Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mchrystal Retires as Four Star General

McChrystal has decided to retire after being relieved of his duties as commander in Afghanistan. However normally he would simply receive a pension as a three star general. The rules are that a general must serve two years at a given rank before retiring with a pension at that rank. McChrystal served only one year before he handed in his resignation. However Obama always generous with taxpayer money and anxious to please the military who often regard him with some uneasiness has seemingly waived the rules for McChrystal. McChrystal was after all Obama's choice. McChrystal will have to survive on a mere $12,475 per month. However, one can bet that McChrystal will not fade away and just enjoy his newfound leisure. He can busy himself writing memoirs, or become a military expert on one of the big TV chains or even buy out Xe (Blackwater) and resume a life at doing what he loves.

McChrystal informed the Army of his planned retirement on Monday.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Why did McChrystal want to be fired?

The only reasonable explanation of McChrystal and his staff's actions is that he wanted to be fired. McChrystal allowed Michael Hastings a reporter for the anti-war magazine Rolling Stone tag along with them for about a month. Hastings was able to record all sorts of intimate details of the goings on of McChrystal and his staff. He also recorded remarks that were insulting to many important U.S. politicians, including Joe Biden, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Holbrooke, and on and on. The McChrystal staff called the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), I Suck At Fighting. This is the force that McChrystal commands.
When Hastings subsequently penned a long article for Rolling Stone repeating remarks that obviously involved insubordination nevertheless McChrystal did not contest anything said in the article. He surely must have known that Obama would really have no choice but look like a complete wuss or have him fired or resign.

The question now becomes why did McChrystal want to be fired. No doubt there are other possibilities but here is my view. McChrystal believes that the Afghan policy is failing. He wants to get out before this becomes obvious to everyone and a complete disaster. Pakistan and Afghanistan are not waiting either. They are negotiating as to how they can make peace with the insurgents in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

McChrystal realizes things are not working out. He has called Marjah a bleeding ulcer. He has been unable to sell troops on the idea that they should be very cautious about killing civilians even if it means more casualties for them. But he has not been able to win hearts and minds of the Afghans either. At a meeting with elders they made it clear that they did not want an offensive in Kandahar. He had to postpone it. Obama wants to begin a withdrawal next year while the COIN strategy takes years if not decades. Better to get out now and take a swipe at those you don't like on the way out the door.

Now Obama is left to go on with the costly mess led by the reliable Bush General Petraeus and pursuing the same failing COIN strategy.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Wikileaks founder in hiding..

No doubt authorities would like to question him about his relationship to Bradley Manning who is alleged to have given Wikileaks numerous classified documents. Wikileaks is supposed to release another blockbuster video of an attack last year in Afghanistan but so far it has not appeared. This is from the Washington Post.

Wikileaks founder in hiding, fearful of arrest
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has gone into hiding, fearful of arrest by U.S. authorities, an Icelandic parliamentarian confirmed Friday.

“He’s just been following events in the U.S., and State Department press conferences and so forth, and they have been trying to get hold of him," Birgitta Jonsdottir, a close supporter of Assange in the Icelandic Parliament, said. “And obviously Julian Assange does not necessarily want to have a chapter written about any leaks.”

Authorities are interested in locating Assange following reports that an Army intelligence analyst, Bradley Manning, recently transferred a huge volume of classified files to Wikileaks. Manning is now in military custody.

Meanwhile, Assange's whereabouts are “a mystery,” Jonsdottir told ABC World News for a segment to be broadcast Friday night, “but we’re in touch every day.”

Asked whether the Wikileaks founder was fearful of arrest, Jonsdottir said, “Yes, very much so.”

Jonsdottir also added to widespread speculation in recent days that Wikileaks was about to release a new video, this once showing an alleged “massacre” of Afghan civilians in a U.S. airstrike.

She called it “worse than the Iraqi one,” referencing the video Wikileaks previously released showing a U.S. helicopter attack on Iraqi citizens that caused an international uproar.

“Hopefully” it will be released “very soon,” Jonsdottir said. “But for security reasons we choose not to give the exact time when we expect to publish it.”

“We’ll see what happens,” she said, “but something’s coming soon.”

In a recent e-mail to supporters, Assange said “the Garani massacre, which we are still working on, killed over 100 people, mostly children.”

Jonsdottir said the Icelandic Parliament last night “unanimously” passed legislation that would create an “international safe haven” for national security whistleblowers.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

UN Correspondents'Assoc. has flap with Israel over Flotilla presentation

If this is covered in the press at all it will just be to note Israel's objection to the presentation as being unfair. However as the exchange shows between the group and the Israeli mission, the Israelis were given an opportunity to present their film but only if they agreed to take questions a requirement of such presentations. The Israelis refused. This is from aljazeera.

Flotilla flap at the UN
By Kristen Saloomey in

Israel has engaged in a war of words with the United Nations Correspondents Association which hosted an event during which a passenger on board the Mavi Marmara was allowed to show a video that was shot as Israeli commandoes raided the aid ship.

The Israeli mission to the UN took aim at UNCA in a letter dated June 17. It says Israel was denied the opportunity to present its point of view to UN journalists and demands an apology.

"Offering UN media facilities to screen video produced by a one-sided activist while actively preventing a Member State of the United Nations an opportunity to respond in real time is severely unethical," Israeli spokesperson Mirit Cohen wrote in her complaint.

Cohen had asked to show a five minute film put together by the IDF right after a screening of footage smuggled out of Israel by Brazilian-American activist Iara Lee.

She told the Israeli press that she was asked to reschedule at the last minute.

But UNCA president, Giampaolo Pioli, fired back.

… It was you who turned down our offer to screen your Israeli film and make your statement directly before or after Ms. Lee's presentation, you who refused to take the stage alongside Ms Lee to present your side of the story, you who declined to take questions from UNCA journalists - a requirement for all UNCA presentations.
Pioli forwarded the following email exchange to UN correspondents.

Email exchange between Pioli and Cohen from June 10:

From Mirit Cohen:
Please find bellow the link to the short film from the IDF spokesperson unit re the events on the Mavi Marmara, which we ask to screen today after the other film. We will make a short statment as well."
Thank you,

Mirit Cohen.

From Giampaolo Pioli:

Dear Mirit

We must show the IDF film after the Q and A with Iara Lee

UN correspondent will attend your event and you will have the same Q and A time.


From Mirit Choen:

That won't going to happen, I'm sorry. It's only five minutes that I insist to screen right after her film as a comment. If you won't allow it the Israeli mission will consider to send a formal letter of complaint to the SG and you should know that the Israeli press going to write about this saga.

Please let me know what you decide.

From Giampaolo Pioli:

Dear Mirit,

Do you think it would work to show your film and make your statement at 10 minutes before 4pm (1550)? we can send out an email now to all UNCA members so that we get back-to-back film showings. The advantage is that you would get the first word.

We would like to repeat our request that you take questions. UNCA members agreed after a problematic climate change event last year that everyone using UNCA as a forum for presentations must take questions. If you do not, that's up to you, but you will get a few questions thrown at you and there's nothing we can do to stop that.

Please let me know asap if you can live with that.



From Mirit Cohen:

Thanks Giampaolo,

But I have to admit that I am exhausted from all this process and we won't take part at this one sided event.

Thank you anyway and I do hope for a better co-operation in the future.


The complaint from the Israeli Spokesperson:

Dear Mr. Pioli,

I write this letter of complaint to officially protest your mishandling of the events surrounding the screening of footage by Ms. Iara Lee on 9 June 2010 at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Offering UN media facilities to screen video produced by a one-sided activist while actively preventing a Member State of the United Nations an opportunity to respond in real time is severely unethical. In the current circumstances, your decision to ban the Permanent Mission of Israel from offering any feedback or comment during the aforementioned screening ensured that the reporters invited to the event would be offered only part of the story rather than a more complete set of facts so that they themselves could have made an informed analysis of the events in question. Furthermore, the fact that you cancelled the participation of the Permanent Mission of Israel only two hours prior to the commencement of the screening raises grave doubts as to the reasons behind this decision.

I have shared these concerns with you directly, though I believe that the members of the UN Correspondents Association deserve a more comprehensive set of facts regarding the events that took place onboard the Mavi Marmara on 31 May 2010. As such, I have decided to share with the members of UNCA the footage prepared by Israel.

In conclusion, I certainly expect that you will look into the decision that led to Israel’s non-participation in the event on 9 June. Furthermore, I expect an official apology from you and your association regarding this mistake. I – along with fair-minded journalists – expect that you as the President of the United Nations Correspondents Association would exercise responsible journalistic practices and demonstrate a commitment to balanced and objective news.

Thank you for attention to this unfortunate matter.


Mirit Cohen

Spokesperson, Mission of Israel to the UN

UNCA's response:

Dear Ms Cohen,

Your letter of protest came as a surprise to members of the United Nations Correspondents Association. It is factually incorrect and distorts the exchanges that took place on June 10 (not June 9) between UNCA and your mission.

Contrary to your claim, at no time were we "actively preventing a Member State of the United Nations an opportunity to respond in real time" to the screening of footage by Ms. Iara Lee at United Nations Headquarters in New York. You know very well that that's not what happened. Even more preposterous is your insinuation that we have some kind of ulterior motive: “(T)he fact that you cancelled the participation of the Permanent Mission of Israel only two hours prior to the commencement of the screening raises grave doubts as to the reasons behind this decision."

Instead it was you who turned down our offer to screen your Israeli film and make your statement directly before or after Ms. Lee's presentation, you who refused to take the stage alongside Ms. Lee to present your side of the story, you who declined to take questions from UNCA journalists - a requirement for all UNCA presentations.

What was your reason for turning down our offers? You were tired out by our discussions during which you raised your voice with me and rejected all of our proposals for how you could participate. As you put it in your email: "I have to admit that I am exhausted from all this process and we won't take part at this one sided event." (see our email exchange below).

UNCA sees no reason to apologise. UNCA Executive Committee members behaved fairly and professionally, offering both sides the chance to present their version of what happened on May 31. We wanted a balanced event but you were not willing to take part in one. Your approach to our organisation was both undignified and unprofessional. If anyone is owed an apology it is the United Nations Correspondents Association.

We hope to have better co-operation in the future based on mutual respect.


Giampaolo Pioli

UNCA President

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Eric Prince puts Blackwater (Xe) up for sale.

Eric Prince has always been annoyed by the bad publicity that his firm has gained. He claims that performance does not count in Washington just politics. While Blackwater was for the most part successful in protecting its clients it did so in a way that could hardly be called a good performance. It was involved in killing innocent people and managed to make it and to some degree the U.S. an object of hatred in the areas it works. At the same time it often charged outrageous prices. As a result it is subject to lawsuits, criminal investigations and a tide of negative publicity. Some performance. In fact only Prince's Pentagon connections probably has saved the firm this long. So Prince is right that politics rather than performance counts. But finally the connections are being disconnected so Prince might as well sell before it gets worse. This is from the NYTimes.

Founder Puts Blackwater Security Firm Up for Sale

WASHINGTON — Burdened by lawsuits, criminal investigations and negative publicity stemming from its private security work in Iraq and Afghanistan, Blackwater Worldwide is being put up for sale, the company has announced.

Times Topic: Blackwater Worldwide
Blackwater, which changed its name to Xe Services and brought in new management last year in order to remake its image, is pursuing a sale in part because that overhaul has failed to change perceptions of the company, most critically inside government, which is its main customer.

Erik Prince, the former member of the Navy Seals and heir to an automotive fortune who founded Blackwater, said in a statement given to The Associated Press late Monday that making the decision to sell the company was difficult, but that he no longer wanted to deal with the intense criticism the business has faced.

“Performance doesn’t matter in Washington, just politics,” Mr. Prince said.

A separate statement from the company’s headquarters, in Moyock, N.C., said, “Xe’s new management team has made significant changes and improvements to the company over the last 15 months, which have enabled the company to better serve the U.S. government and other customers, and will deliver additional value to a purchaser.”

In March, Xe Services sold its aviation division, Presidential Airways, to the AAR Corporation, which is based in Illinois. Among the company’s largest remaining assets is the 7,000-acre compound it operates at its headquarters, which includes shooting ranges, driving courses and other facilities for military and law enforcement training.

The effort to sell the company comes in the wake of intense legal scrutiny of its past management.

In April, five former Blackwater executives, including its past president, Gary Jackson, who had served as Mr. Prince’s most trusted lieutenant, were indicted on federal weapons charges. Separately, the Justice Department has opened an inquiry into whether Blackwater officials sought to bribe Iraqi government officials in order to continue to operate in Iraq after a 2007 shooting involving Blackwater guards in which 17 Iraqi civilians were killed. Manslaughter charges brought against five of the guards were dismissed last year, but the Justice Department is appealing the decision.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Noam Chomsky on Israel and the Gaza Flotilla Attack

Chomsky as usual is his usual truculent self when it comes to Israel. Although he himself he is Jewish he has been a consistent caustic critic of Israeli policy. He is so hated and feared it seems that he was not allowed in to Israel to give a speech.
Chomsky gives a bit of history noting that the boardings are not new but have been ongoing and tolerated by the U.S. and Europe. As to the issue of Hamas rockets and stopping them Chomsky points out that there was a truce and Hamas wanted to extend it but Israel would not agree. This is from CommonDreams.

Noam Chomsky on Israel and the Gaza Flotilla Attack: "Sheer Criminal Aggression, with no Credible Pretext"
CHICAGO, Illinois - June 2 - Professor Noam Chomsky, renowned foreign policy analyst and bestselling author of Hegemony and Survival and most recently of Hopes and Prospects (Haymarket Books) offered the following statement to Egypt's Al-Ahram regarding Israel's justification for it's attack on humanitarian aid boats headed for Gaza and the broader context regarding the economic blockade which the activists aboard the ships were attempting to break. Chomsky, who is Jewish, was recently detained at the Israeli border and barred from entering the West Bank for a planned speaking engagement, provoking an international debate, and outrage over the issue of free speech in Israel.

Hijacking boats in international waters and killing passengers is, of course, a serious crime. The editors of the London Guardian are quite right to say that "If an armed group of Somali pirates had yesterday boarded six vessels on the high seas, killing at least 10 passengers and injuring many more, a Nato taskforce would today be heading for the Somali coast." It is worth bearing in mind that the crime is nothing new.
For decades, Israel has been hijacking boats in international waters between Cyprus and Lebanon, killing or kidnapping passengers, sometimes bringing them to prisons in Israel including secret prison/torture chambers, sometimes holding them as hostages for many years.

Israel assumes that it can carry out such crimes with impunity because the US tolerates them and Europe generally follows the US lead.
Much the same is true of Israel's pretext for its latest crime: that the Freedom Flotilla was bringing materials that could be used for bunkers for rockets. Putting aside the absurdity, if Israel were interested in stopping Hamas rockets it knows exactly how to proceed: accept Hamas offers for a cease-fire. In June 2008, Israel and Hamas reached a cease-fire agreement. The Israeli government formally acknowledges that until Israel broke the agreeement on November 4, invading Gaza and killing half a dozen Hamas activists, Hamas did not fire a single rocket. Hamas offered to renew the cease-fire. The Israeli cabinet considered the offer and rejected it, preferring to launch its murderous and destructive Operation Cast Lead on December 27. Evidently, there is no justification for the use of force "in self-defense" unless peaceful means have been exhausted. In this case they were not even tried, although—or perhaps because—there was every reason to suppose that they would succeed. Operation Cast Lead is therefore sheer criminal aggression, with no credible pretext, and the same is true of Israel's current resort to force.

The siege of Gaza itself does not have the slightest credible pretext. It was imposed by the US and Israel in January 2006 to punish Palestinians because they voted "the wrong way" in a free election, and it was sharply intensified in July 2007 when Hamas blocked a US-Israeli attempt to overthrow the elected government in a military coup, installing Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan. The siege is savage and cruel, designed to keep the caged animals barely alive so as to fend off international protest, but hardly more than that. It is the latest stage of long-standing Israeli plans, backed by the US, to separate Gaza from the West Bank.

These are only the bare outlines of very ugly policies, in which Egypt is complicit as well.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Israel and the Tacitus Principle

This is a long detailed blow by blow critique of Israel's defense of its actions against the Freedom Flotilla. As the lead paragraph points out Israel depends upon audacity to defend itself once its crime has been exposed. This is from this site.

The Tacitus Principle: How Israel and its Apologists Defend the Indefensible

If there is one piece of ancient wisdom that has never lost even a bit of its validity over the centuries, it is Cornelius Tacitus' axiom that, “Crime, once exposed, has no refuge but in audacity.” Indeed, this appears to be the underlying principle of the US-Israeli PR campaign that has been launched in the wake of the almost universally condemned Israeli commando raid on the unarmed Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which carried aid to the Gaza Strip in an effort to break the siege that has strangled the 1.5 million people there since 2007.

The facts of the attack are fairly uncontroversial. The Gaza Freedom Flotilla consists of several multinational, civilian ships carrying humanitarian aid for the population of the Gaza Strip, which has been under siege in some form or other since 1991, a siege that was tightened to the point of denying basic humanitarian supplies after the elected Hamas government defeated a US-Israeli coup attempt led by Muhammad Dahlan in 2007. The ships were inspected before leaving port, and found to contain only humanitarian aid, much of it medical and reconstruction supplies banned under the US-Israeli embargo.

On 31 May, in international waters, Israeli warships and helicopters surrounded the flotilla, and executed a late-night commando raid on the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara, killing at least 16 people (a figure that has been revised in subsequent reports without explanation or comment to 9 dead) and wounding at least 30, according to Israeli news reports that were broadcast before Israeli military censors issued a gag order preventing further reporting.

According to a 28 May Maariv article found by Max Blumenthal, this raid was premeditated, having been planned “detail by detail” as much as a week in advance. Everything aboard the ship, including footage of the Israeli attack shot by journalists travelling with the flotilla, has been confiscated. Only a few of the passengers abducted by the Israeli Navy were initially released; the majority were held incommunicado until 2 June, and denied access to lawyers and the media.
How to Lie With Sources:
Terrorist Charities and Bogus “Intelligence Reports”

Israel and its apologists have used the head start given them by the military gag order to propound a rather different version. For the purposes of this article, I will rely primarily on the fairly typical sampling that can be found in two press releases of the Israeli PR outfit The Israel Project (courtesy of Doug Henwood):

The first of these press releases – New Ship Headed for Gaza despite Israeli Prohibitions (2 June 2010 – “New Ship…”) – is decorated with a photo of “Anti-Israel activist Rachel Corrie” burning what is supposed to be an American flag. While one might rightly ask why it matters that a young woman who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer during a non-violent attempt to prevent a house demolition seven years ago apparently burned a US flag sometime prior to that, this question is never squarely addressed. The idea, it seems, is to use innuendos about the “illegal flotilla” and unsupported assertions about the “global jihadi ties” of those on board (who even named one of their ships after a known flag burner!) in hopes that the buzzwords used will cause readers to suspend the operation of whatever critical faculties they have.

Having thus set the stage, New Ship… informs us that the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara was, suspiciously enough, “filled with hundreds of Turks”. These flag burner-loving Turks, with their “global jihadi ties”, we learn, carried out a “pre-meditated [sic] attack” on Israeli soldiers who boarded their ship.

Although at least four of the nine activists who died [of natural causes, of course] on the Mavi Marmara May 31 are thought to be Turkish nationals, Israel has not yet released the names and nationalities of those killed in the clash. The Turkish ship was backed by the Insani Yardim Vakfi - “humanitarian relief fund”), or IHH, an Islamist Turkish group. The incident occurred after Israeli Navy personnel attempted to stop the ship from illegally entering Gaza and were attacked by the self-described human rights activists with knives, clubs and other weapons. About 400 of the 700 people participating in the six-vessel flotilla were Turks.
The passengers on the Turkish boat, are “self-described” human rights activists, more than half of whom, the press release once again makes a point of emphasising, were from Turkey (presumably out of fear that the Turks might do to Gaza what they did to Germany – i.e., rebuild it), and backed by the “Islamist Turkish group” İnsanı Yardım Vakfı (Humanitarian Relief Fund or IHH). To support its claim that the IHH is an Islamist group, New Ship... cites to a 1 June Washington Post article, which has only the following to say about the IHH:

Flotilla organizers, from the Turkish nongovernmental organization IHH, or Humanitarian Relief Fund, said they were transporting 6,000 tons of cement, more than 2,000 tons of iron, 100 prefabricated houses, 500 wheelchairs, medical equipment, wood and glass for building, electric generators and food.
Real bad dudes, clearly. It bears repeating that this is the only reference to the IHH in the article, which does not even assert, let alone prove, that the IHH is an “Islamist group”. While this might give a critical reader cause to question the honesty of New Ship... as a whole, the press release was not written for critical readers.

Later on in New Ship..., additional sources are cited for the claim that:

In 2006, a study conducted by the Danish Institute for International Studies showed that the IHH was involved in planning an al-Qaeda attack againstLos [sic] Angeles International Airport in 1999. The IHH reportedly acquired forged documents, enlisted operatives and delivered weapons to al-Qaeda in preparation for the attack, which was ultimately foiled.

The Danish study also cites a French intelligence report which stated that in the mid-1990s the IHH sent a number of operatives into war zones in Muslim countries to get combat experience. The report said that the IHH transferred money and “caches of firearms, knives and pre-fabricated explosives” to Muslim fighters in those countries.

Strangely enough, New Ship… does not link to the Danish study, which is available online, but to a page on the website of the Israeli Intelligence & Terrorism Information Center, headed up by Col. (ret.) Reuven Erlich, which describes itself as "an NGO dedicated to the memory of the fallen of the Israeli intelligence community”. The page, which is replete with assertions and devoid of direct quotes or anything else in the way of substantiation, also does not link to the Danish study, though it does provide an image of the title page and of part of a paragraph from the relevant section (without reproducing the source citations). Those interested can find the report at: (page 15)

The evidence for the claim that the IHH was “involved in planning an Al-Qaeda attack againstLos Angeles [sic] International Airport in 1999” is that a French magistrate by the name of Bruguière “testified that IHH had played ‘[a]n important role’” in the plot.

The ”French intelligence report” supporting the remainder of the claim turns out to be a motion filed in a French court: “Requisitoire [sic] Definitifaux [sic] aux Fins de Non-Lieu. De Non-Lieu partiel. De Requalification [sic]. De Renvoi devant le Tribunal Correctionnel, de mantien [sic] sous Controle [sic] Judiciaiare [sic] et de maintien en Detention [sic]” (Final Motion Concerning Dismissal, Partial Dismissal, Reclassification, Remand to the Criminal Court, Continued Judicial Supervision, and Continued Detention). This is, it bears emphasising, the only source cited for these claims in the Danish think tank’s report.

In other words, apart from grossly falsifying a press report, the press release cites the website of a think tank connected to the Israeli intelligence community, which itself cites no sources except for a Danish think tank’s report that bases the claims on an unsupported assertion by a French judge and moving papers filed in court, which the press release helpfully misrepresents as an “intelligence report”. QED.

To further bolster claims that those aboard the aid flotilla were dangerous terrorists, the Israel Project reports that:
a number of flotilla activists discussed the possibility they might die and become “martyrs” in the course of attempting to reachGaza [sic] in their vessels before they had even set out. The organizers held a press conference in the Turkish city of Antalya before the flotilla sailed, tasking all the participants to write their wills before departing. Walid Al-Tabtabai, a Kuwaiti member of parliament, was among those who wrote a will before leaving on the flotilla.

Similarly, in its follow-up press release, European Officials Rushed to Judgment and Condemned Israel’s Attempts to Stop Illegal Flotilla (3 June 2010), the Israel Project claims that Turkish passenger
Benginin told his family just before joining the flotilla: "I am going to be a shahid; I dreamt I will become a shahid – I saw in a dream that I will be killed." And Iritilmis reportedly told a friend before departure, “He was devoted to this activity, and always dreamt about becoming a shahid,”

translating the Turkish expression şehit düşmek (to be killed) as “to become a shahid”, presumably for maximum effect. In other words, then, the damning evidence is that some people on board the flotilla were concerned that they might not survive an encounter with the Israeli Navy.

Perhaps sensing that even its target audience will not immediately grasp the horrors that might ensue if the people of the Gaza Strip were allowed access to concrete, New Ship... helpfully adds that “Hamas [the elected government] has in the past used [concrete] to build bunkers” like those one finds in Sderot, leading, presumably, to an untenable “bunker gap”. Even assuming this is true, one might be forgiven for doubting that there is anything particularly nefarious about building air-raid shelters in an area that has been subjected to extensive aerial bombardment.
How to Lie with Sources II:
“This Was Not a Love Boat – This Was a Boat of Hatred”

In a further effort at creating the impression that the humanitarian nature of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla is pretextual, New Ship... selectively quotes from a 2 June article in the right-wing Jerusalem Post to the effect that:
In the meantime, Iran-backed Hamas on Wednesday (June 2) was preventing Israel from delivering humanitarian aid from the flotilla toGaza [sic]. Israel dispatched eight truckloads of the aid to the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza on June 1 after the ships were escorted to the port city of Ashdod. Said a Hamas official, "We refuse to receive the humanitarian aid until all those who were detained aboard the ships are released."

The authors of New Ship…, apologists for “US-backed Israel”, might have mentioned that the unnamed official of democratically-elected Hamas (whose name and title, Minister of Social Welfare Ahmed Al-Kurd, are quoted in the JP article, but suppressed in New Ship…) is further quoted in the very same JP article as saying:
"We also insist that the equipment be delivered in its entirety."

Kurd said that Israel's decision to allow a number of wheelchairs to be delivered to the Gaza Strip was a "deception," claiming that the batteries that operate them had been removed, making them useless.

Clearly, this press release is not meant to be taken seriously.

This all comes to a crescendo with a quote from none other than US-backed Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who considers the flotilla an “unprecedent attack of hypocrisy”, because "The purpose of the flotilla wasn’t to enter [sic] goods to Gaza – which we allow anyway, on a daily basis – the purpose was to break the naval blockade.” The purpose of the blockade, the indignant Netanyahu proclaimed, is to “stop weapons from entering Gaza”. Amira Hass of the leading Israeli newspaper Haaretz helpfully provides examples of the sort of dangerous ordnance the blockade keeps out:
The Defense Ministry is refusing - on security grounds, it says - to reveal why Israel prohibits the import into the Gaza Strip of items such as cilantro, sage, jam, chocolate, french fries, dried fruit, fabrics, notebooks empty flowerpots and toys, while allowing cinnamon, plastic buckets and combs.
One might object that it is hardly hypocritical to launch a flotilla for the purpose of breaking the naval blockade when that has in fact been the stated purpose of the flotilla all along, but it seems reasonable to defer to Netanyahu’s expertise in the field of hypocrisy.
“We are of course sorry for the lost [sic] of lives,” Netanyahu goes on, “but our soldiers were in life danger and were defending themselves from being lynched.”
It is worthwhile at this point to remember what “lynching” actually is. An exhibit currently touring the US, Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, provides us with examples:
(1) Bennie Simmons, or Dennis Simmons, accused of the murder of sixteen-year old Susie Church, was taken from prison guards in Anadarko, Oklahoma. His killers led him to a nearby bridge and hanged him from the limb of a cottonwood tree flourishing by a stream."

The Negro prayed and shrieked in agony as the flames reached his flesh," reported a local newspaper, "but his cries were drowned out by yells and jeers of the mob." As Simmons began to lose consciousness the mob fired at the body, cutting it to pieces. " The mobsters made no attempt to conceal their identity," remarked the Enfaula Democrat, "but there were no prosecutions."

(2) Tampa had built a flourishing cigar manufacturing industry by providing liberal incentives to manufacturers. The unionizing of workers and the violence erupting from strikes threatened the town's economy. Two Italian immigrants were accused of union sympathy and of shooting J. F. Esterling, a bookkeeper for the West Tampa cigar factory. City fathers were alarmed that an "American" would be subjected to attack. While the "conspicuous" immigrants, neither one of which was recognized previously as strikers, were being taken to a safer jail in a horse-drawn hack, a mob separated them from a suspiciously modest guard consisting of one deputy sheriff and fireman. The mob fled in automobiles, a luxury afforded by only the elite in Tampa, which suggested that they were "men with boiled shirts, high collars, diamonds, and kid gloves."

Conspicuously absent from these accounts is any reference to the victims being highly trained, armed special-forces operatives executing a late-night raid. Indeed, it seems that the hallmark of a lynching is that the victim is unarmed, alone, and completely helpless, and usually ends up burnt at the stake or hung from a tree amidst much merrymaking.

Quite apart from the absurdity of using the term “lynch” to describe alleged “attacks” on special forces soldiers raiding a civilian vessel, there is something distinctly sickening about this appropriation of one of the signal atrocities of modern African American history. One wonders how Netanyahu or his many spokespersons and media flacks would react if one of the Mavi Marmara passengers were to refer to the Israeli raid as a “pogrom”.
An Arsenal Rivalled Only by Bob Vila
The Israeli military have since made a major media production of the “weapons" discovered on board the ship as part of the “pre-meditated [sic] attack” on those defenceless commandos.

The “weapons” recovered include “metal rods, slingshots, knives, smoke torches, wrenches, electric saws, gas masks, and molotov [sic] cocktails”. The photographs do not show the “smoke torches” or Molotov cocktails, and what the IDF claims are slingshots are photographed in such a way that it is not actually particularly clear what they are. Gas masks, of course, are not weapons at all. They are breathing apparatus used in environments with contaminated air (and thanks to the Israeli destruction of the main sewage treatment plant, there is plenty of that in Gaza). Flares are standard safety equipment on any ship (for SOS signalling if radio communication is impossible), and are indeed often required in order to obtain a certificate of seaworthiness.

The remainder are children’s toys, kitchen utensils, and run-of-the-mill tools that one will find in any well-equipped home.

When examining these photos, it is important to keep in mind that we are forced to take the IDF's word on them. We have no independent information whatever on this matter. The Israeli military have had unfettered, uncontrolled, unmonitored access to the ships, and have not only a strong interest in finding something to create the perception that their attack was justified but also a track record of lying about these matters.

The same caveats apply to the videos released by the IDF. The first thing worth noting is that none of them is longer than approximately 20 seconds. More importantly, the time stamps have either been obscured or removed altogether, making it impossible to establish a chronology based on them. In one, which the IDF claims was somehow “censored” from the Mavi Marvara’s live satellite feed, we see nothing but what appears to be a fight in a room someplace (how one censors a satellite feed in real time during an armed attack is anyone’s guess). Nothing in the video allows the viewer to determine when or where the footage was shot – we have to take Israel’s word for it.

The other videos are shot in infrared at such a great distance that the people appear to be small dots or vague silhouettes. It is impossible to tell who’s who, let alone what anyone is doing. This is tacitly acknowledged by the fact that the IDF has placed captions by some of the dots, explaining what these particular dots were supposed to be doing. Without them, there would be no way of knowing at all – again, we have to take their word for it. Again, there is not a single identifying detail visible in these videos – we see a large boat and the silhouette of a helicopter, but no markings. These, too, could have been shot anywhere and at any time (or, given the image quality, created as part of a first-year computer graphics course).

Footage of the killings of the activists on board is, of course, conspicuously absent from this heavily edited collection of cinematic vignettes, which might even have been shot during IDF exercises preparing for the raid given the lack of identifying detail and the absence of timestamps from the majority of the footage.

Further doubt is cast on this version by another Jerusalem Post article, dateline 4 June 2010, which relies entirely on unnamed Israeli military sources, including two anonymous members of the Israeli elite unit who claim to have been involved in the raid on the Mavi Marmara. The new version put forth in the article, a significant escalation of prior claims, appears to have been issued in response to the interviews with survivors of the Israeli attack that are now readily available. The article reads like an IDF press release, with no non-IDF sources quoted and no questions whatever raised about the statements reported.

In this version, the attacking Israeli commandos were “attacked” by “mercenaries”, a description the JP uncritically accepts on the basis that it is the terminology used by the IDF.

The article drips with admiration for the “well-built”, “soft-spoken” anonymous IDF soldier, who basis his claim that those on board the Mavi Marmara were “without a doubt terrorists” on the fact that he could see “the murderous rage in their eyes”. This is a particularly impressive diagnostic feat given that the IDF claims that “all the mercenaries wore gas masks”.

An Israeli officer allegedly involved in the raid, identified only as “T.” “fills in the blanks” left by the account of S. (a true disciple of Marcus Aurelius who is “stingy with words”) as follows:

T. said he realized the group they were facing was well-trained and likely ex-military after the commandos threw a number of stun grenades and fired warning shots before rappelling down onto the deck. “They didn’t even flinch,” he said. “Regular people would move.”

If this is true, the IDF is holding out on us. The available footage, far from showing people who “didn’t even flinch”, looks like a free-for-all, with people milling about in all directions. All of the "evidence” that those on board the Mavi Marmara were “mercenaries” or “terrorists” is of basically the same character. Of note, however, is T.’s admission that the attacking commandos were firing (“warning shots”, allegedly) before they even boarded the ship.

Similarly absent from the footage made available is anything to confirm that “The attackers [sic] had already seized two pistols from the commandos, and fired repeatedly at them." The JP also uncritically reports the suspicions of the Israeli military that “the group did have some guns of its own”, but does not see fit to point out that this contradicts prior versions (which claimed, at the most, that guns were “stolen” from the attacking commandos) and is based solely on the result of an investigation by unnamed IDF “forensic experts” that has irreparably tainted the scene (it is not for nothing that suspects are generally not allowed unsupervised access to crime scenes).

S. is reportedly being considered for a "medal of valor” for the “remarkable job” he did.

Meanwhile, post mortems performed in Turkey showed that five of those killed on the Mavi Marmara were shot in the head, one from point-blank range. “One casualty, a 19-year-old dual national Turkish-American citizen named Furkan Dogan, was found to have bullet wounds in his head and multiple bullets in his body, [medical examiner Haluk] Ince said.”

In the eyes of the insufficiently reverent, evidence like might help to explain why S. “does not look like a hero”, in the words of the JP article.

The “Illegal” Flotilla

Before addressing the legal issues, let us return to the undisputed facts:

The Gaza flotilla was in international waters en route to deliver humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, when it was surrounded by the Israeli Navy. The Israeli military then proceeded to carry out an armed attack on at least one of the ships with the equivalent of US Navy SEALS, who boarded the Mavi Marmara by force and proceeded to kill sixteen passengers and injure over thirty. The flotilla was then hijacked and taken to Israeli territory, where the abducted passengers and crews were held incommunicado.

New Ship… repeatedly describes the flotilla as “illegal”, because it "violate[d] Israeli law” to deliver aid to the Gaza Strip. This claim puts Israel and its apologists in a rather awkward position. The official Israeli position, rejected by all international organisations and international law specialists, is that Gaza is not occupied, although Israel retains effective control over Gaza by land, sea, and air, has cut off all direct contact with the outside world, attacks the territory at will, and is exploiting natural gas deposits found in Gaza’s coastal waters. Even more importantly, Gaza is not a separate political entity; it is part of what in international law is referred to in the singular as the “Occupied Palestinian Territory”, which includes the indisputably occupied West Bank. As such, the specific modality of Israeli control does not matter. The Gaza Strip is part of the territory that has been under Israeli occupation since June 1967.

If Gaza is not occupied, however, how does Israeli law apply to Gaza, which is not a part of Israel? This argument ultimately serves only to point up Israel’s duplicity over the (long since resolved) issue of whether it is occupying Gaza (it is).

More importantly, both the Fourth Geneva Convention (art. 64) and the Fourth Hague Convention (art. 43) prohibit an occupying power imposing its laws on the occupied territory, and no state may apply its domestic laws to a foreign ship in international waters.

Another tack that Israel’s apologists have taken is to quote selectively from official naval warfare manuals, such as the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflict at Sea. As the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) points out on its web page dedicated to this Manual, “[t]he Manual is not a binding document. In view of the extent of uncertainty in the law, the experts decided that it was premature to embark on diplomatic negotiations to draft a treaty on the subject.” In other words, the Manual is what is known in law as a “restatement”, a helpful summary of generally accepted principles and commentary that does not, itself, have force of law.

While less patently ridiculous than the argument that Israeli law has any applicability on the high seas or the Gaza Strip, the naval warfare manuals are what is known in international humanitarian law as jus in bello, i.e., provisions applicable to how warfare is to be conducted. As such, they presume that warfare has already been found to be lawful in a specific case. This bootstrapping argument assumes a matter that must first be proven.

A blockade is, uncontroversially, an act of war. As such, it falls within the general prohibition on the use or threat of military force set forth in Art. 2(3) and (4) of the UN Charter:
3. All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.
4. All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
The UN Charter (Art. 51) provides one exception to this general prohibition, which is at the core of modern international law: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”

Accordingly, acts of war are presumptively illegal. The burden to establish their legitimacy is always on the state asserting a right to use or threaten military force. In order to carry this burden, states must prove that they have exhausted peaceful means (or that no peaceful means are available).

Thus, the first question is: Is Israel under armed attack? The only thing that could potentially be considered an armed attack within the meaning of Art. 51 are the attacks with crude, homemade rockets emanating from Gaza, which have, between 2001 and 2008, altogether claimed fewer lives within Israel (16) than an average month’s traffic fatalities (37 based on 2008 figures). Thus, for our purposes, Israel can be considered to be under armed attack, ineffectual as it is.

The next question is: Are peaceful means available? This, too, must be answered in the affirmative. One obvious option would be to end the occupation altogether, in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 242 and decades of General Assembly resolutions near-unanimously (US, Israel, and the odd Pacific atoll opposed) affirming that Palestinians are entitled to full sovereignty over all territories occupied by Israel in 1967, and calling for a “just solution” to the refugee problem, based on the legal principle that refugees are entitled to return to their homes or seek compensation, at their option. In other words, the first peaceful means that should be considered is for Israel to cease defying international law and the consistently expressed demands of virtually the entire world.

Some may object at this point that this might be too much legality for the delicate, unwritten Israeli constitution. Are there any other peaceful options available to Israel – short of living up to all of its legal obligations – to achieve its stated aim of ending the rocket attacks?

Again, the answer is: Yes. Prior to the Israeli “Cast Lead” massacre of Winter 2008-2009, Hamas had agreed to a cease fire with Israel. Despite Israel’s refusal to observe the ceasefire (it kept the siege in place – an act of war), rocket attacks from Gaza all but stopped from 19 June 2008 (when the ceasefire took effect) until 4 Nov 2008, when Israel violated the ceasefire with a deadly attack deep inside the Gaza strip. Nonetheless, the elected Hamas government remained willing to offer Israel a ten-year ceasefire even after Israel had killed 1,400 overwhelmingly unarmed people and laid waste to the Gaza Strip in a month-long massacre.

In other words, far from exhausting peaceful means that have proven successful in the past, Israel has steadfastly refused to consider such means at all. Accordingly, Israel can claim no legal right to impose a blockade of any kind on the Gaza Strip, let alone one that specifically targets foodstuffs, school supplies, and materials desperately needed in order to repair the devastation wrought during Israel’s 2008-2009 rampage.

Because Israel can claim no legal right to impose a blockade on the Palestinians of Gaza, moreover, the US-backed Likud-Israel Beitenu regime in Israel (to use one of the preferred grammatical constructions of the Israel Project press releases) certainly cannot assert a right to enforce such a blockade on third parties. This is particularly true in light of Israel’s duty under Art. 59 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to "facilitate [relief actions] by all the means at its disposal" and to "permit the free passage of [relief] consignments and [...] guarantee their protection," a duty, it is worth noting, that would apply even if Israel could lawfully impose a blockade.

Let us return, then, to the undisputed facts. In order to enforce a blockade of the Gaza Strip, Israeli special forces carried out a late-night raid on an unarmed, civilian humanitarian relief convoy in international waters that sought free passage to territory Israel occupies. It is alleged that those on board the Turkish Mavi Marmara resisted this armed attack using whatever materials were available (most of which can be found in any proper kitchen, tool shed, or garage in the world). Approximately sixteen passengers were killed by the Israeli attackers (though current press reports have reduced the figure – without explanation or comment – to nine), and the remainder were taken, by force, to Israeli territory and held there incommunicado.

As we have seen, Israel has no legal justification either for its blockade or for the attack on the Mavi Marmara, let alone for hijacking the convoy on the high seas (which constitutes an act of war against the countries whose flags the ships were flying).

But what of the alleged “lynching” of the armed Israeli special forces soldiers who boarded the Mavi Marmara? Leaving aside the patently offensive and absurd term, this act patently constitutes an armed attack – on a civilian vessel, no less – within the meaning of Art. 51 of the UN Charter. Because of the immediacy of the threat, Turkey (and, indeed, any NATO state under the "collective self-defence" variant in conjunction with Art. 5 of the North Atlantic Charter) would have been entitled to use proportionate force – e.g., by dispatching a warship – to defend the vessel. Barring that, those on board would have been entitled to respond to the Israeli attack using the same weapons that the Israeli troops carried.

In other words, even if we accept as fact the Israeli account of a “lynching” of soldiers who boarded a civilian vessel by force, all this would mean is that those on board the Mavi Marmara used substantially inferior means to ward off (unsuccessfully) an armed, illegal attack on their ship that killed their comrades.

In short, the official US-Israeli line does not hold up to even elementary scrutiny. The central claims either cannot be proven or are directly contradicted by the evidence adduced to “substantiate” them. One could be shocked by the contempt that these propagandists show for their intended audience (the media), if it were not so clearly justified.


Monday, May 31, 2010

German president quits over Afghan remarks

Political parties really should install mute buttons on some of their politicians. Some politicians just have to speak out no matter how stupid and unfortunate for the party what they say. This is from the BBC. The Afghan mission is very unpopular in Germany and the government is already down in the polls.

German President Koehler quits amid row over military

German President Horst Koehler says he is resigning immediately, following criticism of remarks he made about German military deployments abroad.

Mr Koehler, whose job is largely ceremonial, had linked missions such as the Afghanistan deployment with the defence of economic interests.

His remarks drew criticism from a number of German politicians.

Mr Koehler, 67, was re-elected last year to serve a second five-year term as president.

He made the controversial remarks in a radio interview after a brief visit to Afghanistan earlier this month.

He said that for an export-orientated country like Germany, it was sometimes necessary to deploy troops "to protect our interests... for example free trade routes".

Announcing his resignation on Monday, he said "it was an honour for me to serve Germany as president".

Unpopular deployment
With his wife standing next to him, he said he regretted that his comments could lead to a misunderstanding about a difficult question for the nation.

Jens Boehrnsen, speaker of the parliament's upper house (Bundesrat), will be interim president. He is in the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD).

The BBC's Oana Lungescu in Berlin says Mr Koehler's remarks about military missions led to accusations of gunboat diplomacy and embarrassment for Chancellor Angela Merkel's government. It has come under strong popular pressure to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Mr Koehler's shock decision could hardly have come at a worst time, our correspondent says. Polls show that the government's approval rating has plummeted to a four-year low, mainly due to its management of the eurozone crisis.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Brig. Gen. Daniel Menard top commander in Afghanistan ousted.

Canadian military brass are not exactly getting much good press these days. Colonel Russell Williams a former base commander is charged with murdering two women, sexual assaulting two others, and many break ins. Now our commander in Afghanistan is relieved of his duties and sent home.

The commander Gen. Daniel Menard certainly did nothing on the scale of Colonel Williams but he has done enough to lose his position. Menardh first got in hot water for accidentally firing his rifle. He was at the time with the head honcho of Canadian forces Walter Natynczyk. as they were boarding a helicopter. Fortunately no one was injured.

Menard faced a court martial and fined $3,500 dollars. Menard's new problems come from fraternizing with a female soldier said to be a member of his staff. This is strictly forbidden but no doubt often happens. When it is not hidden brass are often punished more harshly to set an example to the lower ranks. Perhaps Menard will set an example as a way for others who want out of Afghanistan to get sent home.

War on Terror is Assault on Civil Rights

This article shows the manifold ways in which civil rights are being sacrificed to the War on Terror. Of course Obama wants to use different and perhaps less threatening language. All the better to fool people no doubt. Obama is catching up with and surpassing Bush in use of drones and no doubt the research described in this article is ongoing under Obama. Perhaps it is funded as part of a great Stimulus Package!

America's "War On Terror" Morphs into a Diabolical Assault on Civil Rights
DARPA's "Deep Learning"

by Tom Burghardt

Global Research, May 28, 2010
Antifascist Calling... - 2010-05-23

As America's War On Terror morphs into an endless assault on civil and human rights, the technophilic fantasies of our masters, and the corporations whom they lovingly serve, even amidst the doom and gloom of capitalism's global economic collapse, have taken extraordinary steps to ensure that the "state of exception" spawned by the 9/11 provocation remains a permanent feature of daily life here in the heimat.

And with moves by Barack Obama's "change" regime to strip Americans of their Miranda rights, "delay" their appearance before a lawful court should they be accused of a national security crime, or even assassinate them if an arm of the secret state fingers them as terrorists (evidence optional), it's a sure bet that as "ideas about security infect virtually all aspects of public policy," as Stephen Graham avers in Cities Under Siege, new silver bullets will be needed to "keep us safe."

Deep Learning: A Nerdy Way to Kill People

Long-time readers of Antifascist Calling are well-aware of the host of bizarre projects hatched in darkness by the Pentagon's geek squad, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Working on things like Biologically Inspired Platforms and Systems that investigate the natural world, the better to create "significant new defense capabilities," the Defense Sciences Office (DSO) is focused "on understanding, and then emulating, the unique locomotion and chemical, visual, and aural sensing capabilities of animals," in order to hand warfighters neat, new tools to kill people.

Think robo-insects that crawl up walls and fire a bullet into the head of an unsuspecting "terrorist"--or more likely these days, some dissident, journalist or whistleblower--peacefully tucked in for the night.

But biologists and neuroscientists aren't the only ones in on the fun: computer specialists and systems' designers, you too can fight the War On Terror!

One new project, Deep Learning, on tap from the Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO), proposes to "build a universal machine learning engine that uses a single set of methods in multiple layers (at least three internally) to generate progressively more sophisticated representations of patterns, invariants, and correlations from data inputs."

DARPA avers that "a rapidly increasing volume of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) information is available to the Department of Defense (DOD) as a result of the increasing numbers, sophistication, and resolution of ISR resources and capabilities. The amount of video data produced annually by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) alone is in the petabyte range, and growing rapidly."

Therefore, "The goal of the envisioned Deep Learning program is to discover and instantiate in a learning machine (Deep Learning System) a single set of methods that, when applied repeatedly across multiple layers of the machine, yield more useful representations of audio/visual, sensor, and language information, using less labeled data more efficiently than any existing technologies."

Though top-heavy with nerd factor, Katie Drummond at Wiredreports that IPTO is hungering after a system that "can spot activities, like running, jumping or getting out of a car." Ultimately, the "final version will operate unsupervised, by being programmed to hold itself accountable for errors--and then auto-correct them at each algorithmic layer."

DARPA's solicitation envisages Deep Learning as an exemplary means for America's robo-warfighters to autonomously sort out those petabytes of data and then provide CIA and Pentagon drone "pilots" or JSOC kill squads, a more efficient way to snuff out shadowy practitioners of "asymmetric warfare," women, children, the elderly, journalists, etc., you know, the usual suspects.

I can't help but wonder whether its "auto-correcting" algorithms and capacity for holding itself "accountable for errors" means it will deliver itself--or its human masters--to The Hague for the commission of war crimes. A syrupy sweet synth-voice purring "sorry" to splattered human remains of a Hellfire missile strike gone awry just won't cut it in the liability department.

SMITEing America's Enemies

But before one can "kill 'em all, and let God sort them out," bulletproof target sets require corroboration. What better way to name that enemy then by ginning-up yet another sophisticated computer algorithm to delivers the goods!

The indefatigable Lewis Page of Britain's gadfly tech-zine, The Register, reported May 19 that "Pentagon boffins want nothing less than some kind of automated witch-finder technology able to finger 'increasingly sophisticated malicious insider behavior' in the USA."

And why not? After all, the U.S. National Counterintelligence Strategy (NCIS) has proclaimed that "Trusted insiders ... are targeting the U.S. information infrastructure for exploitation, disruption, and potential destruction." Or leaking documents that might prove embarrassing to the secret state such as theCollateral Murder video posted in April by Wikileaks.

Accordingly, DARPA is hatching a project, the sinisterly titled Suspected Malicious Insider Threat Elimination, or SMITE, to detect those who might not want us kept safe. DARPAcrats "define [an] insider threat as malevolent (or possibly inadvertent) actions by an already trusted person with access to sensitive information and information systems and sources."

The RFI posted online declares that "Information systems security personnel are drowning in ever expanding oceans of observational data from heterogeneous sources and sensors from which they must extract indicators of increasingly sophisticated malicious insider behavior."

Heavens! With a new panic on the horizon, call it a much-dreaded ISR and "malicious insider behavior analysis gap," the IPTO gang must surely be working overtime!

Since the "fundamental challenge" (aside from discovering new ways to line the pockets of America's security grifters) "is one of finding a poorly understood, subtle, or hidden signal (indicators of malicious behavior) buried in enormous amounts of noise (observational data of no immediate relevance) under the constraint that the measures of significance are themselves moving targets (based on dynamic context) that must be continually monitored and updated."

Doubtless, there's always a danger some pissed-off contractor at any of the 16 alphabet soup agencies that comprise the U.S. "Intelligence Community," forced to cancel a night on the town with that hot babe over in data mining, just might "go rogue" and become a "malign insider." Fear not, if DARPA has its way (and enough cash can be discretely passed in plain brown envelopes to trusted insiders!) "the challenge" of "detecting deceptive behavior" can be mastered.

Since "deceptive behavior is characteristic of malicious intent which leads to the problem of assigning intent to observed behaviors," better observe and analyze everything!

What better means then, to separate the "insider threat" wheat from the chaff then to "(a) derive information about the relationship between deductions, the likely intent of inferred actions, and suggestions about what evidence might mean and (b) dynamically forecast context-dependent behaviors--both malicious and non-malicious."

Or, as Donald Rumsfeld blithely put it on that halcyon day when the Twin Towers fell: "Need to move swiftly - Near term target needs - go massive - sweep it all up. Things related and not."

And who would blame DARPA for lusting after "on-line and off-line algorithms for feature extraction and detection in enormous graphs (as in billions of nodes) as well as hybrid engines where deduction and feature detection mutually inform one another"?

After all, what with "missed signals" and various failures to "connect the dots" before 9/11 or intelligence "gaps" that drove the Bush administration kicking and screaming into an invasion and occupation of Iraq it didn't want, "security is often difficult because the defenses must be perfect, while the attacker needs to find only one flaw."

Therefore, IPTO's enterprising specialists will place a premium on "forensics" that "could reverse the burden by requiring the attacker and his tools to be perfect, while the defender needs only a few clues to recognize an intrusion is underway."

With such tools in hand perhaps the secret state, laboring like proverbial bees in the geopolitical gardens of the Middle East to efface the looming Iran "threat," will have the means to sequester some potential whistleblower before they'd eventhink about leaking compromising documents that might throw a spanner in the works.

"It will no doubt be a comfort for anyone in a position of trust within the U.S. information infrastructure," Page points out, "to know that mighty military algorithms and hybrid engines will soon sniff your every move so as to forecast any context-dependent malice on your part--and then in some unspecified way (remember what the E in SMITE stands for) eliminate you as a threat."

And should DARPA's info-warriors fail, there's always a black hood, a silent room and a waterboard to do the trick!

Tom Burghardt is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Tom Burghardt

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

In Canada once more U.S. troops fleeing war.

Since there is no draft in the U.S. there is probably less support for American troops seeking refuge in Canada. The soldiers sign up voluntarily rather than being forced to serve. However, many believe that the Iraq war is unjustified and though willing to serve are not willing to serve there and so flee when they are ordered to go there. Former Vietnam refugees help some of them out.
The Harper government is both conservative and a supporter of U.S. foreign policy on the whole. The Harper government has been completely unsympathetic to any claims of U.S. soldiers to refugee status. This is from USA Today.

In Canada once more, U.S. troops fleeing a war

By Judy Keen, USA TODAY
TORONTO — Patrick Hart came here in 2005, when he couldn't face a second deployment to Iraq. A U.S. Army sergeant with almost 10 years of active duty, he would rather stay in Canada forever than return to a war he thinks is wrong.
Hart, 36, knows that some people think he is a traitor, but he has no regrets. "I've bled for my country, I've sweated for my country, I've cried myself to sleep for my country — which is a lot more than some people who are passing judgment on me have done," he says. "I would rather go sit in prison than go to Iraq."

Deportation, court martial and prison are imminent threats to Hart and about 200 other U.S. troops seeking sanctuary in Canada. Despite being members of an all-voluntary military, some oppose the war in Iraq so strongly they are willing to leave their country behind — much like Americans of an earlier generation who crossed the border in the 1960s and '70s to avoid serving in Vietnam and built new lives here.

"They understand," Hart says.

In Canada today, the political climate and immigration policies are less hospitable for the new deserters than during the Vietnam era. The conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper refuses to give asylum or refugee status to those U.S. troops seeking sanctuary here, although Parliament on Tuesday will debate a bill that would let them stay.

Charlie Diamond was 23 when he fled to Canada from Connecticut in 1968 to avoid going to Vietnam. By then, the war was unpopular in both countries. Americans were marching in the streets in protest and young men were burning their draft cards.

Now 64 and a Canadian, he is reciprocating for the welcome he found here.

"I want my country once again to be a refuge from militarism," says Diamond, who has joined others who refused to fight in Vietnam — they prefer the term "resisters" — in the War Resisters Support Campaign.

Canada did not support the American invasion of Iraq, and polls show that most Americans also believe the war was a mistake. Today's deserters enlisted "in good conscience," Diamond says, "thinking they were defending America when in fact the whole thing was a lie."

Young men who left the USA to avoid serving in Vietnam were widely accepted by Canadians and a network of fellow war opponents who helped them find shelter and jobs. Under Harper, Canada's government has tightened immigration policies, and every Iraq deserter who has applied for refugee status has been turned down. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says that "being a deserter from voluntary military service in a democracy does not, in any way, meet the … definition of a refugee."

In March, Kenney proposed more limits: Immigration appeals for people from countries with good human rights records would be heard only by the Federal Court, ending deserters' chances of winning in lower courts, and failed claimants would be deported in a year instead of the current four years.

Most of the Iraq war deserters in Canada are in hiding, says Michelle Robidoux, spokeswoman for the War Resisters Support Campaign. The group is in touch with more than 40 of them. Two others were deported, tried and sentenced to prison in the USA. Some returned home voluntarily.

More than 50,000 Americans old enough for military service came to Canada to avoid the draft and the Vietnam War, says John Hagan, a Northwestern University sociology and law professor who was among them and wrote a 2001 book, Northern Passages, about the exodus. About half remain in Canada today, he says, despite President Carter's 1977 amnesty offer, which applied to draft dodgers but not deserters.

'Self-centered acts'

U.S. military officials have little sympathy for those who abandon their posts.

"Desertion places an undue burden on the unit, it sets a poor example for others, but worst of all it cuts to the very root of military virtue — mutual support and confidence," says Air Force Col. Kenneth Theurer, chief of the military justice division.

Few soldiers desert or go AWOL, says Army spokesman Wayne Hall, but those who do take part in "self-centered acts that not only affect the soldier but also in a time of war may put other soldiers' lives at risk. Soldiers serve in an all-volunteer Army because they chose to."

Since the Iraq war began in 2003, the Army has convicted 693 soldiers of desertion and 2,657 of being absent without leave. From fiscal 2003 through 2008, the Marine Corps had 6,448 deserters. From fiscal 2003 through March 29 the Air Force had 260 deserters. From 2003 through the end of March, 9,869 people deserted from the Navy.

The War Resisters Support Campaign — formed when Jeremy Hinzman, an Army paratrooper, deserted in 2004 and went to Canada — raises money for deserters' legal bills, holds rallies and collects signatures of support across the country.

It's a deeply personal cause for many of those who refused to go to Vietnam. Working with Iraq deserters "breaks your heart," says Bill King, 63, a musician and producer who came to Canada in 1968 to avoid being sent to Vietnam. "You flash back to when you were that age."

'Human nature question'

Jeffry House, a lawyer who represented Iraq deserters before Canada's highest court, came here in 1970 after he was drafted for service in Vietnam. He believes the arguments he made in court are valid: "A soldier ought not to have to participate in an illegal war, even a soldier who has joined up voluntarily."

At their first meeting, House says, Hinzman said he joined the military because he wanted to defend his country, but called the Iraq War bogus. "That's a word we would have used," House says. "I started to think, you know what? This guy is right."

Gerard Kennedy, a Member of Parliament, is the sponsor of the bill that would make U.S. troops who had a "crisis of conscience" in Iraq eligible for Canadian citizenship. "There's a basic moral, human nature question here," he says. "Do we always, under all circumstances, want our military personnel to follow orders or do they have some rights?"

Kennedy believes most Canadians agree with him. Non-binding resolutions urging that U.S. military deserters be allowed to stay in Canada were approved by Parliament in 2008 and 2009. A 2008 poll found that 64% of Canadians favored giving deserters a chance to become permanent residents of Canada.

Toronto lawyer Alyssa Manning, who represents about 20 U.S. troops, says judges often are receptive to evidence that those who come to Canada face tougher punishment by the U.S. military when they return to the USA. But Harper's government, she says, is "adamantly and actively opposed to the war resisters being able to stay in Canada."

That's ominous news for Phil McDowell. He joined the Army in 2001, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and served in Iraq for a year. A few weeks after he was discharged in 2006, he was notified that he would be sent back to Iraq under the Army's "stop-loss" policy — an involuntary extension of his active-duty service. He rejoined his unit, but he couldn't go back to Iraq. He came to Canada instead.

It was a wrenching decision, one McDowell, 29, at first considered "an outrageous thing to do." But he had soured on the Iraq war: There were no weapons of mass destruction there, as the Bush administration had claimed, and McDowell hated the way average Iraqis were treated by coalition forces, as well as the reports of abuse of Iraqi inmates at Abu Ghraib prison by U.S. troops.

"No matter what, I was not going back to Iraq," he says.

McDowell found the War Resisters Support Campaign online and sought its help when he arrived. He regrets missing family weddings and funerals, but he has a job installing solar panels and says he could make his life here, even if it means never going home to Rhode Island.

He's also "absolutely" prepared for deportation and prison, he says. To McDowell, those who came to Canada instead of going to Vietnam are a source of reassurance that "something's going to work out. … Life goes on, and they're a good example of that."

Kimberly Rivera feels the same way. She went to Iraq with her Army unit in 2006. Three months later when she was home on leave, she decided she couldn't return. In 2007, she came to Canada. Rivera, 27, who is from Mesquite, Texas, lives here with her husband, Mario, and their three children. She has received two deportation notices; those are being challenged in court.

Rivera says it's hard to live with the knowledge that some people think she's a coward. Coming to Canada "was very, very hard. Not only am I giving up everything that I know and love — everything — but there's a possibility I would never be able to go back."

If she's forced to return, she says, "I've prepared myself mentally to take whatever punishment they have in store for me."

Different eras, same choices

Dennis James never went back. He was drafted in 1969 and moved to Canada when his medic training shifted to rifle drills to prepare him for deployment to Vietnam. If he were to return, even now, he would have to report to military officials and face desertion charges, he says.

Like many Americans who stayed in Canada after Vietnam, James, 64, says its "atmosphere of welcoming and respect for people" made him feel at home.

James is deputy clinical director of the addictions program at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and is not active in politics. Even so, when he's asked whether he feels a kinship with the former U.S. troops who have come here to avoid Iraq, he replies, "I do."

Others from the Vietnam era are helping Iraq deserters. Tom Riley, 63, is from Baltimore but was living here when he received his induction notice in 1970. He refused to report for duty.

Today, the longtime social worker feels an obligation to help troops who don't want to fight in Iraq, and they're eager to hear his story. "It's quite interesting for them to know that there was a former generation that made the same choices," Riley says.

Carolyn Egan, 60, president of the Toronto Steelworkers Area Council, came here in 1970 with a partner who was ducking the draft. She believes men and women who refuse to fight in Iraq "had the courage to say no" to an unjustified war, she says.

Diamond, a Quaker who works with Toronto's homeless, hopes his adopted country "will have the courage to do what we've historically done. … I see what war and violence does. It's made the United States a very ugly country. I don't want Canada to go that route."

If Canada accepts this generation of deserters, it will be because of the efforts of Diamond and others who refused to go to Vietnam, says Jesse McLaren, 31, a doctor who belongs to the War Resisters Support Campaign.

The older activists, he says, "add historical and moral force to the campaign."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Robert Naiman: Obama Originally Supported Iran fuel swap brokeder by Turkey and Brazil.

This is an interesting article. I had thought that Brazil and Turkey were working on the deal just to show that the medium powers could do what the big powers could not do, broker a deal with Iran. However, this article shows that originally the deal was supported by the U.S. but later probably due to domestic political considerations the U.S. changed course completely. The U.S. media has been complicit in covering up this drastic change. This is from huffington post.

Robert NaimanPolicy Director of Just Foreign Policy

U.S. Media Censors U.S. Support of Iran Fuel Swap
Sao Paulo - If you get your information from major U.S. media, and you follow U.S. foreign policy, then you know that last week Iran, Brazil, and Turkey signed an agreement for Iran to ship about half of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Turkey, in exchange for subsequent Western supply of higher-enriched uranium to fuel Iran's medical research reactor - fuel Iran needs in order to treat Iranian medical patients, fuel to which Iran is entitled as a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

If you were paying close attention, you might know that the deal is quite similar to one proposed a few months ago by the United States. An initial AP story on the Washington Post's website last Monday - which I cited at the time - said the agreement was "nearly identical" to the deal the U.S. was pressing for, although by the end of the day the AP article on the Post's website had been revised to downgrade this comparison to "mirrors." [The original AP story is still visible here.] U.S. officials have dismissed the deal brokered by Brazil and Turkey, even though the deal is "nearly identical" to the one proposed by the U.S. Indeed, according to the Washington Post, U.S. officials are "thoroughly irritated" with Turkey for its role in mediating the agreement.

But if you get your information from major U.S. media, here's something that you almost certainly don't know: Brazil and Turkey say that before they reached the deal, they understood that they had the backing of the Obama Administration for their efforts. The available evidence suggests that Brazil and Turkey had good reason to believe that they had U.S. support, and that the Obama Administration has taken a 180 degree turn in its position in the last few weeks, and is now trying to cover its tracks, with the active collaboration of major U.S. media.

Reuters reports from Brasilia - in an article you won't find on the web sites of the New York Times or the Washington Post:

Brazil argues Washington and other Western powers had prodded Brazil to try to revive the U.N. fuel swap deal proposed last October.
"We were encouraged directly or indirectly ... to implement the October proposal without any leeway and that's what we did," said Amorim.

In a letter to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva two weeks ago, U.S. president Barack Obama said an Iranian uranium shipment abroad would generate confidence.

"From our point of view, a decision by Iran to send 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium abroad, would generate confidence and reduce regional tensions by cutting Iran's stockpile," Obama said, according to excerpts from the letter translated into Portuguese and seen by Reuters.

I haven't seen any reference to this letter from President Obama to President Lula in the U.S. press - have you? But in Brazil, this letter from Obama to Lula was front-page news on Saturday morning - I saw it on the front-page of O Estado de S. Paulo, above the fold.

Note that the Reuters story, dated May 22, says Obama sent this letter two weeks ago. The deal was announced Monday, May 17. So, about a week before the deal was announced, Obama told Lula that from the U.S. point of view a decision by Iran to send 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium abroad would generate confidence and reduce regional tensions. Note furthermore that Obama's words - according to Reuters, this is a direct quote from Obama's letter - actually specify an exact amount of transfer that would "generate confidence": 1,200 kilograms, exactly what was agreed a week later. So the U.S. officials and media stenographers (like Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post - "Iran creates illusion of progress in nuclear negotiations") saying a 1,200 kilogram transfer would have been great in October but would be worthless now are directly contradicting what President Obama himself wrote to President Lula one week before the deal was announced. But if course you wouldn't know about that direct contradiction from the U.S. media, because in the U.S. media, the letter from Obama to Lula apparently doesn't exist.

Morever, Brazil says that before the deal, no-one raised the issue of Iran's 20% enrichment as an obstacle:

"It wasn't on the agenda. Nobody told us, 'Hey if you don't stop 20 percent enrichment, forget the deal'," said [Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso] Amorim.
So, if Brazil is telling the truth - and there is no evidence that they are not - then this means that President Obama's letter to Lula did not raise the 20% objection, and the excerpt provided by Reuters suggests that it didn't.

So far, I've seen one clear reference in U.S. media to claims by Brazil and Turkey that they had the Obama Administration's backing in pursuing negotiations: not in a news article, but in an International Herald Tribune column by Roger Cohen reprinted by the New York Times, "America Moves the Goalposts."

Cohen wrote:

No wonder Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, is angry. I believe him when he says Obama and U.S. officials encouraged Turkey earlier this year to revive the deal: "What they wanted us to do was give the confidence to Iran to do the swap. We have done our duty."
Cohen's explanation for the Obama Administration's stunning flip-flop? Domestic politics:

I believed Obama was ready to think anew on Iran. It seems not. Presidents must lead on major foreign policy initiatives, not be bullied by domestic political considerations, in this case incandescent Iran ire on the Hill in an election year.
Last year, the Administration concluded that Iran wasn't ready to negotiate with the U.S. because of Iranian domestic politics. Now, it seems, the United States isn't ready to deal because the Obama Administration is afraid of Congress.

It's a shame we don't have a leader in the White House right now who is ready to lead on this issue. If only we had elected this guy:

Friday, May 21, 2010

IMF and the Global Economic Outlook.

This is an article on the IMF and the global economic outlook by JulioHuato from his blog. He argues that wealth distribution may actually help the economic recovery. However the opposite seems to be happening. The IMF recipe is to promote austerity to save creditor banks. The onus will be mostly on the creditors. There is certainly no sign of the idea suggested here of repudiation of debt and spending that is in the interest of creditors. The Greek bailout is premised on cutting pensions, wages etc. It is all on the backs of the working class. For the workers to win the class struggle they would need to work towards appropriating the means of production distribution and exchange. As long as the means of production is owned by private capital and economic growth based upon profit and attempt to redistribute in favor of the working class will face barriers that are part of the capitalist system. For a time the developed countries were able to buy off their working people with a welfare state and much higher wages but with the globalization of capital this is becoming increasing impossible and the standard of living of many developed capitalist countries is probably unsustainable under the existing system. Entitlements are being cut back and even more cutbacks are coming to try and manage ballooning debt. In countries such as the U.S. labor seems to be weak and even the few powerful unions that exist are under attack and some union leaders such as Stern---now departed-- see selling out as the way to growth.
However, there does seem to be a contradiction between austerity measures and entitlement cutbacks and economic growth. Growth that is necessary to increase revenues and thus ability to pay debts. The IMF measures may often cause GDP to decrease and make the situation worse rather than better.

IMF Outlook and Public Debt
In Uncategorized on May 19, 2010 at 12:15 pm

In its latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF reports that the global economy is bouncing back. The poorer economies are leading the recovery. Conditions in the rich economies are much iffier, slowed down as they are by “lastingly damaged” financial sectors and household balance sheets; meaning that the banks are still financially weak and households — especially the households of working people — have a lot of debt (mortgage, car, consumer, student, etc.) compared to their perceived ability to repay it.
In the longer term, the rich countries need to reform their financial sectors (and the finances of working people need to improve significantly). In the short term, their recovery hinges on their maintaining easy money and aggressive public spending. Yet a recovery of this kind is “subject to downside risks as fiscal fragilities have come to the fore.” Rich countries — the IMF suggests — are between the rock of holding easy money and aggressive public spending and the hard place of showing creditors public debt is under control and, hence, repayable.

Or are they?

Paul Krugman has noted that part of the problem lies in the chicken-and-egg nature of public solvency. The public debt of rich countries looks scarier to the financial markets, because the recession threatens to permanently reduce the long-term potential of the economy (and, consequently, the public finances). Now, to avoid this permanent damage, aggressive fiscal policy is called for.

Historically, to a varying extent in different contexts, serious bouts of indebtedness (public or private) have been resolved by further economic growth, which has usually required substantial public spending. This is, for example, again to some extent, the experience of the U.S. in the postwar period.

Another illustrative case I’m most familiar with is Mexico, after six or seven years of depression as a result of the 1980s debt crisis. In spite of the enormous sacrifices imposed on Mexican working people to service the debt (made onerous by Paul Volcker’s monetary brutality after taking over the Fed in 1979), public debt in the late 1980s remained above 50% of GDP (which, at the time, was very scary). It wasn’t until serious public and private spending boosted by the prospects of the North American Free Trade Agreement in the early 1990s that the debt shrunk to 25% of GDP (later on, the Tequila Crisis of 1994-1995 reversed this trend temporarily).

But we should not stop here. A key issue for working people trying to understand the scope of possibilities for political action is being glossed over (or not fully spelled out) both by the IMF and Krugman. And that is the fact that, historically, there has been another decisive mechanism slashing the debt to “manageable” size — namely the redistribution of public (and private) debt holdings from creditors to debtors!

Again, historically, this redistribution has been carried out via outright expropriation, debt repudiation, ”renegotiation,” taxation, inflation, etc. In other words, it’s resulted from (1) direct deals between debtors and creditors benefiting the former at the expense of the latter, (2) taxing the debt holders and spending in ways that benefit the debtors (e.g. public investment, job creation, unemployment insurance, etc.), (3) pumping money into the economy, or some combination thereof.

In the case of Mexico’s 1980s debt crisis, gangster president Carlos Salinas managed to get the debt reduced by 20% after threatening the banks with default. In the case of postwar U.S., my impression is that inflation accomplished this to some extent. Again, Krugman has often alluded to this process on his blog, although without exploring its implications.

Furthermore, it has been amply demostrated by empirical study after empirical study that inequality, both international and domestic, is a persistent source of economic instability. Clearly, the still ongoing global financial and economic crisis owes much to the tremendous increase in domestic inequality (in the U.S., Europe, China, etc.) that preceded it. Hence, wealth redistribution accomplishes two positive goals: (1) it resolves the debt issue in the short run and (2) it creates conditions that stabilize the economy in the long run.

Some qualifications are required. The rich and the debt holders are not necessarily one and the same class of people. There are large institutional investors, with seizable debt portfolios, that manage the pooled pensions and retirement funds of working people. There are also highly exposed sovereign wealth funds that manage the public foreign-exchange reserves of entire nations such as China. Leaving aside the extent to which these funds are managed for the benefit of working people, a redistribution of debt securities would have to take these issues into consideration. We don’t want the remedy to backfire on working people, in the U.S. or abroad.

Is there a downside to wealth redistribution? Potentially, yes. Rich people will freak out. They always do when their supposedly sacred ownership rights are violated — although, as I’ve noted before, the existence of ownership rights is inevitably self contradictory, because ownership rights are unthinkable without governments to enforce them, and the existence of governments necessarily implies the allocation of resources outside of markets (taxation and public spending). The question, then, is not whether but to what degree.

So, the “markets” (or rather, the big players in the markets) are likely to threaten governments with a higher cost of public borrowing. But with enough popular support, governments can call the bluff and credibly threaten an escalation. It is, after all, a conflict between an overwhelming majority of people (like 99.5%) and a tiny percentage of the population (the extremely rich, i.e. like 0.5% of people): “You hike the yields (which is to say, you depreciate public-debt securities) and we will have no choice but to ratchet up your taxes or expropriate the hell out of you.”

Is this a likely course of action? I do not know. The answer — I guess — is, “It depends.” How likely is in each particular context for a government to take action under sufficiently strong popular pressure? But my point here is not to forecast the course of political events, but to show working people interested in educating themselves on these matters that the public debt issue is not a natural phenomenon, but an entirely social construct that working people acting in concert can alter or even dismantle.

To repeat myself: It is a class struggle and, for a change, working people can win it this time around!

[Note: With time, I'll try and update this post with relevant links backing up some of my factual assertions (e.g. regarding the effects of inequality on economic performance), which I believe are rather uncontroversial. Although I'm afraid that the main obstacles to grasping my argument are not facts or logic, but ideology -- including the tendency of people to unduly restrict the range of what they view as politically feasible. In times of economic and political turbulence, real possibilities expand.]

Thursday, May 20, 2010

SEIU leader Stern: Legacy not all bad!

This is a contrast to many of the accounts of Stern's Legacy. Many consider him a sellout and at the same time a leader who was autocratic and spent union money stifling dissent as much as organizing. This author thinks the health care bill was a great victory. Again many on the left consider it a big sellout and the right may very well be correct that it will be a big expense and involve cutting back of Medicare entitlements eventually. This is from newsweek.

Andy Stern's Legacy: Not All Bad
Jonathan Alter
Friday's Washington Post story about Andy Stern leaving the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) with debts offers a revealing look at the internecine strife that has long plagued the labor movement. And give the Post credit for covering a labor story, which most of the rest of the press simply ignores. But on the occasion of Stern stepping down after 13 years as head of the second largest (after the Teamsters) and fastest growing union in the country, the assessment of his legacy deserves a bit more perspective.

Stern, as the Post story says, is the most consequential labor leader of our era. I'm tempted to say that's like being the most consequential typewriter manufacturer of our era, but that sells Stern short. He had his shortcomings—the decision to break away from the AFL-CIO was a failure and, on a lesser note, a $1 million documentary that the union paid for (and in which I'm interviewed) was, as Stern admits, a waste of money.

Even so, Stern's leadership was virtually the only bright spot for labor in recent decades. He tried to drag the movement into the 21st century. The SEIU dissidents in California who Stern spent big money to defeat wanted return to the 19th century—to a lost world of hot rhetoric and effective strikes. Stern used both on occasion but he understands that militancy is impotency nowadays and the only way to advance is smart compromise.

As I explain in my new book on Barack Obama, without Andy Stern there would be no health-care reform. Starting in 2006 he arranged to break bread with the insurance industry and long-time enemies like Wal-Mart (see below) to move the bill forward. At the end of the process in March of this year, SEIU pressure on wavering House Democrats was critical to President Obama's victory. Stern spent little time with Obama personally in all those trips to the White House; mostly he was war-gaming health-care strategy.

Labor leaders who complained he wasn't paying enough attention to the Employee Free Choice Act ("card check" to critics) weren't being practical. There was no way Obama was going to tackle that first. As it turned out, health-care reform was a huge victory for millions of SEIU members and other lower-middle class Americans who will be added to Medicaid and will no longer have to worry that they're one illness or layoff away from bankruptcy.
Stern, a hard-headed former social-services worker and intellectual, was spectacularly successful in building SEIU into a powerhouse. The key was big deals with big employers and a refusal to be bound by the often mindless traditions of the movement. The fact that his hand-picked successor, Anna Burger, lost in the election to succeed him testifies to the fraying of Stern's bonds with restive locals as he concentrated on historic change. I hope he succeeds with more history-making as a member of the president's Budget Commission. If the teachers' unions are smart, they'll listen to Stern on how to make sensible concessions (on iron-clad seniority rules, for instance, that currently mean laying off even teachers-of-the-year if they're young). And Rich Trumka, new head of the AFL-CIO, should let bygones be bygones and seek Stern's counsel in the interests of the movement.

The philosophical breakthrough Stern made was understanding that even union-busting companies he spent his career fighting can have redeeming qualities. Take Wal-Mart again, which last week announced a $2 billion plan to ease—even end—hunger in the United States in the next five years. Developed with the help of a large collection of progressive groups, the program is a welcome sign of working across political lines. Naturally, the announcement got limited publicity, but that's a serious amount of money (mostly in-kind donations of food from Wal-Mart groceries) that will significantly dent the hunger problem. The Wal-Mart Foundation will also pay to deliver the food (including fresh meat, dairy, fruit, and vegetables) to local food pantries before their expiration dates, with the help of the latest irradiation technology. (By the way, for those of you about to go New Age/conspiracy theory on me, Stewart Brand of Whole Earth Catalog fame endorsed irradiated food and genetic engineering on the Colbert Report recently.)

I mention the Wal-Mart hunger initiative both because it's significant on its own terms and as a message to budding progressives. SEIU should still try to organize Wal-Mart but demonizing the company and refusing to work with it is a recipe for continuing failure. Labor should stay tough and principled but, as Andy Stern likes to say, "change to win."

TAG(S): Jonathan Alter, Barack Obama, Healthcare

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