised bid to link its insurgency in Iraq with the revolution in Syria, depicting both as sectarian conflicts — Sunnis versus Shi'ites."

Despite such attacks, the Damascus government announced this week that it would not use its chemical weapons "against the Syrian people or civilians during this crisis, under any circumstances.” It did, however, suggest it might deploy such weapons against foreign military intervention.

In the U.S. most liberals and Democrats support Obama's Syrian adventure as well Republicans, just as they approved of what little they knew of the White House involvement in the Libyan regime change.  GOP candidate Mitt Romney and some Republican politicians demand "tougher action," but that's just for show.

Sectors of the U.S. left are split over America's role in Syria. Some groups support the uprising in the name of democracy, ignoring that Washington and the royal family in Riyadh will be the biggest winners. Those who identify with the anti-imperialist perspective strongly oppose U.S/Saudi involvement. (1)

Our view is that it is the responsibility of the people of a country, such as Syria — and not outside forces — to determine the political character of their government, up to and including armed revolution.

And the anti-Assad international coalition is not just any "outside force." It takes orders from the United States — the most powerful military state in the world responsible for violent aggression and millions of deaths in recent decades —  and is also backed by a couple of anti-democratic monarchies and NATO, including two of the region's former colonial overlords, France and Great Britain.

The extent of American involvement with the opposition was partially exposed by the New York Times July 21: "American diplomats are also meeting regularly with representatives of various Syrian opposition groups outside the country to help map out a possible post-Assad government. 'Our focus with the opposition is on working with them so that they have a political transition in place to stand up a new Syria,' Patrick Ventrell, a State Department spokesman, said last week."

As such, in our understanding, the  principal aspect of the struggle for power in Syria is not popular forces fighting for democracy but an international coalition led by imperialism seeking to overthrow a government allied to Iran in order to serve Washington's geopolitical objectives and Saudi Arabia's sectarian goal of diminishing Shia influence in the region.

— Readers interested in the left debate may wish to read the article  "Cruise Missile Socialists" by By Mazda Majidi, putting forward an anti-imperialist argument against the U.S.-led overthrow of Assad. It is at

[This article casts additional light on the Syrian situation, elaborating on Turkey's role in the plans for regime change in Damascus. It appeared in Asia Times July 23. The author, Ambassador M. K. Bhadrakumar, was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.]

By M. K. Bhadrakumar

Israel's emergence from the woodwork can signal only one thing: the Syrian crisis is moving towards the decisive phase. The lights have been switched on in the operation theatre and the carving of Syria is beginning. What is going to follow won't be a pretty sight at all since the patient is not under anesthesia, and the chief surgeon prefers to lead from behind while sidekicks do the dirty job.

So far, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have done the maximum they could to destabilize Syria and remove the regime headed by President Bashar al-Assad. But Assad is still holding out. Israeli expertise is now needed to complete the unfinished business.

Someone is needed to plunge a sharp knife deep into Assad's back. Jordan's king can't do the job; he measures up only to Assad's knees. The Saudi and Qatari sheikhs with their ponderous, flabby body are not used to physical activity; the North Atlantic Treaty Organization prefers to be left alone, having burnt its fingers in Libya with a bloody operation that borders on war crime. That leaves Turkey.

In principle, Turkey has the muscle power, but intervention in Syria is fraught with risks and one of the enduring legacies of Kemal Atatürk is that Turkey avoids taking risks. Besides, Turkey's military is not quite in top form.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also unable to carry the majority opinion within Turkey in favor of a war in Syria, and he is navigating a tricky path himself, trying to amend his country's constitution and make himself a real sultan. Obviously, Erdogan can't risk his career.

Besides, there are imponderables — a potential backlash from the Alawite minority within Turkey (which resents the surge of [extreme fundamentalist] Salafism under Erdogan's watch) and the perennial danger of walking into a trap set up by militant Kurds.... The Alawites in Turkey see Assad "trying to hold together a tolerant, pluralist Syria.

But all that is becoming irrelevant. The New York Times reported July 20, quoting American officials in Washington, that President Barack Obama is "increasing aid to the rebels and redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries to forcibly bring down the [Syrian] government."

It further reported that the CIA operatives who are based in southern Turkey "for several weeks" will continue with their mission to create violence against the Syrian regime. Meanwhile, the U.S and Turkey will also be working on putting together a post-Assad "provisional government" in Syria.

Accordingly, the leaders of Syria's proscribed Muslim Brotherhood held a four-day conclave in Istanbul and announced plans July 20 to create an "Islamic party." The Brotherhood's spokesman announced, "We are ready for the post-Assad era, we have plans for the economy, the courts, [and] politics."

The emergent operational plan is that while Ankara steps up the covert operations inside Syria (bankrolled by Saudi Arabia and Qatar), Israel will cross the border into Syria from the south and attack Assad's military and degrade its capacity to resist the Turkish threat.

Turkey has stepped up the psywar, projecting through the media that the Syrian regime is already tottering....

But such accounts also reflect the Turkish establishment's worry that the Syrian regime is still not showing signs of capitulation despite all the hits it took from the "rebels."

Erdogan's best hope is that the Turkish intelligence could orchestrate some sort of "palace coup" in Damascus in the coming days or weeks. What suits Ankara will be to have Assad replaced by a transitional structure that retains elements of the existing Ba'athist state structure, which could facilitate an orderly transfer of power to a new administration — that is to say, ideally, a transition not different from what followed in Egypt once Hosni Mubarak exited.

But Erdogan is unsure whether Turkey can swing an Egypt-like coup in Damascus. His dash to Moscow July 18 aimed at sounding out Russia if a new and stable transitional structure could be put together in Damascus through some kind of international cooperation. (Obama lent his weight to Erdogan's mission by telephoning Russian President Vladimir Putin the next day to discuss Syria.)

Just before Erdogan went into his scheduled meeting with Putin in the Kremlin, a massive terrorist attack took place in Damascus, killing the Syrian defense minister and its intelligence chief. In the event, Moscow politely heard him out and assured Erdogan it would make a clinical separation between Russia's long-term strategic ties with Turkey and the Syrian issue. At any rate, the Russian stance remained unchanged, as evident from its veto at the United Security Council a week later....

Prior to the Moscow visit, Erdogan also traveled to Beijing, which senses that the U.S. is closing the deal on Syria. The official Global Times newspaper commented in an editorial July 20 that "It's likely that the Assad administration will be overthrown...."

In the final analysis, only Israel can resolve Erdogan's dilemma. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak stated over the weekend, "Syria has advanced anti-aircraft missiles, surface-to-surface missiles and elements of chemical weapons. I directed the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] to prepare for a situation where we will need to consider the possibility of an attack."

Barak added that the "moment [Assad] starts to fall, we [Israel] will conduct intelligence monitoring and will liaise with other agencies." He spoke after a secret visit to Israel the previous weekend by Obama's National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon. Close on the heels of Donilon's consultations, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Tel Aviv after a historic meeting in Cairo with the newly elected President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, who assured Washington that he wouldn't contemplate creating any problems for Israel in a conceivable future.

Barak's disclosure tears apart the thin veil of indifference that Tel-Aviv so far maintained over the Syrian developments. What emerges, in retrospect, is that Washington kept Israel in abeyance for the ripe moment to physically demolish Assad's war machinery, an enterprise that Erdogan is unwilling or incapable of undertaking.

Most certainly, Erdogan was in the loop that he was going to partner Barak, but being a shrewd politician he kept up an appearance of agonizing publicly over the Syrian crisis —while, of course, covertly fueling it.

Simply put, Washington has outwitted Moscow and Beijing. It kept assuring Russia and China that a military intervention by the U.S. all by itself or a Libya-style NATO operation was the last thing on Obama's mind. No doubt, Obama kept its word.

What is unfolding is a startling sight — Salafism riding the wings of the Israeli air force and landing in Damascus. Erdogan will now set out with renewed vigor to shake up the Assad tree in Damascus, while any day from now Barak will begin chopping off the tree's branches in a lightning sweep.

Erdogan and Barak will make the Assad tree so naked and helpless that it will realize the futility of standing upright any more. There is no "military intervention" involved here, no NATO operations, no Libya-like analogy can be drawn. Nor is Erdogan to order his army to march into Syria.

Secretary of State Clinton would say this is the [use of] "smart power." In a magnificent essay titled "The Art of Smart Power" penned by her last week as she surveyed the curious twist to the tale of the Arab Spring, Clinton wrote that the U.S. is nowadays "leading in new ways." [1]

Clinton underscored that Washington is expanding its "foreign-policy toolbox [to] integrate every asset and partner, and fundamentally change the way we [U.S.] do business .... [The] common thread running through all our efforts is a commitment to adapt America's global leadership for the needs of a changing world."

At the end of the day, Erdogan will bite the bullet. The plain truth is that Israel is going to complete the messy job for him in Syria.

Erdogan has no choice but to accept that he belongs to Washington's "toolbox" — nothing more, nothing less. He was never destined for the role to lead the Muslim Middle East. The West was merely pandering to his well-known vanity. That role is Washington's exclusive prerogative.

Note: 1. The art of smart power, New Statesman, July 18, 2012, http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/politics/2012/07/hillary-clinton-art-smart-power

By Conn Hallinan

Now that talks with Iran on its nuclear program appear to be on the ropes, are we on the road to war? The Israelis threaten it almost weekly, and the Barack Obama administration has reportedly drawn up an attack plan. But in a sense, we are already at war with Iran.

Carl von Clausewitz, the great theoretician of modern warfare, defined war as the continuation of politics by other means. In the case of Iran, international politics has become a de-facto state of war. According to reports, the annual inflation rate in Iran is 22.2%, although many economists estimate it at double that. In the last week of June, the price of chicken rose 30%, grains were up 55.8%, fruits up 66.6%, and vegetables up 99.5%. Iran's Central Bank estimates unemployment among the young is 22.5%, although the Financial Times says "the official figures are vastly underestimated". The production sector is working at half its capacity.

The value of the Iranian rial has fallen 40% since last year, and there is a wave of business closings and bankruptcies due to rising energy costs and imports made expensive by the sanctions.

Oil exports, Iran's major source of income, have fallen 40% in 2012, according to the International Energy Agency, costing the country nearly U.S.$32 billion over the past year. The 27-member European Union ban on buying Iranian oil will further depress sales, and an EU withdrawal of shipping insurance will make it difficult for Tehran to ship oil and gas to its diminishing number of customers. Loss of insurance coverage could reduce Iran's oil exports by 200,000 barrels a day, or $4.5 billion a month. Energy accounts for about 80% of Iran's public revenues.

Whipsawed by energy sanctions, the worst may be yet to come. The United States has already made it difficult for countries to deal with Iran's Central Bank, and the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that would declare the Iranian energy sector a "zone of proliferation concern," which would strangle Tehran's ability to collect payments for its oil exports. Other proposals would essentially make it impossible to do business with Iran's other banks. Any country that dared to do so would find itself unable to conduct virtually any kind of international banking.

If the blizzard of legislation does pass, "this would be a significant ratcheting-up of the economic war against Iran," Mark Dubowitz told the Financial Times. Dubowitz is executive director of the neo-conservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which has lobbied for a series of economic assaults against the Palestinians, China, and Hezbollah.

But the "war" has already gone far beyond the economic sphere.

In the past two years, five Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated. The hits have been widely attributed to the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, and the People's Mujahidin of Iran (MEK), an organization the U.S. State Department designates as "terrorist."

Last year, a massive explosion rocked the Bid Ganeh military base near Tehran, killing 17 people, including the founder of Iran's missile program, Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam. According to Israeli media, the camp was sabotaged by the MEK working with Mossad. Deadly attacks directed at Iran's Revolutionary Guard have been tied to Jundullah, a Sunni group with ties to U.S. and Israeli intelligence.

It is no secret —indeed, President Obama openly admitted it — that under the codename "Olympic Games" the United States has been waging cyber war against Iran. The Stuxnet virus shut down a considerable portion of Iran's nuclear program, although it also infected infrastructure systems, including power plants, oil rigs, and water supplies. The virus was designed to attack systems made by the German company Siemens and has apparently spread to China, Pakistan, and Indonesia.

The United States is also suspected of being behind the Flame virus, a spyware program able to record keystrokes, eavesdrop on conversations near an infected computer, and tap into screen images. Besides Iran, Flame has been found in computers in the Palestinian West Bank, Lebanon, Hungary, Austria, Russia, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates. Because "malware" seeks out undefended computers no matter where they are, it has a habit of spreading beyond its initial target.

Most of the media is focused on whether the failure of the talks will lead to an Israeli or American attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, and there is certainly considerable smoke out there.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have been threatening to attack Iran for the past two years. According to Gideon Rachman, a leading columnist for the Financial Times, some Israeli officials have told him Tel Aviv will attack sometime this summer or early fall. One source told him "Israel will wait until September or October because the weather is better and it's closer to the U.S. elections."

But the Independent's (UK) Patrick Cockburn, one of the more reliable analysts on the Middle East, thinks the Israeli threats are "the bluff of the century." Cockburn argues that there is simply no reason for Tel-Aviv to go to war, since the Iranian economy is being effectively strangled by the sanctions. But the saber rattling is useful because it scares the EU into toughing up the siege of Tehran, while also shifting the Palestinian issue to a back burner.

There are serious divisions within Israel on whether to go to war, with Israeli intelligence and the military generally opposed. The latter's reasons are simple: militarily Tel-Aviv couldn't pull it off, and politically an attack would garner worldwide sympathy for Iran. Recent statements downgrading the threat of Iran by Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz suggest the Netanyahu government is finally feeling the pressure from divisions within its own ranks and may be backing off from a military confrontation.

And the United States? According to Paul Rogers, a Department of Peace Studies professor at Bradford University and OpenDemocracy's international security editor, the Pentagon has drawn up plans for a concentrated attack on Iran's nuclear industry, using a combination of bombers and cruise missiles. The United States recently beefed up its military footprint in the region.

But while the possibility of such an attack is real — especially if congressional hawks get their way — the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence establishment are hardly enthusiastic about it. In any case, the United States is carpet-bombing Iran's economy without firing a shot or sending air crews into harm's way.

Although Iran is generally depicted as the recalcitrant party in the current nuclear talks, it has already compromised extensively, even agreeing to ship some of its enriched uranium out of the country and to guarantee the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to all nuclear facilities. Tehran has also converted one-third of its 20%-enriched uranium into plates, making it almost impossible to use the fuel for nuclear weapons. Weapons-grade uranium is enriched to 90%.

In return, Tehran is demanding the right to enrich to 3.5% — the level needed to power a civilian reactor — and an end to sanctions.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty does not ban enriching uranium — indeed, it is guaranteed by Articles III and IV — as long as the fuel is not weaponized. "Iran is raising eyebrows," says Yousaf M. Butt of the American Federation of Scientists, "but what it is doing is a concern — not illegal."

However, the P5+1 — the permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany — is demanding an end to all enrichment, an Iranian commitment to ship the enriched fuel out of the country, and closure of the enrichment plant at Fordo: "stop, shut, and ship."

In return, Iran would get enriched fuel for medical use and some spare parts for its civilian airlines. The sanctions would remain in place, however, although it would open the subject up for discussion. The problem is that many of the more onerous sanctions are those independently applied by the United States and the EU. Russia and China have expressed opposition to the independent sanctions, but so far have not shown a willingness to openly flaunt them.

It will be hard for Tehran to make further concessions, particularly if there is no light at the end of the sanction tunnel. Indeed, some of the demands seem almost crafted to derail a diplomatic solution, raising the suspicion that the dispute is less about Iran's nuclear program than a concerted drive to marginalize a country that has resisted European and U.S. interests in the Middle East. Isolate Iran enough, the thinking goes, and it might bring about regime change. Moscow and Beijing don't support such an outcome, but they have little influence over what Washington and Brussels do independently.

There is still no evidence that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. Indeed, the body of evidence suggests the opposite, including the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that Tehran mothballed its program in 2003. But evidence is irrelevant when the enormous economic power of the United States and the EU can cow the rest of the world, and force a country to its knees without resorting to open hostilities.

In short, war by other means.

— Originally published at Dispatches From the Edge, July 15. Hallinan is a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus.

By David Vine

The first thing I saw last month when I walked into the belly of the dark grey C-17 Air Force cargo plane was a void -- something missing. A missing left arm, to be exact, severed at the shoulder, temporarily patched and held together.  Thick, pale flesh, flecked with bright red at the edges. It looked like meat sliced open. The face and what remained of the rest of the man were obscured by blankets, an American flag quilt, and a jumble of tubes and tape, wires, drip bags, and medical monitors.

That man and two other critically wounded soldiers -- one with two stumps where legs had been, the other missing a leg below the thigh -- were intubated, unconscious, and lying on stretchers hooked to the walls of the plane that had just landed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. A tattoo on the soldier’s remaining arm read, “DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR.”

I asked a member of the Air Force medical team about the casualties they see like these. Many, as with this flight, were coming from Afghanistan, he told me. “A lot from the Horn of Africa,” he added. “You don’t really hear about that in the media.”

“Where in Africa?” I asked.  He said he didn’t know exactly, but generally from the Horn, often with critical injuries. “A lot out of Djibouti,” he added, referring to Camp Lemonnier, the main U.S. military base in Africa, but from “elsewhere” in the region, too.

Since the “Black Hawk Down” deaths in Somalia almost 20 years ago, we’ve heard little, if anything, about American military casualties in Africa (other than a strange report last week about three special operations commandos killed, along with three women identified by U.S. military sources as “Moroccan prostitutes,” in a mysterious car accident in Mali). The growing number of patients arriving at Ramstein from Africa pulls back a curtain on a significant transformation in twenty-first-century U.S. military strategy.

These casualties are likely to be the vanguard of growing numbers of wounded troops coming from places far removed from Afghanistan or Iraq. They reflect the increased use of relatively small bases like Camp Lemonnier, which military planners see as a model for future U.S. bases “scattered,” as one academic explains, “across regions in which the United States has previously not maintained a military presence.”

Disappearing are the days when Ramstein was the signature U.S. base, an American-town-sized behemoth filled with thousands or tens of thousands of Americans, PXs, Pizza Huts, and other amenities of home. But don’t for a second think that the Pentagon is packing up, downsizing its global mission, and heading home. In fact, based on developments in recent years, the opposite may be true. While the collection of Cold War-era giant bases around the world is shrinking, the global infrastructure of bases overseas has exploded in size and scope.

Unknown to most Americans, Washington’s garrisoning of the planet is on the rise, thanks to a new generation of bases the military calls “lily pads” (as in a frog jumping across a pond toward its prey). These are small, secretive, inaccessible facilities with limited numbers of troops, spartan amenities, and prepositioned weaponry and supplies.

Around the world, from Djibouti to the jungles of Honduras, the deserts of Mauritania to Australia’s tiny Cocos Islands, the Pentagon has been pursuing as many lily pads as it can, in as many countries as it can, as fast as it can. Although statistics are hard to assemble, given the often-secretive nature of such bases, the Pentagon has probably built upwards of 50 lily pads and other small bases since around 2000, while exploring the construction of dozens more.

As Mark Gillem, author of America Town: Building the Outposts of Empire, explains, “avoidance” of local populations, publicity, and potential opposition is the new aim. “To project its power,” he says, the United States wants “secluded and self-contained outposts strategically located” around the world. According to some of the strategy’s strongest proponents at the American Enterprise Institute, the goal should be “to create a worldwide network of frontier forts,” with the U.S. military “the ‘global cavalry’ of the twenty-first century.”

Such lily-pad bases have become a critical part of an evolving Washington military strategy aimed at maintaining U.S. global dominance by doing far more with less in an increasingly competitive, ever more multi-polar world. Central as it’s becoming to the long-term U.S. stance, this global-basing reset policy has, remarkably enough, received almost no public attention, nor significant Congressional oversight. Meanwhile, as the arrival of the first casualties from Africa shows, the U.S. military is getting involved in new areas of the world and new conflicts, with potentially disastrous consequences.

You might think that the U.S. military is in the process of shrinking, rather than expanding, its little noticed but enormous collection of bases abroad. After all, it was forced to close the full panoply of 505 bases, mega to micro, that it built in Iraq, and it's now beginning the process of drawing down forces in Afghanistan. In Europe, the Pentagon is continuing to close its massive bases in Germany and will soon remove two combat brigades from that country. Global troop numbers are set to shrink by around 100,000.

Yet Washington still easily maintains the largest collection of foreign bases in world history: more than 1,000 military installations outside the 50 states and Washington, DC. They include everything from decades-old bases in Germany and Japan to brand-new drone bases in Ethiopia and the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean and even resorts for military vacationers in Italy and South Korea.

In Afghanistan, the U.S.-led international force still occupies more than 450 bases. In total, the U.S. military has some form of troop presence in approximately 150 foreign countries, not to mention 11 aircraft carrier task forces -- essentially floating bases -- and a significant, and growing, military presence in space. The United States currently spends an estimated $250 billion annually maintaining bases and troops overseas.

Some bases, like Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, date to the late nineteenth century. Most were built or occupied during or just after World War II on every continent, including Antarctica. Although the U.S. military vacated around 60% of its foreign bases following the Soviet Union’s collapse, the Cold War base infrastructure remained relatively intact, with 60,000 American troops remaining in Germany alone, despite the absence of a superpower adversary.

However, in the early months of 2001, even before the attacks of 9/11, the Bush administration launched a major global realignment of bases and troops that’s continuing today with Obama’s “Asia pivot.” Bush’s original plan was to close more than one-third of the nation’s overseas bases and shift troops east and south, closer to predicted conflict zones in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The Pentagon began to focus on creating smaller and more flexible “forward operating bases” and even smaller “cooperative security locations” or “lily pads.” Major troop concentrations were to be restricted to a reduced number of “main operating bases” (MOBs) -- like Ramstein, Guam in the Pacific, and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean -- which were to be expanded.

Despite the rhetoric of consolidation and closure that went with this plan, in the post-9/11 era the Pentagon has actually been expanding its base infrastructure dramatically, including dozens of major bases in every Persian Gulf country save Iran, and in several Central Asian countries critical to the war in Afghanistan.

Obama’s recently announced “Asia pivot” signals that East Asia will be at the center of the explosion of lily-pad bases and related developments. Already in Australia, U.S. marines are settling into a shared base in Darwin. Elsewhere, the Pentagon is pursuing plans for a drone and surveillance base in Australia’s Cocos Islands and deployments to Brisbane and Perth. In Thailand, the Pentagon has negotiated rights for new Navy port visits and a “disaster-relief hub” at U-Tapao.

In the Philippines, whose government evicted the U.S. from the massive Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base in the early 1990s, as many as 600 special forces troops have quietly been operating in the country’s south since January 2002. Last month, the two governments reached an agreement on the future U.S. use of Clark and Subic, as well as other repair and supply hubs from the Vietnam War era. In a sign of changing times, U.S. officials even signed a 2011 defense agreement with former enemy Vietnam and have begun negotiations over the Navy’s increased use of Vietnamese ports.

Elsewhere in Asia, the Pentagon has rebuilt a runway on tiny Tinian island near Guam, and it’s considering future bases in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei, while pushing stronger military ties with India. Every year in the region, the military conducts around 170 military exercises and 250 port visits. On South Korea’s Jeju island, the Korean military is building a base that will be part of the U.S. missile defense system and to which U.S. forces will have regular access.

“We just can’t be in one place to do what we’ve got to do,” Pacific Command commander Admiral Samuel Locklear III has said. For military planners, “what we’ve got to do” is clearly defined as isolating and (in the terminology of the Cold War) “containing” the new power in the region, China. This evidently means “peppering” new bases throughout the region, adding to the more than 200 U.S. bases that have encircled China for decades in Japan, South Korea, Guam, and Hawaii.

And Asia is just the beginning. In Africa, the Pentagon has quietly created “about a dozen air bases” for drones and surveillance since 2007. In addition to Camp Lemonnier, we know that the military has created or will soon create installations in Burkina Faso, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritania, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Seychelles, South Sudan, and Uganda. The Pentagon has also investigated building bases in Algeria, Gabon, Ghana, Mali, and Nigeria, among other places.

Next year, a brigade-sized force of 3,000 troops, and “likely more,” will arrive for exercises and training missions across the continent. In the nearby Persian Gulf, the Navy is developing an “afloat forward-staging base,” or “mothership,” to serve as a sea-borne “lily pad” for helicopters and patrol craft, and has been involved in a massive build-up of forces in the region.

In Latin America, following the military's eviction from Panama in 1999 and Ecuador in 2009, the Pentagon has created or upgraded new bases in Aruba and Curaçao, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, and Peru.  Elsewhere, the Pentagon has funded the creation of military and police bases capable of hosting U.S. forces in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica, and even Ecuador. In 2008, the Navy reactivated its Fourth Fleet, inactive since 1950, to patrol the region. The military may want a base in Brazil and unsuccessfully tried to create bases, ostensibly for humanitarian and emergency relief, in Paraguay and Argentina.

Finally, in Europe, after arriving in the Balkans during 1990’s interventions, U.S. bases have moved eastward into some of the former Eastern Bloc states of the Soviet empire. The Pentagon is now developing installations capable of supporting rotating, brigade-sized deployments in Romania and Bulgaria, and a missile defense base and aviation facilities in Poland. Previously, the Bush administration maintained two CIA black sites (secret prisons) in Lithuania and another in Poland. Citizens of the Czech Republic rejected a planned radar base for the Pentagon’s still unproven missile defense system, and now Romania will host ground-based missiles.

A lily pad on one of the Gulf of Guinea islands of S­ão Tomé and Príncipe, off the oil-rich west coast of Africa, helps explain what’s going on. A U.S. official has described the base as “another Diego Garcia,” referring to the Indian Ocean base that’s helped ensure decades of U.S. domination over Middle Eastern energy supplies. Without the freedom to create new large bases in Africa, the Pentagon is using S­ão Tomé and a growing collection of other lily pads on the continent in an attempt to control another crucial oil-rich region.

Far beyond West Africa, the nineteenth century “Great Game” competition for Central Asia has returned with a passion -- and this time gone global.  It’s spreading to resource-rich lands in Africa, Asia, and South America, as the United States, China, Russia, and members of the European Union find themselves locked in an increasingly intense competition for economic and geopolitical supremacy.

While Beijing, in particular, has pursued this competition in a largely economic fashion, dotting the globe with strategic investments, Washington has focused relentlessly on military might as its global trump card, dotting the planet with new bases and other forms of military power. “Forget full-scale invasions and large-footprint occupations on the Eurasian mainland,” Nick Turse has written of this new twenty-first century military strategy. “Instead, think: special operations forces... proxy armies... the militarization of spying and intelligence... drone aircraft... cyber-attacks, and joint Pentagon operations with increasingly militarized ‘civilian’ government agencies.”

Add to this unparalleled long-range air and naval power; arms sales besting any nation on Earth; humanitarian and disaster relief missions that clearly serve military intelligence, patrol, and “hearts and minds” functions; the rotational deployment of regular U.S. forces globally; port visits and an expanding array of joint military exercises and training missions that give the U.S. military de facto “presence” worldwide and help turn foreign militaries into proxy forces.

And lots and lots of lily-pad bases.

Military planners see a future of endless small-scale interventions in which a large, geographically dispersed collection of bases will always be primed for instant operational access. With bases in as many places as possible, military planners want to be able to turn to another conveniently close country if the United States is ever prevented from using a base, as it was by Turkey prior to the invasion of Iraq. In other words, Pentagon officials dream of nearly limitless flexibility, the ability to react with remarkable rapidity to developments anywhere on Earth, and thus, something approaching total military control over the planet.

Beyond their military utility, the lily pads and other forms of power projection are also political and economic tools used to build and maintain alliances and provide privileged U.S. access to overseas markets, resources, and investment opportunities. Washington is planning to use lily-pad bases and other military projects to bind countries in Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America as closely as possible to the U.S. military -- and so to continued U.S. political-economic hegemony. In short, American officials are hoping military might will entrench their influence and keep as many countries as possible within an American orbit at a time when some are asserting their independence ever more forcefully or gravitating toward China and other rising powers.

While relying on smaller bases may sound smarter and more cost effective than maintaining huge bases that have often caused anger in places like Okinawa and South Korea, lily pads threaten U.S. and global security in several ways:

First, the “lily pad” language can be misleading, since by design or otherwise, such installations are capable of quickly growing into bloated behemoths.

Second, despite the rhetoric about spreading democracy that still lingers in Washington, building more lily pads actually guarantees collaboration with an increasing number of despotic, corrupt, and murderous regimes.

Third, there is a well-documented pattern of damage that military facilities of various sizes inflict on local communities. Although lily pads seem to promise insulation from local opposition, over time even small bases have often led to anger and protest movements.

Finally, a proliferation of lily pads means the creeping militarization of large swaths of the globe. Like real lily pads -- which are actually aquatic weeds -- bases have a way of growing and reproducing uncontrollably. Indeed, bases tend to beget bases, creating “base races” with other nations, heightening military tensions, and discouraging diplomatic solutions to conflicts. After all, how would the United States respond if China, Russia, or Iran were to build even a single lily-pad base of its own in Mexico or the Caribbean?

For China and Russia in particular, ever more U.S. bases near their borders threaten to set off new cold wars. Most troublingly, the creation of new bases to protect against an alleged future Chinese military threat may prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy: such bases in Asia are likely to create the threat they are supposedly designed to protect against, making a catastrophic war with China more, not less, likely.

Encouragingly, however, overseas bases have recently begun to generate critical scrutiny across the political spectrum from Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul to Democratic Senator Jon Tester and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. With everyone looking for ways to trim the deficit, closing overseas bases offers easy savings. Indeed, increasingly influential types are recognizing that the country simply can’t afford more than 1,000 bases abroad.

Great Britain, like empires before it, had to close most of its remaining foreign bases in the midst of an economic crisis in the 1960s and 1970s. The United States is undoubtedly headed in that direction sooner or later. The only question is whether the country will give up its bases and downsize its global mission by choice, or if it will follow Britain’s path as a fading power forced to give up its bases from a position of weakness.

Of course, the consequences of not choosing another path extend beyond economics. If the proliferation of lily pads, special operations forces, and drone wars continues, the United States is likely to be drawn into new conflicts and new wars, generating unknown forms of blowback, and untold death and destruction. In that case, we’d better prepare for a lot more incoming flights -- from the Horn of Africa to Honduras -- carrying not just amputees but caskets.

— This article was posted July 15 on TomDispatch.com. David Vine is an assistant professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, DC. He is the author of "Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia" (Princeton University Press, 2009). He has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and Mother Jones, among other places. He is currently completing a book about the more than 1,000 U.S. military bases located outside the United States.

Written by Bev Grant and Daniel A. Weiss,
performed by Ina May Wool and Bev Grant.
[You can listen to this at the Labor Notes website at

Gas man came calling just the other day.
Said you lease me your land and I promise we will pay
For what you got underground; we’ll bring it to the top.
But first we gotta drill a hole, make those bubbles pop.
We got a cocktail to inject. Best not to drink it, don’t you know.
We’ll shoot it deep inside the shale rock shatter what’s below,

To get the natural gas.
Your lucky day will come at last,
When we frack over here.

My neighbor told me he got that same song and dance.
The money sounded good and so he thought he’d take a chance.
Now his chickens lost their feathers, some are now belated,
‘Cause the water in his well has been contaminated.
Strike a match in his sink, watch the faucet catch on fire.
The gas man says it’s not his fault. We know he’s no liar.

Natural gas,
Hope this don't sound too crass.
Get the frack outa here

Between a rock and a hard place, that's where I am.
Lord knows we need the money, but I don’t understand.

How you can stand there and tell me, this is a good thing,
While you poison our water with lead and benzene.
Hydraulic fracturing, sure, it's making you a buck,
While the rest of us get sick and die and you just say “tough luck.”
You try to make us think it’s safe. You even try to say it’s green.
By showing pretty pictures on our tv screen.

Natural gas,
You can kiss my ass.
Get the frack outa here.

Ain’t nothin’ natural ‘bout your
Natural gas,
Kiss my natural ass, and
Get the frack outa here.

[Personnel: Bev Grant, vocals, acoustic guitar; Ina May Wool, vocals; Daniel A. Weiss, dobro, Trilian bass, mandolin, drum programming, sound, producer.]

[The following article, originally titled "Tens of thousands of people live in the shadow of terror," is by Amira Hass, a writer for the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, where it appeared July 18.]

Here's a statistic that you won't see in research on anti-Semitism, no matter how meticulous the study is. In the first six months of the year, 154 anti-Semitic assaults have been recorded, 45 of them around one village alone. Some fear that last year's record high of 411 attacks —  significantly more than the 312 attacks in 2010 and 168 in 2009 —  could be broken this year.

Fifty-eight incidents were recorded in June alone, including stone-throwing targeting farmers and shepherds, shattered windows, arson, damaged water pipes and water-storage facilities, uprooted fruit trees and one damaged house of worship. The assailants are sometimes masked, sometimes not; sometimes they attack surreptitiously, sometimes in the light of day.

There were two violent attacks a day, in separate venues, on July 13, 14 and 15. The words "death" and "revenge" have been scrawled in various areas; a more original message promises that "We will yet slaughter."

It's no accident that the diligent anti-Semitism researchers have left out this data. That's because they don't see it as relevant, since the Semites who were attacked live in villages with names like Jalud, Mughayer and At-Tuwani, Yanun and Beitilu. The daily dose of terrorizing (otherwise known as terrorism ) that is inflicted on these Semites isn't compiled into a neat statistical report, nor is it noticed by most of the Jewish population in Israel and around the world —  even though the incidents resemble the stories told by our grandparents.

The day our grandparents feared was Sunday, the Christian Sabbath; the Semites, who are not of interest to the researchers monitoring anti-Semitism, fear Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. Our grandparents knew that the order-enforcement authorities wouldn't intervene to help a Jewish family under attack; we know that the Israel Defense Forces, the Israel Police, the Civil Administration, the Border Police and the courts all stand on the sidelines, closing their eyes, softballing investigations, ignoring evidence, downplaying the severity of the acts, protecting the attackers, and giving a boost to those pogromtchiks. The hands behind these attacks belong to Israeli Jews who violate international law by living in the West Bank. But the aims and goals behind the attacks are the flesh and blood of the Israeli non-occupation. This systemic violence is part of the existing order. It complements and facilitates the violence of the regime, and what the representatives —  the brigade commanders, the battalion commanders, the generals and the Civil Administration officers —  are doing while "bearing the burden" of military service.

They are grabbing as much land as possible, using pretexts and tricks made kosher by the High Court of Justice; they are confining the natives to densely populated reservations. That is the essence of the tremendous success known as Area C: a deliberate thinning of the Palestinian population in about 62% of the West Bank, as preparation for formal annexation.

Day after day, tens of thousands of people live in the shadow of terror. Will there be an attack today on the homes at the edge of the village? Will we be able to get to the well, to the orchard, to the wheat field? Will our children get to school okay, or make it to their cousins' house unharmed? How many olive trees were damaged overnight?

In exceptional cases, when there is luck to be had, a video camera operated by B'Tselem volunteers (1) documents an incident and pierces the armor of willful ignorance donned by the citizens of the only democracy in the Middle East. When there is no camera, the matter is of negligible importance, because after all, you can't believe the Palestinians. But this routine of escalating violence is very real, even if it is underreported.

For the human rights organization Al-Haq (2), the escalation is reminiscent of what happened in 1993-1994, when they warned that the increasing violence, combined with the authorities' failure to take action, would lead to mass casualties. And then Dr. Baruch Goldstein of Kiryat Arba came along and gunned down 29 Muslim worshipers at the Ibrahim Mosque. The massacre set the stage for a consistent Israeli policy of emptying the Old City of Hebron of its Palestinian residents, with the assistance of Israeli Jewish pogromtchiks. Is there someone among the country's decision-makers and decision-implementers who is hoping for a second round?

(1) B'Tselem is the name of the volunteer civil organization titled "The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories."  They have an informative website, including a number of one-the-spot videos of rights violations at http://www.btselem.org/video
(2) Al-Haq is an independent Palestinian non-governmental human rights organization based in Ramallah, West Bank. The web address: http://www.alhaq.org/.

By Bill McKibben

It's turning into a hot climate summer in two ways, only one of which you can measure with a thermometer.

Amidst the deepening drought, the summer's fourth heat wave, and the continued western fires, there's something else breaking out: a siege of citizen uprisings at key points around the country all designed to keep coal in the hole, oil in the soil, gas... underground.

Ever since the mass arrests protesting the Keystone pipeline last summer (the largest civil disobedience action in the U.S. in 30 years) there's been renewed interest in confronting the fossil fuel industry and its political enablers. Some have been following this path for years, of course -- late next week, beginning July 25, opponents of mountain-top removal coal-mining will resume their long-standing (and increasingly successful fight), with a week-long Mountain Mobilization that will likely include civil disobedience.

A few days later, activists from around the country will descend on D.C. for a rally against fracking -- perhaps the fastest-growing wing of the environmental movement. That gathering won't lead to arrests -- but others will.

Earlier this week, for instance, Ohio protesters chained themselves to the gates outside a so-called injection well, not far from where earlier this year disposal of fracking water had helped trigger a swarm of earthquakes. And just yesterday Josh Fox and Mark Ruffalo announced plans for an August 25 gathering designed to keep fracking at bay in New York State.

From August 10-20, Montana protesters will hold a multi-day sit-in designed to stop opening up of massive new coal mines -- and across the Pacific Northwest others are joining in to fight the proposed ports that would send that coal to Asia for burning.

And just so oil doesn't feel left out of the party, Texans in August and September are planning civil disobedience to block the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, the part that's been given a green light by the Obama administration.

Taken one by one, these might seem like mosquito bites against the tough hide of the planet's richest and most politically connected industry. But taken together, they show an ever-savvier movement that's figuring out the choke points that make fossil fuel corporations vulnerable. If you can't pipe tar sands oil to the ocean, there's no reason to mine it in the first place; if you've got no port for your coal, you might as well leave it in the ground.

And here's the thing -- each of these actions is magnified by the temperature, multiplied by the humidity, underscored by the smoke in the sky. "Long hot summer" has two meanings now, and they amplify each other.

— From Common Dreams, July 19. Bill McKibben teaches at Middlebury (VT) College and is co-founder of 350.org. His most recent book is "Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet." McKibben's other new article, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math," has been published in Rolling Stone and is available at http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719?print=true

By the Bradley Manning Support Network

FORT MEADE, Maryland: Establishing yet another obstacle for PFC Bradley Manning's legal defense, military judge Denise Lind ruled July 19 that defense lawyer David Coombs will be substantially hindered from showing how WikiLeaks' releases didn’t bring damage to U.S. national security. In largely granting a government motion to preclude discussion of actual damage, Lind said that harm or lack thereof is irrelevant to Manning’s guilt or innocence.

"Bradley should be able to argue that he had a reasonable belief that no harm would come from his alleged actions by showing that no harm actually occurred," explained Jeff Paterson of the Bradley Manning Support Network.  The prosecution continues to argue that the releases “could” cause harm at some point in the future.

Manning's next hearing at Fort Meade, Aug. 27-31, will highlight the illegal and torturous treatment the military subjected him to at the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia. Coombs is expected to argue for dismissal of all charges based on the military's flagrant violation of Article 13 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that prohibits all pre-trial punishment "any more rigorous" than required to ensure the accused appears at court hearings.

Judge Lind ruled July 20 that she would not allow United Nations torture rapporteur Juan Mendez to testify about Manning's unlawful confinement conditions, declaring his testimony irrelevant, even though the torture chief called Manning's treatment "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" after a 14-month investigation

Supporters will underscore the cruelty of Manning's conditions by holding a rally at the Fort Meade Main Gate on Aug. 27.

—The Support Network address is http://www.bradleymanning.org.

Friday, July 13, 2012

07-14-12 Activist Newsletter


July 14, 2012, Issue #180
jacdon@earthlink.net, P.O. Box 662, New Paltz, NY 12561


1.  QUOTES OF THE MONTH — Cree Indian Proverb, Harry Magdoff and Paul M. Sweezy, Friedrich Engels, James Hansen.

Given the evident failure of the major UN meeting on climate change in Rio last month (see articles below) here are relevant quotes on the environmental crisis:

A Cree Indian Proverb:
"Only after the last tree has been cut down. Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only after the last fish has been caught. Only then you will find that money cannot be eaten."

Harry Magdoff and Paul M. Sweezy, Monthly review (May 1996):
All this talk about growth as good and faster growth as better, leaves out the truly important questions: Do we need growth? If so, what kind of growth? And, how about at least beginning to talk about an economy/society that rejects permanent growth as the oxymoron it obviously is and focuses on the really important issues of human and planetary existence?

Friedrich Engels (1820-1895), Marx's collaborator:
"At every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature — but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst.

James Hansen, head the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (2008):
"Our home planet is dangerously near a tipping point at which human-made greenhouse gases reach the level where major climate changes can proceed mostly under their own momentum. Warming will shift climate zones by intensifying the hydrologic cycle, affecting freshwater availability and human health. We will see repeated coastal tragedies associated with storms and continuously rising sea levels. The implications are profound, and the only resolution is for humans to move to a fundamentally different energy pathway within a decade. Otherwise, it will be too late for one-third of the world's animal and plant species and millions of the most vulnerable members of our own species."


[The following poem by progressive poet, feminist and social activist Marge Piercy is included in a new collection published last year — The Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems, 1980-2010.]

The poor are no longer with us

No one’s poor any longer. Listen
to politicians. They mourn the middle
class which is shrinking as we watch
in the mirror. The poor have been

discarded already into the oblivion
pail of not to be spoken words.
They are as lepers were treated once,
to be shipped off to fortified islands

of the mind to rot quietly. If
poverty is a disease, quarantine
its victims. If it’s a social problem
imprison them behind high walls.

Maybe its genetic: how often they
catch easily preventable diseases.
Feed them fast garbage and they’ll
die before their care can cost you,

of heart attacks, stroke. Provide
cheap guns and they’ll kill each
other well out of your sight.
Ghettos are such dangerous places.

Give them schools that teach
them how stupid they are. But
always pretend they don’t exist
because they don’t buy enough,

spend enough, give you bribes
or contributions. No ads target
their feeble credit. They are not
real people like corporations.

By Jack A. Smith, Activist Newsletter editor

This year's presidential campaign is taking place within an extremely conservative era in American political history that will substantially influence the domestic and foreign priorities of the next administration, regardless of whether it's headed by Democrat Barack Obama or Republican Mitt Romney.

Romney and his party, of course, embrace rigid right wing politics influenced by Tea Party extremism, while Obama and the Democrats — campaign rhetoric aside — basically echo the now extinct "moderate Republicans" of a quarter-century ago in a number of particulars.

A case in point about our decades-long conservative era is the Obama Administration's major "progressive" achievement — the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance plan, which was upheld by the Supreme Court two weeks ago.

The ACA, which congressional Republicans fought furiously to oppose when put forward by President Obama, was devised nearly 20 years ago by the conservative Heritage Foundation and implemented in Massachusetts by Romney when governor in 2006.

In his column in the New York Times June 29, the liberal Keynesian economist Paul Krugman pointed out that the act, which he supports, is "not perfect, by a long shot — it is, after all, originally a Republican plan, devised long ago as a way to forestall the obvious alternative of extending Medicare to cover everyone."

A page one news analysis in the Times has referred to the measure as "the most significant piece of social legislation since the New Deal," ignoring Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and the civil rights achievements of the 1960s in order to embellish its significance.

Doubtless, the new health measure contains several important new benefits, as well as several key shortcomings. (For details and analysis of the ACA by Physicians for a National Health Program, see article below.)

Many liberals are now suggesting the ACA — which will still leave over 25 million people without insurance and may deprive millions more poor families of Medicaid as well (thanks to a ruling by arch-conservative Chief Justice John Roberts allowing states to reject enlarging the program) — is a first step toward the development of a truly inclusive national healthcare system. The second step, however, may be decades in coming, if ever, given probable conservative attempts to repeatedly weaken the ACA, much less allow an expansion.

Another of President Obama's major first term "progressive" initiatives was taken from the conservatives as well. This was his proposal for a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere, where they contribute to global warming. This flexible market-based program allowed high  greenhouse gas emitters to buy the right to continue polluting the atmosphere from companies with low emissions. Cap-and-trade was a less stringent alternative to tougher regulations sought by environmentalists and it was supported by Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush (who adopted a similar measure in the early 1990s to curb acid rain), and by George W. Bush.

By the time Obama took office, the Republicans had lurched further to the right and corporate interests, led by Big Oil and Dirty Coal, were campaigning passionately against cap and trade. Conservatives scuttled the legislation in the Senate.

In both instances progressive legislation far more appropriate to healthcare and environmental needs was waiting in the wings but Obama — a champion of bipartisanship despite continual humiliating rebuffs — opted for the moderate Republican plans. When cap and trade failed, Obama in effect abandoned the fight against global warming rather than introduce progressive alternatives and fighting for them.

[One of America's best known environmentalists and outspoken climate scientist, James Hansen, head the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has been leading a campaign against cap-and-trade for several years, charging it "does little to slow global warming or reduce our dependence on fossil fuels." Some groups fighting climate change support the measure as a first step.]

The White House didn't even allow the labor movement's most important legislative request — the Employee Free Choice Act that would have removed roadblocks to union organizing — to come to a vote in the first term when the Democrats controlled both congressional chambers. A probable reason is that Blue Dog conservative Democrats would have voted with the minority to quash the measure.

Today's conservative era is the product of an unrelenting drive for strategic ideological dominance by the right wing and its big business and financial sector allies for almost four decades. It is a reaction to the liberal reforms of the post-World War II era and social advances from the mass popular struggles of the 1960s-early '70s period. As the Republicans moved ever further to the right in the intervening years, so too did the Democrats, now situated in the center right of the political spectrum. This leaves the U.S. as the world's only rich capitalist state without a mass party left of center to at least offer some protection to working families.

The conservative assault accelerated with the implosion of the USSR and the dismantling of most socialist societies two decades ago. The existence of extensive social welfare programs, first in the Soviet Union and then in various socialist countries after World War II, obliged  the capitalist "West" to implement reforms lest its own working classes be attracted to "the communist menace." The ending of the Cold War also ended the adoption of significant social programs in America, and the weakening of existing benefits.

Many conservative goals have already been attained since the mid-'70s, and a number of them have taken place with partial or complete support of the Democratic party. They include:

The severe weakening of the labor union movement; the redistribution of massive wealth to the already rich through individual and corporate tax cuts while the standard of living for most Americans is in decline; off-shoring of manufacturing to enhance corporate profits; increased wage exploitation; deregulation of the financial economy, enhancing its casino configuration; privatization of government services; the elimination of social programs for the multitudes; threatened cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are now "on the table," says Obama; the fact that about half the American people receive low wages or live in poverty; inaction on needed tax increases for the wealthy; undermining the U.S. educational system; setbacks for civil liberties; and a massive increase in the prison population.

The conservatives made considerable progress during the presidencies of Reagan (1981-89), Bush I (1989-93) and Bush II (2001-2009). But rightist policies also spread during the Democratic administrations of Bill Clinton (1993-2001) and incumbent Obama from 2009.

Clinton's two principal domestic achievements during eight years in office weakened two key Democratic reforms, much to the delight of the Republicans. In 1996 he conspired with conservatives to dismantle "welfare as we know it"  by passing the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act." In 1999, Clinton joined forces with the congressional right wing to repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act — a decision that in large part was responsible for the Great Recession and several more years of economic stagnation, unemployment and some six million home foreclosures.

Obama's first term in office is most noteworthy for his continual concessions to the right wing and refusal to fight for progressive goals, leading his wavering centrist party to the right of center in the process. He demobilized his enthusiastic and massive 2008 constituency upon taking office, evidently because he didn't want a large activist organization in the streets pushing toward the liberalism many Democratic voters incorrectly believed he embodied.

The conservative campaign for even more control of the political system was signaled by the emergence of the activist right wing populist Tea Party soon after Obama took power. The political impact of this nationwide organization of older white conservatives, libertarians, and the religious right — bankrolled in part by billionaires — has been considerable, not least because no mass activist liberal movement was available to challenge Tea Party activism or put forward a progressive counter-agenda. The liberal rank and file has been isolated by the party leadership, as have liberals in Congress. The few remaining center-left politicians have been objects of criticism from the White House and Democratic big wigs.

The Tea Party added a new element to the decades-long conservative campaign for dominant power in the U.S. Now the GOP isn't just ideologically driven right wing politicians, their business backers and the wealthy 1% who finance their campaigns, but grass roots activists with their own selfish axes to grind. Some are fuming because their taxes help the "undeserving" poor. Some think immigrants are "freeloaders." Some are racists who do not accept a black president in the White House. Some will not abide gays and lesbians. Some reject separation of church and state. Some want to subvert the hard-earned rights of American women.

The conservatives rage against "big government" and "wasteful spending," but this is demagogic rhetoric convincing or confusing a sector of the electorate largely ignorant of history and the details of current events. Both the Reagan and Bush II administrations —  vocal proponents of a smaller state and lower spending — increased the size of government and created huge deficits.

The real Republican objective isn't a "smaller" government per se but a government driven by free market laissez-faire capitalism and entirely controlled by monopoly corporations, Wall Street financiers and the 1% ruling class. In the process, most government regulation of the economy and financial system will be eliminated, social programs will wither along with collective bargaining and the trade union movement, and key services will be transferred to profit-driven corporations.

Since the Affordable Care Act or cap-and-trade are conservative initiatives to begin with, why did congressional Republicans and the entire right wing, including arch opportunist Romney, fight against them?

The conservative movement has gravitated further to the right than it was five years ago, and the Democrats have moved in tandem, perhaps a dozen steps behind and two or three to the left, but quite distant from the domestic liberalism of the 1960s and the 1930s. The last significant social programs took place during conservative Republican President Richard M. Nixon's first term (1969-72) — a product of the still popular though fading liberal era of social reform that he could not ignore. The conservative era began soon afterward.

Experience has taught the Republicans that the modern Democratic Party — particularly during the centrist Clinton and center right Obama incarnations — hastily retreats and offers remarkably big concessions when confronted with obdurate opposition from the right. This is one reason why Republicans have adopted a policy of non-cooperation with Obama and Democrats in Congress. Even when the right wing political resistance doesn't get everything it seeks, it always seems to get something.

For instance, to gain big business and conservative backing for the healthcare act, Obama first rejected the progressive option of a less expensive and far more inclusive universal Medicare (single payer) covering all Americans, then dropped the liberal halfway notion of a "public option" in favor of the Republican plan. He then privately reached agreements with the major pharmaceutical and health insurance companies and hospitals, assuring them of huge profits for many years to come. Lastly he made further concessions to Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats.

The Republican leaders who demonize "Obamacare" are well aware of its limited nature but the absurdly characterized "socialist" ACA will remain a useful conservative target for years to come as long as the opposition party would rather compromise than fight for genuine progressive objectives.

Had President Obama initiated a hard-fought populist educational campaign for single payer, he may have lost the vote but he could have won many additional supporters and tried again and again until victory. Medicare for all has important advantages in addition to covering everyone. Overhead is only 3% compared to about 30% for the profit making insurance companies. Single-payer type health coverage exists in virtually all the leading industrialized capitalist countries of the world but will remain ridiculously overdue in the U.S. until a mass progressive movement or party takes up the challenge. By not daring to struggle, the Democrats don't dare to win.

One of the major conservative strengths, despite various internal factions, is that the Republicans entertain several concrete long range political and ideological goals and are willing to fight for them over the years. And their dishonest, obstructionist politics during Obama's tenure have paid conservative dividends, even at the expense of deepening the nation's economic crisis and further burdening workers and the unemployed by refusing to finance recovery.

The Democrats have no such long range progressive goals — or any serious progressive goals, for that matter — and the party seems to have forgotten how to fight.

Even the staunchly pro-Democratic liberal magazine The Nation noted June 25 that aside from populist campaign speeches, Obama "will offer no transformational agenda, no new foundation for an economy that works for working people, no plan for reviving the middle class. And no matter who wins, only sustained popular pressure will forestall a debilitating 'grand bargain' that will further undermine the middle class and the poor....

"Americans understand that the system is broken — and rigged against them. They increasingly see both parties as compromised, and they have little sense of an alternative and even less of a sense that anyone is prepared to fight for them. Progressives must therefore be willing to expose the corruption and compromises of both parties. This requires not only detailing the threat posed by the right but honestly about the limits of the current choice."

These are extremely sharp words from a publication that virtually worshiped Obama during the last campaign and has often offered excuses for him since then.

It is clear today that as a result of conservative gains in recent decades the United States has become much more of a plutocracy than a democracy, the electoral system is now utterly corrupted by big money, gross inequality is our capitalist system's norm, and civil liberties are being shredded.

Public consciousness of this reality has been expanding in recent years, particularly since the onset of the Great Recession — an unusually severe periodic economic failing that "officially" ended three years ago but remains a disaster for the over 60%  of the U.S. labor segment who constitute the working class. But  the two mass ruling parties, each rejecting or ignoring progressive  goals in favor of Republican "heavy" or Democratic "lite" conservative politics, cannot fight the plutocrats or urgently reconstruct what is left of American democracy.

Only a left of center contending party or a truly mass and activist movement that puts forward a fighting progressive program has a chance of dumping the conservative era. The Democrats may be several political degrees better than the Republicans, but they have been gradually tilting toward the right without respite since the demise of the party's final center-left manifestation 44 years ago. They now appear to be hopelessly stagnant and ideologically ill-equipped to transform the conservative era they helped create, even if Obama is reelected in November.

By Physicians for a National Health Program (PHNP)

PNHP leaders released the following statement June 28:

Although the Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the unfortunate reality is that the law, despite its modest benefits, is not a remedy to our health care crisis: (1) it will not achieve universal coverage, as it leaves at least 26 million uninsured, (2) it will not make health care affordable to Americans with insurance, because of high co-pays and gaps in coverage that leave patients vulnerable to financial ruin in the event of serious illness, and (3) it will not control costs.

Why is this so? Because the ACA perpetuates a dominant role for the private insurance industry. Each year, that industry siphons off hundreds of billions of health care dollars for overhead, profit and the paperwork it demands from doctors and hospitals; it denies care in order to increase insurers’ bottom line; and it obstructs any serious effort to control costs.

In contrast, a single-payer, improved-Medicare-for-all system would provide truly universal, comprehensive coverage; health security for our patients and their families; and cost control. It would do so by replacing private insurers with a single, nonprofit agency like Medicare that pays all medical bills, streamlines administration, and reins in costs for medications and other supplies through its bargaining clout.

Research shows the savings in administrative costs alone under a single-payer plan would amount to $400 billion annually, enough to provide quality coverage to everyone with no overall increase in U.S. health spending.

The major provisions of the ACA do not go into effect until 2014. Although we will be counseled to “wait and see” how this reform plays out, we’ve seen how comparable plans have worked in Massachusetts and other states. Those “reforms” have invariably failed our patients, foundering on the shoals of skyrocketing costs, even as the private insurers have continued to amass vast fortunes.

Our patients, our people and our national economy cannot wait any longer for an effective remedy to our health care woes. The stakes are too high.

Contrary to the claims of those who say we are “unrealistic,” a single-payer system is within practical reach. The most rapid way to achieve universal coverage would be to improve upon the existing Medicare program and expand it to cover people of all ages. There is legislation before Congress, notably H.R. 676, the “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act,” which would do precisely that.

What is truly unrealistic is believing that we can provide universal and affordable health care in a system dominated by private insurers and Big Pharma.

The American people desperately need a universal health system that delivers comprehensive, equitable, compassionate and high-quality care, with free choice of provider and no financial barriers to access. Polls have repeatedly shown an improved Medicare for all, which meets these criteria, is the remedy preferred by two-thirds of the population. A solid majority of the medical profession now favors such an approach, as well.

We pledge to step up our work for the only equitable, financially responsible and humane cure for our health care ills: single-payer national health insurance, an expanded and improved Medicare for all.

— Physicians for a National Health Program (http://www.pnhp.org) is an organization of more than 18,000 doctors who advocate for single-payer national health insurance. To speak with a physician/spokesperson in your area, visit http://www.pnhp.org/stateactions or call (312) 782-6006.

By Paul Buchheit

Studying inequality in America reveals some facts that are truly hard to believe. Amidst all the absurdity a few stand out.

1. U.S. companies in total pay a smaller percentage of taxes than the lowest-income 20% of Americans.

Total corporate profits for 2011 were $1.97 trillion. Corporations paid $181 billion in federal taxes (9%) and $40 billion in state taxes (2%), for a total tax burden of 11%. The poorest 20% of American citizens pay 17.4% in federal, state, and local taxes.

2. The high-profit, tax-avoiding tech industry was built on publicly-funded research.

The technology sector has been more dependent on government research and development than any other industry. The U.S. government provided about half of the funding for basic research in technology and communications well into the 1980s. Even today, federal grants support about 60% of research performed at universities.

IBM was founded in 1911, Hewlett-Packard in 1947, Intel in 1968, Microsoft in 1975, Apple and Oracle in 1977, Cisco in 1984. All relied on government and military innovations. The more recently incorporated Google, which started in 1996, grew out of the Defense Department’s ARPANET system and the National Science Foundation’s Digital Library Initiative.

The combined 2011 federal tax payment for the eight companies was just 10.6%.

3. The sales tax on a quadrillion dollars of financial sales is ZERO.

The Bank for International Settlements reported in 2008 that total annual derivatives trades were $1.14 quadrillion. The same year, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange reported a trading volume of $1.2 quadrillion.

A quadrillion dollars is the entire world economy, 12 times over. It’s enough to give 3 million dollars to every person in the United States. But in a sense it’s not real money. Most of it is high-volume nanosecond computer trading, the type that almost crashed our economy. So it’s a good candidate for a tiny sales tax. But there is no sales tax.

Go out and buy shoes or an iPhone and you pay up to a 10% sales tax. But walk over to Wall Street and buy a million dollar high-risk credit default swap and pay 0%.

4. Many Americans get just a penny on the dollar.

– For every dollar of NON-HOME wealth owned by white families, people of color have only one cent.

– For every dollar the richest .1% earned in 1980, they’ve added three more dollars. The poorest 90% have added one cent.

– For every dollar of financial securities (e.g., bonds) in the U.S., the bottom 90% of Americans have a penny and a half’s worth.

– For every dollar of 2008-2010 profits from Boeing, DuPont, Wells Fargo, Verizon, General Electric, and Dow Chemicals, the American public got a penny in taxes.

5. Our society allows one man or one family to possess enough money to feed every hungry person on earth.

The United Nations estimates that $30 billion is needed to eradicate hunger. Several individuals have more than this amount in personal wealth.

There are 925 million people in the world with insufficient food. According to the World Food Program, it takes about $100 a year to feed a human being. That’s $92 billion, about equal to the fortune of the six Wal-Mart heirs.

One Final Outrage…

In 2007 a hedge fund manager (John Paulson) conspired with a financial company (Goldman Sachs) to create packages of risky subprime mortgages, so that in anticipation of a housing crash he could use other people’s money to bet against his personally designed sure-to-fail financial instruments. His successful gamble paid him $3.7 billion. Three years later he made another $5 billion, which in the real world would have been enough to pay the salaries of 100,000 health care workers.

As an added insult to middle-class taxpayers, the tax rate on most of Paulson’s income was just 15%. As a double insult, he may have paid no tax at all, since hedge fund profits can be deferred indefinitely. As a triple insult, some of his payoff came from the middle-class taxpayers themselves, who bailed out the company (AIG) that had to pay off his bets.

And the people we elect to protect our interests are unable or unwilling to do anything about it.

— Reprinted from CounterPunch. Paul Buchheit teaches Economic Inequality at DePaul University. He is the founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org,RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.


[Despite proof of climate change and the developing worldwide ecological disaster, another substandard international conference on the environment has taken place. The United States — world history's largest emitter of global warming greenhouse gases — did not play a constructive role. Washington appears to be in hiding from the entire issue.]

From Inter Press Service plus other reports

When the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development ended in Brazil June 22 after three days, there were some winners and many losers.

The United Nations and the host country Brazil along, with big business, put a positive spin on the outcome of the conference, a follow-up to the historic 1992 Earth Summit, also hosted in Rio de Janeiro. Over nine days (June 13-22), thousands of events were held in the lead-up to and during Rio+20, including more than 500 official and side events at the Riocentro Convention Center, where the conference was held. Rio+20 was the biggest UN conference ever held, with broad participation of leaders from Government, business and civil society.

The Conference produced a document, titled "The Future We Want," that was approved by the 125 world leaders in attendance but was sharply criticized  by most non-governmental organizations (NGOs), environmental groups and activists. Women in particular seemed outraged by the meeting's lack of progress.

The 55-page final statement declared: "We stress the importance of access by all countries to environmentally sound technologies, new knowledge, know-how and expertise. We further stress the importance of cooperative action on technology innovation, research and development. We agree to explore modalities in the relevant forums for enhanced access to environmentally sound technologies by developing countries."

The document, with respect to a "green economy" in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, said it should be consistent with international law, and respect each country's national sovereignty over their natural resources, while strengthening international cooperation, the provision of financial resources, and technology transfer to developing countries.

But Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former prime minister of Norway and chair of the Brundtland Commission which brought the concept of sustainable development to global attention 25 years ago, said: "The Rio+20 declaration does not do enough to set humanity on a sustainable path, decades after it was agreed that this is essential for both people and the planet. I understand the frustration in Rio today."

The reactions from groups at the grassroots level were mostly negative. Anil Naidoo of the Council of Canadians, the largest progressive citizens' organization in Canada with over 70 local chapters, lashed out at the concept of the green economy advocated at Rio+20.

"I haven't seen this much fake green covering since last St Patrick's Day. The document does not come close to the future we really want and that's because it was written with the interests of the few rather than the many in mind."

Noelene Nabulivou, from Women's Action for Change in Fiji, told IPS: "As an activist from the Pacific I see clearly the catastrophic impacts of climate change, biodiversity loss and sea level rise. Rio+20 does not do justice to the immediacy and severity of this global problem."

Nicole Bidegain of GEO-ICAE, Uruguay, said, "The green economy simply reinforces the current model of development, based on overconsumption and production. The same financial mechanisms that caused multiple crises since 2008 are being promoted, but this time to commodify nature. There is enough evidence on the negative impacts of the financialization of nature on women's rights and livelihoods. "

She said the private sector as a source of finance is prioritized over public financing. "This is ironic as the private sector is concerned with maximizing profit in the short term, not with long-term investments needed to transition to genuine people-centered sustainable development."

Monica Novillo, of Coordinadora de la Mujer, Bolivia, said, "I came to Rio+20 with high expectations that governments would build on the landmark resolution on sexual and reproductive health and rights for youth and adolescents adopted at the 45th Commission on Population Development." She said Brazil played a key role in creating this outcome, "so I expected that they would strongly defend these fundamental rights at Rio+20 against a minority of conservative governments.... It is high time that these agreements are fully implemented, she added...."

The Women’s Major Group (WMG) at Rio+20, representing 200 civil society women’s organizations from all around the world, issued a statement declaring it was "greatly disappointed and seriously outraged by the results of the 'official' deliberations at the Conference. We believe that the governments of the world have failed women, future generations and our beautiful but fragile planet earth."

Sascha Gabizon, executive director of Women in Europe for a Common Future, (WECF), a key coordinating group of Rio+20 Women, said “Two years of negotiations have culminated in an outcome that makes almost no progress for women’s rights and rights of future generations in sustainable development."

Anita Nayar, executive committee member of Development Alternatives with Women for A New Era (DAWN) — a second major coordinating organization of Rio+20 Women — said: “The lack of recognition of reproductive rights as essential to sustainable development was especially disappointing. Women worldwide are outraged that governments failed to recognize women’s reproductive rights as a central aspect of gender equality and sustainable development in the Rio+20 Outcome Document. Reproductive rights are universally recognized as human rights.”


[Speech by Raúl Castro Ruz, President of Cuba’s Councils of State and Ministers at the Rio+20 Summit.]

Twenty years ago, on June 12, 1992, in this same conference hall, the leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz stated, and I quote, “An important biological species is at risk of disappearing due to the rapid and progressive liquidation of its natural living conditions: humanity.” End of quote.

What could have been considered alarmist, today constitutes an irrefutable reality. The inability to transform unsustainable models of production and consumption is threatening the balance and regeneration of natural mechanisms which sustain life forms on the planet.

The effects cannot be hidden. Species are becoming extinct at a speed one hundred times faster than those indicated in fossil records; more than five million hectares of forests are lost every year; and close to 60% of ecosystems are degraded.

In spite of the landmark signified by the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, carbon dioxide emissions increased by 38% from 1990 to 2009. We are now moving toward a global increase in temperature which will place at risk, in the first place, the integrity and physical existence of numerous developing island states and will produce serious consequences in the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

A profound and detailed study undertaken during the last five years by our scientific institutions is in basic agreement with reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and confirms that, during this century, if current trends are maintained, a gradual and considerable rise in average sea levels will take place in the Cuban archipelago. This forecast includes the intensification of extreme meteorological events, such as tropical hurricanes, and an increase in the salinity of underground water sources. All of this will have serious consequences, especially for our coastal areas, so we have initiated the adoption of appropriate measures.

Equally, this phenomenon will have serious geographic, demographic and economic implications for the Caribbean islands which, moreover, must confront the inequalities of an international economic system which excludes the smallest and most vulnerable.

The paralysis of negotiations and the lack of an agreement which could make it possible to halt global climate change are a clear reflection of a lack of political will and the inability of developed countries to act in accordance with obligations concomitant with their historical responsibility and current position. This has been demonstrated in this meeting, despite the extraordinary effort made by Brazil, for which we are grateful.

Poverty is increasing, hunger and malnutrition are growing and inequality is expanding, aggravated in recent decades as a consequence of neoliberalism.

During these 20 years, wars of a new kind have been launched, focused on the conquest of energy resources, as was the case in 2003, on the pretext of weapons of mass destruction which never existed, and the recent war in North Africa. Acts of aggression against Middle Eastern countries which can now be discerned will be compounded by others, with the objective of controlling access to water and other resources in the process of being exhausted. It must be made clear that attempting a new division of the world will unleash a spiral of conflicts of incalculable consequences for the planet.

In the last two decades, military spending has grown to the astronomical sum of $1.74 trillion, almost double that of 1992, which is leading to an arms race in other states which feel threatened. Two decades after the end of the Cold War, against whom will these arms be used?

Let us stop the justifications and egoisms and seek solutions. This time, everyone, absolutely everyone, will pay for the consequences of climate change. Governments of industrialized countries which are acting in this manner should not commit the serious error of believing that they can survive a little longer at our cost. The waves of millions of hungry and desperate people from the South toward the North will be uncontainable, as will the rebellion of the peoples in the face of such indolence and injustice. No hegemonism will be possible then. End the plunder, end war, let us advance toward disarmament and destroy the nuclear arsenals.

We are required to make a transcendental change. The only alternative is to build more just societies; to establish a more equitable international order based on respect for the rights of all; to ensure the sustainable development of nations, especially those of the South; and place advances in science and technology at the service of the salvation of the planet and human dignity. Cuba aspires to good sense and human intelligence prevailing over irrationality and barbarity.

By Frances Beinecke, President,
Natural Resources Defense Council

When I was at the UN Earth Summit in Rio that ended June 22, I felt profoundly frustrated with world leaders’ paralysis on climate change. But when I returned home and learned that Americans had filed more than 2.25 million comments in support of standards limiting carbon pollution, my sense of hope was renewed.

Heads of state may be lagging, but ordinary citizens are pushing ahead. We are throwing our support behind the Environmental Protection Agency’s first-ever standard to reduce carbon pollution from new power plants. And we are doing it with record force: This is the most responses the EPA has received on any issue ever, and they were all sent within about ten weeks.

Americans are mobilizing because we know carbon pollution threatens the health and well-being of our families.

We just have to look at the weather report to see why. The Northeast was blanketed by yet another heat wave last week. Here in New York, residents flocked to roof tops, water fountains, and crowded beaches in an effort to stay cool. But even if people managed to find relief from the heat, it wasn’t so easy to escape its companion hazard: dirty air.

Warmer days mean more smog in the air. More smog means more people will suffer asthma symptoms, respiratory problems, heart attacks and even cancer.

Carbon pollution will increase these dangers. Carbon pollution causes climate change, and rising temperatures make smog worse.  The American Thoracic Society—the professional association of lung doctors—recently said climate change is especially dangerous for children and senior citizens because their lungs are more vulnerable to the respiratory diseases caused by smog.

The first half of 2012 has already shattered 1175 records for heat here in America. If we don’t act now to reduce carbon pollution, this rising heat will exact a heavy toll. NRDC recently released a report concluding that an additional 33,000 heat-related deaths could occur by 2050 as a result of climate change. [Scientists expect average temperatures in North America will rise by another 4°F -11°F this century.]

We don’t have to sit back and watch as more intense heat threatens the health of our parents and children. We can act now to reduce the pollution that fuels this extreme weather.

The EPA has begun this process. A new court victory — one NRDC helped secure — confirmed yet again that the agency has the legal authority to limit carbon pollution because it endangers human health and well-being. [Congressional Republicans are continuing the fight to overturn the new carbon standards.]

The standards to reduce carbon pollution from new power plants are a good first step toward reducing this danger. Now the EPA must take the next step and reduce carbon pollution from existing plants. With millions of Americans having already stood up for cutting carbon, the EPA will have plenty of support.

— The new NRDC report is at http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/killer-heat/.

By Cindy Cohn and Trevor Timm, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Cellphone carriers publicly reported this month that U.S. law enforcement made an astounding 1.3 million demands for customer text messages, caller locations, and other information last year. The disclosure has sparked a flood of press coverage and consumer outrage, given much of the information was obtained without a warrant.

But this is only one way that communications and communications records are being monitored by the government. Since 2006, Americans have known that the National Security Agency (NSA), in league with telecommunications carriers like AT&T, has been engaging in mass warrantless surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans. And since shortly thereafter, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has been suing to stop it.

Despite the fact that the mass wiretapping was first exposed by the New York Times in 2005, and subsequently reported on by dozens of news organizations, the government continues to maintain that the "state secrets" privilege should prevent the courts from even the basic determination of whether the NSA's actions are legal or constitutional.

This position isn't correct legally, since, in 1978, Congress created the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance law specifically requiring the courts to determine the legality of electronic surveillance. But it also isn't the right answer for a country founded on the supremacy of law and the constitutional protections against untargeted searches and seizures.

Now, three longtime NSA employees — William E. Binney, Thomas A. Drake, and J. Kirk Wiebe — have come forward and offered additional inside evidence to support the lawsuit, all of which confirms what an increasing mountain of evidence shows: that the U.S. government is engaging in mass dragnet surveillance of innocent, untargeted American people, as well as foreigners whose messages are routed through the U.S. As Binney states, "the NSA is storing all personal electronic communications."

The lawsuits — first, against the telecommunications carriers, and now, against the government directly — also included other undisputed evidence from a former AT&T technician named Mark Klein. He provided blueprints and photographs showing an NSA-installed "secret room" in an AT&T facility less than a mile from EFF's San Francisco office, which experts say siphons massive amounts of internet usage data, phone calls and records flowing through the facility directly to the NSA.

The surveillance has not stopped, either. In 2009, after President George W. Bush left office, the New York Times reported that the NSA was still collecting purely domestic communications of Americans' in a "significant and systemic" way. In 2010, the Washington Post reported: "Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other types of communications."

And a Wired investigation published in March revealed the NSA is currently constructing a huge data center in Utah, meant to store and analyze "vast swaths of the world's communications" from foreign and domestic networks.

The government's response? A preposterous claim that no court can consider the legality of this surveillance unless the government formally admits it. In fact, the government maintains that even if all the allegations are true, the case should be thrown out under the state secret privilege.

The courts should not participate in this charade, nor should the American people or Congress. We are currently asking the court to rule that the 1978 FISA law supersedes the government's claim of state secrets and requires the court to rule on the legality of the surveillance.

And in Congress, two Senators, Ron Wyden (Oregon) and Mark Udall (Colorado), have been asking the NSA for a year simply for a ballpark figure of how many Americans have had their communications surveilled by the spy agency. The NSA finally responded two weeks ago, claiming it did not have the capacity to find such number. Apparently unaware of the irony, the NSA argued that releasing an estimate of how many people's emails they read would violate Americans' privacy.

Sadly, the UK government seems to be following suit, proposing its own mass surveillance plan, asking Parliament to pass a law allowing the government to monitor every email, text and phone call in the country. But at least in the UK, the plan is now public — after an earlier secret one was inadvertently revealed.

Whether the threat comes from the warrantless surveillance of our cell phone location data by the local police, or the wholesale collection of our emails and phone calls by the NSA, all citizens deserve reasonable privacy in our communications. And we assert the right to hold the government accountable for violating that privacy.

— From the Guardian, (UK) 7-10-12. Cindy Cohn is legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Trevor Timm is an activist and blogger at the (EFF), specializing in government secrecy and surveillance.

By Mark Weisbrot

It was three years ago June 28  that the Honduran military launched an assault on the home of President Mel Zelaya, kidnapped him, and flew him out of the country. The Obama administration, according to its own conversations with the press, knew about the coup in advance. But the first statement from the White House – unlike those from the rest of the world – did not condemn the coup.

That sent a message to the Honduran dictatorship, and to the diplomatic community: the U.S. government supported this coup and would do what it could to make sure it succeeded. And that is exactly what ensued. Unlike Washington and its few remaining rightwing allies in the hemisphere, most of Latin America saw the coup as a threat to democracy in the region and, indeed, to their own governments.

"It would be enough for someone to stage a civilian coup, backed by the armed forces, or simply a civilian one and later justify it by convoking elections," Argentine President Cristina Fernández told South American leaders. "And then democratic guarantees would truly be fiction."

For that reason, South America refused to recognize the Honduran "elections" held six months later under the dictatorship. But Washington wanted the coup regime legitimized. The Obama administration blocked the Organization of American States (OAS) from taking action to restore democracy before "elections" were held.

"We have intelligence reports that say that after Zelaya, I'm next," said President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, after the Honduran coup. This turned out to be correct: in September of 2010, a rebellion by police held Correa hostage in a hospital until he was freed, after a prolonged shootout between the police and loyal troops of the armed forces. It was another attempted coup against a social-democratic president in Latin America.

Last week, Argentine President Cristina Fernández' warning against a "civilian coup" proved prescient in Paraguay. The country's left president, Fernando Lugo, was ousted by the Congress in an "impeachment trial" in which he was given less than 24 hours notice and two hours to defend himself. All 12 foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations, including Brazil and Argentina, traveled to Paraguay on Thursday to tell the rightwing opposition that this clear violation of due process was also a violation of UNASUR's democracy clause. Brazil's president Dilma Rouseff suggested that the coup government should be kicked out of UNASUR and MERCOSUR, the southern cone regional trading bloc.

But the Paraguayan right, which had one-party rule for 61 years until Lugo's election, was determined to return to their ignominious past. And they knew that they had one ally in the hemisphere they could count on.

"As a general matter, we haven't called this a coup because the processes were followed," said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on June 26. And, as if to remind the world of Washington's strategy with the Honduran coup, she added:

"You know that they're supposed to have elections in 2013, which need to go forward. So I think we will refrain from further comment until we see how we come out of the OAS meeting."

Of course, she knew that the OAS meeting would not resolve anything, because the U.S. and its allies can kill anything there – as they did earlier this week. The conclusion is obvious: any rightwing faction, military or civilian, that can overthrow a democratically elected, left-of-center government, will get support from the United States government. Since the U.S. government is the richest and most powerful country in the hemisphere and the world, this counts for a lot.

Meanwhile, Honduras since the 2009 coup has turned into a nightmare, with the highest homicide rate in the world. Political repression is among the worst in the hemisphere: journalists, opposition activists, campesinos fighting for land reform, and LGBT activists have been murdered with impunity. This week, 84 members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging U.S. action against murders of LGBT activists and community members in Honduras. In March, 94 member of Congress asked her "to suspend U.S. assistance to the Honduran military and police given the credible allegations of widespread, serious violations of human rights attributed to the security forces".

The Obama administration has so far ignored these pleas from Congress, and the international media has given them scant attention. Ironically, this is not so much because Honduras is unimportant, but because it is important: the U.S. has a military base there and would like to keep the country as its property.

But the hemisphere and the world have changed. The U.S. has lost most of its influence in the vast majority of the Americas over the past decade. It is only a matter of time before even poor countries like Honduras and Paraguay gain their rights to democracy and self-determination.

— This article appeared June 29 at CommonDreams.org. Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.


The Oscar-nominated director of Gasland, Josh Fox, has just released "an emergency short video" titled "The Sky is Pink" that takes his critics to task and issues a call to action on fracking. The video packs a ton of information into 18 minutes, debunking industry lies such as those promoted by former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, now a gas industry lobbyist.

Fox details the "wholesale industrialization" of communities that occurs with fracking and the many risks, not just from polluted water. The film also reveals leaked industry documents that show that industry does in fact know just how risky their business really is. And if this all sounds very reminiscent of Big Tobacco swearing their product is safe even when they know it's not —that may be because the fracking industry has hired the same PR firm.

Check out the video: http://vimeo.com/44367635

By the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)

Social Security remains the most important source of income for most Americans in their retirement. Nonetheless, there are many proposals for cutting benefits that are getting serious attention in Washington.

A new report from CEPR examines the impact of raising the Social Security retirement age and its effect on the distribution of wealth from loss of future benefits.

“The full retirement age for Social Security is already scheduled to increase to 67 over the next 10 years,” said Dean Baker, a co-director of CEPR and an author of the report. “Despite the fact that each year of increase in the normal retirement age is equal to a cut in benefits of 6% to 7%, some policy makers are calling for raising the retirement age as high as 70.”

The report, “The Impact on Inequality of Raising the Social Security Retirement Age,” projects the impact of a gradual increase of the normal retirement age on various demographic groups, looking at each quintile of the wealth distribution, as well as the richest 1%. The paper also contains separate projections for homeowners and non-homeowners, single individuals and couples in several age cohorts. These projections demonstrate that Social Security wealth is a much larger share of wealth for the bottom four of the five groups. As a result, an increase in the retirement age would cause an increase in inequality.

Proponents of making immediate changes to Social Security often justify calls for reform by saying that the program faces a looming shortfall. However, the Congressional Budget Office projects that Social Security can pay all scheduled benefits through 2038. Even with no changes whatsoever to the program, Social Security will still be able to pay more than 80% of benefits until 2070 and only slightly less than that for decades afterward.

And while some might argue that we are living longer and should retire later, this justification makes little sense for workers in physically demanding jobs who would find it difficult to work into their late 60s. Also, most of the gains in life expectancy have gone to high-income workers. As this report demonstrates, proposals to raise the retirement age would lead to a substantial upward redistribution of wealth.

— For the PDF of the report: http://www.cepr.net/index.php/publications/reports/the-impact-on-inequality-of-raising-the-social-security-retirement-age