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New Iran deal demands are stumbling blocks but won’t kill deal – Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich

June 29, 2015

The Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has flown from Vienna to Tehran for consultations after holding tough negotiations with his Western counterparts on the Iranian Nuclear program. The negotiations on the final bargaining conditions of Tehran’s nuclear program have ended with no result and it’s become evident that they will pass over the Tuesday deadline. RT is joined by political commentator Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich.

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June 29, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Video, Wars for Israel | , , , | Leave a comment

If Israel was a democracy, Freedom Flotilla would be allowed to Gaza

Richard Sudan | RT | June 29, 2015

Three of the four boats in the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla have turned back as the flagship Marianne was intercepted by the Israeli military and rerouted to Ashdod port. If Israel was a democracy it would grant this boat safe passage to Gaza.

These activists are peaceful people sailing in international waters, and are attempting to bring aid, and to donate a fishing boat to the people of Gaza, who are at the mercy of one of the most ruthless and sophisticated armed forces in the world. An attempt to stop them while they are in international waters, itself constitutes a breach of international law. Israel commits war crimes which are acknowledged by the United Nations and many human rights organizations. Let’s consider who the real terrorists in this scenario are. It isn’t the people struggling to have a decent quality of life in the most densely populated piece of land in the world. The idea that Palestinians could present a threat to such a powerful state as Israel is simply ludicrous. Israel holds the political, military, and economic power and controls the information narrative.

We should never forget when thinking about the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, that when Israeli forces stormed the Mavi Marmara in 2010, in an act of piracy, they killed nine people with one person later dying from injuries. The authorities have acted as if no crime was ever committed and as if Israel has nothing to answer for. That is state-sponsored violence with complete impunity.

Our boat is the last to set sail. However, we were told Sunday that our boat for now remains in Athens, and is not moving. At the moment, that’s all I can say.

For this reason, at the time of writing, we are preparing to deviate from the original plan and are making alternate plans to reach our ultimate destination. I would like to be specific at this point but cannot say much more than I already have. What I can say however, is that everyone here is motivated by a drive to highlight what is happening in Gaza through peaceful means.

We are being labeled as trouble makers and as agitators who are trying to make trouble for Israel, which of course is always presented as being guilty of nothing.

Past and present parliamentarians from different nations, aid workers, scholars, and journalists do not paint a picture of terrorists. Actually they have a track record of working against terrorists, many of them working in areas of conflict in the past with people who have had their lives torn apart by war.

They say, as they do when anyone tries to reach Gaza that the act in itself is an act of terrorism because the government in Gaza is run by Hamas. Hamas – who were elected and who represent the people.

Whatever one might think of Hamas is irrelevant, unless of course you happen to live in Palestine. Hamas did not bomb hundreds of innocent people last summer including hundreds of children.

The act of trying to prevent some fishing boats being delivered to people who are trapped and who have no freedom of movement is a monstrous one. These activists are unarmed and are 100 percent not a threat to Israel; they are pretty selfless human beings who simply care. If Israel was a democracy it would grant these activists safe passage. Israel however fulfills none of its obligations to the people of Palestine, and so it’s no surprise that it refuses to acknowledge the humanitarian crisis it has created.

What is wrong with equal rights for everyone under a system which treats everyone the same? If it was good enough for South Africa then surely it’s good enough for the rest of the world.

The FF3 coalition is a peaceful campaign absolutely maintaining a policy of nonviolence. It seems pretty clear though at this stage as if Israel is determined to allow no aid through to Gaza, and will continue to act as judge, jury, and executioner towards anyone that dare question or disagree with the colonial settler state.

I hope the brave souls who are on the vessels already at sea make it and that no harm comes to any of them. They do not deserve to have their names dragged through the dirt by a largely ignorant liberal press, and it’s an utter disgrace that many are happy to highlight a humanitarian crisis elsewhere in the world, while Palestine gets pushed to the side-lines. If FF3 serves to highlight any of this then the campaign will have been worth it.

Richard Sudan, is a London based writer, political activist, and performance poet. Follow him on Twitter.

June 29, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Rise and Fall of the Human Terrain System

By ROBERTO J. GONZÁLEZ | CounterPunch | June 29, 2015

The most expensive social science program in history–the US Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS)–has quietly come to an end. During its eight years of existence, the controversial program cost tax payers more than $725 million. The Pentagon distributed much of the funding to two large defense firms that became the HTS’s principal contractors: BAE Systems and CGI Federal.

HTS supporters frequently claimed that the program would increase cultural understanding between US forces and Iraqis and Afghans–and therefore reduce American and civilian casualties. The program’s leaders insisted that embedded social scientists were delivering sociocultural knowledge to commanders, but the reality was more complex. HTS personnel conducted a range of activities including data collection, intelligence gathering, and psychological operations. In at least one case, an HTS employee supported interrogations in Afghanistan (Weinberger 2011).

The program also served a more insidious function: It became a propaganda tool for convincing the American public–especially those with liberal tendencies–that the US-led occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan were benevolent missions in which smart, fresh-faced young college graduates were playing a role. It appeared to demonstrate how US forces were engaged in a kinder, gentler form of occupation. Department of Defense photos portrayed HTS personnel sitting on rugs while drinking tea with Afghan elders, or distributing sweets to euphoric Iraqi children. Here was a war that Americans could feel good about fighting.

When HTS was first announced in late 2006, I followed its development with concern. Along with many other anthropologists, I opposed the program because of the potential harm it might bring to Iraqi and Afghan civilians–and to future generations of social scientists who might be accused of being spies when conducting research abroad.

Apart from anthropologists, HTS had other critics. A small but vocal group of military officers publicly criticized the program, noting that it was “undermining sustainable military cultural competence” (Connable 2009) and that in practice, “the effectiveness of the HTTs [human terrain teams] was dubious at best” (Gentile 2013). Yet despite these criticisms, the program grew exponentially. At its peak in 2010, HTS employed more than 500 people ranging from career academics with PhDs to retired Special Forces personnel. Over the next few years, more than 30 “human terrain teams” (HTTs) were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the program’s annual budget exploded to more than $150 million.

Then in 2014, an odd thing happened. News reports and official statements about HTS virtually disappeared. Its slick website was no longer updated. HTS’s boosters fell silent. And when I tried phoning its headquarters at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas earlier this year, no one answered the phone.

I became curious about the fate of HTS. I heard conflicting accounts from military social scientists, former employees, and journalists who had written about it in the past. A few claimed that the program had ended–as did Wikipedia’s entry on the Human Terrain System. However, none of these sources included concrete evidence confirming its termination.

In an effort to verify the program’s official status, I contacted the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), which was HTS’s home since its inception. I had resisted contacting TRADOC because in the past, my inquiries had gone unanswered. But earlier this month, I decided to try once more.

To my surprise, I received a response from Major Harold Huff of TRADOC’s Public Affairs Office. In a two-line email message sent to me last week, Huff confirmed that HTS had indeed ended on September 30, 2014. In order to get a better understanding of HTS’s hasty demise, let us review its history.

Embedded Social Science

HTS was launched in June 2006 as a program designed to embed five-person teams with Army combat brigades. According to the original HTS blueprint, each team would combine military personnel with academically trained cultural specialists–preferably social scientists with graduate degrees. Early in 2007, the first HTT was deployed to Khost, Afghanistan where it was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade. By the end of the year, four more teams were deployed across the country.

The program’s principal architect was cultural anthropologist Montgomery McFate. For the first four years of the program, she and retired Army Colonel Steve Fondacaro (who was hired as HTS’s manager) tirelessly promoted the program. Their PR blitz included front-page stories in the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle Magazine and dozens of articles in magazines and newspapers. The corporate media generally described HTS in glowing terms, and occasionally journalists portrayed McFate as a bohemian bad girl. One infatuated reporter described her as a “punk rock wild child. . . with a penchant for big hats and American Spirit cigarettes and a nose that still bears the tiny dent of a piercing 25 years closed” (Stannard 2007). McFate was the perfect shill.

HTS’s meteoric ascent paralleled and was accelerated by the rise to power of General David Petraeus, who was a staunch supporter. As a commander in Iraq, Petraeus became known for an unusual strategy that relied upon “securing” the population by interacting with civilians and paying off local tribal leaders in exchange for political support. This “population-centric” approach became known as the Petraeus Doctrine and was welcomed by some Army officers. Many Pentagon officials (particularly Defense Secretary Robert Gates) were impressed with the strategy, which was soon codified when Petraeus oversaw the publication of a new Army field manual, FM 3-24: Counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency warfare had an air of theoretical legitimacy–indeed, Petraeus surrounded himself with a team of advisors with doctoral degrees in political science and history. These men referred to counterinsurgency as “the graduate level of war.”

Many brigade commanders fell into line once the Petraeus Doctrine was established as the Army’s preferred method for fighting insurgents. Criticizing counterinsurgency–or HTS for that matter–was a bad move for officers seeking to advance their careers. Congressmen and women generally liked the new approach because it appeared to be succeeding (at least in Iraq) and because many viewed it as less lethal. And HTS fit perfectly with the narrative that Petraeus had crafted with the help of compliant reporters: counterinsurgency is the thinking man’s warfare.

However, HTS encountered a series of obstacles. As mentioned above, the program met organized resistance from academic anthropologists. Less than a year after the first HTT was deployed to Afghanistan, the American Anthropological Association issued a sharply worded statement in which it expressed disapproval of the program. An ad hoc group, the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, succeeded in gathering the signatures of more than 1,000 anthropologists who pledged to avoid counterinsurgency work.

HTS was also beset by tragedy. Between May 2008 and January 2009, three employees of the program–Michael Bhatia, Nicole Suveges, and Paula Loyd–were killed in action. Some suggested that in its rush to supply the Army with social scientists, BAE Systems (which had been granted large contracts to manage HTS) was not providing personnel with sufficient training.

It soon became clear that BAE Systems was on a hiring binge and was inadequately screening HTS applicants. Most of the academics who were hired had no substantive knowledge of Iraqi or Afghan culture. Very few could speak or understand Arabic, Pashto, Dari, or Farsi. But the pressure was on–the Army needed “human terrain analysts” ASAP and was willing to pay top dollar to get them. Vanessa Gezari nicely summarizes the results of these bizarre hiring patterns:

Some were bright, driven, talented people who contributed useful insights–but an equal number of unqualified people threatened to turn the whole effort into a joke. The Human Terrain System–which had been described in the pages of military journals and briefed to commanders in glowing, best-case-scenario terms–was ultimately a complex mix of brains and ambition, idealism and greed, idiocy, optimism, and bad judgment. (Gezari 2013: 197)

As early as 2009, reports of racism, sexual harassment, and payroll padding began to emerge, and an Army investigation found that HTS was plagued by severe problems (Vander Brook 2013). To make matters worse, the investigators found that many brigade commanders considered HTTs to be ineffective. In the wake of these revelations, Fondacaro and McFate resigned from the program. Army Colonel Sharon Hamilton replaced Fondacaro as program manager, while anthropologist Christopher King took over as chief social scientist.

But by this point, HTS was making a transition from “proof-of-concept” to a permanent “program of record”–a major milestone towards full institutionalization. As a Pentagon correspondent told me, once such programs become permanent, “these things never really die.” This makes HTS’s recent expiration all the more perplexing.

Downward Spiral

Given its spectacular growth and the Army’s once insatiable demand for embedded social scientists, one might ask: Why did HTS fall into a downward spiral?

One reason had to do with the scheduled pullout of US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. As early as 2012, HTS’s management team was desperately searching for a way to market the program after a US troop withdrawal:

With Iraq behind it and the end of its role in Afghanistan scheduled for 2014, the operative term used by US Army Human Terrain System managers these days is “Phase Zero.” The term refers to sending small teams of Army human terrain experts to gather information about local populations–their customs and sensitivities–perhaps in peacetime and certainly before areas boil over into a conflict that might require a larger number of US forces. Human Terrain System advocates see Phase Zero as a way for the program to survive in a more austere military (Hodges 2012).

Apparently, none of the military’s branches or combatant commands were interested in funding the program beyond fiscal year 2014. Perhaps HTS’s reputation preceded it. In an email message, an Army reserve officer told me that “like the armored vehicles being given to police departments, they [HTS personnel] are sort of surplus. . .mostly looking for customers.”

Others employed by the military have recounted similar stories. For example, an anthropologist who works in a military organization (who asked not to be named and was not speaking in an official capacity) noted, “many military personnel did express objections to the program for a variety of reasons. They just expressed their critiques internally.”

Another factor that undoubtedly damaged HTS’s long-term survival was Petraeus’s spectacular fall from grace during his tenure as CIA director. “From Hero to Zero,” reported the Washington Post after his extramarital exploits and reckless handling of classified information were publicized (Moyer 2015). In the aftermath of the Petraeus-Broadwell affair, some journalists began to acknowledge that their enthusiasm for counterinsurgency warfare was due in large part to “hero-worship and runaway military idolatry” centered around Petraeus’s personality cult (Vlahos 2012). In a remarkably candid confession, Wired magazine’s Spencer Ackerman (2012) admitted:

the more I interacted with his staff, the more persuasive their points seemed. . . in retrospect, I was insufficiently critical [of counterinsurgency doctrine]. . .Another irony that Petraeus’s downfall reveals is that some of us who egotistically thought our coverage of Petraeus and counterinsurgency was so sophisticated were perpetuating myths without fully realizing it.

The Petraeus-Broadwell scandal ripped away the shroud of mystique that had enveloped counterinsurgency’s promoters. Perhaps HTS unfairly suffered from the collateral damage–but then again, the program’s architects had conveniently cast their lot with the Petraeus boys. (Mark Twain might have said of the situation: You pays your money and you takes your choice.)

By 2013, a fresh wave of criticism began to surround HTS. Anthropologists continued their opposition, but HTS’s newest critics were not academics–they were investigative journalists and an irate Congressman. USA Today correspondent Tom Vanden Brook published a series of excoriating articles based upon documents that the newspaper had obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Independent reporter John Stanton cultivated a network of HTS insiders and published dozens of reports about the program’s seedier aspects. Journalist Vanessa Gezari was another critical observer. After several years of careful research, she published a riveting exposé in 2013, entitled The Tender Soldier. In it, she tells readers: “I wanted to believe in the Human Terrain System’s capacity to make the US military smarter, but the more time I spent with the team, the more confused I became” (Gezari 2013: 169). And later in the same chapter: “The Human Terrain System lied to the public and to its own employees and contract staff about the nature of its work in Afghanistan. . . [it] would prove less controversial for what it did than for its sheer incompetence” (Ibid.: 192).

As if these critiques were not enough, US Representative Duncan Hunter, a Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, launched a one-man crusade against the program. His frustration was palpable: “It’s shocking that this program, with its controversy and highly questionable need, could be extended. It should be ended,” he said in early 2014. The pressure was mounting.

Another problem facing HTS was the broad shift in Pentagon priorities, away from cultural intelligence and towards geospatial intelligence. As noted by geographer Oliver Belcher (2013: 189), the latter “marks a real move towards conducting human terrain intelligence at a distance within strategic centers of calculation in Washington, DC and Virginia.” Counterinsurgency was a passing fad. “The US military has a strong cultural aversion to irregular warfare and to devoting resources to sociocultural knowledge,” according to researchers at National Defense University (Lamb et al. 2013: 28). This, combined with HTS’s record of incompetence, undoubtedly emboldened those opposing the idea of incorporating social science perspectives in the military.

By 2014, the rapidly growing fields of computational social science and predictive modeling had become fashionable–they aligned neatly with the Obama administration’s sweeping embrace of “big data.” Many Pentagon planners would prefer to collect data from mobile phone records, remote sensors, biometric databases, and drones equipped with high-resolution cameras than from human social scientists with dubious credentials. (For fuller coverage of predictive modeling programs, see my article “Seeing into Hearts and Minds” in the current edition of Anthropology Today). In the words of Oliver Belcher (2013: 63), “It’s algorithms, not anthropology, that are the real social science scandal in late-modern war.”

Postscript: Life After Death for HTS?

The final days of HTS’s existence were ugly. By one account, its last moments were tumultuous and emotional. It seems that HTS still had true believers among its ranks–employees who were in denial even as the plug was being pulled. Someone familiar with the situation described those on the payroll at the time of closure as “angry, shocked, bitter, retaliatory. . . The last 3-4 months involved some of the most toxic culture of embittered people I have ever witnessed.”

Although HTS has officially ended, questions still remain about its future. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2015 allows the Army to carry out a “Pilot Program for the Human Terrain System. . . to support phase 0 shaping operations and the theater security cooperation plans of the Commander of the United States Pacific Command. . .this section shall terminate on September 30, 2016” (US Congress 2014: Section 1075).

Furthermore, a March 16, 2015 letter from Army General Ray Odierno to US Representative Nita Lowey includes HTS on a list of unfunded requirements for fiscal year 2016. Odierno’s letter describes HTS as an unfunded program to be used by the Pacific Command as suggested in the NDAA. Yet no job advertisements have been posted to recruit employees for the program. Only time will tell if HTS will rise Phoenix-like from the ashes, or if it has truly disintegrated.

Some argue that HTS was a good idea that was badly mismanaged. It would be more accurate to say that HTS was a bad idea that was badly mismanaged. Cultural knowledge is not a service that can be easily provided by contractors and consultants, or taught to soldiers using a training manual. HTS was built upon a flawed premise, and its abysmal record was the inevitable result. The fact that the program continued as long as it did reveals the Army’s superficial attitude towards culture.

Viewed with a wide-angle lens, it becomes clear that HTS had broader social significance. The program encapsulated deep cultural contradictions underlying America’s place in the world after 9/11–contradictions that continue haunting our country today. In Vanessa Gezari’s words:

[HTS] was a giant cultural metaphor, a cosmic expression of the national zeitgeist: American exceptionalism tempered by the political correctness of a postcolonial, globalized age and driven by the ravenous hunger of defense contractors for profit. If you could have found a way to project on a big screen the nation’s mixed feelings about its role as the sole superpower in a post-Cold War world, this was what it would have looked like. (Gezari 2013: 198)

A great deal can be learned by examining the wreckage left behind in the wake of HTS. From one perspective, the program can be interpreted as an example of the ineptitude, incompetence, and hubris that characterized many aspects of the US-led invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. As historian Niall Ferguson has observed, the US is an empire in denial. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that wars of imperial conquest would be couched in terms of “cultural awareness” and securing “human terrain.” From another perspective, HTS represents the perverse excesses of a military-industrial complex run amok, a system that caters to the needs of the defense industry and celebrity generals rather than the needs of Iraqis or Afghans.

We would be far better off if more government-funded social science was used to build bridges of respect and mutual understanding with other societies, rather than as a weapon to be used against them.

Roberto J. González is professor of anthropology at San José State University. He has authored several books including Zapotec Science, American Counterinsurgency and Militarizing Culture. He can be contacted at roberto.gonzalez@sjsu.edu.

References

Ackerman, Spencer. 2012. How I Was Drawn into the Cult of David Petraeus. Wired.com, November 11.

Belcher, Oliver. 2013. The Afterlives of Counterinsurgency: Postcolonialism, Military Social Science, and Afghanistan, 2006-2012. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of British Columbia.

Connable, Ben. 2009. All Our Eggs in a Broken Basket: How the Human Terrain System Is Undermining Sustainable Military Cultural Competence. Military Review (March-April 2009), 57-64.

Gentile, Gian. 2013. Counterinsurgency: The Graduate Level of War or Pure Hokum? e-International Relations, August 3.

Gezari, Vanessa. 2013. The Tender Soldier. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Hodges, Jim. 2012. US Army’s Human Terrain Experts May Help Defuse Future Conflicts. Defense News, March 22.

Lamb, Christopher et al. 2013. The Way Ahead for Human Terrain Teams. Joint Forces Quarterly 70(3), 21-29.

Moyer, Justin Wm. 2015. General David Petraeus: From Hero to Zero. Washington Post, April 24.

Stannard, Matthew. 2007. Montgomery McFate’s Mission. San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, April 29.

US Congress. 2014. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015.

Vander Brook, Tom. 2013. Army Plows Ahead with Troubled War-Zone Program. USA Today, February 28.

Vlahos, Kelley. 2012. Petraeus’s COIN Gets Flipped. The American Conservative, November 19.

Weinberger, Sharon. 2011. Pentagon Cultural Analyst Helped with Interrogations. Nature, October 18.

June 29, 2015 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment

The General Dynamics, Saudi Arabia contract and Canada’s moral regress

By Mitchell Thompson | Disinformation | June 28, 2015

With the case of the Canadian-brokered General Dynamics light armored vehicle sale to the Saudi Arabian government, Canada’s manufacturing sector has become complicit in human rights abuses abroad.

The question of benefit could be framed like this: is General Dynamics employing more people than its equipment is killing?

The Globe and Mail reported that Ed Fast, Canada’s Minister of International trade said, the deal will help the manufacturing area in London to “become the epicentre of a cross-Canada supply chain directly benefiting more than 500 local Canadian firms… Our government will continue to support our exporters and manufacturers to create jobs, as part of our government’s most ambitious pro-trade, pro-export plan in Canadian history.”

That export plan, justified by job-creation involves the sale of light armoured vehicles, manufactured in Canada that the Globe and Mail describes as having “effective firepower to defeat soft and armored targets… options for mounted guns include a 25-mm cannon and 7.62-mm machine guns and smoke grenade launchers.”

The Ottawa Citizen reports that:

“Canada’s defence industry has beaten out German and French competitors to win a massive contract worth at least $10 billion US to supply armoured military vehicles to Saudi Arabia.

The win was announced by International Trade Minister Ed Fast to cheering workers Friday at a factory in London, Ont., and will go a long way in bolstering the Harper government’s case for transforming Canada into a global arms dealer.

But it also raises many ethical questions that will continue to surface as Canada’s arms industry turns more and more to the volatile Middle East and South America for business.

Canada has previously sold light armoured vehicles (LAVs) like those used by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia, with more than 1,000 delivered to the Middle Eastern kingdom in the early 1990s, and 700 more in 2009.

But the government is touting this latest deal as the largest export contract in Canadian history, with the potential to create and sustain 3,000 jobs in southern Ontario and other parts of the country.

Exactly how many LAVs are being sold to Saudi Arabia was not being revealed, but documents filed in the U.S. by General Dynamics Land Systems – Canada, whose London-based subsidiary will be building the vehicles, put the contract at between $10 billion and $13 billion.

Defence and export industry representatives praised the Conservative government Friday for its role in securing the deal.”

The job creation argument that Canada is using stands even more oddly next to the moral cost of the deal, given Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

Alex Nieve, Secretary General of Amnesty International told the Globe that “[The Saudi government is] known to use armoured vehicles and other weapons in dispersing peaceful protest.”

Jonathan Manthorpe writes for IPolitics that “The Saudi regime is buying these vehicles not to defend the nation from foreign threats, but to protect the regime from Saudis — from internal dissent and demands for reform.”

Hillary Homes of Amnesty told the Globe that “[Saudi Arabia] is among the worst human-rights violators in the world.”

Canada’s support of the Saudi abuse is bad enough, what’s worse is its insistence that working Canadians become participants. The government says it wants this sort of arms manufacturing as the epicentre of a cross-Canada supply chain with connections to over 500 firms. Is that really something Canada wants as an epicentre of any part of its economy?

Let’s consider what that means. If the epicentre of a sector of the manufacturing industry is dependent on the manufacturing of equipment for a third world dictatorship, continued economic progress for that sector would require that government to use that equipment. Canadians would have an interest in the Saudi Arabian government using its old equipment, so it can buy new equipment, made in Canada.

 If Amnesty and others are correct, that the equipment that we manufacture will likely be used against civilians and a sector of our economy depends on that manufacturing- that means that a sector of our economy would be dependent on those abuses.

There are good people working in manufacturing. Having their work emanate from third world dictatorships perverts the entire sector. Working people should not be forced to participate in such an exchange, to remain economically viable.

June 29, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Militarism, Subjugation - Torture, War Crimes | , , | Leave a comment

Honduras Bleeding

The Coup and Its Aftermath

By ERIC DRAITSER and RAMIRO S. FUNEZ | CounterPunch | June 29, 2015

June 28 marked the six year anniversary of the military coup in Honduras – the day that a democratically elected left wing government was ousted by a US-backed, US-trained cabal of generals and right wing politicians and landowners. It could correctly be called a “Quiet Coup” primarily because it took place with very little fanfare from the corporate media which, to the extent that it covered it at all, did so mostly from a distorted perspective which spread more misinformation than truth. Today, six years (and many innocent lives, and billions of dollars) later, this shameful moment in recent history still remains largely forgotten.

Perhaps it was the lingering euphoria felt by liberals and so-called progressives in the months after Obama’s election and inauguration. Perhaps it was the still new economic crisis and subsequent bailout and financial turmoil. Perhaps it was plain old imperialistic, neocolonial disregard for Latin America and the rights of the people unfortunate enough to be living in “America’s backyard.” Whatever the reason, the fact remains that the Obama administration and those who supported it, then and now, are complicit in an ongoing political, economic, and social tragedy in Honduras.

But why bring it up now, other than to mark the anniversary of the coup? For starters, because one of the primary participants and benefactors happens to be the likely Democratic Party presidential candidate: Hillary Clinton. Also, far from being a discrete episode of US imperialism’s sordid past, the coup and its legacy remain a driving force in Honduran politics and society today. The beneficiaries and participants are all still either in government or have shifted to the private sector, and continue to enrich themselves at the cost of the poor and working people of the country [though alleged coup orchestrator Miguel Fucase just died]. The coup government of Honduras continues to wage a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against minority communities to benefit itself and its patrons from the US and elsewhere.

Perhaps most importantly, the coup of 2009 reveals the extent to which the United States remains a neocolonial, imperial power in Latin America, and reminds us of just what countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador have been struggling against. It illustrates in the starkest terms the human cost of Washington’s policies, not in books about a historical period, but in images and videos of a country under its thumb today. It reminds us just how real the struggle still is.

The Coup and the US Role

The 2006 election of José Manuel Zelaya, known as “Mel” to his friends and supporters, was a watershed moment in the history of Honduras. A country that, like its neighbors, suffered under a succession of US-backed right wing governments, had finally elected a man whose politics were of the people, rather than of the military and business interests. Despite coming from a wealthy family, and having been elected under the Partido Liberal (Liberal Party) banner, Zelaya’s politics shifted significantly to the left once he assumed office.

Not only did Zelaya commit the great sin of forging ties with the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) and PetroCaribe blocs, but Zelaya challenged the political status quo in the country, promising to represent the poor and working class in a country traditionally dominated by wealthy landowners and the military. As journalist, author, and former adviser to the Permanent Mission of Honduras at the United Nations, Roberto Quesada, told Counterpunch in an exclusive interview:

When Zelaya came into power, even though he was in a traditional party, he changed the traditional politics of the Liberal Party and made it into a people’s party. He turned the presidential palace into a house for the people…For the first time those without voices were given a voice…He wanted to introduce the Cuarta Urna [Fourth Ballot Box Referendum]. For the first time the Honduran people could decide what they wanted and change the constitution [because]…the constitution of 1982 was in favor of the right wing and was not in the interests of Hondurans.

And so it seemed in 2009 that Honduras, like Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua before it, would legally and democratically break free of the political and corporate hegemony of the US. Clearly this was something that Washington, even with the newly elected president of “Hope” and “Change” in the White House, could not abide. Enter: then newly appointed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton has since admitted openly, and quite brazenly, her central role in legitimizing, supporting, and providing political cover for the illegal, and internationally condemned, coup against Zelaya. As Counterpunch contributor Mark Weisbrot has noted, Clinton stated clearly in her book Hard Choices that, “In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa in Mexico… We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”

What exactly was the plan? Aside from providing diplomatic cover by not openly calling it a military coup, Clinton employed her longtime associates Lanny Davis and Bennett Ratcliff who whispered sweet nothings in the ears of the right people in Washington and on Wall Street, including in a laughable op-ed in the Wall Street journal, thereby paving the way for new “elections” in Honduras, in order to, as Clinton put it, “render the question of Zelaya moot.” Lanny Davis, as has been noted by a number of journalists, is a direct representative of powerful business elites in Honduras.

Davis himself explained this fact in an interview just weeks after the coup when he stated, “My clients represent the CEAL, the [Honduras Chapter of] Business Council of Latin America… I do not represent the government and do not talk to [interim] President [Roberto] Micheletti. My main contacts are [billionaires] Camilo Atala and Jorge Canahuati. I’m proud to represent businessmen who are committed to the rule of law.” Indeed, Davis quite candidly exposed himself as an agent of powerful oligarch financiers and landowners who, until the election of Zelaya, had always maintained firm control of the reins of government in Honduras.

Essentially then, Clinton and her henchmen played the key role in facilitating an illegal coup against a democratically elected government in the interests of their billionaire friends inside Honduras, and the geopolitical agenda of the United States in the region. Though she is busy employing populist rhetoric in her presidential bid these days, Clinton has done yeoman’s work for the right wing, anti-democratic forces of Latin America, and the Empire broadly speaking. Of course, none of this should come as any surprise to people who have followed Clinton, and US imperialism in Latin America for that matter.

Equally unsurprising is the US role in the training and backing of the Honduran generals who carried out the coup on that early morning in late June 2009. As School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) noted at the time:

The June 28 coup in Honduras was carried out by the School of the Americas (SOA) graduates Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, the head of the of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Honduran military and by Gen. Luis Prince Suazo, the head of the Air Force… SOA-trained Honduran Army Attorney Col. Herberth Inestroza justified the military coup and stated in an interview with The Miami Herald ‘It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That’s impossible.’ Inestroza also confirmed that the decision for the coup was made by the military… According to information that SOA Watch obtained from the US government through a Freedom of Information Act request, Vasquez studied in the SOA at least twice: once in 1976 and again in 1984…The head of the Air Force, General Luis Javier Prince Suazo, studied in the School of the Americas in 1996.

The School of the Americas (since renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, aka WHINSEC) is a US military institute located at Fort Benning, Georgia infamous for graduating a literal who’s who of Central and South American military dictators, death squad leaders, and other assorted fascists who left their bloody marks on their respective countries. It’s been called the “School of Dictators” and a “coup factory,” and it seems that Honduras in 2009 was merely the latest victim of its illustrious alumni. Indeed, this was not the first time for Honduras, as both General Juan Melgar Castro (military dictator, 1975-1978) and Policarpo Paz Garcia (death squad leader and then military dictator, 1978-1982) were graduates of the School of the Americas. Needless to say, the legacy of the United States in Honduras is a bloody and shameful one.

Honduras: A US Military Foothold in Central America

One should not be fooled into believing that since 2009 and the US-backed coup and subsequent regime change, somehow the US has not been involved militarily inside Honduras. Indeed, just weeks ago the US military announced that it would be sending a contingent of US Marines to Honduras, ostensibly to “provide assistance during hurricane season.” However, the reality is that the US is merely continuing, and indeed expanding, its ongoing military partnership and de facto occupation of Honduras and a number of other key Central American countries.

In an exclusive interview with Counterpunch, the US Coordinator of the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), Lucy Pagoada succinctly explained, “The coup forced us to wake up to the reality of Honduras. I lived in Honduras until I was 15 years old. I’ve never seen my country so militarized as the way it has become after 2009. It has turned into a large military base trained and funded by the US. They even have School of the Americas forces there… There have been high levels of violence and torture since the coup against the resistance and the opposition.” According to Pagoada and other activists both in Honduras and in the US, the country has essentially become an annex of the US military, acting as a staging area for a variety of Washington’s military operations in the region.

This conclusion is confirmed by a report from the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) which noted:

The steady increase of U.S. assistance to [Honduran] armed forces [is] an indicator of tacit U.S. support. But the U.S. role in militarization of national police forces has been direct as well. In 2011 and 2012, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST)… set up camp in Honduras to train a local counternarcotics police unit and help plan and execute drug interdiction operations… Supported by U.S. helicopters mounted with high caliber machine guns, these operations were nearly indistinguishable from military missions, and locals routinely referred to the DEA and Honduran police agents as “soldados” (soldiers). According to the New York Times, five “commando style squads” of FAST teams have been deployed across Central America to train and support local counternarcotics units…In July 2013, the Honduran government created a new “elite” police unit called the Intelligence Troop and Special Security Group, or TIGRES (Spanish for “tigers”). The unit, which human rights groups contend is military in nature, has been deployed in tandem with the new military police force and has received training in military combat tactics from both U.S. and Colombian Special Forces units.

For those with even a cursory understanding of how US support for the contra death squads of Central America in the 1970s and 1980s actually worked, the description above should bear a chilling resemblance. Essentially, US military and covert assets provide the arms, training, and coordination for a patchwork of well-organized units whose function is to terrorize communities whose real crime, far from involvement in drug trafficking, is either opposition to the government or having the misfortune of living on valuable real estate prized by the same business interests that Mrs. Clinton and her cronies represent.

Of course, the US military presence has a regional dimension as Washington attempts to use its assets to reassert and/or maintain control over the entire region which it has seen steadily slipping from its grasp since the election of Hugo Chavez more than 15 years ago, and the subsequent rise of Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. But, from the strictly Honduran perspective, this military cooperation is intended to provide the Honduran military, now doubling as internal police and security forces, with the necessary support to carry out ethnic cleansing operations and killing of political opponents in order to make the country safe for business.

Cleansing Honduras for the Sake of Profit

The military operations in Honduras are aimed primarily at enriching the oligarchs running the country since the ouster of Zelaya in 2009. The goal is to ethnically cleanse prime real estate, either through eviction or brute force, in order to free it up for privatization. One of the means by which this is taking place is through the so called “Ciudades Modelos” (Model Cities) program which promotes tax-free business havens for newly privatized land seized from indigenous communities.

One of the communities most deeply affected is the Garifuna, an Afro-indigenous nation whose land stretches hundreds of miles of prime real estate on the Honduran Carribbean coast which the corrupt government of President Hernandez, and his financial backers in Tegucigalpa (the Honduran capital) and the US, envisions as a money-making tourist zone. TeleSur noted in 2014 that the Barra Vieja Garifuna community was under eviction threat by the Honduran government which prized their land for the “further development of the Bahia de Tela tourist project and the building of the five star Indura Beach and Golf Resort. In a business alliance, the Honduran government holds 49 percent of the shareholds for the project while 51 percent is in the hands of private business.” New York City alone is home to roughly 250,000 Garifuna people from Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Belize; they have to watch as their families and friends back in Honduras continue to face persecution at the hands of a right wing government serving business interests from the US and elsewhere.

But of course, the Garifuna are not alone, as many other indigenous communities in Honduras face unspeakable repression at the hands of the militarized Honduran government and its 21st Century version of death squads. As Lucy Pagoada recounted in her interview with Counterpunch, “Margarita Murillo, an indigenous woman, dedicated her life to the defense of the land and the workers. She was killed with seven bullets by her home in the department of Yoro… She was a leader of the resistance.”

Indeed, the brutal assassination of Murillo in August 2014 was yet another chilling reminder of the war waged by the Honduran government on peasants and indigenous people in the country who refuse to be displaced in the interests of the business elites. Murillo, who had just recently been named President of the Asociativa Campesinos de Producción Las Ventanas (Window Production Peasants Association), had been an advocate for her fellow indigenous peoples and the poor, and had been involved in mediating a land dispute between a number of local families and a group of wealthy landowners in the area. She was shot execution-style by a group of three men in ski masks.

Murillo’s assassination was far more than simply a murder motivated by a local land-grab. Rather, it was a clear warning to the resistance movement in Honduras that any organized effort to fight back against the government and the wealthy landowners backing it would be met with brute force. This is the sort of message that the people of Honduras, especially those who lived through the 1970s and 1980s, understand all too well. In fact, such violence, and the despair that it produces, has driven many Hondurans, especially from the Garifuna community, to flee to the US in search of a better life.

Maria Vives is an administrative assistant with the Give Them to Eat ministries of the Bronx Spanish Evangelical Church. Speaking with Counterpunch she recalled:

We have a soup kitchen and food pantry. We help people on an emergency basis… Three Garifuna women showed up last summer and expressed needs—they were frustrated. They have [sic] been caught crossing the border and ankle bracelets have [sic] been put on them. They were shackled… Word spread that we were helping people in need and soon we had a total of almost 50 or 60 women who show up with their children… They have several reasons for leaving Honduras. For the violence, they were killing off a lot of people in the neighborhood because they wanted to take over their lands. Some were scared their children would join gangs. As soon as the children reach a certain age they were recruited to join the gang. I know one mother in particular who brought over her three children because one of them was being recruited into the gang.

Although the corporate media constantly referred to the “child immigration crisis” during its brief coverage in 2014, the reality was that it was a refugee crisis, and that those children, at times accompanied and at times unaccompanied, were fleeing precisely the sort of repression described above. Whether Garifuna or members of other indigenous or peasant communities, those children and families sought refuge in the US, refuge from the horrors perpetrated against them in Honduras; of course, all with the tacit approval and covert participation of the US Government.

As we mark the sixth anniversary of the 2009 coup against the legal government of Honduras, we must be sure to not simply recognize the event as yet another despicable example of US imperialism and its support for repressive governments in Latin America. We must instead recognize that that singular event set into motion a series of events which have led to the political and social crisis ongoing in Honduras today. As Roberto Quesada told us, “We can’t talk about the coup as if it is in the past. It continues to leave the country in a state of chaos.”

Eric Draitser is the founder of StopImperialism.org and host of CounterPunch Radio. He is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City. You can reach him at ericdraitser@gmail.com.

Ramiro S. Fúnez is a Honduran-American political activist and independent journalist based in new York City. You can reach him at ramirofunez@gmail.com.

June 29, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , | Leave a comment

China, India, Russia largest shareholders in China-led bank

The BRICS Post | June 29, 2015

Fifty countries on Monday signed the articles of agreement for the new China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the first major global financial instrument independent from the Bretton Woods system.

Seven remaining countries out of the 57 that have applied to be founding members, Denmark, Kuwait, Malaysia, Philippines, Holland, South Africa and Thailand, are awaiting domestic approval.

“This will be a significant event. The constitution will lay a solid foundation for the establishment and operation of the AIIB,” said Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei.

The AIIB will have an authorized capital of $100 billion, divided into shares that have a value of $100,000.

BRICS members China, India and Russia are the three largest shareholders, with a voting share of 26.06 per cent, 7.5 per cent and 5.92 per cent, respectively.

Following the signing of the bank’s charter, the agreement on the $100 billion AIIB will now have to be ratified by the parliaments of the founding members.

Asian countries will contribute up to 75 per cent of the total capital and be allocated a share of the quota based on their economic size.

Chinese Vice Finance Minister Shi Yaobin said China’s initial stake and voting share are “natural results” of current rules, and may be diluted as more members join.

Australia was first to sign the agreement in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday, state media reports said.

The Bank will base its headquarters in Beijing.

The Chinese Finance Ministry said the new lender will start operations by the end of 2015 under two preconditions: At least 10 prospective members ratify the agreement, and the initial subscribed capital is no less than 50 per cent of the authorized capital.

The AIIB will extend China’s financial reach and compete not only with the World Bank, but also with the Asian Development Bank, which is heavily dominated by Japan.

China and other emerging economies, including BRICS, have long protested against their limited voice at other multilateral development banks, including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank (ADB).

China is grouped in the ‘Category II’ voting bloc at the World Bank while at the Asian Development Bank, China with a 5.5 per cent share is far outdone by America’s 15.7 per cent and Japan’s 15.6 per cent share.

The ADB has estimated that in the next decade Asian countries will need $8 trillion in infrastructure investments to maintain the current economic growth rate.

China scholar Asit Biswas at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore, says Washington’s criticism of the China-led Bank is “childish”.

“Some critics argue that the AIIB will reduce the environmental, social and procurement standards in a race to the bottom. This is a childish criticism, especially because China has invited other governments to help with funding and governance,” he writes.

The US and Japan have not applied for the membership in the AIIB.

However, despite US pressures on its allies not to join the bank, Britain, France, Germany, Italy among others have signed on as founding members of the China-led Bank.

Meanwhile, New Zealand and Australia have already announced that they will invest $87.27 million and $718 million respectively as paid-in capital to the AIIB.

The new lender will finance infrastructure projects like the construction of roads, railways, and airports in the Asia-Pacific Region.


Iran, 49 states sign Asia bank charter

Press TV June 29, 2015

Iran on Monday joined 49 countries in signing up to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), bringing Asia’s largest financial lender a step closer to existence.

Finance and Economy Minister Ali Tayebnia put Iran’s signature to the bank’s articles of association at a ceremony in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, which capped six months of intense negotiations.

In April, China accepted Iran as a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank being seen as a rival to the US-led World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Asian Development Bank.

With the signing which amounted to the creation of AIIB’s legal framework, China’s Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said he was confident the bank could start functioning before the end of the year.

Seven more founding members would ink the articles after approval by their respective governments.

The bank will have a capital of $100 billion in the form of shares, each worth $100,000, distributed among the members. Beijing will be by far the largest shareholder at about 30%, followed by India at 8.4% and Russia at 6.5%.

China will also have 26% of the votes which are not enough to give it a veto on decision-making, while smaller members will have larger voice.

Singapore’s Senior Minister for Finance and Transport Josephine Teo said the bank will provide new opportunities for its members’ businesses and promote sustainable growth in Asia.

Seventy-five percent of AIIB’s shares are distributed within the Asian region while the rest is assigned among countries beyond it.

Germany, France and Brazil are among the non-Asian members of the bank despite US efforts to dissuade allies from joining it. Another US ally joining AIIB is Australia but Japan has stayed away from it.

Countries beyond the region can expand their share but the portion cannot be bigger than 30%. Public procurement of the AIIB will be open to all countries around the world.

But the president of the bank will have to be chosen from the Asian region for a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms.

The bank will be headquartered in Beijing and its lean structure will be overseen by an unpaid, non-resident board of directors which, architects say, would save it money and friction in decision-making.

Earlier this month, former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke rebuked US lawmakers for allowing China to found the new bank, which threatens to upend Washington’s domination over the world economic order.

He said lawmakers were to blame because they refused to agree 2010 reforms that would have given greater clout to China and other emerging powers in the International Monetary Fund.

June 29, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wisconsin Government to Garnish the Wages of Poor People to Fund New Sports Arena

By Justin Gardner | The Free Thought Project | June 29, 2015

Milwaukee, WI — Wisconsin governor Scott Walker may be the darling of mainstream Republicans for next year’s presidential election, but “less taxation, less government” is an illusion under his current tenure. Milwaukee residents will soon be forced to pay an extra 15% tax surcharge that will go toward public financing of a new sports arena, under a plan put together by this champion of limited government.

The 15% surcharge will apply to Milwaukee County residents who are behind on their property taxes or court fines. Walker’s sports arena plan calls for the state to take over the collection of Milwaukee County’s old debt and use it to help pay for half the cost of a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.

This blatant example of extortion and public-private cronyism is troubling to Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan Jr.:

“To think we would put the squeeze on someone because they didn’t pay a parking ticket and their only crime is being poor and unable to pay it, and then taking that money and giving it to people who are extremely wealthy, doesn’t sit well with me.”

Wisconsin state, unlike county government, has the power to garnish wages and intercept other income such as tax refunds. Citizens will be powerless to stop the state from taking their money so their government can go into partnership with sports moguls on a fancy new spectacle. The cost to Wisconsin taxpayers—whether or not they care about the arena—will be $400 million after accounting for interest.

Government’s interest in using major televised sports as a public distraction is no secret, hearkening to the Roman days of bread and circus. In May, we reported how NFL teams are paid millions of dollars by the U.S. Department of Defense for nationalistic propaganda. The appeals to emotion in furtherance of patriotism serve two purposes—entrenching corporatism and stifling dissent of military hegemony.

Back in Wisconsin, Walker and his team are salivating at the prospect of taking over debt collection in Milwaukee. Nearly $77 million is owed to the county courts, most of it older than five years. The surcharge would mean an extra burden of $11.5 million on citizens, and would cover 4.6% of the public’s obligation toward Walker’s sports arena.

While Governor Walker and his team withhold details of the plan under the guise of “finalizing legislative language,” they are drumming up support among lawmakers and telling Republican senators to avoid making critical comments.

They’re working hard to suppress public dialog while PR experts couch the plan in Orwellian terms.

“There is a cost to collecting debt. The cost is now borne by the county. The benefit of this program is that the burden falls on the people who can afford to pay this debt,” said bureaucrat Teig Whaley-Smith.

Another spokesperson, Laurel Patrick, said the 15% surcharge is standard procedure, so why should anyone care? “Unpaid debts impact others who do pay their bills, fines, etc. on time, and are now paying more than they otherwise would need to for those government services and programs.”

The likelihood that this tax increase will be mentioned as Walker and other presidential hopefuls parade about next year, wrapped in the flag and false concern for the people, is little to none. We can expect the usual bread and the usual circus.

June 29, 2015 Posted by | Corruption, Economics | , , | 1 Comment

The Greek Debt Crisis and Crashing Markets

By MICHAEL HUDSON | CounterPunch | June 29, 2015

Back in January upon coming into office, Syriza probably could not have won a referendum on whether to pay or not to pay. It didn’t have a full parliamentary majority, and had to rely on a nationalist party for Tsipras to become prime minister. (That party balked at cutting back Greek military spending, which was 3% of GDP, and which the troika had helpfully urged to be cut back in order to balance the government’s budget.)

Seeing how unyielding the opposition was, Syriza’s stance was: “We would like to pay. But there’s no money.”

This kept throwing the ball back into the troika’s court. The Institutions were so unyielding that Syriza’s approval rating in the polls rose by 13% by June. Greek voters became increasingly incensed at the Troika’s demand for further pension cuts and privatizations.

Tsipras and Varoufakis were willing to pay the IMF with the IMF’s own funds, in what V. called “extend and pretend.” But their only interest in keeping current on debt was to obtain additional funding that could be used to pay domestic pensions and other basic government budgetary expenditures.

The basic tactic in such tensions between creditors and debtors is clear: once debt repayments exceed new loans, stop paying.

So when The Institutions made it clear that no more credit would be forthcoming without Syriza adopting the old Pasok/New Democracy capitulation to Troika demands, Tsipras and Varoufakis decided it was time to call a referendum eight days hence, on Sunday, July 5.

Late Friday night and into the early Saturday morning hours, Greeks ran to the ATM machines to convert their checking and savings deposits into euro notes, expecting that the end game would involve a likely 30% depreciation of the drachma – and that indeed, the ECB would stop lending to support Greek banks (the only role the ECB wanted to play).

Syriza had no love for the banks. They were the vehicles through which the oligarchs controlled the Greek economy, after all. For a month, they had been discussing how to separate the banks into “good bank” and “bad bank,” either nationalizing them (wiping out stockholders) or creating a Public Option alternative.

Most important, once out of the eurozone, Greece could create its own Treasury to monetize its spending. The Institutions called this “scrip,” but the Greeks could establish it as their national currency. They would escape from euro-austerity – except, of course, to the extent that the ECB waged economic war on Greece by imposing its own capital controls.

By going through the sham negotiations with The Institutions, Syriza gave Greeks enough time to protect what savings and cash they had – by converting these bank deposits into euro notes, automobiles and “hard assets” (even boats).

Businesses borrowed from local banks where they could, and moved their money into eurozone banks or even better, into dollar and sterling assets. Their intention is to pay back the banks in depreciated drachma, pocketing a 30% capital gain.

What commentators miss is that Syriza (at least its left) wants to be transformative. It wants to free Greece from the post-military oligarchy that evades taxes and monopolizes the economy. And it wants to transform Europe, away from ECB austerity to create a real central bank. In the process, it demands a clean slate of past bad debts. It wants to reject the IMF’s austerity philosophy and refusal to take responsibility for its bad 2010-12 bailout.

This larger, transformative picture is at the center of Syriza-left plans.

I’m in Germany now (on my way to Brussels), and have heard from Germans that the Greeks are lazy and don’t pay taxes. There is little recognition that what they call “the Greeks” are really the oligarchs. They have gained control of the old coalition Pasok/New Democracy parties, avoided paying taxes, avoided being prosecuted (New Democracy refused to act on the “Lagarde List” of tax evaders with nearly 50 billion euros in Swiss bank accounts), orchestrated insider dealings to privatize infrastructure at corrupt prices, and used their banks as vehicles for capital flight and insider lending.

This has turned the banks into vehicles for the oligarchy. They are not public institutions serving the economy, but have starved Greek business for credit.

So one casualty apart from the credibility of the eurozone, the ECB and the IMF will be these banks. Syriza is positioning itself to provide a public option – public banks that will promote the economy, and a national Treasury that will spend government money INTO the economy, not drain it to pay the Troika for having bailed out French and other banks back in 2010-1.

The European popular press is as bad as the U.S. press in describing matters. It warns of “hyperinflation” if a central bank monetizes as much as one euro of government spending in the way that the U.S. Fed does, or the bank of England or any other real central bank. The reality is that nearly all hyperinflations stem from a collapse of foreign exchange as a result of having to pay debt service. That was what caused Germany’s hyperinflation in the 1920s, not domestic German spending. It is what caused the Argentinean and other Latin American hyperinflations in the 1980s, and Chile’s hyperinflation earlier.

But once Greece frees itself from the odious debts forced upon it at financial gunpoint in 2010-12, its balance of payments will be roughly in balance (subject to some depreciation of the drachma; 30% is a number I heard bandied about in Athens last week).

To mimic Margaret Thatcher, “There is No Alternative” to withdrawing from the eurozone. The terms dictated for remaining in it was to sell off all of what remained in Greece’s public sector to European and U.S. buyers, at insider prices – but not to Russian buyers, even for the gas pipeline that was to have been sold.

Evidently the eurozone financial strategists thought that Tsipras and Varoufakis would simply surrender, and be promptly voted out of power, thereby crushing their socialist policy agenda. They miscalculated – and are now hoping to create as much anarchy as possible to punish the Greek people. The punishment is for not continuing to support their client oligarchy, which has moved most of its assets out of reach of the government.

But instead of Syriza losing credibility, it is the ECB – which refuses to create money to finance economic recovery, but only to pay the oligarchs’ banks so that they can continue to control the government. This control is now being weakened precisely because their banks are being weakened.

Greece’s Parliament last week released its Debt Truth Commission report explaining why Greece’s debts to the IMF and ECB are odious, and were taken on without a popular referendum approving these loans. Indeed, Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy obeyed Mr. Obama and Geithner when the latter insisted at a G8 meeting that the ECB ignore the IMF economists’ analysis that Greece could not pay its debts, and bail out the banks. Geithner and Obama explained that U.S. banks had placed big financial bets that Greece would pay its private bondholders, so the ECB and IMF had to lend the government the funds to pay – but had to overthrow the country’s Prime Minister Papandreou who had urged a referendum on whether Greek people really wanted to commit economic and political suicide.

Financial technocrats were put in place to serve the domestic oligarchy and foreign bondholders. Greece was under financial attack just as deadly as a military attack. Finance is war. That is this week’s lesson.

And for the first time, debtor countries are realizing that they are in a state of war.

This is why markets are crashing on Monday, June 29.

* * *

Eurozone financial strategists made it clear that they wanted to make an example of Syriza as a warning to Spain’s Podemos party, and anti-euro parties in Italy and France. The message was supposed to have been, “Avoid our austerity and we will cause chaos. Look at Greece.”

But the rest of Europe is interpreting the message in just the opposite way: “Remain in the eurozone and we will only create money to strengthen the financial oligarchy, the 1%. We will insist on budget surpluses (or at least, no deficits) so as to starve the economy of money and credit, forcing it to rely on commercial banks at interest.”

Greece has indeed become an example. But it is an example of the horror that the eurozone’s monetarists seek to impose on one economy after another, using debt as a lever to force privatization sell offs at distress prices.

In short, finance has shown itself to be the new mode of warfare. Resisting debt leverage and financial conquest is as legal as is resisting military invasion.

Michael Hudson’s book summarizing his economic theories, “The Bubble and Beyond,” is now available in a new edition with two bonus chapters on Amazon. His latest book is Finance Capitalism and Its Discontents.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He can be reached via his website, mh@michael-hudson.com

June 29, 2015 Posted by | Economics | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Russia, China Deepen Win-Win

By F. William Engdahl – New Eastern Outlook – 29.06.2015

It’s scarcely a day passes that there isn’t some fascinating new development bringing Russia and China closer in peaceful economic cooperation. The most recent such development involves what must be described as a win-win development in which Russia has agreed to lease prime Siberian agriculture lands to a Chinese company for the coming fifty years. It fits beautifully to plans for the development of the world’s largest infrastructure project, the planned New Silk Road Economic Belt, a network of new high-speed railway lines criss-crossing Eurasia from China to Mongolia to Russia and beyond ultimately to the EU.

The Chinese government officials in recent years are very fond of talking about “win-win” developments in business and politics. Now a genuine win-win development is emerging for both China and Russia in Siberia near the borders of Mongolia and China in the region known since 2008 as Zabaikalsky krai or region.

The region has a very sparse population of just over 1 million Russians on a land area of some 432,000 square kilometers. It also holds some of the richest, most fertile farmland in the world. China for its part is hurt by increasing desertification, water problems and other pressures on its food production security. China also has population and money to invest in worthwhile projects, something the more remote regions of the Russian Federation have had serious deficits of during the Cold War and especially since the destructive Yeltsin years.

Now the government of Zabaikalsky krai has signed a 49-year lease agreement with China’s Zoje Resources Investment together with its daughter company Huae Sinban to lease 115,000 hectares or just under 300,000 acres of Russian farmland to China. The Chinese company will invest more than 24 billion rubles for development of agricultural sector in the region, to produce agricultural products for Russian and Chinese markets. Plans are to grow fodder, grain and oilseeds as well as to develop poultry, meat and dairy products production in Russia’s Baikal region.

The project will be divided into two stages. If the first stage is successfully completed by 2018, the Chinese company will be given a lease on a second parcel of land bringing the total to 200,000 hectares. For Russia and the region it will be a win. The lands where the project will start have not been farmed for almost 30 years and to make the land suitable again for farming will require the labor of as many as 3,000 hands. Also significant is that the Chinese company had to compete for the land deal with several other Chinese companies as well as companies from South Korea, New Zealand and even from the United States.

Wang Haiyun, senior advisor at the Chinese Institute for International Strategic Studies, called the deal an example of the developing trust between the two countries, according to an article from the Chinese newspaper Huanqiu Shibao. He noted that the fact that Russian authorities agreed to lease such an immense territory for 49 years to a Chinese company proves Moscow has no ideological prejudice towards Beijing.

China-Russia Agriculture Fund

The latest land lease deal in Zabaikalsky krai follows other positive developments in agriculture cooperation between Russia and China. This past May Russia’s state Direct Investment Fund head, Kirill Dmitriev, announced that RDIF, the Russia-China Investment Fund and the government of China’s Heilongjiang province have agreed on the creation of a special investment fund for agriculture projects. The fund will total some $2 billion and be funded by primarily money of institutional Chinese investors, including those with significant experience in investment in the agricultural sector, Dmitriev added. He said that the agreement on the creation of a joint investment bank will help attract Chinese capital to Russia and make it easier for Russian companies to enter China’s markets. China’s Heilongjiang Province is to the east of Zabaikalsky krai.

Silk roads to golden goals

The China-Zabaikalsky krai agriculture agreement is merely the initial step of what will become a major infrastructure and industrial development of the now-remote underdeveloped Siberian region. Zabaikalsky krai is one of the richest regions in all Russia. Russia’s largest known deposit of copper at Udokanskoye in the region has resources of 20 million tons. On June 3 at the Sochi SP1520 annual international railways forum, Russian Railways president Vladimir Yakunin announced that the Russian Copper Company, a joint venture by Russian Railways Public Company, UMMC, and Vnesheconombank, had applied for development of the Udokanskoye copper deposit, confirming that Russia is thinking very strategically about its development in the region.

In addition the region is rich in gold, molybdenum, tin, lead, zinc and coal. Its crops are today wheat, barley and oats. The region is amply blessed with fresh water and flowing rivers.

At the same time Beijing has announced it is creating a huge $16 billion fund to develop gold mines along the rail route linking Russia and China and Central Asia. One major obstacle to date to exploitation of Russia’s vast agriculture and mineral riches has been availability of modern infrastructure to bring the products to market. Contrary to Harvard University or George Soros “shock therapy” free market theories, markets are not “free.”

At the September, 2014 meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Dushanbe, at the request of the Mongolian president, China’s Xi, Russia’s Putin and Mongolia’s Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj agreed to integrate Beijing’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative with Russia’s transcontinental rail plan and Mongolia’s Prairie Road program, to jointly build a China-Mongolia-Russia economic corridor.

That could turn Mongolia into a “transit corridor” linking the Chinese and Russian economies. Mongolia is larger than Japan, France and Spain together. The three are discussing issues of traffic interconnectivity, how to facilitate cargo clearance and transportation, and the feasibility of building a transnational power grid.

Eurasian Economic Birth

The potential of the recent economic cooperation agreements between the two great Eurasian nations, Russia and China, is without question the most promising economic development in the world today. As US sanctions forced Russia to turn increasingly to its eastern neighbor, China, US military provocations against China in the East China Sea and elsewhere forced China to completely rethink its own strategic orientation. Developing their land connections in a vast economic space is emerging as the result. As the ancient Chinese saying goes, every crisis contains new opportunities if viewed so.

Beijing has discussed building various Eurasian rail ties for several years but in the past eighteen months since the beginning of the Presidency of Xi Jinping it has assumed highest priority, especially the construction of the New Silk Road Economic Belt. President XI has made that Silk Road project the cornerstone of his presidential term. In the meeting of Xi on May 8 in Moscow with Russian President Putin, the two presidents signed a joint declaration “on cooperation in coordinating development of EEU and the Silk Road Economic Belt,” with both declaring their goal to coordinate the two projects in order to build a “common economic space” in Eurasia, including a Free Trade Agreement between the EEU and China. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently stated that the trade turnover between China and Russia is likely to reach $100 billion in 2015. The future prospects, with construction of the network of high-speed railways, is staggering.

Markets, all markets, are man-made, products of deliberate or not so deliberate decisions of individuals and usually of governments. The creation of what could become a multi-trillion dollar economic space spanning the vast Eurasian land is moving forward in a beautiful way. The China-Russia agriculture land leasing is a sign that Russia is opening a new qualitative phase in these developments.

In the world of mathematics win-win is referred to as a “non-zero sum game” in which there is typically a matrix of multiple payouts for all participants. That seems to be emerging across the vast Eurasian expanse far faster than anyone could have imagined even two years ago.

June 29, 2015 Posted by | Economics | , , , | Leave a comment

Families of detained journalists commence sit-in at syndicate

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By Mostafa Mohie* | Mada Masr | June 28, 2015

The families of detained journalist Mohamed Saber al-Battawy and photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid, known as Shawkan, started a sit-in on Sunday at the Journalists Syndicate until the release of their relatives.

Battawy’s wife, Rofaida al-Safty, told Mada Masr, “We don’t know why my husband has been detained, we and his lawyers haven’t seen him yet, despite the fact that he has been prosecuted and received a 15-day detention order pending investigation.”

Safty explained that on June 17 at dawn, “a masked force broke into the house and confiscated personal documents, books and Battawy’s hard drive.” Safty wasn’t home when this happened, but Battawy’s father was with him and recounted the details to her.

When Battawy’s father asked about where his son would be taken, he was told “Toukh Police Station,” but Safty didn’t find him there or at any other station within Qalyubiya Governorate, and his arrest was denied by those she asked.

“We called around, notified the syndicate, as well as state-owned Akhbar al-Youm media oulet, and filed a complaint with the general prosecutor and interior minister. We even called the human rights division within the ministry, who asked us to call again, but when we did, their phone was off, Safty recounted.

The Journalists Syndicate filed a complaint with the prosecutor on Monday last week, demanding the disclosure of Battawy’s place of detention and the charges brought against him. The syndicate added in a statement released on the same day that it had communicated with the interior ministry, but received no adequate answer.

On Tuesday, the state-owned Middle East News Agency published an article quoting security sources saying Battawy is in Tora prison and has been accused of “being a member of an illegal group.” Battawy’s defense team headed to the prosecution to verify this information, but no accusations were listed.

Safty reportedly awaits her husband’s transfer to the prosecution again next Wednesday.

As for Shawkan’s family, his mother said he was arrested in August 2013 while covering the Rabea sit-in, along with two foreign photographers who were later released. Shawkan was taken to Cairo Stadium and then transferred to the prosecution, who charged him with murder, attempted murder, being part of an armed group, assaulting security forces, and the possession of a firearm, she added.

Shawkan hasn’t been released or transferred to court and has been detained for 22 months.

Ahmed Abdel Naby, Shawkan’s lawyers, previously told Mada Masr, “There is no evidence against Shawkan and upon arrest he was only carrying a camera. We have submitted all the necessary documents, stating that the photojournalist was working when he was arrested, in addition to the testimony of both his foreign colleagues before their release, but obviously all this is insufficient for his acquittal.”

Abdel Naby said Shawkan was beaten at Cairo Stadium and was then taken to Abu Zaabal Prison, then finally to Tora Prison. Shawkan’s health condition has deteriorated in detention as he has Hepatitis C.

A letter from Shawkan to Yehia al-Qalash, head of the Journalists Syndicate, was published a couple of days ago saying, “All that matters now is the release of all journalists, so that they don’t die a slow death like me. I am afraid that my colleagues will end up like me … thin, pale, with dark circles under the eyes, a heart with an irregular pace and a featureless face that has lost all hope that one day I will be free and will be able to hug my mother again.”

Shawkan added, “I have explained how I die each day, so that you know the suffering of my colleagues in detention. Therefore, I do not ask for my release, but theirs, and I hope that one day they will be free, whether I am alive inside prison or dead.”

Qalash met with Shawkan’s family upon their arrival at the syndicate on Sunday and told reporters he is communicating with the presidency concerning Shawkan’s case.

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) issued a report on Saturday on the violations of freedom of the press during the first half of 2015. According to the report, 18 journalists were arrested, 14 others were illegally detained, 34 were physically assaulted, eight were verbally abused, and 85 were prohibited from future coverage. AFTE reported one case in which a media institution was raided. AFTE added that five journalists were detained for more than 500 days and five others for more than 100 days.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement on June 25 saying that Egyptian authorities jailed 18 journalists in 2015 — the highest number of detentions since 1990.

CPJ sent a “delegation to Egypt in February, where it met with the general prosecutor and the minister of transitional justice, who said that no journalists have been detained because of their work. However, the committee stated that Sisi’s government used national security as a way to control human rights and freedom of the press.”

The report added, “The Egyptian government is randomly accusing journalists and activists of being members of a banned group. The majority of detained journalists have been accused of being Muslim Brotherhood affiliated.

* Translated by Mada Masr

June 29, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , | Leave a comment

‘Nonsense’: Norway PM lashes out at NATO spending goals

RT | June 29, 2015

The prime minister of Norway, Erna Solberg has described NATO’s defense spending plans as “nonsense.” The alliance wants members to spend two percent of their GDP on defense, but Oslo, one of the world’s richest countries, says it won’t meet the target.

“If I am allowed to speak, I think the percentage goal is nonsense,” she said in an interview with the Norwegian Armed Forces’ Forum Magazine, as cited by the Local. “The aim of the NATO countries must be the greatest possible defense capability, not a percentage goal in itself,” she added.

Solberg added that while meeting the two percent target may be easier for countries enjoying strong economic growth, it would be harder for those within the alliance whose economies are shrinking.

Norway’s Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide said in April that for Oslo to spend 2 percent of its GDP on defense would be “very challenging” in the short term. The Scandinavian country has already said it will increase its spending this year, but this will only bring it to around 1.6 percent and short of the target that was set at the NATO summit in Cardiff, the United Kingdom, last year.

NATO’s General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, who was also Solberg’s predecessor as Norway’s PM, said that the country could easily meet the target.

“If there is a political will, there is economic space. But it must be given priority,” he said in a visit to Norway in June. “Compared with other major initiatives we have implemented in Norway, reaching two percent is quite possible.”

Aside from the United States, traditional NATO allies have found meeting the target a taxing affair. Germany allocates 1.2 percent of its GDP, the Netherlands 1.3 percent and Spain less than 1 percent. France is the only Western European country that is boosting defense spending. However, some Eastern European nations are increasing their military expenses citing what they call Russian aggression. Lithuania, for instance, wants to allocate twice as much on defense as it did last year.

READ MORE: NATO defense spending a ‘red line’ – US Air Force Secretary

June 29, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Militarism | , , , | 1 Comment

Jewish group suggests ‘outing’ of American anti-Israel professors, calls for Israel studies programs

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Press TV | June 29, 2015

A Jewish institute has proposed “outing” of anti-Israel professors from universities in the United States in order to reduce anti-Israel activity on American college campuses.

The Jewish People Policy Institute said in its 2014-2015 annual assessment that there are over 300 anti-Israel groups at American universities and they are responsible for resolutions passed by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

According to the report published on Sunday, severe anti-Israel activity “is limited to around 20 campuses, mainly in California and in some elite eastern schools.”

“We recommend exposing ‘activist’ faculty members who use their academic lecterns to advance an anti-Israel agenda,” said the report.

It suggested enlisting Jewish donors in efforts “to prevent the misuse of academic freedom in promoting a politicized anti-Israel platform.”

Other suggestions are promoting “additional departments for Israeli studies programs on campuses” and increasing “cooperative endeavors with Israeli universities.”

The group gave the report to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The BDS campaign seeks to increase economic and political pressure on Israel until it ends the occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands and respects the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

The boycott campaign began in 2005 by 171 Palestinian organizations, calling for “various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law.”

In 2013, two US academic groups — the American Studies Association and the Association for Asian American Studies — supported the boycott.

The refusal of the University of Illinois to hire Professor Steven Salaita last year for his tweets about Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip sparked controversy.

Salaita decided to leave his job at Virginia Tech University after he was offered a professor’s job at the University of Illinois in 2013.

He wrote a number of messages in 2014 to condemn Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip.

In one message, Salaita said, “Only #Israel can murder around 300 children in the span of a few weeks and insist that it is the victim.”

He was told that he would not get the job after writing the messages.

June 29, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Full Spectrum Dominance, Solidarity and Activism | , , , | 1 Comment