Archive | March 29th, 2013

World War: Jihadists from over 30 countries fight in Syria (PHOTOS)


Source – by Mediawerkgroep Syrië / WorldMathaba

Belgian Ayachi Abdel Rahman, commander of the Suquar al-Sham brigade
Belgian Ayachi Abdel Rahman, commander of the Suquar al-Sham brigade

Since the beginning of the so-called Syrian revolution it became obvious that there are Western jihadists fighting in the Middle-Eastern country in an attempt to overthrow the Assad government.

Despite increasing media reports on foreign fighters in Syria, Western politicians and judicial authorities apparently didn’t consider it necessary to proactively take action against potential jihadists.

Most jihadists come from North Africa and the Middle East. Thousands of them fight against the Syrian people and the Syrian government. But hundreds of Europeans have participated in fighting with the rebels and terrorists of the Free Syrian Army and the al-Nusra front.

It once again becomes clear that it is not about “a peaceful revolution by the Syrian people”.

Jihadists from more than thirty countries are now active in Syria.

A selection:

Syria jihadists Australia



Syria jihadists Bahrain



Syria jihadists Belgium



Syria jihadists Chechnya



Syria jihadists Denmark



Syria jihadists Egypt



Syria jihadists France



Syria jihadists Germany



Syria jihadists Indonesia



Syria jihadists Iraq



Syria jihadists Ireland



Syria jihadists Jordan



Syria jihadists Kuwait



Syria jihadists Lebanon



Syria jihadists Libya



Syria jihadists Norway



Syria jihadists Pakistan



Syria jihadists Palestine



Syria jihadists Russia



Syria jihadists Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia


Syria jihadists Somalia



Syria jihadists Tunisia



Syria jihadists Turkey



Syria jihadists UAE



Syria jihadists USA



Syria jihadists Yemen


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Liz Cheney Is Even More Bonkers Than We Suspected

Image #: 5258220    Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Elizabeth Cheney participates on a panel discussion about Israel and the Mideast at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington on June 2, 2008.    UPI Photo /Landov

Liz Cheney’s op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal is an important and alarming document. She is not a marginal figure — she served as deputy assistant secretary of State for near eastern affairs in the Bush administration. More important, she is a very close ally of her father’s and the two have exhibited every sign of sharing a worldview in essentially every particular, which suggests that something very much like her brain held, depending on your point of view, either the second most powerful or the most powerful job in American politics for eight years. And she (and thus, by extension, her father) is obviously stark raving mad.

Even after four years of bug-eyed right-wing paranoia, Cheney’s op-ed stands out for its utter dearth of the slightest whiff of perspective or factual groundingPresident Obama, she tells us, “is the most radical man ever to occupy the Oval Office.” He has “launched a war on Americans’ Second Amendment rights.” He does not want the economy to grow. (“He believes in greater redistribution of a much smaller pie.”) Obama “seems unaware that the free-enterprise system has lifted more people out of poverty than any other economic system devised by man” — which is odd, because Obama is always saying things like “business, and not government, will always be the primary generator of good jobs with incomes that lift people into the middle class and keep them there.” The best approximations of America’s future under Obama are tiny European nations that lack control of their own currency. (“If you’re unsure of what this America would look like, Google ‘Cyprus’ or ‘Greece.’”)

One might charitably attribute Cheney’s crazed rants on domestic policy to her attempting to opine on matters outside her field of expertise. Yet her litany of foreign-policy accusations is actually even more unhinged. Obama, she argues, has not only weakened America, he wants to weaken America’s world standing in the same way he wants to shrink its economy (“there is no longer a question of whether this was his intent”). He wants to “pre-emptively disarm the United States.”

She fears that we will somehow lack the nuclear capacity to deter foes that might obtain the tiniest fraction of our nuclear strength. (Obama “advocates slashing our nuclear arsenal even as the North Koreans threaten us and the Iranians close in on their own nuclear weapon.”) She believes “Al Qaeda is resurgent across the Middle East” and that Obama “stood by and did nothing” in the face of the attack in Libya, an especially bizarre belief considering Obama’s specific responses to the attack in Libya and general four-year record of endless drone strikes and, well, you know.

Deranged millennial paranoia of this sort has a long pedigree in American thought, on both the far right and the far left, though, crucially, only the right-wing variety has managed to operate comfortably within the two-party system. The most telling piece of Cheney’s rant may be a quote she uses, from Ronald Reagan in 1961, as a preface:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. The only way they can inherit the freedom we have known is if we fight for it, protect it, defend it and then hand it to them with the well-taught lessons of how they in their lifetime must do the same. And if you and I don’t do this, then you and I may well spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”

There is one confusing passage in here — “this.” Reagan warns that “if you and I don’t do this,” then freedom in America will be extinguished forever. But what is “this”? “This” referred to stopping the enactment of Medicare. In that speech, Reagan argued that establishing Medicare would inevitably lead to the government dictating by fiat where doctors could live and work, and then, also inevitably, to full government control over the entire economy:

The doctor begins to lose freedoms, it’s like telling a lie. One leads to another. First you decide the doctor can have so many patients. They are equally divided among the various doctors by the government, but then the doctors are equally divided geographically, so a doctor decides he wants to practice in one town and the government has to say to him he can’t live in that town, they already have enough doctors. You have to go some place else. And from here it is only a short step to dictating where he will go. …

From here it’s a short step to all the rest of socialism, to determining his pay and pretty soon your son won’t decide when he’s in school where he will go or what he will do for a living. He will wait for the government to tell him where he will go to work and what he will do.

Conservatives still quote this speech a lot, strangely considering it a prescient warning rather than evidence that their fears of Big Government are usually totally wrong. The paranoia is simply transferred from one event to the next. Conservatives likened the establishment of Social Security to socialism and tyranny. Reagan, speaking a quarter-century later, assured his audience that he loved Social Security but that Medicare would surely fulfill those same warnings. Republicans now pledge their love for Medicare but see Obamacare as the death knell for freedom.

Cheney, typically, draws the usual lesson. “President Reagan’s words, spoken 52 years ago this weekend, still ring true, with one modification,” she writes, “If we don’t defend our freedoms now against the onslaught of President Obama’s policies, we won’t have to wait until our sunset years for American freedom to be a distant memory.” The destruction of freedom keeps happening in America, and yet, somehow, not happening. It perpetually lies just over the horizon, close enough to keep refreshing the supply of right-wing paranoia.

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Obama’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network Protects Bank Fraud and Insider Trading

Global Research

One indelible sign of state capture by pirate corporations and the financial jackals holding sway on Wall Street and the City of London is the ease with which former “regulators” slip into plum positions with the firms whom they supposedly “regulated” as “public servants.”

While the drone kill-crazy Obama regime has done yeoman’s work cementing in place extra-constitutional policies first enacted by the Bush gang–only to exceed Bushist depredations by a whole order of magnitude–kool-aid sipping “progressives” and troglodytic “conservatives” have given the president a free pass when it comes to policing the financial criminals who blew up the world economy.

But when it comes to US spy agencies probing and sweeping up your financial information, well, the sky’s the limit!

As Reuters reported last week, the administration “is drawing up plans” to give securocrats “full access to a massive database that contains financial data on American citizens and others who bank in the country, according to a Treasury Department document.”

That Treasury plan would give secret state apparatchiks, including those ensconced at CIA, NSA and the Pentagon free reign to rummage through the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s (FinCEN) massive database of “suspicious activity reports” routinely filed by “banks, securities dealers, casinos and money and wire transfer agencies.” The FBI and DHS already have full access to that database under the Orwellian USA Patriot Act.

Under the proposal, FinCen data will be linked “with a computer network used by US defense and law enforcement agencies to share classified information called the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System,” according to Reuters.

And since requirements for filing SARs are “so strict,” banks often “over-report,” this “raises the possibility that the financial details of ordinary citizens could wind up in the hands of spy agencies,” where it will live in perpetuity, “criminal evidence, ready for use in a trial,” as Cryptohippie famously warned.

Got that? While Wall Street drug banks are handled with care because of the “collateral consequences” thatmight result from a criminal referral for laundering billions of narco-dollars, the average citizen’s financial data will be fair game.

Which brings us back to Obama’s anemic regulatory regime and the “sheriffs” eager to do the bankster’s bidding.

Wall Street’s Choice

As one of the filthiest dens of corruption in Washington, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is in a league of its own.

In late January, when the president announced he was nominating former federal prosecutor Mary Jo White to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), The New York Times, as they are wont to do, proclaimed that the “White House delivered a strong message to Wall Street.”

A rather ironic assertion considering the tens of millions of dollars “earned” defending Wall Street criminals by Debevoise & Plimpton partner Mary Jo and her millionaire lawyer husband John, a partner at the white shoe corporate litigation shop Cravath, Swaine & Moore, as Above the Law disclosed.

Keep in mind that White will soon lead an agency that for years covered-up financial crimes by routinely shredding tens of thousands of case files on everything from insider trading, securities fraud, market manipulation and the Madoff and Stanford Ponzi schemes, as a 2011 Rolling Stone investigation disclosed.

As I reported nearly three years ago during my investigation into now-convicted fraudster Allen Stanford’s ties to the CIA over his role in laundering oceans of cash for the Agency’s narcotrafficking assets, the SEC’s Fort Worth office “stood down” multiple probes “at the request of another federal agency,” which regional head of enforcement Stephen J. Korotash “declined to name.”

Indeed, a 2010 report by the SEC’s Office of the Inspector General found that another “former head of Enforcement in Fort Worth,” Spencer C. Barasch, “played a significant role in multiple decisions over the years to quash investigations of Stanford,” and sought to represent the dodgy banker “on three separate occasions after he left the Commission, and in fact represented Stanford briefly in 2006 before he was informed by the SEC Ethics Office that it was improper to do so.”

Barasch eventually paid a $50,000 fine for ethics violations and “moved on.”

Despite the SEC’s documented history of sleaze and lax enforcement of rules that would earn the average citizen a one-way ticket to the slammer, on March 19 the Senate Banking Committee approved White’s nomination by a vote of 21-1; the lone dissenter was Sherrod Brown (D-OH). A vote by the full Senate could come as early as next week and she is expected to be confirmed easily.

As a former US Attorney for the Southern District in New York (1993-2002), White has been described by corporate media as a “tough as nails” prosecutor for her role in bringing down Mafia wise guy John Gotti and for running to ground criminal mastermind Ramzi Yousef, the architect of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. (For a gripping account of how the FBI and US prosecutor’s office botched that investigation and “foamed the runway” for the mass murder of 3,000 people on 9/11, readers should train their sights on Peter Lance’s exposé, 1000 Years for Revenge).

White’s record when it came to holding financial criminals to account however, was even more dubious; in fact, for more than a decade she’s defended them.

Times’ stenographers dialed back their glowing encomiums for the Obama nominee, writing that “translating that message into action will not be easy, given the complexities of the market and Wall Street’s aggressive nature.”

As reliable hands on the financial beat, Dealbook reporters routinely trumpet everything from the Justice Department’s sweetheart deal with drug money laundering and terrorist coddling banking giant HSBC to kissing Jamie Dimon’s hem over billions of JPMorgan Chase losses last year in what were euphemistically described as a “bad bet on derivatives.”

In the January puff-piece, reporters Ben Protess and Benjamin Weiser outdid themselves, claiming that with the White nomination “the president showed a renewed resolve to hold Wall Street accountable for wrongdoing.”

However, a less than laudatory piece published by Bloomberg News took those fatuous claims to task. Financial columnist Jonathan Weil observed that while “The Securities and Exchange Commission couldn’t get Ken Lewis on any securities-law violations after he helped drive Bank of America Corp. into the ground as its chief executive officer,” the agency “is poised to get his attorney as its new chairman–and Morgan Stanley’s, too.”

But hey, it’s not like the SEC is chock-a-block with conflicts of interest, right? Well, if a bracing read is what the doctor ordered, then turn your attention to a damning study released last month by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO). Entitled, Dangerous Liaisons: Revolving Door at SEC Creates Risk of Regulatory Capture, author Michael Smallberg takes us on a 60-page tour of insider dealing and corruption that would make a Roman emperor blush.

According to Smallberg: “Between 2001 and 2010, more than 400 SEC alumni filed nearly 2,000 disclosure statements saying they planned to represent employers or clients before the agency. These alumni have represented companies during SEC investigations, lobbied the agency on proposed regulations, obtained waivers to soften the blow of enforcement actions, and helped clients win exemptions from federal law. On the other side of the revolving door, when industry veterans join the SEC, they may be in a position to oversee their former employers or clients, or may be forced to recuse themselves from working on crucial agency issues.”

Talk about an agency blind in both eyes by design!

A Counsel with ‘Juice’

One of the more egregious cases which came to light was SEC’s handling of a 2005 insider trading case involving former agency enforcement head, Linda Thomsen, White and her client, Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack.

Before her tenure as the agency’s chief enforcement officer, Thomsen was in private practice at the powerhouse New York law firm, Davis, Polk & Wardell. During the capitalist financial meltdown, the company represented upstanding corporate citizens such as AIG, Freddie Mack, Lehman Brothers and drug-tainted Citigroup. Bulking up a stable of attorneys well-versed in regulatory matters, the firm has hired other former SEC officials, including Commissioner Annette Nazareth and Linda Thomsen.

Before sailing off to greener shores at Davis, Polk, Nazareth’s claim to fame was standing up a voluntary “supervisory regime” for the largest “investment bank holding companies” who “policed” themselves by cratering the economy and costing taxpayers trillions in bailouts.

That program, the Consolidated Supervised Entity was scrapped in 2008. Why? According to a press release by then SEC head Christopher Cox (no slouch himself when it came to defending his corporatist masters): “The last six months have made it abundantly clear that voluntary regulation does not work. When Congress passed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, it created a significant regulatory gap by failing to give to the SEC or any agency the authority to regulate large investment bank holding companies, like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and Bear Stearns.” (emphasis added)

A “gap” large enough to fly a fleet 747s through and still have enough wiggle room to launch a dozen Saturn 5s into deep space!

And that insider trading case?

According to Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone investigation, in September 2004 SEC investigator Gary Aguirre was tasked to look into an insider trading complaint against “a hedge-fund megastar named Art Samberg. One day, with no advance research or discussion, Samberg had suddenly started buying up huge quantities of shares in a firm called Heller Financial.”

Samberg was the founder of the multibillion dollar hedge fund, Pequot Capital Management, a firm which invested in a multitude of private and public equities and what are known as “distressed securities.” These are investment instruments held by firms or government entities (paging Fannie Mae!) that are either in default, under bankruptcy protection or will soon be heading south. The most common securities of this type are bonds and bank debt (think residential mortgage backed securities and other toxic assets). Since the financial crisis, a booming market in distressed securities have earned savvy hedge fund mangers billions in fees as they seek influence with regulators over how that debt is restructured.

And since “influence” in Washington and the “juice” that comes with it on Wall Street is the name of the game, well, you get the picture.

“‘It was as if Art Samberg woke up one morning and a voice from the heavens told him to start buying Heller,’ Aguirre recalls. ‘And he wasn’t just buying shares–there were some days when he was trying to buy three times as many shares as were being traded that day.’ A few weeks later, Heller was bought by General Electric–and Samberg pocketed $18 million.”

“After some digging,” Taibbi wrote, “Aguirre found himself focusing on one suspect as the likely source who had tipped Samberg off: John Mack, a close friend of Samberg’s who had just stepped down as president of Morgan Stanley.”

According to Taibbi, “Mack flew to Switzerland to interview for a top job at Credit Suisse First Boston. Among the investment bank’s clients, as it happened, was a firm called Heller Financial. We don’t know for sure what Mack learned on his Swiss trip; years later, Mack would claim that he had thrown away his notes about the meetings.”

Rather conveniently, one might say.

In any event after returning from his Swiss Alps sojourn, in a classic case of “you scratch my back” Samberg cut his buddy Mack into a deal with a tech firm called Lucent, “a favor that netted him [Mack] more than $10 million.” Shortly thereafter, “Samberg began buying-up every Heller share in sight, right before it was snapped up by GE.”

An insider trading case worthy of further scrutiny, right? But when Aguirre told his boss [Robert Hanson] that he intended to interview Mack and the other principals, “things started getting weird.” Taibbi noted that Aguirre’s boss told the investigator that Mack “had powerful political connections.”

Indeed he did. Like other Wall Street banksters, Mack had been a fundraising “Ranger” for the 2004 George W. Bush campaign, and when it became clear that a new product line needed to be rolled out, Mack crossed party lines and backed Hillary Clinton’s ill-starred 2008 bid for the Oval Office.

How’s that for clubby “bipartisanship”!

A 2007 report (large PDF file) published by the Senate Finance Committee titled The Firing of an SEC Attorney and the Investigation of Pequot Management, disclosed that “at least three experienced SEC officials believed in the summer of 2005 that questioning John Mack was an appropriate next step in the Pequot Investigation.”

Indeed, Senate investigators revealed that “the most significant aspect” of Mack’s 2006 SEC testimony (afterthe statute of limitations for prosecution had expired) “is his acknowledgement that he went to Switzerland to discuss becoming CSFB’s CEO from July 26-28, 2001.”

“In view of the fact that Mack also spoke with Samberg immediately upon his return to the United States on July 29, 2001,” Senate staff disclosed, “the trading day before Samberg began heavily betting on Heller Financial stock, and on the same night Mack was permitted into a lucrative deal, there was more than a sufficient basis to justify taking Mack’s testimony in the summer of 2005.”

After first being given the go-ahead to interview Mack, “Aguirre’s direct line of supervisors” including Hanson, Mark Kreitman and Paul Berger, got cold feet. Unfortunately for Aguirre, this came after he had briefed attorneys at Mary Jo White’s old stomping ground and “criminal authorities in the Southern District opened their own investigations” into dubious deals between Samberg and Mack.

At that point, Senate investigators averred, “his supervisors’ attitudes shifted dramatically,” that is, “when officials from Morgan Stanley began contacting the SEC to learn about the potential impact of the investigation on its prospective CEO, John Mack.” Only then did Hanson warn Aguirre that “it would be difficult to subpoena John Mack because of his ‘powerful political connections’.”

Aguirre told Senate investigators that “in a face-to-face meeting” with his boss, “Hanson said it would be very difficult to get permission to question Mack because of Mack’s ‘powerful political connections’.”

Hanson however, denied everything and said during his Senate testimony “That doesn’t sound like something I would say.”

“As a general matter,” Hanson testified, “I try to alert folk above me about significant developments in investigations that may trigger calls and the like so that they are not caught flat footed. I also think that Paul [Berger] and Linda [Thomsen] would want to know if and when we are planning to take Mack’s testimony so that they can anticipate the response, which may include press calls that will likely follow. Mack’s counsel will have ‘juice’ as I described last night–meaning that they will reach out to Paul and Linda (and possibly others).”

And who was Mack’s “juiced” attorney? Why none other than Mary Jo White!

Unbeknownst to Aguirre, his supervisors were trading emails about his imminent firing from the agency. “With no knowledge of those emails,” Senate investigators disclosed that Aguirre wrote Hanson again stating, that “before and after the Mack decision, you have told [me] several times that the problem in taking Mack’s exam is his political clout, e.g., all the people that Mary Jo White can contact with a phone call.”

At the same time that Aguirre was seeking to subpoena Mack’s testimony, Morgan Stanley’s board hired Debevoise & Plimpton to vet their soon-to-be reinstalled CEO. “Only two days after being retained,” the Senate reported, “White did what the SEC did not do until more than a year later. She questioned John Mack: ‘The other thing that I did for the board to gather what information I could on that time frame was to interview John Mack himself,’” White told investigators.

But she did more than that, demonstrating she indeed had plenty of “juice.”

“That evening,” the Senate disclosed, “White sent Thomsen an e-mail message marked ‘URGENT’ and asked that Thomsen return the call ‘this evening.’ Aguirre complained that the next day White delivered the e-mails that he had subpoenaed from Morgan Stanley directly to Linda Thomsen.”

“On June 27,” Aguirre testified, “I learned that Mack-Samberg emails, which I had subpoenaed from Morgan Stanley, had been delivered directly to the Director of Enforcement, Linda Thomsen. Neither I nor other staff had heard of this happening before. Indeed, the subpoena explicitly stated that the documents were to be delivered to me.”

Evidence reviewed by the Senate Finance Committee “suggests that the reluctance to question Mack represents a much more subtle and pervasive problem than an individual partisan political favor. SEC officials were overly deferential to Mack–not because of his politics–but because he was an ‘industry captain’ who could hire influential counsel to represent him.”

“In a shocking move that was later singled out by Senate investigators,” Taibbi wrote, “the director actually appeared to reassure White, dismissing the case against Mack as ‘smoke’ rather than ‘fire’.”

“Aguirre didn’t stand a chance,” Taibbi noted. “A month after he complained to his supervisors that he was being blocked from interviewing Mack, he was summarily fired, without notice. The case against Mack was immediately dropped: all depositions canceled, no further subpoenas issued. ‘It all happened so fast, I needed a seat belt,’ recalls Aguirre, who had just received a stellar performance review from his bosses. The SEC eventually paid Aguirre a settlement of $755,000 for wrongful dismissal.”

It gets better.

In a subsequent piece, Taibbi followed-up and discovered “not only did the SEC ultimately delay the interview of Mack until after the statute of limitations had expired, and not only did the agency demand an investigation into possible alternative sources for Samberg’s tip (what Aguirre jokes was like ‘O.J.’s search for the real killers’), but the SEC official who had quashed the Mack investigation, Paul Berger, took a lucrative job working for Morgan Stanley’s law firm, Debevoise and Plimpton, just nine months after Aguirre was fired.”

As it turned out, at the exact moment that Aguirre’s investigation was being sabotaged, Senate investigators “uncovered an email to Berger from another SEC official, Lawrence West, who was also interviewing with Debevoise and Plimpton at the time.”

“The e-mail was dated September 8, 2005 and addressed to Paul Berger with the subject line, ‘Debevoise.’ The body of the message read, ‘Mary Jo [White] just called. I mentioned your interest’.”

Taibbi observed: “So Berger was passing notes in class to Mary Jo White about wanting to work for Morgan Stanley’s law firm while he was in the middle of quashing an investigation into a major insider trading case involving the CEO of the bank. After the case dies, Berger later gets the multimillion-dollar posting and the circle is closed.”

In later testimony to the Inspector General into Debevoise & Plimpton’s eventual hiring of Berger by a firm that boasts on their web site that she leads a “team” which “includes eleven former Assistant US Attorneys,” White’s comments on whether Berger was considered too “aggressive” in prosecuting Wall Street criminals is all-too-revealing.

“You always have a spectrum on the aggressiveness scale for government types and was this an issue that was beyond real commitment to the job and the mission and bringing cases,” White affirmed, “which is a positive thing in the government, to a point. Or was it a broader issue that could leave resentment in the business community or in the legal community that would hamper his ability to function well in the private sector?”

“It’s certainly strange that White has to qualify the idea that bringing cases is a positive thing in a government official–that bringing cases is a ‘positive thing . . . to a point’,” Taibbi noted. “Can anyone imagine the future head of the DEA saying something like, ‘For a prosecutor, bringing drug cases is a positive, to a point’?”

And what about Linda Thomsen? In 2008, the SEC’s inspector general, H. David Kotz, urged disciplinary action against her over her role in Aguirre’s squashed investigation of Samberg and Mack. While Samberg was eventually forced out of business, barred from working as an investment adviser and paid a $28 million fine for his shenanigans, Thomsen landed on her feet.

After refusing to answer relevant questions in 2009 before the House Committee on Financial Services probe into the SEC’s failure to investigate the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, due to a “collective desire to preserve the integrity of the investigative and prosecution processes” mind you, Thomsen resigned and rejoined Davis, Polk and Wardell.

Later that year, Kotz released a report to Congress of the IG’s investigation into a “Senior Officer” who provided “inside information” to a “former official.” As it turns out that “Senior Officer” was Linda Thomsen and that “official” was her former boss Stephen Cutler who had jumped ship and joined JPMorgan Chase.

According to The New York Times, “Kotz said his office has concluded its well-publicized investigation into whether the SEC’s enforcement director, Linda Chatman Thomsen, inappropriately provided inside information to her former boss, Stephen Cutler, now the general counsel of JPMorgan Chase, amid the bank’s negotiations to buy Bear Stearns in March 2008.”

“The inquiry,” the Times reported, “which began in response to an anonymous tip, confirmed that Mr. Cutler sought assurances from Ms. Thomsen before the takeover that JPMorgan would not be sued for prior actions by Bear Stearns.”

And who was representing JPMorgan Chase in the wake of the Bear Stearns collapse? If you guessed Mary Jo White, you’d be right again.

Less than three years later, during Senate Banking Committee confirmation hearings, White told the panel that “the American people will be my client, and I will work as zealously as possible on behalf of them.”

But when questioned by Sherrod Brown (D-OH) whether or not White agreed with US Attorney General Eric Holder’s statement which affirmed that “federal prosecutors are instructed . . . to look at . . . collateral consequences” should a financial institution or its officers be criminally charged, White agreed.

In a follow-up question, Brown wondered whether there is “a two-tiered system where we exempt the biggest banks because they have the most employees and shareholders who could be affected by criminal prosecution?”

White’s answer pretty much sums up everything that’s bent about Washington’s culture of impunity when it comes to the Wall Street crimes: “It’s a factor that prosecutors are directed to consider.”

“I do think the deferred prosecution instrument,” White asserted, “has been used a great deal on a number of companies, [and] was designed to be tough in terms of monetary sanctions, monitors–everything but the charge itself that might cause what the prosecutor might consider to be negative and undesirable collateral consequences to the public interest.”

But what about harsher sanctions such as stripped assets, handcuffs and a jail cell for drug money laundering and securities scamming banksters, punishments that might actually deter corporate crime?


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“I really hope these crops can reach their harvest”


Majid Abdel Aziz Wahdan (52) in the land he farms in Beit Hanoun

Following its disengagement from the Gaza Strip in September 2005, Israel unilaterally and unlawfully established a so-called ‘buffer zone’, an area prohibited to Palestinians along the land and sea borders of the Gaza Strip. The precise area designated by Israel as a “buffer zone” is unclear and this Israeli policy is often enforced with live fire. In accordance with the ceasefire agreement that ended Israel’s last military offensive on the Gaza Strip in November 2012, the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) in an online statement on 25 February 2013 declared that farmers could access lands in the border area up to 100m from the border fence instead of the previously imposed 300 meters. However, this reference, along with the reference to the increased fishing area at sea, was removed from the statement later. Then, on 11 March 2013, an Israeli army spokesperson, in a letter to GISHA, stated “the residents of Gaza are required not to approach within 300m of the security fence”.

“We were very happy when we heard about the ceasefire and couldn’t wait to start sowing our farm lands again,” says Majid Wahdan (52) while sitting down under a tree in a plot of farmland in Beit Hanoun.

Wahdan, a farmer and father of four daughters and three sons, had been living in north east of Beit Hanoun for 35 years when, in 2003, his family’s three storey house and farming land, located approximately 400 meters from the border with Israel, were bulldozed. “In total 36 dunums of land, which I share with my brothers, were razed. Three and a half dunums of the plot belongs to me. Many water wells in the area, including on our land, were destroyed as well. Assistance from charity organizations made us get by,” says Wahdan as he recalls the days when his home and livelihood were turned into a ‘buffer zone’. Wahdan and his family now live in a different part of Beit Hanoun.

He continues: “I replanted my own land twice between 2003 and the war in November. I put citrus trees in the land, which were bulldozed both times, destroying hundreds of tons of crops. Because the army prevents us from planting tall trees, we are now forced to plant low vegetable crops. After the November war I decided to risk it and go back to my land and the plot I rent right next to it. I planted wheat and watermelons. I really hope these crops can reach their harvest. The reason I planted watermelons is that they are cheap and only take around 70 days to grow. I don’t know what will happen so I want to quick crops that can be harvested quickly, before the ceasefire is over again.”

In addition to planting crops, Wahdan also rebuilt the water wells and irrigation networks: “In 2006 I went back to my land to rebuild a water well, but the army destroyed it after it was completed. The same happened in 2008 and 2009. The last time I fixed it was three weeks ago. Farmers who have lands closer to the border have problems with accessing water.” Wahdan argues that water which runs through the aquifer in the area is the main reason for land razing: “I believe that the reason they level our lands is that fact that we have water that is good for farming. We have sweet water under the lands and they want to use it. This is a water war.”

The repeated destruction of his farming investments, have forced Wahdan to farm his land differently; “if I had a free choice, I would plant citrus trees like orange and lemon trees. I’ve always had citrus trees and they are much more profitable than the short vegetable crops. Also, instead of investing in my own land, I started working on other people’s land, further away from the border. I farm two plots in Beit Hanoun, besides my own land. I couldn’t take any risks. Even now, we have to wait and see with the ceasefire. It is impossible to predict anything.”

Wahdan has incurred major financial losses over the years, and says: “there is no remedy or compensation for what we have lost. The damages of all that I’ve lost over the years, my home and all the crops, is around $250,000. I receive support from charities so that I’m able to tend to the land. They give us water irrigation networks, seedlings, and fertilizers. It helped us to get back on our feet here in the farmlands near the border. I farm the land together with my brothers and the workers we hire. We all have big families, so many people rely on the harvesting of these crops for their income.”

Farmers in the Gaza border areas regularly come under attack from the Israeli forces positioned at the border. Wahdan recalls: “2011 and 2012 were the most difficult years for us. We were shelled and shot at. Anywhere within 1 kilometer from the border fence we would be at risk of getting shot by soldiers. That is different since November.”

Despite the change post-ceasefire, Wahdan thinks that stated policies are of limited value for farmers who are tending their lands: “official Israeli announcements stating where we can and cannot go, are not important. We don’t care about what the leaders say. What matters to us is which soldier has his shift. Shepherds who herd their sheep are allowed to walk near the border by some soldiers while others shoot at or around them. The shooting comes from soldiers who are trigger-happy. I have witnessed many attacks on farmers, both shooting and shelling. Despite the attacks, we must remind the soldiers that this is our land and that we have the right to access it. And if the situation remains calm, I will rebuild my home on my land.”

Since the November ceasefire, PCHR has documented the killing of four Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces, and the injuring of 65 others, including 17 children, in the ‘buffer zone’. Another 48 civilians were arrested by Israeli forces in the same area, including 19 children.

Israel’s attacks against Palestinian farmers in the Gaza Strip constitute a violation of international humanitarian law as codified under Article 147 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention. Moreover such attacks can constitute war crimes under Articles 8(2)(a)(i) and (iii) Article 8 (2)(b)(i) of the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute. The implementation of the ‘buffer zone’, maintained through attacks, constitutes a measure of collective punishment, which is prohibited under Article 33 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention. The right to work, including in just and favourable conditions, is provided for under Article 6 and 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Moreover, Article 11 of the ICESCR recognizes “the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.”

Posted in Palestine Affairs, Human RightsComments Off on “I really hope these crops can reach their harvest”

Thoughts on the 10th anniversary of the war


Iraq invasion ‘the most vile crime against humanity of many of our lifetimes’

Millions of Iraqi children have suffered the death of a close family member at the hands of the U.S. military, and will forever be impacted by the trauma of living under a brutal occupation.

The author is a former Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army infantry who spent a total of 28 months in Iraq. This article was previously published on website.

In the next few minutes, as you’re reading this, a mother will give birth in Fallujah. There is a 33 percent chance because of U.S.-used depleted uranium that the child will be born with a life-crippling birth defect, or dead; a young man will forge through piles of trash for food to feed his impoverished and displaced family. There are over 5 million displaced Iraqis, high estimates of over 1.3 million killed and an entire country with no secure future. Food, water, power, housing, education, safety, freedom of speech—all words absent from America’s “liberated Iraq.” Most of these events are rarely reported.

Today marks the 10th-year “anniversary” of the U.S.-led invasion against the people of Iraq. But this wasn’t the beginning of the U.S. war against the people of Iraq; it began much earlier. The United States has been for over 22 years (and still to this day) torturing the Iraqi people. From the bombing of powdered milk factories to the destruction of water purification facilities, the United States government has targeted the most innocent of Iraqis, their children. 500,000 Iraqi children were executed by the United States in the form of sanctions, embargoes, starvation and bombing campaigns prior to the invasion in 2003.

Today Iraq is in shambles because of the almost decade-long U.S. occupation and war. The majority of Iraqi people do not have access to continued supply of clean water, food, shelter, education, health care or security. The current Iraqi government has expressed its concern for the Iraqi people in the form of U.S.- supplied guns, bullets and misery. Peaceful demonstrations against government corruption and injustice are met with deadly violence from the new “democratic” government; organizers are jailed and tortured.

Explosions erupt in crowded cities tearing people and families apart, shattering brick and glass while soaking the streets with blood. The country’s once-united national identity, with no sectarian strife, was consciously demolished and manipulated by the U.S. occupation. The people of Iraq never asked for the U.S. invasion or occupation, yet it is them who pay the price for it on a daily basis. For them, the Iraq war didn’t end the day the United States withdrew its occupying forces, for them the Iraq war is still very real.

The harsh reality of daily life for the Iraqi people seems to be missing from the mainstream media. The Bush administration submitted false intelligence reports while lying to the American people about WMDs. Every piece of “evidence” that the Bush administration had introduced to justify going to war with Iraq is now known to have been a lie. However, those who convinced the American people it was in our interests to send our loved ones to war and die are still free today.

In fact, those who lied to the American people sending us to die are now waging a new warfare on those service members they depended on to wage their war. They are waging an economic assault against the enlisted rank and file in the form of exterminating the Tuition Assistance programs. The politicians chant slogans like “Support our Troops” while cutting medical aid to those wounded in their wars, and refusing to respond in any meaningful way to the suicide epidemic. The current Democratic administration continues to send young men and women to kill and be killed in the unpopular Afghanistan war, another war for profit based on lies. If this government does not care about its own service members, why would we buy the line that they care about liberating other nations?

On the 10th tragic anniversary of Iraq, we send our deepest and most sincere condolences to the people of Iraq. Words cannot express the sorrow, sadness and regret we have for participating in the imperialists’ war. Every war and every act of aggression by the United States is cloaked in the noble cause of “humanitarian intervention” or “promotion of democracy” or “protecting civilians” as bombs, bullets and sanctions rained down upon the heads of the innocent.

Today we mark this anniversary as the most vile crime against humanity in many of our lifetimes. Until people in the United States see the class character of every U.S.- led war, enlisted service members will be sent to kill and die for the wealthy, and millions of innocent people will bear the brutal violence. It is our role as veterans to unmask and expose the real character of U.S. wars and defend the rights of those targeted by U.S. aggression.

We will continue to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Iraq, fight the Afghanistan war and every war or “intervention” promoted by this government, and expose imperialism as a system we live under, not a policy. The United States government will not re-write history to fit its agenda. The historical tragedy that is known as the “Iraq War” will be remembered for what it is; an act of illegal aggression by the belligerent force of the United States. Together we will work to insure history does not repeat itself, ever again.

Posted in USA, IraqComments Off on Thoughts on the 10th anniversary of the war

EU, ECB and IMF scramble to save Cyprus bankers


Popular outrage forces shift on ‘deposit tax’

Mass protests in Cyprus derailed initial bailout deal.


As the global economic crisis—now in its sixth year—drags on, the rich and powerful are still sticking with the same old formula: Do whatever is necessary to save the banks and make poor and working people pay, one way or another. In recent days, a looming financial collapse in the Eastern Mediterranean island country of Cyprus emerged as the latest flashpoint.

In February 2012, a second bailout for Greece included a partial default of the country’s debt, called—euphemistically—a “haircut” and also “private sector involvement.” This was supposed to help make the debt sustainable and avert Greece’s exit from the Eurozone, which would likely have far worse consequences for the finance capitalists involved in the deal.

Last year’s default imposed major losses on Cyprus’s biggest banks, which had used large amounts of its depositors’ money to “invest” in Greek bonds. Cyprus then became the fifth country in the Eurozone—the 17 countries that use the euro currency—to seek international assistance for bailing out its banks. The bailout money required—eventually amounting to 10 billion euros (about  $13 billion)—was to be provided by the “troika”—a bloc composed of the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Union.

Cyprus—outside of the Turkish-controlled northern section of the island—has close political, economic and cultural ties with Greece, almost to the point of being a protectorate. The Cypriot banking sector has been teetering on the verge of collapse ever since the effects of the partial default began to be felt. The fear among the rulers of Europe is that this would cause a full sovereign default and force Cyprus out of the Eurozone, a politically unprecedented development that would have potentially devastating ripple effects.

Cyprus, with a population of roughly 1 million, is among the smallest countries to use the common currency. Since 2009, the Eurozone has been consumed by what has been termed a “debt crisis” that has sent unemployment rates, poverty and general misery skyrocketing across Europe. Although the corporate media portrays the situation as a consequence of out-of-control social spending, the Eurozone is suffering from the generalized effects of the world crisis of capitalism exacerbated by high levels of government borrowing, financial speculation on that debt and the highly uneven development of member states.

From 2008 until the end of February, Cyprus was led by President Dimitris Christofias of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL). Although AKEL refers to itself as a communist party—Christofias himself received his doctorate in the Soviet Union—it has adopted a bourgeois electoral and parliamentary approach to dealing with the island nation’s debt crisis. Christofias put through three austerity packages but was unwilling to accept the troika’s terms for a bailout deal.

Nicos Anastasiades of the right-wing Democratic Rally party promised in the lead-up to the February election to negotiate an acceptable deal with the troika. This enabled him to beat the AKEL candidate and become the new president of Cyprus. Anastasiades signaled his intention to finalize a bailout deal as soon as possible and immediately began intensive negotiations.


Last week, Anastasiades announced that he had reached a jarring agreement with the troika. In return for the troika’s bailout money, Cyprus would have to conduct a “bail-in” and seize 6.7 to 9.9 percent of all bank deposits in the country to raise 5.8 billion euros (about $7.5 billion). Doing away with the veneer of “competitiveness,” “restructuring” and “fiscal adjustment” that other austerity measures have been cloaked in, the troika proposed outright theft that would be felt most by poor and working people.

However, the prospect of such blatant robbery was rejected by virtually all sections of Cypriot society. The working class was outraged that what little savings they had managed to scrape together would be diminished to pay for the capitalists’ crisis. But the ruling class in Cyprus also feared losing their recognition as a tax haven for offshore millionaires and billionaires—a cornerstone of the Cypriot economy.

The parliament of Cyprus bowed to this near-unanimous domestic pressure and refused to endorse the plan—President Anastasiades’ deputies abstained and every other lawmaker voted no. The crisis reached its peak as the country’s banks were closed to prevent massive withdrawals and capital flight.

Referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Cypriot president reportedly told European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn: “When I warned you that there would not be a parliamentary majority to pass the agreement, you didn’t want to listen. Give my regards to Mrs. Merkel.” At a subsequent meeting of European finance ministry officials, a French representative lamented, “The [Cypriot] parliament is obviously too emotional and will not decide on anything.”

Plan B

The government of Cyprus, scrambling to avert a default and Eurozone exit, pursued a multifaceted bargaining strategy in an attempt to force the troika to soften its demands. It proposed stealing pension funds and publicly owned state assets to create an outrageously named “solidarity fund,” which would also include assets from the Church of Cyprus. This was supposed to raise the 5.8 billion euros required by the troika and render the “bail-in” unnecessary.

The Cypriot government also attempted to leverage the hundreds of billions of cubic meters of natural gas recently discovered in the waters south of the island nation. It was prepared to offer large stakes in future gas production to capitalists willing to immediately put up the money. Many portrayed the sale of gas reserves, which rightfully belong to the Cypriot people, as Cyprus’s ace in the hole.

However, there are several problems that made this proposal ultimately untenable. First of all, the necessary infrastructure—which would cost at least $36 billion—would not be in place until at least 2018 to begin production. At that point, the market will likely be flooded with gas from the United States, Australia and parts of Africa, largely due to the explosion in the practice of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” Finally, Turkey, which has effectively controlled Northern Cyprus since a war in 1974, is likely to launch an immediate and aggressive legal challenge to the South’s right to exploit the gas reserves.

President Anastasiades hoped to play Russia and the European Union against each other to strengthen his own bargaining position, weakening the troika by exploring the possibility of a Russian-financed bailout.

Politically, President Anastasiades hoped to play Russia and the European Union against each other to strengthen his own bargaining position, weakening the troika by exploring the possibility of a Russian-financed bailout. These two world powers have conflicting geo-strategic interests, finding themselves on opposite sides of major developments like the civil war in Syria and NATO’s “defensive” missile shield in Eastern Europe. Russia sees in the Eurozone debt crisis an opportunity to expand its influence. It already extended a $3.3 billion loan to Cyprus in 2011, and Russian state energy company Gazprom has made moves to acquire the Greek national gas company DEPA, which is, ironically, slated for privatization under orders from the troika.

Russian deposits larger than GDP

Many Russian oligarchs stash huge sums of money in Cypriot banks to evade taxes—amounting to $26 billion, which is larger than the Cyprus’s entire GDP. This gives Russia a tangible economic interest in the stabilization of Cyprus’s economy. The Russian ruling class bitterly opposes the idea of a deposit tax, especially on large accounts.

However, Cypriot overtures to Russia were ultimately unsuccessful as diplomats were unimpressed at offers of partial control over the island country’s gas reserves. Some members of the Russian capitalist class also seemed to be confident that they could avoid losing a portion of their deposits. Prominent millionaire Alexander Lebedev dismissed the issue as “not worth talking about.” He added: “Cyprus was always a transit jurisdiction—money would pass through and then go to Lithuania, Latvia, Belize, Switzerland, everywhere. There are plenty of ways [to avoid capital controls]. … Certain schemes can be put into place.”

The Russian government nevertheless continues to take a politically assertive stance, warning the troika that it may swap a part of its foreign reserves held in euros for another currency.

‘Bail-in’ retained in modified form

With the European Central Bank threatening to cut off massive cash infusions, called Emergency Liquidity Assistance, the Cypriot president turned back to the troika for the desperately needed bailout money and finally reached a deal on March 25. The “bail-in” deposit tax was retained in the final version but in a modified form—only affecting deposits of more than 100,000 euros (about $128,000). While this may seem like a pro-worker decision, it simply sets the stage for the kind of devastating attacks on the rights of poor and working people in Cyprus that have already been seen across Europe. The capitalist rulers of the Eurozone also seem to have wanted to punish Russia for meddling in its sphere of influence.

Under the deal, the second largest Cypriot bank, Laiki, is to be dissolved and split into a “good” bank composed of its profitable assets and a “bad” bank made up of its nonperforming investments. The “good” bank is to be absorbed by the country’s largest bank, Bank of Cyprus, which will now enjoy nearly unchallenged monopoly status—further proving the Marxist assertion that capital consolidation intensifies during periods of economic crisis.

As usual, European politicians and corporate media commentators refer to the bailout deal as a conclusive settlement to the crisis. This, however, is far from the truth. The Cypriot economy is likely to be plunged into a severe recession as a result of this financial meltdown, further weakening the banking sector and calling into question the effectiveness of the agreement that was just reached. As European Union Economic and Financial Committee Chairman Thomas Wieser bluntly put it at a Eurozone meeting a few days prior to the finalization of the bailout agreement, “The economy is going to tank in Cyprus no matter what.”

As capitalist politicians use the livelihoods of poor and working people in Cyprus as bargaining chips, the only available avenue for struggle is militant, persistent and organized mass action. The rulers of the Eurozone hold all the cards at the negotiating table, but the people have the power in the streets.

Posted in GreeceComments Off on EU, ECB and IMF scramble to save Cyprus bankers

Human Rights Watch lies about Chávez and Venezuela


Answering the slanders

Chávez had a broad mandate from the masses of people not only to create social programs but to transform society.

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez Frias has died, and true to form, the vultures are circling. The establishment press and so-called “human rights” organizations are dusting off all the old slanders and lies in new articles and reports. In this alternative version of history, Chávez was an incorrigible, populist autocrat, whose sunny-sounding vision of uplifting the poor was nothing but a façade covering a corrupt, decaying dictatorship offering only the opposite of its promises.

While a few pundits have the decency to obliquely mention a few of the achievements of the Chávez government, others have absolutely no shame. Human Rights Watch, for instance, self-appointed defender of all that is right and good, has truly outdone itself—publishing a denunciation of Chávez that, paying no attention to context, ignores all signals that point to social progress and speeds right past good taste.

In fact, despite the name, HRW has written a report that will be warmly welcomed in the camp of the serial violators of human dignity banded together in the Venezuelan opposition movement as well as in Western imperialist capitals.

What are ‘human rights’ anyway?

HRW opens the piece by saying in part:

“Hugo Chávez’s presidency (1999-2013) was characterized by … open disregard for basic human rights guarantees.”

This is, perhaps, the most laughable of all their claims. Starting from 1999, there has been a 37.6 percent decline in the poverty rate in Venezuela. If we start that measurement in 2004 after the consolidation of the Chavista movement in government, there has been a 49.7 percent reduction. Extreme poverty saw an even deeper reduction, 70 percent since 2004.

Such a massive reduction of poverty gives rise to a number of striking statistics. Just since 2011, 350,000 houses have been built, with a target of 380,000 in 2013, all part of a plan to provide an affordable and dignified home to all 3.7 million people in need of a home. In nine years, 1.5 million Venezuelans have received free eye surgery. In the same nine years, 1.75 million were taught to read.

Chávez’s impact on his nation can so easily be gauged that even the Washington Post admitted that the “poor masses”—that is, the majority of Venezuelans—mourned for Chávez. Hardly the response one would expect at the death of a hardened “autocrat.” Further, if access to decent housing, food and health care are not human rights, then what are they? Chávez based his entire term in office on providing rights like these. Viewed in this way, he might well have been considered  the greatest guarantor of human rights in the entire hemisphere.

‘Attacking judicial independence’—the context

HRW also accuses Chávez of “attacking judicial independence.” Once again, this is a criticism devoid of context. Since the beginning of his presidency, the right-wing opposition has done everything possible to impede the progress of the Bolivarian process, despite that Chávez again, and again, and yet again had his leadership reaffirmed at the ballot box.

In April 2002, the opposition coalition, an assortment of the super-rich and others whose privilege was curtailed by Chávez, launched a coup. A cabal of military officers, the police, and almost every television and radio station lined up against Chávez, who was detained by the coup plotters. Mass protest caused the coup to fail and Chávez was returned to power. This incident highlights the fact that prior to most of Chávez’s most radical reforms, the opposition was more than willing to use extralegal methods to preserve their special privileges.

Further, between November 2001 and December 2002, there were four significant lockouts by business owners attempting to weaken the Chávez government, including the oil lockout at the end of 2002 that caused almost $20 billion in lost revenue for the government.

The lockouts came on top of efforts by many of the big food production companies to create shortages through hoarding—which they are again doing in the run-up to the April 14 presidential election. Year after year, hundreds and sometimes thousands of tons of goods, like sugar, milk, flour, coffee and other staples, were found in warehouses being held off the market deliberately, filtering into black market distribution networks that undermined government attempts to improve access to food. Despite these efforts at sabotage, the government programs, including discount stores and increased acreage under cultivation, have led to increased consumption, even in the face of shortages.

The Venezuelan rich have also shown a keen penchant for using their capital not to invest in their own country but to live large in Miami. Even pro-capitalist Business Week admits this phenomenon is all about hiding money from the government, not “bad economics,” in Venezuela itself.

There is no leader anywhere else in the world over the past decade to more clearly receive the support of the vast majority of people in their country.

So considering just this brief list of destabilization efforts (which have taken place with the active encouragement of the U.S. government and media), it seems clear that Chávez faced unbelievable headwinds in exercising his own elected mandate. In 17 elections, Chávez and the Bolivarian process have had their direction ratified. In the most recent presidential election, Chávez was victorious with a clear majority. There is no leader anywhere else in the world over the past decade to more clearly receive the support of the vast majority of people in their country.

With this context established, one can see that HRW’s objections to Chávez’s efforts are so much chaff easily separated from the wheat. HRW is particularly indignant that Chávez increased the size of the Supreme Court and that the new appointees were supportive of the revolutionary process.

The expansion of the Supreme Court must be seen in the context of both continued electoral success in conjunction with repeated attempts to derail the Bolivarian process. It is clear that Chávez had a broad mandate from the masses of people not only to create social programs but to transform society. Transformations upset the entire established order, and as history shows, those who lose their privileged position will fight desperately to regain it.

The Bolivarian process is about more than legality. It is a process of determining what sort of society Venezuela is to become, a process taking place on all levels, and whose broad support required any true representative of the people to pursue every avenue possible to secure the future. Thus the expansion of the Supreme Court was not some sort of “power grab” for the sake of more power, but a tactic in the broader struggle with the forces of the right who were determined to use both legal and illegal avenues to stop the Bolivarian process.

HRW would rather Chávez to have “respected” the “rule of law” than feed or house people. They could care less about whether or not the people of Venezuela live decently, and preach instead only about their legally defined “human rights”—as defined and vetted by world elites.


HRW and others made quite a bit of noise about the case of one judge, Maria Lourdes Afiuni. Afiuni spent one year in jail, was allegedly tortured, and remains under house arrest. Again, context is important here. In the face of the glee with which the opposition pursued every method possible to overthrow Chávez, if the only real form of “repression” of the judiciary is the arrest of one judge, Chávez by all measures is remarkably non-repressive. Carlos Andres Perez, a former president of Venezuela, in just a few days in 1989 killed 3,000 people who were protesting against IMF austerity policies he imposed.

Further context in which actions occur should affect how we view them. Abraham Lincoln several times abrogated the constitutional rights of Confederate sympathizers in the North; at one point, habeas corpus was suspended in several states. However, almost no one (other than Confederate sympathizers) views that as any real stain on his legacy, given the context of the war to end slavery.

Suppression of press freedom

HRW takes Chávez to task for allegedly suppressing press freedoms, acting as if the media had simply been an innocent bystander as the Bolivarian process was unfolding. In fact, as mentioned earlier, the media openly played a key role in the attempted coup by deliberately spreading misinformation. RCTV, one of the companies most often mentioned as a victim of government “authoritarianism,” is headed up by a man who once worked with the CIA during the “dirty wars” of the 1980s.

In addition, it is absurd to suggest that Chávez purged the media of any criticism. Venezuelan state media had only a 5.4 percent audience share as of 2010, compared to 37 percent in France. Almost every major newspaper in Venezuela is hostile to Chávez as are an array of channels available via cable and satellite.

Hugo Chávez, presente!

Hugo Chávez was not an authoritarian; he was a revolutionary. He stood not on legal formality, but on revolutionary principle. This is why Human Rights Watch and others must slander him. Hugo Chávez was a living example that it is possible to take on the powerful and rally the hopes of millions across the globe to end oppression and exploitation. While Human Rights Watch will never admit it, Hugo Chávez was the greatest humanitarian of the last decade.

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North Korea plan to attack US mainland revealed in photographs


North Korea has revealed its plans to strike targets in Hawaii and the continental United States in photos taken in Kim Jong-un’s military command centre.

North Korea has revealed its plans to strike targets in Hawaii and the continental United States in photos taken in Kim Jong-un's military command centre.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (sitting) convening an urgent operation meeting at 0:30 am on 29 March 2013 at an undisclosed location Photo: EPA

By Julian Ryall, Tokyo

The photos appeared in the state-run Rodong newspaper and were apparently taken at an “emergency meeting” early on Friday morning. They show Kim signing the order for North Korea’s strategic rocket forces to be on standby to fire at US targets, the paper said, with large-scale maps and diagrams in the background.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered strategic rocket forces to be on standby to strike US and South Korean targets at any time (EPA)

The images show a chart marked “US mainland strike plan” and missile trajectories that the NK News web site estimates terminate in Hawaii, Washington DC, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas.

The text on the map, which shows the west coast of North America, says “Plan to hit the U.S. mainland”

The meeting of the Pyongyang’s senior military leaders was called after two US B2 bombers, flying out of bases in Missouri, carried out simulated bombing raids on North Korean targets on an island off the coast of South Korea.

“He finally signed the plan on technical preparations of strategic rockets, ordering them to be on standby to fire so that they may strike any time the US mainland, its military bases in the operational theatres in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea,” the state-run KCNA news agency reported.

A U.S. airforce B-2 Spirit stealth bomber flies over Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, South Korea

It added that the B2 test flights demonstrated Washington’s “hostile intent” and said the “reckless” act had gone “beyond the phase of threat and blackmail.”

The North’s military was placed on its highest alert level earlier this week and a hotline link with the South Korean military was severed.

North Korea has also cut the mobile Internet link for foreign visitors, only weeks after the 3G service was introduced.

North Koreans have held a rally at Kim Il-sung Square in central Pyongyang in support of military actionDespite the increasingly belligerent rhetoric and new images emerging from the North Korean regime, analysts believe its missiles are not capable of striking targets as far away as the US mainland and are not, as yet, capable of delivering a nuclear payload.

The images of Kim surrounded by his officers and diagrams of targets in the US are designed for a domestic consumption and to demonstrate the young leader’s mastery of military affairs, experts believe.

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US steps up war: The ABCs of US policy toward Syria


Using anti-democratic monarchies, fuels civil war under the banner of ‘democracy’

This statement was originally published on the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) website.

While pretending to be cautious about its intervention in Syria, the Obama administration has conducted a massive clandestine operation over the past two years to pump guns, heavy military equipment and money to fuel the civil war that is destroying Syria.

The CIA is the anchor of this highly coordinated secret operation.

Under the CIA’s supervision, more than 160 military cargo flights have delivered weapons to anti-government armed units in Syria. (The New York Times, March 25)

One of the ridiculous fictions about the war against Syria is that the Obama administration publicly claims “caution” in arming the rebels, in contrast to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have openly acknowledged their role in fueling the civil war by sending arms and money to the enemies of the Assad government.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are both absolute and hereditary monarchies whose existence is completely dependent on their role as clients of the United States. So too is the royal family in Jordan, which allows its territory to be a transfer pivot for the massive arms shipments into Syria.

Qatar, with its citizen population of only 250,000 people, does not derive its fighting posture toward Syria from a robust military capability. That is a joke. Rather, Qatar is the location of the Pentagon’s Central Command Forward Headquarters and its Combined Air Operation Center. Qatar is also home to Al Jazeera, which promotes the cause of the armed rebellion against the Assad government.

Qatar is not directing anything except that which the Pentagon approves.

The equally hideous Saudi royal family remains on the throne only because of its close ties to the Pentagon and CIA.

The Saudi monarchy is protected by U.S. imperialism because it is part of an undeclared but real U.S. sphere of influence, and it is the largest producer of oil in the world. The U.S. attitude toward the Saudi monarchy was put succinctly by Ronald Reagan in 1981, when he said that the U.S. government “will not permit” a revolution in Saudi Arabia such as the 1979 Iranian revolution, which removed the U.S. client regime of the Shah. Reagan’s message was clear: The Pentagon and CIA’s military forces would be used decisively to destroy any democratic movement against the rule of the Saudi royal family.

Reagan’s explicit statement in 1981 has in fact been the policy of every successive U.S. administration, including the current one.

It is hard to overstate the extreme irony of Secretary of State John Kerry’s public condemnations of Iran and Russia for maintaining their longstanding relationships with the sovereign and secular government of Syria, while the United States uses the most anti-democratic hereditary monarchies in the Middle East as their clients to fuel a civil war under the banner of “democracy” and “change.”

U.S. policy appears as irony, but it reveals a remarkable consistency and sameness in purpose regardless of whether the occupant in the White House is a conservative Republican or a centrist Democrat. Liberal Democrats in Congress and right-wing Tea Party types are unanimous in their boisterous and vile support for overthrowing the independent governments in the Middle East. At most, their differences are about some tactics versus other tactics. They profess the same goals and objectives. The invasion and war in 2003 overthrew a nationalist, secular and independent government in Iraq. The NATO bombing war of Libya destroyed Qaddafi’s government, which was likewise nationalist, secular and independent. Now the U.S. war machine and clandestine spy services are determined to destroy a similar government in Syria.

The fevered demonization campaign directed at Syria’s government by the same forces that protect the most retrograde monarchies in the Middle East should give pause to those on the “left” who function as an echo chamber for the arguments and rationales provided by the corporate-owned media and the U.S. government.

The U.S. seeks only puppets and client regimes in a region that possesses two-thirds of the world’s oil. The rest is rhetoric. That is the ABCs of the endless pursuit of regime change by the United States against independent governments whose origin and existence was a consequence of the anti-colonial revolutions that rocked the Middle East in the 1950s and 1960s.

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Imprisoned, Tortured, Killed: Human Trafficking Thrives on Sinai Peninsula


By Nicola Abé in North Sinai

Photo Gallery: Human Trafficking in the Sinai Peninsula


The Sinai Peninsula has become a prison and grave for thousands of African refugees. They are kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured to death even after their families have paid hefty ransoms. But Egypt refuses to act.

Five people fled at night under the cover of heavy wind. Gusts were whipping fiercely against the hut they had been chained in. Their guard seemed to be sleeping, and the storm raged so loudly that they were able to use a rock to smash their chains without waking him. One by one, they slithered on their sides through a gap in the wall and out to freedom. “We wanted to either escape or die,” says Zeae, a 27-year-old man from Eritrea.

The five of them were barefoot and had only a few scraps of clothing on their emaciated bodies, which were covered with burns and scars. “We saw lights in the distance,” Zeae says. But two of the men were too weak to walk. They stayed behind, lying there in the desert, because the others were too weak to help them. It was hard enough just dragging their own bodies forward.In the end, two young men and one girl reached the first of the houses they had seen. When a Bedouin opened the door, Zeae says, “I thought it was about to start all over again” — the beatings, the torture, the rape.

The Sinai Peninsula, which connects Egypt and Israel, has become a place of suffering and death for thousands of refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, from Eritrea, Somalia or Sudan. They come in search of a better life in Israel or Europe, but many of them end up kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured. Criminals among the Bedouins living here demand ransom from the victims’ families back home. They often torture their prisoners to death. The government in Cairo, meanwhile, seems to ignore these brutal crimes.

Trapped in a Lawless Land

Since the revolution that upended power structures in Egypt, the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula has slipped further out of the country’s political control. It has become a lawless region and a hotbed of criminals and terrorists. Groups of young men armed with AK-47s loiter in the streets. The business of human trafficking is booming, and the murder rate has skyrocketed.

“There are no police here,” says Sheikh Mohammed, a young, bearded Bedouin leader. Sinai is run by family clans that follow their own rules.

Sheikh Mohammed is one of the Bedouins who reject the brutal trade in refugees. Still, he explains, “I can’t free them. No one can interfere in another clan’s affairs.” Doing so could spark a bloody feud between clans. “I can only help the Africans if they escape on their own,” he says.

The morning after their escape found the three Eritreans sitting in a hut on Sheikh Mohammed’s property. The Bedouin whose house they first approached brought them here at around 6 a.m., and they were given jackets and blankets. Glowing coals smolder in a metal drum sunk into the sand, and a pan of rice and chicken sits next to it. But the refugees can’t eat much. Their bodies are repeatedly racked by tremors, and they often simply bury their heads between their bony knees and cry.

Ransoms without Release

“We had barely anything to eat or drink. And we weren’t allowed to sleep. If we did, they burned us,” explains Mhretab, 27. “They scorched the skin on our arms or backs with burning plastic, or they burned us directly with lighters.” He points to a long scar on his neck. “They hung us from our feet and hit us. If we cried, they called our families and we had to beg them over the phone to pay for us.”

The three Eritreans were held against their will in Sinai for over a year. First, they say, human traffickers imprisoned them for months in an underground room. Then, they were moved to the hut in the desert. “There were 22 of us at first,” Zeae says. “Ten of us died in the cellar.”

They say their families transferred ransoms amounting to about $30,000 (€23,000) per prisoner. But instead of releasing the hostages, the kidnappers passed them on to other human traffickers. “My parents don’t have anything else to give,” Zeae says. “They sold their land and all their animals. They took up a collection for me at church.” In fact, it often happens that entire communities pool their money to pay a refugee’s ransom.

Horrific Treatment

Lemlem, an emaciated 15-year-old girl with bloodshot eyes, sits in a corner wearing the giant sweater she was given when she arrived. Zeae explains that Lemlem was raped repeatedly: “They simply came and took her away, any time, whenever they wanted.” Lemlem rarely says a word. The only time she does, it’s to ask if the reporter could find her a pair of underwear.

The stories of these three refugees are like hundreds of other ones collected by Human Rights Watch. Certain elements come up again and again in the reports — electric shocks, rape, sleep deprivation and being tortured with burning plastic that is sometimes even inserted in the vagina or anus. Videos taken by a local photographer show refugees with deep flesh wounds crawling with flies and infected, badly swollen limbs.

The New York Times estimates that 7,000 refugees have been abused in this way over the last four years, and that 4,000 of them may have died. These figures are drawn from data provided by aid organizations in Israel, Europe and the United States. Locals often find the dead bodies of African refugees who have simply been dumped in the desert or whose limbs can be seen sticking out of the sand.

In the darkness between the city of el-Arish and the border town of Rafah lies a low building with no electricity. Only a few candles provide light inside, where the room is lined with carpets. A stocky young man in a light-gray quilted jacket sits in one corner. He introduces himself as Mahmoud. He is a human trafficker.

“We keep them here until we have the money from their families,” he says.

Just three days ago, he says, he released another group of Africans to people smugglers who will take them over the border into Israel. He has been in this business since 2009. But life here, he says, has gotten more difficult.

No Escape

At mosques in Sinai, respected local figures such as Sheikh Mohammed decry the behavior of traffickers like Mahmoud, denouncing their crimes against the defenseless as un-Islamic. People no longer greet Mahmoud on the street, and he says he fears for his life.

“But what else am I supposed to do?” Mahmoud asks. “There are no jobs here, there’s no way to make money!”

Then he kneels down in a corner to pray.

The ransom for a refugee from sub-Saharan Africa can now run as high as $50,000. And, in the last 20 months, an alarming new trend has developed: Many refugees end up in Israel who didn’t actually want to go there. Bedouins from the Rashaida tribe kidnap these people in Sudan, sometimes even abducting them from refugee camps, then hand them over to clans in Sinai. Refugees report that this takes place in cooperation with Sudanese border police.

“As soon as the ransom for one person is paid, they immediately take their next hostage,” says Mohammed Bakr, manager of a local NGO in North Sinai. Bakr says the only solution he can see is to inform people while they’re still in their home countries about the dangers of trying to escape through Sinai.

Once these refugees are kidnapped in Sinai, they find themselves in a situation that is as hopeless as it is harrowing. Even if they do survive and are eventually released by their captors, they’re left to wander in the no man’s land near the Israeli border. If they cross the border, they risk being shot. If they make it into Israel, they may be arrested. If the Egyptian police catch them before they cross, they’ll be locked up at police stations in Sinai and held in heinous conditions before eventually being deported back to their home countries.

Ignoring International Laws

The Egyptian government refuses to let the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) visit these prisons. It claims that the people being held in them are economic refugees who have no right to asylum because they are in Sinai illegally.

“Egypt is breaking international refugee law,” says Mohammed Dairi from the UNHCR’s Cairo office. His organization is the body that determines the status of refugees, he says, adding that many of the refugees from Eritrea and Somalia qualify for asylum because they are threatened with persecution and torture in their home countries.

In its ignorance over these crimes against sub-Saharan African refugees, Egypt is breaking its own laws, which expressly forbid human trafficking. Smugglers of tomatoes or potatoes are regularly arrested in Egypt, yet not a single human trafficker has been prosecuted. The government in Cairo has generally justified its inaction by citing security concerns.

Since August, President Mohammed Morsi’s government has been expanding its military presence in Sinai — but to fight Islamist terrorists rather than free innocent refugees. Egyptian journalist Lina Attalah from the Egypt Independent, an English-language weekly, criticizes her government for its failure to act and its indifferent attitude. “Some tribesmen tell us that security forces are underequipped and can easily be beaten by the military prowess of the traffickers,” she wrote in November 2012. “But they also direct us to a more poignant fact speaking to a profound racism: the victims don’t matter. They are Africans. They are refugees and migrants.” She also points out that there isn’t any powerful organization looking out for the refugees’ interests.

Traffickers Bribe Border Police

Mohammed Bakr, from the NGO in North Sinai, likewise has serious doubts about his government’s willingness to intervene. “They simply don’t want to recognize this problem,” he says. Bakr is certain the traffickers bribe border police to let them smuggle refugees into Sinai. He believes the police and military know precisely who the traffickers are and where they hide their prisoners. “But they do nothing about it,” he says, “even though that’s their job.”

Still, the flood of refugees entering Sinai has slowed in recent months because of the many new checkpoints that have sprung up as a result of the increased military presence. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t solve the problem,” says Dairi, from the UNHCR. “The traffickers simply find different routes. We know of refugees who are now being held in Aswan” — a city in southern Egypt.

It’s believed there are around 1,000 African refugees currently being held in captivity in Sinai.Zeae, Lemlem and Mhretab managed to escape their torturers, but they are still waiting in Sheikh Mohammed’s hut in Sinai, their future uncertain. Their hope is that the sheikh will smuggle them to Cairo and turn them over to an aid organization.

“And then I want to go to Europe,” Mhretab says. “I want to work very hard and pay my family back all the money.”

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