Aletho News


Obama Calls Rouhani

Al-Manar | September 27, 2013

US President Barack Obama and Iran’s President Hasan Rouhani spoke by phone Friday as the latter was wrapping up his visit to New York.

Rouhani received the call from Obama on Friday as he was in a car heading to the John F. Kennedy International Airport to fly back to Tehran, IRNA reported.

The Iranian and US presidents underlined the need for a political will for expediting resolution of West’s standoff with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program.

President Rouhani and President Obama stressed the necessity for mutual cooperation on different regional issues.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his American counterpart John Kerry have been commissioned to follow up talks between the two countries.

“Just now, I spoke on the phone with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program,” Obama announced.

“I’ve made clear that we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy in the context of Iran meeting its obligations. So the test will be meaningful, transparent and verifiable actions, which can also bring relief from the comprehensive international sanctions that are currently in place,” he added.

September 27, 2013 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Comments Off on Obama Calls Rouhani

Democracy Syrian-style

By Ken Meyercord | Dissident Voice | September 27, 2013

One thing about the ongoing crisis in Syria almost never mentioned in our media — even the alternative media — is the role of the nonviolent opposition to the Baathist regime. After the uprising began in the spring of 2011, the government engaged this opposition in discussions about reform of the Syrian political system. Out of these discussions came a new constitution, approved in February 2012 by 90% of the electorate in a popular referendum with a 57% turnout rate.

Prior to the new constitution, Syria was officially a one-party state: the Baathist party, to which the current and former president belonged, being that party. In 2007 the nomination by the Syrian parliament of Bashar al-Assad as President of Syria was approved by 98% of the electorate with a 96% turnout rate — just the sort of mandate you would expect of an authoritarian regime. Under the new constitution Syria became a multiparty state; elections to parliament were open to any political party.

In May of last year parliamentary elections under the new constitution were held. There were two blocs contending for the vote: the pro-government National Progressive Front, comprised of 6 parties, and the oppositional Popular Front for Change and Liberation, which included two parties. Of the 250 seats in the assembly, the Baathists won 134 seats with 34 seats distributed among the other parties in the National Front, including 6 seats for the two factions of the Communist Party. The opposition shared 5 seats. Seventy-seven members of the new parliament were not affiliated with any party. The constitution stipulates that at least half of the members of the assembly must be workers or farmers.

In other words, the Syrian parliament encompasses a diversity of opinion we can only dream of seeing in our own Congress — quite a coup for the nonviolent opposition. An election for President is scheduled for next May, quite a concession for a man our media labels a “thug”, “dictator”, “tyrant”, especially as most governments, including our own, when facing a stressful situation become more authoritarian (e.g., Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, Palmer Raids of the 1920s, the Patriot Act, etc.) . What more does the violent opposition want? No wonder they have to rely on foreign Jihadists to do their fighting!

Critics of the Syrian regime will claim the elections were fraudulent, or, as the Obama administration put it, “ludicrous”. I have no idea whether this is the case and would welcome the views of those better informed than me. I suspect critics of the elections seldom offer any supporting evidence for their claims. Every country grapples with seeing that their elections are fair (cf. Voter ID laws). Before we dismiss the newfound democracy in Syria as a sham, maybe we should give it a chance, especially as the lives of thousands of people — mostly Syrian but perhaps some of our own — are at risk. If the administration’s goal in Syria is regime change, maybe it should wait and see whether the Syrian people effect it in a peaceful manner next spring or, if the incumbent is re-elected, accept the fact that democracy doesn’t always work out the way we would like.

Postscript: If you didn’t know about recent political developments in Syria, don’t feel bad. I attended an event today where none of the speakers — neither Cole Bockenfeld and Stephen McInerney of the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) nor Shadi Hamid, Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution — were aware of the elections held under the new Syrian constitution.


Ken Meyercord is an avid follower of foreign affairs who has visited over 70 countries and worked in four of them. He has a Master’s in Middle East History from the American University of Beirut. He produces a public access TV show called Worlddocs which he bills as “bringing the world to the people of the Washington, DC area through documentaries you won’t see broadcast on corporate TV.”

September 27, 2013 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | Comments Off on Democracy Syrian-style

How Did ATF Lose 420 Million Cigarettes?

By Noel Brinkerhoff | AllGov | September 27, 2013

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is in trouble again, this time for losing more than 400 million cigarettes.

ATF agents failed to properly account for 2.1 million cartons containing 420 million cigarettes as part of the agency’s undercover operations, according to the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (IG). The missing cartons had a retail value of $127 million.

The IG’s office also reported that ATF paid an informant more than $4.9 million without requiring him to account for his expenses.

“We found a significant lack of oversight and controls to ensure that cash, cigarettes, equipment and other assets used…were accurately tracked, properly safeguarded and protected from misuse,” IG Michael E. Horowitz said in his report (pdf).

The mistakes were discovered after the inspector general’s office reviewed 20 undercover operations targeting cigarette smugglers that generated $162 million in income for ATF over a five-year period.

Like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration, ATF is allowed under the law to use proceeds generated from certain investigations to make up for gaps in the agency’s budget.

When asked about the millions of missing cigarettes, ATF spokeswoman Ginger Colbrun told The Washington Post that the inspector general’s numbers were wrong. Colbrun insisted only 447,218 cartons were unaccounted for, not 2.1 million, after ATF conducted its own internal probe of the matter.

ATF has been under fire during the past few years for having lost more than 2,000 guns that it used as part of a Mexican drug cartel sting operation called “Fast and Furious.”

To Learn More:

ATF Lost Track of 2.1 Million Cartons of Cigarettes in Sting Operations, Report Finds (by Sari Horwitz, Washington Post)

ATF ‘Lost 420m Cigarettes’ in Churning Investigations (BBC News)

Audit of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Use of Income-Generating, Undercover Operations (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Audit Division) (pdf)

Is This the Most Bungled ATF Sting Operation Ever? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

ATF Program Let Hundreds of Guns go to Drug Cartels (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Largest Seizure of Illegal Cigarettes in History (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

September 27, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Deception | , , , , , | Comments Off on How Did ATF Lose 420 Million Cigarettes?

Nuclear Dumb and Dumber

Canada’s Proposed Radioactive Waste Dump Next to Lake Huron

By John LaForge |  September 27, 2013

Kincardine, Ontario – The thought “Dumb and Dumber” came to mind as I recorded the work of Canada’s Joint Review Panel Sept. 23 and 24, here in Ontario, on the east end of Lake Huron. The JRP is currently taking comments on a proposal to dump radioactive waste in a deep hole, 1mile from the shore of this magnificent inland sea.

What has to be called just plain dumb, is that the nuclear bomb industry branched out to build nuclear power reactors and, as E.F. Schumacher said, to “accumulate large amounts of highly toxic substances which nobody knows how to make safe and which remain an incalculable danger to the whole of creation for historical or even geological ages.” Unfortunately in the case of radioactive waste this has happened here, in Canada, etc.

Then, the giant Canadian utility Ontario Power Generation (OPG) proposes to bury its radioactive waste in a limestone dug-out, or “deep geologic repository,” one mile from the Great Lake Huron.

This must be considered “dumber”, but you’d be amazed at how much dumber it gets. Listening to the presentations of government regulators and utility propagandists for two long days normally puts reporters to sleep. But the staggering implausibility of some statements and the shockingly cavalier nature of others kept me blindingly awake.

The low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste that could be dumped in a 2,200-foot deep hole here — 200,000 cubic meters of it — contains long-lived, alpha radiation emitters like plutonium, the most toxic substance on Earth, which is dangerous for 240,000 years (10 half-lives).

Yet the reactor operator, Ontario Power Generation, had the nerve to say in a 2008 public handout: “[E]ven if the entire waste volume were to be dissolved into Lake Huron, the corresponding drinking water dose would be a factor of 100 below the regulatory criteria initially, and decreasing with time.”

This flabbergasting assertion prompted me to ask the oversight panel, “Why would the government dig a 1-billion-dollar waste repository, when it is safe to throw all the radiation into the lake?” The panel members must have considered my question rhetorical because they didn’t answer.

But it gets dumber.

There is much concern among Canadians over the fact that their government’s allowable limit for radioactive tritium in drinking water is 7,000 becquerels-per-liter. In the U.S., the EPA’s allowable limit is 740 bq/L — a standard almost ten times more strict. (A Becquerel is a single radioactive disintegration per second.) Tritium is the radioactive form of hydrogen, it can’t be filtered out of water, and it is both dumped and vented by operating nuclear reactors, and can leak from radioactive wastes in large amounts.

When the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission staff scientist at the hearing, Dr. Patsy Thompson, was asked why Canada’s allowable contamination was so much higher than the U.S.’s, Thompson said, “The U.S. limit is based on using wrong dose conversion factors from the 1970s that haven’t been corrected.”

This preposterous assertion went unchallenged (because of hearings rules that required questions to be reserved in advance), but it will certainly be contested by Canadians and those in the U.S. who have learned a lot about tritium hazards since the ‘70s.

Can you believe it got dumber still? Lothar Doehler, Manager of the Radiation Protection Service in the Occupational health and Safety Branch, Ministry of Labor, testified that “To ensure safety after a radiological accident, the labor ministry does monitoring of water, vegetables, soil and other foods.”

I rushed to reserve a question and said for the record, “When the Labor Ministry measures radiation releases in the environment during a radiological accident, those releases have already occurred and exposure to that radiation has already begun. Simply monitoring the extent of radiological contamination does not ‘ensure safety’ from that radiation in any sense. Measuring radiation merely quantifies the harm being done by exposure to what is measured. Does the ministry have the authority to order evacuations from contaminated areas, like in Fukushima? Or to order the replacement of contaminated water with safe water, like in Fukushima? Or to order the cessation of fishing or fish consumption in the event of their contamination, like at Fukushima?”

The Chair of the JRP, Dr. Stella Swanson answered that the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety was responsible for evacuation planning in the event of a disaster. For his part, Mr. Doehler added that he was responsible “… to see that radioactively contaminated food was safe to eat.”

Stupefied by Mr. Doehler’s “blunder,” I missed a direct follow-up question and had to hustle after the man in the parking lot during a break to ask, “Pardon me Mr. Doehler; You didn’t mean to say that eating radioactive contamination in food is safe did you?”

“Oh, no,” Mr. Doehler said, “I apologize if I left that impression” — as he handed me his card.

Now Mr. Doehler is a highly-paid, high-level professional government official and didn’t make a mistake as I’d assumed. He’s not dumb or dumber, but enjoys deliberately misstating the facts when he can get away with it and when it suits his interests — just as Dr. Patsy Thompson does.

No, the sad mistake here is that so many catastrophic government actions can move ahead toward approval because the general public is keeping too quiet, or “playing dumb.”

John LaForge works for Nukewatch, an environmental watchdog group in Wisconsin, and edits its Quarterly newsletter.


September 27, 2013 Posted by | Environmentalism, Nuclear Power, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Comments Off on Nuclear Dumb and Dumber

“It is time we ban nuclear weapons”

Civil society statement to the UN high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament

Delivered by Nosizwe Lise Baqwa of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) on behalf of civil society

26 September 2013, New York

The use of a nuclear weapon on a major populated area would immediately kill tens if not hundreds of thousands of people—women, men, and children.

Hundreds of thousands more would be alive—but severely injured. Blinded, burned, crushed. The immediate effects of even a single nuclear weapon are shocking and overwhelming. Its destructive force capable of nightmarish scenes of death and despair. Of suffering. They go far beyond what is considered acceptable, even in the context of war.

The blinding flash will leave people sightless; the massive blast will level cities; the searing heat and spreading fires will melt steel and engulf homes, and can coalesce into a firestorm that will suck the air from anyone still breathing.

And the survivors of these physical traumas may yet be poisoned by radioactivity, which invades and destroys their bodies over the days and weeks that follow.

In addition to this, there are significant long-term impacts of a nuclear weapons explosion.

A single nuclear weapon will cause devastating damage to infrastructure, critical industry, to our livelihoods and to our lives. The lives of fathers, of mothers, of grandparents; the lives of our children. The long-term effects of exposure to radiation will lead to increased incidence of leukemia and solid cancers among survivors, and a heightened risk of hereditary effects for future generations. Their use would result in large-scale forced or voluntary migration—floods of refugees into neighboring countries, who would be unable to return home for decades, if ever. A nuclear weapons explosion will affect the environment and agricultural production for decades to come.

If multiple nuclear weapons were used, the combined effects of their firestorms would seriously disrupt the global climate, causing widespread agricultural collapse and famine that could blight the lives of millions. Global communications and electrical and electronic systems would be disrupted. An extensive nuclear exchange would produce temperatures lower than the last ice age.

The effects will spread beyond borders, to areas far away from where the bombs were dropped.

There will be a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable people around the world: those without enough food; those without access to health care, water, and education; those who are already suffering from the lack of resources.

The Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Oslo held in March this year, concluded that it would not be possible to coordinate and deliver any meaningful humanitarian response, to a catastrophe brought about by nuclear weapons. No international organization or state could adequately deal with the situation.

Any use of nuclear weapons would eradicate hospitals, food, water and medical supplies, transportation and communications—infrastructure required for the treatment of survivors.

Physicians and paramedics arriving from outside would have to work without resources needed for effective treatment; furthermore, radiation, as we know from both Chernobyl and Fukushima, can make it impossible for rescuers to enter highly contaminated areas.

There are still many aspects of the impact of nuclear weapons that are rarely discussed. We look forward to the upcoming conference in Mexico next year, where we hope all governments will continue to engage in a fact-based discussion around the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. The horror that these weapons threaten is stark.

That nuclear weapons have not already been clearly declared illegal for all, alongside the other prohibited weapons of mass destruction, is a failure of our collective social responsibility.

The time has come for committed states to correct that failure. The time has come to ban nuclear weapons once and for all.

The current framework provided for multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations has not been able to overcome the lack of political will of nuclear-armed states to comply with their obligations to disarm. Let us not allow deadlocks in meetings to be the legacy we leave behind us, for our children.

A treaty banning nuclear weapons is achievable. It can be initiated by states that do not possess nuclear weapons. Nuclear-armed states should not be allowed to prevent such negotiations. We should not abandon productive or promising efforts in other forums, but neither should we ignore the opportunity that lies before us now, to make history.

History shows that legal prohibitions of weapon systems—of their use or their possession—facilitate their elimination. Weapons that have been outlawed increasingly become seen as illegitimate. They lose their political status, and so do not continue compelling money and resources to be invested in their production, modernisation, proliferation, and perpetuation.

The ban on nuclear weapons will raise the political and economic costs of maintaining them, by prohibiting assistance with the development, production, or testing of nuclear weapon systems.

The new treaty will perhaps be the most important tool in our collective work towards eliminating nuclear weapons, and this tool can actually be achieved now.

It will take courage. It will take the leadership by states free of nuclear weapons. And you will have the support of civil society. My name is Nosizwe Lise Baqwa and I am a campaigner from ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Campaigners like me, from all around the world, are demanding action to finally achieve the outlawing and elimination of nuclear weapons. It is time. It is time to change the status quo. It is time we ban nuclear weapons.

September 27, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , | Comments Off on “It is time we ban nuclear weapons”

Settlers burn olive trees in Sarta


Illegal settlers and Israeli army invading Sarta (photo by Nima Musleh)
International Solidarity Movement | September 27, 2013

Sarta, Occupied Palestine – Settlers burnt around 35 olive trees in the Palestinian village of Sarta late on Thursday night, following the area being declared a closed military zone in preparation for the construction of a new settler road.

Around 60 settlers from the illegal Bruchin settlement and surrounding area, many armed with guns, set fire to the trees late on Thursday 26th September. At around midnight, the settlers arrived in Sarta. The town mayor asked the Palestinian Authority to liaise with the Israeli army in order to intervene, but when Israeli forces arrived on the scene they informed villagers that the area had been declared closed and told them to leave.

Two days earlier, town residents witnessed four bulldozers arrive in the village to prepare the ground for the construction of the road, which will connect the settlement with road five and is part of an expansion plan for the settlement which will take it from 40 houses to around 550.

The proposed road and settlement expansion is a source of concern to local Palestinians, who stand to lose much of their land under new plans, including local features such as a 500-year-old cemetery.

September 27, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , | Comments Off on Settlers burn olive trees in Sarta

John Humphrys’ ignorance about Iran is par for the course in all Western media

By Peter Oborne | The Telegraph | September 26, 2013

… Mr Humphrys told listeners that “there will be high-level meetings to find ways of Iran giving up its nuclear weapons programme in exchange for sanctions being dropped”. Unfortunately for Humphrys, Iran does not have a nuclear weapons programme… Read full article

CASMII – September 27, 2013

In BBC Today’s programme today John Humphreys referred to Iran’s “nuclear weapons programme”, something that BBC does now and again.

Interviewing the Israeli government’s spokesman, Mark Gregory, he did not challenge him on his numerous lies and accusations, including describing Iran’s programme as “an aggressive nuclear weapons programme”, a phrase that Humphrey repeated! Neither did he challenge Gregory on the lie that the current Iranian government has threatened Israel with “obliteration” in the past couple of weeks.

It is crucial that people individually write to the BBC and John Humphreys and not allow such venomous propaganda to go unchallenged.

You can listen to the interview here. It starts at around 1.33.49

September 27, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Wars for Israel | , , , , | Comments Off on John Humphrys’ ignorance about Iran is par for the course in all Western media