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Rafael Correa, the Press, and Whistleblowers

By ADAM CHIMIENTI | CounterPunch | June 25, 2013

Once again, we are witnessing a growing frustration with “tiny” Ecuador. The United States government is clearly not happy with what would be the latest diplomatic slap in the face coming from the South American country, i.e. the pending arrival of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in the coming days. Beyond the United States’ government though, the US press corps are also seemingly up in arms. Why are they so angry? Well, it appears that they are indignant over the perceived hypocrisy of President Rafael Correa.

According to an article from The Atlantic (and another similar one from NPR here), the Ecuadorian leader “has created a safe space for foreigners like Assange — and now possibly Snowden –[but] he doesn’t do the same for dissenters within his own country.” News agencies like NBC News and The Atlantic think this is “interesting” and want to know ‘Why Ecuador?’ Such inquiries naturally turn to the NGOs, who are also less than pleased with this unruly little country. Freedom House, the Committee to Protect Journalists and others are upset that this very week, the one-year anniversary of Assange being holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London (and the same week that the Snowden asylum request is being reviewed), the Ecuadorian National Assembly has passed a Communications Bill that detractors claim is a major blow to a free press.

Claims of Hypocrisy

For several of the opposition figures and US-based observers, Ecuador’s new media legislation has sealed the deal on the stasi-like state that they imply or openly charge Correa has been dreaming about for years. In other words, transparency advocates like Assange and Snowden are compromising their credibility by associating with the Correa government. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the right-wing terrorist supporter/US Congresswoman representing Miami, has been busy tweeting as much. The Ecuadorian government, however, asserts that the bill is meant to place more media power in the hands of public groups and move away from privately owned media monopolies.

Meanwhile, the Council of Hemispheric Relations, Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Heritage Foundation all say that Ecuador must be punished for this latest insult to the US government. James Roberts of Heritage lashed out at the South American leader on June 24, writing in the National Review Online:

“Rafael Correa has demonstrated a blatant disregard for international standards of justice. That kind of conduct may not be surprising from a man who seeks to don the mantle of Chávez, but it should not be rewarded with trade preferences.”

It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how a figure like Correa would have been dealt with a few decades back, but it appears that the more heavy-handed approach is not really possible at the moment, much to the dismay of the powerful and connected.

Returning to the issue of freedom, has the defiant president of Ecuador used the National Assembly to pass a law that NPR, The Atlantic and others tell us will be used to make the country less transparent and more hostile to journalists who only wish to be free to monitor the government and act as a check on state power? Well, let’s hold off on the most absurd elements of irony here for a moment and address the issue at hand.

About a Coup

It should certainly not be regarded as a good thing if the case was simply a cut-and-dry example of authoritarian overreach. Freedom of the press, as we are learning with the Snowden case, has seemingly never before been so important, or so contentious for that matter. However, the Ecuadorian issue is not so simple and it was certainly complicated after a day of crisis nearly three years earlier when factions of the National Police and armed forces attacked the president of Ecuador on September 30, 2010. The event was widely regarded as a coup attempt. What exactly went down is still somewhat unclear. There was a dramatic showdown between Correa himself and police officers that were angered by a supposed attempt to cut their pay. What is for certain, though, is that it was a countrywide, well-coordinated attempt to shut down the National Assembly, the two major airports in Guayaquil and Quito and eventually a hospital where the president was being treated for wounds. Furthermore, the plotters were also attacking journalists throughout the country, and most of these were pro-government reporters working for public media outlets.

The opposition press has taken an active role in attempts to discredit Correa since he first ran for president. He has elaborated on his views of the press and they are certainly not very congenial. In 2012, during a public TV interview in Spain, Correa said, “one of the main problems around the world is that there are private networks in the communication business, for-profit businesses providing public information, which is very important for society. It is a fundamental contradiction.”

One of the issues that NGOs and journalists have cited in their litany of complaints about Ecuador’s endangered freedom of the press actually stems from the 2010 police and military uprising. During the chaos that ensued during the alleged coup attempt, one reporter from the paper of record in Guayaquil took the opportunity to claim that Correa had ordered police to fire on a crowd of innocent onlookers caught up in the melee, presumably aiming to provoke anti-government sentiments. The claim turned out to be completely unsubstantiated. The government fined the journalist and his paper El Universo some $40 million for defamation but later withdrew the charges. Consider what might have happened in the US if the Los Angeles Times or Washington Post would have falsely claimed that Barack Obama had personally ordered military or police forces to fire on a crowd of protesters and innocent people were injured as a result somewhere in Washington, D.C It would be difficult to imagine a reporter and his editors ever committing such a stupid move, but if they had, there would have been some serious consequences. Alas, this is not really too shocking in the context of a sensationalist Latin American press.

Televised and Untelevised Revolutions

That dramatic Ecuadorian affair is reminiscent of the 2003 documentary film The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,directed by the Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha Ó Briai. The pair happened to be in Caracas, Venezuela during one of several 21st century Latin American coup attempts thus far. The film provided a key glimpse into the nature of media in the region, so often dominated by pro-US elites. It showed the efforts expended by private media outlets to incite anger and get people out in the streets in order to challenge the power of anti-Washington governments.

Right up until his death, it was a sort of requirement for US and European governments, journalists and NGOs to claim that Hugo Chávez Frías was a dictator for not renewing the license of RCTV. The outlet, owned by Marcel Granier, was one of the most virulent anti-government television stations operating on the state-owned airwaves and the Venezuelan government eventually forced them over to cable television. The criticism of the allegedly authoritarian leader served to cover up the very questionable coverage by corporate media. Indeed, one anti-Chávez commentator honestly noted six months ago that the idea that Chavez ever controlled the Venezuelan media was a myth. He pointed out that back in April 2002,

“Coup plotters collaborated with Venezuelan media figures before the coup. The media refused to show statements by officials condemning the coup d’état. When the coup d’état failed, the private Venezuelan networks refused to broadcast the news that Chávez had returned to power.”

“Correa is a Very Smart Guy”

The Venezuelan experience did not escape the attention of the rather astute and confident Correa. Neither did the fact that, only 15 months prior to the attempted coup in Ecuador, there was a successful coup in Honduras, removing the president of that country, Manuel Zelaya, by gunpoint in the middle of the night. This was considered to be illegal by President Obama himself, although soon after the offending and illegitimate new government of Roberto Micheletti was accepted by his administration and is still backed to this day by Washington (under current President Porfirio Lobo). This support comes despite a terrible record of human rights abuses and, yes, a genuine threat to a the flow of crucial information. Journalists have been censored and intimidated since the 2009 coup in Tegucigalpa and, what’s worse, have frequently been murdered by the government and its allies. Honduras consistently ranks as one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. The double standards are blatant and many would like to see the opinion-makers from the States take a closer look in the mirror.

Popular Support and Popular Media

Anyone who would have spent some time watching The Revolution Will Not Be Televised would have also learned what President Hugo Chávez, then only a mere three years into his presidency, meant to the millions of impoverished and the historically marginalized majority in Venezuela. This did not stop the State Department and its allies from focusing on how best to rid Venezuela of its president. (Incidentally, while doing an internship for the State Department in the fall of 2001, I was invited by the Public Diplomacy department to work on ideas on how to get the message out to Venezuelan people about the dangerous nature of President Chávez.) That coup attempt failed, as the one in Ecuador would eight and a half years later, mainly because the people staunchly backed the president of the Republic.

At the time of the 2002 coup attempt, Chávez was wildly popular and the same was true of Rafael Correa in September 2010; two weeks before the coup attempt, polls found that he had the support of 67% of respondents in the capital Quito and nearly 60% in his native Guayaquil, the second largest city. Correa actually got a nice bump in approval ratings after the whole affair and, more recently, he has just won a major reelection bid in February of this year precisely because he has brought political and economic stability to the country of 15 million people. Poverty has been reduced dramatically since Correa took office. Public works projects have resulted in huge improvements to the country’s infrastructure and, more importantly, there is a sense of independence from the yoke of neocolonialism so prevalent in years past.

It appears that Correa and the government may have some good reasons to increase the influence of publicly owned media companies and challenge private corporate media elites. This foray into press control is a dangerous game, however, especially since there appear to be some genuine concerns from indigenous and environmental activists who oppose the government’s expansive plans for an economy based primarily on extraction. Often, those who disagree with Correa are dismissed as childish Marxists, or more alarmingly, terrorists. There must be more attempts to reach a humane and considerate consensus on some of these crucial issues, especially as the Chinese enter the fray in search of resources to fuel their economic needs and a gateway into South America (and Ecuador recovers from two major oil spills so far this year). There are clearly opportunities, but also responsibilities to the environment and the people that live outside of the metropoles.

With such considerations in mind, is there a reason to agree with the opinion-makers in the US who would dub Correa as a dictator, increasingly revealing his dangerous nature?

One of Correa’s main antagonists is Martin Pallares, a senior political editor at one of the major national newspapers El Comercio. Pallares recently said, “I think freedom of press in Ecuador is gravely threatened by a system managed by the government. They have the objective to discredit the media, affect their credibility. And they also want to characterize the press like political adversaries and destabilization agents.” In a very important sense, the media should or even must by its nature act like political adversaries. Destabilization is a different story however. In the case of the coups in Latin America, there is typically interference by Western powers, especially the United States, and this often serves to destabilize governments Washington deems troublesome (through the funding of local civil society groups via the National Endowment for Democracy, USAID and, of course, the CIA). The message is often that these groups are just trying to further democratic causes, but this belies an obvious mission by colluding corporate and government powers that is evident throughout the many anti-democratic interventions and support of such leaders in postwar history (from Iran in 1953 to both the Maldives and Paraguay in 2012).

Felonious Journalists

Returning to the issue of irony, here you have several of the leading news outlets in the US reporting on the lack of media freedom in Ecuador, yet ignoring the major issues raised by leakers, journalists, and publishers such as Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden. In effect, these major corporate outlets are legitimizing or are even themselves guilty of demonization of these individuals who have put everything on the line to get the public talking about some serious violations of human rights and privacy, and the dangerous encroachment of the corporate state. One has to wonder if the fact that many of these commentators themselves are getting paid major corporate money has anything to do with their take on the Snowden/Ecuador affair.

If you watched the Sunday morning talk show highlights, you should be able to draw your own conclusion. One jaw-dropping example of the corporate media’s lack of objectivity in this discussion was the meticulously staged interview that George Stephanopoulos did with General Keith Alexander, the man who has access to the personal data of nearly anyone he so chooses to target. There were several moments in which the responses to some of the host’s softball questions were so weak (lots of babbling about dots) that it was unbelievable that Stephanopoulos didn’t pounce. Yet, why he did not or would not do such a thing is evident considering the establishment’s treatment of the recently departed journalist Michael Hastings, loathed for his refusal to play footsie with the biggest fish in the game. That sort of behavior simply cannot be tolerated.

Also on the talk show rounds, there was David Gregory’s aggressive and ethically revealing accusation thrown at guest Glenn Greenwald in the form of a ‘tough question’. Gregory actually asked Greenwald why he shouldn’t be charged with a crime, and The Guardian columnist sharply replied that it was “pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies”, with no evidence of wrongdoing. But there you have the attitude that the establishment needs to maintain close ties; it mustn’t be overly adversarial and never threaten the stability of the government or a particular administration, even if that means sitting on stories such as the spying on US citizens, like The New York Times was guilty of in 2004 when it delayed publication of a story on government surveillance after being approached by the Bush Administration.

Indy (media) to the Rescue

Modern professional journalism often leaves us wanting for more. Thankfully, we have the independent media outlets that are often way ahead on exposing some of the more heinous crimes of the times. This helps millions around the world identify the mantras of the media elite in the United States: 1) the corporate bias is never to be exposed or acknowledged; 2) it should never be overly adversarial to the government; and 3) a “journalist” should always attempt to divert from important issues that arise from whistleblowing by attacking the whistleblower’s character.

Of course, all of these conventions go out the window when it comes to perceived enemies, in which case the media, NGOs, corporations and the US government always work together in delegitimization and destabilization efforts. Snowden has followed Assange’s lead and is headed to Ecuador not simply because, as The Atlantic has suggested, both parties feel persecuted or they want to ‘poke the US in the eye’. The reason why Ecuador has offered asylum and why Snowden was seeking it from them is because they believe that there is hope in the future, beyond the grossly excessive power of the United States and its presumed worldwide dominion. The whistleblowers and the Ecuadorian leaders, like countless others around the world, believe that the only hopeful way forward is to shatter the antiquated and dangerous notions inherent in establishment journalism, corporate supremacy, and US hegemony. I guess it is no surprise that the privileged classes vehemently disagree.

Adam Chimienti is a teacher and a doctoral student originally from New York. He can be reached at ajchimienti@gmail.com.

June 25, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Honduras: Judge Suspends Case Against Indigenous Leader

Weekly News Update on the Americas | June 23, 2013

After an eight-hour hearing on June 13, a court in Santa Bárbara, the capital of the western Honduran department of the same name, suspended a legal action against indigenous leader Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores for the alleged illegal possession of a weapon. According to Cáceres’ lawyer, Marcelino Martínez, the court found that there was not enough evidence to proceed with the case. Cáceres, who coordinates the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), is now free to travel out of the country, although the case could still be reopened. Representatives from some 40 organizations came to the city on June 13 in an expression of solidarity with the activist.

Cáceres was arrested along with COPINH radio communicator Tómas Gómez Membreño on May 24 when a group of about 20 soldiers stopped their vehicle and claimed to find a pistol under a car seat. Cáceres and Gómez Membreño had been visiting Lenca communities that were protesting the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project. The leader of the military patrol, First Battalion of Engineers commander Col. Milton Amaya, explicitly linked the arrests to the activists’ political work: the Honduran online publication Proceso Digital reported that Amaya “accused Cáceres of going around haranguing indigenous residents of a border region between Santa Bárbara and Intibucá known as Río Blanco so that they would oppose the building of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam.”

According to SOA Watch—a US-based group that monitors the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA)—Amaya has studied at the school on two occasions. (Proceso Digital 5/26/13; Adital (Brazil) 6/14/13; Kaos en la Red 6/14/13 from COPINH, Radio Mundo Real, Honduras Libre, Derechos Humanos; SOA Watch 6/21/13)

June 25, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , | Comments Off on Honduras: Judge Suspends Case Against Indigenous Leader

Mandatory Data Retention Defeated in Australia, For Now.

By Daniel Nazer | EFF | June 24, 2013

For the last few years, Australia’s security agencies have been pushing for the mandatory retention of the communications data of every citizen. If implemented, this policy would require private companies to keep communications metadata of all customers for two years. Essentially, it treats every person as a criminal suspect. Yesterday, a parliamentary committee issued a report declining to recommend data retention and strongly criticizing the government for failing to adequately explain and justify its proposal. In the wake of the report, the governing Labor Party announced it will not pursue data retention before the next election. So data retention in Australia has been defeated, for now.

The most recent push began last July, when the Attorney General’s Department submitted a list of security proposals, including data retention, to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security. The scheme met with overwhelming public opposition—98.9% of public submissions rejected data retention. Civil rights groups and individuals explained that the scheme sacrifices the privacy of all citizens. Contrary to the government’s claims, collecting metadata is highly intrusive as it reveals the most intimate connections between persons. In addition, the scheme would create a huge trove of data vulnerable to hacking while imposing significant costs on private companies dragooned to act as the government’s spies.

The government failed to rebut these objections. In a ham-fisted attempt to avoid criticism, the Attorney General’s Department initially refused to provide concrete details about its data retention scheme. The committee strongly criticized this lack of transparency:

[T]he Committee was very disconcerted to find, once it commenced its Inquiry, that the Attorney-General’s Department had much more detailed information on the topic of data retention. Departmental work, including discussions with stakeholders, had been undertaken previously. Details of this work had to be drawn from witnesses representing the [department].

Journalist Bernard Keane tweeted that he’d “never seen a government-controlled committee give a kicking to a department” like this report did. In addition to slamming the department for hiding the ball, the committee acknowledged public concern about privacy:

[A] mandatory data retention regime raises fundamental privacy issues, and is arguably a significant extension of the power of the state over the citizen. No such regime should be enacted unless those privacy and civil liberties concerns are sufficiently addressed.

The committee punted on the ultimate issue. It wrote that there was “a diversity of views within the Committee” as to the merits of a data retention regime and said it was “ultimately a decision for Government.” With an election scheduled for later this year, the governing Labor Party announced that it is dropping the unpopular scheme.

Green Party Senator Scott Ludlam cautioned that, even with the defeat of this proposal, Australia’s security agencies might achieve the same result by other means. He warned that, in light of the recent NSA Spying news, agencies may bypass domestic due process through the “wholesale importing of content and non-content data from colleagues in the U.S.” We need greater oversight of the security establishment to ensure that international cooperative agreements are not enabling the evasion of domestic legal restrictions.

Senator Ludlam also predicted that, regardless of who wins the next election, the data retention plan will be back. Security agencies will not abandon their campaign to treat every person like a criminal suspect. Privacy advocates in Australia and around the world need to keep up the fight.

June 25, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The US’s Afghan Exit May Depend on a Syrian One

By Sharmine Narwani | Al-Akhbar | 2013-06-25

Washington’s options in Syria are dwindling – and dwindling fast.

Trumped up chemical weapons charges against the Syrian government this month failed to produce evidence to convince a skeptical global community of any direct linkage. And the US’s follow-up pledge to arm rebels served only to immediately underline the difficulty of such a task, given the fungibility of weapons-flow among increasingly extremist militias.

Yes, for a brief few days, Syrian oppositionists congratulated themselves on this long-awaited American entry into Syria’s bloodied waters. They spoke about “game-changing” weapons that would reverse Syrian army gains and the establishment of a no-fly zone on Syria’s Jordanian border – a la Libya. Eight thousand troops from 19 countries flashed their military hardware in a joint exercise on that border, dangling F-16s and Patriot missiles and “superb cooperation” in a made-for-TV show of force.

But it took only days to realize that Washington’s announcement didn’t really have any legs.

Forget the arguments now slowly dribbling out about why the US won’t/can’t get involved directly. Yes, they all have merit – from the difficulties in selecting militia recipients for their weapons, to the illegalities involved in establishing a no-fly zone, to the fact that more than 70% of Americans don’t support an intervention.

The single most critical reason for why Washington will not risk entering the Syrian military theater – almost entirely ignored by DC policy wonks – may be this: the 2014 US military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“Help, we can’t get out”

There are around 750,000 major pieces of American military hardware costing approximately $36 billion sitting in Afghanistan right now. The cost of transporting this equipment out of the country is somewhere close to the $7 billion mark. It would be easier to destroy this stuff than removing it, but given tightening US budgets and lousy economic prospects, this hardware is unlikely to be replaced if lost.

Getting all this equipment into Afghanistan over the past decade was a lot easier than getting it out will be. For starters, much of it came via Pakistani corridors – before Americans began droning the hell out of that country and creating dangerous pockets of insurgents now blocking exit routes.

An alternative supply route through Afghan border states Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan called the Northern Distribution Network was set up in 2009, but is costlier and longer than going via Pakistan. And human rights disputes, onerous conditions on transport and unpredictable domestic sentiment toward the Americans places far too much leverage over these routes in the hands of regional hegemon Russia.

Unlike Iraq, where the US could count on its control over the main ports and Arab allies along the Persian Gulf border, Afghanistan is landlocked, mountainous and surrounded by countries and entities now either hostile to US interests or open to striking deals with American foes.

In short, a smooth US exit from Afghanistan may be entirely dependent on one thing: the assistance of Russia, Iran, and to a lesser degree, China.

All three countries are up against the US and its allies in Syria, refusing, for the better part of 18 months, to allow regime-change or a further escalation of hostilities against the state.

In the past few months, the Russian and Iranian positions have gained strength as the Syrian army – with assistance from its allies – pushed back rebel militias in key towns and provinces throughout the country.

Western allies quickly rushed to change the unfavorable equilibrium on the ground in advance of political talks in Geneva, unashamedly choosing to further weaponize the deadly conflict in order to gain “leverage” at the negotiating table.

But none of that has materialized. As evidence, look to the recent G8 Summit where western leaders sought to undermine Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling him “isolated” and referring to the Summit as “G7+1.”

In the meeting’s final communiqué, Putin won handily on every single Syria point. Not only was it clear that the international community’s only next “play” was the negotiations in Geneva, but there was no mention of excluding President Bashar al-Assad from a future Syrian transitional government, once a key demand of opponents. Furthermore, the declaration made it clear that there was no evidence linking chemical weapons use to the Syrian government – had there been any “evidence” whatsoever, it would have made it to paper – and Syrian security forces were empowered, even encouraged, to weed out extremist militias by all the G8 nations.

This was not an insignificant victory for the Russians – it was the first public revelation that Washington, London and Paris have conceded their advantage in Syria. And it begs the question: what cards do the Russians hold in their hand to bring about this kind of stunning reversal, just a week after Washington came out guns blazing?

America – choose your Afghan exit

The US military establishment has, for the most part, stayed out of the fray in Syria, where special ops have been ceded to the CIA and external contractors.

But as the gargantuan task of extricating the US from its decade-long occupation of Afghanistan nears, President Barack Obama has scrambled to accommodate the Pentagon’s top priority. Having assiduously avoided a negotiated political or diplomatic solution with the Taliban for years, he hopes to now pull a face-saving, 11th hour deal out of his hat with foes who will sell him down the river at a moment’s notice.

“The Americans are deeply worried that if the war continues the Kabul government and army might collapse while American bases, advisers, and special forces remain in the country, thereby putting the U.S. in an extremely difficult position,” says Anatol Lieven, a professor and Afghanistan expert at King’s College London, about the already-stalled US-Taliban talks in Doha last week. “They would obviously like to bring about a ceasefire with the Taliban.”

Even if Americans could get to the table, there are myriad issues that could conclusively disrupt negotiations at any time – in a process that “could take years,” as various US officials concede.

For starters, the involved parties – Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government (which consists of competing ethnic and tribal leaders) and the “new Taliban” – now have multiple interests with regional players like Iran, Pakistan, Russia, China, and the neighboring “Stans” which puts a serious strain on any straightforward negotiation goals.

As an example, the very same Taliban delegation now sitting with the Americans in Doha, were traipsing through Tehran late last month – ostensibly with the knowledge of all parties. And this was certainly not the first visit between the two.

While the US arrogantly kept its Afghan foes at arm’s length for years, the Iranians were busy employing soft power in their neighborhood – a task facilitated by a decade of US regional policy mismanagement that has aggravated its own allies in and around Afghanistan.

This isn’t just a matter of Pakistan and Iran inaugurating a once-inconceivable gas pipeline, as they did earlier this year. Iran is now participating in infrastructure and social service projects in the heart of Kabul, has forged working relationships with Pakistani intelligence on a variety of mutual security issues, and has built deep networks within Afghanistan’s political and tribal elite – even with the Taliban, courtesy of mentors in Islamabad.

A US security expert and frequent advisor to US military forces inside Afghanistan and Iraq gives me the bottom line:

“Iran has basically exploited our vulnerabilities and filled those gaps well.
The US’s very presence in Afghanistan has helped Iran gain tremendous influence in both Afghanistan and Pakistan because of widespread disdain for US military activities and intervention, period. This is where Iranian diplomacy has excelled. Iran and Pakistan have ramped up their relationship both in military terms and with local insurgents during the past seven years. Iran has moved in and built mosques, schools in the middle of Kabul, for God’s sakes.”

The Iranians may be able to upset hopes of a smooth US military withdrawal from Afghanistan, but, this source warns, the Russians can potentially play “spoiler” in a big way as well:

“In Kyrgyzstan we have a base there to airlift a lot of supplies – mostly food, small scale things, not heavy equipment – for US soldiers and troops inside Afghanistan. Russia has so much influence there that at one point they threatened to give the Kyrgyz more money for the base that we were renting to kick us out and shut down that essential supply route. We were forced to heavily increase our rent payments to stay there.”

A few days ago, the Kyrgyz parliament voted overwhelmingly to shut down this very Manas base by July 2014, a full six months before the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is set to complete. Was it a coincidence that the vote came up around the time of the G8 huddle in Ireland, dominated almost entirely by news about a stand-off on Syria?

The US military source also explains how easily the Russians can sweeten the pot for the Pentagon:

“We have, concurrently, gained some support to withdraw from Afghanistan thru neighboring Tajikistan with the help of the Russians – and in return we are going to have to help build some infrastructure, like roads, under the auspices of US aid. These negotiations within and between the US and Tajik governments are ongoing. On this, the Russians have given their word that if we can find a way to exit through any of these countries, they will not interfere. Of course, the politics are fluid and anything can change at anytime.”

In April, NATO reached out to Moscow for help and advice on their military withdrawal from Afghanistan. NATO is keen to ensure the cleanest exit possible, but is also concerned about volatility in the aftermath of its departure – and desperately wants to avoid the perception of “mission defeat.”

What about the Chinese?

“China’s interests are a bit different. Less focused on our military withdrawal, more inclined to undermine our long-term influences and goals,” explains my source. “The Chinese are hell-bent on influencing countries for resource extraction and allocation, given their huge domestic demand. They are very competitive with the US and are going after the same resource pool. They undermine US influence because they play the game differently – they will bribe where we have strict rules on bidding, etc., and therefore enjoy more flexibility going after these same resources.”

In other words, like just about everybody else in that neighborhood, China will edge out any US gains made over the past decade – in both the political and economic sense.

In terms of near-term domestic and international political perception, however, that loss will pale in comparison to a failure by the Pentagon to secure the safe exit of its assets from Afghanistan.

“In the final analysis,” says the US military source with great irony, “if we want to get out of Afghanistan quickly and with minimum sacrifice to troops and hardware, it would save us a great deal of trouble if we could exit with the help of – and through – Iran.”

Enter James Dobbins, who was named Obama’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan in May. The veteran US diplomat, who I had the opportunity to interview in Washington three years ago, is an interesting choice for this position precisely because he has been so vocal in advocating for US-Iranian negotiations when few others dared.

Dobbins, notably, engaged actively with Iran in the aftermath of the US invasion of Afghanistan, based on a mutual interest of replacing the extremist Taliban with a more moderate, inclusive government. But further dealings came to an abrupt halt just weeks later, when then-US President George W. Bush delivered his infamous “Axis of Evil” speech, including Iran in this trio of top American foes.

It is doubtful that Dobbins or the Doha talks can work any miracles though. The kind of exit the US needs from Afghanistan must rely on a constellation of determined players and events that would be quite remarkable if amassed.

While it is obvious to all that the combined weight of Russia, Iran and China could tip that balance in favor of an expeditious American exit, what would motivate any of these three – who have all recently been at the receiving end of vicious US political and economic machinations – to help?

A grand bargain over Syria would surely be a sweetener: you and your allies exit Syria, we’ll help you exit Afghanistan.

The problem with Washington though, is that it never fails to botch up an opportunity – always striving for that one last impossible power-play which it thinks will help it gain dominance over a situation, a country, an enemy.

There remains the concern that the US’s oft-repeated Al Qaeda mantra – “disrupt, dismantle, defeat” – will prove to be its one-stop solution for every problem.

And that is the exception to my premise about a Syrian exit. That US spoilers who cannot accept even the perception of vulnerability – let alone an outright defeat – may instead choose to catapult the entire Mideast into a region-wide war for the sake of avoiding a painful compromise.

Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter @snarwani.

June 25, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Militarism, War Crimes | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The US’s Afghan Exit May Depend on a Syrian One

Scots U-turn on anti-nukes policy

Press TV -June 25, 2013

The Scottish government has U-turned on its pledge to remove Trident nuclear weapons from the Scottish soil if Scots vote for independence in the 2014 referendum.

The ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) said in a set of proposals for defending an independent Scotland that Faslane naval base, which is the home to British Trident nuclear weapons, could remain a sovereign UK territory after the Scottish independence.

The proposal made by thinktank the Scotland Institute for SNP will enable Britain to continue to use Scotland as a launch pad for its four Trident nuclear-armed submarines for an estimated 20 years until it builds a new Trident home within British borders.

This comes as SNP defense spokesman Angus Robertson said last year that the Scottish government is “against weapons of mass destruction being in our waters” and pledged SNP’s “solid commitment” to the “earliest possible withdrawal of Trident from Scotland”.

SNP has been historically opposed to both Trident and NATO.

The party voted to ditch its anti-NATO policy in October 2012 during their party conference in Perth.

The resolution on NATO was put forward by Robertson himself, who at the time claimed the party will retain its 30-year-old anti-nukes policy and any entrance into NATO will be on the condition that the alliance agrees to Scots’ removal of Trident from their soil.

However, the new proposals reveal that Trident will probably be the subject of the next resolution at a party conference.

The proposals also question the extent of SNP’s commitment to rule a sovereign Scotland as keeping a British sovereign territory on Scottish soil will seriously undermine that concept.

June 25, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, War Crimes | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Scots U-turn on anti-nukes policy

Obama faces protests in South Africa

Press TV – June 25, 2013

Several activist groups have planned protests during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to South Africa, which is part of his $100 million African tour.

The Muslim Lawyers Association in Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city by population, has called for Obama to be arrested when he arrives in the country on June 29, and to be tried for war crimes.

Moreover, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has called on all workers to participate in anti-Obama protests in the South African cities of Pretoria and Cape Town.

“COSATU joins the millions of people and workers the world over, particularly on the African continent and in South Africa, who are outraged at the horrifying record of U.S. foreign policy in the world. We are particularly disappointed by the Obama administration’s record in continuing the appalling U.S. foreign policy performance,” COSATU said in a statement.

Obama and his family will be visiting South Africa, Senegal, and Tanzania from June 26 to July 3.

According to a Washington Post analysis, the first family’s Africa tour will cost American taxpayers up to $100 million.

Hundreds of Secret Service agents are to secure facilities used by the Obamas and a Navy aircraft carrier or amphibious ship, with a fully staffed medical trauma center, will be stationed offshore in case of emergencies.

Obama’s tour also involves 56 support vehicles, including 14 limousines, that are to be airlifted with military cargo planes.

Moreover, three trucks are needed for carrying bulletproof glass panels to cover the windows of the hotels where the first family will be staying.

June 25, 2013 Posted by | Progressive Hypocrite, War Crimes | , , , , | Comments Off on Obama faces protests in South Africa

Stamping Impunity on Israel’s War Crimes

By Vacy Vlazna | Palestine Chronicle | June 25 2013

Australia Post and Israel Post collaboratively issued two stamps. (Photo: Supplied)

Australia Post and Israel Post collaboratively issued two stamps.

Israel and Australia’s joint projects normalizing Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity has sunk deeper in the degenerate mire of hasbara (propaganda & lies);

“So projects that constitute normalization are not about freedom, justice or liberation, but about numbing our minds to the horror of the occupation, so we accept it as normal, as permanent, as an unchangeable fixed reality”! (1)

In May, Australia Post and Israel Post collaboratively issued two stamps commemorating the Australian Light Horse and the WWI Battle of Beersheba in Palestine. The $2.60 stamp features contemporary images of Australian Light Horsemen. The 60c stamp features the statue of an Australian Light Horseman in the Park of the Australian Soldier, funded by the Pratt Foundation, at Beersheba.

ANZAC heroic courage and endurance warrants commemoration but the issue of the stamps entailed a cynical rewriting of Australian war history that deflects ANZAC honor to deodorize Israel’s stinking reputation around the world; the recent BBC’s 2013 Country Rating Poll places Israel squarely amongst North Korea and Pakistan as the world’s most negatively viewed nations

The stamps’ description on the Australia Post shop site states:

“The capture of Beersheba allowed British Empire forces to break the Ottoman line near Gaza and then advance into Palestine, a chain of events which eventually culminated in the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.”

Connecting the ‘capture of Beersheba’ to ‘the establishment of the state of Israel’ is an outright lie. Australian Communications minister, Steven Conroy, showing off his ready dexterity to bend over backwards for Israel, shamelessly repeated the lie:

“I don’t have any role in choosing what’s on stamps, but I do support this – it’s a wonderful tribute to the 4th Light Horse Brigade and recognizes a chain of events that eventually culminated in the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.”

The real chain of events began in 1895 with the Zionist ambition to take over the whole of Palestine for a Jewish homeland which was accelerated in 1947 by Plan Dalet’s systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestine that destroyed over 500 villages, slaughtered thousands of villagers and forcefully deported over 700,000 indigenous Palestinians. Israel then unilaterally declared an independent state in breach of Article 22 of the Covenant of  the League of Nations, still binding, that guaranteed independence for Palestine.

The Australian Zionist lobby has inflated the ANZAC lies. The Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce announcing the special boardroom lunch to celebrate the launch piled on the hasbara:

“During WWI, Australian troops fought alongside the British army to conquer Israel from under ottoman rule…. The friendly Australian soldiers were remembered fondly by residents of the Jewish colonies of Israel. Warm ties were also formed with the Australian soldiers who were stationed in Israel during WWII.”

Fact: In 1917 (and during WWII) Israel did not exist. World War I and II were fought on Palestinian soil.

The claim by Australia Post managing director, Ahmed Fahour is highly questionable, “The Battle of Beersheba is something close to the hearts of both Israelis and Australians” when it was  Palestinian fighters who helped the ANZACs …

“Defending the west and south west of the town, the 27th Division’s 67th and 81st Infantry Regiments, were deployed in the fortified semicircular line of deep trenches and redoubts strengthened by barbed wire. These regiments consisted mainly, of “Arab farmers from the surrounding region, and although inexperienced fighters they were defending their own fields.”(Massey, Graeme (2007). Beersheba: The men of the 4th Light Horse Regiment who charged on the 31st October 1917. Warracknabeal, Victoria: Warracknabeal Secondary College History Department.

… while Palestinian villagers struggled to survive the dire economic impact on their land and livelihoods of the mounted armies of the Imperial and Ottoman forces. The Turks had demolished orchards and all the cavalries ‘drank out wells and grazed their horses on standing crops’. Palestinian foodstuffs and livestock were requisitioned by the British military and consequently there was a shortage of basic food and commodities with awful disruptions to daily life.

One generation later, the same villagers were forcefully routed by Jewish terrorist militias to Gaza where they remain in desolate refugee camps under the illegal and inhumane Israeli siege.

The decision to include the image of the statue of an Australian Light Horseman in the Park of the Australian Soldier was Machiavellian sleight of hand. The Park professes to be “a permanent memorial to those who died in battle for the Jewish state.”

The Park funded by the Pratt Foundation was set up by Zionist Richard Pratt, the Australian Visy Industries billionaire who ripped off Australian customers by fixing prices and market sharing with the rival Amcor group. Visy’s underbelly has been linked to the Hells Angels reputed to have ties to criminal organizations in Australia and overseas.

Nevertheless, Australian political luminaries like Ex-PMs Kevin Rudd and John Howard have attended fundraisers at Pratt’s Melbourne mansion, Raheen; Bill Shorten- now a Minister in the Gillard government- was married there, and others such as exPM Bob Hawke, exPM Gough Whitlam, exPM Malcolm Fraser, ex state premier Nick Grieiner, former police commissioner Mick Miller have been on the Zionist’s lucrative payroll as consultants. Anthony Pratt, Richard’s successor hosted in July 2011, an Australian speaking tour of Israel’s darling, Tony Blair, the supposedly neutral envoy for the Middle East Quartet.

The Park of the Australian Soldier is included in ‘The Anzac Trail from the Be’eri Badlands to Be’er Sheva’ which is a project of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) which seizes Palestinian properties in East Jerusalem and razes, over and over, villages on the ancestral lands of impoverished Bedouins.

If you think that the hijacking of the rising sun’s glory is a preposterous fancy you may change your mind when you scratch the surface of the key-players, to find the web of corporate affiliations to Israel’s military and illegal occupation.

Ahmed Fahour Australia’s highest paid public servant, $2.78 million pa, prior to Australia Post, had a long executive career with Citigroup and its website ‘boasts the largest presence of any foreign financial institution in Israel and offers corporate and investment banking services to leading Israeli corporations and institutions, and global corporations operating in Israel’ including equity offerings for Delek.

Haim Elmoznino, CEO of Israel Post was deputy CEO of Delek Israel Fuel Corporation which supplies Israel’s military-industrial complex. Delek also fuels US warplanes. Delek was the exclusive distributer of Ford in Israel and according to Who Profits, “Ford F550 trucks were retrofitted by Hatehof for the Israeli army to armored personnel carriers for use by the IDF in the West Bank….and its vehicles are used by the ‘Caracal’ military … a combat unit which patrols the occupied section of the Jordan Valley, in the West Bank areas close to the Separation Wall and on the Israeli-Egyptian border.’

Sasi Shilo, Chairman of Israel Post, was, CEO of Netivei Hayovel in which Danya Cebus, a construction firm has a stake. Danya Cebus is a subsidiary of Africa Israel Investments Ltd:

“Africa Israel Chairman and founder Lev Leviev and his brother are responsible for the settlements of Zufim (Tsufim) and Zufim North on land belonging to the village of Jayyous in the northern West Bank. They are being built by a Leviev company called Leader Management & Development. The villageës water wells, greenhouses, and most of its agricultural land have been confiscated for these settlements. Among the largest investors in Africa Israel are Barclayës Global Investors (which has been purchased by BlackRock), and the Vanguard Group. In August 2009, Blackrock made a decision to divest from Africa Israel due to its involvement in the occupation.” (2)

Attending the stamp launch was Yaron Razon, Director of Israel Philatelic Service. who in a past life was CEO of Ma’ariv Magazines. Ma’ariv, according to The political line of Israeli papers (a reader’s guide) in +972, 2010, “ is extremely hostile to the Arab population and to human rights organizations, and recently, it shows a hospitable attitude to the settlement project (a recent double spread all but invited people to live in Tapuach, a settlement formally known as the stronghold of Kahane supporters). Among Israeli papers, Maariv is the most supportive of Avigdor Lieberman’s policies”

Also attending was Australia’s Attorney General Mark Dreyfus whose Zionist colors are for all to see in his 2012 speech (3) to the Zionist Council of Victoria where he reiterated the Australian governments ‘enduring support for Israel’ and pointed out how PM Gillard supported Israel’s wearisome mantra of its right to defend itself by perpetrating war crimes against Gaza in 2008/9 and by voting against the UN Goldstone Report which Dreyfus falsely declared was discredited.

Concerned Australians have bombarded the Postal Ombusdman, Australia Post and Minister Conroy with protests against the government’s commandeering of ANZAC and Palestinian history for the whitewashing of Israel state terrorism and demanding the withdrawal of the stamps because young ANZAC soldiers did not sacrifice their lives to give the stamp of approval to Israel’s impunity to daily violate international law and wreak inhuman suffering on Palestinian men, women, children and the elderly.

– Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001.

Notes:

(1) Samah Sabawi, Colonization of the Mind: Normalize This!
(2) Interfaith Peace Initiative.
(3) Mark Dreyfus Speech to Zionist Council of Victoria.

June 25, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | 2 Comments

NSA Scandal: How Leaks Advance Liberty and Resist Tyranny

Using technology to keep the government in check

By Jerry Brito | Reason | June 18, 2013

We now know what we have long suspected: that the National Security Agency is collecting the phone call records of all Americans. And we are now justified in suspecting what we have long feared: that it is also keeping a permanent backup copy of everything that happens on the Internet, ready to be rewound and replayed in the future. Such a massive surveillance apparatus is a threat not only to privacy, but also to liberty. So what hope do we have that such power can be kept in check, and that we don’t succumb to ever greater tyranny?

If the secret surveillance itself is any indication, then the separation of powers is not up to the task. According to President Obama, domestic surveillance programs are “under very strict supervision by all three branches of government.” Yet it doesn’t seem very strict when more than half of the Senate couldn’t be bothered to show up last week for a major briefing by the government’s top intelligence officials.

“Strict supervision” also doesn’t seem very meaningful when you consider that the FISA Court is a hand-picked non-adversarial specialist court that approved every surveillance request it got last year. Experience suggests that specialist courts tend to get captured by their bar, and in the case of the FISA Court, that means just the government.

More to the point, a secret court issuing secret orders based on secret interpretations of the law makes any debate or commentary impossible. Even when there is a will on the part of some lawmakers to carry out oversight, executive branch officials will apparently lie under oath. So if not on the Constitution and its institutions, on what can we rely to keep government power in check?

Technology might be the answer, but not in the way you might think.

Yes, we can encrypt our communications by using PGP, Tor, and OTR chat, and we can transact using Bitcoin. These are invaluable tools of resistance to censorship and oppression. Ultimately, though, most people won’t use them because they won’t see any immediate benefit to justify the effort. And in a world where few use these tools, those who do will perversely draw attention to themselves.

Instead, technology might help keep government power in check the same way it helps it grow: by making it impossible for anyone to keep secrets—including the government itself.

When Daniel Ellsberg decided to leak the Pentagon Papers in 1969, he spent a year sneaking out the 7,000 classified pages one briefcaseful at a time. He spent countless hours each evening in front of a primitive photocopier, and he spent thousands of dollars on the endeavor. In contrast, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden’s leaks of considerably more data were relative cakewalks. The same digital technology that makes it possible to capture and store vast quantities of surveillance information also makes it possible for the first time in history to copy and release hundreds of thousands of pages of classified information.

A surveillance state as big as the one that’s now coming into view necessarily means that there are more secrets and more people with access to those secrets than ever before. More than 92 million documents were classified in 2011, up from 76 million the year before, and 23 million when President Obama took office. All of that data is digital, and therefore eminently reproducible.

There are also over 4.2 million persons with security clearances, and over a million of those can access top secret documents. Contractors, like Snowden, are an indispensable part of the system, and there are almost 2,000 private companies working for the government on programs related to homeland security and intelligence.

There simply has to be that many documents and that many people with access in order to build and run such a massive edifice. The larger it grows, however, the more untenable it becomes. As Julian Assange pointed out in a pre-Wikileaks essay, an organization keeps secrets because if what it’s doing is revealed, it will induce opposition. A small criminal conspiracy may be able to keep its secrets by limiting its numbers and not writing anything down. A large conspiracy, on the other hand, can’t function unless it systematizes its activities, and that involves a long paper trail and lots of confidants, which makes it more difficult to prevent leaks.

“The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie,” Assange wrote. To cope, such an organization can shrink and do less, he wrote, or introduce more security and controls and thus inefficiency. Either way, the organization’s power will contract.

We’re already witnessing such a reaction to Snowden’s leaks. On Thursday Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that Congress plans to draft legislation limiting private contractor access to secret documents. “We will certainly have legislation which will limit [or] prevent contractors from handling highly classified data,” she said. Today NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander announced that the agency will implement a “two-person rule” that would require anyone copying data to do so with another person present—a buddy system that potentially halves the NSA’s efficiency.

In attempting to limit leaks, such legislation would also effectively limit government’s power. That’s the happy dilemma the technology introduces. Digital communications makes achieving and exploiting “total information awareness” possible, but it also makes it almost impossible to keep the resulting corruption under wraps. Secrecy just doesn’t scale.

June 25, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, Progressive Hypocrite, Solidarity and Activism | , , , | 1 Comment