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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 22:26

Douglas Macgregor 
RINF Alternative News

In a 15 April OPED published in the Washington Post, former Ambassador and Bush Deputy National Security Advisor, James Jeffrey, now a fellow at the Washington Institute argues for the commitment of American ground forces to “quell the crisis” in Ukraine.  In yet another American triumph of ill-considered military adventurism over statecraft, Ambassador Jeffrey seems to think Mr. Putin will be impressed with the gradual appearance of a few U.S. Army ground units on Russia’s border. Meanwhile, like Secretary Kerry, Ambassador Jeffrey is ignoring the simple truth that Mr. Putin is doing the West a favor by removing the Russians from Ukraine through annexation.

The good news is that Mr. Putin is creating the conditions for the emergence of a free, democratic and smaller, as well as, demographically more homogenous Ukrainian State.  A quick glance at Ukrainian election results over the last several years demonstrates conclusively that the Ukrainians living west of the Dnieper River in overwhelming numbers want to divorce themselves from Russia and live inside Europe.

Instead of threatening Moscow, it is now time for Secretary of State Kerry and his colleagues in the European Union to ask Mr. Ranko Krivokapic, the President of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to meet with Mr. Putin and propose an OSCE-monitored plebiscite in Ukraine’s Russian speaking areas.  If the population in Eastern Ukraine wants to join Russia, then, they should be allowed to vote themselves into Russia with a plebiscite. However, at the same time, the Ukrainians in the West should be allowed to join the EU without joining the NATO Alliance, much like Sweden, Austria, or Finland.  This outcome would provide Mr. Putin with what he thinks he wants and Ukraine’s true Ukrainians with what they want: membership in the European Union.  None of these developments or proposals involves a military confrontation between Russia and the West.

Sadly, instead of looking for a solution that people in the region can live with, Ambassador Jeffrey wants to exacerbate the tension by providing the very threat that makes Putin’s public claims about NATO credible when Putin’s assertions clearly are not valid.  The Ambassador’s assertion that a few U.S. Troops will “quell” the crisis is worse than naïve.  Jeffrey’s policy recommendation is both dangerous and unnecessary.

Unless the United States can send 150,000 US combat troops, at least 50,000 in the first 30 days, then, Jeffrey is simply courting disaster.  Without such a core force, the Germans, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Slovaks and Hungarians cannot hope to assemble a similar number of forces.  More important, to be credible, the U.S. force must be heavily armored and include substantial quantities of rocket artillery, air and missile defense units, as well as, logistical elements.  Evidently, the Ambassador is unaware that no such U.S. ground force exists.

Thanks to the last 12 years of superb political and military leadership, what forces the United States once had were squandered in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Today’s wheeled Army constabulary forces along with Army and Marine light infantry are incapable of challenging Russian ground forces anywhere in Central or Eastern Europe without risking certain annihilation.  As for alleged American conventional superiority, policing Arabs and Afghans with no armies, no air forces, no air defenses and no missile forces is not much evidence for the kind of military superiority the Russians respect.

If Ambassador Jeffrey’s policy recommendation is the best the State Department can produce, Americans are in lots of trouble.  Political and military leaders like Ambassador Jeffrey who turn to military power for answers always hope military will be purposeful and short, but they fail to provide realistic answers to the questions of strategic purpose, method and end-state before and during military operations.  In this case, Ambassador Jeffrey wants to employ American military power when there is no need to do so.  Worse, the Ambassador is unaware that the U.S. Army and Marines lack the warfighting capability the United States would need if Washington acted as the Ambassador suggests.

Good military strategy consists of knowing when to employ military power and when to not to employ military power.  Unfortunately, Ambassador Jeffrey exemplifies the problem that afflicts thinking inside the beltway: U.S. national decision-making is more often shaped by the military capability to act than by the strategic need to do so.

Col (ret) Douglas Macgregor is a decorated combat veteran, a PhD and the author of five books.

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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 19:41

Kourosh Ziabari
RINF Alternative News

In the far past, I used to look skeptically at those who believed and maintained that the United States is moving in the direction of becoming a rogue, police state. After all, nearly every single American media outlet propagates this belief that the United States is a “beacon of freedom”, and many people around the globe tend to accept it. Moreover, every year, thousands of people from different parts of the world immigrate to the States in search of a better and more prosperous life, having believed in the hidden power of this beacon of freedom in revolutionizing their lives. But now, I’ve come to the understanding that this is not the whole story, and even those who wishfully move to America to realize their dreams, find after a while that their hopes were in vain.

It may be the case that the United States is a plural society, where people from different races, languages, nationalities and religions live and have learned to get along with each other. It’s also true that the American citizens enjoy a relative level of economic welfare provided to them by the government. But does this mean that social freedoms, civil liberties and human rights are protected and enshrined by the U.S. government equally for all the citizens living in the States, regardless of their faith, color, religion and nationality? The answer is a big NO.

It’s been a long time, at least since the deadly 9/11 attacks, that the U.S. government has embarked on a mission of militarizing the American society and suppressing the voices that challenge its hegemony and the military-industrial complex that pushes the White House to more and more wars and conflicts in different parts of the world. The U.S. government, either deliberately, or under the pressure of the multinational corporations and the interest lobbies, has stridden on a path that propels it to warmongering, bullying and law-breaking. The decisions made by the U.S. government in the years following the 9/11 attacks bespeak of a growing restriction of the social freedoms and unwarrantable violation of the essential human rights of the American people and other nationals living in the United States.

The persecution of Muslims under the pretext that they were the Muslims who attacked the twin towers of the World Trade Center on 9/11, and that they pose a serious threat to the U.S. national security is one of several instances showing that the United States is no longer a liberal and normal society which treats its citizens on equal footing and honorably. The American Muslims, which comprise a 3-million-strong community in the United States, have occasionally reported that they were subject to different types of harassment, unlawful searches and seizures, extrajudicial detention, espionage plots and entrapments.

 Khalifah al-Akili, a 34-year-old American Muslims from the Pittsburg area recounted in March 2012 the story of his being unintentionally involved in an entrapment case schemed by the FBI counterterrorism executives who wanted to lay the groundwork for arresting him, which they finally did. He was approached by a seemingly fellow Muslims while saying prayers in the district mosque. The so-called Muslim fellow called Shareef had offered to undertake the expenses for al-Akili to open a restaurant in a nearby district, and in return, he should have bought a rifle. Al-Akili refused to buy the gun, which he had considered a wrongdoing. Then Shareef tried several times to arrange a meeting between Al-Akili and someone introduced as Mohammed. Again he refused; but as soon as he obtained a phone number for Mohammed, he searched it on the web, and to his utmost surprise, found out that the number belonged to someone called Shahed Hussain, an undercover FBI operative. He called Hussain and asked him whether he worked with the FBI. Hussain hung up on him, and then disappeared from the district a few days later, leaving the home he owned there vacant.

An important report by the Mother Jones magazine and the Investigative Reporting Program in 2011 examined the prosecution of more than 500 defendants in terrorism-related cases in the United States. The report showed that “nearly half the prosecutions involved the use of informants,” motivated by money or “the need to work off criminal or immigration violations.” Moreover, “sting operations resulted in prosecutions against 158 defendants. Of that, 49 defendants participated in plots led by an agent provocateur — an FBI operative instigating terrorist action.” So, according to the report, “With three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings.”

Hence, it can be inferred that making efforts to portray Muslims as criminals or embroiling them in terrorist activities with the aim of demonizing and criminalizing them is a routine modus operandi of the U.S. government and military, intelligence apparatus. But this is not the entire story. The detention of Muslim citizens on baseless charges and without due judicial course, the destruction of mosques and preventing Muslim women from wearing headscarves are other examples of how the U.S. police state is treating the Muslims in a discriminatory manner. Many civil rights organizations in the United States have warned in the recent months against the intensification of furtive intelligence operations against the Muslims and espionage plots in the mosques and Muslim communities.

Muslims in the United States complain that they are not free to practice their religious rituals in public. They are repeatedly scorned and insulted and like the African-Americans who bear the brunt of being demoralized and derogated upon by the whites, the Muslims have become accustomed to being offended and called terrorists in the public sphere.

On September 9, 2011, the prominent Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy wrote an article in The Guardian and explained her plight as a Muslim living in the post-9/11 America. She said that after getting divorced from her American husband following the 9/11 attacks, she remained in the States and started a battle to defend her religion against those who intended to portray it a wicked and dangerous faith: “Ironically, he [her husband] now lives in Asia and I’ve stayed in the U.S. I stayed to fight. To say that’s not my Islam. To yell Muslims weren’t invented on 9/11. Those planes crashing again and again into the towers were the first introduction to Islam and Muslims for too many Americans but we – American Muslims – are sick and tired of explaining. None of those men was an American Muslim and we’re done explaining and apologizing. Enough.”

In her article, she narrates the “challenge” of being a Muslim in the post-9/11 America. She writes that President George Bush did everything he could to punish the Muslims for the crime they had not committed: “military trials for civilians, secret prisons, the detention of hundreds of Muslim men without charge, the torture and harsh interrogation of detainees and the invasions of two Muslim-majority countries.

“And the latest stain on the US civil liberties record: an Associated Press expose in August on ways the CIA and the NYPD are combining forces to spy on Muslims in New York City. The thought that someone could be following me to my favorite book shops or night clubs is as pathetic and sinister as when the Mubarak regime tapped my phone and had me followed when I lived in Egypt,” she added.

But as it can be easily guessed, they’re not only the Muslims who fall prey to the bigotry and prejudice of the U.S. police state. The U.S. government has taken a hard line on all of its citizens, not simply the Muslims or the non-American immigrants. In this light, the whistleblowers who remove the lid from the atrocities and crimes of the U.S. military and intelligence apparatus have come under the onslaught of the U.S. government, and aside from people such as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning whose stories have made the headlines, there are audacious freedom fighters like John Kiriakou, who have not only been illegally arrested and sentenced to long terms in prison, but were and are being unlawfully tortured and finding their dignity and esteem being trampled underfoot.

 One of these whistleblowers is John Kiriakou, a former CIA analyst and case officer and senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who revealed that the United States government has authorized the use of brutal torture methods in the prisons for getting confession from the culprits. In a 2007 interview with the ABC News, John said that CIA was torturing prisoners and that this torture was official US government policy. Kiriakou was the first U.S. official who admitted that the Central Intelligence Agency has used the torturing method of waterboarding against the suspects kept at Guantanamo bay detention facility and other underground prisons maintained by the United States. On January 25, 2013, Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison, and his term began on February 28. There are conflicting reports that John Kiriakou, himself a former CIA employee, was tortured while being kept in jail.

In recent years, a growing number of authors, intellectuals, activists and even politicians in the United States who are concerned about the future of their country have been constantly warning that the United States is becoming a police state, and that the prospects of democracy and freedom in this country seems alarming and indeterminate.

John W. Whitehead, the President of The Rutherford Institute has extensively researched on and documented the evidence and cases which substantiate the idea that the United States is no longer a democratic and free society, but a rogue state. He has even written a book exclusively on this topic, entitled “A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.”

“With each tragic shooting that is shrugged off or covered up, each piece of legislation passed that criminalizes otherwise legal activities, every surveillance drone that takes to the skies, every phone call, email or text that is spied on, and every transaction that is monitored, the government’s stranglehold over our lives grows stronger,” writes Whitehead in an article for The Blaze magazine published on November 5, 2013.

He narrates the heartrending story of the 13-year-old Andy Lopez, a Santa Rosa teen who was shot dead by two sheriffs as they suspected him to be carrying an illegal assault weapon directed at them, while what was in his hands was a toy BB gun he had just shopped.

Whitehead says that according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, every year around 400 to 500 innocent civilians are killed by the U.S. police in such foolish confrontations. He also notes that the U.S. government has allocated unnecessarily excessive budgets to the local police departments in the different states and equipped them with advanced military warfare and even unmanned drones. He notes that the military budget of the United States exceeds that of the next 10 countries combined, and this is what singles out the United States as a country that has an unusual voraciousness for warmongering and militarism.

 Militarism, expansionism and tyranny have become the hallmarks of the American civilization, and this is really sorrowful for a country whose leaders call a beacon of freedom. If we rely on Hollywood, Fox News and CNN to tell us what the United States is and what it is not, we will unquestionably come to believe that it’s the most flawless, progressive, advancing and democratic empire of the world in which injustice and inequality are totally irrelevant. But let’s open our eyes to find out what’s really happening behind the scenes and what the mainstream, corporate media don’t tell us about the emerging police state.

Kourosh Ziabari is an Iranian journalist and media correspondent. He has interviewed more than 250 prominent world leaders, politicians, diplomats, academicians, public intellectuals, scientists, Nobel Prize laureates, authors, journalists and activists. His writings regularly appear on Tehran Times.

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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 19:15

Walter C. Uhler
RINF Alternative News

On 14 April 2014 NATO issued a “fact sheet” titled, “Russia’s Accusations – setting the record straight.” In the course of setting the record straight, the NATO fact sheet made the following false assertion: “Russian officials claim that US and German officials promised in 1990 that NATO would not expand into Eastern and Central Europe, build military infrastructure near Russia’s borders or permanently deploy troops there.”

No such pledge was made, and no evidence to back up Russia’s claims has ever been produced.” (My emphasis.)

We know that this assertion by NATO is false, thanks to a 26 November 2009 article in Der Spiegel that claimed: “On Feb. 10, 1990, between 4 and 6:30 p.m., [German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich] Genscher spoke with [Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard] Shevardnadze. And, according to the German record of the conversation, which was only recently declassified, Genscher said: ‘We are aware that NATO membership for a unified Germany raises complicated questions. For us, however, one thing is certain: NATO will not expand to the east.’ And because the conversation revolved mainly around East Germany, Genscher added explicitly: ‘As far as the non-expansion of NATO is concerned, this also applies in general.’”

Mr. Genscher’s assurance to Shevardnadze was similar to one made earlier to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev by U.S. Secretary of State James Baker. Mr. Gorbachev knows that such a pledge was made – and so does the former American ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock.

Thus, this egregious error in the NATO fact sheet suggests either a lie or incompetent research. A deliberate lie seems more probable, given that the NATO fact sheet immediately thereafter used weasel words to deflect attention from the lie.

Here are the weasel words: “Should such a promise have been made by NATO as such, it would have to have been as a formal, written decision by all NATO Allies. Furthermore, the consideration of enlarging NATO came years after German reunification. This issue was not yet on the agenda when Russia claims these promises were made.”

Really?

First, nobody accused NATO of making such a promise. Second, senior U.S. and German officials would have had every right to make such a promise without ever needing to place it on NATO’s agenda. The U.S. is sufficiently powerful to enforce such a promise unilaterally. Third, such attempts by the author(s) of the fact sheet to insert NATO into this discussion suggest that somebody has forgotten that NATO actually is subordinate to the political leaders of the member states – especially the President of the United States.

In addition, the author(s) of the fact sheet were less than scrupulous when presenting facts that supposedly refute Russia’s charge of illegitimate behavior by NATO in its Kosovo war in 1999 and the bombing of Libya in 2011.

In fact, an independent examination, titled “Short War, Long Shadow: The Political and Military Legacies of the 2011 Libya Campaign” (by the Royal United Services Institute), destroys the fact sheet with its sweeping condemnation, not only of the West’s (and NATO’s) conduct in Kosovo and Libya, but also in Bosnia in 1995 and Iraq in 2003.

In his chapter titled, “The Responsibility to Protect: A Chance Missed,” Jonathan Eyal concluded that “those who criticize NATO and Western governments for going beyond their [UN Security Council] mandate [in Libya] do have a point. NATO went to great lengths to minimize civilian casualties and, overall, succeeded admirably in this objective. NATO’s operation also save many lives, but an operation which was justified in purely humanitarian terms was ultimately stretched to achieving an eminently political objective: the removal of a government and its replacement by the rebels.”

One of America’s most respected Russia scholars, Stephen Cohen, claims that President Obama deceived Russia’s Vladimir Putin about the nature of the intended operation in Libya, which is why Putin refuses to trust him today. Putin admitted as much on 17 April 2014. (Clearly, Obama knows very little about Russia.) But, regardless of the source of the deception, had Russia not been deceived, it certainly would have vetoed UN Security Council Resolution 1973.

Mr. Eyal adds, “Probably the most evident departure from the spirit of Resolution 1973—was the decision of the Western powers to allow the supply of weapons and training to the Libyan rebels.”

But Mr. Eyal makes a more compelling point, one that blows parts of the NATO fact sheet out the water. “All of the errors [in the Libya campaign] outlined above would not have been major, had they been perpetrated in isolation, or had they been confined to the Libya episode alone. Unfortunately, however, the handling of the legal framework for the Libya operation mirrors Western behavior in previous interventions, from the Bosnia operation in 1995, to the Kosovo war in 1999 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In every one of these occasions:

–A handful of Western governments used a UN Security Council resolution that lacked full backing, supposedly on behalf of the ‘international community’

–In every single case, the aim was to persuade Russia to abstain, rather than veto the resolution, on the calculation that, once this was accomplished, China would be too embarrassed to be in a minority of one to torpedo the same resolution

–At every stage, this was accomplished by fudging the real extent of the operation being contemplated

–The scope of the operation then grew and was invariably translated into ‘regime change’

–Weapons were provided to local combatants, in violation of existing provisions

–Resolutions were reinterpreted unilaterally, to suit whatever purposes were required

–And, in every single case, once a resolution passed in the UN, Western governments precluded any further debate over its interpretation and application.”

In a word, broken promises to Russia by the West and NATO have been compounded repeatedly by insincerity, duplicity and dishonesty. And, yet, the ignoramuses who pollute American politics, the media, and our think tanks heap scorn on Russia, as if none of this has occurred.

But, notwithstanding all of the above, the most dishonest section of the fact sheet is the part that defends the so-called legitimacy of the provisional government in Kiev. Although the fact sheet contains a few weasel words about a legitimate Ukrainian parliament legitimately electing a new president and government, it remains inexcusably silent about the events leading up to that action.

The fact sheet doesn’t mention that President Viktor Yanukovych was legally elected to a five-year term in 2010. It doesn’t mention that, on the very day that the famously corrupt Yanukovych decided to scrap plans to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union, Hromadske. TV commenced live broadcasts that featured a pro-American reporter calling for students and youth to gather at Independence Square to protest Yanukovych’s decision.

The fact sheet doesn’t mention that Hromadske. TV was the brainchild of America’s Ambassador to Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, and that it “would prove essential to building the Euromaidan street demonstrations against Yanukovych.”1

Neither did the fact sheet mention, as did Russia scholar John Quigley, that “Victoria Nuland, who serves as U.S. deputy secretary of state for European affairs, stepped over a line usually observed by foreign powers when she went into the streets of Kiev in December. There, Nuland demonstratively aligned herself with the protesters and in favor of Ukraine’s affiliation with the EU. According to a recently leaked audiotape of a conversation that she had with the U.S. ambassador to Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, Nuland also evidently has been strategizing on ways to alter the composition of the Ukraine government. Diplomats and foreign officials are accustomed to avoiding involvement in domestic politics. Diplomatic and consular personnel risk being declared persona non grata for such activity.”

According to Stephen Cohen, neo-con Nuland and Ambassador Pyatt were plotting the overthrow of Yanukovych’s government. And Professor Cohen made another important observation: “One last point, also something that nobody in this country wants to talk about: The Western authorities, who bear some responsibility for what’s happened, and who therefore also have blood on their hands, are taking no responsibility. They’re uttering utterly banal statements, which, because of their vacuous nature, are encouraging and rationalizing the people in Ukraine who are throwing Molotov cocktails, now have weapons, are shooting at police. We wouldn’t permit that in any Western capital, no matter how righteous the cause, but it’s being condoned by the European Union and Washington as events unfold.”

The fact sheet says nothing about the violence perpetrated by right wing members of Svoboda and Pravy Sektor. But sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko, a respected expert on civil disturbances in Ukraine, believes that the far right hijacked the protest.

(Jacob W. Kipp, a world-renowned expert on Russia’s military, recently reminded me that leaders from both organizations fought against Russians in both Chechen Wars.)

The fact sheet says nothing about the sniper fire on 20 February, which commenced while Yanukovych was meeting with the opposition and EU mediators from France, Germany and Poland. Although many observers initially assumed that the snipers were Yanukovych’s men, witnesses have testified that much of the sniper fire came from Kiev’s Philharmonic Hall and the heavily guarded Hotel Ukraine. Both were under the control of the protesters that day. In fact, protesters had seized an Interior Ministry armory in Lviv the previous evening and transported those weapons to Kiev.

The fact sheet says nothing about “the European Union-mediated deal reached on Friday, [21 February 2014] in which opposition leaders Vitaly Klitschko, Arseny Yatsenyuk and Oleh Tyahnybok and President Viktor Yanukovych agreed to refrain from using violence, while anti-government protesters had to unblock roads and squares, hand over illegal weapons and vacate the public buildings they had been occupying for months.”

“In return for the protesters backing down, presidential elections were set to be held in December and reforms were to be made restricting Yanukovych’s powers.”

“Those terms were not enough for some protesters, however, who demanded that Yanukovych step down immediately. By Saturday, law enforcement and government officials had apparently fled and protesters seized not only government buildings, but also Yanukovych’s lavish residence.”2

Thus, neither the EU mediators nor the opposition leaders had the courage to rein in the fascist and neo-Nazis who rejected the deal and precipitated a coup. And neither the EU mediators nor the opposition leaders had the decency to insist that the agreement reached on February 21st be honored.

Such is the “legitimate” regime that the NATO fact sheet defends with its incompetent half-truths and lies.

  1. Meet the Americans Who Put Together the Coup in Kiev,” by Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News, 25 March 2014. []
  2. Moscow Times, February 24, 2014, “Russia: Don’t Trust Ukraine’s Opposition,” by Natalya Krainova. []

Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, theMoscow Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He also is President of the Russian-American International Studies Association (RAISA). He can be reached at: waltuhler@aol.com.

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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 18:32

Danish news agency Ritzaus Bureau confirmed that during a private conversation between Vladimir Putin at Anders Fogh Rasmussen a recording device was used. The meeting between Putin and Rasmussen was held in Brussels in 2002 , when Denmark was presiding over the European Union.

On April 17th, Russian President Vladimir Putin, during his annual Q&A televised communication with the nation, expressed outrage that NATO‘s sitting Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, during his tenure as the Prime Minister of Denmark, recorded and subsequently published a personal conversation with Putin. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-WocTvB1aY

“He asked me about the meeting, it was not planned. I agreed, and we met and talked. It then turned out that he took a voice recorder and secretly recorded our conversation, and then published it in the media, – said Putin. – I could not believe my ears and eyes. What utter nonsense!”

According to Putin, Rasmussen explained the incident by saying that he allegedly recorded the conversation “for history.”

 “I’m flattered, of course, but he had to at least warn me. Or at least ask for permission to publish those talks, – said Putin. – What confidence can there be after such incidents?”

Later, special adviser to NATO‘s Secretary General, Jonas Torp, refuted the information. “These accusations are totally absurd. Throughout his tenure as the Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen had never had a voice recorder to record the talks with Mr. Putin or anyone else.”

Meanwhile, journalist Christopher Guldbrandsen, who in 2002 filmed the documentary “Fogh Behind the Scenes,” told Ritzaus Bureau news agency that he personally, during a press conference, fixed a microphone on the clothing of the Prime Minister of Denmark. According to him, after the press conference, Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen went to meet with the Russian president, without removing the mic. The journalist confirmed that the conversation was recorded and used in the film. “It only happened because I attached the microphone at a press conference,” admitted Guldbrandsen, stressing that Rasmussen usually pays close attention to not having a microphone in such situations.

Via Pravda.Ru

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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 18:20

Danny Schechter
RINF Alternative News

First the good news: The Pulitzer Prize for Public Service was not only the best covered of its awards this year, but it recognized a series of disclosures that made many media outlets nervous, if not adversarial – the publication of National Security Agency secrets leaked by Edward Snowden.

The award recognized the reporting by the Guardian in England and also Bart Gellman’s work in the Washington Post even as they, did not recognize the work directly of Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras whose independent reporting appeared in many newspapers.

Poitras and Greenwald still make the news world nervous because a) they are outspoken, b) not always under the control and discipline of traditional editors, and 3) have an openly respectful and positive relationship with their source as if that is a high crime or misdemeanor.

It is significant that they were recognized by the Polk awards, but not the Pulitzer board. In some higher circles, their source, Edward Snowden, is still considered a traitor or worse.

The Pulitzer Prize is the big enchildada in the media world announced in a formal ceremony at the Pulitzer room in the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism on New York’s Morningside Heights. The journalists who win these prizes are recognized for life as “Pulitzer Prize Winners,” a sign that they reached the highest heights in the profession. It’s a ticket to raises and more recognition.

I once was once told by a former dean of the same “J School” – where I taught as an adjunct – that they considered themselves the “Taj Mahal” of American Journalism. I didn’t have the heart to remind her that the original Taj was built as a tomb.

Almost as significant as the prizes to stories emanating from a whistleblower was the award to an investigative report into coal miners who were denied black-lung disease benefits, a report produced by one of the not-for-profit media organizations, the Center for Public Integrity. A CPI reporter, Chris Hamby, won that one.

The ink on his award was not even dry before ABC News, a network I used to work for, muscled in with a high-profile media claim that since they aired a story based on Hamby’s reporting, they deserved the Pulitzer too. The embarrassingly loud demand for credit by outgoing ABC President Ben Sherwood was gently, and then indignantly rebuffed by the Center’s director Bill Buzenberg.

According to Talking Points Memo, Buzenberg said: “I don’t take well to being bullied by anybody or threatened by anybody. We just stuck to the facts.” Buzenberg explained that the Pulitzer committee did not award the prize for broadcast pieces and told ABC to cease its demands.

“The Center is prepared to show in great detail how little ABC’s Brian Ross and Matt Mosk understood about even the most fundamental concepts and key facts and how they repeatedly turned to Chris to advise them or, in some instances, to do their work for them,” Buzenberg wrote in the letter to ABC, which added:

“Though you have framed the issue as the Center seeking to diminish ABC’s contributions, the reality is quite the opposite: ABC is seeking to take credit for a large body of work that it did not produce. These are the facts, as confirmed under the very strict Pulitzer Prize rules by the Pulitzer Administrator Sig Gissler again just yesterday.”

Having worked at ABC for eight years and written about the experience in my book. The More You Watch, The Less You Know, I could identify with Buzenberg’s taking umbrage at network arrogance and bullying.

In my experience, TV executives see their shops as if they are military units under the control of the men who control the control rooms. (After reports leave the control room, they pass through the even more Orwellian sounding “Master Control.”) These news chiefs would not do well on school report cards evaluating their ability to “work well with others.”

The TV networks are desperate these days for legitimating recognition in a media world that has fragmented, and in which they no longer have the commanding position. That is not say that they don’t also relish insider recognition and pats on the head from people in power.

At the same time that the newspaper world had recognized its obligation to recognize the Snowden story – sans Snowden, of course, who the Moscow Times reports has run out of money in his forced exile but may finally have a new job – a major network disses Snowden.

CBS News, once known as the network of Edward R Murrow and Walter Cronkite, has veered in another direction since it canned Dan Rather after a star chamber proceeding to punish him for a story showing that President George W. Bush lied about his military credentials.

Today, predictably, CBS has gone the other way on the Snowden story too. That shouldn’t be a surprise for an outlet that appointed Pentagon groupie Lara Logan as its chief foreign correspondent, only to be called on the network’s attempt to cover up her erroneous Benghazi report that gave credence to right-wing spin on the subject.

More recently, CBS produced a two part pro-NSA story on “60 Minutes,” reported by John Miller who acknowledged on air that he has worked for the Director of National Intelligence and who then, after the story ran, left the network to become an intelligence chief at the New York Police Department.

As the Village Voice reported: “Miller is not the first reporter to make this sort of switch – newsrooms are shrinking and folks have families to feed. …. He has shown that there is a viable, and lucrative, career in circling the revolving door between journalism and law enforcement (or any other institution).”

Now, CBS, the “big eye” network, has gone even further, as Danny Weil reports: “CBS News has hired former acting director of the CIA, Mike Morell, as their senior security correspondent. Morell has been a frequent guest on CBS’ Face the Nation, where he has disseminated CIA propaganda and misleading information, raising questions about CBS’ journalistic integrity. Morell also works for Beacon Global Strategies, a DC consulting firm which peddles its government connections to defense contractors, raising even more questions about his role at CBS.”

This news came a few days after it was reported that CBS overlord, Les Moonves, is now bringing home $63 million a year.

On Dec. 23, 2013, Morell appeared on Face the Nation, where he promoted the government’s campaign to prosecute Edward Snowden. On that day, Morell stated:

“He violated the trust put in him by the United States government. He has committed a crime, in my view. You know a whistleblower doesn’t run. A whistleblower does not disclose information that has nothing to do with what he says his cause is which is the privacy and civil liberties of Americans.

“You know if I could talk to Mister Snowden myself, what I would say is, ‘Edward, you say you’re a patriot, you say you want to protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans, you say that you wanted Americans to have a debate about this and to make up their mind about what to do about this. Well, if you really believe that, if you really believe that Americans should be the judge of this program, then you should also believe that the Americans should be the judge of your behavior in this regard. So if you are the patriot that you say you are, you should come home and be judged.’”

Now, it’s our turn to judge: Is this or is this not media complicity in the surveillance state? Bear in mind that had Snowden not done what he had – and if Greenwald and Poitras hadn’t done what they did – we would not have learned of what’s being done by the NSA in our name. If we had waited on the big media to tell the story, we would all still be waiting.

News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org and blogs at News Dissector.net. His latest book is Madiba A to Z: the Many Faces of Nelson Mandela. (Madibabook.com) Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org.

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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 18:18

Colombian radical and friend of Fidel Castro exemplified magical realism in literature


The worlds of literature and revolutionary politics joined yesterday in tribute to Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who died at his Mexico City home on Thursday.

One of the most influential writers of his generation, he brought Latin America’s contradictions to life and became the best-known practitioner of “magical realism,” a blending of fantastic elements into portrayals of daily life that made the extraordinary seem almost routine.

But there was more to Mr Garcia Marquez than magical realism.

Like many Latin American writers, he transcended the world of letters.

He became a hero of the left as an early ally of Cuba’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and a critic of US interventions from Vietnam to Chile.

Mr Garcia Marquez signed onto the young Cuban revolution as a journalist, working in Bogota and Havana for news agency Prensa Latina.

He remained loyal to Cuba even as other intellectuals jumped ship.

But his politics caused the US to deny him entry visas for years.

Nonetheless, Mr Garcia Marquez was courted by presidents even as he maintained his faith in ordinary people, who he saw as living in a world full of wonder.

His works outsold everything published in Spanish except the Bible.

The epic 1967 novel One Hundred Years of Solitude sold over 50 million copies in more than 25 languages.

“A great artist is gone, but his grand art remains with us. Most authors are only shadows, but Gabriel Garcia Marquez belonged to those who cast a shadow and he will continue to do so long after his death,” said Nobel Prize-awarding Swedish Academy permanent secretary Peter Englund.

Via Morning Star

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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 18:15

Rob Urie 
RINF Alternative News

Part of the challenge of addressing political economy is the different realms that economic and philosophical discourse exist in. Western (capitalist) economics can be informed by history but it can’t accommodate it. This can be seen in response to French economist Thomas Piketty’s new book ‘Capital in the Twenty First Century.’ The effort, nay contrived ‘necessity,’ of quantifying income distribution across history, as Piketty has done, places it at the center of what could in different terms leave it as bit player, as artifact rather than base discursive fact. This isn’t to argue that income distribution isn’t ‘important.’ It is to argue that there are other, possibly more illuminating, ways of getting to issues of economic cum political asymmetries and their role in social outcomes. By staying within the anti-historical historiography of ‘income’ and its quantification across time a limited history is presented as the addition of ‘facts’ when it could alternatively be understood to be a detraction that leaves the base premises of capitalist theory largely untouched by design. This probably won’t make much sense to those raised in the Western economic tradition so I will spend some time below trying to relate the thesis across different modes of discourse. This effort bears some relation to the Cambridge Capital Controversy in the sense that the terms exist in what appear to be irreconcilable realms.

For instance, the Western storyline of the IMF’s (International Monetary Fund’s) role in Ukraine is of providing financial ‘assistance’ to a nation in need. The point has been made that IMF loans will simply replace Ukraine’s debt to Russia with debt to it, ‘the West.’ That is, ‘Western’ funds will be used to pay for energy sold to Ukraine by Russia at a subsidized price in exchange for Ukraine implementing ‘austerity’ policies at the behest of the IMF. When considered in conjunction with CIA and EU machinations to assert political control over Ukraine the intersection of geopolitics and economics is exposed. Debt is being used as a weapon to exert economic control over Ukraine under the guise of providing financial assistance. ‘Privatization’ of nominally public assets is a central goal of IMF imposed austerity. Lest the point be taken too narrowly, since the 1980s U.S. investment banks have used debt to wrest control of Western corporations from ‘stakeholders’ in order to loot worker’s resources like pension funds and wage agreements leaving behind de facto ‘private’ austerity. And in the 1970s and 1980s ‘money center’ banks in New York made loans to ‘nations’ across South America at the behest of the US government with the ultimate result being neo-liberal ‘reforms’ forced onto ‘debtor countries’ and citizenries who saw little to no benefit from this debt being forced to repay it. In the terms associated with ‘income inequality,’ is asymmetrical income distribution cause or effect? And in what way is it dissociable from three centuries of Western imperial history? Where precisely does the ‘state of nature’ exist that renders reduction to quantum of interest—‘income,’ addition?

When it comes to ‘discussing’ income distribution, particularly in the US, a tightly circumscribed storyline is near instantaneously brought forward where variants on anomaly, institutional particularity and ‘nature’ are intermingled to assert a patina of gentility to facts of history better described as barbarous. Current Western geopolitical machinations in / on Iran date to the decision by US and British ‘intelligence’ agencies in 1953 to overthrow the democratically elected President of Iran in order to secure Iranian oil for what is today British Petroleum. British Petroleum is presently the major supplier of oil and oil products to the US military. Mid-twentieth century US incursions into South and Central America and Cuba at the behest of the United Fruit Company, today re-branded ‘Chiquita,’ were similarly undertaken in Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador by US President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s to protect Coca Cola bottlers from nationalization (Nicaragua) and to ‘free’ regional labor to sew underwear for Wal-Mart and Target for pennies an hour. Regular US incursions into Haiti since the 1940s left Democrat President Bill Clinton with the brilliant-lite, but instinctually neo-imperialist, insight that Haitians could likewise sew underwear for rich Americans for pennies an hour. (See Haitian debt to France for additional insight). The Mexican migration northward to the US in the 1990s and early 2000s coincided with NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) destroying indigenous agriculture in Mexico by flooding it with subsidized industrial corn from the US. Of relevance: economic relations with basis in history are only claimed ‘natural’ by emptying the term of meaning. A history of income inequality that poses concentrated income and wealth as potential cause of economic dysfunction, ‘patrimonial capitalism,’ reifies the Western economic conceit that an anti-historical ‘state of nature’ from whence ‘inequality’ arises is either plausible or even vaguely theoretically coherent.

On a different path American economist-historian Robert Heilbroner argued in 1966 in ‘The Limits of American Capitalism’ that a residual plutocracy (my term) and corporate executives earning ten times the average wage of ‘their’ workers ran the American economy and US foreign policy. Today the ratio of executive to average worker compensation is 341:1. This isn’t to infer / require either that Heilbroner was ‘right’ or that greater concentration of income is without effect. But there was no ‘clean’ dissociation of economic outcomes from expression of political power either then or now. As uncomfortable and cluttered as this may be to discussion of income distribution, the very premise of ‘income inequality’ is that income equality would in some way resolve the barbarous genesis of Western ‘wealth.’ The point in raising Heilbroner isn’t of relative versus absolute wealth distribution but of the historically indissociable role of capitalist ‘wealth’ to its broader social facts and in the acts that place it at the center of interest. To the extent Heilbroner was ‘right’ the quantity of income, either relative or absolute, is artifact of capitalist (anti) social relations. Capitalism is an approach to ‘the world,’ not simply to its economic ‘aspect.’ By framing income inequality as cause and leaving ‘its’ genesis in imperial history as ‘unrelated,’ or even marginally related through coincidence, the problem raised— the creation, persistence and self-perpetuating character of social asymmetries and their related facts, is left unarticulated and therefore necessarily unresolved.

The conspicuous concentration of ‘wealth’ in recent decades has led to the term ‘income inequality’ being thrown around as if it has meaning outside of a much broader set of premises about the social relations that Western economics purports to address. The very idea of ‘equality’ behind the phrase is a restatement of the social role of money— ‘income,’ the quantum that is the theorized basis for the possibility of equivalence behind ‘inequality.’ Phrased differently, of what coherence is ‘equality’ without a place for it to reside beyond the particular (the concept is wholly metaphysical). Money is the social creation that reifies this metaphysical space, which poses thought as ‘fact’ and puts it back as personal possession. ‘Income’ as money receipts is the metric, the thing that answers its own question: by what measure does this inequality have meaning?—by its own. You and I form the ‘we’ of theorized in / equivalence but I am not you and you are not me. This ‘we’ is social ‘object’ as are money and income, the difference being that money is reified social relation, the ‘object’ of social division into ‘yours’ and ‘mine.’ To invert the high-capitalist metaphor, or rather Marx’s critique of it, the billionaire left alone on a desert island with her money has but piles of paper or digital entries— the fishes and the palm trees exist outside the ‘we’ that give money the only meaning / ‘value’ it has, social meaning.

Framed differently, under what set of premises should the social allocation of money— ‘income,’ be ‘equal?’ The answer implied in use of the phrase ‘income inequality’ is that there is basis. Capitalism is in theory premised on social allocation according to economic contribution— unless contribution is under some measure ‘equal’ then unequal distribution is the ‘correct’ outcome of capitalism. Ironically, ‘homogenous’ labor is in neo-classical (capitalist revival) economics the ‘equivalent’ labor used to legitimate outsourcing, unequal pay for ‘equivalent’ work, through relocating economic production to areas with lower wages. Assuming similar capacities a worker in a factory in China or a McDonalds in Paris (sorry France) will produce the same physical quantity of product as workers in Des Moines or Pittsburgh, but the difference in pay that they receive is used to claim that the ‘value’ that each produces is a function of the wages paid. And the wages paid are used to argue that workers are paid according to the ‘value’ that each produces. The argument is wholly circular, but so is the whole of capitalist economics. To be clear, this isn’t a gratuitous slam; it is a function of the basis of capitalist economics in Cartesian metaphysics. The starting point for this economics is ‘first principles’ that are dogma— they can’t be refuted without discarding Western economics in its entirety. The narrower point is the nexus of income and labor, or income and ‘capital,’ as both determinant of and measure of ‘their’ ‘product.’ Income is the explanation of ‘value,’ which in turn is the alleged basis of income (disparities) in capitalist economics.

This brings us to Piketty’s r>g, the rate of return on capital (wealth) is greater than the rate of economic growth. The basic argument is that in recent history, as well as in select earlier periods, wealth has accumulated faster than its ‘material’ base in goods and services produced. If left unchecked the logical (mathematical) consequence is that concentrated wealth will continue to concentrate until a few people own all economic production. To relate the issue to the Cambridge Capital Controversy, one problem with this formulation is that both ‘r’ and ‘g’ are placed in the dimension of ‘r’ through the use of money as the metric of commensurability. A ‘twenty-thousand dollar car’ is a car regardless of the monetary value assigned to it— it is ‘its’ own fact related to all of the ‘facts’ that went into its production regardless of their monetary value. The reason why this might matter is that there are the facts of economic production— the making of things and the things used to make things, ‘technology,’ and there are social claims on this economic production. These are two separate things. The contemporary capitalist claim that ‘technology’, or more broadly ‘capital’ in its neo-classical understanding, is the cause of income inequality is circular in the sense that the assignment of ‘value’ produced by it is both input and output, it is a base assertion that is put forward as fact of ‘nature.’ Without the imposition of money as metric of commensurability (metaphysical ‘equivalence’) Marx’s labor theory of value is more coherent than the capitalist explanation leaving technology in the realm of embedded labor rather than as ‘capital’ posed in (confused) opposition to it. The Cambridge Controversy was in part over the issue of logical circularity but the larger issue was / is of the imposition of capitalist metaphysics through rate of profit that simply assumes that its imposition ‘settles’ issues that in fact result from the premises being irreconcilable. With r>g Piketty asserts that a ‘twenty-thousand dollar car’ is a ‘twenty-thousand dollar car’ as if the claim had basis in nature rather than in social relations. (Marx’s labor theory of value is more coherent than capitalist theories because of its basis in  / tie to the act of production. Capitalist theories are circular because they are metaphysical— they derive from logical first principles that not even capitalist economists care to defend as plausible. The two theories are wholly irreconcilable because they proceed from different dimensions).

The concentration of social claims on social production, ‘wealth,’ poses particular arrangement of circumstance as indubitable fact. Mountain top removal to mine for coal assumes commensurability between the price paid for the land, the cost of removing the mountaintop and mining the coal and the price paid for the coal in ‘exchange.’ Left unaccounted for are the social and environmental costs of mining for and burning coal. There is no commensurability, no crossing of dimensions, that makes money and monetary ‘value’ equivalent to what was destroyed. There may be some residual accounted for in capitalist theory, some ‘externality,’ but there is no ‘equivalence’ that leaves mountaintops undestroyed and air unpolluted. Likewise, the ‘income’ of ‘income inequality’ is abstracted from its social facts, from its broader genesis in historical relations and pre-existing social asymmetries, and put back as object of wholly implausible equivalence. It is this base idea of equivalence, of the very possibility of equivalence, that renders the idea of ‘income in / equality’ fundamentally incoherent. Through this idea of equivalence the dodge is to keep the facts of Western capitalism: imperial history, the persistence, in fact the creation, of asymmetrical social relations and social and environmental dysfunction increasingly in evidence, at the level of a counting game. To be clear, this isn’t to argue against income redistribution. It is to broaden the fight, and a fight it is, to argue that capitalist theories of economic production are fundamentally incoherent and that theoretical incoherence is closely related to the accumulating social and environmental dysfunction that are its facts. Phrased differently, arguing over income restates  / legitimates its role as claim on social resources when it is the facts of capitalist economic production that are of greater consequence.

The ‘pragmatic’ rationale for addressing income inequality appears to be to ‘improve’ capitalism. This is the apparent point behind the distinction of productive and unproductive wealth / capital. But either there exists a benevolent ‘nature’ that distributes income justly or there isn’t. This phrasing may seem quaint, but what then is the reason for wanting to improve capitalism if this isn’t the case? And wanting to improve capitalism bears no necessary relation to alleviating the social and environmental pathologies it creates. An argument is even being put forward that ‘solving’ global warming can leave the capitalist ‘growth’ imperative intact. ‘Externalities,’ e.g. global warming, are costs of capitalist production that others are forced to bear. If capitalists benefit from forcing others to bear their costs of production (income inequality anyone? Anyone?) why would they forego this ‘benefit’ without being forced to? The central hindrance to addressing global warming has been Western governments held captive by particular economic interests who benefit from not solving environmental issues. Wall Street wants to not solve the problem by trading pollution rights. Big oil wants to not solve the problem to maintain its role in the fossil fuel economy. If it is possible to resolve the social and environmental consequences of capitalism while leaving it intact, where is the evidence? Efforts made in the 1970s to regulate industrial pollution were abandoned under the argument that ‘we all’ benefit from capitalist production. The redistribution schemes of the New Deal were abandoned under the quaint theoretical premise of ‘disincentives’ at the heart of capitalist theory. In other words, the problems were known and understood before they were mis-re-forgotten. Claims that these issues are solvable within the existing order are clearly contradicted by history.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics will be published by CounterPunch / AK Press shortly.

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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 18:09

One year after the Boston Marathon bombing, the ACLU’s Kade Crockford questions whether the surveillance practices of law enforcement and an increasingly militarized police force will prevent terrorism.

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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 18:01

Paramilitary occupiers say they won’t leave until Kiev government resigns — despite Putin’s agreement with the West


Pro-Russian activists who have occupied government buildings in over 10 Ukrainian cities said today they would not leave until the unelected Kiev government resigns.

Denis Pushilin of the Donetsk People’s Republic organisation told reporters that the activists did not recognise the Ukrainian government as legitimate.

Russia, Ukraine, the EU and US agreed on Thursday that paramilitary groups in Ukraine should leave official buildings.

At a meeting in Geneva they reached a deal calling for all groups to disarm and immediately leave government buildings they have seized across the country.

But apparently no-one had consulted the Russian-speaking activists in Ukraine’s east.

Speaking at the occupied regional headquarters in Donetsk, Mr Pushilin noted that the deal specified that all illegally seized buildings should be vacated.

He insisted that the unelected Kiev government was also occupying public buildings illegally.

“This is a reasonable agreement, but everyone should vacate the buildings and that includes Yatsenyuk and Turchynov,” he said, referring to the Kiev government’s prime minister and president.

Mr Pushilin reiterated the call for a referendum on self-determination for the Donetsk region by May 11.

He said activists would not hand over their weapons until the Kiev “junta” halted efforts to reclaim the buildings.

“As far as disarmament goes, the Kiev junta has already begun violating its agreements since yesterday, by announcing that it will not pull its troops out of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk,” Mr Pushilin observed.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the Kiev parliament yesterday that the government had drafted a law offering amnesty to all those willing to lay down arms and leave occupied government buildings in conformity with the Geneva deal.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov emphasised on Thursday that the requirement applied to all parties.

His statement appeared to be a reference to fascist group Right Sector, whose thugs still occupy Kiev city hall.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment on Mr Pushilin’s statement.

But pro-Russian Ukrainian presidential candidate Oleh Tsaryov, whose statements often echo Moscow’s stance, said yesterday the Right Sector should be the first to respond.

Via Morning Star

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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 17:09

Uncle Sam might be the country’s most morbid debt collector.

In a story that seems destined to become Fox News fodder, theWashington Post reports today that the Treasury Department is seizing IRS refunds from hundreds of thousands of taxpayers this year to pay off old Social Security debts that, in some cases, might have belonged to their deceased parents.

The Post is unclear on exactly how many grown children are now being asked to pony up on behalf of dear Mom and Dad. But it seems to be more than a few. The 2008 Farm Bill gave the Treasury Department permission to collect on debts more than 10 years old, and since 2011, it’s been doing so with gusto. This year, the Social Security Administration has found 400,000 taxpayers who, it says, collectively owe $714 million to the government for debts that have been lingering more than a decade.

One such individual is Mary Grice, whose widowed mother used Social Security survivor’s benefits to help raise her and siblings in the 1960s. Apparently, the feds overpaid someone in the family in 1977. And with her mother now passed away, the Treasury has garnished Grice’s refund to cover the bill. According to the post:

Social Security officials told Grice that six people—Grice, her four siblings and her father’s first wife, whom she never knew—had received benefits under her father’s account. The government doesn’t look into exactly who got the overpayment; the policy is to seek compensation from the oldest sibling and work down through the family until the debt is paid.

This does not inspire confidence insofar as we expect the government to apply fair, not completely arbitrary, standards to debt collections. Technically, there’s a chance the money might have been paid to Grice (survivor’s benefits, to be clear, are sent to children). But in that case, we’re talking about money her mother likely would have spent, and perhaps not on her. Other taxpayers told the Post that the government had garnished their refunds, even though it couldn’t provide any actual records of their debt, and that they’d never been informed about what they owed because the government sent notices to the wrong address.

Even if a whole family benefited from a Social Security check, the idea of seizing money from a child to pay the debts of a parent would probably make most a bit queasy. (There are good reasons we don’t let the private sector do it.) What I find simply befuddling, though, is the cost-benefit analysis behind pursuing these cases at all. On the one hand, Social Security is expected to be watchful about waste and fraud—the sort of things that Congress members get exercised about. On the other, $714 million is an essentially negligible amount of money, considering it covers debts dating back decades. Nor does there seem to be particularly good documentation of who owes what here. So on the one hand, the government is trying to balance the rights of the taxpayers, who stand to gain relatively little. On the other hand, the government is intruding, violently, into the financial lives of people who may have done nothing wrong, while provoking a court fight (Grice, for instance, has lawyered up) and some bad PR in the process. It seems like a no-win to me.

—————-

By Jordan Weissmann, slate.com

Jordan Weissmann is Slate‘s senior business and economics correspondent.

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Date: Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 19:49

Perry Chiaramonte

Utility companies across the U.S. are installing smart meters in customers’ homes, touting the technology’s energy-saving ways, but opponents argue that the meters are opening a Pandora’s box of privacy concerns.

The smart energy meters read electric or gas usage, and enable a power company to collect detailed usage data on a particular home or building. But the readings also gather personal information that some critics argue is too intrusive.

The information gathered from smart meters includes unencrypted data that can, among other details, reveal when a homeowner is away from their residence for long periods of time. The electric wattage readings can even decipher what type of activities a customer is engaged in, such as watching TV, using a computer or even how long someone spends cooking.

“It’s in the nature of technology to be neutral in the benefits and the risks; it’s how the info is used,” Allen Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, tells FoxNews.com. “Look at smartphones. No one can argue the benefits of having one. But on the other hand, it’s the best tracking device.”

The Vermont ACLU has, in the past few years, participated in the privacy debate over smart energy meters. The group says that one major issue with data collected from the meters is the same with cellphone data. The agency has filed lawsuits against law enforcement agencies in the state over cellphone data being harvested through secret inquests and used to track an individual’s whereabouts.

The group has suggested a proposal to the state government so the same won’t happen with smart-meter data.

“We have put up quite a strong argument for user utility data,” Gilbert said. “This is why we presented a proposition in which we said that police departments should not get customer information from a utility.

“Instead, any subpoena should be issued directly to the customer.”

The U.S. Department of Energy has even admitted that privacy and data access is a concern as far back as 2010 in a report on the smart meter technology.

“Advances in Smart Grid technology could significantly increase the amount of potentially available information about personal energy consumption,” reads a statement from the report, titled “Data Access and Privacy Issues Related to Smart Grid Technologies.”

The report states, “Such information could reveal personal details about the lives of consumers, such as their daily schedules (including times when they are at or away from home or asleep), whether their homes are equipped with alarm systems, whether they own expensive electronic equipment such as plasma TVs, and whether they use certain types of medical equipment.”

The report recommended that states should consider a condition in which customers can authorize third parties access and that there should be a prohibition on disclosure of customer data to said third parties.

Ohio residents are dealing with the third-party collection issue, as police agencies work to obtain utility data to determine if suspects have been growing marijuana in their homes.

In 2011, the Columbus Dispatch reported that at an average of 60 subpoenas are filed each month statewide by law-enforcement agencies seeking energy-use records from various utility companies.

Read more

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Date: Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 19:29

Ramzy Baroud
RINF Alternative News

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Ze’ev Elkin, is a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and his predominantly rightwing cabinet. In a recent interview with The Economist, Elkin used the familiar tone of being conceited and oblivious to such notions as international or human rights, and reaffirmed his rejection of a Palestinian state.

Instead, Elkin wants Israel to annex a chunk of the West Bank. There is nothing new here, as such language is now official Israeli discourse. But one statement stood out, one that many Palestinians would find bewildering and exasperating.

These days, said Elkin with a chuckle, the West Bank is “the most stable part of the Middle East”.

The bewilderment would stem from the fact that the West Bank is an occupied Palestinian territory. Its population is held at gunpoint; they have no freedom, and enjoy no rights. Their land is seized by force to make room for more settlements and illegal Jewish settlers, now numbering well passed the half million mark.

Needless to say, the West Bank should not be stable.

Instead, Palestinians should be leading their own revolution until they achieve their full rights and freedom. This is not a call for violence, but a natural human course. However, Palestinians are not rebelling. Many factors are holding them back, one of which is the very Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Its troops are in constant ‘security coordinations’ with Israel. Its ‘elite forces’ are trained by US generals and Arab armies. The PA mission is not to liberate Palestine, but to ensure the subservience of the Palestinians while Israel carries on with a colonial project that has extended for decades.

Deputy foreign minister Elkin knows this. Netanyahu himself, along with every Israeli official, understands that the PA, despite Mahmoud Abbas’ occasional attempts at appearing defiant and rebellious, is no threat to Israel, nor will it ever be. This will be so even if the US-imposed April 29 deadline for a ‘framework’ agreement between the Israeli government and the PA passes and even if Abbas took the seemingly daring step of signing the applications to join 15 international organizations. Abbas and his men understand that there are red lines which they cannot cross under any circumstances.

Abbas may be weak, but he is clever. He knew that Kerry’s peacemaking efforts would not go anywhere and that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would find a way to thwart the process. If Abbas were lucky, Kerry could even blame Israel for derailing the peace process, as he already has. Then, Abbas would do what many would find reasonable; seek further international recognition for the state of Palestine. This might frustrate the Americans a little, anger the Israelis a lot, but it would give his supporters reason to promote the 79-year-old leader as another Yasser Arafat, heroic and defiant to the very end.

The Israelis still need Abbas. He is important in maintaining ‘stability’ in the West Bank. This means the continuing of the security coordination that ensures the safety of the armed settlers, providing an extra layer of protection to Israeli soldiers as they kill at will, seize more land, demolish homes and trees, erect walls, dig trenches, and level mountains. So what if some imaginary state existed on papers in the files of some international body in Geneva or Brussels. For Israel, the law is that of its military, and reality is what is taking place in Area C, not in some European capital.

This is why Elkin is chuckling. He is at ease, in the same way the Israeli political establishment is. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, a deal was struck between Israel and what became a pervasive, controlling and corrupt Palestinian political class. Israel maintained its military occupation, carried on with its colonial project and continued to disfigure the occupied territories in any way that it found consistent with its ‘security’ needs. Palestinian elites were granted economic privileges and access that is denied to the vast majority of the Palestinians.

The PA’s constant challenge is to maintain a level of legitimacy. True, it uses its monopoly on force, which is readily sanctioned by Israel, in order to arrest, torture and kill resisting Palestinians when necessary. It uses the logic of trickledown economics to hold the bulk of Palestinians hostage to winning their daily bread. But that is not enough. It needs a brand to market itself as the exclusive harbinger of freedom for Palestinians. It uses slogans, flags and kuffiyas to promote that brand through its control of the media. Many PA supporters dance to that tune and playact that Abbas and only Abbas is capable of exacting the coveting liberation of Palestine from the obstinate hands of the Israeli prime minister.

Palestinian officials are proficiently inflating Abbas’ image to ensure that Palestinians don’t question the wisdom of their aging leader, after the latest and predictable failure of the peace process, which was never truly meant to succeed anyway. A Palestinian official spoke of Abbas’s refusal to heed a call by US Secretary of State John Kerry to halt applications to join international treaties. He claimed that Kerry warned Abbas of a ‘strong (Israeli) response to Palestinian action. Abbas replied: “Israel’s threats scare no one. They can do what they like.”

The words were repeated in Palestinian media. The Abbas image is being overstated once more. There is no space for those who question the man’s credibility, legitimacy or failed methods. More posters of the old man are now erected in the occupied Palestinian towns. His latest antics will help perpetuate the myth that the PA is a platform for resistance, not capitulation.

As long as the West Bank is ‘stable’, and as long Abbas, and those that follow him continue to sell Palestinians old illusions of revolutions that never took place, and heroes that only exist on colored posters hung around the streets of Ramallah, Elkin will continue to chuckle.

And as long as the West Bank is ‘stable’, Palestinians will never achieve their freedom, for submission achieves no rights; only resistance does.

Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).

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Date: Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 18:55

Dr. Cesar Chelala
RINF Alternative News

As Israel continues its unlawful siege of the Gaza Strip, the health situation for the Palestinians continues to be critical. In a comprehensive report, B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, described the health situation in Gaza on January 1st, 2014.

According to B’Tselem, the siege that Israel has imposed on Gaza since Hamas took control of Gaza’s security apparatus in June 2007 has greatly damaged Gaza’s health system, which already had considerable shortcomings. Now, many services and life-saving treatments are not available to Palestinians inside Gaza, and treatment of cancer and heart patients is postponed, as medical supplies and equipment are delayed.

Even some basic necessities, such as clean drinking water and removal of solid waste is not widely available. It is estimated that 30 percent of Gaza Strip residents do not receive water on a regular basis. In addition, many diagnostic and emergency medical services cannot operate because of lack of generators. Statistics from the World Health Organization showed that 19 percent of necessary medicines were lacking, as well as replacement parts for critical equipment and several disposable but necessary items such as bandages, syringes and plaster for casts.

In the meantime, Israel severely limits the amounts of permits for hundreds of patients to enter Israel for advanced treatment unavailable in Gaza. Physicians for Human Rights Israel questioned the legality of the procedure whereby every exit permit from Gaza for medical treatment requires a check by the Israel Security Agency (ISA). According to that organization, in several cases the ISA abused this procedure to pressure patients to collaborate providing intelligence information in exchange for a permit.

Despite its so-called “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip in September of 2005, Israel continues to hold effective control of many aspects of Gazans’ lives, including check points and the entrance of basic supplies. This situation imposes on Israel responsibility for the safety and welfare of Gaza’s residents, according to precepts established in The Hague and Geneva Conventions. Because of its control of residents’ lives in Gaza and the curtailment of its movements, Israel seriously breaches Palestinians’ right to optimal medical care inside the Strip and access to medical care outside the area.

In 2009, writing for The Guardian, Avi Shlaim, Oxford professor of international relations, stated, “The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the June 1967 war had very little to do with security and everything to do with territorial expansionism. The aim was to establish Greater Israel through permanent political, economic and military control over the Palestinian territories. And the result has been one of the most prolonged and brutal military occupation of modern times.”

Shlaim also stated, “Gaza, however, is not simply a case of economic under-development but a uniquely cruel case of deliberate de-development….Gaza is a classical case of colonial exploitation in the post-colonial era.” For Shlaim, settlements in Palestinian land have become an insurmountable obstacle to peace. He calls them “the instrument of exploitation and the symbol of the hated occupation.”

The Israeli government often contends that they gave freedom to the Gazans and rather than being thankful they continued throwing rockets into Israel. Shlaim, however, provides a different analysis. “Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, conducted an effective campaign to drive the Israelis out of Gaza. The withdrawal was a humiliation for the Israeli Defense Forces. To the world, Sharon presented the withdrawal from Gaza as a contribution to peace based on a two-state solution. But in the year after, 12,000 Israelis settled on the West Bank, further reducing the scope for an independent Palestinian state. Land-grabbing and peace-making are simply incompatible. Israel had a choice and it chose land over peace,” wrote Shlaim.

In the meantime, as peace conversations ignore the needs of Gazans, the people in the Strip are deprived of basic health and human rights leading 1.5 million people to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. As Ari Shavit says in The Promised Land, “So the question now is not land for peace. The question is land for our decency. Land for our humanity. Land for our very soul.” The situation in Gaza is nothing but the fight of the oppressors against the oppressed, a conflict that corrodes Israel’s own soul.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

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Date: Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 18:47

Negotiations over the Ukraine crisis are beginning in Geneva. Pro-Russian protesters are killed, president Vladimir Putin accuses authorities in Kiev of plunging the country into an “abyss,” and NATO outlines plans to reinforce itself in eastern Europe. Russian scholar Stephen Cohen tells “Democracy Now!” that “‘hot war’ is imaginable now” and “something has to be done about it.”

‘Democracy Now!’:

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Date: Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 18:43

Talks on the construction of the Russia to India oil pipeline project should conclude by mid-2014, officials from ONGC said.

Thus, Russia is changing its energy export policy vector as strong demand for hydrocarbons, both in China and in India, one of the largest economies in the world, continues to grow. The benefits are obvious, including those in connection with India’s plans to become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). China supports the pipeline oil supplies to India, which is not surprising. One of the project’s options is the construction of a pipeline from the Altai region through the north-west of China to the north of India. Director of the Center for Strategic Studies in Energy of the People’s Republic of China, Xia Yishan says, “The project is beneficial for both India and China, as it would allow China to become an oil transit in addition to its ‘status’ of recipient of the Russian oil.” For Russia, the project’s additional benefit is providing oil to the SCO market.

“Russia and India have agreed to establish a joint group to study the possibility of direct ground transportation of hydrocarbons” the joint statement by Vladimir Putin and Manmohan Singh in December. The discussion of such a project began back in 2005. At the end of last year, ONGC supported its implementation, by saying “The pipeline from Russia seems appropriate. The details of the project will be clarified with the Russian partners.”

According to the director of the Gas business agency Michael Yermolovich, the project may be associated with the creation of a Russian-Indian petrochemical joint venture in Gujarat. Investment in this venture is estimated at $450 million, its capacity is estimated at 100,000 tonnes of finished products per year.

In general, India is planning to significantly increase its reserves of the black gold, due to an increase in domestic demand. Secretary of the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ajay Bisaria said that “in 2013, the oil purchases in Russia amounted to $176 million, but India intends to buy more. This requires an overland route.” Up to 35 percent of the pipeline falls in mountainous terrain. The project’s preliminary cost would be $30 billion and the completion of construction is planned for 2020-2022.

As for the Western market, due to the crisis in the Eurocurrency zone, the demand for oil there is very volatile. In addition, if they want to “put pressure” on Moscow, the EU can increases its import of crude from Norway, North Africa, the Gulf and even Trinidad, but this is the EU’s problem.

In addition to that, the EU complains about the low domestic prices for oil and gas in Russia, that is why many goods manufactured in Russia are taxed by antidumping restrictions. Timur Nigmatullin, analyst in Investkafe said, “The use of so-called energy corrections by the European Union looks like an attempt to level one of our economy’s key competition advantages. This approach introduced unjustified anti-dumping duties, which is why Russian businesses annually lose more than $600 million.”

In short, there is a need for new markets, especially those where integration processes with Russia’s participation are developed. This is primarily the SCO. “The growth of mutual investments by Russia and China is accompanied by greater activity of the Russian and Chinese business in other SCO countries, – said the president of the International Organization of Creditors Robert Abdullin. “Economic growth in these countries is more favourable than it is in the industrialized countries.” Countries like India, Pakistan, Mongolia, Vietnam and their neighbours would naturally be attracted to working in close partnership with the SCO, including a partnership in the energy sector.

First published in Russian in Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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Date: Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 18:20

Josh Mitteldorf

Thom Hartmann has it right:  Government in the USA is no longer responsive to the will of the people.  But his focus on money in politics is misdirected, distracting attention from factors that are more important, more shocking, less discussed.  There are six ways in which our democracy has been sabotaged, and only two of them can be discussed in polite society.   The most-discussed and least controversial one is the focus of Hartmann’s article.

The six factors:

  1. Media consolidation / press censorship
  2. Secrecy in government
  3. Assassination of charismatic populist leaders
  4. Direct, electronic corruption of the vote count
  5. Restricted access to the polls
  6. Money in politics

Perhaps there is no need to point out that all six pull in the same direction, that is, to the right.

  • away from populism, toward concentration of power
  • away from wealth distribution, toward wealth accumulation
  • away from equality , toward privilege
  • away from human rights and freedoms, toward repression
  • away from corporate responsibility, toward corporate license
  • away from cooperation, toward competition, toward dominance
  • away from peace, toward war

Without these six factors, America would be a very different place indeed, politically and in every other way.  In fact, the two political parties are both to the right of the American people, and far to the right of where American popular opinion would be if we all knew the truth about war and the truth about what goes on in Washington.

In reverse order:

6.   Money in politics.  The most discussed and least controversial of the six.  Hartmann has done a great job with this one, and I will say no more.  But this story is not as important as the others.  Money generally makes only a marginal difference in electoral outcomes, as politial advertising never sways more than a few percent of voters; and there are steeply diminishing returns when saturtion ad campaignis are re-intensified.

5.   Restricted access to the polls.  This, too, has been covered in the media.  Voting rates among minorities and poor people and students and people with disabilities are way below voting rates in the Republican suburbs.  It is easy to see that this is by design of the Republicans, who have played dirty tricks, propagated disinformation, and promoted fraudulent legislation to keep Democratic demographics from the polls.  What is harder to see is why the Democrats have so frequently gone along with this plan.  Not since the LBJ era have Democrats aggressively pursued expansion of the franchise as a way to establish and maintain their majority.

4. Direct, electronic corruption of the vote count.  This is the crudest, the most overtly criminal of the six factors.  There has always been vote theft in America, but until the introduction of electronic voting, it was labor-intensive and local.  Ballot-box stuffing was practiced by both parties, and had to be organized at the local level.  Since about 2000, it has become easy to steal elections remotely, efficiently, with only a few people privy to what has happened.  This new era in vote theft has been almost exclusively a province of the Republicans.  In a few extreme cases, huge chunks of votes have been switched to alter the course of an election, as with Diebold’s Rob Georgia campaign in 2002, and the 2010 nomination of Alvyn Greene for Senator from South Carolina.  Far more commonly, close races have been altered by shifting a few percent of the vote from D to R.  (Ron Paul and Howard Dean also lost their presidential primary bids to corrupted elections.)  This process has become institutionalized and now constitutes a thumb on the scales of American democracy.  We know this primarily from election statistics, but there have also been a few cases where electronic vote theft was documented firsthand, with direct, physical evidence.  The 2004 Presidential race in Ohio and the Florida Congressional district that whistleblower Clint Curtis was hired to fix are prominent examples.

There is a blackout in mainstream American news channels on the topic.  Thom Hartmann covered electronic vote theft in 2005, when his operation was smaller and more independent.  Now he won’t touch the issue.  You can read more about electronic election theft at these web sites:

3.  Assassination of populist political leaders.    The stories we hear are about the “lone nutcase” who got lucky with his gun, or a mysterious plane crash.  Monuments and public buildings are named for these heros, after they are taken out of commission because the CIA has deemed too dangerous to the direction of American politics.   Huey Long .  John F Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and possibly John, Jr.  Martin Luther King.  Malcolm X.  John Lennon.  Paul Wellstone.

Don Siegelman and Eliot Spitzer escaped with their lives, but were politically neutralized by trumped-up “scandal”.

2.  Secrecy in Government.  When elected officials live in glass boxes and ordinary citizens are secure in their privacy, then we have democracy.  But when the government knows everything about the private lives of individuals while the people know about their elected representatives only what those representatives want them to hear – then we have a self-perpetuating totalitarian state.  Thus “terrorism” has been used as an excuse to shield the Bush and Obama Administrations from public scrutiny.  The Bush White House was the most secretive in the history of the United States – until Obama took office.  No one doubts that legitimate secrecy has been stretched to shield the wrongdoing of people in office and their supporters in Federal agencies and in private contractors.  But the truth is actually far more radical:  Almost none of the secrecy serves a legitimate purpose in deterring attacks on Americans.  Rather it serves to cover up wrongdoing.  “Terrorism” did not arise on its own, but was invented as an excuse for war and repression, which the American people would never have tolerated had they not been by real actions and by propaganda campaigns.

1.  Media consolidation / press censorship.   Gone are investigative reporters.  Gone are local TV and radio stations that responded to local constituencies and were uniquely familiar with issues and government officials in a particular locale.

“In 1983, 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of all news media in the U.S.

in 2000, the number had fallen to six. Since then, there have been more mergers and the scope has expanded to include new media like the Internet market. More than 1 in 4 Internet users in the U.S. now log in with AOL Time-Warner, the world’s largest media corporation.

In 2004, Bagdikian’s revised and expanded book, The New Media Monopoly, shows that only 5 huge corporations — Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany, and Viacom (formerly CBS) — now control most of the media industry in the U.S.General Electric’s NBC is a close sixth.”  (from E Pluribus Media)

Thomas Jefferson once said

“Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.”

“If once the people become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions.”

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Jefferson was right.  If we don’t know what is going on, we can’t change it no-how.  And if we do know, then there is no government repressive enough to hold us back.  We need a press that is aggressive, diverse, and uncompromising in its pursuit of truth.  This is the most important factor for the restoration of democracy in America.

There is a great deal of self-censorship in the press.  Most journalists know their place, understand the limits of what can be discussed.  It is rarely necessary to teach them a lesson.  Just a few examples need to be set for all the rest to get the message.

Rosie O’Donnell disappeared from TV the day she asked questions about 9/11.  Veteran Dan Rather was dismissed from CBS before he could expose unsavory details of George W Bush’s past.   Gary Webb was dismissed from the San Jose Mercury-News, then assassinated for coming too close to the truth about the CIA and the drug trade.  We may never know what story Michael Hastings was chasing when he was murdered.  Wikileaks represents an entire genre of journalism held hostage in a London embassy compound.

Without investigative journalism, democracy doesn’t have a chance.  That’s why the rise of dispersed, crowd-sourced reporting on the web is the most hopeful development in American politics of the last half century.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -

The “lone nut” story would be an easy sell to the press and to the public in the case of our first African-American President.  If a “security breach” should occur, who would dare question it?  Mr Obama gives every indication he knows just how vulnerable he is.

http://daily-inspiration.org

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Date: Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 18:06

Shannon Jones 
RINF Alternative News

General Motors says it will soon file a motion with a federal bankruptcy judge in New York seeking a court order preventing the families of accident victims from suing the company over defective ignition switches that have been tied to fatal crashes.

As part of the 2009 bankruptcy and restructuring of GM the Obama administration inserted a clause holding the reorganized company harmless from lawsuits stemming from before July 2009. Many of the deaths and injuries resulting from the faulty ignition switches installed on several 2003-2007 GM models, which have now been recalled, took place prior to 2009. At the time, GM was facing 2,500 lawsuits of various kinds. Most received pennies on the dollar.

Among the cases that GM would like to block is one filed in federal court in California by 13 owners and leasers of recalled GM vehicles. The plaintiffs are seeking compensation from GM for selling them defective cars. They are also trying to broaden their legal case into a class action suit.

GM’s motion to prevent accident victims from collecting damages belies the claim of CEO Mary Barra of a new, more-open GM. In recent congressional hearings Barra stonewalled questions regarding the recall, which now involves 2.6 million vehicles, claiming she only recently became aware of issues with the defective ignition.

Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is fining GM $7,000 a day, a paltry sum for a multibillion-dollar corporation, for failing to provide all the documents it requested in its investigation of the recall. The NHTSA says it is missing about one third of the information it asked for.

The ignition defect involves small cars built between 2003 and 2007, including the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion. The ignition can easily be bumped or jarred out the “run” position into “accessory” or “off.” This kills the engine and disables the power steering, power brakes and airbags.

GM says 31 crashes and 13 fatalities are tied to the defect. However, the actual number may be much higher. A study commissioned by the consumer group the Center for Auto Safety concluded there were 303 deaths in crashes between 2002 and 2012 involving the Cobalt and Ion where airbags failed to deploy. The failure of airbags to deploy can be caused by the ignition being in the “accessory” or “off” position.

In addition, last week GM issued a second recall of the same vehicles for a defective lock cylinder that allows keys to be removed from ignitions that are not in the “off” position. This can lead to cars inadvertently rolling away with the engine running.

Consumer safety advocates are calling on GM to tell owners of the recalled vehicles to park their cars until repairs are made. They point to two recent fatal accidents involving the recalled models in which airbags failed to deploy.

On March 7, 12-year-old Zyla Owens of Laurel, Mississippi, was killed when her mother’s Cobalt ran off the road. The airbags did not deploy even as the car hit a tree. The mother said that she suddenly had difficulty steering the car, which could indicate the engine had cut off.

In a second fatal accident on March 19, Lara Gass, age 27, died when her 2004 Ion rear-ended a semi-trailer in Virginia. Again, the airbags did not deploy.

GM called any link between the fatal crashes and the ignition defect “speculation.” Meanwhile, there is no indication the NHTSA, the supposed government watchdog, has launched an investigation into the crashes.

A US District Court judge in Texas is to decide on a suit to force GM to tell owners of the recalled vehicles not to drive them until the ignitions are fixed. GM has responded by calling on the judge to require the plaintiffs to issue a surety bond to pay for damages if the company is found to have been wrongfully required to ground the cars.

In the wake of congressional hearings into the delayed GM recall, the company has suspended with pay two engineers who it says were involved in GM’s long failure to recall cars with defective ignition switches. The move targets two engineers who were involved in the engineering team working on the Cobalt. One of the men, Ray DeGiorgio, allegedly approved a design change to the ignition switch addressing the problem of it slipping out of the “run” position but did not provide a new part number, an action that suggested a cover-up.

Whatever role the two engineers may have played in the tragic affair, the long failure of GM to recall vehicles known to have a potentially fatal defect points to management decisions at the highest level. Newly released GM internal documents show the company was aware as early as 2001 that the ignition of the Ion did not meet its specifications. The documents also show that in 2001, GM considered and rejected an ignition switch design addressing the problem with the ignition slipping out of “run.” It was the same design that was quietly introduced in 2006, without providing a new part number. In an interview with NBC News, Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety said the decision to go initially with the defective design seemed to be based on price.

Later, in a meeting held in 2007, the NHTSA informed GM of a fatal crash involving a Cobalt that killed two teenagers in 2005. The airbags did not deploy, and the ignition was in the “accessory” position. The NHTSA investigation also determined that inadvertent contact with the ignition switch or the key ring of the Cobalt could result in an engine shutdown. To back up their case, investigators attached a GM service bulletin warning that there was a danger of drivers accidently turning off the ignition due to “low ignition key cylinder torque/effort.”

However, even as more accident reports came in involving the Cobalt where airbags failed to deploy, neither the NHTSA nor GM issued an alarm. Meanwhile, GM faced mounting numbers of lawsuits and consumer complaints.

Finally, as a result of one lawsuit, the company was compelled to release internal documents demonstrating it had long known of the ignition defect. This apparently blew the lid on the cover-up, forcing the belated recall.

Shannon Jones writes for WSWS

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Date: Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 17:53

It is the US drive to expand eastwards which lies at the root of the crisis in the former Soviet republic, argues JEREMY CORBYN – and it’s time we talked to Russia


Jeremy Corbyn

Tomorrow will see a four-way meeting take place as Russia, the United States, the EU and Ukraine discuss ongoing tensions in the latter country.

But while the endless drama of meetings, lurid statements and predictions and mass demonstrations catches the world’s eye, something more significant and fundamental is taking place in international politics.

As the US moves into relative economic decline, China’s expansion and Russia’s huge energy reserves and location are moving the politics of the world to a different place.

Russia and China have reached a momentous agreement to sell gas and do business in either of their own currencies – but not in dollars.

As with Iraq‘s 2002 move from dollars to euros, the new means of exchange downgrades the US dollar as the international currency of choice, but now on a far bigger scale.

The broad historical sweep since the end of the Soviet Union showed two decades of unipolar US power. But now the resurgence of Russia and the enormous economic power of China are ending that.

The history of conflicts since 1990 is grim. Hot wars took place in the Gulf, in the former Yugoslavia, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, all involving the US and Nato.

The period saw the European Union cement its relationship with Nato, and more recently the US shift its military focus to the Asia-Pacific region as it now sees China as its main rival.

The EU and Nato have now become the tools of US policy in Europe.

The US remains overwhelmingly the military superpower. It seized opportunities in 1990 and in 2001 to increase its military spending and develop a global reach of bases unmatched since the second world war.

The expansion of Nato into Poland and the Czech Republic has particularly increased tensions with Russia.

Agreements Gorbachov reached before the final demise of the Soviet Union and subsequent pledges that Ukraine’s independence would not see it brought into Nato or any other military alliance appear to have been forgotten by Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen in his increasingly bellicose statements.

Indeed, a huge joint exercise is planned for this July between Nato and Ukrainian forces. This can only make an already dangerous situation even worse.

On Tuesday night the Stop the War Coalition hosted an extraordinarily well-informed public meeting on the crisis at the Wesley Hotel in Euston, London.

Jonathan Steele, a former Guardian Moscow correspondent, outlined the situation expertly, noting that coverage has been dominated by two Hs – hypocrisy and hysteria.

While there were democratic forces in the Maidan protests motivated by falling living standards and corruption, there were also far-right nazi groups involved.

The far-right is now sitting in government in Ukraine. The origins of the Ukrainian far-right go back to those who welcomed the nazi invasion in 1941 and acted as allies of the invaders.

Stop the War officer and long-term anti-war activist Carol Turner pointed out that the sanctions against Russia are confused and controversial, largely targeting individuals, while the effect on Germany of any broader-reaching economic sanctions would be huge.

And already Gazprom has increased the price of its exports to Ukraine.

The overall issue is still one of the activities and expansionism of the post-1990 United States.

Turner referred to statements made by the US in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse. In an article in the International Herald Tribune of March 9 1992 Patrick Tyler of the New York Times outlined the new strategy by which US defence secretary Dick Cheney was preparing for expansion – and many future conflicts.

Tyler wrote that “the classified document makes the case for a world dominated by one superpower, whose position can be perpetuated by constructive behaviour and sufficient military might to deter any nation or group of nations from challenging US primacy.”

The author of this strategy, Paul Wolfowitz, specifically divested it of any role for the United Nations, which had been used to provide a mandate for the Gulf war of 1990-91 while the Soviets were preoccupied with their state falling apart.

The plan was never to remove nuclear strike aircraft from Europe or reduce the role of Nato, despite the end of the Warsaw Pact.

“We must seek to prevent the emergence of European-only security arrangements which would undermine Nato,” Wolfowitz warned.

Wolfowitz wanted to make arrangements in eastern Europe similar to those in the Gulf, where Saudi Arabia had been armed as an ally for regional wars. Now it is acting as a US ally in the Syrian conflict.

On Ukraine, I would not condone Russian behaviour or expansion. But it is not unprovoked, and the right of people to seek a federal structure or independence should not be denied.

And there are huge questions around the West’s intentions in Ukraine.

The obsession with cold war politics that exercises the Nato and EU leaderships is fuelling the crisis and underlines the case for a whole new approach to foreign policy.

We have allowed Nato to act outside its own area since the Afghan war started. The Lisbon Treaty binds the EU and Nato together in a mutual alliance of interference and domination reaching ever eastwards.

The long-term effect of the behaviour of US Secretary of State John Kerry, backed by the EU and the British government, is to divide the world. An ever-growing and more confident Russia-China bloc will increasingly rival Nato and the EU, meaning a new cold war beckons.

Would it not be better if when the four powers sit down together they looked at agreeing on a neutral, nuclear-free Ukraine, the possibility of de-escalating the crisis and cut out the hypocrisy of feigned moral outrage from a country that has invaded many others, has military bases scattered worldwide and whose arms industry has made billions from the death and destruction of so much life in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Peace campaigners in Britain need to look at the dangers of the mutual defence agreement with the US and the way it ties us into all their strategies. We also need to look at the role of Nato overall.

The Nato summit due in Newport, Wales, in September is a good opportunity for us to express our opposition to the strange notion that expanding a nuclear alliance east makes us safer.

It does not. It makes the whole world infinitely more dangerous.

Via Morning Star

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Date: Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 17:38

Patrick Martin
RINF Alternative News

In separate statements in the US and Europe, President Obama and NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen ratcheted up the threats by US and European imperialism against Russia. Their statements came on the eve of four-party talks set for Thursday in Geneva, with the US, the European Union and their Ukrainian puppet regime facing off against Moscow.

Obama gave an interview to Major Garrett of CBS News, who asked a series of provocative questions suggesting that the White House should step up its campaign of economic warfare against Russia. Before the interview, the White House announced that a new round of economic sanctions had been “prepared” for use against Russia if there was no progress in resolving the crisis in Ukraine.

Obama told CBS that it was “absolutely clear” that Russia had violated Ukrainian sovereignty in annexing Crimea and that it was continuing to do so by supporting “non-state militias” in southern and eastern Ukraine, where there is overwhelming popular hostility to the US-backed right-wing regime in Kiev.

Offering no proof for his accusations against Russia, Obama declared: “What I’ve said consistently is that each time Russia takes these kinds of steps, that are designed to destabilize Ukraine and violate their sovereignty, that there are going to be consequences, and what you have already seen is the Russian economy weaker, capital fleeing out of Russia.”

In language that suggested possible US support for future Ukrainian membership in NATO—a radical break from previous policy—Obama said, “We don’t need a war. What we do need is a recognition that countries like Ukraine can have relationships with a whole range of their neighbors and it is not up to anybody whether it is Russia or anybody else to make decisions for them.”

This declaration is remarkable for its hypocrisy, since US government officials have been “making decisions” for Ukraine, including who should head its government. Tapes of phone conversations between the US ambassador and State Department official Victoria Nuland indicated that they had already selected the man who is now Ukrainian prime minister—Arseniy Yatseniuk, or “Yats”, as they familiarly termed him—during the US-backed protests that installed the current regime in Kiev.

More ominously, CIA Director John Brennan visited Kiev secretly last week for discussions on how to deal with the popular movement in eastern Ukraine. Coming out of those sessions, both interim president Oleksandr Turchynov and prime minister Yatseniuk denounced the anti-Kiev activists in the east as “terrorists” and ordered in the armed forces, commanded by a general who threatened the “destruction” of the opposition.

Given that Brennan heads the world’s largest organization dedicated to assassination and provocation, and previously worked at the Obama White House directing drone missile attacks on people identified as “terrorists”, his discussions in Kiev were undoubtedly focused on demonizing the political opposition to Kiev as criminals, and engineering a bloody outcome to the crisis.

The threat of military escalation came after a NATO meeting Wednesday in Brussels. NATO Secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the US-dominated military alliance would increase air patrols over the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia—all former Soviet republics that border on Russia. This would represent an escalation of previous actions, which included dispatching warplanes to Poland and the Baltic states, and deploying AWACS surveillance aircraft in Poland and Romania.

“You will see deployments at sea, in the air, on land to take place immediately—that means within days,” Rasmussen said. “We will have more planes in the air, more ships in the water, and more readiness on the land. More will follow, if needed, in the weeks and months to come.”

These deployments will include NATO warships off the coast of the Baltic states and in the eastern Mediterranean.

All indications are that the Geneva talks are not intended to resolve the crisis, but rather will be the occasion for further provocations against Russia. The acting foreign minister for the right-wing Ukrainian regime, Andriy Deshchytsia, said he would demand Russia return Crimea to Ukraine and rescind the decision of the Russian parliament authorizing Russian troops to deploy to Ukraine if President Vladimir Putin deemed it necessary to protect the Russian population in that country.

Claims by US, NATO and Ukrainian officials of “Russian involvement” in Ukraine are both completely hypocritical—given the record of US-EU subversion in Kiev—and deeply cynical. With the assistance of the compliant media in both the US and Europe, the imperialist powers are manufacturing a red herring to divert attention from their own operations and maneuvers.

Russia and Ukraine are deeply intertwined by common history, culture, economic ties and geography. In eastern Ukraine, particularly, where the majority of the population speaks Russian as its native tongue, and intermarriages are commonplace, to speak of ethnically distinct populations is absurd.

It is hardly surprising that the seizure of power by ultra-right Ukrainian nationalists, spearheaded by open fascists, anti-Russian chauvinists and anti-Semites, whose first significant policy decision was to prohibit official use of the Russian language, should provoke popular opposition, especially in the Russian-speaking east and south.

As for the claims that this popular opposition is “instigated” or “fomented” by Russia, the Putin regime, based on billionaire oligarchs, is hostile to any genuine popular movement in eastern Ukraine, a stronghold of the industrial working class, which might spill across the border and intensify the class struggle within Russia itself. If the Russian armed forces were eventually to intervene in eastern Ukraine, it would be to suppress such a popular movement before it could get out of control.

The imperialist powers and their stooges in Kiev regard the population of eastern Ukraine with undisguised loathing. It is worth recalling again the statement by interim president Turchynov on his website Tuesday, in which he admitted, “Apart from Russian Special Forces and terrorists, there’s hundreds of thousands of innocent Ukrainian people deceived by Russian propaganda.”

The military actions ordered by Kiev pose the danger of a full-scale bloodbath to crush broad sections of the eastern Ukrainian population who distrust and oppose the Kiev regime. Casualties have already been reported earlier this week in Kramatorsk and Slovyansk. On Wednesday, press reports indicated that Ukrainian soldiers opened fire on protesters in Mariupol, a city of 600,000 on the Sea of Azov, killing one person and wounding 12 more.

There were reports of Ukrainian troops balking at instructions to fire, and even fraternizing with the local population.

Such defections will only intensify the effort to mobilize ultra-right and neo-Nazi elements against the working class.

The head of the Ukrainian National Security Council, Andriy Parubiy, a leader of the anti-Semitic Svoboda party, sent out a message on Twitter saying that veterans of the coup in Kiev, many of whom were members of right-wing nationalist groups, being mobilized to join the fight. “Reserve unit of National Guard formed from #Maidan Self-defense volunteers was sent to the front line this morning,” he wrote.

Patrick Martin writes for World Socialist Web Site

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Date: Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 17:33

Nick McCann

The Department of Justice does not have to disclose documents related to a targeted drone strike that killed U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in 2011, a federal judge ruled.

The First Amendment Coalition sued the Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act in 2012.

A drone strike in September 2011 killed U.S.-born Anwar al-Awlaki, a propagandist for al Qaeda, in an attack that President Obama called a “success” that was a “tribute to our intelligence community.”

The San Rafael-based First Amendment Coalition sought a 2010 legal memo from the Office of Legal Counsel that allegedly “provided a legal analysis and justification for the U.S. government’s targeted killing” of U.S. citizens.

The group sought “as much of the OLC memo as can be released without harm to legitimate U.S. national security interests.”

“This would include, at minimum, those portions of the OLC memo discussing and analyzing legal and related issues concerning the selection of U.S. citizens abroad, for targeting with lethal force,” the complaint states.
The public is entitled to know the government’s legal reasons for targeting U.S. citizens abroad, the Coalition said.

“Regardless of one’s views about the Obama administration policy in the counterterrorism area, the assertion of the power to lethally target U.S. citizens, and to do so unilaterally, without judicial oversight of any kind, is an extreme step warranting as much scrutiny and public debate as are possible under the circumstances,” the complaint states.

The Justice Department responded to the Coalition’s request in June 2013, “acknowledging the existence of one responsive OLC opinion … and refusing to confirm or deny the existence of responsive records related to any other agency.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and New York Times sued the Justice Department for access to similar information about drone strikes and other government-authorized killings of suspected al Qaeda affiliates.

In response to those complaints, the Justice Department released unclassified documents and the reasons why they were being withheld, and the CIA produced public speeches by Eric Holder and John Brennan defending the government’s use of drones.

A federal judge in Manhattan found in favor of the Justice Department. The ACLU and the Times appealed.

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