Saturday, January 25, 2014

01-26-14 Activist Newsletter

Jan. 26, 2014, Issue 198

1.   Quotes Of The Month
2.   Editor’s Note: The Other Side Of M.L. King
3.   Obama Defends NSA Spying On Americans
4.   85 Richest Equal 3.5 Billion Poor
5.   Home $weet Home
6.   Denial About Catastrophic Risks
7.   Poll: Creationism Or Evolution?
8.   Climate's Seven Deadly Sinners
9.   Global Geopolitics In 2014
10. America’s Secret War In 134 Countries
11. The Race Towards Robotic Warfare
12. Who’s Actually Fighting In Syria?
13. Ariel Sharon: Serial War Criminal
14. Illusions Of Nuclear Safety
15. Books: Racist Dog Whistle Politics
16. Slogans Define China’s 2014 Path
17. Much Of U.S. Fleet ‘Pivots’ To Asia
18. Big Business Subverts Worker Organizations
19. What NSA Is Capable Of Doing
20. Film Review: “Her”

1.   QUOTES OF THE MONTH: Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)

Heine was a great German romantic poet, literary critic, journalist and essayist. German authorities considered him a radical and banned many of his works.

Heinrich Heine.
·      “Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.”

·      “In dark ages people are best guided by religion, as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind, old men as guides.”

·      “Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.”

·      “When the heroes go off the stage, the clowns come on.”

·      “Wild, dark times are rumbling toward us, and the prophet who wishes to write a new apocalypse will have to invent entirely new beasts, and beasts so terrible that the ancient animal symbols of St. John will seem like cooing doves and cupids in comparison.”


January 15 would have been Dr. Martin Luther King’s 85th birthday were he not assassinated in Memphis April 4, 1968, at the age of 39, four years after he received the Nobel Peace Prize.

President Ronald Reagan signed legislation naming the birthday a federal holiday in 1983 and it was first observed in 1986. It took until 2000 for all 50 states to participate. Since 1992, the day has been observed on the third Monday in January (the 21st this year). Commemorations took place in schools and communities throughout America and untold numbers of media writings and programs honored Dr. King this year.

In many instances, however, the most important radical aspects of King’s life and thought were pushed into the background. This is, after all, an extremely conservative period in American history, and the American political system — including the present White House and Congress — wouldn’t even entertain a passing thought of implementing what he actually wanted to happen.

For instance, King strongly denounced U.S. imperialism by name and excoriated unjust wars. He declared that the United States was “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Imagine what this heroic man would have said about the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the drone wars in western Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. And what would he have said about President Obama’s bullyboy sanctions against Iran, pro-war intervention in Syria and now threats of sanctions against the Ukrainian government for preferring closer ties with Russia than with the European Union?

King supported revolutions around the world. He supported uprisings against racism, poverty and oppression. Imagine what he would propose to genuinely end poverty and inequality in America today, and then imagine the response from Washington.

King was a civil rights leader — and more. We all love to hear Rev. King’s “I have A Dream” speech, as did I during the March on Washington in 1963 and many times afterward on the anniversary or the birthday. But of course King’s Dream is not the biggest part of the story.

On King’s birthday this year, Democracy Now performed a public service by offering a look at the other side of this great leader — a video of his extraordinary speech titled “Beyond Vietnam,” delivered in New York’s Riverside Church in April 4, 1967. This was followed by a video of King’s talk to exploited sanitation workers and their supporters in Memphis April 3, 1968, titled "I Have Been to the Mountain Top." It may make you smile, and cry, and wish he was with us today. The next day he was murdered. The video is at

One flag wasn't enough to portray the patriotism of  the NSA.
By Jack A. Smith

When he ran for the presidency in 2007-08, Sen. Barack Obama pledged to dismantle the most intrusive aspects of President George W. Bush’s post-9/11 surveillance programs. Instead, since taking office in January 2009, President Obama has secretly allowed those programs to expand as well as adding a number of his own measures that increasingly jeopardize American civil liberties.

Ever since whistle-blowing NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed the elephantine extent of the Bush-Obama Surveillance State’s domestic and foreign spying last summer, White House and NSA officials have sought through obfuscation and fabrication to minimize the impact of these disclosures. Public opinion against surveillance measures, however, has been slowly gaining in the last several months.

Opposition had reached the point when a nationwide speech from Obama was required to ease growing national distrust. Speaking from the Justice Dept. Jan. 17, with six large American flags directly behind him to emphasize the importance of national security and patriotism, Obama declared: “The reforms I’m proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe.”

His effort to convince the American people that the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance apparatus constituted no danger to domestic civil liberties evidently failed, according to a Jan. 17-19 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center/USA Today. They reported, “among 1,504 adults, overall approval of the program has declined since last summer, when the story first broke. Today, 40% approve of the government’s collection of telephone and Internet data as part of anti-terrorism efforts, while 53% disapprove. In July, more Americans approved (50%) than disapproved (44%) of the program.”

Regardless of public qualms, it is obvious that the NSA’s monumental domestic and foreign spying will continue with only superficial changes, judging by the proposals Obama suggested in his defense of domestic and foreign snooping. What will not change are the worst excesses of all — the bulk collection of phone records and other sensitive data allowed by the Patriot Act, the dragnet surveillance of international communications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and warrantless “backdoor” searches of Americans’ international communications.

After the speech, ACLU executive director Anthony Romero commented: “The president should end – not mend – the government's collection and retention of all law-abiding Americans' data. When the government collects and stores every American's phone call data, it is engaging in a textbook example of an 'unreasonable search' that violates the constitution.”

Most of the Senate and House appear to support the NSA surveillance, either as it now stands or with Obama’s tepid “reforms” intended to deceive and lull Americans concerned about privacy rights. The continued erosion of civil liberties is further assured by the composition of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, both of which are in the hands of fanatically pro-surveillance chairs — Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

A number of liberal Democrats who may know better are not putting up much of a fight, evidently out of party loyalty. Some Democratic politicians, while praising Obama’s speech defending the NSA, also noted, in effect, “there is more work to be done.” Among them were two Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee who were outspoken against the NSA since Snowden’s act of conscience — Sens. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, who called Obama’s remarks a major step to protect liberties but urged further alterations.

Many Republican politicians, aside from libertarians in their ranks, seem content with the NSA’s spying apparatus. Republican House Speaker John Boehner sees no need for changes, evidently reflecting the views of most GOP House members.

A most unusual left-right coalition of 125 House members —almost evenly from both parties — is demanding substantial safeguards against intrusive domestic spying, particularly the end of the bulk collection of phone records. They support H.R.3361 - USA Freedom Act, which probably will never pass if allowed to reach the floor.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner Jr., a Republican who originally championed and introduced the Patriot Act in 2001. He now opposes as grossly excessive some of the NSA’s usages of the Act. Only two New York State House members joined the co-sponsors — Democrat Jerrold Nadler (10th CD) and Republican Chris Gibson (19th CD).

Some of the main surveillance changes proposed by Obama include the following.

• While not dismantling the NSA’s bulk collection of billions of records — as most civil liberties proponents demand — Obama wants to store this ever-accumulating metadata in a non-government facility, leaving it up to negotiation with Congress to determine where that would be.

Commenting on this provision, the New York Times editorialized Jan. 18: “Obama should have called for sharp reductions in the amount of data the government collects, or at least adopted his own review panel’s recommendation that telecommunications companies keep the data they create and let the National Security Agency request only what it needs. Instead, he gave the Justice Department and intelligence officials until late March to come up with alternate storage options, seeking a new answer when the best ones are already obvious.”

• For the time being the NSA must now seek court approval for obtaining bulk collection material, but Obama has not made a final decision. This, too, will emerge from consultation with Congress. Critics point out that 99.7% of surveillance requests to the secret FISA court over the last 33 years were approved, and that there is little chance the court in question is going to block more than a token number of requests.

• After the U.S. was embarrassed by revelations that it was spying on the private phones of the German and Brazilian leaders, Obama announced his administration is no longer tapping the phones of closely allied presidents and prime ministers. This appears to be the only restraint on massive U.S. spying on virtually every world government.

• The president will request that Congress create a panel of “public advocates” to join government lawyers in in discussing broad policy issues (not requests for judicial review) before the clandestine FISA court.

Obama ignored a number of recommendations by the President’s Review Group — some of which were also backed by provisions in the USA Freedom Act bill. Among them was a call to strengthen the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and publishing statistics about the numbers of people who have been surveilled under government spy programs.

Glen Greenwald, a foremost American critic of government surveillance programs and the main journalistic recipient of Snowden’s material, was sharply critical of the speech in a Jan. 17 article in the Guardian, noting that Obama’s “proposals will do little more than maintain rigidly in place the very bulk surveillance systems that have sparked such controversy and anger…. Ultimately, the radical essence of the NSA – a system of suspicion-less spying aimed at hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. and around the world – will fully endure even if all of Obama's proposals are adopted. That's because Obama never hid the real purpose of this process. It is, he and his officials repeatedly acknowledged, ‘to restore public confidence’ in the NSA.”

According to analyst and MSNBC host Chris Hayes: “Much of this speech was directed to members of the intelligence community, where [Obama] was like: ‘I'm your friend, you guys are patriots and you guys are getting beat up, and I hear you.’” 

In his talk, Obama for the first time mentioned Snowden by name. “Given the fact of an open investigation, I'm not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden's actions or his motivations,” he said, and then proceeded to do just that:

“If any individual who objects to government policy can take it into their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy,” Obama said. “Moreover, the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out has often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come.”

Edward Snowdon, speaking out.
According to the Times once again: “One of [Obama’s] biggest lapses was his refusal to acknowledge that his entire speech, and all of the important changes he now advocates, would never have happened without the disclosures by Mr. Snowden, who continues to live in exile and under the threat of decades in prison if he returns to this country.”

Snowden remains in Russia and is speaking out more publicly. On Jan. 23 he provided online answers to recent questions he received mostly from Americans. One answer was particularly relevant to the NSA’s bulk collecting of data on many millions of Americans:

“They effectively create ‘permanent records’ of our daily activities, even in the absence of any wrongdoing on our part,” Snowden said. “This enables a capability called ‘retroactive investigation,’ where once you come to the government’s attention, they’ve got a very complete record of your daily activity going back, under current law, often as far as five years. You might not remember where you went to dinner on June 12th 2009, but the government does.

“The power these records represent can’t be overstated. In fact, researchers have referred to this sort of data gathering as resulting in ‘databases of ruin,’ where harmful and embarrassing details exist about even the most innocent individuals. The fact that these records are gathered without the government having any reasonable suspicion or probable cause justifying the seizure of data is so divorced from the domain of reason as to be incapable of ever being made lawful at all, and this view was endorsed as recently as today by the federal government’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight board.

“Fundamentally, a society in which the pervasive monitoring of the sum of civil activity becomes routine is turning from the traditions of liberty toward what is an inherently illiberal infrastructure of preemptive investigation, a sort of quantified state where the least of actions are measured for propriety. I don’t seek to pass judgment in favor or against such a state in the short time I have here, only to declare that it is not the one we inherited, and should we as a society embrace it, it should be the result of public decision rather than closed conference.”


By Jon Slater

Wealthy elites have co-opted political power to rig the rules of the economic game, undermining democracy and creating a world where the 85 richest people own the wealth of half of the world's population, the worldwide development organization Oxfam warned in a Jan. 20 report.

“Working For the Few,” published just ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, details the pernicious impact that widening inequality is having in both developed and developing countries, helping the richest undermine democratic processes and insist on policies that promote their interests at the expense of everyone else.

The report says that there is a growing global public awareness of this power-grab. Polls carried out for Oxfam in the UK, Brazil, India, South Africa, Spain and U.S. show that most people in all six countries believe that laws are skewed in favor of the rich.

Oxfam Executive Director Winnie Byanyima declared: "It is staggering that in the 21st Century, half of the world's population — that's three and a half billion people — own no more than a tiny elite whose numbers could all fit comfortably on a double-decker bus…. 

"We cannot hope to win the fight against poverty without tackling inequality. Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table….

“Without a concerted effort to reduce inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations. We will soon live in a world where equality of opportunity is just a dream. In too many countries economic growth already amounts to little more than a 'winner takes all' windfall for the richest. Since the late 1970s, tax rates for the richest have fallen in 29 out of 30 countries for which data are available, meaning that in many places the rich not only get more money but also pay less tax on it. 

“A recent U.S. study presented compelling statistical evidence that the interests of the wealthy are overwhelmingly represented by the U.S. government compared with those of the middle classes. The preferences of the poorest had no impact on the votes of elected officials. 

“This capture of opportunities by the rich at the expense of the poor and middle classes has helped create a situation where seven out of every ten people in the world live in countries where inequality has increased since the 1980s and 1% of the world's families now own 46% of its wealth ($110 trillion).
— From Oxfam, Jan.20, 2014. Oxfam is “a global movement of people who share the belief that, in a world rich in resources, poverty isn't inevitable. It's an injustice, which can and must, be overcome.” 


$100 million Chateau des Fleurs (Estate of the Flowers), in Bel Air, Calif.

Edited from Too Much, L.A. Times, AlterNet

A surviving mansion from France’s royal golden age? Not exactly. This nearly completed new abode, the Chateau des Fleurs (Estate of the Flowers), sits in Bel Air, Calif., a deep-pocket haunt in Los Angeles County. The owner, an L.A. lawyer and real estate magnate, has spent five years on the home’s construction. The current value: $100 million.

The 60,000-square-foot home features “husband-and-wife wings, with communal rooms where the couple will meet in the middle,” says local realtor Jeffrey Hyland. The mansion features a ballroom, three elevators, a catering kitchen, a squash court and a beauty salon, a pool, a paddle tennis court pavilion, a guardhouse and a guesthouse on over 10 acres.

If $100 million is excessive for your bank account, how about One Riverside Park, a new “luxury condominium” apartment house in New York City with a great view and several bedrooms for “over $25 million” for a unit, plus upkeep?

A new crop of global super-rich is pouring into the United States, changing the economic landscape from Manhattan to Los Angeles. They’re driving up the price of real estate, pushing out the middle class and going on buying binges that would make Gilded Age robber barons blush.

First they want the hotel room — perhaps the storied, $15,000-a-night penthouse at the Fairmont San
Francisco, where guests receive honey made by the Fairmont’s own honeybees. Next they want the shopping spree, snapping up million-dollar diamond Chanel watches and $1,000-per-ounce perfume. Then they want to buy a home in their favorite playground — maybe a $90 million pad at Manhattan’s behemoth One57 skyscraper where they can pay negligible taxes yet enjoy the full menu of New York City services. If they need wheels, there’s always a $7.5 million gold-plated Lamborghini. And for the thirsty, drop into Manhattan’s King Cole Bar for a $760 glass of cognac.

With all the recent talk about the 1% and the 99% some of America's wealthiest seem concerned that peasants with pitchforks may be coming. Forbes reports expensive outlays for home security have “increased markedly over the last five years.”

California’s American Saferoom Door Company is now selling over 50 Kevlar-lined, bullet-resistant doors a year, at $20,000 apiece. Another West Coast firm, Strategically Armored & Fortified Environments, is building multi-million-dollar bunkers deep underground that come with their own geothermal power and sustainable food supplies. A wealthy family, notes Forbes, could survive in the best planned of “these luxurious strongholds for up to three generations.”


[Following are excerpts from a thoughtful article by Martin Rees, former president of The Royal Society; Emeritus Professor of Cosmology & Astrophysics, University of Cambridge; Master, Trinity College; and author of seven books including “From Here to Infinity.” His thesis is that catastrophe beckons unless human society is finally equipped with the ability to socially, politically and economically control the negative aspects of scientific achievements — from nuclear weapons, to global warming, major biological advances and the like.]

By Martin Rees

Those of us fortunate enough to live in the developed world fret too much about minor hazards of everyday life: improbable air crashes, carcinogens in food, and so forth. But we are less secure than we think. We should worry far more about scenarios that have thankfully not yet happened — but which, if they occurred, could cause such world-wide devastation that even once would be too often.

Much has been written about possible ecological shocks triggered by the collective impact of a growing and more demanding world population on the biosphere, and about the social and political tensions stemming from scarcity of resources or climate change. But even more worrying are the downsides of powerful new technologies: cyber-, bio-, and nano-. We're entering an era when a few individuals could, via error or terror, trigger a societal breakdown with such extreme suddenness that palliative government actions would be overwhelmed.

Synthetic or artificial biology is a fairly new 
technology that must be carefully monitored to

 avoid  dangerous unethical results. 
Some would dismiss these concerns as an exaggerated Jeremiad: after all, human societies have survived for millennia, despite storms, earthquakes and pestilence. But these human-induced threats are different: they are newly emergent, so we have a limited time base for exposure to them and can't be so sanguine that we would survive them for long — nor about the ability of governments to cope if disaster strikes. And of course we have zero grounds for confidence that we can survive the worst that even more powerful future technologies could do.

The Anthropocene era, when the main global threats come from humans and not from nature, began with the mass deployment of thermonuclear weapons. [Activist Newsletter: The Anthropocene is an informal geologic chronological term that serves to mark the evidence and extent of human activities that have had a significant global impact on the Earth's ecosystems.] Throughout the Cold War, there were several occasions when the superpowers could have stumbled toward nuclear Armageddon through muddle or miscalculation. Those who lived anxiously through the Cuba crisis would have been not merely anxious but paralyzed with fear had they realized just how close the world then was to catastrophe. Only later did we learn that President Kennedy assessed the odds of nuclear war, at one stage, as "somewhere between one in three and even."

…. We will always have to worry about thermonuclear weapons. But a new trigger for societal breakdown will be the environmental stresses consequent on climate change. Many still hope that our civilization can segue towards a low-carbon future without trauma and disaster. My pessimistic guess, however, is that global annual CO2 emissions won't be turned around in the next 20 years. But by then we'll know — perhaps from advanced computer modeling, but also from how much global temperatures have actually risen —whether or not the feedback from water vapor and clouds strongly amplifies the effect of CO2 itself in creating a greenhouse effect….

Nuclear weapons are the worst downside of 20th century science. But there are novel concerns stemming from the impact of fast-developing 21st century technologies. Our interconnected world depends on elaborate networks: electric power grids, air traffic control, international finance, just-in-time delivery and so forth. Unless these are highly resilient, their manifest benefits could be outweighed by catastrophic (albeit rare) breakdowns cascading through the system.

Moreover a contagion of social and economic breakdown would spread worldwide via computer networks and digital wildfire — literally at the speed of light. The threat is terror as well as error. Concern about cyber-attack, by criminals or by hostile nations, is rising sharply. Synthetic biology, likewise, offers huge potential for medicine and agriculture — but it could facilitate bioterror.

It is hard to make a clandestine H-bomb, but millions will have the capability and resources to misuse these dual use technologies. Freeman Dyson looks towards an era when children can design and create new organisms just as routinely as he, when young, played with a chemistry set. Were this to happen, our ecology (and even our species) would surely not survive unscathed for long.

In a media landscape oversaturated with sensational science stories, "end of the world" Hollywood productions, and Mayan apocalypse warnings, it may be hard to persuade the wide public that there are indeed things to worry about that could arise as unexpectedly as the 2008 financial crisis, and have far greater impact. I'm worried that by 2050 desperate efforts to minimize or cope with a cluster of risks with low probability but catastrophic consequences may dominate the political agenda. 

By the Activist Newsletter

The latest figures are in on the perennial argument in the U.S. between believers in creationism and
those who favor evolution. Read it and — unless one is of antediluvian propensity — weep.

It should be no surprise that most creationists vote Republican, but Democrats and Independents have a significant share as well, according to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center. Here are the figures:

·      Republicans: 48% believe human beings have existed in their present form “from the beginning;” 43% subscribe to a form of evolution. The remaining 9% presumably didn’t know or wouldn’t say. Oddly, the Republican creationists increased considerably from 39% in 2009.

·      Democrats: 27% reject the existence of evolution, down from 30% in 2009; 67% accept a form of evolution.

·      Independents: 28% are creationists, compared to 27% in 2009; 67% accept a form of evolution.

A Gallup poll several months ago found that 46% of all Americans believe “God created humans in their present form,” compared to a total average of 33% in the Pew Poll.

We mentioned “a form of evolution” for a reason. In addition to the 46% of strict creationists, Gallup reports 32% believe “humans evolved with God guiding the process (compared to 38% in 1982); only 15% believe that humans evolved without mystical intervention (compared to 9% in 1982).

In total, at least 78% of the American people think that a supernatural being is responsible for human development, through creation or guidance, a thesis at odds with scientific knowledge; 14% disagreed; and 7% appear to be unsure or won’t tell.  No one, it seems, has calculated the degree to which the unscientific beliefs of this religious majority have impacted upon all aspects of society throughout history — social, political, economic and cultural — but it’s immense, and rarely progressive.

One of the more interesting changes in recent years has been the large increase in Republican creationists noted in the Pew survey. According to Zack Beauchamp in Think Progress here’s why:

“There are two keys to understanding what the Pew poll teaches us about Republicans. First, the drop in belief in evolution is among Republicans and, more or less, Republicans only. Acceptance of human evolution was basically the same among Democrats and independents in 2013 as it was in 2009. Second, the share of the total population that believes in evolution hasn’t changed at all. The drop in Republican belief doesn’t appear to be people changing their minds about evolution so much as people who already didn’t believe in evolution becoming Republicans.

“Why might that be? The obvious explanation is the changing character of the Republican base. When Republicans win in recent years, those victories are won on the backs of old voters, white voters, and religious voters. While race isn’t super-important in predicting views on evolution, age and religion are. Each generation of Americans, Pew found, is increasingly more likely to accept natural human evolution; Americans 18-29 do so by a 68-27 margin, while the number for seniors (65+) is 49-36. Likewise, white evangelical protestants are the group most likely to reject evolution, while the religiously unaffiliated are by far the most likely to accept it.”

By Kate Ravilious
Historically, global warming's worst offenders, in absolute terms, are the U.S., China, Russia, Brazil, India, Germany and the UK in that order. New calculations suggest that these nations are responsible for more than 60% of the global warming between 1906 and 2005.

Damon Matthews of Concordia University in Montreal and his colleagues calculated national contributions to warming by weighting each type of emission according to the atmospheric lifetime of the temperature change it causes. Using historical data, they included carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and changes in land use – such as deforestation. They also accounted for methane, nitrous oxide and sulphate aerosols. These together account for 1.26°F of the world's 1.332°F warming between 1906 and 2005.

The U.S. is the clear leader, responsible for 22% of the 1.26°F warming. China [today’s largest greenhouse emitter] accounts for 9%, Russia for 8%, Brazil and India 7% each, and Germany and the UK for 5% each.
"It was surprising to see some of the less-industrialized countries with such high rankings, but this also reflects their CO2 emissions related to deforestation," says Matthews.

As a visual aid, the team produced a map in which the countries are stretched or shrunk depending on their contribution to warming in relation to their size. Western Europe, the U.S., Japan and India are bloated beyond recognition; Russia, China and Brazil stay roughly the same; and Canada, Australia and most of Africa become stick thin. In this light, the climate contributions of Russia, Brazil and China don't seem so out of line; they are in proportion to their landmasses.

Dividing each country's climate contribution by its population, arguably a fairer measure, gives a different picture. When calculated this way, the top seven positions are held by richer nations, and China and India drop to 19th and 20th, respectively.


[Following is the introduction to a very long article forecasting geopolitical developments throughout the year to come from Stratfor, a private “political intelligence firm that provides strategic analysis and forecasting to individuals and organizations around the world.” Stratfor is hardly politically progressive but its insights often carry weight. These forecasts are, of course, intelligent guesses and they can go wrong.]

By Stratfor, Jan. 6, 2014.

It is sure worth an honest try.
After spending more than a decade absorbed in intractable conflicts across the Islamic world, the United States will finally start to catch its breath in 2014. As U.S. troops draw down their presence in Afghanistan, Washington will go to great lengths to develop an understanding with Tehran. Negotiations will face major hurdles, and a final settlement that lifts the economic embargo on Iran will be a bridge too far for 2014. However, our longtime readers probably will not be surprised by the underlying depth and sincerity shared by Tehran and Washington that will sustain this detente over the course of the year.

The United States has long struggled to resurrect a balance of power in the region that would allow Washington to once again manage and manipulate relationships on both sides of the ethno-sectarian divide without directly entangling itself in every quagmire that arises. Iran, for its part, knows it has a limited time to negotiate the bounds of its sphere of influence with an interested party in Washington while Tehran still has a regional sphere of influence to claim. No party — including Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran's own Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — will have enough leverage to block this dialogue. The foundation for the negotiation has already been laid, but the construction of a settlement that buries 34 years of hostile relations will necessarily be a loud and trying process.

Even as the United States takes care to avoid a confrontation with Moscow while negotiating with Iran, Russian President Vladimir Putin knows it will only be a matter of time before a much freer Washington returns its gaze to the Russian periphery. Russia will spend 2014 reinforcing the gains it has made over the past decade in neutralizing and reorienting peripheral states toward Moscow. Germany will quietly moderate Russia's steps in Central and Eastern Europe, preferring a bargain with Moscow when it comes to thorny issues like EU energy policy toward Russia.

Germany's far more consuming task this year will be the ongoing challenge of holding the European Union together. The eurozone will likely survive another year without a widespread banking or sovereign debt crisis, but a virulent combination of stubbornly high unemployment rates, low domestic consumption and growing consumer and corporate debt will have a sobering effect on the politics of the current crisis. This year will see nationalist and Euroskeptical parties gain popularity and thus build on their ability to obstruct structural reforms already laden with controversy at both the national and EU levels.

China will experience similar frustration in trying to balance deep reforms against growing social and political constraints. Whereas the European Union will continue to grapple in negotiations across 28 incredibly diverse member states, China will gradually shift away from the Party's slower, consensus-based decision-making to a more decisive model under President Xi Jinping. Even so, China's underlying structural weaknesses mean Beijing will have to pursue an incremental and cautious approach, both in applying reforms at home and in trying to define a sphere of influence in its near abroad.

By and large, 2014 will be a year of careful deliberation and preparation by the world's great powers, in which accommodation will likely prevail over confrontation in their interactions. By contrast, the countries between these great powers will grow restive as they try to adapt to their shifting geopolitical environment, lacking the influence to play a decisive role in the very issues redefining their neighborhoods.


By Nick Turse

They operate in the green glow of night vision in Southwest Asia and stalk through the jungles of South America.  They snatch men from their homes in the Maghreb and shoot it out with heavily armed militants in the Horn of Africa.  They feel the salty spray while skimming over the tops of waves from the turquoise Caribbean to the deep blue Pacific.  They conduct missions in the oppressive heat of Middle Eastern deserts and the deep freeze of Scandinavia.  All over the planet, the Obama administration is waging a secret war whose full extent has never been fully revealed — until now.

Since September 11, 2001, U.S. Special Operations forces have grown in every conceivable way, from their numbers to their budget.  Most telling, however, has been the exponential rise in special ops deployments globally.  This presence — now, in nearly 70% of the world’s nations — provides new evidence of the size and scope of a secret war being waged from Latin America to the backlands of Afghanistan, from training missions with African allies to information operations launched in cyberspace. 

In the waning days of the Bush presidency, Special Operations forces were reportedly deployed in about 60 countries around the world.  By 2010, that number had swelled to 75, according to Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post.  In 2011, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told TomDispatch that the total would reach 120.  Today, that figure has risen higher still.

In 2013, elite U.S. forces were deployed in 134 countries around the globe, according to Major Matthew Robert Bockholt of SOCOM Public Affairs.  This 123% increase during the Obama years demonstrates how, in addition to conventional wars and a CIA drone campaign, public diplomacy and extensive electronic spying, the U.S. has engaged in still another significant and growing form of overseas power projection.  Conducted largely in the shadows by America’s most elite troops, the vast majority of these missions take place far from prying eyes, media scrutiny, or any type of outside oversight, increasing the chances of unforeseen blowback and catastrophic consequences.
Special Ops — a breed apart.

Formally established in 1987, Special Operations Command has grown steadily in the post-9/11 era.   SOCOM is reportedly on track to reach 72,000 personnel in 2014, up from 33,000 in 2001.  Funding for the command has also jumped exponentially as its baseline budget, $2.3 billion in 2001, hit $6.9 billion in 2013 ($10.4 billion, if you add in supplemental funding).  Personnel deployments abroad have skyrocketed, too, from 4,900 “man-years” in 2001 to 11,500 in 2013.

A recent investigation by TomDispatch, using open source government documents and news releases as well as press reports, found evidence that U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed in or involved with the militaries of 106 nations around the world in 2012-2013.  For more than a month during the preparation of that article, however, SOCOM failed to provide accurate statistics on the total number of countries to which special operators — Green Berets and Rangers, Navy SEALs and Delta Force commandos, specialized helicopter crews, boat teams, and civil affairs personnel — were deployed. 

“We don’t just keep it on hand,” SOCOM’s Bockholt explained in a telephone interview once the article had been filed.  “We have to go searching through stuff.  It takes a long time to do that.”  Hours later, just prior to publication, he provided an answer to a question I first asked in November of last year.  “SOF [Special Operations forces] were deployed to 134 countries” during fiscal year 2013, Bockholt explained in an email.

Last year, Special Operations Command chief Admiral William McRaven explained his vision for special ops globalization.  In a statement to the House Armed Services Committee, he said:

“USSOCOM is enhancing its global network of SOF to support our interagency and international partners in order to gain expanded situational awareness of emerging threats and opportunities. The network enables small, persistent presence in critical locations, and facilitates engagement where necessary or appropriate.”

Special Ops, special equipment.
While that “presence” may be small, the reach and influence of those Special Operations forces are another matter.  The 12% jump in national deployment— from 120 to 134 — during McRaven’s tenure reflects his desire to put boots on the ground just about everywhere on Earth.  SOCOM will not name the nations involved, citing host nation sensitivities and the safety of American personnel, but the deployments we do know about shed at least some light on the full range of missions being carried out by America’s secret military.

Last April and May, for instance, Special Ops personnel took part in training exercises in Djibouti, Malawi, and the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean.  In June, U.S. Navy SEALs joined Iraqi, Jordanian, Lebanese, and other allied Mideast forces for irregular warfare simulations in Aqaba, Jordan.  The next month, Green Berets traveled to Trinidad and Tobago to carry out small unit tactical exercises with local forces.  In August, Green Berets conducted explosives training with Honduran sailors.  In September, according to media reports, U.S. Special Operations forces joined elite troops from the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), and Cambodia — as well as their counterparts from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, China, India, and Russia for a US-Indonesian joint-funded counter-terrorism exercise held at a training center in Sentul, West Java. 

In October, elite U.S. troops carried out commando raids in Libya and Somalia, kidnapping a terror suspect in the former nation while SEALs killed at least one militant in the latter before being driven off under fire.  In November, Special Ops troops conducted humanitarian operations in the Philippines to aid survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. The next month, members of the 352nd Special Operations Group conducted a training exercise involving approximately 130 airmen and six aircraft at an airbase in England and Navy SEALs were wounded while undertaking an evacuation mission in South Sudan.  Green Berets then rang in the new year with a January 1st combat mission alongside elite Afghan troops in Bahlozi village in Kandahar province….

Although elected in 2008 by many who saw him as an antiwar candidate, President Obama has proved to be a decidedly hawkish commander-in-chief whose policies have already produced notable instances of what in CIA trade-speak has long been called blowback.  While the Obama administration oversaw a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq (negotiated by his predecessor), as well as a drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan (after a major military surge in that country), the president has presided over a ramping up of the U.S. military presence in Africa, a reinvigoration of efforts in Latin America, and tough talk about a rebalancing or “pivot to Asia” (even if it has amounted to little as of yet). 

The White House has also overseen an exponential expansion of America’s drone war.  While President Bush launched 51 such strikes, President Obama has presided over 330, according to research by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.  Last year, alone, the U.S. also engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.  Recent revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden have demonstrated the tremendous breadth and global reach of U.S. electronic surveillance during the Obama years.  And deep in the shadows, Special Operations forces are now annually deployed to more than double the number of nations as at the end of Bush’s tenure.

In recent years, however, the unintended consequences of U.S. military operations have helped to sow outrage and discontent, setting whole regions aflame.  More than 10 years after America’s “mission accomplished” moment, seven years after its much vaunted surge, the Iraq that America helped make is in flames.  A country with no al-Qaeda presence before the U.S. invasion and a government opposed to America’s “enemies” in Tehran now has a central government aligned with Iran and two [invaded]cities flying al-Qaeda flags.

A more recent U.S. military intervention to aid the ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi helped send neighboring Mali, a U.S.-supported bulwark against regional terrorism, into a downward spiral, saw a coup there carried out by a U.S.-trained officer, ultimately led to a bloody terror attack on an Algerian gas plant, and helped to unleash nothing short of a terror diaspora in the region. 

And today South Sudan — a nation the U.S. shepherded into being, has supported economically and militarily (despite its reliance on child soldiers), and has used as a hush-hush base for Special Operations forces — is being torn apart by violence and sliding toward civil war.

The Obama presidency has seen the U.S. military’s elite tactical forces increasingly used in an attempt to achieve strategic goals.  But with Special Operations missions kept under tight wraps, Americans have little understanding of where their troops are deployed, what exactly they are doing, or what the consequences might be down the road.  As retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, has noted, the utilization of Special Operations forces during the Obama years has decreased military accountability, strengthened the “imperial presidency,” and set the stage for a war without end.  “In short,” he wrote at TomDispatch, “handing war to the special operators severs an already too tenuous link between war and politics; it becomes war for its own sake.”

Secret ops by secret forces have a nasty tendency to produce unintended, unforeseen, and completely disastrous consequences.  New Yorkers will remember well the end result of clandestine U.S. support for Islamic militants against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 1980s: 9/11.  Strangely enough, those at the other primary attack site that day, the Pentagon, seem not to have learned the obvious lessons from this lethal blowback.  Even today in Afghanistan and Pakistan, more than 12 years after the U.S. invaded the former and almost 10 years after it began conducting covert attacks in the latter, the U.S. is still dealing with that Cold War-era fallout: with, for instance, CIA drones conducting missile strikes against an organization (the Haqqani network) that, in the 1980s, the Agency supplied with missiles.

Without a clear picture of where the military’s covert forces are operating and what they are doing, Americans may not even recognize the consequences of and blowback from our expanding secret wars as they wash over the world.  But if history is any guide, they will be felt — from Southwest Asia to the Mahgreb, the Middle East to Central Africa, and, perhaps eventually, in the United States as well. 

In his blueprint for the future, SOCOM 2020, Admiral McRaven has touted the globalization of U.S. special ops as a means to “project power, promote stability, and prevent conflict.”  Last year, SOCOM may have done just the opposite in 134 places.  

—Nick Turse is the managing editor of and a fellow at the Nation Institute. He is the author most recently of the New York Times bestseller Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (just out in paperback). 

By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

More robots, fewer people. That’s where the U.S. military is headed in the future. But what kind of robots?

 Army Gen. Robert Cone, four-star commander of the powerful Training and Doctrine Command (aka TRADOC), said that the service is studying how robots could help replace 25% of the soldiers in each of its 4,000-strong combat brigades. That’s because the current budget crunch is pushing the military to replace expensive human beings— and the expensive hardware required to keep them alive — with cheaper and expendable robots.

Armed battlefield robot — the Pentagon's new toy.
The Army is under particular pressure because it has the most people, spending almost half its budget on pay and benefits, and those people take the heaviest casualties.

What’s hotly debated, however, is what jobs robots should do, under what level of human control. Should do they the drudge work of war, sparing humans the “dirty, dull, and dangerous” jobs like clearing roadside bombs? Or should we trust robots to kill on their own initiative?

The Army basically wants R2-D2s and mechanized mules, helpful bots that haul supplies, scout ahead, and provide technical support to the human heroes who do the actual fighting. They want small robots that trundle alongside the foot troops, loaded with sophisticated sensors so they can point out potential dangers, “robots that respond, if you will, like a bird dog,” said TRADOC’s Maj. Gen. William Hix in a conference call with journalists this morning.

They want mid-size robots that carry extra supplies for infantrymen on long patrols, a concept once officially called MULE. They want big trucks that drive themselves, entire supply convoys where a long line of robots plays “follow the leader” behind a single human-driven vehicle at the front. They want scout drones that fly ahead of manned helicopters and report back what they find.

But, as TRADOC Col. Kevin Felix once told me, “No Terminators.” Not so outside the Army. In a thinktank report released today, 20YY: Preparing for War in the Robotic Age, former Navy Under Secretary Robert Work and co-author Shawn Brimley call for developing “autonomous attack systems” cheap and numerous enough to form “reconnaissance-strike swarms.” Think big, robotic killer bees that attack with smart bombs instead of stingers and that coordinate their maneuvers using wi-fi instead of pheromones.



Two Al-Qaeda affiliates oppose Syria government. Above, ISIS troops. (AFP photo)

[It is highly unlikely that the Syrian regime-change talks that opened Jan.21 in Switzerland — based on U.S. insistence that President Bashar Assad must step down — will succeed. Washington seeks to have its client group, the Syrian National Coalition, assume principle command in Damascus, but there is no indication that this organization has a popular following in Syria. At the same time, the Obama Administration is well aware that the main fighting forces opposed to the regime are Islamist jihadists, which it does not want to take power. In all probability the White House prefers that the devastating three-year war will continue indefinitely until the success of U.S. interests in Syria becomes more auspicious. Meanwhile, here is a look at who is actually doing the fighting in Syria, according to Associated Press from Beirut, Jan. 22.]

By Ryan Lucas

Here's a list of key fighting groups inside Syria:

• SYRIAN GOVERNMENT: Despite major defections early in the conflict and the loss of significant territory to rebels, the Syrian military remains a potent force against an outgunned opposition. President Bashar Assad's inner circle has largely remained cohesive and united, avoiding high-level defections that would sap its strength. The military has successfully exploited its greatest advantage, its uncontested airpower, to pound opposition-held areas and sustain far-flung bases holding out in rebel territory. Assad has bolstered his overstretched military over the past year with the creation of the National Defense Force, a pro-government militia that draws heavily from Syria's minority communities and reportedly receives training from Iran.

• HEZBOLLAH: The Lebanese Shiite militant group has sent its gunmen to fight alongside Assad's forces, providing a significant boost to the government's overstretched military. Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has suggested he would do everything it takes to save the Syrian government, which has been a patron and ally of the militant group for decades. Hezbollah's critics say the group's armed intervention in Syria has stoked sectarian tensions at home and needlessly dragged Lebanon into the maelstrom next door. Hezbollah's deep involvement in Syria underlines the regional sectarian aspect of the conflict, in which an Iranian-backed Shiite axis faces off against Sunnis supported by Gulf Arabs in a proxy war extending into Lebanon and Iraq.

ISLAMIC STATE OF IRAQ AND THE LEVANT [ISIL, also known as ISIS]: Al-Qaida's longtime affiliate in Iraq. In the spring of 2013, the Islamic State moved aggressively into Syria, establishing a major presence particularly in the opposition-held north. Syrian activists say the group is largely composed of foreign fighters, and is the most ruthless opposition outfit on the battlefield. It has not limited its efforts to fighting the government alone, but has opened fronts against more moderate rebel groups, as well as Syria's Kurdish minority. Over time, the group alienated many in the territory under its control by employing brutal tactics to impose its strict interpretation of Islamic law and silence its critics. Those tactics include kidnapping, torture and beheadings. In early January, an array of Islamist and more moderate rebel groups began attacking the Islamic State across seven northern provinces in a bloody spate of infighting that has killed more than 1,000 people. Still, the group does cooperate with other rebel factions for specific operations.
Al-Nusra fighters in Syria. Horseman carries a black flag.

• JABHAT AL-NUSRA: An Islamist extremist group affiliated with al-Qaida. Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, is one of the most powerful rebel factions on the battlefield, but has been eclipsed to a degree by the Islamic State. In contrast to that group, activists say the Nusra Front is primarily composed of Syrians, and has shown a pragmatic streak and ability to compromise with other rebel groups that the Islamic State has not. The U.S. has designated the Nusra Front a terrorist organization. The group has claimed responsibility for many of the deadliest suicide bombings targeting regime and military facilities. The presence of Islamic extremists among the rebels is one reason the West has not equipped the Syrian opposition with sophisticated weapons, such as anti-aircraft missiles.

• ISLAMIC FRONT: An alliance of seven powerful conservative and ultraconservative rebel groups that merged in late November. Analysts estimate the number of fighters in the group could number as high as 45,000. The Islamic Front wants to create an Islamic state in Syria, and rejects the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition and its military wing, known as the Supreme Military Council. Leaders of the Islamic Front have publicly criticized the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant for its brutal tactics, and the Islamic Front was among the rebel factions that have battled the al-Qaida-linked group this month. The Islamic Front rejects the Geneva conference, and has said it will not abide by any agreement reached at the talks.

• SUPREME MILITARY COUNCIL: Syria's more moderate rebel units, known together as the Free Syrian Army [FSA], regrouped more than a year ago under a unified rebel command called the Supreme Military Council and headed by Gen. Salim Idris. Idris spent more than 30 years in the Syrian military and is seen as a secular-minded moderate. The Supreme Military Council and its FSA brigades have been eclipsed over the past year by more conservative groups like the Islamic Front (which contains former FSA outfits) as well as extremist factions like the Nusra Front and the Islamic State. The fading fortunes of the Supreme Military Council stem in part from its inability to secure greater support, particularly the delivery of weapons, from its Western and Arab allies.

By Richard Becker

“Ariel Sharon: Israeli Hawk Who Sought Peace on His Terms, Dies at 85,” read the headline in the Jan. 12 issue of The New York Times. The Washington Post called Sharon “a monumental figure in Israel’s modern history” who “sought to become the architect of a peaceful future.” This version of Sharon’s life was typical of the coverage of the U.S. corporate mass media.

Most of the world knows better, and none know better than the Palestinian and Lebanese people, thousands of whom were victims of this serial war criminal. Sharon’s career was built on massacres – from Qibya in 1953, to Sabra and Shatila in 1982, to Jenin in 2002.

A virulent anti-Arab racist, Sharon had a long history of murder and repression against the Palestinian people. In the early 1950s, he commanded Unit 101, a special forces company that carried out massacres against Palestinian exiles in Gaza and Jordan.

Despite having conquered 78% of Palestine in the 1948 war, Israel’s leaders were far from satisfied. As has been extensively documented by many Israeli as well as Palestinian historians, Israel sought to provoke a “Second Round” in the early 1950s, in order to take over the West Bank (then under Jordanian rule), Gaza and more.

A main Israeli tactic was “retaliation.” In response to recently expelled Palestinians coming across the borders back into their homeland from Gaza and the West Bank, the Israeli army (IDF) would carry out large-scale attacks and massacres. “Retaliation” was really provocation; the intent was to get Jordan or Egypt to react militarily to the massacres, which could then be used by Israel as a pretext for a new war of conquest.

For diplomatic and public relations purposes, it was extremely important to Israel to be seen as victim rather than aggressor. This remains true down to the present.

On Oct. 14, 1953, Unit 101, led by Sharon, attacked Qibya, a small, undefended village inside the West Bank, and massacred 69 people, many of them burned alive inside their homes. Unit 101 suffered no casualties. It was an atrocity sanctioned at the top and carried out for political ends.

The Qibya raid drew worldwide condemnation, and Jordan, much weaker militarily than Israel, did not respond as the Israeli leaders had hoped. The conquest of the West Bank and Gaza would have to wait until 1967.

Following the 1967 war of conquest, Sharon was the military governor of Gaza, renowned for extreme brutality in carrying out a policy of systematic torture and assassination of Palestinians resisting occupation. Sharon is most notorious for the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the massacres of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. As Israel's defense minister, Sharon organized and led, with full U.S. backing, the massive assault on Lebanon. For three months in the summer of 1982, Israeli bombers, supplied by the United States, relentlessly pounded Beirut and other cities and towns, killing more than 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians. Lebanon had no air defense system.

The stated objective of the invasion was to drive the Palestine Liberation Organization out of Lebanon. There are more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees — those driven from their homeland to make way for the state of Israel in 1948 and their descendants — living in Lebanon. Altogether, more than seven million Palestinians today live in exile.

Shoran's victims of Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacre. 
After three months of bombing, the central PLO leadership agreed to evacuate its fighters from Lebanon. As part of the cease-fire agreement requiring them to leave, the remaining Palestinian civilian population was to be placed under international protection.

Sharon, however, publicly stated that 2,000 "terrorists" remained in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in West Beirut. In reality, those remaining in the camps were almost all children, women and elderly men. Virtually all of the young men had been evacuated.

Israeli tanks surrounded the camps in violation of the cease-fire agreement. Then, on Sept. 16, 1982, with the full knowledge and consent of Sharon and the Israeli occupiers then in control of the area, Lebanese Phalangist militias were allowed to enter Sabra and Shatila in west Beirut.

The fascist Phalange — open admirers of Adolf Hitler who took their name from Franco's party in Spain — were Israel's closest allies in Lebanon. The Phalangists wore Israeli-supplied uniforms and carried Israeli-supplied weapons.

For three days, they rampaged through the Palestinian camps, torturing, raping and murdering. Many of the victims were disemboweled or decapitated. No one was spared — neither the very old nor the very young. By the end, more than 1,900 Palestinian children, women and men lay dead.

Though overwhelming evidence showed that Sharon and other Israeli commanders had sent the fascists into the undefended camps, a 1983 Israeli court of inquiry found Sharon only “indirectly responsible” for the massacre. One might think that even “indirect” responsibility for the butchering of nearly 2,000 people would mean at least an end to the guilty individual’s political career. But not in apartheid Israel. While Sharon was forced to resign from the Israeli cabinet following the court of inquiry, he continued to be a key political actor and came back as a cabinet minister in the 1990s.

On Sept. 28, 2000, Sharon staged another famous provocation, “visiting” the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, an important Muslim holy site. While proclaiming his “right” to travel anywhere in Jerusalem, he did not venture out alone. Instead, he was accompanied by 1,500 armed police. Even so, hundreds of Palestinians fought back, marking the start of the Al-Aqsa intifada or uprising, which would continue for many years.

Five months later, in February 2001, Sharon was elected prime minister. In March 2002, the Israeli military carried out a massive operation in the West Bank and Gaza seeking to suppress the intifada. Among the most brutal attacks was one on the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank. Over several days, using militarized bulldozers along with heavy weapons, the Israel military demolished much of the camp, burying many people alive.
The same year, Sharon began building the apartheid wall through the West Bank, confiscating still more Palestinian land.

The false claim that Sharon turned into a “man of peace” hinges on his decision to withdraw military bases and the small, non-viable Israeli settlements from inside Gaza. And while Palestinians in Gaza welcomed the withdrawal, Israel continued to keep Gaza surrounded and blockaded.

Sharon’s decision to withdraw from Gaza, while denounced by some fascist settlers, was based on a determination to secure even more control of the West Bank. In a July 21, 2000 interview with the Jerusalem Post, several months before he became prime minister, Sharon called for Israel to "retain greater Jerusalem, united and undivided... under full Israeli sovereignty.” This refers to the Palestinian Old City and all of the surrounding areas that Israel illegally annexed after the 1967 war.

“Israel will retain under its full control sufficiently wide security zones — in both the East and West. The Jordan Valley, in its broadest sense, as defined by the Allon Plan, will be the eastern security zone of Israel.”
Sharon called for large areas of the illegally occupied West Bank to be annexed. “Jewish towns, villages and communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, as well as access roads leading to them... will remain under full Israeli control,” Sharon continued. “Judea and Samaria” is the Israeli settlers’ name for the West Bank.

“Israel does not accept under any circumstances the Palestinian demand for the right to return. Israel bears no moral responsibility for the refugees’ predicament. As a vital existential need, Israel must continue to control the underground fresh water aquifers in western Samaria [the West Bank].... The Palestinians are obligated to prevent contamination of Israel’s water resources.”

The Palestinian “state” that Sharon proposed was one that would be unlike any other country in the world. It would not control its own resources including water, or its airspace, or even its own borders, and would be a defenseless entity smack up against one of the world’s most highly militarized states.

False headlines notwithstanding, Sharon will go down in history not as any kind of imagined peacemaker, but instead as the racist mass murderer that he was.

— From ANSWER Coalition, Jan. 13, 2014. Richard Becker is the author of "Palestine, Israel and the U.S. Empire."
— Democracy Now devoted its entire Jan. 13 broadcast to a critical appraisal of Sharon’s life, mainly featuring Professor Rashid Khalidi and Noam Chomsky.


[Eric Schlosser, author of the famous bestseller “Fast Food Nation,” recently authored “Command and Control,” about the horrific danger of nuclear accidents. Here is an excerpt from his interview in the Jan. 20 issue of The Nation.]

A single safety switch prevented the detonation of a hydrogen bomb in Faro, North Carolina, in 1961. That type of switch was later discovered to have been defective in dozens of cases. Had the weapon detonated, it could have sent lethal radioactive fallout as far north as Washington, DC, and New York City.

On September 18, 1980, a couple of workmen were doing routine maintenance at a Titan II missile silo in Damascus, Arkansas. The single warhead on the Titan II had three times the explosive force of all the bombs used during the Second World War combined — including both atomic bombs. As one of the workers prepared to remove a pressure cap near the top of the missile, the socket fell off his wrench handle. The tool fell about 70 feet, bounced off part of the silo, struck the missile and pierced its metal skin. Thousands of gallons of highly flammable, highly explosive rocket fuel began to fill the silo. Had [the warhead] detonated, the state of Arkansas would have been consumed by firestorms….

Given the many close calls that we’ve had, there’s no simple explanation for why a nuclear weapon has never detonated accidentally in the United States. A great deal of credit must be given to our weapon designers for their technical expertise, and to the military personnel who risked their lives (and sometimes lost them) trying to prevent nuclear catastrophes. But a hell of a lot of good luck was involved, too. And there’s no guarantee that luck will last….

I wrote this book to remind people that the danger didn’t vanish along with the Cold War. I’d like to see a vigorous national debate about our nuclear weapons — how many we should have, why we need them, how they might be used. The same sort of activism now directed at climate change should be focused on nuclear weapons worldwide. Global warming and the detonation of nuclear weapons are the two existential threats that mankind faces today. And neither one is inevitable.

[From The New York Times: On Jan.15, the Air Force said that 34 officers responsible for launching land-based nuclear missiles were pulled off the job and their security clearances suspended for cheating, or failing to report cheating, on tests that assess their knowledge of how to operate and launch nuclear weapons. They are based at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, home to 150 Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles. The cheating was discovered during an investigation into illegal drug possession in which 11 officers, including two accused in the cheating scandal, were under suspicion.”



The old days are gone for good, but "racism in this country is not dead."

By Darrell Delamaide, MarketWatch

Review: “Dog Whistle Politics — How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class.” By Ian Haney López. Oxford Univ. Press U.S., 304 pp. $24.95.

Not only is the U.S. far from achieving a post-racial society, but dog-whistle politics is reinforcing the role of race and contributing to the decline of the middle class as whites vote against their own best interests.

This is the thesis of Ian Haney López, a law professor at the University of California-Berkeley, who says that racism in this country is not dead, only taking on new forms as it adapts to changes in society.

While neither the concept of dog-whistle politics nor the phenomenon of single-issue voters is new, Haney López re-frames the debate in terms of race and its impact on our widening political divide and growing economic inequality.

Dog-whistle politics refers to code words or phrases that carry connotations readily apparent to a target audience, much as a dog can hear the an ultrasonic whistle that doesn’t register with humans. The Republican Party, he argues, is using coded language to rally white voters to its side, even if it means voting against their own economic interests.

“Over the last half-century conservatives have used racial pandering to win support from white voters for policies that principally favor the very wealthy and wreck the middle class,” Haney López writes. “Running on racial appeals, the right has promised to protect supposedly embattled whites, when in reality it has largely harnessed government to the interests of the very affluent.”

Veiled references to the undeserving poor, illegal aliens and sharia law carry racial undertones that avoid the stigma of overt racism but nonetheless provoke the desired reaction.

This tactic does not concern just the blacks, Latinos and Muslims targeted by these innuendoes, the author goes on to say, but also the vast swath of the white middle class, whether they fall in line with this Republican appeal or not.

“Members of the middle class … typically harbor an unfounded certainty that race holds little relevance to them or their future,” Haney López writes. “The could not be more wrong, for race constitutes the dark magic by which middle-class voters have been convinced to turn government over to the wildly affluent, notwithstanding the harm this does to themselves.”

Haney López cites the arguments developed by his professor at Harvard Law School, Derrick Bell, which he resisted at the time but has now come to accept — that racism is a permanent feature in American society and politics.

Permanent, the author came to realize, does not mean fixed and unchanging. The key is that it adapts in order to maintain white dominance.

“The bottom line is that Professor Bell was correct,” he says, “racism is not disappearing, it’s adapting.”
Haney López’s book, “Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class,” appears as the polarization around the country’s first black president shows no signs of abating.

Pundits proclaim that demographics herald the triumph of a multiracial Democratic Party, but in fact a Republican Party that panders to whites while rejecting and even insulting most nonwhites continues to win elections.

In our gerrymandered country, constitutionally skewed to protect minority interest groups, there is talk of Republicans retaining control of the House in the 2014 elections and even capturing the Senate, despite all the talk of non-white racial minorities becoming the majority.

President Barack Obama, in fact, has exacerbated the problem by trying to stand above race. “But in order to avoid race,” Haney López says, “he apparently calculates he must keep his distance from liberalism, too.”

This accounts for Obama’s failure to utilize the financial crisis for a genuine dose of liberal policies, the author says, instead of accepting “conservative mythmaking” about tax cuts and deficit reduction.

Haney López does not buy the argument that Republican obstructionism restricted Obama’s field of action when he took office. The Republican Party was in disarray, and its leaders, from outgoing President George Bush to election losers John McCain and Sarah Palin, were unpopular.

“Far from being hamstrung by the right, Obama’s refusal to offer a liberal counterweight to right-wing mythmaking may have contributed to the conservative resurgence,” the author says. “The vacuum left by Obama’s refusal to embrace liberal ideas and policies allowed conservatives to offer once again their standard story of race and betrayal, big government and victimization.”

Haney López catalogues evolving dog-whistle topics as racism continues to adapt — the attack on public schools, the xenophobic warnings about competition from China, and even expanding the definition of “white” to include Latinos much as it earlier expanded from a narrow Anglo-Saxon base to include southern Europeans.

The best antidote to this coded racism, the author concludes, is to call it out for what it is, ignoring the catcalls that doing so is playing the race card.

Civil-rights organizations must continue to fight for racial justice, which is far from being achieved simply because the first black president has been elected. Unions must enter that space where race and poverty intersect.

Above all, the author contends, there must be an effort to restore liberalism. This may mean supporting Democrats for the most part, but Democratic politicians have been known to resort to dog-whistle politics, too.

The challenge, Haney López believes, is to renew the Democratic Party’s commitment to liberalism. He blames the fading impact of Occupy Wall Street on the movement’s failure to engage in partisan politics and force change in the Democratic Party in the way the tea-party movement pushed the Republican Party to the right.

Haney López brings his argument full circle to the current fight against poverty and inequality. He cites Franklin Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union address urging a “second Bill of Rights” — which included “the right to earn enough to provide adequate food and education and clothing” — and Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 call for a Poor People’s March on Washington to seek “a new economic deal for the poor.”
This is not looking backward, the author says, but is a call “to restore an interrupted future.” He urges a new commitment “to making sure racism doesn’t continue to bind our greatest aspirations.”

— A video and text of Ian Haney López’ interview on Democracy Now Jan. 14 is at


[This article in The Diplomat Dec. 31 notes that several new political slogans have emerged from Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first year in office. As author Shannon Tiezzi notes: “Political slogans are a key to governing. From Mao Zedong on, every leader has chosen one or more slogans that come to define his term in office.” Following are four of the most important slogans that she identifies.]

By Shannon Tiezzi

1. Chinese Dream: The catchphrase of the year award goes to “Chinese dream,” which was mentioned by Xi almost immediately after he officially assumed power at the National Party Congress. As Xi’s first political slogan, the term has the potential to guide China’s development throughout the next 10 years. So what does it mean? In his initial explanation, in November 2012, Xi said “Everyone is talking about a China Dream. I believe the revival of the Chinese nation is the greatest dream of the nation since modern times.”  Later, after the National People’s Congress in March 2013, Xi explained further, tying the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” to increasing the standard of living for individual citizens.
President Xi has a Big Dream for China.

Now, the Chinese Dream is used by media outlets to describe almost everything from Yao Ming’s sports achievements to the success of a popular science website. A search for the Chinese phrase on People’s Daily turns up over 80,000 hits, and the word was also named the #1 most popular phrase of the year by Xinhua [news agency]. Besides indicating a general sense of prosperity, both for the nation and for individuals, the Chinese Dream also has foreign policy implications, with a “rejuvenated” China taking its place as a global power. The Global Times [newspaper] even declared 2013 the “year of ‘Chinese dream’ diplomacy.”

2. New Type Great Power Relations (also translated as New Model Major Power Relations). More specifically relevant to foreign policy is our number 2 catchphrase, “new type great power relations.” This phrase, like the Chinese dream, first appeared in 2012 as Xi was setting himself up to take control. [He is  general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC)]. Since then, the phrase has expanded to become a cornerstone of China’s foreign policy rhetoric. Although it has been variously applied to countries like Russia and Japan as well, the idea of “new type great power relations” is most often applied to the U.S.-China relationship. As such, the phrase is usually understood as a warning that the U.S. and China must have a historically “new type” relationship in order to avoid the Thucydidean trap. [Activist Newsletter: the “trap” occurs when competition between an emerging power and an established power ultimately leads to a violent clash, as historian Thucydides wrote of the war between Athens and Sparta in 411 BC.]

China’s vision for creating this new relationship involves still more catchphrases — a Dec. 4 speech by Vice President Li Yuanchao further defined the term as “implement[ing] the spirit of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation in all aspects of the relations between the two countries.” None of these terms are new in themselves, but rolling them into the catch-all phrase of “new type great power relations” achieves two things: it acknowledges relations have not actually achieved these goals, and it asserts China’s new role as a great power (or major power, which is China’s preferred translation). Expect this term to stick around — as this concept is expected to be a priority of China’s foreign policy in 2014.

3. Reform and Opening Up. The old catchphrase from Deng Xiaoping’s era is making a comeback in China this year, although in 2013 the components of “reform” and “opening up” are often used separately. Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang are determined to carry out economic reforms to rebalance China’s economy to increase domestic demand and reduce reliance on exports. These reforms, long delayed, are seen as crucial for helping China escape the so-called “middle income trap.” Thus, the “Chinese dream” is dependent on China being able to continue to reform.

The report from this year’s Third Plenum, [of the 18th Communist Party Congress] which generally sets the agenda for a new leadership, was actually titled “The Decision on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reforms.” The government has promised to let market forces play a stronger role in the economy (especially the financial sector), to address the chronic problem of industrial over-capacity, and to deal with the issue of local government debt. Along with reform, China has promised to also continue the process of “opening up” to the outside world. After the Central Economic Work Conference in mid-December, the government promised to emphasize “opening up,” especially by negotiating free trade agreements and investment agreements. As I wrote earlier this year, the experimental new free trade zone in Shanghai will serve as a testing ground for both reform and opening up.

4. Fighting Both Tigers and Flies. Xi kicked the Party’s anti-corruption battle into high gear with his January 2013 promise to fight both “tigers and flies.” By that, Xi meant going after both high-ranking party officials and low-level bureaucrats. “No exception will be made when it comes to Party disciplines and law,” Xi said. True to his word, Xi’s anti-corruption battle has netted some “tigers.”

Since Xi came to power, new investigations have been started against nearly a dozen senior leaders, including officials at the oil behemoth PetroChina, a deputy party chief in Sichuan province, and the mayor of Nanjing. And that’s not counting the conviction of Bo Xilai on charges of corruption, or the rumored investigation into China’s former head of public security, Zhou Yongkang. The “flies” haven’t been neglected either, as China reportedly opened over 30,000 corruption investigations from January to August of 2013. Most outside observers believe that China can’t ultimately solve the problem of corruption without strengthening the rule of law and allowing for a free press to serve as a watchdog. Still, Xi’s emphasis on (and startlingly upfront admissions of) the problem sets him apart from previous leaders.

[Following is another of our reports on Washington’s military buildup in East Asia.]

By The Hankyoreh newspaper (South Korea, Jan. 17, 2014)

USS Theodore Roosevelt, rebalancing to Pacific.
Signs of a bigger U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region have been increasingly evident this new year, suggesting the Obama Administration “pivot to Asia” policy is gaining momentum.

On Jan. 14, the U.S. Navy announced that as part as of the “rebalancing to Asia” the USS Theodore Roosevelt was being relocated to the Pacific port of San Diego. The aircraft carrier previously belonged to the 2nd Fleet on the Atlantic coast, with a homeport in Norfolk, Virginia.

Of 10 aircraft carriers currently available for use, six are now deployed in the Asia-Pacific region. More than 60% of U.S. nuclear submarines are already stationed in the Asia-Pacific region. The report also noted that more than 60% of reconnaissance operations were taking place in the region, which it said reflected plans for the possible outbreak of hostilities against China, North Korea, or Russia.

The U.S. Air Force is also beefing up its Asia-Pacific presence. The military affairs weekly Air Force Times reported on Jan. 14 that it was relocating 12 F-22 Raptors and 300 supporting troops from its 94th Fighter Squadron at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia to Kadena Air Force Base on Okinawa.

Even while announcing overall defense budget cuts last year, Washington said it planned to keep in place or increase its defense budget for the Asia-Pacific region.

[Activist Newsletter: On Jan. 7 the U.S. Army announced it was sending another combat battalion to South Korea (800 soldiers with heavy weapons and armored vehicles) to strengthen its permanent garrison of 28,500 American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines already in the country.

In another development, it was reported in Defense News that the top U.S. commander in the Pacific, Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commented in a speech Jan. 15 that “Our historic dominance (in the region) is diminishing, no question…. China is going to rise, we all know that.”

[The next day, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's press secretary, said: “The secretary understands the larger point Adm. Locklear is making concerning the relative growth in capabilities of certain states in the region. There are very real challenges we face in that part of the world, very real capabilities we need to be able to field. He also believes that America's continued leadership and influence in the region remains vital, and he is committed, from a military perspective, to maintaining that position of strength.”

[Reporting Locklear’s remarks, China’s Global Times wrote: “Rear Admiral Yang Yi, a PLA (People’s Liberation Army) navy expert, said that after nearly two decades of uncontested military superiority, Washington is sensitive toward any change which may potentially pose a challenge to its security. While China's rapid development has surprised the U.S., the PLA still lags generations behind the U.S. Navy, Yang said, adding that Locklear has exaggerated China's military rise to seek budget increases and higher spending power.”] 


By David Callahan

Over the past four decades, business leaders have adroitly used that great American right, freedom of association, to advance their interests. They have banded together through groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federal of Independent Businesses, and the Business Roundtable to create a unified front on a range of issues — pooling hundreds of millions of dollars annually in membership dues for lobbying and advocacy.

Beyond this, every last business sector in America has created its own trade association to push its particular interests. And each of these associations, too, has its own war chest of membership dues to hire lobbyists and PR firms. Business hasn't just organized nationally; they've organized in states and localities — with their paid emissaries buzzing around every state capital and city hall in the nation. 

Protest called by Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
Given all this, it was galling to read in the New York Times Jan. 17 that powerful business groups are trying to subvert freedom of association by workers and their advocates — who are organizing together through worker centers and other kinds of new organizations. Now these groups are under attack by business. The Times writes:

“After ignoring these groups for years, business groups and powerful lobbyists, heavily backed by the restaurant industry, are mounting an aggressive campaign against them, maintaining that they are fronts for organized labor.”

In one case, a business group in Florida asked the State Attorney General to investigate the finances of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which fights for some of the poorest and most mistreated workers in the United States. Indeed, labor conditions are so harsh down in parts of Florida that one of the Coalition's priorities is to fight modern day slavery, and with some success. The Coalition also recently staged a march by 100 workers who walked 200 miles to ask Publix supermarkets to pay more for tomatoes so farm workers could be paid more. Those workers now earn a poverty wage….

The business attack on the new workers organizations has focused on how they are supposedly sidestepping laws governing union organizing. Business groups argue that worker centers should face the same strictures as labor unions under federal law, including detailed financial disclosure, regular election of leaders and bans on certain types of picketing. Business groups say worker centers act like unions by targeting specific employers and pushing them to improve wages.

But again, what gall: If business hadn't done so much since the 1970s to subvert the right to organize and hamstring union activities in workplaces — to say nothing of outright union busting — there wouldn't be the same need for worker centers. Also, business groups themselves have been geniuses at finding their way around laws — say, on lobbying and campaign donations -— by creating new kinds of entities that operate legally to achieve the same result. What, so loopholes are fine for the powerful but not the powerless? Seems like it should be the other way around. 

Regardless, back to my original point: freedom of association is not just a quintessential American right, it's a global human right, protected by international law. The past few decades have seen every conceivable interest group in U.S. society get better organized — except for labor, and we're all paying the price for that as inequality drags down the economy and erodes our democracy.

But things are finally changing, and business can't stand it. Who can blame them? While we now live in an age where capital holds all the cards, more signs point to the rise of labor. It's about time. 

— From Demos, Jan. 17, 2014


By Jody Avirgan

The trove of documents leaked by Edward Snowden has revealed the elaborate tricks the NSA can use to monitor communications and data around the world. Here is a running list of things we now know the NSA can do, based on media reports and other publicly available documents—so far. There is probably more, of course.

  It can track the numbers of both parties on phone calls, as well location, time and duration.
  It can hack Chinese phones and text messages.
  It can set up fake Internet cafes.
  It can spy on foreign leaders' cellphones.
  It can tap underwater fiber-optic cables.
  It can track communication within media organizations like Al-Jazeera.
  It can hack into the UN video conferencing system.
  It can track bank transactions.
  It can monitor text messages.
  It can access your email, chat, and Web browsing history.)
  It can map your social networks.)
  It can access your smartphone app data.
  It is trying to get into secret networks like Tor, diverting users to less secure channels.
  It can go undercover within embassies to have closer access to foreign networks.
  It can set up listening posts on the roofs of buildings to monitor city communications.
  It can set up a fake LinkedIn.
  It can track the reservations at upscale hotels.
  It can intercept the talking points for Ban Ki-moon’s meeting with Obama.
  It can crack cellphone encryption codes.
  It can hack computers that aren’t connected to the Internet using radio waves.
  It can intercept phone calls by setting up fake base stations.
  It can remotely access a computer by setting up a fake wireless connection.
  It can install fake SIM cards to then control a cell phone.
  It can fake a USB thumb drive that's actually a monitoring device.
  It is seeking the ability to crack all types of sophisticated computer encryption.
  It can go into online games and monitor communication.
  It can intercept communications between aircraft and airports.
•  It can physically intercept deliveries, open packages, and make changes to devices.

— This listing from The Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC, 01-17-14.

By The Economist

The love interest in Spike Jonze’s new science fiction-tinged comedy drama, “Her,” is typical Hollywood: a perky hybrid of nursemaid, personal assistant and sex worker, someone who exists solely to motivate her socially maladjusted boyfriend. For once the characterization is forgivable; this particular heroine is not human.

Instead, she is an artificially intelligent operating system belonging to a sheepish writer named Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix). As soon as he uploads her to his computer, she names herself Samantha and takes on the seductively husky voice of Scarlett Johansson. Even without Ms. Johansson’s looks — or anyone else’s, for that matter — she is so chatty and obliging that Theodore falls for her. Her ability to file years’ worth of emails in a fraction of a second is a help as well.

 “Her” sounds like a satire on male immaturity and society’s addiction to technology, but Mr. Jonze, who wrote the screenplay and directed, treats the budding romance between a man and his software with awed respect. Theodore’s former wife (Rooney Mara) makes the odd waspish remark about her ex’s inability to engage with a real woman, but the other characters all congratulate him on following his heart. The pairing is further sanctified by the film’s dreamy soundscapes and blissed-out cinematography, which entails shooting half of the scenes just as the sun is setting.

The film’s rarefied, reverential atmosphere is effective for a while. The viewer is hypnotized into taking the same leap of faith that Theodore does, and seeing his affair as something both uplifting and philosophically intriguing. Once the head clears, though, all that is left is the unacknowledged creepiness of the central master-slave relationship. Samantha is not just a computer program; she’s a computer program that has been created specifically to cater to Theodore’s every whim. Are we really supposed to care whether the two of them live happily ever after? Stick with the ex-wife on this one. Theodore, and Mr. Jonze, should grow up.