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In This Edition

Seymour M. Hersh with an absolute must read, "The Red Line And The Rat Line."

Uri Avnery sees, "The Monster On The Hill."

Margaret Kimberley looks into, "Charter School Corruption."

Pepe Escobar considers, "The US-Russia Ukrainian Deal."

Jim Hightower tells, "Freaky Stories From April Fool's Day."

David Swanson concludes, "DC Has Two Team Names To Change."

James Donahue examines, "Nuclear Horrors That Don't Go Away."

John Nichols reports, "Wall Street Targets GOP Critic Of Big Money And Big Banks For Primary Defeat."

Chris Hedges explores, "The Crucible Of Iraq."

David Sirota warns, "Documents Show Gogo Boasted Of Helping Law Enforcement Agencies Spy On In-Flight Wifi."

Paul Krugman investigates, "Oligarchs And Money."

Glenn Greenwald with a must read, "The "Cuban Twitter" Scam Is A Drop In The Internet Propaganda Bucket."

Amy Goodman returns with, "From Kabul To Cairo, The Killing And Jailing Of Journalists Continues."

U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer wins this week's coveted, "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

Robert Reich explains, "Today's Jobs Report And The Supreme Court's 'McCutcheon" Debacle.'"

Matthew Rothschild finds, "Obama Whitewashes World War I."

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department Will Durst sees, "50 Shades Of Cool" but first, Uncle Ernie sez it's, "Desperate Times."

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Dave Granlund, with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Ruben Bolling, Franklin Reyes, Khalid Mohammed, Mannie Garcia, Ozan Kose, AFP, Getty Images, US News.Com, International Herald Tribune, Shaam News Network, NOAA, Reuters, A.P., The Intercept, Black Agenda Report, You Tube.Com and Issues & Alibis.Org.

Plus we have all of your favorite Departments...

The Quotable Quote...
The Dead Letter Office...
The Cartoon Corner...
To End On A Happy Note...
Have You Seen This...
Parting Shots...

Welcome one and all to "Uncle Ernie's Issues & Alibis."













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Desperate Times
By Ernest Stewart

"I felt the kind of desperation, I think, that cancels the possibility of empathy...that makes you unkind." ~~~ Sue Miller

"Please join me and all our brothers and sisters in global civil society in proclaiming our rejection of Apartheid in Israel and occupied Palestine, by pledging not to perform or exhibit in Israel or accept any award or funding from any institution linked to the government of Israel, until such time as Israel complies with international law and universal principles of human rights." ~~~ Roger Waters

"Judge Collyer effectively convicted Anwar Al-Aulaqi posthumously based on the government's own say-so, and found that the constitutional rights of 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi and Samir Khan weren't violated because the government didn't target them. It seems there's no remedy if the government intended to kill you, and no remedy if it didn't. This decision is a true travesty of justice for our constitutional democracy, and for all victims of the U.S. government's unlawful killings." ~~~ Maria LaHood ~ CCR Senior Attorney.

You know, the landlord rang my front door bell.
I let it ring for a long, long spell.
I went to the window,
I peeped through the blind,
And asked him to tell me what's on his mind.
He said,

Money, honey.
Money, honey.
Money, honey, if you want to get along with me.
Money Honey ~~~ Elvis Presley


Can't you just hear the NRA? "You see, you see, you can kill people with knives, so do you want to outlaw knives?" While some may die from their knife wounds in the Pennsylvania school attack, had that maniac been carrying a Browning automatic shotgun and an AR-15, then most all of the wounded kids would've been dead, as well as a whole lot more!

This has become commonplace in America; and, no, this isn't about the NRA, but about the desperate times we find ourselves in. With millions of Americans sleeping in their cars or in tent cities and tens of millions more just a paycheck or two from joining them and our elected traitors doing absolutely nothing to help them; but, as in the case of the Rethuglicans, doing everything they can to make it worse; it only looks to get worse instead of better as time goes on!

This is, of course, is nothing new in the world, or in this country. If one studies history, one will find that after every economic disaster, a huge increase in violence occurred! For example, after the Civil War when the vets returned and found nothing, some employed the only skill set that they had -- killing others, and the result is the Wild, Wild West. World War I begat the violence of the twenties and thirties. When the economy fell apart, you have vets joining or leading gangs. Might as well put those army skills together like Machine-gun Kelly did! I'm sure the ancient Romans would've seen little difference between the Younger/James gang and Spartacus. People can take only so much; and then they flip out. It looks like our Pennsylvania stabber got bullied one time too many.

And with Washington busy feeding and caring for the 1 % instead of the people, I foresee many other acts of violence. Violence is the only way for some people to act -- especially today's youth, who've been raised on and fed a steady stream of violence all of their lives; they know of no other way to bring things back into balance. Instead of teaching them the ways of peace, we program them to be little loyal plastic robots, capable of being corpo-rat slaves or cannon fodder, and little else. Education shouldn't be what is currently being taught, but rather, how to think, which is, of course, the last thing that Big Brother wants them to know. Can't have people thinking on the assembly lines or in the trenches -- it's bad for the bottom line! As time goes on and nothing is done to change it, you ain't seen nothing yet, America!

In Other News

What can I tell you, I'm a sucker for a good cause, always have been, always will be. Trouble is, most of the time you feel like beating your head against a wall because there's so very little the average person can do to bring change to the world. I made the horrible choice in my youth to study political science, and as a result, I've known the terrible truth about reality for more than half a century. If you start to make a change to upset set the old order, bad things happen. Don't believe me? Ask how that change thingie worked out for Martin and Malcolm and Jack and Bobby and John who all stood up for the good of others! Still, like Don Quixote, on I go, trying to do what's right to see that we all have equal rights.

Finally, there seems to be a chink in the Israeli armor; they are now being hurt where it hurts the most -- right in the pocket book, through various boycotts of Israeli products from people the world over -- except, of course, in these here United Snakes, where our Israeli fifth-columnist politicians from both parties, in both the House, the Senate, the Pentagoons, and Barry are owned. Did I mention that all of them are pawns of Tel Aviv; and like the American Indians, the Palestinians are paying the price. Still, there is some hope. A man far wiser than I had this to say about it!
I am writing today to express grave concern about a wave of legislative measures in the United States aimed at punishing and intimidating those who speak their conscience and challenge the human rights violations endured by the Palestinian people. In legislatures in Maryland, New York, Illinois, Florida, and even the United States Congress, bills have been proposed that would either bar funding to academic associations or seek to malign those who have taken a stand against the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

These legislative efforts are in response to a growing international initiative, the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, of which I have long been a supporter. The BDS movement emanates from a call for justice put out by the Palestinian people themselves. It is a Palestinian-led, international nonviolent movement that seeks to force the Israeli government to comply with international law in respect to its treatment of the Palestinian people.

I have supported this movement because it exerts pressure without violence on the State of Israel to create lasting peace for the citizens of Israel and Palestine, peace which most citizens crave. I have witnessed the systematic violence against and humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces. Their humiliation and pain is all too familiar to us South Africans.

In South Africa, we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. My conscience compels me to stand with the Palestinians as they seek to use the same tactics of non-violence to further their efforts to end the oppression associated with the Israeli occupation.

The legislations being proposed in the United States would have made participation in a movement like the one that ended Apartheid in South Africa extremely difficult.

I am also deeply troubled by the rhetoric associated with the promulgation of these bills which I understand, in the instance of Maryland, included testimony comparing the boycott to the actions of the Nazis in Germany. The Nazi Holocaust which resulted in the extermination of millions of Jews is a crime of monstrous proportions. To imply that it is in any way comparable to a nonviolent initiative diminishes the horrific nature of that genocidal and tragic era in our world history.

Whether used in South Africa, the US South, or India, boycotts have resulted in a transformative change that not only brought freedom and justice to the victims but also peace and reconciliation for the oppressors. I strongly oppose any piece of legislation meant to punish or deter individuals from pursuing this transformative aspiration. And I remain forever hopeful that, like the nonviolent efforts that have preceded it, the BDS movement will ultimately become a catalyst for honest peace and reconciliation for all our brothers and sisters, both Palestinian and Israeli, in the Holy Land.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu
I hope Desmond is right, don't you?

And Finally

Talk about your strange bedfellows. If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times; some fat cat Rethuglican gives a dire warning about activist judges; and I have to agree with them. However, what they leave out is most all of those activists are appointed by Rethuglican presidents; and many in this day and age were appointed by the Crime Family Bush! Such is the case for U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer, who was appointed by Smirky the Wonder Chimp back in 2002!

Judge Rosemary is known for making many judicial mistakes; but the one that made her stand out for the honor of this week's Vidkun Quisling Award was her ruling in saying that the families of 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Aulaki and Samir Khan had no right to sue for damages when Barry had them murdered in 2011. In her ruling delivered Friday, Judge Rosemary dismissed the challenge to the constitutionality of the killings.

Rosemary states that the victims' Fourth Amendment rights were not violated because they were not "seized," they were killed, because "[u]nmanned drones are functionally incapable of 'seizing' a person; they are designed to kill, not capture."

"The Fifth Amendment violation does not apply to the younger Al-Aulaki or Khan, as they were not deliberately targeted," she writes, explaining that it was "negligence" that they were harmed as bystanders. "Mere negligence does not give rise to a constitutional deprivation," she states in her opinion. But does it not allow for damages, just the same?

So you know what I did, don't ya? No, let's not see all the same hands, all of the time. That's right, I wrote the judge this little note...
Hey Rosemary,

I guess the 4th and 5th amendments don't apply to us any more? I'm guessing your appointer threw them out for good during his reign or perhaps you've never read them, huh? So innocent children murdered in cold blood by our government have no place in court. Rosemary, it seems more likely that you have no place in court!

Sincerely,
Ernest Stewart
Managing Editor
Issue and Alibis Magazine
If you have any thoughts that you'd like to share with Judge Rosemary, do so here...

c/o U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer
U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia
333 Constitution Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001

Or leave a message here:

http://www.dcd.uscourts.gov/dcd/contact

Or call her here:

Chambers: (202) 354-3560

Tell her Uncle Ernie sent ya!

Keepin' On

I'm having a deja vu all over again, so until things change I'll just run this...

As far as fundraising goes, this year is turning out to be a disaster! Fundraising in the first quarter has always been slow going at best; but even more so this year. In a "normal" year we would have raised about 17% to 18% of our yearly operating costs, this year, it's barely 2%. Needless to say, if this trend continues, we'll be gone come June's first group of bills -- not to mention July's group and October's bills.

Thanks to our sponsorships, I'll be able to continue by writing weekly essays instead of editorials; but most of the rest of the magazine will be gone; and if my sponsors want more than just me, then I'll be gone, too -- except in various other magazines scattered through out the blogosphere.

Ergo, if you enjoy your weekly Issues & Alibis, and would hate to see it disappear as so many other liberal sites have done, then please send us whatever you can, as often as you can; and we'll continue to fight the forces of darkness for you!

*****


05-27-1927 ~ 04-05-2014
Thanks for the books!



09-23-1920 ~ 04-06-2014
Thanks for the laughs!


*****

We get by with a little help from our friends!
So please help us if you can...?
Donations

*****

So how do you like Bush Lite so far?
And more importantly, what are you planning on doing about it?

Until the next time, Peace!
(c) 2014 Ernest Stewart a.k.a. Uncle Ernie is an unabashed radical, author, stand-up comic, DJ, actor, political pundit and for the last 13 years managing editor and publisher of Issues & Alibis magazine. Visit me on Facebook. Visit the Magazine's page on Facebook and like us when you do. Follow me on Twitter.











.



The Red Line And The Rat Line
By Seymour M. Hersh

In 2011 Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya without consulting the US Congress. Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the 'red line' he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons. Then with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was postponed as Congress prepared for hearings, and subsequently cancelled when Obama accepted Assad's offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia. Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.

Obama's change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn't match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army's chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn't hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria's infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.

For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria's neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. "We knew there were some in the Turkish government," a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, "who believed they could get Assad's nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria - and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat."

The joint chiefs also knew that the Obama administration's public claims that only the Syrian army had access to sarin were wrong. The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons. On 20 June analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page 'talking points' briefing for the DIA's deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell: its programme, the paper said, was "the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida's pre-9/11 effort'. (According to a Defense Department consultant, US intelligence has long known that al-Qaida experimented with chemical weapons, and has a video of one of its gas experiments with dogs.) The DIA paper went on: "Previous IC [intelligence community] focus had been almost entirely on Syrian CW [chemical weapons] stockpiles; now we see ANF attempting to make its own CW ... Al-Nusrah Front's relative freedom of operation within Syria leads us to assess the group's CW aspirations will be difficult to disrupt in the future." The paper drew on classified intelligence from numerous agencies: "Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators,' it said, 'were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria." (Asked about the DIA paper, a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence said: "No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.")

Last May, more than ten members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in southern Turkey with what local police told the press were two kilograms of sarin. In a 130-page indictment the group was accused of attempting to purchase fuses, piping for the construction of mortars, and chemical precursors for sarin. Five of those arrested were freed after a brief detention. The others, including the ringleader, Haytham Qassab, for whom the prosecutor requested a prison sentence of 25 years, were released pending trial. In the meantime the Turkish press has been rife with speculation that the Erdogan administration has been covering up the extent of its involvement with the rebels. In a news conference last summer, Aydin Sezgin, Turkey's ambassador to Moscow, dismissed the arrests and claimed to reporters that the recovered "sarin" was merely "anti-freeze".

The DIA paper took the arrests as evidence that al-Nusra was expanding its access to chemical weapons. It said Qassab had 'self-identified' as a member of al-Nusra, and that he was directly connected to Abd-al-Ghani, the 'ANF emir for military manufacturing'. Qassab and his associate Khalid Ousta worked with Halit Unalkaya, an employee of a Turkish firm called Zirve Export, who provided 'price quotes for bulk quantities of sarin precursors'. Abd-al-Ghani's plan was for two associates to 'perfect a process for making sarin, then go to Syria to train others to begin large scale production at an unidentified lab in Syria'. The DIA paper said that one of his operatives had purchased a precursor on the 'Baghdad chemical market', which 'has supported at least seven CW efforts since 2004'. A series of chemical weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was investigated over the next few months by a special UN mission to Syria. A person with close knowledge of the UN's activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN's activities said: "Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know."

In the months before the attacks began, a former senior Defense Department official told me, the DIA was circulating a daily classified report known as SYRUP on all intelligence related to the Syrian conflict, including material on chemical weapons. But in the spring, distribution of the part of the report concerning chemical weapons was severely curtailed on the orders of Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff. "Something was in there that triggered a shit fit by McDonough," the former Defense Department official said. "One day it was a huge deal, and then, after the March and April sarin attacks" - he snapped his fingers - "it's no longer there." The decision to restrict distribution was made as the joint chiefs ordered intensive contingency planning for a possible ground invasion of Syria whose primary objective would be the elimination of chemical weapons.

The former intelligence official said that many in the US national security establishment had long been troubled by the president's red line: 'The joint chiefs asked the White House, "What does red line mean? How does that translate into military orders? Troops on the ground? Massive strike? Limited strike?" They tasked military intelligence to study how we could carry out the threat. They learned nothing more about the president's reasoning.

In the aftermath of the 21 August attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, "the White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently "painful" to the Assad regime." The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into 'a monster strike': two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. "Every day the target list was getting longer," the former intelligence official told me. "The Pentagon planners said we can't use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria's missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we'll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge." The new target list was meant to "completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had," the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.

Britain and France were both to play a part. On 29 August, the day Parliament voted against Cameron's bid to join the intervention, the Guardian reported that he had already ordered six RAF Typhoon fighter jets to be deployed to Cyprus, and had volunteered a submarine capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. The French air force - a crucial player in the 2011 strikes on Libya - was deeply committed, according to an account in Le Nouvel Observateur; Fran├žois Hollande had ordered several Rafale fighter-bombers to join the American assault. Their targets were reported to be in western Syria.

By the last days of August the president had given the Joint Chiefs a fixed deadline for the launch. "H hour was to begin no later than Monday morning [2 September], a massive assault to neutralise Assad," the former intelligence official said. So it was a surprise to many when during a speech in the White House Rose Garden on 31 August Obama said that the attack would be put on hold, and he would turn to Congress and put it to a vote.

At this stage, Obama's premise - that only the Syrian army was capable of deploying sarin - was unravelling. Within a few days of the 21 August attack, the former intelligence official told me, Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analysed it and passed it on to British military intelligence; this was the material sent to Porton Down. (A spokesperson for Porton Down said: "Many of the samples analysed in the UK tested positive for the nerve agent sarin." MI6 said that it doesn't comment on intelligence matters.)

The former intelligence official said the Russian who delivered the sample to the UK was "a good source - someone with access, knowledge and a record of being trustworthy." After the first reported uses of chemical weapons in Syria last year, American and allied intelligence agencies "made an effort to find the answer as to what if anything, was used - and its source," the former intelligence official said. "We use data exchanged as part of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The DIA's baseline consisted of knowing the composition of each batch of Soviet-manufactured chemical weapons. But we didn't know which batches the Assad government currently had in its arsenal. Within days of the Damascus incident we asked a source in the Syrian government to give us a list of the batches the government currently had. This is why we could confirm the difference so quickly."

The process hadn't worked as smoothly in the spring, the former intelligence official said, because the studies done by Western intelligence "were inconclusive as to the type of gas it was. The word "sarin" didn't come up. There was a great deal of discussion about this, but since no one could conclude what gas it was, you could not say that Assad had crossed the president's red line.' By 21 August, the former intelligence official went on, 'the Syrian opposition clearly had learned from this and announced that "sarin" from the Syrian army had been used, before any analysis could be made, and the press and White House jumped at it. Since it now was sarin, "It had to be Assad.""

The UK defence staff who relayed the Porton Down findings to the joint chiefs were sending the Americans a message, the former intelligence official said: "We're being set up here." (This account made sense of a terse message a senior official in the CIA sent in late August: "It was not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this.") By then the attack was a few days away and American, British and French planes, ships and submarines were at the ready.

The officer ultimately responsible for the planning and execution of the attack was General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs. From the beginning of the crisis, the former intelligence official said, the joint chiefs had been sceptical of the administration's argument that it had the facts to back up its belief in Assad's guilt. They pressed the DIA and other agencies for more substantial evidence. "There was no way they thought Syria would use nerve gas at that stage, because Assad was winning the war," the former intelligence official said. Dempsey had irritated many in the Obama administration by repeatedly warning Congress over the summer of the danger of American military involvement in Syria. Last April, after an optimistic assessment of rebel progress by the secretary of state, John Kerry, in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "there's a risk that this conflict has become stalemated."

Dempsey's initial view after 21 August was that a US strike on Syria - under the assumption that the Assad government was responsible for the sarin attack - would be a military blunder, the former intelligence official said. The Porton Down report caused the joint chiefs to go to the president with a more serious worry: that the attack sought by the White House would be an unjustified act of aggression. It was the joint chiefs who led Obama to change course. The official White House explanation for the turnabout - the story the press corps told - was that the president, during a walk in the Rose Garden with Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, suddenly decided to seek approval for the strike from a bitterly divided Congress with which he'd been in conflict for years. The former Defense Department official told me that the White House provided a different explanation to members of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon: the bombing had been called off because there was intelligence "that the Middle East would go up in smoke" if it was carried out. The president's decision to go to Congress was initially seen by senior aides in the White House, the former intelligence official said, as a replay of George W. Bush's gambit in the autumn of 2002 before the invasion of Iraq: "When it became clear that there were no WMD in Iraq, Congress, which had endorsed the Iraqi war, and the White House both shared the blame and repeatedly cited faulty intelligence. If the current Congress were to vote to endorse the strike, the White House could again have it both ways - wallop Syria with a massive attack and validate the president's red line commitment, while also being able to share the blame with Congress if it came out that the Syrian military wasn't behind the attack." The turnabout came as a surprise even to the Democratic leadership in Congress. In September the Wall Street Journal reported that three days before his Rose Garden speech Obama had telephoned Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democrats, "to talk through the options." She later told colleagues, according to the Journal, that she hadn't asked the president to put the bombing to a congressional vote.

Obama's move for congressional approval quickly became a dead end. "Congress was not going to let this go by," the former intelligence official said. "Congress made it known that, unlike the authorisation for the Iraq war, there would be substantive hearings." At this point, there was a sense of desperation in the White House, the former intelligence official said. "And so out comes Plan B. Call off the bombing strike and Assad would agree to unilaterally sign the chemical warfare treaty and agree to the destruction of all of chemical weapons under UN supervision." At a press conference in London on 9 September, Kerry was still talking about intervention: "The risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting." But when a reporter asked if there was anything Assad could do to stop the bombing, Kerry said: "Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week ... But he isn't about to do it, and it can't be done, obviously." As the New York Times reported the next day, the Russian-brokered deal that emerged shortly afterwards had first been discussed by Obama and Putin in the summer of 2012. Although the strike plans were shelved, the administration didn't change its public assessment of the justification for going to war. "There is zero tolerance at that level for the existence of error," the former intelligence official said of the senior officials in the White House. "They could not afford to say: 'We were wrong.'" (The DNI spokesperson said: "The Assad regime, and only the Assad regime, could have been responsible for the chemical weapons attack that took place on 21 August.")

*****

The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a "rat line," a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI spokesperson said: "The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.") In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The report's criticism of the State Department for not providing adequate security at the consulate, and of the intelligence community for not alerting the US military to the presence of a CIA outpost in the area, received front-page coverage and revived animosities in Washington, with Republicans accusing Obama and Hillary Clinton of a cover-up. A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdogan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi's arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn't always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.)

The operation had not been disclosed at the time it was set up to the congressional intelligence committees and the congressional leadership, as required by law since the 1970s. The involvement of MI6 enabled the CIA to evade the law by classifying the mission as a liaison operation. The former intelligence official explained that for years there has been a recognised exception in the law that permits the CIA not to report liaison activity to Congress, which would otherwise be owed a finding. (All proposed CIA covert operations must be described in a written document, known as a "finding," submitted to the senior leadership of Congress for approval.) Distribution of the annex was limited to the staff aides who wrote the report and to the eight ranking members of Congress - the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republicans leaders on the House and Senate intelligence committees. This hardly constituted a genuine attempt at oversight: the eight leaders are not known to gather together to raise questions or discuss the secret information they receive.

The annex didn't tell the whole story of what happened in Benghazi before the attack, nor did it explain why the American consulate was attacked. "The consulate's only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms," the former intelligence official, who has read the annex, said. "It had no real political role."

Washington abruptly ended the CIA's role in the transfer of arms from Libya after the attack on the consulate, but the rat line kept going. "The United States was no longer in control of what the Turks were relaying to the jihadists," the former intelligence official said. Within weeks, as many as forty portable surface-to-air missile launchers, commonly known as manpads, were in the hands of Syrian rebels. On 28 November 2012, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reported that the previous day rebels near Aleppo had used what was almost certainly a manpad to shoot down a Syrian transport helicopter. "The Obama administration,' Warrick wrote, 'has steadfastly opposed arming Syrian opposition forces with such missiles, warning that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists and be used to shoot down commercial aircraft." Two Middle Eastern intelligence officials fingered Qatar as the source, and a former US intelligence analyst speculated that the manpads could have been obtained from Syrian military outposts overrun by the rebels. There was no indication that the rebels' possession of manpads was likely the unintended consequence of a covert US programme that was no longer under US control.

By the end of 2012, it was believed throughout the American intelligence community that the rebels were losing the war. "Erdogan was pissed," the former intelligence official said, "and felt he was left hanging on the vine. It was his money and the cut-off was seen as a betrayal." In spring 2013 US intelligence learned that the Turkish government - through elements of the MIT, its national intelligence agency, and the Gendarmerie, a militarised law-enforcement organisation - was working directly with al-Nusra and its allies to develop a chemical warfare capability. "The MIT was running the political liaison with the rebels, and the Gendarmerie handled military logistics, on-the-scene advice and training - including training in chemical warfare," the former intelligence official said. "Stepping up Turkey's role in spring 2013 was seen as the key to its problems there. Erdogan knew that if he stopped his support of the jihadists it would be all over. The Saudis could not support the war because of logistics - the distances involved and the difficulty of moving weapons and supplies. Erdogan's hope was to instigate an event that would force the US to cross the red line. But Obama didn't respond in March and April."

There was no public sign of discord when Erdogan and Obama met on 16 May 2013 at the White House. At a later press conference Obama said that they had agreed that Assad "needs to go." Asked whether he thought Syria had crossed the red line, Obama acknowledged that there was evidence such weapons had been used, but added, "it is important for us to make sure that we're able to get more specific information about what exactly is happening there." The red line was still intact.

An American foreign policy expert who speaks regularly with officials in Washington and Ankara told me about a working dinner Obama held for Erdogan during his May visit. The meal was dominated by the Turks' insistence that Syria had crossed the red line and their complaints that Obama was reluctant to do anything about it. Obama was accompanied by John Kerry and Tom Donilon, the national security adviser who would soon leave the job. Erdogan was joined by Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, and Hakan Fidan, the head of the MIT. Fidan is known to be fiercely loyal to Erdogan, and has been seen as a consistent backer of the radical rebel opposition in Syria.

The foreign policy expert told me that the account he heard originated with Donilon. (It was later corroborated by a former US official, who learned of it from a senior Turkish diplomat.) According to the expert, Erdogan had sought the meeting to demonstrate to Obama that the red line had been crossed, and had brought Fidan along to state the case. When Erdogan tried to draw Fidan into the conversation, and Fidan began speaking, Obama cut him off and said: "We know." Erdogan tried to bring Fidan in a second time, and Obama again cut him off and said: "We know." At that point, an exasperated Erdogan said, "But your red line has been crossed!" and, the expert told me, "Donilon said Erdogan 'fucking waved his finger at the president inside the White House.'" Obama then pointed at Fidan and said: "We know what you're doing with the radicals in Syria." (Donilon, who joined the Council on Foreign Relations last July, didn't respond to questions about this story. The Turkish Foreign Ministry didn't respond to questions about the dinner. A spokesperson for the National Security Council confirmed that the dinner took place and provided a photograph showing Obama, Kerry, Donilon, Erdogan, Fidan and Davutoglu sitting at a table. "Beyond that," she said, "I'm not going to read out the details of their discussions.")

But Erdogan did not leave empty handed. Obama was still permitting Turkey to continue to exploit a loophole in a presidential executive order prohibiting the export of gold to Iran, part of the US sanctions regime against the country. In March 2012, responding to sanctions of Iranian banks by the EU, the SWIFT electronic payment system, which facilitates cross-border payments, expelled dozens of Iranian financial institutions, severely restricting the country's ability to conduct international trade. The US followed with the executive order in July, but left what came to be known as a "golden loophole": gold shipments to private Iranian entities could continue. Turkey is a major purchaser of Iranian oil and gas, and it took advantage of the loophole by depositing its energy payments in Turkish lira in an Iranian account in Turkey; these funds were then used to purchase Turkish gold for export to confederates in Iran. Gold to the value of $13 billion reportedly entered Iran in this way between March 2012 and July 2013.

The programme quickly became a cash cow for corrupt politicians and traders in Turkey, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. "The middlemen did what they always do," the former intelligence official said. "Take 15 per cent. The CIA had estimated that there was as much as two billion dollars in skim. Gold and Turkish lira were sticking to fingers." The illicit skimming flared into a public "gas for gold" scandal in Turkey in December, and resulted in charges against two dozen people, including prominent businessmen and relatives of government officials, as well as the resignations of three ministers, one of whom called for Erdogan to resign. The chief executive of a Turkish state-controlled bank that was in the middle of the scandal insisted that more than $4.5 million in cash found by police in shoeboxes during a search of his home was for charitable donations.

Late last year Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz reported in Foreign Policy that the Obama administration closed the golden loophole in January 2013, but "lobbied to make sure the legislation ... did not take effect for six months." They speculated that the administration wanted to use the delay as an incentive to bring Iran to the bargaining table over its nuclear programme, or to placate its Turkish ally in the Syrian civil war. The delay permitted Iran to "accrue billions of dollars more in gold, further undermining the sanctions regime."

*****

The American decision to end CIA support of the weapons shipments into Syria left Erdogan exposed politically and militarily. "One of the issues at that May summit was the fact that Turkey is the only avenue to supply the rebels in Syria," the former intelligence official said. "It can't come through Jordan because the terrain in the south is wide open and the Syrians are all over it. And it can't come through the valleys and hills of Lebanon - you can't be sure who you'd meet on the other side." Without US military support for the rebels, the former intelligence official said, "Erdogan's dream of having a client state in Syria is evaporating and he thinks we're the reason why. When Syria wins the war, he knows the rebels are just as likely to turn on him - where else can they go? So now he will have thousands of radicals in his backyard."

A US intelligence consultant told me that a few weeks before 21 August he saw a highly classified briefing prepared for Dempsey and the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, which described "the acute anxiety" of the Erdogan administration about the rebels' dwindling prospects. The analysis warned that the Turkish leadership had expressed "the need to do something that would precipitate a US military response." By late summer, the Syrian army still had the advantage over the rebels, the former intelligence official said, and only American air power could turn the tide. In the autumn, the former intelligence official went on, the US intelligence analysts who kept working on the events of 21 August "sensed that Syria had not done the gas attack. But the 500 pound gorilla was, how did it happen? The immediate suspect was the Turks, because they had all the pieces to make it happen." As intercepts and other data related to the 21 August attacks were gathered, the intelligence community saw evidence to support its suspicions. "We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdogan's people to push Obama over the red line," the former intelligence official said. "They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors" - who arrived in Damascus on 18 August to investigate the earlier use of gas - "were there. The deal was to do something spectacular. Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey - that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it." Much of the support for that assessment came from the Turks themselves, via intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack. "Principal evidence came from the Turkish post-attack joy and back-slapping in numerous intercepts. Operations are always so super-secret in the planning but that all flies out the window when it comes to crowing afterwards. There is no greater vulnerability than in the perpetrators claiming credit for success." Erdogan's problems in Syria would soon be over: "Off goes the gas and Obama will say red line and America is going to attack Syria, or at least that was the idea. But it did not work out that way."

The post-attack intelligence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House. "Nobody wants to talk about all this," the former intelligence official told me. "There is great reluctance to contradict the president, although no all-source intelligence community analysis supported his leap to convict. There has not been one single piece of additional evidence of Syrian involvement in the sarin attack produced by the White House since the bombing raid was called off. My government can't say anything because we have acted so irresponsibly. And since we blamed Assad, we can't go back and blame Erdogan."

Turkey's willingness to manipulate events in Syria to its own purposes seemed to be demonstrated late last month, a few days before a round of local elections, when a recording, allegedly of a government national security meeting, was posted to YouTube. It included discussion of a false-flag operation that would justify an incursion by the Turkish military in Syria. The operation centred on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the revered Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, which is near Aleppo and was ceded to Turkey in 1921, when Syria was under French rule. One of the Islamist rebel factions was threatening to destroy the tomb as a site of idolatry, and the Erdogan administration was publicly threatening retaliation if harm came to it. According to a Reuters report of the leaked conversation, a voice alleged to be Fidan's spoke of creating a provocation: "Now look, my commander, if there is to be justification, the justification is I send four men to the other side. I get them to fire eight missiles into empty land [in the vicinity of the tomb]. That's not a problem. Justification can be created." The Turkish government acknowledged that there had been a national security meeting about threats emanating from Syria, but said the recording had been manipulated. The government subsequently blocked public access to YouTube.

Barring a major change in policy by Obama, Turkey's meddling in the Syrian civil war is likely to go on. "I asked my colleagues if there was any way to stop Erdogan's continued support for the rebels, especially now that it's going so wrong," the former intelligence official told me. "The answer was: "We're screwed." We could go public if it was somebody other than Erdogan, but Turkey is a special case. They're a Nato ally. The Turks don't trust the West. They can't live with us if we take any active role against Turkish interests. If we went public with what we know about Erdogan's role with the gas, it'd be disastrous. The Turks would say: 'We hate you for telling us what we can and can't do.'"
(c) 2014 Seymour Hersh





The Monster On The Hill
By Uri Avnery

THERE IS nothing better than a scandal every week. A juicy scandal excites people, engages the media, takes our minds off matters like war and peace, occupation and apartheid. Like panem et circenses (bread and circuses) in ancient Rome.

This week we had several scandals to occupy us. Ehud Olmert, a former prime minister, was convicted of taking huge bribes when he was the mayor of Jerusalem. He was paid for approving a monstrous building complex on the highest hill of West Jerusalem, visible from a great distance.

As if this was not enough, Sylvan Shalom, a cabinet minister with half a dozen functions, was suspected of sexual assault. A former secretary remembered that 15 years ago he had attacked her in his hotel room.

With such exciting news to deal with, who can spare the time and energy to think about the crisis in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which never really started at all? The public knows well enough that these negotiations are a farce set in motion by an American administration which does not have the guts to stand up to the hirelings of the Israeli government in Congress and impose anything on Binyamin Netanyahu.

INDEED, IF anyone had any illusions about American politics, they were dispelled this week.

The casino mogul, Sheldon Adelson, organized a public display of his power.

He summoned to his Las Vegas betting paradise the four most probable Republican candidates for the next presidential elections, in order to choose one of them. All the invitees heeded the summons, of course.

It was a shameless exhibition. The politicians groveled before the casino lord. Mighty governors of important states did their best to sell themselves like applicants at a job interview. Each of them tried to trump the others in promising to do the Mogul's bidding.

Flanked by Israeli bodyguards, Adelson grilled the American hopefuls. And what was he demanding from the future president of the United States? First of all and above everything else, blind and unconditional obedience to the government of another state:

Israel.

Adelson is one of the richest Jews in the world. He is also a fanatical rightist - not only an American rightist, but also an Israeli one.

While he is now looking for the best American president money can buy, he has already chosen his Israeli stooge. He has done something unprecedented in Israeli history: created an instrument to impose his ultra-right views on the Israeli people.

For this purpose he has invested large sums of money in a daily newspaper of his creation. It is called "Israel Hayom" (Israel today), and is literally priceless: it is distributed for nothing all over the country. Its readership is now the largest in the country, threatening the existence of the former No. 1, "Yedioth Ahronoth" and killing the next one, "Maariv".

The sole purpose of Adelson's paper is to serve Binyamin Netanyahu, personally and politically, unconditionally and unreservedly. This is such a blatant intervention in Israeli politics by a foreign billionaire that it is causing a reaction: all Knesset factions, both rightist and leftist (except the Likud, of course) have signed a demand to put an end to this corruption of democracy.

CURIOUSLY ENOUGH, the Zionist movement was founded in a casino. That was the name of the hall in Basel, Switzerland, where the First Zionist Congress took place in 1897. But it had nothing to do with betting. The Stadtkasino was just a centrally-located hall.

Since then, casinos had become betting places, connected in the public mind with the Mafia. Nowadays they seem to be kosher in the US, though strictly forbidden in Israel.

Las Vegas has now become the capital of American politics. Everything Adelson does is done openly, proudly, shamelessly. I wonder how ordinary Americans react to this spectacle of one billionaire - especially a Jewish one - choosing their next president for them.

We are told that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe and and across the globe. In the crazy mental world of the anti-Semites, Jews control the cosmos. And here we have a Jew, straight out of the pages of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, trying to appoint the ruler of the mightiest country on the planet.

Adelson has failed in the past. Last time, he spent huge sums of money on one hopeless candidate, and then on the winning Republican nominee, who was soundly trounced by Barack Obama, a liberal, black abomination. But nobody can be sure that this will happen again. For Adelson, the slogan could well be: "If money does not work, try more money!"

THE BASIC problem is that the American political process is totally corrupt. There is no other way to put it.

In order to become the nominee of one major party, and then to be elected president, one needs enormous sums of money. Since the major battlefield is TV, and candidates have to pay for it, these sums get bigger and bigger.

It is nice to think that ordinary citizens can raise these sums with their modest donations, but that is an illusion. Donations of these dimensions can only come from the rich, especially from the very, very rich. (Americans don't like this revealing word anymore and speak of "the wealthy". But that is sheer whitewashing.)

The very rich were once called millionaires, then multi-millionaires, and now billionaires. Adelson is a multi-billionaire.

A billionaire does not donate a fortune for a presidential candidate for nothing. That's not how he became a billionaire in the first place. Once he gets his man elected, he demands his pound of flesh, many pounds.

I am told that Adelson wants internet betting to be prohibited, so that ordinary, honest-to-goodness casinos can flourish. But I have no doubt that his right-wing Zionist passions come first. If he succeeds in installing his favorite in the White House, the US will become totally subservient to the extreme right-wing in Israel. He might as well put Netanyahu in the Oval Office. (Now there's an idea! It just needs a small amendment to the constitution. How much can that cost?)

That would have been OK with me, if Adelson really understood anything about the Israeli-Arab conflict. With the typical arrogance of the very rich, he thinks that he does. Yet it seems that he has not the slightest idea about the roots of the conflict, its history and the acute dangers lurking in our future.

If Adelson could dictate our future, it would spell disaster for our country.

OUR OWN political system is not quite as corrupt as the American one, but it is bad enough.

Israeli parties which participate in elections get free TV time according to their size in the last Knesset, with a minimum time reserved for new parties. But that is far from enough for an election campaign.

Parties are limited in the amount of money they may accept from donors and in the amount they are allowed to spend. The state comptroller exercises strict control.

And so we come back to Olmert.

No ambitious politician contents himself with the amounts allowed. Many of them look for tricks to circumvent the comptroller, sometimes reaching the limits of legality, often going beyond. Olmert himself has been suspected several times in the past of using illegal money, but he always succeeded in wriggling out.

Contravening the law in this way is a criminal offence, but in the past, the Israeli public did not really condemn it too vigorously. The general attitude was "politicians will be politicians."

This attitude changed when, for the first time, it appeared that politicians were accepting bribes not for the good of their party, but for the good of themselves. The first major scandal of this kind, uncovered by my magazine in 1976, concerned Asher Yadlin, a Labor Party leader who had just been appointed Governor of the Bank of Israel. It appeared that he took the bribe for himself instead of the party, and went to prison. Since then, many such cases have been uncovered. Several ministers have been sent to prison. One has already served his prison term and is back playing a central role in the Knesset. Ariel Sharon and Avigdor Lieberman escaped from indictments by the skin of their teeth.

(I have already told the story about a former education minister, who was told by a colleague: "Congratulate me! I was acquitted!" To which he drily replied: "Curious. I have never been acquitted!")

Olmert is the latest one, and overshadows all the others because he was a prime minister. The country is shocked. But his long career has been spotted with indictments, from which he was always saved by his lawyers. At first he took money for his election campaigns. Later on he took money for himself.

THERE IS no way to roll back the corruption of the political process in the US - or here - without completely changing the electoral system. As long as huge sums are needed to get elected, corruption will reign supreme.

Until such a reform takes place, the Adelsons and the Olmerts will corrupt democracy.

And the Monster on the Hill in Jerusalem will stand as a warning.
(c) 2014 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom







Charter School Corruption
By Margaret Kimberley

Every injustice in American life can be laid at the feet of the richest people in the country and the politicians who do their bidding. Nowhere is that terrible dynamic more obvious than in the destruction of public education by the charter school system.

The fix is officially in for charter schools in the state of New York. The legislature finished its session by giving these privately funded "public" schools more protection than they have almost anywhere else in the nation. Charter schools are allegedly public schools but that label is nothing more than public relations gimmickry. In March a New York state Supreme Court judge ruled that the comptroller had no standing to audit charter schools because they are educational corporations and not "units of the state." The charter school executives who usually insist that they are running public schools were strangely silent and for once didn't disagree when someone said their schools are not public after all.

Charter schools are a scam inflicted on black and Latino children and are meant to turn education into just another profit center. These schools take public money without being accountable to the public and they are funded by organizations like the Walton Family Foundation of WalMart fame and hedge fund chieftains. There is no data which proves that they provide superior education. They don't have to accept children with special needs and often expel children who are struggling academically because they may bring down the all important test scores they use to justify their access to public dollars.

Bill de Blasio, New York City's newly elected mayor, promised to slow down the process of co-locating schools, shoving charter schools into real public schools and depriving children of physical space and resources. At Public School 149 in East Harlem, special education students will literally not have a place in that school. A Success Academy charter school already in residence is expanding and the disabled children at P.S. 149 will have to be moved elsewhere.

Teachers at charter schools are akin to fast food workers. They are the least experienced and have a high rate of turnover, all of which happens by design. The hedge fund honchos and the Walton Family Foundation want to get rid of the teaching profession and make educators as insecure in their work lives as everyone else in the country.

The protections recently given to New York state charter schools are the result of cynical collusion between governor Andrew Cuomo, big money political donors and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. In the last weeks before he left office in December 2013, Bloomberg co-located an additional 45 new charters into public school buildings. The incoming mayor Bill de Blasio had a rather modest charter school reform agenda. He didn't propose the radical steps that are needed to eradicate them, instead choosing only to ask that they pay rent for taking up public school space. He even approved 17 of the new co-location plans.

But the big money people were having none of it. They worked with the nominally Democratic Cuomo to make sure that charter schools would continue to take over as many public school buildings as they want and not pay one penny in rent. Not only that but they conspired to get even more funds for charter schools from the state budget.

Cuomo is running for re-election in November 2014 and depends on campaign donations from people like Daniel Loeb, founder of Third Point hedge fund and chairman of Success Academies charter schools. Together they and others developed a lobbying effort which demolished any hope of the small reforms de Blasio proposed. A previously little known group, Families for Excellent Schools, appeared on the scene with more than three million dollars worth of advertising featured black and latino parents making the case for charters. Families for Excellent Schools is certainly not made up of any New York City families. Its offices share an address with the infamous Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst organization.

It was obvious very quickly that the mayor's little nod to protecting public education was no match for big money and his nemesis in the governor's office. When Success Academy charters closed all twenty of its schools for one day, and brought 7,000 parents and children to a rally in the state capital, it was clear that they had won the day.

Kenneth Langone is the founder of Home Depot and chairman of Promise Academies. He is a Republican who nonetheless contributed $50,000 to Cuomo's last campaign. "He said that when the governor asked him to lead a group of Republicans supporting his re-election, he agreed because of Mr. Cuomo's support for charter schools. 'Every time I am with the governor, I talk to him about charter schools,' Mr. Langone said in an interview. 'He gets it.'"

Cuomo gets to stay in office because Langone, Loeb and others like them keep him there. It is impossible to run a viable campaign for governor of New York state without raising at least $30 million. That means the rich will have access to promote charter schools or anything else they are interested in seeing come to fruition.

At the end of the day in New York state, charter schools and their wealthy backers got a very good deal. They not only won't pay any rent for using public school space, but they can force the city to pay if they end up leasing space. They will also get a larger share of funds over the next three years, $250 per pupil in the first year, $350 in the second year and $500 in the third year.

As the saying goes, de Blasio got his head handed to him. More importantly however, the hopes for good public education have been dashed by the evil nexus of money and political ambition. It is unfortunate that the real families for excellent schools have again gotten the shaft. In the charter school business as in every other field, money talks and everything else walks. Education has now been brought down to the level of every other institution in American society and that is a sad turn of events.
(c) 2014 Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley@BlackAgendaReport.Com.







The US-Russia Ukrainian Deal
By Pepe Escobar

By the time you read this Russia will have invaded Ukraine. Well, that's what the Supreme Allied Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, is spinning. Breedlove Supreme says the Russians are "ready to go" and could easily take over eastern Ukraine. Western corporate media have already dusted off their Kevlar vests.

Now compare Breedlove Supreme with a grown-up diplomat, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who has called on NATO to please de-escalate the "unreasonable" warmongering rhetoric, which also includes officially ending all civilian and military cooperation with Russia and planning more military moves in Eastern Europe.

While NATO - shorthand for the Pentagon's European division - freaks out, especially via its outgoing secretary-general, Danish patsy Anders Fogh Rasmussen, let's see where we really stand on the ground, based on leaks from both Lavrov's and US Secretary of State John Kerry's camps.

The heart of the matter - obscured by a rainbow bridge of hysteria - is that neither Washington nor Moscow want Ukraine to become a festering wound. Moscow told Washington, officially, it has no intention of "invading" Ukraine. And Washington told Moscow that, for all the demented rhetoric, it does not want to expand NATO to either Ukraine or Georgia.

Whatever Washington's actions, they won't convince the Kremlin the putsch in Kiev was not orchestrated in large part by goons allied to Kaghanate of Nulands - aka US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nulands. At the same time, the Kremlin knows time is on its side - so it would be totally counterproductive to even contemplate "invading" eastern Ukraine.

Compound the vicious catfight among dodgy factions in Kiev, from fascists to Saint Yulia "Kill all the Russians" Timoschenko; Gazprom raising the price of natural gas by 80%; and the International Monetary Fund about to unleash some nasty structural adjustment that will make Greece look like Cinderella playing in a rose garden, and all that Moscow needs to do is sit back, relax and watch the (internal) carnage.

The same applies for the Baltics - which, as NATO hysteria would have it, might be invaded next week. As the Baltics are part of NATO, then we would really have the Brussels Robocops going ballistic. Yet only trademark arrogant/ignorant neo-cons believe Moscow will break complex political/trade relationships with Europe - especially Germany - risking a hot war over the Baltics. The Germans don't want a hot or cold war either. Even in the extremely unlikely event that would happen, what would macho, macho NATO do, under Pentagon's orders? Invade Russian territory?

That does not even qualify as a lousy joke.

By the way, as bad jokes ago, it's hard to top Olli Rehn, vice president of the Kafkaesque European Commission, stressing that "in the interests to maintain peace and stability on our continent" the European Union is part of the 11 billion euro (US$15 billion) IMF/disaster capitalism package to plunder, sorry, "help" Ukraine, and this while EU citizens are unemployed and/or thrown into poverty by the millions.

As for Berlin's top priority, that is to at least try to steer the EU out of an almighty crash, which implies keeping the equally economically devastated Club Med and Central Europe on board while fighting off the rise and rise of nasty, "normalized" neofascism. "Massive undertaking" does not even begin to describe it. Why add a confrontation with Moscow to this indigestible bouillabaisse?

New axis in the house

Moral high ground epiphanies such as this Guardian editorial ("he gained a peninsula but lost a country") are pointless. Same for minion Poland freaking out and asking for more "protection" from the Brussels mafia.

Predictably, Western corporate media is spinning Putin "blinked" when he phoned US President Barack Obama to try to set up a solution package - which includes, crucially, a federalization of Ukraine. The Obama administration - even staffed by astounding mediocrities - knows this is the only rational way ahead. And no amount of "pressure" will bend Moscow. Those go-go days of imposing whatever whim over serial drunkard Boris Yeltsin are long gone. At the same time, Moscow is a realist player - fully aware that the only possible solution for Ukraine has to be worked out with Washington.

So Ukraine is essentially a detail - and "Europe" is no more than a helpless bystander. Who are you gonna call in "Europe"? That Magritte-style nonentity European Council President Herman Van Rompuy? Anyone who's been to Brussels knows that "Europe" remains a glorified collection of principalities bickering in a smatter of languages. Machiavelli would easily recognize it as such.

To top if off, the Obama administration has no clue what it wants in Ukraine. A "constitutional democracy"? Moscow might even agree with that, while knowing, based on rows and rows of historical/cultural reasons, it's bound to be a failure. The red line though has been spelled out over and over again: no NATO bases in Ukraine.

Rational players in Washington - a certified minority - certainly have noticed that if you don't play ball with Moscow, Russia will play very hard ball within the framework of the P5+1 (the UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany) negotiations on the Iranian nuclear dossier.

Only the blind won't see that Moscow and Tehran are evolving towards a closer strategic partnership as much as Moscow and Beijing. There's a real strategic geopolitical axis in the house - Moscow-Beijing-Tehran - and the whole developing world has already noticed that's where the real action is. But as far as Ukraine is concerned, the stark fact is this is all about the US and Russia.
(c) 2014 Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times. His latest book is "Obama Does Globalistan." He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com







Freaky Stories From April Fool's Day

On a recent morning, after checking news reports, I thought: What a freaky news day.

Freaky Story Number One was about the Governor of Texas, who rarely has any ideas, but apparently one had unexpectedly erupted from the usually dormant cluster of low-voltage brain cells in the head of Rick Perry. The headline on the story says the Guv had declared to the entire nation: "Bring us nuclear waste."

Bizarre. While any quasi-sane governor would be trying to protect the state, its people, and future generations from the highly radioactive detritus of the nuclear power industry - here was Gov. Goober waving in the waste. This is the same governor who adamantly rejected federal dollars to provide health coverage for millions of uninsured Texans. It seems that his health care plan is for each poor family to put a cask of nuclear waste in their closet.

Freaky Story Number Two was about the formation of a Partnership for a New American Economy. Great - at last we'll get moving on conversion to the green economy, infrastructure expansion, and re-investment in middle class jobs! Oh, come on - stop making sense. This "new economy" bunch turns out to be hyping more of the old low-wage economy. It's made up of fast-food chains, agribusiness outfits, and other operators that want Congress to create a steady stream of cheap, immigrant laborers to exploit.

Finally, Freaky Story Number Three was about the plan of congressional Republicans to help the rising number of poor people by effectively eliminating the federal food stamp program. How does that "help," you might wonder? The lead pusher of the plan explains that it "empowers recipients to get off the aid rolls."

All this freakiness was in the news on April Fool's Day - but none of it was a joke. Now that's really freaky.
(c) 2014 Jim Hightower's latest book, "If The Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates," is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.








DC Has Two Team Names To Change
By David Swanson

Two professional sports teams in Washington, D.C., have intolerable names: the Redskins and the Nationals.

The Redskins name is disgusting racism that recalls the nation's original genocidal sin, a crime that carries over to today's naming of weapons and operations after various Native Americans and treating other groups of people as valueless.

But I for one find it easier to imagine a crowd of Redskins fans as ignorant and oblivious -- which is really the best you can hope to imagine a crowd to be. They aren't consciously advocating genocide. Most of them have never stopped to think how they would respond as a white minority to a team called The Fighting Whities, but they also aren't thinking about racial superiority. They're thinking "I want OUR team to beat the other team," and having identified themselves with the team, they just accept its name like they accept their own names regardless of how evil King David or whomever they're named for was.

The Nationals, on the other hand, are part of the promotion of the worst crimes our society is currently engaged in. A National's game is packed, inning after inning, with songs and cheers and announcements promoting war. Fans are told that the U.S. Navy is "keeping the world's oceans safe and free" -- and they stand and cheer for that, even as the U.S. Navy and Army and Air Force and Marines and assorted special forces and mercenaries and CIA kill, and kill, and kill, building hostility around the world.

"I'm proud to be an American because at least I know I'm free," they hear and sing. How do they know they're free? How does an ocean know it's free? What in the world are they talking about? This nation lacks civil liberties and human rights found elsewhere, and we lose more rights with every war. Where's our Fourth Amendment? Our First Amendment? Where are Roosevelt's freedoms from fear and want? Polluting the world's oceans with death machines that launch missiles into people's houses doesn't make us or the fish or the people murdered "free."

Can we imagine Nationals' fans as oblivious? Do they not know that the world doesn't appreciate being kept "free"? Do they suppose that wars really benefit people? Do they not know what was done to Iraq? Maybe, but I for one find it a greater strain to imagine. The uniformed killers are right there, being honored, singing songs. And the team is named for the concept that 5% of humanity should be identified with over the other 95%. There's not an enlightened way to do that, and as long as we imagine there to be we'll remain as ignorant and destructive as jackasses who paint their faces red and stick feathers on their heads to go to football games. In fact, we might be worse.
(c) 2014 David Swanson is the author of "War Is A Lie."








Nuclear Horrors That Don't Go Away
By James Donahue

The nuclear power plant disasters at Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011 have taken their toll in lives and envionmental destruction. Both sites stand today as gruesome marks on the landscape. Many people might think that such disasters are now behind us, that we have learned our lesson, and that it won't happen again.

Unfortunately, both disasters are still occurring, their impact on the planet is yet to be fully understood, and humanity is still living under the threat of even more potential horrors because of our refusal to quit tampering with nuclear power.

Currently there are 435 nuclear power plants still operating in 31 countries and another 72 plants are under construction. The Obama Administration supports the construction of even more nuclear power plants in the United States as an alternative to plants operating on carbon fuels.

Many of the nation's warships, especially the submarine fleet, are operating on nuclear power.

At least nine world nations possess an arsenal of nuclear bombs and other nuclear weapons. They include the United States, Russia, England, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and possibly North Korea. Iran is believed to be attempting to join this group.

After U.S. forces struck Japan with two small atomic bombs at the end of World War II, the world is bitterly aware of the horrors expelled by such weapons. The nations now in possession of these bombs now play a deadly game of cat and mouse with the world living under the threat of possible annihilation from this ultimate of all wars.

And while we worry about the bombs, we continue to build nuclear power facilities and argue at the United Nations over who gets to possess nuclear bombs while the results of the melt-downs of those wrecked power plants at Chernobyl and Fukushima still creap across the landscape. Researchers who study the impact those disasters are having on our world warn that the full effect of the radiation is yet to be known.

At the Chernobyl site, for example, the effect of the lingering radiation has stunted the growth of trees and plants, animals are smaller with smaller brains, and they frequently show physical deformities. A dead pine forest nearby has turned red but is not decaying, nor are the leaves falling from the hardwood trees.

Scientists have found, some 25 years after the disaster, that the fallout of radiation is still affecting the natural cycle of life. The insects, microbes and bacteria that usually feed on and carry out a natural recycling process of biology is no longer working. Thus the autumn leaves are piling up on the forest floor and the dead pine trees are not going away.

This breakdown of the natural order of nature is shutting out the basic nutrients in the soil and preventing new growth.

The Oecologia paper, produced by a biological team headed by Timothy Mousseau, notes that the increase in dry leaves and dead standing pine trees is a collection of fuel for yet another nuclear diseaster. There is risk of a potential fire here. If it happens, the fire could release the nuclear isotopes now trapped inside the trees and send them flying into an even wider area, depending on how the winds are blowing.

The Fukushima disaster is still an ongoing issue. Workers there are still involved in removing tons of nuclear fuel rods from leaking elevated storage tanks before they overheat and go into nuclear meltdown. Millions of gallons of contaminated water being used to cool those rods, are finding their way into the Pacific Ocean and the North American coast.

As it is at Chernobyl, the toxic waters are affecting all of the sea life, from whales to the tiny creatures that work to recycle biological material. Thus the poison of radiation is not going away. The natural ocean currents are carrying the deadly nuclear isotopes all around the world. It is only a matter of time before the impact of this part of the Japan disaster begins to be felt.

Some scientists warn that if the Fukushima nuclear rods go into meltdown, the disaster could threaten life as we know it all over the world, and especially in the northern hemisphere.

Dr. Helen M. Caldicott, Australian author and anti-nuclear advocate, recently wrote: "Hazardous radioactive elements being released in the sea and air around Fukushima accumulate at each step of various food chains. Entering the body, these elements - called internal emitters - migrate to specific organs such as the thyroid, liver, bone and brain, continuously irradiating small volumes of cells with high doses of alpha, beta and/or gamma radiation, and over many years often induce cancer."

Can we stop the insanity or is it already too late to save humanity from its own foolishness?
(c) 2014 James L. Donahue is a retired newspaper reporter, editor and columnist with more than 40 years of experience in professional writing. He is the published author of five books, all dealing with Michigan history, and several magazine articles. He currently produces daily articles for this web site.




U.S. Representative Walter Jones (L) in his Capitol Hill office in Washington, DC.



Wall Street Targets GOP Critic Of Big Money And Big Banks For Primary Defeat
By John Nichols

Across the country, at the grassroots level, Republicans have formed alliances with Democrats to demand that the influence of money in our politics be reduced. As the reform group Free Speech for People noted last year, dozens of Republican legislators have backed calls by states for a Constitutional amendment to overturn not just the Citizens United ruling but other barriers to the regulation of money in politics. With backing from third-party and independent legislators, as well, the passage of the state resolutions highlights what the group refers to as "a growing trans-partisan movement...calling for the US Supreme Court's misguided decision in Citizens United v. FEC (2010) to be overturned, through one or more amendments to the US Constitution."

In Washington, however, Republican reformers are harder to come by-as was evidenced by the celebrations of the Supreme Court's McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling by GOP congressional leaders. Leaving no doubt about his faith that those with the most money get to speak the loudest in our elections, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, hailed the Court's decision to strike down limits on aggregated campaign donations by wealthy Americans with an announcement that "freedom of speech is being upheld." At the same time, one of the attorneys who argued for elimination of the cap on aggregate donations said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell-who Kentucky media noted "filed an amicus brief on the McCutcheon v. FEC case as a part of his continued crusade against campaign finance reform"-had been "extremely helpful" in pushing the court to go even further than McCutcheon's legal team had initially proposed.

Yet, despite Boehner's enthusiasm and McConnell's ambition, the party leaders do not speak for every Republican in Washington.

Three years ago, Congressman Walter Jones, R-North Carolina, signed on as a co-sponsor of one of several proposals to amend the constitution in order to renew the power of the people and their elected representatives to regulate money in politics. More recently, he co-sponsored a proposal by Congressman Jim Yarmuth, D-Kentucky, to develop public financing for congressional elections. Jones is on board with Government By the People Act of 2014, a "matching-funds" plan offered by Congressman John Sarbanes, D-Maryland. And he is the only Republican co-sponsor of the Empowering Citizens Act, a plan by Congressman David Price, D-North Carolina, to renew the public financing system for presidential elections.

On his own, Jones has sponsored legislation to bar the use of political funds for personal purposes.

What is Jones thinking? "I think Citizens United was one of the worst decisions by the Supreme Court in my adult lifetime," the congressman said last year. "In Washington, the problem is that the leadership in both parties-and I want to be fair about that: both parties-seem to like the system the way it is... When the Democrats were in the majority, it was very difficult for those [reform] Democrats to get the bills moving on their own side. And on my side, it's almost like it's a dead issue, which disappoints me greatly as a Republican. Now, I will work this year, across party lines, to reform the campaign laws of our nation."

Like many of the most progressive reformers in the country, the conservative congressman speaks specifically about the link between special-interest influence on elections and political dysfunction in Washington. "If we want to change Washington and return power to the citizens of this nation, we have to change the way campaigns are financed," he says. "The status quo is dominated by deep-pocketed special interests, and that's simply unacceptable to the American people."

Congressman Jones is noting something that too many DC insiders, be they Republicans or Democrats, members of Congress or pundits, fail to recognize: millions of Americans are already engaged on this issue. Support for real reform is widespread, crossing lines of partisan and ideological division. Sixteen states and more than 500 communities have called for amendments with varied language but one point: that "based on the American value of fair play, leveling the playing field and ensuring that all citizens, regardless of wealth, have an opportunity to have their political views heard, there is a valid rationale for regulating political spending."

Now, however, Jones faces a Republican primary challenge from a classic Washington power player, Taylor Griffin, a former aide to the campaigns of George W. Bush and John McCain who has been a consultant for big banks and trade groups and who put in a stint as the senior vice president for the Financial Services Forum, the DC voice of some of the biggest Wall Street banks. "[No] matter how he casts himself," writes Politico, "Griffin is an insider."

Griffin's gripe with Jones appears to be that the veteran congressman is too independent-minded. And it is true that Jones breaks rank with party orthodoxy. For instance, he has been one of the most outspoken critics of US military adventurism, often working with Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-California, on issues of war and peace. This has put him at odds with the Bush and Obama administrations, and more recently with House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, whose 2013 budget Jones said was too lavish in its funding of wars. But Jones is hardly a left-winger. He echoes the "old-right" language of conservative icons such as former Ohio Senator Robert Taft Sr. and former Nebraska Congressman Howard Buffett, and of some younger libertarian-leaning House members such as Michigan Republican Justin Amash.

What really bugs Griffin and his DC backers is that Jones does not follow the party line when it comes to doing Wall Street's bidding. For the past decade, he's been one of the steadiest congressional critics of free-trade agreements; and he recently joined twenty-one of his House Republican colleagues in expressing; opposition to "Fast Track" Trade Promotion Authority. And he's been a steady critic of big banks, opposing bailouts, supporting regulation and arguing with Congressman Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, and others for the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act that separated commercial and investment banking. Those stances undoubtedly played a role in getting Jones kicked off the House Financial Services Committee in Speaker John Boehner's purge of so-called rebellious Republicans."

Now Jeff Connaughton, the former Senate aide who wrote the book The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins, suggests that Jones's independence has earned him a challenge from Griffin in the May 6 Republican primary. "I doubt anyone in North Carolina needs me to point out this is a Wall Street bank hit job," says Connaughton, who helped frame the fight for the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulation law.

Bloomberg reports: "JPMorgan Chase (JPM) & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) are lining up behind Jones' primary challenger, Taylor Griffin, an aide in President George W. Bush's Treasury Department who later worked for groups that advocated in Washington for the biggest financial services companies." Former Republican National Committee chairman and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a top lobbyist, is a Griffin donor, as is former Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Indeed, observes Politico, Griffin has had a cash influx from some of the most high-profile Republican lobbyists in Washington.

That's helped Griffin get competitive with Jones, a rare accomplishment for a primary challenger. And as the May 6 election approaches, Griffin's got the connections to bring in a lot more money. Like Mitch McConnell, he is a classic example of a candidate who could benefit in a very big way from the Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings.

Walter Jones will have a harder time tapping top Wall Street donors than Taylor Griffin-in no small part because of the incumbent's record of saying "no" to the banks.

Most members of Congress have a hard time saying "no" not just to bankers but to big money in general. That's one of the reasons why Jones has advocated for both financial services reform and political reform. The two go together. Indeed, in this era of Citizens United and McCutcheon, the measure of political independence must begin with a willingness to address the influence of money on our elections. It is Jones's recognition of that fact that has made him a conservative advocate for reform. He understands that some truths go beyond partisanship and ideology, and the first of these is that, "If we want to change Washington and return power to the citizens of this nation, we have to change the way campaigns are financed."
(c) 2014 John Nichols writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent. His new book on protests and politics, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street, has just been published by Nation Books. Follow John Nichols on Twitter @NicholsUprising.




Iraqi civilians are seen through the broken window of an automobile destroyed in a car
bomb explosion that killed more than 20 in Baghdad's northern Qahirah neighborhood last month.




The Crucible Of Iraq
By Chris Hedges

"The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq," by Hassan Blasim, is the most important book to come out of the Iraq War. Blasim, whom I met with last week in Princeton, N.J., has a faultless eye for revealing detail, a ribald black humor and a psychological brilliance that makes every story in his book a depth charge. In this collection of short stories he explores through fiction the culture of violence unleashed under the bloody dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and exacerbated by an American occupation that has destroyed the damaged social cohesion and civil life that survived Saddam's regime. His prose, courtesy of a brilliant translation by Jonathan Wright, is lyrical, taut and riveting.

Militarism and violence are diseases. It does not matter under what guise they appear. Renegade jihadists, Shiite death squads, Sunni militias, Saddam's Baathists and secret police, Kurdish Peshmerga rebels, al-Qaida cells, gangs of kidnappers and the U.S. Army 101st Airborne are all infected with the same virus. And it is a virus Blasim fearlessly inspects. By the end of this short-story collection the reader grasps, in a way no soldier's memoir or journalistic account from Iraq can explicate, the crucible of war and the unmitigated horror of violence itself. The book is a masterpiece.

"When I was 6, during my first year at school, the Iran-Iraq War erupted,"

Blasim told me in a mixture of English and Arabic. "We were living in Kirkuk. We were taught in school to draw tanks or the face of Ayatollah Khomeini as the enemy. The city of Kirkuk was beautiful. There were flowers everywhere. But we were never taught the names of the flowers. Even today I do not know the names of these flowers. I tried to learn their names as an adult."

"There was a culture of violence that predated the occupation," he said. "Our teachers would hit us during class. When we went home we saw fathers abusing mothers. We were taught math and science, but we were not taught how to ask philosophical or critical questions. In this sense, we were never really educated. We were not taught the fundamentals of human relationships. Violence became part of the Iraqi personality. The American occupation, however, has made this internal and external violence worse. The Americans destroyed the remnants of our culture, banished those among us who were struggling to create a space to think, to help us use our imaginations, to transform our society peacefully. Even under the dictatorship we had some semblance of a civic life. It was not perfect, but people were learning. You could see change. But when the Americans came and opened the border to these jihadists from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran, what happened? They gave the country to Iran. We are going backwards. There is a [prospective] Islamic law in Iraq that will permit a man to marry a 9-year-old girl. Iraq once had a strong civil law for marriage. It is not just that American soldiers come and kill. That is horrible enough. You have to ask what will happen to the children growing up around this violence. Iraq has been destroyed. The Iraqi soul has been disfigured."

As a boy Blasim witnessed public executions, a memory he captures in his story "The Song of the Goats." Three young Kurds, in the story, are tied to wooden stakes near a soccer field and shot. Blasim writes: "Before they did it, they announced over the loudspeakers, 'These people are traitors and terrorists who do not deserve to eat from the bounty of this land or drink its water or breathe its air.' As usual the Baathists took the bodies and left the stakes in place to remind everyone of what had happened." Boys take the three stakes, which bear dried blood, to make goal posts. One of them says, "We're still missing one goal post. Maybe they'll execute another one and we can have the stake." The father of one of the boys, when he hears this, weeps.

Violence becomes part of the landscape. "The days passed slowly and sadly, like the miserable face of the country," Blasim writes in his story "A Thousand and One Knives." "The wars and the violence were like a photocopier churning out copies, and we all wore the same face, a face shaped by pain and torment. We fought for every morsel we ate, weighed down by the sadness and the fears generated by the unknown and the known."

War spawns a peculiar, bizarre culture that Blasim lays out with precision. After the fall of the old regime, Iraqis line up to participate in a radio show, "Their Stories in Their Own Voices," in which survivors tell their tales of horror and suffering. Some in the crowd belittle those whose stories are not lurid enough. The hierarchy of suffering, part of the dark pathology of war, entices victims to retreat into personal inner sanctums of misery and to sanctify their own victimhood. The sanctification of victimhood allows them to dismiss the suffering of those outside their ethnic or familial group. This process is used to justify acts of indiscriminate violence carried out in the name of vengeance.

At the radio show, itinerant cigarette vendors and pickpockets work the crowd in the midst of this orgy of pain. "I personally had more than twenty stories teeming in my memory about my long years of captivity in Iran," the narrator thinks. "I was confident that at least one of them would really be the clincher in the competition." A young woman tells how her husband, a policeman, was kidnapped by an Islamic group. His killers returned his body decomposed and decapitated. A woman, close to 90, waves her hand in derision and mutters, "That's a story? If I told my story to a rock, it would break its heart."

One radio show contestant "was a teacher who went to the police one day to report on a neighbor who was trading in antiquities stolen from the National Museum," Blasim writes. "The police thanked him for his cooperation. The teacher, his conscience relieved, went back to his school. The police submitted a report to the Ministry of Defense that the teacher's house was an al Qaeda hideout. The police were in partnership with the antiquities smuggler. The Ministry of Defense sent the report to the U.S. Army, who bombed the teacher's house by helicopter. His wife, his four children, and his elderly mother were killed. The teacher escaped with his life, but he suffered brain damage and lost his arms."

Executioners, as Blasim writes, view themselves as professionals, even artists. Killing, among these self-professed professionals, has to be done with finesse. A corpse has to be displayed, as Blasim points out in his first story, "The Corpse Exhibition," in order to send a message. In the story the master of killing is a famous mortician who "was truly a great artist," one "in charge of the truth and creativity department." He earned his reputation throughout the country because he skillfully put dismembered and mutilated bodies back together. The "people sought him out to patch together the bodies of their children and other relatives who were torn apart in explosions and random killings. They would pay handsomely to have him restore their children to the appearances by which they originally knew them." And when the mortician kills he does so with flair that sets him apart. After a young recruit cannot find the nerve to kill a victim, the mortician drugs his trainee and skins him alive. He hangs the skin in front of the gate of the Ministry of Justice "like a flag of victory."

The book, in probing the culture of war, uses surrealism to explain the surrealism of war itself. A policeman, killed in a suicide bombing in the story "Crosswords," inhabits the body of a survivor. The dead policeman soon takes "control of his being." The survivor hears the voice of the policeman in his head. The two men argue and fight. The survivor stops making love to his wife because he "has the impression that he was sleeping with her along with another man, and the policeman groaned and wailed like a crazed cat."

In "The Iraqi Christ," a waiter mixes the names of the specials of the day with "the names of daily instruments of slaughter." The customers laugh. The waiter calls out orders such as: "One explosive, mind-blowing, gut-wrenching kebab. One fragmentation stew. Two ballistic rice and beans." Boyhood games include running after automobiles transporting dead soldiers in coffins strapped to the roofs.

Marwan and I would chase coffins. We would wait for them to reach the turn off the main road. The [Iran-Iraq] war was in its fourth year by this point. The coffins were wrapped in the flag and tied firmly to the tops of cars that came from the front. We wanted to be like grown-ups who, when a coffin passed, would stand and raise their hands solemnly and sadly. We would salute the dead like they did. But when a death car turned a corner, we would race after it down the muddy lanes. The driver would have to slow down so that the coffin didn't fall off. Then the car would choose the door of a sleeping house, and stop in front of it. When the women of the house came out they would scream and throw themselves in the pools of mud and spatter their hair with it. We would hurry to tell our mothers whose house the death car had stopped outside. My mother would always reply, "Go and wash your face," or "Go to Umm Ali next door and ask her if she has a little spice mixture to spare." And in the evening my mother would go and mourn with the local women in the dead man's house, slapping her face and weeping."

An ambulance driver in "The Reality and the Record" is kidnapped and sold from one extremist group to the next. He is forced to produce jihadist videos.

Throughout the year and a half of my kidnapping experience, I was moved from one hiding place to another. They shot video of me talking about how I was a treacherous Kurd, an infidel Christian, a Saudi Terrorist, a Syrian Baathist intelligence agent, or a Revolutionary Guard from Zoroastrian Iran. On these videotapes I murdered, raped, started fires, planted bombs, and carried out crimes that no sane person would even imagine. All these tapes were broadcast on satellite channels around the world. Experts, journalists, and politicians sat there discussing what I said and did. The only bad luck we ran into was when we made a video in which I appeared as a Spanish soldier, with a resistance fighter holding a knife to my neck, demanding Spanish forces withdraw from Iraq. All the satellite stations refused to broadcast the tape because Spanish forces had left the country a year earlier.

The mistake almost sees him killed, but he redeems himself in the eyes of his kidnappers when he is dressed up as an Afghan fighter with five men standing behind him. Six men are brought in "screaming and crying out for help from God, his Prophet, and the Prophet's family." The men are slaughtered in front of him as he announces before the camera that he is "the new leader of the al Qaeda organization in Mesopotamia."

When violence is that random and capricious, everyone-and those of us who were war correspondents were not immune to this-becomes deeply superstitious. You believe in signs, totems, vague premonitions, dreams, opaque messages or warnings or ritualistic habits, as if you can do something to ward off the slaughter around you and control fate. In the story "The Iraqi Christ" a Christian soldier named Daniel is stationed with his company in the front lines in the war against the Americans in Kuwait. Daniel, whom the other soldiers call "Chewgum Christ," for his habit of always chewing gum, has bodily premonitions that warn him of attacks. The soldiers, enduring daily saturation bombing from American B-52 bombers and cruise missiles, cling to him like a life raft. When Daniel climbs out of a trench to lie in the shade of a water tank the soldiers follow him "as if he were a shield against missiles." Three bombs hit the trench 35 minutes later.

"In Daniel's company the war played out like the plot of a cartoon," Blasim writes. "In the blink of an eye, reality lost cohesion. It fell apart and you started to hallucinate. What could one make, for example, of the way a constant itching in Daniel's crotch foretold that an American helicopter would crash on the headquarters building? Is it credible that three successive sneezes from Daniel could foretell a devastating rocket attack? They fired at us from the sea. We soldiers were like sheep, fighting comic book wars."

In the story "The Hole," a thief fleeing gunmen falls into a hole near the Natural History Museum in Baghdad and discovers a decrepit old man living next to the body of a Russian soldier who "fell in the forest during the winter war between Russia and Finland." The old man lived in Baghdad during the ancient Abbasid caliphate and, after he had supervised the hanging of lanterns in the streets at that time, criminals angered by the illumination chased him into the hole. Those who fall into the hole, he tells the thief, learn "how to find out about events of the past, the present, and the future."

"Are you with the government or the opposition?" the thief asks the old man.

"I'm with your mother's cunt," he answers.

"I'm speaking your language, man!" the old man says. "But you can't speak my language, because I was in the hole before you. But you'll speak the language of the next person who falls in."

In ordered European societies, immigrants desperately trying to survive as exiles, straining to fit into an alien culture and speak an alien language, soon discover they are forever bound to this wheel of fire. That experience, too, is one the author knows intimately.

Blasim, 40, short and stocky and with a graying beard, is a poet and a filmmaker in addition to being an author. It took him four years to get from Iraq to Finland, where he has lived since 2004. He was smuggled out of Iraq and lived miserably as an undocumented worker in Turkey and Bulgaria, where he lost a finger while working illegally in a restaurant. Like most exiles, he is haunted by what those around him cannot comprehend. "There are disguised moments of sadness that hide in various clothes and smells," he writes. His work, because it eviscerates all who wield the weapons of violence and because it is written in raw street slang and colloquial Arabic rather than the formal, classical Arabic of the educated classes, was banned in Jordan and heavily censored in Lebanon. He said most exiles never adjust. Some turn with venom on Western culture and retreat into hatred and radical Islam. Others desperately attempt to assimilate into the new culture, learning its language and customs, cursing the backwardness of their homeland and often changing their names to mask their Arab identity. The two sets of exiles split into antagonistic groups, he said. "It is hard to find balance."

The last three stories are about exile. In "That Inauspicious Smile" an Iraqi cannot wipe a grin off his face and is beaten by a group of neo-Nazis. In "The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes" a man wears a silver ring he took off the severed finger of a victim of a truck bombing in Iraq. When he arrives as a refugee in Holland he consults his cousin in France by phone about his changing his Arabic name. His cousin tells him: "You're quite right. It's a hundred times better to be from Senegal or China than it is to have an Arab name in Europe. But you couldn't possibly have a name like Jack or Stephen-I mean a European name. Perhaps you should choose a brown name-a Cuban or Argentine name that would suit your complexion, which is the color of burnt barley bread." His cousin finds the name Carlos Fuentes in a newspaper "literary article of which he did not understand much" and suggests it to him. He changes his name to Carlos Fuentes. Fuentes learns flawless Dutch and "always scoffed at the immigrants and other foreigners who did not respect the rules of Dutch life and who complained all the time. He calls them 'retarded gerbils.' " He finds a Dutch girlfriend who "weighed two hundred pounds and had childlike features like a cartoon character." But then the "dream problem" begins. In his dreams he forgets his Dutch and "a group of children in the poor district where he was born [are] running after him and making fun of his new name." One night he dreams "he had planted a car bomb in the center of Amsterdam." He consults books and magazines on dreams, including Erich Fromm's "The Forgotten Language," which he says is "pure bullshit." He begins to alter "his eating and sleeping habits and when he went into and came out of the bathroom." "Fuentes would sit at the table chewing each piece of food like a camel, because he had read that chewing it well helps to get rid of nightmares." He eats a lot of chicken because "eating the fowl of the air might bring about dreams that were happier and more liberated." The nightmares continue. He begins to perform "mysterious secret rituals" such as dyeing his hair and his toenails green and sleeping on his stomach repeating obscure words. "One night he painted his face like an American Indian, slept wearing diaphanous orange pajamas, and put under his pillow three feathers taken from various birds."

Blasim, like his characters, endures the covert racism of supposedly post-racial societies. Liberal white Europeans and Americans, he says, regard racism as wrong but continue to unconsciously express racist impulses. Blasim, for example, was reading a book in a subway car when an older woman next to him asked if it was in Arabic. "It is beautiful script," she told him. "The writing goes from right to left, doesn't it?" He nodded. "Are you reading the Koran?" she asked. "No," he said, "Kafka."

He described to me his ordeal of getting a visa so he could go to the United States to give readings. At the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki he had to pass through a security gantlet. When he eventually arrived before a woman behind a bulletproof window, she asked him the address he would be staying at in the U.S. He did not remember. When he said he would get the information from his bag, she shouted, "Don't move!" "I felt I was back in Iraq. The U.S. Army does not need a visa to go to Iraq. No one invites them. They arrive with guns. But if you are a writer and try to go to America with an invitation from your publisher you are nothing because you are an Iraqi."

Blasim is as haunted by violence as his characters. He dedicates the story "Crosswords" to three friends who were killed or committed suicide. The cruelty and mayhem he witnessed drive him to create, to write and to film, he said. "I am always under stress," he said before stepping outside for another cigarette, away from the hotel lobby where we were seated at a coffee table. The trauma visits him at night, too. "I have the same dream, over and over," he said. "It is this. I am in Iraq. I am leaving the house. My mother asks if I have my identification card. I know why. If you are an Iraqi and you are picked up without your ID it is a huge problem. I studied art and film in college. I worked at the time at the reception desk of a hotel. One day I was smoking by the door and the secret police showed up and asked for my ID. I gave it to them. I told them I studied art and film. They told me it was a fake. I told them to call the college. They looked at me. 'Who are you?' they shouted. 'You think we are going to call your college?' I swore and said, 'Then how can I prove it is not a fake?" They were furious. They threw me into an army prison for a week with army deserters. They were torturing these deserters with hoses and water. A week later they released me."

Hallucinations merge with reality in wartime. Your eyes and memory play tricks on you. You experience things and then wonder if you experienced them. Morality is turned upside down. Killers prey on the weak, the vulnerable and the innocent in the name of God or the state or some twisted ethnic loyalty. Murderers and assassins are rich and powerful statesmen. American soldiers blow up houses on a whim, obliterating entire families. Death is a lucrative industry. You lose your footing. You peer in the terrifying possibilities of human evil. You struggle to give words to it.

"When you tell them these stories," Blasim writes in "The Composer," "after a time they think the stories are figments of imagination. Take our neighbor in the market, for example: Abu Sadiq, who sells onions. When he now tells his story about the battle with the Iranians at the River Jassim, it sounds like a Hollywood horror story he made up."
(c) 2014 Chris Hedges, the former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times, spent seven years in the Middle East. He was part of the paper's team of reporters who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of global terrorism. He is the author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His latest book is, ""Death Of The Liberal Class."








Documents Show Gogo Boasted Of Helping Law Enforcement Agencies Spy On In-Flight Wifi
By David Sirota

We already know that there's almost nowhere on earth you can go to escape the warrantless snooping and panoptic surveillance of the US government. Now it turns out you're not even safe 30,000 feet up in the sky.

That's the news buried in recent Federal Communications Commission filings about in-flight wifi company, Gogo. In those documents, first flagged by the ACLU's Christopher Soghoian, the FCC notes that Gogo worked with government officials to develop "capabilities to accommodate law enforcement interests" - capabilities that the agency says go "beyond those outlined" under federal law.

The details of this collaboration were discovered by Soghoian in a recent FCC rulemaking proposal, whose public comment window is now being extended. The FCC documents refer back to a little-noticed earlier correspondence (embedded below) between the agency and an attorney representing Gogo LLC, which describes itself as having "the largest number of online aircraft in service." In a letter to the agency, Gogo's counsel says (emphasis added): In designing its existing network, Gogo worked closely with law enforcement to incorporate functionalities and protections that would serve public safety and national security interests. Gogo's network is fully compliant with the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act ("CALEA"). The Commission's ATG rules do not require licensees to implement capabilities to support law enforcement beyond those outlined in CALEA. Nevertheless, Gogo worked with federal agencies to reach agreement regarding a set of additional capabilities to accommodate law enforcement interests. Gogo then implemented those functionalities into its system design. That declaration followed a statement from Gogo subsidiary Aircell, which previously boasted to an aviation trade magazine that the company "can give [law enforcement] any information they need in real time."

CALEA already gives expansive powers to law enforcement agencies. According to the Center for Democracy and Technology, "the FBI has used CALEA to expand its capabilities, turning wireless phones into tracking devices, requiring phone companies to collect specific signaling information for the convenience of the government, and allowing interception of packet communications without privacy protections." The watchdog group notes that in 2005, "the Federal Communications Commission granted an FBI petition and expanded CALEA to broadband Internet access and VOIP services."

By its own admission, Gogo has apparently gone even further than the surveillance statute requires, giving law enforcement officials even more potential power to monitor communications through its system. That power is buttressed by Gogo's terms of service, which tell customers that using in-flight wifi authorizes Gogo to "disclose your Personal Information... if we believe in good faith that such disclosure is necessary" to "comply with relevant laws or to respond to subpoenas or warrants served on us" or to "protect or defend the rights, property, or safety of Gogo, you, other users, or third parties."

The prospect of in-air surveillance has been a periodic controversy during the last few decades. Back in the early 1990s, for example, NBC News reported that French intelligence agencies were using Air France as a base for in-flight surveillance of U.S. businesspeople and government officials. More recently, the UK Telegraph reported that the European Union has been funding and testing surveillance systems on planes involving "a combination of cameras, microphones, explosive sniffers and a sophisticated computer system" to monitor passengers. Meanwhile, Gogo's major competitor for in-flight wifi service is ViaSat, a defense contractor that specializes, in part, in surveillance.

According to Gogo's own website, there are currently 2,000 Gogo-enabled aircraft, including planes belonging to American Airlines, Delta, United and U.S. Airways. The service is also fitted on every Virgin America aircraft, which might give ironic pause to the armies of tech execs who favor the San Francisco-based airline for its direct, wifi-enabled flights to tech centers like Seattle, San Jose and New York.

Late last year, the company announced plans to launch in-flight texting and calling services, potentially opening up a whole load of other data to the company's law enforcement partners.

Pando contacted Gogo requesting comment about the company's partnership with law enforcement agencies. We also asked for details about what new surveillance capabilities the company has developed that go beyond CALEA. In response, Gogo spokesperson Steve Nolan said via email: "What we are prepared to say is: Gogo does what all airborne connectivity companies have been asked to do from a security perspective, and it has nothing to do with monitoring traffic. Beyond that, we can't comment beyond what's in our public comments with the FCC."
(c) 2014 David Sirota is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, magazine journalist, a staff writer at PandoDaily and the best-selling author of "Hostile Takeover" and "The Uprising." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at OpenLeft.com. E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com. David Sirota is a former spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee. Follow him on Twitter @davidsirota.








Oligarchs And Money
By Paul Krugman

Econonerds eagerly await each new edition of the International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook. Never mind the forecasts, what we're waiting for are the analytical chapters, which are always interesting and even provocative. This latest report is no exception. In particular, Chapter 3 - although billed as an analysis of trends in real (inflation-adjusted) interest rates - in effect makes a compelling case for raising inflation targets above 2 percent, the current norm in advanced countries.

This conclusion fits in with other I.M.F. research. Last month the fund's blog - yes, it has one - discussed the problems created by "lowflation," which is nearly as destructive as outright deflation. An earlier edition of the World Economic Outlook analyzed historical experience with high debt, and found that countries that were willing to let inflation erode their debt - including the United States - fared much better than those, like Britain after World War I, that clung to monetary and fiscal orthodoxy. But the I.M.F. evidently doesn't feel able to say outright what its analysis clearly implies. Instead, the report resorts to euphemisms that preserve deniability: the analysis "could have implications for the appropriate monetary policy framework."

So what makes the obvious unsayable? In a direct sense, what we're seeing is the power of conventional wisdom. But conventional wisdom doesn't come from nowhere, and I'm increasingly convinced that our failure to deal with high unemployment has a lot to do with class interests.

First, let's talk about the case for higher inflation.

Many people understand that a falling price level is a bad thing; nobody wants to turn into Japan, which has struggled with deflation since the 1990s. What's less understood is that there isn't a red line at zero: an economy with 0.5 percent inflation is going to have many of the same problems as an economy with 0.5 percent deflation. That's why the I.M.F. warned that "lowflation" is putting Europe at risk of Japanese-style stagnation, even though literal deflation hasn't happened (yet).

Moderate inflation turns out to serve several useful purposes. It's good for debtors - and therefore good for the economy as a whole when an overhang of debt is holding back growth and job creation. It encourages people to spend rather than sit on cash - again, a good thing in a depressed economy. And it can serve as a kind of economic lubricant, making it easier to adjust wages and prices in the face of shifting demand.

But how much inflation is appropriate? European inflation is below 1 percent, which is clearly too low, and U.S. inflation isn't that much higher. But would it be enough to get back to 2 percent, the official inflation target in both Europe and the United States? Almost certainly not.

You see, monetary experts have long known about the case for moderate inflation, but back in the 1990s, when the 2 percent target was hardening into policy orthodoxy, they thought that 2 percent was high enough to do the job. In particular, they thought it was enough to make liquidity traps - periods when even an interest rate of zero isn't low enough to restore full employment - very rare. But America has now been in a liquidity trap for more than five years. Clearly, the experts were wrong.

Furthermore, as the latest I.M.F. report shows, there's strong evidence that changes in the global economy are increasing the tendency of investors to hoard cash rather than put funds to work, thereby increasing the risk of liquidity traps unless the inflation target is raised. But the report never dares to say this outright.

So why is the obvious unsayable? One answer is that serious people like to prove their seriousness by calling for tough choices and sacrifice (by other people, of course). They hate being told about answers that don't involve more suffering.

And behind this attitude, one suspects, lies class bias. Doing what America did after World War II - using low interest rates and inflation to erode the debt burden - is often referred to as "financial repression," which sounds bad. But who wouldn't prefer modest inflation and a bit of asset erosion to mass unemployment? Well, you know who: the 0.1 percent, who receive "only" 4 percent of wages but account for more than 20 percent of total wealth. Modestly higher inflation, say 4 percent, would be good for the vast majority of people, but it would be bad for the superelite. And guess who gets to define conventional wisdom.

Now, I don't think that class interest is all-powerful. Good arguments and good policies sometimes prevail even if they hurt the 0.1 percent - otherwise we would never have gotten health reform. But we do need to make clear what's going on, and realize that in monetary policy as in so much else, what's good for oligarchs isn't good for America.
(c) 2014 Paul Krugman --- The New York Times









The Quotable Quote...



"We have come out of the time when obedience, the acceptance of discipline, intelligent courage and resolution, were most important, into that more difficult time when it is a person's duty to understand the world rather than simply fight for it."
~~~ Ernest Hemingway





A woman uses her cellphone as she sits on the Malecon in Havana, Cuba.




The "Cuban Twitter" Scam Is A Drop In The Internet Propaganda Bucket
By Glenn Greenwald

This week, the Associated Press exposed a secret program run by the U.S. Agency for International Development to create "a Twitter-like Cuban communications network" run through "secret shell companies" in order to create the false appearance of being a privately owned operation. Unbeknownst to the service's Cuban users was the fact that "American contractors were gathering their private data in the hope that it might be used for political purposes"-specifically, to manipulate those users in order to foment dissent in Cuba and subvert its government. According to top-secret documents published today by The Intercept, this sort of operation is frequently discussed at western intelligence agencies, which have plotted ways to covertly use social media for "propaganda," "deception," "mass messaging," and "pushing stories."

These ideas-discussions of how to exploit the internet, specifically social media, to surreptitiously disseminate viewpoints friendly to western interests and spread false or damaging information about targets-appear repeatedly throughout the archive of materials provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Documents prepared by NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ-and previously published by The Intercept as well as some by NBC News-detailed several of those programs, including a unit devoted in part to "discrediting" the agency's enemies with false information spread online.

The documents in the archive show that the British are particularly aggressive and eager in this regard, and formally shared their methods with their U.S. counterparts. One previously undisclosed top-secret document-prepared by GCHQ for the 2010 annual "SIGDEV" gathering of the "Five Eyes" surveillance alliance comprising the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S.-explicitly discusses ways to exploit Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other social media as secret platforms for propaganda.

The document was presented by GCHQ's Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG). The unit's self-described purpose is "using online techniques to make something happen in the real or cyber world," including "information ops (influence or disruption)." The British agency describes its JTRIG and Computer Network Exploitation operations as a "major part of business" at GCHQ, conducting "5% of Operations."

The annual SIGDEV conference, according to one NSA document published today by The Intercept, "enables unprecedented visibility of SIGINT Development activities from across the Extended Enterprise, Second Party and US Intelligence communities." The 2009 Conference, held at Fort Meade, included "eighty-six representatives from the wider US Intelligence Community, covering agencies as diverse as CIA (a record 50 participants), the Air Force Research Laboratory and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center." Defenders of surveillance agencies have often insinuated that such proposals are nothing more than pipe dreams and wishful thinking on the part of intelligence agents. But these documents are not merely proposals or hypothetical scenarios. As described by the NSA document published today, the purpose of SIGDEV presentations is "to synchronize discovery efforts, share breakthroughs, and swap knowledge on the art of analysis."

For instance: One of the programs described by the newly released GCHQ document is dubbed "Royal Concierge," under which the British agency intercepts email confirmations of hotel reservations to enable it to subject hotel guests to electronic monitoring. It also contemplates how to "influence the hotel choice" of travelers and to determine whether they stay at "SIGINT friendly" hotels. The document asks: "Can we influence the hotel choice? Can we cancel their visit?"

Previously, der Spiegel and NBC News both independently confirmed that the "Royal Concierge" program has been implemented and extensively used. The German magazine reported that "for more than three years, GCHQ has had a system to automatically monitor hotel bookings of at least 350 upscale hotels around the world in order to target, search, and analyze reservations to detect diplomats and government officials." NBC reported that "the intelligence agency uses the information to spy on human targets through 'close access technical operations,' which can include listening in on telephone calls and tapping hotel computers as well as sending intelligence officers to observe the targets in person at the hotels."

The GCHQ document we are publishing today expressly contemplates exploiting social media venues such as Twitter, as well as other communications venues including email, to seed state propaganda-GHCQ's word, not mine-across the internet:

(The GCHQ document also describes a practice called "credential harvesting," which NBC described as an effort to "select journalists who could be used to spread information" that the government wants distributed. According to the NBC report, GCHQ agents would employ "electronic snooping to identify non-British journalists who would then be manipulated to feed information to the target of a covert campaign." Then, "the journalist's job would provide access to the targeted individual, perhaps for an interview." Anonymous sources that NBC didn't characterize claimed at the time that GCHQ had not employed the technique.)

Whether governments should be in the business of publicly disseminating political propaganda at all is itself a controversial question. Such activities are restricted by law in many countries, including the U.S. In 2008, The New York Times' David Barstow won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing a domestic effort coordinated by the Pentagon whereby retired U.S. generals posed as "independent analysts" employed by American television networks and cable news outlets as they secretly coordinated their messaging with the Pentagon.

Because American law bars the government from employing political propaganda domestically, that program was likely illegal, though no legal accountability was ever brought to bear (despite all sorts of calls for formal investigations). Barack Obama, a presidential candidate at the time, pronounced himself in a campaign press release "deeply disturbed" by the Pentagon program, which he said "sought to manipulate the public's trust."

Propagandizing foreign populations has generally been more legally acceptable. But it is difficult to see how government propaganda can be segregated from domestic consumption in the digital age. If American intelligence agencies are adopting the GCHQ's tactics of "crafting messaging campaigns to go 'viral'," the legal issue is clear: A "viral" online propaganda campaign, by definition, is almost certain to influence its own citizens as well as those of other countries.

For its part, GCHQ refused to answer any specific questions on the record, instead providing its standard boilerplate script which it provides no matter the topic of the reporting: "all of GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight." The NSA refused to comment.

But these documents, along with the AP's exposure of the sham "Cuban Twitter" program, underscore how aggressively western governments are seeking to exploit the internet as a means to manipulate political activity and shape political discourse.

Those programs, carried out in secrecy and with little accountability (it seems nobody in Congress knew of the "Cuban Twitter" program in any detail) threaten the integrity of the internet itself, as state-disseminated propaganda masquerades as free online speech and organizing. There is thus little or no ability for an internet user to know when they are being covertly propagandized by their government, which is precisely what makes it so appealing to intelligence agencies, so powerful, and so dangerous.
(c) 2014 Glenn Greenwald. is a journalist, constitutional lawyer, commentator, author of three New York Times best-selling books on politics and law, and a staff writer and editor at First Look media. His fifth book, No Place to Hide, about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world, will be released in April 2014. Prior to his collaboration with Pierre Omidyar, Glenn's column was featured at Guardian US and Salon. His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book"How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy," examines the Bush legacy. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.








From Kabul To Cairo, The Killing And Jailing Of Journalists Continues
By Amy Goodman

Journalism is not a crime. This is the rallying cry in demanding the release of four Al-Jazeera journalists imprisoned in Egypt. Three of them - Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed - have just passed their hundredth day of incarceration. The fourth, Abdullah al-Shami, has been in jail for more than six months. They have been charged with "spreading lies harmful to state security and joining a terrorist organization." Of course, the only thing they were doing was their job.

Anja Niedringhaus also was doing her job as a photographer for The Associated Press when she was murdered last week in Khost, Afghanistan. She was covering the preparations for Afghanistan's national election, and was sitting in her car with AP reporter Kathy Gannon when an Afghan police officer opened fire, killing Niedringhaus and wounding Gannon.

Niedringhaus' work captured the brutality of war, and the hope of humanity. She began her career as a teenager, photographing the fall of the Berlin Wall in her native Germany. She went on to work for the European Pressphoto Agency, where she covered the war in the Balkans, the aftermath of Sept. 11 in New York City, and then on to the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. In 2002, she moved on to the AP, where she covered Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as major international sporting events like the World Cup and Wimbledon. When scrolling through the images of our times that she left behind, you are struck by the courage, the talent and the ability to capture and transmit an instant in time charged with the full weight of history.

Niedringhaus is one of too many journalists killed while performing a critical public service: journalism.

Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya wrote, in 2003, "Is journalism worth dying for?" She was reporting on the attempted murder of a colleague at the fiercely independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta. She wrote: "If the price of truth is so high, perhaps we should just stop, and find a profession with less risk of 'major unpleasantness.' How much would society, for whose sake we are doing this work, care?" Politkovskaya answered her rhetorical question through action, by continuing to cover power in Russia, especially the presidency of Vladimir Putin. She was murdered three years later, on Oct. 7, 2006. Her killing had the hallmarks of a contract killing, as have the murders of other journalists in Russia.

Neither death nor imprisonment should be the punishment for reporting the news. The Committee to Protect Journalists compiles statistics and organizes campaigns to defend threatened journalists, free those in prison and demand accountability for journalists killed. CPJ provides direct aid for journalists facing imminent threats, including medical and legal help, and relocation. Since 1992, CPJ reports, there have been 1,054 journalists killed worldwide.

This week also marks the anniversary of the violent deaths of two reporters in Iraq, Jose Couso of the Spanish television channel Telecinco, and Taras Protsyuk, a Ukrainian cameraman reporting for Reuters. On April 8, 2003, they were filming the U.S. invasion of Baghdad from their balconies at The Palestine Hotel, well-known to be where the world's press corps was staying. A U.S. Army tank fired a round at the hotel, killing the two journalists and injuring others. When the Spanish prime minister at the time, Jose Maria Aznar, who supported the invasion, next spoke to the Spanish press in Parliament, they laid down their cameras and microphones, and turned their backs on him in protest of their colleague's death. Many then blocked the intersection outside the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, chanting "Murderer! Murderer!" The U.S. military crew of the tank that killed Couso and Protsyuk are known, but the U.S. has not cooperated in Spanish attempts to prosecute them. This week, like every year on the anniversary of Couso's death, his family and supporters protest outside the U.S. embassy.

In 2011, Anja Niedringhaus wrote to The New York Times: "I don't believe conflicts have changed since 9/11 other than to become more frequent and protracted, but the essence of the conflict is the same - two sides fighting for territory, for power, for ideologies. And in the middle is the population who is suffering." Journalists are there to report that suffering. Shooting the messenger is a war crime.
(c) 2014 Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now,!" a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 750 stations in North America. She is the co-author of "Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times," recently released in paperback and "Breaking The Sound Barrier."





The Dead Letter Office...






Heil Obama,

Dear Richter des Hoheren Gerichtshofs Collyer,

Congratulations, you have just been awarded the "Vidkun Quisling Award!" Your name will now live throughout history with such past award winners as Marcus Junius Brutus, Judas Iscariot, Benedict Arnold, George Stephanopoulos, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Prescott Bush, Sam Bush, Fredo Bush, Kate Bush, Kyle Busch, Anheuser Busch, Vidkun Quisling and last year's winner Volksjudge John (the enforcer) Roberts.

Without your lock step calling for the repeal of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, your ruling that American children murdered by the US government have no 4th or 5th Amendment rights, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Iran and those many other profitable oil wars to come would have been impossible! With the help of our mutual friends, the other "judicial whores" you have made it possible for all of us to goose-step off to a brave new bank account!

Along with this award you will be given the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds presented by our glorious Fuhrer, Herr Obama at a gala celebration at "der Fuhrer Bunker," formally the "White House," on 05-24-2014. We salute you Frau Collyer, Sieg Heil!

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Biden

Heil Obama






Today's Jobs Report And The Supreme Court's "McCutcheon" Debacle
By Robert Reich

What does the Supreme Court's "McCutcheon" decision this week have to do with today's jobs report, showing 192,000 new jobs for March?

Connect the dots. More than five years after Wall Street's near meltdown the number of full-time workers is still less than it was in December 2007, yet the working-age population of the U.S. has increased by 13 million since then.

This explains why so many people are still getting nowhere. Unemployment among those 18 to 29 is 11.4 percent, nearly double the national rate.

Most companies continue to shed workers, cut wages, and horde their cash because they don't have enough customers to warrant expansion. Why? The vast middle class and poor don't have enough purchasing power, as 95 percent of the economy's gains go to the top 1 percent.

That's why we need to (1) cut taxes on average people (say, exempting the first $15,000 of income from Social Security taxes and making up the shortfall by taking the cap off income subject to it), (2) raise the minimum wage, (3) create jobs by repairing roads, bridges, ports, and much of the rest of our crumbling infrastructure, (4) add teachers and teacher's aides to now over-crowded classrooms, and (5) create "green" jobs and a new WPA for the long-term unemployed.

And pay for much of this by raising taxes on the top, closing tax loopholes for the rich, and ending corporate welfare.

But none of this can be done because some wealthy people and big corporations have a strangle-hold on our politics. "McCutcheon" makes that strangle-hold even tighter.

Connect the dots and you see how the big-money takeover of our democracy has lead to an economy that's barely functioning for most Americans.
(c) 2014 Robert Reich is Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written twelve books, including The Work of Nations, Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, "Beyond Outrage," is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. His new film, "Inequality for All," will be out September 27.









Obama Whitewashes World War I
By Matthew Rothschild

President Obama just went to Flanders Field in Belgium to pay homage to those who lost their lives in World War I.

But rather than use the occasion to point out the idiotic hideousness of that war, he whitewashed it, praising "the profound sacrifice they made so that we might stand here today."

He saluted their "willingness to fight, and die, for the freedom that we enjoy as their heirs." But this was not a war for freedom. It was a triumph of nationalism, pitting one nation's vanity against another. It was a war between empires for the spoils.

Historian Allen Ruff, who is studying the causes and effects of World War I, was not impressed with Obama's speech. "With Both NATO and the European Union headquartered in Brussels," Ruff says, "it would have been a true homage to the dead buried in Belgium a hundred years ago if Obama spoke out against all major power imperial ambition, the true cause of so much slaughter then and since, rather than mouthing some trite euphemisms about the honor of dying for 'freedom.' "

But Obama insisted on repeating the very propaganda that fed that war. Without irony, he quoted the poem from John McRae that was used to encourage soldiers to sign up and civilians to pay for war bonds. Here's the verse that Obama cited:

"To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields."

Obama chose not to quote the great World War I poet Wilfred Owen, who was killed just days before the end of that most senseless slaughter. The title of his famous poem, "Dulce et Decorum Est" refers to the line that soldiers said on their way to the war, meaning, "How sweet and right it is to die for your country."

Here is the second half of that poem, where Owen describes a soldier next to him dying from an attack of poison gas.

"In all my dreams before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,-

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est."

Pro patria mori.

Yet there was delivering that "old lie" with "high zest," and the obscenity of it should not escape us, even 100 years on.

For the soldiers Obama praised did not die for "freedom," but for something much more base.

They died for the same reason U.S. soldiers died in the Iraq War. As Howard Zinn noted, ten years ago, "They died for the greed of the oil cartels, for the expansion of the American empire, for the political ambitions of the President. They died to cover up the theft of the nation's wealth to pay for the machines of death."

I only hope to live long enough to hear a U.S. President speak honestly about war. This one sure won't.
(c) 2014 Matthew Rothschild is the senior editor of The Progressive Magazine, which is one of the leading voices for peace and social justice in this country. Rothschild has appeared on Nightline, C-SPAN, The O'Reilly Factor, and NPR, and his newspaper commentaries have run in the Chicago Tribune, the L.A. Times, the Miami Herald, and a host of other newspapers. Rothschild is also the author of a book entitled You Have No Rights: Stories of America in Our Repressive Age (New Press, 2007).




The Cartoon Corner...

This edition we're proud to showcase the cartoons of
~~~ Dave Granlund ~~~










To End On A Happy Note...





Have You Seen This...





Parting Shots...





50 Shades Of Cool
By Will Durst

It was more amusing than piano-playing kittens to see Barack Obama plug the Affordable Care Act on Zach Galifianakis' internet comedy show. Not late night. Not basic cable. An internet show: "Between 2 Ferns." Even funnier was the President trotting out the same expression he normally reserves for Bill O'Reilly interviews.

The Chief Executive is apparently working his way down the marketing food chain. Next it'll be ObamaCare coupons under windshield wipers in the parking lots of flea markets. Then a series of laminated ads posted above urinals. Won't be long before Joe Biden is wearing a giant syringe costume twirling a sign on Pennsylvania Ave.

The president is not new to the humor game. He's proven his comedy chops o'plenty at previous functions, but even professional comedians have problems holding their own with the bearded Hangover franchise comic's trademark condescending snark. 44, however, traded disdainful barbs like a Catskills trained tummler. Looks like the ordeal of dealing with Hillary's State Department staff finally paid off. Can't wait for him to speak to Putin with the same sort of Borscht Belt pushback.

This was Comedy Obama at his finest. Just one of the many guises we've seen Honolulu's favorite son adopt. There's Diplomatic Obama. Arrogant Obama. Tolerant Obama. Supercilious Obama. Hollywood Obama. Mississippi Obama. New Boss Obama. And Same as the Old Boss Obama.

Might explain why the country is this close to contracting a serious case of Multiple Presidential Personality Disorder. He's President Sybil. Playing more roles than the tall kid who shaves at a summer Shakespeare camp.

Doctors say the onset of Dissociative Identity Disorder can be traced to trauma and its entirely possible the Republican Party is responsible for these many faces of Eve, er, Barack. For 5 years the President has been hit in the head more often than an armless soccer goalie in a World Cup shootout. Of course, he could be setting himself up for an insanity defense. Mitch McConnell would be well advised to hire extra security.

The Oval Office Shapeshifter's pre POTUS resume was pretty tame. Kenyan. Kansan. Hawaiian. Community organizer. Constitutional law professor. State Senator. US Senator. Marijuana advocate. Audacity encourager.

It's only since 2009 that we've been treated to a kaleidoscope of eccentric facets. He's a jock. A nerd. Cheerleader. Teacher's pet. Motorcycle riding bad boy. Probably a closet band geek. Party standard bearer. Good will ambassador. Policy enforcer. Al Green impersonator.

He's half black. He's half white. Ramrod. Contortionist. Healer. Divider. Defender of transparency. Master spy. Outlaw. Sheriff. Muslim. Christian. Politician. Citizen. Figurehead. Hood ornament. White hatted hero. Melodramatic villain. A puppet, a poet, a pawn and a king.

Even the GOP can't decide if he's a hopeless novice or a demagoguing dictator. The right wing paints him as a radical jihadist while left wing progressives whine he's a cowering conciliator. Making him a little bit Malcolm X and a little bit Urkel.

Barack Obama is harder to pin down than an eel in a butter sculpture. A Nobel Peace Prize winner or the Manchurian Candidate. He's either the classiest of cats or Captain Clueless. Relentless shark or a spineless jellyfish. Power mad knight errant or lute strumming eunuch. Or maybe he's all of them. 50 shades of cool. Or drool. Perspective is everything.
(c) 2014 Will Durst, is a nationally acclaimed, award- winning political comic. Go to willdurst.com to find about more about his new CD, "Elect to Laugh" and calendar of personal appearances, and info about the documentary film "3 Still Standing" in which he's one of the standing 3. Still.




Email:uncle-ernie@issuesandalibis.org


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Issues & Alibis Vol 14 # 14 (c) 04/11/2014


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