Wednesday, June 17, 2015


June 17, 2015, Issue 220
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1.   Photo of The Month —The Plight of The Rohingya

2.   Obama in the Middle East: From Bad to Worse

3.  Eye-Witness Report: Can Syria Survive?

4.   TPP Panic: Playing the China Card

5.   The Era of Wealthy Entitlement

6.   Norway – The Best Place to be A Mother

7.   Russia Will Retaliate to Obama's Military Moves

8.  Sexual Assault In Military Remains High

Editor's note: We have a big project coming up immediately, followed by a couple of vacation weeks  in the northern Vermont woods, so our output of calendars and newsletters will be much fewer until our mid-August issues.

Let us know your opinion of any article in this issue, or on related matters. The last time I wrote that we received many more replies than it was possible to answer. Keep up; we read everything and learn from your communications.

  The Plight of the Rohingya

Rohingya migrants collect rainwater to fill empty bottles in a temporary refugee camp near Rakhine State, Myanmar (Burma). They are among many thousands of destitute people rescued at sea after weeks adrift in overcrowded, unsafe boats. Often the crews had fled.

The Rohingya are a poor Muslim minority long resident in Myanmar but discriminated against by the Buddhist majority and state. Many recently sought to leave the country in rickety vessels rented from exploitative traffickers.  At first most countries did not volunteer to rescue the Rohingya, who were starving at sea, but international pressure produced some action. The main problem is that no country wants to accept these long-oppressed people who speak their own language.

Wikipedia reports: "Many Rohingyas have fled to ghettos and refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh and to areas along the border with Thailand. More than 100,000 Rohingyas in Burma continue to live in camps for internally displaced persons, not allowed by authorities to leave..... According to Rohingyas and some scholars, they are indigenous to Rakhine State, while other historians claim that they migrated to Burma from Bengal primarily during the period of British rule in Burma, and to a lesser extent, after the Burmese independence in 1948, and the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.


Houthi militants guard the house of Ali Haidar, a Houthi leader, destroyed by a Saudi-led 
air strike in Sanaa, Yemen. (Photo by Khaled Abdullah/Reuters.)

By Jack A. Smith

President Obama's post-election promise of a "new dawn of American leadership" began in earnest five months into his first term with an important speech in Cairo June 4, 2009, appropriately titled, "A New Beginning." He started his oration by remarking "We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world.... I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world."

The packed audience at Cairo University, including many students, was mesmerized by Obama's rhetoric and the renewal of hope for a better future. They were not told that his "new beginning" was based on the geopolitical intention to continue and tighten U.S. hegemony the Middle East. At the time Washington was supporting authoritarian regimes throughout the region, just as it does today. Further, Obama today is fighting or supporting more wars in the vicinity than when he assumed office.

The wreckage of that "new beginning" is strewn throughout the Middle East in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere.

President Obama inherited and approved of former President George W. Bush's stalemated Afghan war, now in its 14th year.  He expanded the war in quest of victory but failed.  He declared it was over, but 10,000 troops remain. It is probable this losing Bush-Obama venture will continue for many more years. Former President Hamid Karzai is now telling all who will listen, including the leaders of India, Russia and China, that the U.S. and its NATO allies plan to remain in Afghan military bases and listening posts for many years because of its geopolitical proximity to China, Central Asia, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and India.

Iraqi Kurdish soldier and an admiring young friend.
Obama disapproved of Bush's unjust, unnecessary 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, which largely secured his nomination and election in November 2008.

The U.S. pulled out of Iraq at the end of 2011 with nothing to show for this nine-year misadventure except a million dead Iraqis and trillions in taxpayer war debts. Two years later the remnant of al-Qaeda in Iraq began transforming into the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), now the Islamic State (IS), without seeming to alarm the Oval Office. Suddenly, in June last year, IS defeated and occupied Mosul — Iraq's second largest city — in a matter of hours. By August the U.S. was once again at war in Iraq, but this time it was confined to an air campaign and retraining dispirited and poorly led Iraqi troops.

The U.S. campaign to defeat the religio-fascist Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria is a failure so far. Despite 10 months of American bombing IS remains strong. It has experienced a couple of big defeats, but has had several more major victories. Aside from the U.S. and a few allies, Washington's vaunted 60-country coalition exists in name only.

The U.S. war against IS — the end product so far of earlier American interventions beginning in the late 1970s — may last many years. Currently there are 3,050 U.S. troops in Iraq. Most are "supporting Iraqi security forces." About 450 are "training Iraqi troops," and 200 are in "advising and assisting roles." On June 10 the White House announced it was sending another 450 troops to train members of Sunni Tribes. The Pentagon thinks these numbers are far too low. It seems inevitable that U.S. ground troops eventually will be deployed in large number, perhaps sooner than later.

McClatchy News reported June 12 that after 10 months of war "the White House has failed to give
Congress and the public a comprehensive written analysis setting out the legal powers that President Obama is using to put U.S. personnel in harm’s way in Iraq and Syria.... The only document the White House has provided to a few key lawmakers comprises four pages of what are essentially talking points, described by those who’ve read them as shallow and based on disputed assertions of presidential authority."

Antiwar critic Phyllis Bennis wrote June 12: "Almost nine months after President Obama admitted that 'we don’t have a strategy yet' to challenge the Islamic State – and just days after he said he still has 'no complete Iraq strategy' – the non-strategy suddenly has a name: escalation.... The Obama administration has so far been unable or unwilling to act on its own oft-repeated understanding that 'there is no military solution' to the so-called IS crisis. Instead, the U.S. strategy has relied almost solely on military action."

While fighting the Islamic State, a contradictory Obama objective is the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, which at this stage would require the defeat of the Syrian army and a victory for the Islamic State, al-Nusra Front (al-Qaeda's powerful franchise in Syria) and various other Sunni jihadist fighting groups who lately have been getting close to al-Nusra. These two organizations are blood rivals that could end up in a vicious war or merge into the most dangerous jihadi group of all.

The dependable Iraqi Shia militia units against  IS are often led by Iranian officers.
Obama's desire to bring about regime change in Syria has nothing to do with democracy, although that was Washington's original justification three years ago. Syria under Assad is a very close ally to Iran and has been supported by Russia. Breaking the alliance with Iran by replacing Assad with a leader acceptable to the U.S. would weaken the influence of both Iran and Russia — a feather not only in America's cap but those of Saudi Arabia, Israel and many Sunni states in the region.

The natural allies of Iran (a Shi'ite majority state) are Iraq (Shi'ite majority), and Syria (Alawite, Shi'ite derived and governed in a 60% Sunni population). All three have a major stake in defeating IS, al-Nusra and other Sunni jihadist groups that consider the Shia minority to be heathens. The Shi'ites are an often-despised minority within Islam, and amount to about 10-13% of the Muslim world.

Both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia share the objective of disrupting the contiguous 1,200-mile East to West Iran-Iraq-Syria coalition that refuses to succumb to American hegemony and imperialism.

The opposition to Shia influence in the Middle East is led by the Saudi monarchy, the principal exponent of the ultra-conservative Wahhabi Islam — a faith that has been embraced by a number of Sunni extremist groups. Saudi Arabia has been under U.S. protection for almost 70 years because of its enormous oil resources.  Most Sunni states in the region appear allied with Riyadh (the Saudi capital) in its desire to limit the regional influence of Shiism.

The reason Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen (with U.S. backing) for nearly three months is to defeat the Houthi insurgency, mainly because this group adheres to the Zaidi sect of the Shia religion. (Yemen is 50-55% Sunni and 42%-47% Shi'ite.) In addition, the Houthis in power would be unlikely to take orders from its neighboring monarchy. So far the Saudi air force has killed about 2,500 civilians, largely Shia. The UN says the Saudi attacks have created a humanitarian disaster for about 80% of the Yemeni population, some 20 million people. So far at least eight regional Sunni states have sent jets to join the Saudi onslaught.

Saudi Arabia launched its air war and blockade on March 23 near the end of peace talks between the Houthis and various other Yemeni factions that seemed to be heading toward a positive resolution. The attacks ended the talks and the Houthi rebellion is continuing. On June 14 the rebels seized Hazm, a provincial capital in the northwest. The New York Times reported that the capture of Hazm "appeared to give the Houthis another bargaining chip in United Nations-sponsored peace talks that begin June 15 in Geneva." It has been reported that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), headquartered in Yemen, has become stronger as a result of the Saudi war, acquiring more territory and obtaining backing from ome local Sunni groups.

Nasir  al-Wuhayshi.
Much bigger news about AQAP was released June 15 when it confirmed the death of its leader, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen. This raises an odd question:  Wuhayshi was also second in command to al-Qaeda's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who replaced Osama bin-Laden four years ago. Washington has been seeking to assassinate Zawahiri for years, but there may be a reason to stop, according to Barak Mendelsohn three months ago in a March 9 article in Foreign Affairs titled "Accepting al-Qaeda." He wrote:

"If and when Washington succeeds in killing Zawahiri, the leaders of al-Qaeda’s branches would have the opportunity to reassess whether to remain with al-Qaeda or join Baghdadi’s caliphate. [The reference is to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State's Caliph.] It is possible that Zawahiri’s successor will be able to hold al-Qaeda together, particularly if it is Nasir al-Wuhayshi, al-Qaeda’s so-called general manager and the head of its Yemeni branch. But it is more likely that in Zawahiri’s absence, al Qaeda would drift into IS’ camp, offering it manpower, resources, and access to arenas such as Algeria and Yemen where al-Qaeda’s dominance has so far hindered IS’ expansion." Time will tell.

The struggle against IS would be considerably more difficult were it not for the fighting by the non-Arab Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi Shia militias, the latter usually led by Iranian officers. Baghdad's demoralized, poorly led army is being retrained and is not ready take the field, except for a few special units. The U.S. supplies the Kurds but has not provided support to the militias and Iranians.

In addition to the Iraqi fighters, the Syrian army is a strong ground force willing to fight the Islamic State — and is actually doing so defensively to prevent the Baghdad government from being crushed. So far the White House extends its air war support to Syrian Kurds in the north of the country, but refuses to back the besieged Syrian army by extending its bombing campaign to the jihadi forces battling their way toward Damascus in the south.

The U.S. has reduced its public effusions of support for the largely jihadist forces that seek to overthrow the Assad government but it remains involved in trying to destroy the Damascus regime. Stratfor wrote June 5:

"Washington can see the battlefield momentum lies with an array of radical Islamists who will demonize the United States along with the Syrian government. Though the United States is working more closely with regional players Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan in selectively sponsoring Syrian rebel factions, it cannot effectively channel the direction of the fight against the Islamic State when that goal is competing with the aim of toppling Iran's ally in Damascus and strangling Hezbollah in Lebanon — a tantalizing prospect for the Sunni powers of the region."

As such, the Obama Administration is in effect subverting the war against the Islamic State. It offers nothing but malice and subversion to the Damascus government and the Syrian army. Were Obama more interested in eliminating jihadist violence against Syria and Iraq than in protecting its geopolitical interests and pandering to powerful anti-Iranian and anti-Syrian political interests in the U.S. and Middle East, he would aid and support the Syrian army's battle against invading jihadists.

The Islamic State has made some stunning advances in Syria since the beginning of this year, culminating with the capture of the ancient city of Palmyra. The IS now controls half of Syrian territory and is moving toward the strategic city of Aleppo and a handful of other core territories leading to the gates of Damascus.

The flag al-Qadea's Al-Nusra Front, the biggest rival to IS in Syria.
Simultaneously, Al-Nusra has proven itself to be nearly as brutal as the Islamic State. Writing in The Independent (UK) June 14, Patrick Cockburn revealed: "Last week fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, entered a village in Idlib province in the north-west of the country and shot dead at least 20 villagers from the Druze community. They had earlier forcibly converted hundreds of Druze to their fundamentalist variant of Sunni Islam.

"The incident happened in the Druze village of Qalb Lawzeh in the Jabal al-Summaq region, a place where al-Nusra fighters have dug up historic graves and destroyed shrines in recent months, according to the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It says Nusra first tried to confiscate the house of a Druze government official and shot one villager dead. Another villager then seized a fighter’s weapon and killed him. Nusra then sent reinforcements into the village and they opened fire....

"A reason why Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, another hard-line jihadi group, were able to break the military stalemate is the greater support they are getting from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Since succeeding to the throne in January, Saudi King Salman, along with other Sunni leaders, has pursued a more aggressive policy in backing extreme jihadi rebels in Syria."

It is clear that Nusra is now functioning as the leader of the non-IS fighters in Syria who are receiving the bulk of support from America's closest regional allies while the Obama Administration keeps silent. In effect, U.S. allies, and by extension Washington itself, are subsidizing al-Qaeda.

One has to wonder what in the world the White House is up to in the Middle East — unless this, unbelievably, is Obama's missing strategy.

Meanwhile, Syria and Iran's biggest foreign backer, Russia, appears to be working toward a diplomatic solution if one is possible. It has been doing so for at least two years but the situation in Syria is so desperate there may be grounds for a settlement.

Stratfor also noted June 5: "Just as Russia swooped in with an exit strategy for the United States in 2013 when it presented a plan to destroy Syria's chemical weapons, it is now trying to draw the United States into a political settlement on Syria that will preserve an Alawite-heavy government, even if Assad does not lead it. To that end, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, who owns the Syria file in the Kremlin, has been trying to organize a Geneva conference that would include both Sunni regional players and Iran to work toward a power-sharing agreement."


An al-Nusra rebel takes down a picture of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Ariha, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the last regime-held city in Idlib province.  (Photo: Ammar Abdullah/Reuters.)
By Robert Fisk, June 13, The Independent (UK)

It’s a dangerous equation in the Syrian war that the further you are from Damascus, the more Bashar al-Assad’s regime seems doomed. And the more you drive around the vast area still held by government forces – and I’ve just completed around 1,100 miles of mountains, desert and battle fronts – the more you realize that the war will go on. And on. And that the Syrian army, outgunned and at times frighteningly outnumbered by its Islamist enemies, is not about to collapse.

But here are a few grim facts. Islamic State and [al-Qaida's] Jabhat al-Nusra are now attacking the Syrian military in rows of suicide trucks, and along fronts so wide that the army often doesn’t have the manpower to withstand them. Rebel logistics are hi-tech and better than the Syrian army’s, and a lot of their communications systems are American. The insurgents have hundreds of anti-armor wire-guided TOW and Milan anti-tank missiles and can afford to fire three – even four – rockets at a single Syrian tank, knocking out its fire-control circuits so that its ammunition explodes and its soldiers are burnt to death. 

At Palmyra, in Homs province, between 1,800 and 2,000 IS fighters were confronted by an army that
could not withstand their constant attacks. In the two days before they retreated, Syrian troops smashed their way briefly into forward Islamic State positions, only to discover piles of “tactical vests” – advanced body armor – thermal missiles, stacks of Muslim prayer books in Russian (apparently belonging to Chechen fighters), enough sidearm ordnance for each rebel to carry 10,000 rounds of ammunition each, and stacks of Snickers chocolate bars.

American “experts” talk glibly now of how the Syrian army will make a “planned retreat” to the mountains of the Alawites, the Shia sect of President Assad, and try to keep open the road from Damascus to the Mediterranean coast via Homs.

Syrian “experts” – a lot closer to the battle – speak of a more political strategy. What the regime must do, they say, is hold on to the major cities in a line from Aleppo south through Hama and Homs to Damascus and deprive either Nusra or IS of a potential capital in Syria. IS’s present capital, Raqqa, is an inferior city in the desert and even Palmyra, symbolic though its loss has been, is no metropolis from which rebels can claim national sovereignty.

But the loss of Aleppo would give them a capital worthy of the name, the largest city in Syria, albeit the second metropolis after Damascus. Thus Aleppo is important, not because the Syrian government must keep it – which it must – but because its enemies must be deprived of it. The newly combined “Army of Conquest,” a Nusra-led alliance of Islamist satellite groups, is the greatest threat to date. And execution is as important to the rebels as the suicide bomb. Army sources in Damascus say that 250 army families were taken for execution when Palmyra fell.

[There was some good news for Syria when the press reported: "IS lost control of Tal Abyad, a Syrian town on the border with Turkey, which was seized June 16 by a coalition of Kurdish militias and Arab rebels. The town was a crucial point on the Islamic State's supply route to its stronghold, Raqqa."]

I came across Iranian military personnel this month, scattered in twos and threes around the battlefield, learning rather than fighting, no doubt tapping into the battle tactics used by their fathers in the titanic eight-year war between Iran and Iraq after Saddam’s 1980 invasion of the Islamic Republic. They are smart, well-educated; one of them, beside fields set alight by shellfire, cheerfully apologized to me in fluent English for not being able to speak. “Wrong place – wrong time!” he laughed.

But the Iranians are in Syria at the right time for Bashar al-Assad, and so are the Afghan Shia fighters brought in from Kabul, some of whom were queuing to visit the Umayyad mosque in Damascus last week, several dressed in military fatigues. With perhaps 50,000 dead, the Syrian army needs men. Conscripted troops now serve indefinitely. And if that army falters or ceases to exist, no other force is capable of holding Syria together. No wonder President Assad uses much of his speechifying to praise the army and its tens of thousands of “martyrs.”

It was thus necessary last week to make a pilgrimage to the foreign ministry in Damascus to listen to Dr. Faisal Mekdad – he is a medical doctor as well as deputy foreign minister – to find out just how confident the regime claims to be. How does he feel about the Iranians fighting on his side? And the Lebanese Hezbollah? Or is it true what the American “experts” say, that there is a “planned retreat” to the coast, to cling on to Damascus and Latakia and create a “rump” Syria?

 “It is our right to have anyone fight for us,” he says. “Whoever is ready to come and help us is welcome.... The other party is a party of terrorists, and now we have every credible information that the French and the British will go to the EU and say that the Nusra Front is a ‘moderate’ group – they will try to rehabilitate Nusra, even though Nusra is a part of al-Qaeda....

A Syria jihadist member of the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement takes position on a hill overlooking the  last government stronghold in Idlib Province. (Photo: Khalil Ashawi/Reuters.)
“Of course, losing any small village is a big loss for us. Every square inch of Syria is important to us. But Aleppo is the second major city of Syria and losing it would be a big loss. But we have never – ever – in our [cabinet] meetings doubted that we will hold it. All our strategic planning now is to keep the way open to Aleppo, to allow our forces to defend it.”

That the Syrian cabinet discusses Aleppo is proof of the city’s political as well as military importance – “all our strategic planning” is a dramatic phrase to hear in the mouth of any Syrian minister. I travelled the dangerous main supply route north of Aleppo months ago, with tracer rounds criss-crossing the road from both sides. The highway south can be attacked at any time. Nusra uses mountain bikes to spring out of the desert on lonely checkpoints at night.

“A few months ago,” Dr. Mekdad complained, “before direct intervention to help Daesh [IS] and Nusra by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, we were about to achieve a historic advance. The occupation of Idlib [city] would never have taken place without direct Turkish intervention – thousands of Turks, Chechens, huge forces were brought in, which attacked Idlib and Jisr al-Shugour. When we were preparing to liberate Idlib, we lost Jisr al-Shugour. We have to prepare for losses and gains. This is war.”

Ministers have a habit of saying things like this when the chips are down, but what Mekdad was to say next was of a different dimension. “It is clear now that without re-energizing the army, reorganizing it and enabling its central command to implement all its decisions, then we will not be able to achieve what we are planning to achieve.”  He spoke of new weapons for the army – it sorely needs them to replace the clapped-out Warsaw Pact tanks that litter Syria, however much the minister’s promise was born of hope rather than signed contracts. But Aleppo returned to our conversation like a persistent mosquito.

Syrian Red Crescent transports dead bodies of loyalist solders for burial. 
“I agree when you speak about our cities from the strategic and humanitarian point of view. Yes, Idlib matters, Deir ez-Zour [where Syria’s surrounded army still holds out] matters, Raqqa matters – but they are not as important as Aleppo is. Once you have a strong central presence [in the country], you have every chance that the smaller towns could be brought back naturally, both militarily and politically... but in no way can we sacrifice a millimeter of our territory by ‘prioritizing’ – it would absolutely be a big loss if Aleppo was not in our hands. We have confidence we can defend it.”

The further you travel from Syria, the more imaginative become the stories to convince you of its destruction, such as: The Americans have done a deal with the Russians to ship Assad off to exile in Moscow.  The Iranians will “close down” the Syrian war if the nuclear talks are successful. The Iranians don’t have confidence in the Syrian army. The most extraordinary theory suggests that the “moderate” rebels will destroy both IS and Assad.

There is no point in romanticizing any side in this war. The government militias and the barrel-bombers and the torture chambers eliminate the utility of rose-colored glasses. But if you have to draw up a list of priorities for the Syrian regime to survive the coming weeks and months, they are easy to identify. It does not involve the ruling Ba'ath Party; nor, for that matter, President Assad. The answer is simple: the Syrian army. New guns. New tanks. Aleppo.


By Jeff Faux, June 13, Economic Policy Institute

Stung by the sudden derailment in the House of Representatives of their rush to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Washington establishment has wasted no time in warning us of the terrifying menace of a rising China, should the trade deal not be put back on track next week.

Echoing previous remarks by the president, House Speaker John Boehner warned “we’re allowing and inviting China to go right on setting the rules of the world economy.” Pro-TPP Democratic Congressman Jim Hines (D-Conn.) said that Friday’s vote, “told the world that we prefer that China set the rules and values that govern trade in the Pacific.”

These remarks are both fatuous and revealing of how weak the case for the TPP is, even among its own promoters.

As a matter of obvious fact, the rules of the world economy within which the Chinese have been taking the United States to the economic cleaners were not set in China. They were set in Washington, DC by our own American policymakers and fixers who in one way or another were, and still are, are in the pay of multinational corporate investors.

Under Ronald Reagan, the two Bushes, Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama, the United States government designed and imposed the global model of  “free trade” which promoted the shift of investment from the United States to parts of the world where labor is cheap, the environment is unprotected, and the public interest is even more up for sale than it is here.

Not surprisingly, the result has been shrinking job opportunities, lower wages, and a large chronic trade deficit that Americans have to finance by borrowing from the countries like China that have earned surplus dollars by selling us their goods. You don’t have to be an economist to know that this cannot go on forever.

Playing the China card is also revealing because it shows the desperation of the TPP promoters. Their claim to members of Congress that the deal will not harm their constituencies has been been discredited. So the pro-TPP faction has increasingly tried to use fear of China’s growing influence in Asia to round up congressional support. But it is precisely the made-in-USA trade rules that have allowed China to become an economic powerhouse. To argue now that U.S. workers should further sacrifice their living standards in order to diminish China’s resistance to the “rules and values” of America’s corporate elite reflects the intellectual and political bankruptcy of the case for the TPP.

Indeed, from the perspective of the average American worker, letting the Chinese set the rules for the global economy may not be so bad an idea. They could hardly do worse.


By Paul Buchheit

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

But hungry people rarely waste their modest benefits, and most are eager to work to support their households. Almost three-quarters of those enrolled in food stamps and other social programs are members of working families. And according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, only 1 cent of every SNAP dollar is used fraudulently.

The real threat is the array of entitlements demanded by the very rich. As they get richer, they’re gradually bankrupting the greater part of America, the middle and lower classes. The following annual numbers may help to put our country’s expenses and benefits in perspective.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the true threat of entitlement.

— From (a project of the Institute for Policy Studies), April 29, 2015. Paul Buchheit is a writer for progressive publications and the founder and developer of social justice and educational web sites, among them,, and


By Agence France-Presse

Norway ranks as the world's best place to be a mother, well ahead of the United States, which dropped to the 33rd spot in the annual scorecard released recently by Save the Children. Somalia is the worst place, just below the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

Save the Children released its 16th annual Mothers' Index, which rates 179 countries based on five indicators related to maternal health, education, income levels and the status of women.

This year, the United States dropped from number 31 on the list to 33. American women have a one in 1,800 risk of maternal death, the worst level of risk of any developed country in the world, according to the report. An American woman is more than 10 times as likely to die in childbirth than a Polish woman.

[Newsletter: The U.S. may be the world's richest country, but its poor are shunted aside — accounting for the comparatively high maternal death rate for developed countries. For instance, gross national per capita income in the U.S. is $53,470 and in developing Cuba it is $5,890 — but while America is number 33, Cuba is fairly close behind at 40. According to CIA figures in 2014, the under-one year infant mortality rate per 1,000 births in Cuba is 4.7% a compared to 6.12% in the U.S. In terms of the participation of women in government — one of the five factors considered in the Save the Children report — 48.9% of seats in Cuba are occupied by women, double the 19.5% in its Yankee neighbor.]

Scandinavian countries have consistently taken the first spots in the Mothers' Index, with Norway this year beating out Finland, which held the top spot last year. Among the top 10, Australia is the only non-European country, at number nine. France and Britain take the 23rd and 24th spot, below Canada at number 20.

The 10 worst places are all sub-Saharan African countries. Haiti, at 169, was worst in the western hemisphere. Nine of the bottom 10 countries are wracked by conflict.

The disparity in terms of infant mortality is striking. In the top 10 countries, one mother out of 290 will lose a child before the age of five. In the bottom 10, that rate stands at one in eight.

Save the Children also looked at infant mortality rates in the world's 24 wealthiest capital cities and found Washington DC had the highest rate at 7.9 deaths per 1,000 under one year old. [This largely black city is evidently one of the worst places to be a mother. Newsweek noted, in a headline: Washington’s Poorest Infants Are 10 Times More Likely to Die Than Richest."]

By comparison, Stockholm and Oslo had infant mortality rates at or below 2 deaths per 1,000.Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles said the data confirmed that a country's economic wealth is not the sole factor leading to happy mothers, but that policies need to be put in place.

In the case of Norway, "they do have wealth, but they also invest that wealth in things like mothers and children, as a very high priority," Miles said.

Save the Children also reported that mothers are having a tougher time in the world's expanding cities, with survival gaps between rich and poor widening. Cities in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Peru, Rwanda, Vietnam and Zimbabwe have the highest gap for child survival, with poor children three to five times more likely to die than their affluent peers.


U.S. tank maneuvers in Latvia, next to Russian border. Is this not a provocation?
[The notion that Russia might attack NATO and invade the European Union is preposterous, as the Obama Administration well knows, but it not only continues to suggest this may happen but takes provocative military steps to "defend" its client states against the mighty impending menace from Moscow. Such a policy will only exacerbate tensions in the region, leading to more trouble.]

By Reuters, June 15, 2015

A plan by Washington to station tanks and heavy weapons in NATO states on Russia's border would be the most aggressive U.S. act since the Cold War, and Moscow would retaliate by beefing up its own forces, a Russian defense official said June 15.

The United States is offering to store military equipment on allies' territory in Eastern Europe, a proposal aimed at reassuring governments worried that after the conflict in Ukraine, they could be the Kremlin's next target.

Poland and the Baltic states, where officials say privately they have been frustrated the NATO alliance has not taken more decisive steps to deter Russia, welcomed the decision by Washington to take the lead.

But others in the region were more cautious, fearing their countries could be caught in the middle of a new arms race between Russia and the United States.

"If heavy U.S. military equipment, including tanks, artillery batteries and other equipment really does turn up in countries in eastern Europe and the Baltics, that will be the most aggressive step by the Pentagon and NATO since the Cold War," said Russian defense ministry official Gen.Yuri Yakubov.

He said the Russian response was likely to include speeding up the deployment of Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave bordered by Poland and Lithuania, and beefing up Russian forces in ex-Soviet Belarus. "Our hands are completely free to organize retaliatory steps to strengthen our Western frontiers," Yakubov said.

Enough equipment for a company or possibly a battalion, or about 750 soldiers, would also be located in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and possibly Hungary. The idea was that, in the event of an attack on NATO's eastern border, the United States could quickly fly in troops who would use the equipment, cutting out the weeks or months it would take to transport convoys of gear overland across Europe. All told, about 5,000 European troops will be equipped in this round of the U.S buildup.

However, the U.S. proposal could cause tensions within NATO, an alliance that often struggles to accommodate more hawkish members such as Poland or Lithuania alongside other states that want to avoid a military stand-off with Russia at any cost.

Speaking after talks in Warsaw with the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said he expected a final U.S. decision on the equipment within a few weeks. "They know how important this is to us, because we want to build a permanent U.S. presence, the allied army here on the Polish territory," Siemoniak told reporters.

Proposals for a permanent NATO combat presence in Eastern Europe were blocked by Germany and some other alliance members. Instead, NATO intensified exercises, rotating troops through the region and set up a command headquarters for a rapid reaction force in northwest Poland.

Sources close to the government in Poland, and other states in the region, said that response persuaded them they could not fully rely on NATO, and that their best bet in the event of an attack was that the U.S. military would come to their aid.

At a NATO summit in Wales last year, agreement was reached on "pre-positioning" military equipment in eastern Europe, but the Pentagon's plan appeared to go further and faster than measures envisaged by the alliance.

From the Activist Newsletter: As we noted in these pages May 30, and it is worth repeating: 

"From the Baltics to the Black Sea and now the Caspian, the United States is on the search for recruits to encircle Russia. Romania threw its lot in with the United States last year, but this year, Turkey and Turkmenistan are the ones to watch.

"All along Russia's frontier with Europe, the U.S. military is bustling with activity. Bit by bit, the United States is expanding various military exercises under the banner of Operation Atlantic Resolve. The exercises began in the Baltics and Poland and, as of last week, expanded into Romania with plans to move into Bulgaria. So far, most of these missions are on the smaller side, consisting of only a few hundred troops at any given time, and are meant to test the U.S. ability to rapidly deploy units to countries that can then practice receiving and working with these forces. Additionally, various headquarter units from U.S. Army infantry brigades have been rotating in and assuming control of Operation Atlantic Resolve in order to practice joint command and control. Several hundred American troops are in Ukraine training Kiev's military."


By the Activist Newsletter

The number of reported sexual assaults by members of the U.S. military rose again in 2014, according to the Pentagon's newest annual report. But, U.S. News reports, the Pentagon office that handles sexual assault complaints said the crime is often underreported, and its estimate of how many sexual assaults occurred over that time decreased from last year.

In fiscal year 2014, the military received a total of 6,131 reports of sexual assault involving service members as either victims or subjects, an 11% increase from fiscal year 2013 reporting, and a 70% increase from fiscal year 2012. The jump in reporting is part of a trend in recent years, not necessarily an increase in actual cases.

The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office at the Pentagon said it estimates that about 20,300 active-component service members were sexually assaulted during the last fiscal year, but most failed to report the crime — not least for fear of the consequences. The number is down from about 26,000 in FY 2013. The office estimates that 10,600 men and 9,600 women were sexually assaulted.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., issued a critique of the Defense Department's efforts to curb sexual assaults, AP reported May 3. She said the true scope of sex-related violence in the military communities is "vastly underreported" and that victims continue to struggle for justice.

Gillibrand charged in her report that the Pentagon refused to provide her with all the information she requested about sexual assaults at several major bases. The material she did receive revealed that the spouses of service members and civilian women who live or work near military facilities are especially vulnerable to being sexually assaulted. Yet they "remain in the shadows" because neither is counted in Defense Department surveys to determine the prevalence of sexual assaults, the report said. Most of the uncounted civilian victims are women.

"I don't think the military is being honest about the problem," Gillibrand said.